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Roots

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first piece

“Dean?”

He blinked, hands tensed around the coffee cup. Then he breathed. “Morning,” he grinned; Castiel looked him over with a critical eye as he made his way, busy, around the kitchen.

Castiel stood by the sink, rinsing out a cup of his own as steam rose in billowing clouds from his kettle, snug by the stove. “Did you fall asleep? Are you alright?”

“Yeah, fine,” he blinked again.

“You don’t sound it.” Castiel put his cup in the sink, turned around and went to him. He stood across the kitchen from Dean, fixing him with that usual, inscrutable gaze.  

“How would you know?” Dean grinned as he said it; Castiel wrinkled his nose.

“Touché.” He turned when the kettle, always timely, started to whistle. Head low, Castiel lifted it from the stove, retrieved his cup from the sink and put them both on the counter in front of Dean. Then he went to one of the cupboards, pulled a teabag from its box and dropped it deftly in the cup.

It was weird to see how human nature came so naturally to Castiel, now. Of course he still wasn’t really up on his pop culture; didn’t have a chance in hell when Dean asked him to name a song that was playing on the radio (a game that Dean loved and Castiel hated) and, as he said himself, he wasn’t great at the nuances-of-human-interaction thing, just yet – but sometimes Dean thought he could watch him all day. Performing little tasks, like using the remote to flip TV channels, or buttering toast, which he was weirdly obsessed with. His movements were deliberate, serious and strange, but human and Dean, though he was a little embarrassed to admit it, was often rapt. He took a sip of his coffee and it burned him.

“So you are alright?” Castiel said, voice a little faraway as he poured boiling water. “You’ve been sleeping?” he asked, with a glance at Dean. He laughed in response.

“Yeah, Cas, like a baby.” It was true; he’d woken this morning with no trouble at all, blissed-out in bed, stretched diagonally across the whole of his double like a dog. He hadn't had dreams since what happened five years ago, since they put Lucifer in his place, and all this weird, 'normal' stuff had started. He set the coffee down to let it cool, and folded his arms, leaning them on the counter. "Is Sam around?"

"He's in town." Cas finished making his tea and drank it immediately; apparently one of the perks of being an angel included asbestos-mouth. "He went to the library.”

"What, is something going on?"

Castiel frowned, amused. "He's getting books for his degree, remember? We had this conversation last night."

"Oh," Dean frowned, a pinching sensation in the back of his head. The three of them had been downstairs last night because Pulp Fiction was on and Castiel had never seen it. Dean had insisted that they stay up to watch it, and somehow they'd gotten talking about how they couldn't afford Sam's books, and maybe Dean would start taking shifts at Bobby's. “Okay. So what’re you doing today?”

Across the counter from him, Castiel lifted the cup to his lips again and rolled his shoulders, long and easy. One of the first things to come to him was shrugging, like he was built for it; Dean still found it sort of funny to watch. “Father Woodlow finally agreed to meet with me. I think we can really get somewhere.”

Dean grinned slowly. “He threw stuff at you last time.”

Castiel shrugged again. “He’s had time now to see how impolite that was of him.”

“You know you can’t change these people’s minds.”

Castiel looked at Dean over the lip of his cup. “You changed mine, didn’t you?” his smile was wry, satisfied; Dean rolled his eyes.

“I’m just saying, if he sets you on fire or tries to exorcise you again, don’t come crying to me.”

Castiel finished his tea and rose from the counter, rinsed it out in the sink and then put it on the draining board. He was so painfully neat; Dean hated to admit it, but it sometimes irked him. “When have you ever known me to cry?”

Dean laughed, as Castiel turned to go. He put his hand on Dean’s shoulder before he left; the warm, firm weight of it was strange, though he’d known it hundreds of times before; moreso, when Castiel squeezed gently. “Don’t… rattle around the house alone, today. Go see Bobby, if you’re bored.”

Dean nodded at him, brow raised. “Don’t baby me, Cas.

Castiel let him go, laughing gently, turned without a word, and left – but he caught himself on the way out of the front door. “I’ll see you later, Dean.”

“Doing better, Cas!” he shouted back, and he heard Castiel’s soft, amused huff as he shut the door behind him.

Dean was strangely proud; it was the third day in a row that Cas had actually remembered to say goodbye. He still didn’t understand the point – Why would I say goodbye, if I’m just going to see you in a few hours? – but he tried, as best he could. Something warm roiled in Dean’s stomach; probably the coffee.

---

He felt strange, knocking on Bobby’s door. His whole childhood there was either no time for it or his dad was the one doing the knocking, his big hand planted firmly over Dean’s five-year-old shoulders, prepared to shove him into Bobby’s house with only a couple of terse words. Standing there, thirty six years old, the only one waiting on the doorstep, he felt shockingly older. That feeling soon faded, though, when Bobby’s aged face appeared in the doorway.

“Oh. It’s you,” he grumbled, and Dean followed him in, grinning. Bobby was never pleased to see him; in fact, if he ever was, it usually meant something was wrong. Bobby shuffled ahead of him, leading the way to the kitchen, where he went straight for the fridge. He pulled himself a beer from inside it, then paused, glanced up at Dean, and shook his head. “Oh, right,” he shrugged, closed the fridge, and sat down without offering Dean anything at all. “So what’re you here for?”

Dean moved to sit opposite him and almost laughed (not for the first time) at the way he and Bobby’s movements mirrored eachother. He felt a sudden rush of affection, of relief, towards Bobby, but decided not to mention it – something told him Bobby wasn’t much in the mood for that kind of talk. “We’re running a bit short back at the house. Cas said you might have work.”

Bobby raised his eyebrows; they disappeared briefly underneath the brim of his hat. “There’s always work. Just depends what you’re looking for, in particular.”

“The cars. Mechanic work,” Dean clarified, then stopped. “Unless there’s a hunt going on that you didn’t tell me about.”

Bobby waved him off irritably. “There’s no hunt, boy. You don’t think I’d have told you? The way you slump around when you’ve not killed anything in a few weeks? It’s enough to make a grown man cry.” His face was stony, though, and Dean chuckled gently at him.

“Can’t blame me for trying. You think I could take a couple of shifts in the yard?”

Bobby glanced towards the window, at the heaps of cars outside. “Sure. Why not. This for Sammy’s benefit?”

Dean nodded. Bobby’s face relaxed slightly; Dean didn’t think he was capable of smiling after so many years of looking like a dog shit right under his nose, but this was close enough. “Good. He’s doing alright? Gonna be a lawyer or somethin’, right?”

“I think so,” Dean looked down at the table, then back at Bobby. He smiled. “You should come by the house sometime.”

Bobby’s mouth twitched. “Maybe. Don’t want to get in the way of you boys.” He took a long pull on his beer, then put it back on the table. “Still shacking up with the angel?” he said, with only the slightest edge of tentativeness; he still didn’t say Castiel’s name, but even asking after him was such an improvement that Dean could hardly complain.

“Doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere any time soon.”

Bobby nodded slowly. “Maybe I will stop by. Lord knows you boys can’t look after yourselves for a god damned minute without my help.”

Dean felt that strange rush of affection towards him again; a sort of soft-centred agony, a gladness that Bobby was there. It didn’t seem like the old bastard would ever really be gone, and all Dean could think was, Good.

 He snorted and pushed himself up from the table. “C’mon, then. You gonna show me the ropes in this place, or what?”

Bobby mumbled something under his breath about Dean already knowing the ropes and can’t he just leave an old man in peace – but he got up from the table, too, bottle forgotten, and led the way out to the yard.

---

By the time he got back to the house Dean was starving, but pleased. He pulled his car into the driveway and recognised Sam’s after only a moment’s pause; the little blue eco-friendly thing had made Dean collapse with laughter when he’d first seen it, but the longer it sat in the driveway, the more it seemed perfect for Sam. He patted it, half-affectionately, as he went into the house.

The sound of the TV greeted him, as well as the familiar rumble of the kettle boiling (again). Castiel was standing in the kitchen with a cup of tea held close to his face, and he nodded in greeting when Dean came through from the front; Sam was sat on the couch with his arms spread out over the back of the sofa, watching some Animal Planet thing that Dean couldn’t even summon the energy to make fun of. He stood at the back of the couch and leaned on it with both hands, watching with vague interest as the screen showed shots of the ocean. “Sharks?” he asked, half-curious, and Sam turned to look at him.

“It’s about the Great Barrier Reef, and how it’s being destroyed.”

Dean tried not to let it show as his interest slipped away. “Huh,” he said distantly. “Get what you needed from the library?”

Sam hummed. “Some stuff, yeah.”

 “Cool. You doing anything tonight?”

Sam turned to look at him and smiled incredulously. “I was just gonna stay in, Dean. Why?”

He didn’t know. Ever since he’d sat in the kitchen this morning he’d felt strangely connected to everything. Not in the bullshit, hippie, everyone-is-part-of-everything kind of way, but to his family. To Sam. To Bobby. To Cas. He wanted them around him, weird though it was; they were always around him, always near, to the extent that sometimes he just wanted to be left alone; but today was different. Today he’d spent the whole day with Bobby, just talking about cars, and he’d never been happier. He had no answer for Sam that wouldn’t make him sound like a complete fucking idiot, though. He mumbled, “No reason,” and went into the kitchen where Castiel still stood, cup now empty, next to the sink. He smiled when Dean entered.

“You went to see Bobby?”

Dean nodded and dug in the cabinets above the counters in search of something to eat; there was almost nothing there, just the shitty granola-based low-fat-low-carb-low-taste cereals that Sam liked, and Castiel’s damned teabags. Did he own anything at all in this house?

He could feel Castiel’s eyes on him as he blustered around; he opened the fridge and peered inside, but there was nothing; no beer, no meat; just milk and eggs and the last dregs of butter. He lifted his head from inside it to glare across at Sam, whose eyes were still fixed on the TV.

“There’s no food in this house!” he called through, and Sam lifted a hand boredly, not even looking.

“Whose fault is that?” he called back, as if that finished it, and Dean looked incredulously at Castiel.

“Are you hearing this?”

Castiel looked mostly unconcerned. “We can go tonight, if you like. It is your turn.”

Dean knew better than to argue; Castiel had the memory of an obnoxious supercomputer, and testing him would only end up pissing the both of them off. He sighed heavily. “Fine. Fine. You coming with?”

Castiel set his cup down and nodded, as Dean dug in his jeans to check that he had the car keys. He grabbed Sam’s wallet off the counter and motioned for Castiel to follow him out to the car, saying goodbye to Sam as he went and getting a half-hearted, slightly amused, “Have fun!” in reply.

---

They’d lived together (in a way) for about three years now, and Dean still hadn’t learned his lesson about taking Castiel shopping.

Granted, he wasn’t as annoying as Sam, who frowned worriedly whenever Dean picked up something that wasn’t green and organic, but his brand of irritation was still there; Dean tightened his grip on the cart as Castiel stopped, again, and picked up a box of tampons. “I still don’t understand why the government insists on making women pay for these. It seems unfair,” he peered at the box as if the answer would be written on it; Dean snatched it out of his hand.

“Either way, Cas, it’s nothing to do with us.”

Castiel walked alongside him, effectively silenced (for the minute). He folded his arms behind his back; Dean still wasn’t used to seeing him in ‘civilian’ clothes. This very second he was in a blue sweater and jeans – if it wasn’t for the stiff way he walked, and the way his eyes scanned absolutely every single fucking thing in the store, he’d be indiscernible from the humans around him. “Why do you even come on these trips, Cas? You don’t eat.”

Castiel looked at him. “I eat sometimes.”

“Yeah, once a week or so. Not enough to justify groceries.”

“I like doing this with you.”

Dean frowned, embarrassed. “Well, I dunno why.”

Castiel said nothing in response; just kept walking alongside him quietly, hands clasped together. Eventually, he broke the silence again. “How was Bobby?”

“Fine. Pissy as usual, but fine. Think he’s getting soft in his old age.”

“Did he have anything for you to do?” They passed rows and rows of multi-coloured cereal boxes, and Dean grabbed at least five, if only to spite Sam’s all-natural shit.

“Yeah, he said he could get me in for a few shifts a week, just doing stuff around the yard. I think he missed me,” Dean grinned, but Castiel seemed to take him seriously, and nodded. “He asked about you,” Dean told him, and Castiel cocked his head, interested.

“What did you tell him?”

Dean wheeled the cart around a corner and looked into it, rather than at Castiel. “Told him you were still with us, and that it looked like you were sticking around.” He didn’t dare ask, are you? He wasn’t sure which answer he’d be hoping for. Castiel smiled; Dean heard it in his voice when he replied.

“That’s good.” He said, quietly, and followed Dean as he went down the aisle, picked up a six-pack and then went straight for the counter, unwilling to draw out the errand any longer. On the way home, in the car, neither of them said much; Castiel stared out of the window, as was his usual, and Dean kept his eyes on the road, just thinking. He’d never really considered Castiel going away before; it just seemed like a given that he would stay with them. When you stop the apocalypse with a guy, it’s pretty safe to say that the two of you are at least friends – but he didn’t know, for sure. Cas was impenetrable; the moment Dean thought he had a read on him, it turned out that he didn’t, after all. As if in answer, Castiel turned to look at him just as they pulled into the driveway.

“Dean,” he said, just as Dean was fumbling with the car door; he turned back.

“Yeah?”

“I am sticking around,” he said, and Dean looked at him dumbly before he laughed.

“Glad to hear it,” he touched Castiel on the shoulder and then seemed to get stuck; he didn’t know how long to hold it or how to pull back. He sat there with his hand over Castiel’s warm shoulder, fingers curled, before he pulled away and got out of the car as fast as he could; and the whole time Cas just looked at him, and smiled.

They went into the house together, Dean with as many bags as he could carry, Castiel with considerably more. He pushed the door open with his shoulder and grinned as he entered the house, confidence slowly returning.

“So did he throw stuff? The priest guy?”

Castiel snorted as he followed. “He’s lucky I’m more benevolent than I used to be. Six years ago, I’d have thrown things back, and they’d have gone through him.”

---

He dug his hands into muscle, scrabbling with his fingers at a section of skin-bark. He peeled back the rough flesh from his flesh, strange exoskeleton, fingers blunt, nails bloody.

Around him the trees rose like towers, triumphant. His skin was red-pink beneath, fresh, and it stung. 

---

 

“Who bought beer?” Sam asked him on Saturday morning, after coming back from his run. Dean, on the couch, half-interested in a rerun of Smallville, looked at him oddly.

“Cas did,” he deadpanned, incredulous. “I did, sasquatch. Who else?”

Sam stared at him in silence, eyebrows drawn together. “De- Aren’t you giving your speech on Monday?”

“Speech?” Dean asked him blankly. He was about to laugh – about to tell Sam he had no fucking idea what he was talking about, when he remembered the meeting; years of meetings.

Being pissy and anxious and not sleeping; all for Sam, even though he sometimes still looked at a bar and quivered with lust.

Sessions where he’d talked about his feelings; or worse, about his Dad.

 Relapsing.

 Relapsing again.

 The coin on his bedside table.

Apologising to Sam, to Bobby, to Cas.

 Calling old girlfriends and making amends; keeping a fucking diary which still sat, unread by any eyes but his own, at the bottom of his closet.

It was such a huge chunk of his life that when it came rushing back, full-force, full-colour, he felt dizzy. Sam just stood looking at him, and shame crept so confidently up his spine that he wanted to bash his head against the fucking coffee table. “Fuck. I forgot.”

Sam just looked at him from the mouth of the kitchen, expression drawn and worried; maybe even a little resigned. “Dean, if you’re slipping because of the pressure, I can call Lauren.”

“No. No, Sammy, seriously, I appreciate the concern but if I was going to start again, don’t you think I’d have hid it better?” he tried for a grin, and got nothing in response. “I forgot, Sam. I know that’s crazy, believe me, but – there it is. Throw it out, if you want.”

Sam breathed deep. “Three years is a long time, Dean. You know I’m – we’re – proud of you, right?”

“I know.” He did know.

“Alright.” Sam laughed in relief. “Sorry, I was just – you know. It was hard –“ he shook his head, looked down, went to the refrigerator and pulled the beer out; set about popping the tabs and pouring them away, one by one. “Trust Cas not to say anything. Didn’t he try to stop you?”

“No.”

“He’s too easy on you. I mean I know he wasn’t around a lot when you were – you know - at your worst, but I tried explaining.”

“He probably didn’t think. Give him a break.”

“I know. I know,” Sam sighed. “I’m proud of you, Dean.”

Dean had no words for a response; he hummed, instead. The sink made a low, hesitant gurgle.

---

He sat on the hood of the impala that night, turning the coin that said ‘to thine own self be true’ on it. Cheesy as hell, but Sammy had picked it, not him.

Three years sober. Three years of bitching and whining and snapping at Sam. Sam had bought him the coin in January, as a reminder; he carried it around a lot at first, and then eventually the coin ended up on his bedside table, except on a bad day, when he’d keep it in his pocket.

It wasn’t a bad day, today; just a strange one.

It was cold outside, so much that when Castiel appeared next to him, he near jumped a foot in the air. Castiel just looked at him, level and cool, knees drawn up and his hands clasped between them. Dean turned to him, trying to disguise the fact that he’d almost shit himself in surprise.

“Been awhile since you’ve done that.”

Castiel just laughed; but he sobered pretty quickly. “Sam’s worried about you. And he’s not exactly in the best of spirits with me.”

“He’s mad about the beer?”

Castiel nodded. “It’s strange. I didn’t even consider that anything was out of place.”

Dean rolled his shoulders, aware of how close Castiel was sitting to him; they were pressed from shoulder to hip, and Cas seemed to think nothing of that, either.  “Yeah, well, you weren’t the one picking it up. I dunno what I was doing. Old habits die hard, I guess,” But that wasn’t it, either. His memory had been so spotty the past few days; it was strange. Maybe he needed to stop staying up so late, watching stupid movies on the SyFy channel. They were never any good, anyway.

He sighed, and settled himself more comfortably on the car; Castiel reached over and took the coin from his hands; he turned it over, reading.

“Your brother loves you very much.”

Dean barked a laugh. “Tell me something I don’t know. If he loved me less, maybe he’d stop trying to get me to go jogging.

To his surprise, Castiel laughed, too. “Your brother also clearly loves a challenge.”

“Sure does,” Dean cast his eyes heavenward, but felt weird about it with Castiel close by; could he see things up there that Dean couldn’t? Was heaven even ‘up there’? Or was it some kind of weird insubstantial thing, like another plane, or another dimension?

He really did have to cool it with the low budget sci-fi flicks.

 “Hey, Cas?”

Castiel hummed in response.

“Talked to your brothers and sisters lately?”

Castiel laughed softly. “You worry too much.” He nudged Dean gently with his shoulder, and Dean was so startled by the humanity of the gesture that he almost fell off the car. “I’m not going anywhere, Dean. Since I started living with you boys, I’ve become something of a social outcast; but they’ll not make a pariah of me yet.” He looked up, too, at the stars, and Dean resisted the temptation to ask. “I’m still in contact where it counts.”

“So you can do whatever you want now?”

Castiel nodded. “Within reason.”

“Huh.” He turned to Castiel, and smiled, and received one in return.

  He still felt that strange ache, that weird almost-melancholy around his family; it had started earlier in the week and never let up. Around Sam, around Bobby, around Cas – even when they were being pissy or irritating or critical – he was just so grateful that they were there at all. Here, though, the surge came with something else. Castiel nudged him with his shoulder again, and Dean nudged him back. It was like ramming his shoulder into a brick wall, but he did it all the same. “Dick,” he muttered, laughing. “That’s good, though, right?” he let the rest go unspoken; you’re happy, right? This is what you want?

Castiel grinned properly then, at Dean and then at the sky. “Yes.” He said, and that was all; but it was enough.

---

He wandered, calling the name, over and over. The canopy above echoed with his voice; squat black birds fled at the sound, wings scraping the air like blades.

Sometimes he forgot that he was alone.

---

Dean woke sated and lazy, just like every day that week; it was even early when he went downstairs, so much so that Sam was in the kitchen in his jogging gear, looking like a complete asshole, pants way too tight. Sam pulled an apprehensive face when his brother entered the room.

“Look, if you’re going to make fun of me, I’m going for a shower, okay?”

Dean turned on his best shit-eating grin. “Now I know why all the old ladies in town get up so early,” he whistled. Sam’s face turned dark as thunder.

“Shut up. At least my heart’s not in trouble.” He stomped off, and Dean called up the stairs after him.

“Hey! Neither is mine!” he touched a hand to his chest. He was fine. Hunting was better exercise than all that fucking destination-less running, anyway. Best cardio he could imagine. Good for the soul.

He chuckled to himself and set about making an actual, real breakfast; made enough for Sam and Cas, too, even though Cas barely ate at all, and Sam was getting closer to ‘pretentiously vegan’ with each passing day. By the time he was done Sam was showered, dressed, and towelling his hair dry in the kitchen as he watched Dean cook.

“That all for you?” he asked, and Dean shot him a glare.

“If you keep being a dick about it, yeah.”

There was silence in the small, clean kitchen for a few minutes; Dean busied himself moving from counter to counter. There was a pile of dirty plates leaning next to the sink, which Castiel would no doubt take care of, unasked; but otherwise the place was pristine, just like the rest of the house. Dean couldn’t remember ever cleaning it; he wondered idly when the others would make him start pulling his weight, then tried to forget it. He was working, Sam was working, Castiel was – talking to religious leaders, working towards something.

He was having a strange week, and yet it was full of clarity. How had he lived in this house, survived the fucking apocalypse, and failed to appreciate the fact that his life was about as close to perfect as possible? How was it that he was only realising now how good he had things? To be on good terms with his brother, to have kept Castiel around, to see Bobby on a regular basis? He had a family, a life, and yet never before had he ever taken the time to appreciate just what that meant. Sure, Mom was still dead, Dad was still dead; they’d still seen hundreds of thousands of things that no person should ever have to endure – he’d been to hell, for god’s sake – but despite it all, here he was on a Sunday morning, making bacon and eggs for his little brother in a warm, clean kitchen that was (at least partially) his.

Sam’s voice called him out of his reverie; “What’s up with you this week, anyway? I don’t think I’ve seen you before eight in the morning –“ he paused. “I’ve never seen you awake before eight in the morning.” Another pause. “Not by choice, anyway,” he amended, and Dean scraped the bacon (only slightly burnt) out of the pan, sharing the food equally between them and leaving a little for Castiel, whenever he deigned to show up.

He slid Sam’s food over to him, then tossed him a knife and fork, hearing them clatter across the counter as Sam fumbled the catch. Then he leaned his back against the counter, plate in hand, and hummed around a mouthful of bacon. “I feel good, Sammy. I feel – great, actually.” He realised it as he said it. “Better than I have in years.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Sam looked confused, but pleased. “Where’s Cas?” he asked. Dean looked around, like Cas would spontaneously appear at the sound of his name, like he used to.

“No clue. Did he go out this morning?”

“I didn’t see him,” Sam said, shoving toast in his mouth, and Dean frowned.

“Guess he’s still in bed.” He left the kitchen, and his breakfast, and went up the stairs to where Castiel’s bedroom was. He always felt a little nervous approaching Cas’ room, in part because it was neater than anything Dean had ever seen. Its carpets and small wooden dresser were spotless. He’d been joking about him being in bed – Castiel very rarely slept; in fact, Dean didn’t think he’d seen him truly sleep since the day before they averted the apocalypse, curled in the back of the car like a child. Before now, the bed had been mostly for aesthetic purposes; something to do with feng shui, or just that a bedroom looks weird without at least a futon. Dean stopped on the threshold of the room, taking in the place; eyes landing on the dresser, the humble little window, and then, finally, on the lump in the bed which presumably was Castiel.

He stopped for a moment, just watching. The strangeness of it was unbearable, almost uncomfortable; Castiel’s back was to him in a white t-shirt, and for a moment fear rose up and seized his chest in a chokehold. He looked – small, and terrifying, like he’d been deposited there, unwilling. An image of Castiel clutching the covers desperately, of him sitting absently on the starched-white edge of a mattress, hospital-like, shot into his mind and kept him paralytically still – but then Cas rolled over, and his hair was dark and messy on the white pillow, and his eyes were wide, and blue.

“Good morning,” he said, and stretched from head to foot beneath the covers, the movement spiralling out from him, stomach first, a slow uncoil; he put his arms in the air, and yawned, then settled again.


piece 2

“You were sleeping.” Dean entered the room without really thinking about it – went to sit on the edge of the bed. The image of the hospital still lingered in the corner of his mind, but he dismissed it – here was Cas, warm and bundled under the covers, shifting over so that Dean could sit beside him, his hand out of the covers lying just inches from Dean’s own. He looked – mortal but still ethereal, still important somehow, and a giddy little rush of pride went through Dean, knowing that his friend had come so far. “You sleep?”

“I’m trying it out,” Castiel said, voice blurred, and Dean laughed.

“Well, I made breakfast, if you want it.”

Castiel’s hand slid across the sheet, and came to rest on his own. Dean looked at it distantly – Cas’s slim, pale fingers on his own rough, calloused ones. “Thankyou,” he said, and trailed his hand further – touched the base of Dean’s wrist, stroked his hand idly with his thumb.

“You, uh,” he paused, because the sensation of Castiel’s hand on his own – how casually he’d done it – was making his breath come thickly. “You like it so far? Sleeping?”

Castiel nodded, and nosed at the pillow like a cat. “It’s strange. Different. It wasn’t on purpose, before – it felt strange, and wrong, but this –“ his nose was a straight line on the pillow, his eyes fluttering briefly closed. “It’s really quite lovely.” His hand was still on Dean’s, fingers curled around it, just gently. He looked like Dean had never seen him before – it was leaving him speechless, strung out, like Castiel had squeezed every drop of sanity from his body, and replaced it with molasses. His arms didn’t seem to work anymore.

Slowly, like he was finally awakening for real, Castiel shifted and sat up in bed, leaning back against the headboard. He let go of Dean’s hand in the process but trained his eyes on him instead, the ghost of a smile still on his mouth. He looked blank, almost confused, for a second, then said, “Are you speaking at the meeting today?”

Dean nodded; maybe that was why he’d gotten up so early. Lauren, his sponsor and their group leader, had asked him to speak to newer members of the group ‘to show an example.’, and he’d said yes – she was a good friend, had been there for him for a long time, now – but the closer it got to it, the less equipped he felt to be able to tell people how to live. Especially since just a couple of days before, he’d bought a fucking six pack. Castiel watched him, saw his face fall, and reached forward for him again – touched his arm. “You don’t have to do it, if you don’t want to.”

“No. No, I want to,” and, surprisingly, he did. He was proud, however infinitesimally. Sam was proud as well, which was the most important thing; Castiel didn’t really seem to mind all that much either way, his friendship and his affection seemingly unconditional, provided that Dean was happy; although Dean remembered a couple of nights, bad ones, where he’d said things to Cas that had made his gaze go stony and cold. He looked at Castiel’s hand on his arm. “You got any plans for today?” he said awkwardly, and then realised something else was in the room with them, more important than his stupid fucking questions. Castiel smiled.

“Do you remember,” he began, not answering what Dean had asked, “Do you remember when we thought the world was ending?“ he trailed off. He didn’t have to say any more; Dean knew what he was getting at. How Castiel had found him in the motel parking lot, alone, the night before, torn and worried and fucking done with everything, seated moody on the steps outside. How Cas had sat next to him, argued with him, gotten angry and then soft and then dead, dead quiet. How he’d reached for Dean in the same moment that Dean reached for him, and kissed him, raggedly clutching at his shirt, at his flesh.

 They hadn’t spoken about it (not soberly, anyway) since it happened – Dean had put it up to desperation, to finding a last hand to hold before they went off the cliff, and had tried not to let it colour their relationship. Now, though, he was wondering why he’d let it go so easily.

“Yeah. I remember.”

“We’ve lived together for three years, now, and never spoken about it.”

Dean swallowed; Castiel’s thumb was drawing circles on his bare arm. “I know.” He said, voice unintentionally hoarse.

“Do you think we’re at the stage where we could?”

Dean raised his eyes to Castiel’s. “Maybe. Yeah.”

Castiel nodded. “Good,” he said, as if that ended the conversation, then let go of Dean’s arm and lay down again. “I’ll be down for breakfast in a while,” he mumbled, closing his eyes, and Dean watched him snooze for a second before he got up and left. When he got downstairs again Sam was still at the kitchen counter, this time reading the newspaper. He raised his eyebrows at Dean’s quietly pleased expression, but said nothing.

---

His hands were shaking on the drive up.

 He pulled out the collar of his shirt, pacing in the cold, small hallways of the YMCA, hot even though it was bitter autumn cold outside, and the glass on the front window of the car had been frosted over; he’d had to sluice it off with hot water from Castiel’s kettle, and enduring Castiel’s See, it is useful look had almost made him wish he’d left it alone. Still, being able to see the road ahead had been a big plus point, much as it pained him to admit it.

Saying goodbye to Castiel that evening had been pretty weird, too. There was a strange energy between them now, a hesitancy, and though Dean was pretty sure it’d always been there, noticing it was a whole different beast.

He was stressed. He felt too much like a huge shape in the clean, echoing halls. Coming here for AA had been simple enough; there, except to Lauren, he’d been just a face; just another guy with a crappy story, and the story he’d told hadn’t even been his, because no one would believe the facts. He’d found solace there, but it was solace in anonymity, in his brother’s pride. Now, preparing to stand in front of people; to stare them all, point-blank in the face and declare, I am a success - it felt wrong. Felt like a lie.

He looked at the ground, pacing, and tore a hand through his hair. He barely noticed when Lauren came down the hallway and touched his shoulder.

“You alright?” Lauren was a small woman, mousey, if anything; short brown hair, pretty in an unremarkable sort of way. She had laughter-lines, but from what Dean had gleaned over the past five years, she hadn’t laughed all that much until she got sober. She’d been good to him; Dean had resented her at first, but over time they’d become something akin to buddies. When you call someone in the middle of the night to whine about your addiction (and they put up with it), it gets pretty easy to see them as a friend. Plus, with Lauren around, he didn’t have to lean on his brother, and drive him into the ground.

Dean looked at her and grinned weakly. “I’m good.” He was really glad Sam wasn’t here; his little brother seeing him this way would have fucking killed him.

Lauren raised her eyebrows in disbelief, but let it go. “Hey, can I get your USB? For the projector?”

“My what?”

“You know, the little powerpoint you were supposed to do.”

Dean’s heart was in his throat. He pulled at the collar of his shirt even more fervently. “I-“

Lauren cut him off. “Dean, I’m kidding.”

“You’re a fucking asshole,” he breathed out in relief, and Lauren shook her head.

“Dean, just – tell them about it. Tell them about what you went through.” She smiled, and the lines around her eyes grew more pronounced, reminding Dean mildly of Cas. Lauren’s eyes were brown, though. “Believe it or not, Dean, you’re actually something of a marvel.”

Dean snorted derisively, and Lauren shook her head.

“Twenty years addicted, and you’ve been sober for three. Trying for five, which is more than most do. Do you know how few people have that kind of strength?” She shook her head. “Just remember you have a right to be here, okay? These people want to hear you talk.”

“Okay.” He pried his own hand away from his collar, and forced his fingers into a fist at his side, tried to stop himself from shaking. It was dumb, really; seventy years in hell, and he was terrified of a room full of people. “I’ll be in in a minute,” he assured Lauren, who nodded, giving his shoulder one final pat before she went down the corridor and ducked into one of the rooms on the left, the one Dean knew so well. He wished, vaguely, that he’d brought notes, or something. Any kind of toehold would be good; but he was lazy, and he’d put it off, thinking – I lived it. Why would I need to write it down?

Now, though, he was fucking kicking himself. Maybe a powerpoint wasn’t such a horrible idea.

He drew a deep breath. Then another. Then another, less to calm himself down, more to delay actually making the leap into the room. He’d faced down fucking Lucifer, and come out the other side. He could handle this. He could.

His hand shook minutely. He shoved it into the pocket of his jeans.

He went in.

The silence, he had expected; his boots squeaked on the floor, and he wondered vaguely what asshole had buffed it to within an inch of its life before his eyes alighted on the circle of people watching him enter. Some of them, he knew; others were unfamiliar. All of them looked interested, normal, not broken or sick, not like he’d imagined them before he’d started coming here. Before Sam had convinced him to go, he’d thought to himself, I can’t be one of them because I’m not a freak. I don’t look like a guy with a problem; I can’t be one of them. But none of them looked like guys with problems. They were just – people. Men and women, some of them barely thirty years old. Death and sickness and unexplainable sadness, all things in-between. Sometimes Dean’s lot in life seemed overwhelming, but at least he’d never had a son, and lost him. At least he’d never had a wife, and watched her fall away.  Sure, there was Ben and Lisa, but they’d never really been his.

It was the little silver lining on the fact that before now, he’d never really had a life; he’d never had to let anyone go for good, except his Mom and Dad. The people here were more than familiar with losing their parents.

He got to the centre of the room and lifted his hand awkwardly in greeting. Lauren was in the circle, nodding at him kindly, egging him on. “Hey,” he said, quieter than he’d intended, and a murmur went around in response. “I’m Dean,” this was familiar – hi, I’m Dean, I’m an alcoholic. How many times had he said it, now? Somewhere in the hundreds. Thousands, maybe. He’d chanted it to himself in the car, on the way to meetings, sometimes; anything to make him go, after Sam stopped forcibly driving him there.

“I’m Dean,” he repeated. He grinned at them; they were kindred spirits. They knew how tired those old words were, how easily they came out, now, when in the beginning it’d been like spitting nails. “I’ve been sober for three years,” he said, and some of them looked impressed; others didn’t. “I’ve been coming here for five. Lauren, uh-” he nodded at Lauren, and some of the people in the circle turned to look. “She asked me to come and talk to you guys, because she thinks it’ll help. You, or me, I’m not sure. I’m not exactly a professional or anything, but I’ll tell you guys about me, anyway. If it helps, then, cool. If it doesn’t, I’m sorry for wasting your time,” he smiled weakly, and a ripple of equally weak laughter went through the room. However pathetic, it spurred him onwards, but he faltered as to where to begin.

“I had a drinking problem – I-” he stopped. “I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol all my life,” he said, remembering the time Lauren told him that, after he talked about his Dad – Daddy drank to cope, and so did Dean. It was almost embarrassing in its simplicity. Still like his dad, after so long.

He was trying to break that habit, too.

He smiled thinly. “So that’s …almost thirty seven years,” he said, more to himself than anyone else, before he remembered his audience. He wanted desperately to sit down, but there was nowhere to go – just an empty space in front of them all, their eyes tracking him as he moved, restlessly, like a tiger pacing the limits of its cage. He didn’t feel much like an animal, though – here, without Sammy, without Cas or Bobby, without a reason to be strong or funny or impressive, he was just – Dean. He had almost no idea what that meant.

“I had a bad relationship with my dad,” He said, tired of how often he’d spoken about John in the last five years. “Well-” he laughed, “Hehad a bad relationship with me.” He blew past it, not wanting to linger too long. For once, this would be about Dean. “A lot of my life – my adult life, too – I looked in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. I had a lot of bad days,” he almost laughed at that, too; what an understatement. “I don’t know if this’ll help any of you guys, because – well, you’re not me. But – what we have in common is that, you know. We’re here,” he said, and found it in him, somehow, to look at them.  “We’re trying.”

After that, it was easy – or as easy as talking about any of it got. They listened, he thought, though it was hard to tell. He wasn’t there for that long but it felt like a lifetime, talking, and when it ended he felt – different. Not like a weight had been removed, but moved, maybe. 

He left, and the drive home was one of cool silence. He turned the radio on – no Zep, which would’ve been perfect, but then – things didn’t happen that way. He smiled to himself instead, as some shitty country singer warbled away.

Alone with himself, he thought back to all the things he’d told them – about Mom, about Dad, about his brother. Embellished though it was – Demons and werewolves and angels removed – it had been the same story, in its bones. For the first time, he felt like it was over. Like he was ready for something else.

Damnit if he didn’t drive home with the stupidest fucking smile on his face.

---

He found Sam on the couch the next day, after he got home from Bobby’s. He leaned over the back of it, next to his brother’s head. “What’cha watchin’?”

Sam jumped, and turned to look at him as Dean climbed over the back of the couch and flopped down beside him. “Hey. Didn’t see you get in last night,” Sam eyed him carefully, and Dean would never, ever get tired of the edge of suspicion in his brother’s voice when he came home late. Really. “Everything go okay?”

“It went …really good.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he said, voice on the edge of disbelief. “No one fell asleep, anyway. It was good.” He paused. “So? What’re you watchin’?”

“You won’t be interested.”

“Not with that attitude.” Dean adjusted himself in his seat, and nudged Sam’s knee with his own. “C’mon. Sell it to me.”

Sam laughed. “It’s about a guy who meets a girl online.”

“So it’s a chick flick?” Dean’s lip curled at the thought, a Sammy, why, on the edge of his tongue.

“It’s a documentary.”

“Well how was I supposed to know?” Dean muttered, and Sam flapped a hand at him.

“Shut up. It’s about a guy who meets a girl online, but she’s not who she says she is.”

“So she’s a dude?”

Sam shrugged. “Maybe. I dunno yet.”

“Cool.” Dean settled in to watch, and silence reigned until the commercials came on, loud and intrusive. Sam turned the volume down and looked at him.

“So it was good?”

“Yeah.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Not… really.”

“Okay.”

They watched a cat food ad in silence. Dean cleared his throat. “Hey, Sammy, if I took Cas for breakfast tomorrow, you think he’d like it?”

Sam looked at him with careful nonchalance. “Depends,” he said, and Dean regretted starting the conversation.

“Depends on what?”

“Depends why you’re taking him. Is this a just-friends thing?”

“Of course it fucking is,” Dean bit back.

Sam raised a brow. “Cool. Can I come?”

Dean dropped his head back against the couch, reached over with one arm, and punched him exhaustedly. “You’re a fucking asshole. No, you can’t.”

“So it’s a date.”

“No.”

“Sounds like a date.”

“Well, it’s not. I just want to take the little fucker for breakfast.”

Sam’s grin was ever-present, and Dean wanted desperately to wipe it off his face. Possibly with his feet. “Well, to answer your question,” his tone told Dean he wasn’t going to like the answer, and he looked away, as if that would stop him from hearing it. “Yeah, I think he’d like it. He’s been waiting for you to address this thing you’ve got going on for fucking years.” Before Dean could argue, he went on, “Sometimes I think that wing trick he did when you first met was angel for ‘do you want to get coffee’.” Dean’s mouth flapped uselessly. Sam kept talking. “Does this mean you’ll stop the staring thing?”

“What st- you are such a fucking dick. You’re definitely not allowed to come with.”

Sam shrugged, settling himself. He picked up the remote and turned the volume up again. “Don’t wanna come with. You guys are gross.”

Dean lacked the strength to even kick him. He was preparing his comeback when the front door clicked and he jerked upwards, looking incriminatingly uncomfortable as Castiel walked in, glancing only briefly at them as he dropped his keys on the kitchen counter, and started filling the kettle. Sam started silently laughing himself into a coma, which Dean hoped, just a little, he would never emerge from. He hissed at Sam.

“Answer the question. Yes, or no?”

“I can’t believe you’re coming to me for advice.” Dean gave up.

He pressed his hand against Sam’s face as he got up, ignoring the way Sam still snuffled laughter against his palm.  “You licked my palm. How old are you?” Sam just laughed - Dean wiped his hand on the couch and slumped into the kitchen, trying to ignore the muffled sounds of Sam’s snorting, which apparently had gotten to the point where he literally could no longer control himself. It wasn’t even that funny. Castiel, oblivious, was leaning against the counter when Dean entered; he leaned in the doorway to the kitchen.

“Hey, Cas. Good day?”

Cas eyed him carefully. “What’s wrong with Sam?”

Okay, so, not so oblivious. “Nothing. He’s a douchebag,” he said, voice rising in volume on the last word as he leaned back and half-shouted it at Sam.

“Was it something I did?” Castiel asked him, eyes narrowed, and Dean laughed.

“No, man, you’re fine. He’s just being a dick.” He moved across the room carefully, drawing closer, careful not to stand so close that he made himself uncomfortable. Baby steps. “So, good day?”

Castiel looked ambivalent. He glanced at the kettle, making sure it was sitting straight, then looked at Dean. “It wasn’t entirely discouraging. The Father and I talked about marriage.”

Dean snorted. “And here’s me thinking you guys weren’t even friends.”

“About the right to get married, Dean. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but people get very upset about it. I explained to the father that it was a mostly-outdated practice, and that its original use was primarily in the prevention of incest and the distribution of wealth from generation to generation. He was… less than receptive.”

“Is he receptive to anything you tell him?”

Castiel smirked. “He was much more agreeable once I turned all his wine into water.”

“Isn’t that a little blasphemous?” But he smiled back, impressed. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

Castiel nodded. “It’s not a stretch.” He frowned. “And before you ask, no, I won’t do it the other way around. Your brother would dismember me.”

“Wasn’t gonna ask,” he said, truthfully, although that was a trick he’d be interested to see. Castiel looked him over, considering.

“How was the meeting?”

Dean shrugged. “Good, I guess.”

“Good,”  Castiel nodded. “Sam’s proud of you.”

Dean shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah, well, he could stand to act like it.”

Castiel’s smile was wry, but he said nothing. He was making tea again; at first Dean found it endless, almost frustrating, the way he would make tea with every occasion. When he came in from work, in the mornings, after food (and sometimes with it, too).  Now that he’d gotten used to it, though, he found himself enjoying the way Castiel took to it. With Cas, everything was a ritual; his little movements were precise, learned after the first try, and he never slipped. He wasn’t hesitant, wasn’t vague or nervous or shy. Dean thought, distantly, of his fingers around Dean’s wrist; they were there. There was no question in them, only the fact of his presence, the definite, quantifiable pressure of the pads of his hands. Maybe that was why Dean liked him so much; in his life, there weren’t many people who were sure.When Cas kissed him, all those years ago, he’d never felt anything so sure.

Speaking of which, though, this wasn’t a time for himto be hesitant, either. Better to make enduring Sam’s laughter actually worth something.

“So are you going to see him again tomorrow?”

Castiel frowned, stirring his tea. He pressed the bag against the side of the cup, then carried on stirring. “I don’t think so. I should probably give him some time to rest.”

“Time for you to rest as well?” he grinned. “You were pretty excited about sleeping yesterday morning. And I didn’t see you around for breakfast today.”

“A fortunate side-effect.” Castiel held the tea under his nose, both hands wrapped around the cup. It was cold outside; that half-autumn chill was starting to settle, wrapping its gentle fingers around the trees. “I slept in this morning. I thought it was better to make the Father wait for me, as opposed to the other way around.”

Dean grinned, at that. “So you’re not busy tomorrow?”

“Not as far as I’m aware.”

“You wanna get breakfast?” It came out half-slurred, a blurry mess so vague he barely knew if he’d said the words or just made a noise in Castiel’s general direction. Castiel, thankfully, seemed to pick it up.

“With you and Sam?”

“With me.”

“Alright,” he said; again, no hesitation, no pattering around the subject. A simple, solid yes. Dean nodded.

“Cool,” he turned to leave the kitchen, embarrassed. He looked back. “Me and Sam are watching some weird documentary, if you wanna join us.”

“I think I’ll just go to bed.”

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

Dean stopped, just to take him in. Castiel, strong, sure; not Cas who’d called himself a poor example, not the image Dean had imagined, had gone back to; the vision of the future Zachariah had shown him, wrecked and weary and pained. Embarrassment seized him again. Castiel’s gaze hadn’t left his own for a long, long moment, and he was smiling in that knowing way of his, making Dean’s heart plummet into his boots.

 “Yeah,” he muttered, hasty, and all but ran away. He went back over to where Sam was still sitting, and smacked him in the back of the head. “Shut your mouth,” he muttered as he sat beside him, and Sam touched a hand to where he’d been hit.

“I didn’t say anything!”

“You were gonna.”