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He feels a little like they’re teenagers when he picks up Cas from his date. He sits in the car, one arm laid over the back of the passenger seat, and watches as Cas ducks out of the house graciously. No goodbye kiss at the door, no nothing – but maybe Cas had been self-conscious, or awkward about kissing her in front of Dean. Maybe they’d already kissed plenty inside.

He watches as the light from Nora’s front door slims to a thin line, and grins when Cas gets in the car.

 “So? How’d it go?” he grins wider; Cas looks at him, and sighs.

“She wanted me to babysit her children.”

“Huh,” he pauses. “Kinda coupley for a first date.”

Cas grants him a small, bitter smile. “She only wanted me to babysit her children.”

“No date?”

“Not in the least.”

“Right.” He starts the car, and Cas sits back in his seat, sighing. “Tough break.”

“It’s alright. I don’t know what I was expecting.”

They drive on for a little while, weaving through the suburban nightmare Nora calls home. People sit out on their porches; they leave their doors wide open, bared to the darkness. It’s fucking terrifying. He lets the silence stretch for as long as he can; Cas peers dejectedly out the window.

“So you haven’t been on a date before?”

Cas doesn’t miss a beat. “Dean, please tell me you’re not going to pay someone to date me.”

Dean barks a laugh. “Just askin’.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“You wanna?”

Cas looks at him – Dean keeps his eyes on the road, mouth quavering on a smile, heart wedged somewhere between his brows. “With you?” he says, quietly, and Dean swallows and tries not to put his foot down on the accelerator.

“Yeah. Sure. Why not? Just, you know. You gotta do it someday. Why not do it with your friend?” a thin ploy, and Cas seems to know it. He sits back in his seat and moves his mouth like he’s rolling the question around.

“Alright,” he says finally, allowing Dean to breathe again. “Where do you want to go?”

“You wanna go now?”

Cas looks at him and smiles. “Why not?”

Dean shrugs; can’t argue with that.

---

So they find themselves at a bar, sequestered in a booth at the back, sitting opposite each other. Cas, quietly curious, nurses his beer and looks at Dean intently.

“This is nice,” he says quietly, and his foot nudges Dean’s, under the table.

Dean has known he loves Cas for a long time, now. He can’t remember if it was the first time he died, or the second; doesn’t know if it was ‘I’ll hold them off’ that tore it, or if no particular phrase, no trigger, brought it on; Dean just knows he loves him, like he has loved seldom other things, and sitting here in front of him, Cas’ foot placed delicately between his ankles, is a fucking ridiculous dream come true.

“Yeah,” he replies, careful. Cas takes a sip of his beer, looking for all the world like just another guy; dark jeans, button-down shirt, hair in its usual disarray. He’s got five-o-clock shadow even though he shaved just this morning, and he’s missed a spot below his chin; the hair grows longer there.

“You know, last time we were in a bar, things were very different,” Cas says conversationally. He’s folding a napkin with his fingertips; pressing it into tinier and tinier triangles, until it is thick where it lies between the tips of his index fingers. He uses it to mop up the ring his beer has left behind, and talks as he does it. “With the cupid, I mean,” he clarifies, though he doesn’t have to; Dean remembers.

He doesn’t want to say ‘yeah’ again, but he can’t think of anything else to say. Cas goes on.

“I was going to stay.”

Dean swallows. “What?”

“I was going to stay,” he says softly, eyes flicking between the napkin and Dean’s face. “I just wanted you to know that.”

They haven’t seen each other in a few weeks. Cas has started living such a normal life you would hardly believe he was a fallen angel, sometimes; Dean will swing by, show up at his apartment with a smile, maybe some groceries. Their time together is different; Cas occupies a space that Dean never thought he would, of 2% milk and tax rebates and babysitting, and when they are together they are so quiet that it should unnerve him, but it doesn’t.

He feels like he’s never known Cas before now. Loved him, yes, but not known him; this Cas likes spicy food, likes to hang out in loose drawstring pants, and tried smoking for a week just to see if it would take (it didn’t). He’s baffled by most romcoms but loves When Harry Met Sally, and even made Dean watch it once, just to point out all the ways in which he liked it. Dean liked it well enough, copious amounts of sap aside; but it reminds him too much of the two of them, friends for so long and always falling apart, and he doubts their ending will be anything like as smooth, as cohesive. He’s never even been to a New Year’s party.

They eat take out and sit together on Cas’ ratty couch, Cas with his legs curled beneath him, Dean with his outstretched. They haven’t been out together before, but it feels natural, feels okay. Dean asks if he wants another beer, and Cas says no; Dean slides out of the booth, tagging Cas’ foot with his own as he goes, and they share a smile that is out of proportion to its happening.

“What’s the structure of dating, for you?” Cas asks him, leaning forward over the table, and Dean laughs as he leans back in his seat.

“What do you mean?”

“People seem to assign different significance to numbers of dates. Do you?”

Dean laughs again, folding a hand over his stomach; looking away. He’ll blush if he’s not careful, and maybe Cas knows it, his hands laced together on the table. “I dunno. Don’t really date much. Third date’s a special one, I know that.” Dean’s never actually been on a third date, though. Even the relationships he’s been in happened mostly organically; the last time he took someone out was when he was with Lisa, and by then they were more married than dating.

“We’re definitely past our third,” Cas says, foot moving under the table, gaze gently teasing, and Dean huffs a breath, half a laugh. He’s definitely turning slightly red.

“Prude,” he mutters quietly, and Cas grins, gums showing, pleased.

“You too,” he murmurs around his smile, and Dean rolls his eyes.

“Let you kiss me goodnight if you’re lucky.”

“I hope so.” Cas doesn’t even sound like he’s joking; his gaze is heavy, joyful, on Dean’s.

The dark bar seems to fade to dusk around them, the booth a warm hearth. He drinks his beer to dregs, Cas finishing half of his, but he doesn’t get up for more. Cas’ foot remains between his; his hands splay on the table as he talks, expressive. Dean is actually basking in his warmth, clock ticking honey-slow as the bar gets louder then quieter, quieter; by the time he glances up it’s nearly midnight, and Cas is still there, still watching him, measured; still smiling.

 Outside, snow is falling, and he wonders if he could have picked a better moment for it. The flakes are so tiny they can barely be seen, flecks like static poised in the air around them. It’s not even that cold, and the sidewalk is wet but not whitening. As they walk, Cas sticks close to his side.

“You’re supposed to walk me home, I think,” he says when Dean makes for the car keys, and Dean grins down at his hands where the keys are held, shaking his head.

“Sure. I can be a gentleman.”

“Don’t be too much of one,” Cas says, smiling in return, and Dean just elbows him, hands in pockets, as they fall into step.

It’s a mostly quiet walk to Cas’ place, their feet scuffing softly. Cas looks ethereal in a way that belies his worn-soft clothes, bathed in the glow from the lamps overhead, hair swathed in shards of yellow, halolike. It’s dark out, and the streets are empty; it seems the world has ended in the moments they were in the bar; seems that everyone is gone, all of a sudden; perhaps to allow them this quiet walk, this rare moment of cohesion.

Their feet thump up the steps to Cas’ apartment, and when they reach the floor he lives on, they stop; Dean turns and walks backwards to his door, stops in front of it. Cas has flecks of snow in his hair and Dean reaches for one, but it melts before he can grasp. He finishes the motion anyway; curls his finger around a strand of Cas’ hair, pulls back when he’s suitably embarrassed.

“I wanted you to stay,” he blurts, and Cas’ face falls; he looks inconsolable.

 He steps forward and then they are kissing; the door is what Dean needs when his back thumps softly against it; something to hold him up, hold him steady. Cas’ hands are so wide, he wonders how he never noticed before. They fold around his hips, deft.

He’s not even concentrating on the kiss, lost; the stairwell echoes with the shuffle of feet, with his own heavy breathing through his nose. Maybe they’re just two people on a date now; maybe Cas is human and it should make things easier; but he still cries when Cas kisses him, throat growing hot and his mouth moving softer, wider.

This is the thing that pulled him from hell. That died for him; that never thought not to. This is the thing that loves him, steady and unwavering as ballast for a balloon, as a lighthouse.

He pulls back and Cas is still close to him. Both their faces are wet, and it’s his fault.

I miss you, I love you, he means to say, but all that comes out is a shuddering intake of breath.

“Do you want to come inside for coffee?” Cas asks him delicately, joking just a little, looking worried; Dean’s face crumples into the most pathetic, one-line smile.

“Cas,” he murmurs softly, and lifts his hands to Cas’ face. “What the fuck would I be without you?” he says, and Cas goes to him, embraces him, pulls them rough and close together, nose a rasp against the side of his neck.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

They go inside, slightly damp from the snow, slightly tender. His skin seems old, like it is shedding, and when Cas undresses him slowly on the creaking couch, he wonders if the flesh revealed beneath is as new as it feels.   

They shiver, touching; the apartment is silent, so Cas, so bare and yet so full of something that Dean can’t put his finger on.

But now it’s full of them, full of their deliberate quietness. Now it’s a place where Cas has loved him, where Cas has dragged his mouth across his chest, on a sigh.

It is different in the early morning, three am with Cas curled, splayed, against his clammy side. There’s nothing covering them, jeans on the floor, and Dean stares at the fine cracks on the ceiling. Cas has a hand tangled in his hair.

What changes? What now? He thinks, so wary, then hates himself for it. Why now, of all times, fucking ask?

He wants breakfast. Cas stirs against his side, hand splayed over his heart, noises he makes in slumber undignified. He yawns widely, stretches against Dean’s side, sends a warm uncoil thudding through Dean’s gut like a soft, percussive beat.

“There’s eggs and bread in the kitchen,” he says, apropos of nothing, and Dean smiles at the ceiling, just a little.

He’s in love, and he’s older, and he doesn’t know where this ends; Cas can’t stay, can’t ever stay.

But now – for this morning, for this breakfast – Dean can.