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Crossing the Sea

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"Dude, stop it," Sam insists.

"Stop what?" Dean takes another pull at his beer, his eyes never leaving Sam.

"You know what. The staring." Sam leans back on the windshield. "You're creeping me out." But he's smiling as he says it.

Dean snorts. "You know what? You're creeping me out."

"Asshole." Sam's grin widens.

"Creep." With effort, Dean pulls his gaze from Sam, leans back and gazes out over the lake. The sun is setting, streaking the sky with red and pink. He drinks more beer, then steals another glance at Sam, who is right there beside him and even though it's been a while, he can still remember how it felt to think that Sam was gone forever.

"Freak," Sam says with affection in his voice.

Dean grunts and turns back to the wide expanse of Lake Superior, watching the wind kick waves up against the distant rocks. "Sam, this lake is huge," he finally says. "It's like a freaking ocean."

"Yup." Sam nods in agreement. "Largest freshwater lake in the world."

"And you really think something nasty is living out there?"

"Yup. From what I could gather, it could be a Hydra. Or a Leviathan," says Sam. "It's worth checking out."

"And you're sure it's a supernatural being, not just your ordinary, run of the mill..." Dean trails off and frowns. "Lake monster?" He has no idea what the hell to call it.

"If it was a real living, breathing aquatic mammal or reptile," Sam counters, "wouldn't the biologists have identified it by now?"

"Maybe they just haven't found it yet. It is, after all, the largest freshwater lake in the world." Dean points his beer at Sam. "Think about it."

"No," Sam insists. "There's something out there."

"Hey, maybe it's a mermaid." Dean grins. "I'd like to see one of those."

Sam rolls his eyes.

"Come on, they're hot. Admit it."

"Dean, it's not a mermaid."

"Yeah," Dean says, reconsidering. "With our luck, it would turn out to be a merman."

Sam nods. "My money's on a Hydra. With all seven heads."

"Right," Dean scoffs. "What would a Hydra be doing out here?"

"Wrecking ships," Sam says. "Lot of boats sinking this season."

"We could be out there hunting genuine monsters, you know. Wendingos. Vampires. Shape shifters. Instead we're out here wasting our time," Dean waves a hand at the water, "Sightseeing."

"We're not sightseeing, we're hunting," Sam tells him.

"We're driving around looking at the water, that's not hunting." Dean takes another drink of his beer, about to point out that hunting usually involves, well, actual hunting with guns and knifes and shit, when there's a rustling in the bushes off the side of the road. He sits up sharply, hand going to the hilt of his knife as he examines the area.

The noise stops, and a raccoon ambles out of the bushes, making its way through the tall grass.

Dean sits back against the windshield, slowly letting his breath out, forcing himself to relax.

Sam watches the raccoon, then catches Dean's eye. "You okay, Dean?"

"I'm fine," Dean says, rolling his eyes.

"Good." Sam nods. "So am I."

"Glad that's settled." Dean takes another drink of his beer. "Hey, why did the raccoon cross the road?"

"In order to freak you out?"

"Shut up," Dean says. "But it could have been rabid, you know. Can't be too careful about those things." He finishes his beer and sighs, closing his eyes. Rabid raccoon or not, he's tired, it's been a long drive and the beer is making him sleepy. The rhythmic sound of the water hitting the shore soon lulls him into sleep.

And he's back in Stull cemetery, again, alone, completely and utterly alone. There's blood dripping from his face and more blood splattered on the ground along with Bobby's broken body and the rings, glinting in the sun. The silence is deafening. He's lost everyone, everything that's ever mattered to him and he just stays on his knees, he can't get up, he can't go on, he wants to sink into the graveyard with the rest of the bodies and simply stop being.

The shadow passes over him and when he looks up, it's Cas, standing above him, calm and serene and Cas isn't god, he's simply Cas. Before Dean can say anything, Cas presses two fingers to his forehead and the pain stops.

Then Cas kneels in front of him, takes Dean's face in both hands, and kisses him.

Dean wakes with a start. "What the hell?" His beer bottle tumbles down the hood of the car to land in the grass with a soft thump. Dean rubs his face, confused. He's dreamed of Stull many times, but the kiss--that was something new.

"Hey, Dean, it's okay," Sam says quietly. He reaches out and pats Dean's shoulder.

"Yeah, yeah." Dean shrugs off Sam's touch.

"Bad dream?"

"Yeah. I mean, no--" Dean stops himself. "Cas was there. It was just kind of weird."

"Real Cas?" Sam asks eagerly.

"No," Dean insists. "At least, I don't think so."

Cas is busy, taking care of important angel business in heaven. No reason for him to be lurking around in Dean's dreams. Kissing him. "No way," Dean says aloud, scrubbing a hand over his hair. "Just a dream."

"I wonder how Cas is doing."

"Swaggering around up there in heaven, I'm sure," Dean says. "Keeping all those asshole angels in line."

"Now there's a job." Sam stretches, arms up over his head, beer bottle safely tucked between his legs. He looks up at the sky. "Wonder if he's watching us at all. I kind of miss him."

"That makes one of us." Dean snorts. "I'm sure he has his hands full in heaven. No reason for him to come down here."

Sam is giving him an odd look so Dean slides off the car and helps himself to another beer. Part of him thinks that one day, even though it's been months, he's going to hear that soft flutter and turn around and Cas will be there, staring at him with that stupid stare. He can't quite accept that Cas is out of his life, forever.

***

"Tell me, Mrs. Nielson," Sam says, flipping open his pad, "did you see anything in the water before the boat went down?"

She shakes her head. "No, I mean, I thought I did, but--" Sighing, she folds her arms across her chest. "Are you sure my name isn't going to be mentioned?"

Dean smiles his most ingratiating smile and leans against the porch railing, projecting trustworthiness with all his might. "Ma'am, I promise, you will simply be an unidentified source."

Mrs. Nielson frowns at him, and it's only when Sam nods encouragingly that she relents. "Okay. Now people are saying that it was the beer, but honest, we didn't drink that much." She hesitates again.

"I understand." Dean wonders how long it was going to take to pull the story out of her. "A couple of beers over the course of a day, that's not much."

"And you saw what you saw," Sam chimes in earnestly. "Right?"

"Well, first, something hit the boat. Like, almost shoved it over." She run a hand through stringy bleached blond hair and lights a cigarette off of the butt of the previous one. Her skin has the sallow look of a serious drinker and her hands are shaking. "Then I looked down, and it was big. And like a snake. And it came up out of the water--" She stops again, eyeing them both. "You're not going to believe this part."

"Try us," Sam says.

"It had two heads. Maybe three. And they hissed like a cat. All the heads, they did."

Sam scribbles down some notes. "Hmm. Very interesting. Now, Mrs. Nielson, can you tell us anything about the shape of the heads?"

"I don't know, it was getting dark, I couldn't see too well. They were like, maybe," she says thoughtfully, "a little like a crocodile, but not so long--shorter snout. But the teeth, there were lots of teeth."

"Then what happened," Dean asks. A drunken sighting, in the dark. This didn't sound very legit.

"Then the boat was going down so we radioed for help and got the raft out and made it to shore. We were all fine, just a bit shook up."

Sam nods again. "All right. Thank you for your time, ma'am. This has been very helpful."

Standing behind her, Dean rolls his eyes at Sam. "Yes, thank you, I think we have everything we need to know."

As they trotted down the porch steps past the rambling rose bushes, Dean whispers, "Really, Sam? You believe this lady?"

"Dean," Sam pauses as he opens the car door. "It's all the evidence taken together--three boats go down in the course of a month, they all mention seeing something--"

Dean leans over the roof of the car. "And the sightings have nothing in common, except for maybe the cases of beer on deck."

"The heads," Sam says. "Everyone seems to think there's more than one head. I still think it's worth a closer look."

"Okay, okay," Dean says. He's dubious, but Sam does have a point. And maybe good instincts, too. "Let's find a place to stay, and see what we can find out."

***

Dean stares at the coffeemaker as it gurgles and hisses, waiting patiently for the pot to fill. A clean, comfortable motel room on a warm spring morning, sunlight streaming through the windows. Sam sits cross-legged on the bed, laptop balanced between his knees and Dean is content to hang out for a while and watch the coffee brew.

"Well, like I said, it's the largest freshwater lake in the world, if you go by surface area. Third largest by volume," Sam announces.

"Thank you, Mr. Wikipedia," Dean says. "Any other titillating facts?"

"The numbers of sightings increase after particularly stormy winters--1913, 1928, 1946." Sam types, keys clicking on the keyboard. "Some of them refer to it as Mishipishu, an powerful creature from Ojibwe mythology." He turns his laptop around to show Dean the image of a large cat with a bumpy spine and huge jaws.

Dean raises his eyebrows. "A big cat, paddling around in a lake? I'm not exactly buying that."

Sam laughs. "We're not talking about a house cat here. It's said to be up to 20 feet long. Thing is, though, this past winter wasn't particularly bad--no huge storms churning things up."

"Your theories aren't really holding together, are they?" Dean asks, unwrapping the styrofoam coffee cups. An in-room coffeemaker, with little packs of coffee and cups and sugar and creamer. Classy place. "Do we have anything solid to go on?"

"The sinkings."

"Drunken sport fishermen hitting a rock," Dean tells him.

"There's two more sightings reported in a travel forum," Sam points out. "One from a week ago, the other from last month, before the sinkings."

"Because we believe everything we read on the internet. Where is this creature now?"

"The deepest part of the lake is 1,300 feet," Sam says. "That's deep enough to hide something big, don't you think?"

"Could almost hide you in there, Sammy."

Sam makes a face at him. "And the lake is relatively young, formed 10,000 years ago, during the last retreat of the glaciers on the continent."

"So it's just a baby lake, then?"

"Which means it's the same age as Loch Ness. That might mean something," Sam says. "And it's deeper. So are you thinking it's not supernatural? That we have our own version of Nessie?"

"That's what I've been--" Dean stops when he hears a soft rustling behind him. It's a familiar sound. He turns to find Cas in the middle of their motel room, looking the same as ever in all his trenchcoated nerd angel glory.

The sight of him brings it all back in a rush, the desperation and fear and helpless anger and for a moment it feels like it's not really over at all.

"Hey, Cas," Sam says with surprise. "Good to see you."

"Hello Sam," Cas says with a nod. "Dean."

Dean finds his voice. "Long time no see. Figured you forgot all about us."

"I could never forget you, Dean," Cas says. "Or you, Sam."

There's a warmth in Cas's tone that makes Dean take a deep breath as he turns and fumbles for the coffee cups. His hand shakes as he pours the coffee and he has to remind himself that it's over and done with. No more end times.

"Hey, ass-butt, remember that time you holy-firebombed Michael? Good times, huh?" Dean glances over his shoulder at Cas.

"That's not what I would call 'a good time'," Cas says with a puzzled frown.

Dean's missed that look. More than he realized. "Yeah, and then you left, without saying goodbye? That was fun, too." It comes out sounding a lot pissier than Dean intended. He turns back to the cups and wonders what the hell is wrong with him.

"Uh, so, what's up?" Sam asks after an awkward silence. "What took you so long to come visit?"

"I have been..." Cas's expression grows pained, "busy."

Sam unfolds his legs and rises up from the bed. "Got your hands full, huh?"

"Seriously, how goes things in heaven?" Dean asks, worried that something is starting up again. Something not very good at all. "Are you kickin' ass and taking names?"

"Not exactly." Cas sighs. "It's been more difficult than I envisioned."

"If you need any help, just let us know." Dean says. "Be happy to come up there and smack a few angels around." The thought of it pleases him. Angel-smacking sounds like a good time.

Sam nods his head in agreement. "Just say the word."

"The offer is appreciated." Cas sounds weary, which really isn't anything new but it's obvious he's disturbed by something and fear coils deep in Dean's gut because man, he is so done with angels and their shit.

"Cas, what's going on?"

"The angels. With god still out of the picture, and most of the archangels gone," Cas says with a furrowed brow, "things have changed greatly."

"Get to the point, man. What kind of changes?" Dean asks.

"There is a strong push for," Cas hesitates and takes a deep breath before continuing. "A representational government."

"What?" Dean blinks. Then bursts out laughing. Sam joins him.

"This isn't funny, Dean." Cas scowls at him. "I'm on a committee."

Giddy with relief, Dean laughs even harder, spilling his coffee. "Honestly Cas? It is funny. It's fucking hilarious." He puts the coffee down and wipes his hands on his jeans.

"I chose to come back to earth to gather information on forms of earth government," Cas says. "It's better than listening to them all argue, over and over, the legitimacy of such a government. Half the angels adamantly believe a human-style government is beneath them."

"Figures." Dean hands a cup of coffee to Sam.

"So, when are the elections? Are you running for office?" Sam asks cheerily as he pours a packet of sugar into the cup. "Need a campaign manager?"

"Vote for Cas, or he'll kick your ass," Dean offers. Sam grins at him.

"Elections won't be for another millennium, at least." Cas rolls his eyes. The move looks very familiar and Dean is sure he's seen it before. Like maybe in a mirror. "If we get that far. And no, I have no intention of participating in any sort of election."

"But I bet the debates would be awesome," Dean says. "Would smiting be allowed?"

Cas gives Dean a look.

"Hey, it would make it a hell of a lot more exciting," Dean tells him.

"More excitement than I need." Cas looks thoughtful though, as if considering it. "Bobby said you two were up here on a hunt?"

"We think maybe there's a Hydra occupying the lake, causing trouble among the boaters," Sam says. "Or a Mishipishu. Know anything about it?"

Cas shakes his head. "I'm not familiar with either."

"You know, with all the heads people keep seeing, I'm thinking it's not Mishipishu," Dean muses. "Especially since the heads are all described as being like a crocodile."

Sam smiles happily, as if glad Dean is on board with the hunt and Dean feels a little guilty for giving him a hard time--Sam more than deserves a some leeway at this point. If his brother wants to wander around a giant lake and see what's in there, then Dean should certainly be willing to let him do so.

"We still have to narrow it down," Sam explains to Cas. "Maybe you can help--come to breakfast with us," he suggests, finishing his coffee."Give me five minutes." He heads for the bathroom.

As the bathroom door closes, Cas approaches Dean and stands close. "Dean," he says softly.

His conspiratorial tone makes Dean lean closer. "Yeah, Cas?"

"How is Sam? Does he remember anything?"

"You mean, from Lucifer wearing him down into the cage? I don't know." Dean shakes his head. "He says he doesn't remember it. I don't know if I believe him."

Cas's expression turns thoughtful. "Perhaps when God returned him, he showed mercy by wiping memories Sam could not live with."

"Assuming it was God. And don't give me that mercy crap." Dean points a finger at Cas. "Even though I got Sam back, and the earth is saved, God is still a dick and I'd be happy to tell that to his face."

Cas's soft laughter is unexpected. "I have missed you, Dean."

"Seriously?"

"Your strength of conviction," Cas continues. "There is no one quite like you in heaven. The angels, they are uncertain as to how to proceed. They are not accustomed to free will. Given choice, they…form committees."

"Give them time. It wasn't easy for you at first, was it?" Dean asks.

"I suppose you're correct," Cas says. "I have learned much from you, Dean."

"Hey, well." Dean puts his coffee cup down. His cheeks are warm and he's very aware of Cas watching him and this, this is not at all what he expected from Cas, the new and improved angel of the lord. "Stick with me, and you'll go far."

"I shall, indeed." Cas looks amused. Then he leans even closer--too close--and looks intently at Dean's face. As if he's gazing straight into Dean's soul.

As always, it makes Dean uneasy. "What?"

"How are you, Dean?" It's not a casual question.

Dean shrugs, irritated. "I don't know."

Cas cocks his head one side, eyes still on Dean.

"Honest, I don't know. I'm not used to the complete lack of doom and gloom in my life. I don't trust it." Because Dean knows better. In his experience, doom and gloom always hovers just out of sight, waiting to pounce.

Cas nods, yet says nothing.

"What are you, my therapist now?" Dean steps back. "I'm fine, damn it. What's with the all the questions?"

"You are very important to me, Dean," Cas says gently.

"Yeah? Well," Dean waves his hands, then shoves them into his pockets. He feels like an idiot. "Thanks."

Cas looks pleased, and Dean has no idea what else to say so he bangs on the bathroom door. "Come on, Sammy, I'm starving," he yells. "Stop fixing your hair. I need me some breakfast."

When he turns back around, Cas is still there. "What? Don't you have important business to take of? Research of some kind?"

"There is no hurry. I'm sure they," Cas lifts his eyes to the ceiling, "haven't stopped talking long enough to realize I'm gone."

Sam finally finishes primping in the bathroom, and Cas joins them for breakfast, even though he doesn't eat. He simply watches them devour bacon and eggs and pancakes, coffee cup in his hand. Dean insisted on it, would just be too weird if Cas didn't at least pretend to fit in.

When Cas leaves, he actually takes a moment to say goodbye to Dean, pointedly.

"Coming back anytime soon?" Dean asks. Not that he particularly cares.

"I must prepare my report." Cas says, grim and determined, as if he's going face to face with Lucifer himself. "But yes, I will return within a day or two at the most."

Dean's not sure he believes him.

***

"Wow. Pretty awesome, huh?" Sam leans over the railing and gazes up at the rocks. The wind is whipping his hair about and he's grinning like he's twelve years old.

"Not bad," Dean agrees. Actually, it is pretty amazing. Cliffs soaring hundreds of feet in the air, rocks streaked with red, blues and greens, as if someone had tossed buckets of paint on them.

The sun is shining bright, the air smells fresh and clean as the boat cuts through the water. It's a fairly large tour boat and they were moving at a good clip as they approached the cliffs, but now the engine powers down and the captain begins narrating, pointing out various sites of interest. Dean tunes him out and just looks, taking it all in, forgetting that he's supposed to be looking for caves and simply enjoying the scenery. After two days of tracking down and talking with questionable witnesses, it's nice to simply hang out for a while.

Two little boys go running past, followed by two tired-looking parents calling out to them. Dean steps aside to let them pass, smiling politely. Then pulls on his sunglasses and unzips his jacket as the sun heats the deck.

As soon as they are alone, Sam nudges Dean with an elbow, "Those caves, over there, think they're big enough?"

Dean shakes his head. "Kind of narrow, you think?"

"Yeah, maybe." Sam points to another rock face. "Up ahead, though, that's where the kayaker said he saw something."

"Right. The guy who also said he likes to hang out smoking weed and looking for UFOs over the lake." Dean shakes his head. "And who in their right mind rides around out here on a kayak, anyway? That's a whole lot of lake and one little tiny boat."

"Dude," Sam turns to him. "And I just signed us up for the kayaking tour."

"Shut up, you did not."

Sam laughs, leaning back against the rail. The boat pitches just enough to make him sway, and all at once Dean sees it--Sam/Lucifer falling backwards into the trap, down into the hell, because Dean loved him enough to let him go, because Sam was strong enough to take Lucifer down.

"Dean--"

Dean closes his eyes and shakes his head. He can't breathe, his chest is too tight. Disoriented, he stumbles and he's all alone, kneeling in the grass and he wants to leap in after Sam and drag him out again.

"Dean, hey man--"

Dean takes a deep shuddering breath and opens his eyes.

A boat. He's on a boat, in the sunshine, with Sammy at his side. Who is holding onto his arm, guiding him into a bench, forehead creased with worry. "Dean, you all right?"

Dean nods. "Fine, dude, I'm fine," he says, but his voice breaks.

"What happened?" Sam asks as he sits beside Dean, never relinquishing his hold on Dean's arm.

"I just--" Dean takes a breath, and another, and finally his heart slows down. "It was just like in Stull again, with you falling." He knows he's not making any sense.

But Sam simply nods.

It's a relief that Sam gets it. Dean is thankful for the sunglasses, his eyes are wet and he still feels shaky.

"I dream about it," Sam continues, staring out at the cliffs. "I dream that I'm Lucifer and I'm standing in the field and it's all burned out and smoking and black and I'm--I'm reveling in it. I've destroyed the world and it feels like victory." He turns to Dean. "How fucked up is that?"

"Pretty fucked up," Dean agrees.

"Yeah." Sam leans back, and they sit in silence for a while, watching the scenery go by.

"You said you didn't remember any of it."

"I don't. I only know what you told me. About the end, at Stull. But I can still remember what it felt like to have an entire conversation with Lucifer, what it felt like to kill all those demons."

"Hey, those were demons," Dean points out. He reaches out and squeezes Sam's shoulder. "No sense in feeling guilty about that."

Sam shrugs. "I feel guilty about everything."

"Oh. Right. Sacrificing yourself to save the world," Dean says. "You really should be ashamed of yourself."

He's the one who let Sam do it, because he couldn't do it himself. He had to let his brother get trapped in hell.

"If I could have done it without leaving you--"

"Sammy," Dean says sharply. "Don't. You're back now and I'm fine."

Sam doesn't say anything, just watches him, and Dean can see the doubt in his eyes. It pisses him off, the way Sam questions him.

It's what Sam has always done. With him, with their father, everyone.

They sit together quietly, watching the cliffs drift by, spray from the boat wetting them as the boat picks up speed.

"Pretty cliffs," Dean says. "Could probably hide a monster right there, in that cave."

***

Afterward, they grab a quick dinner, and Dean decides it's time for a drink. Many drinks, to try and erase the image of Sam falling down into the trap, taking Lucifer with him. To try and stop reliving the damn memory because Dean has had enough of it. Sam heads back to the room, needing to make some calls first.

Dean makes a beeline for the bar. "Hey there," he says, greeting the bartender with his best smile.

She smiles back, a flash of white teeth and dimples. "And what can I do for you?"

"Whatever you're pouring there looks good," Dean says, nodding at the taps. "For now," he adds with a wink. He slides onto a stool and settles in.

It's a nice place, casual and comfortable without being a total dive. The tables are all rough hewn wood and the walls, knotty pine. Soft lighting and a jukebox is playing something low and twangy in the corner. It's not crowded but there's a good number of people clustered around tables, all in jeans and flannel shirts.

The bartender gives him an appraising once-over as she waits for the mug to fill and Dean feels a spark of interest. She's young, she's pretty, and maybe it's time to get back in the game. He misses the bump and grind of a naked body against his, and that would certainly help him forget but lately it feels like getting there is too much of an effort. Maybe because the thing with Lisa didn't work out, despite Sam's best efforts. Sam's dying wish for him, and he couldn't even do that right.

"Penny for your thoughts." The bartender slides the beer to him.

A wry laugh and Dean says, "Trust me, they aren't even worth that much."

"Really?" She sounds amused. "Can't be that bad, can it?"

Dean smiles at her. "Nah. But hey, I want to ask you something--we keep hearing these stories, about something living in the lake. Something big." He leans across the bar. "What do you think? Have you ever seen it?"

"Well," she leans close, "My grandfather used to tell me stories about the Mishipishu. Half-dragon, half-cougar. Said it caused the rapids to flow, and that its horns are made of pure copper."

"Really? Sounds cool." Dean sips his beer. "Did he ever see one?"

"No. They're just stories." She tosses her long dark hair over her shoulders with a flick of her head and laughs. "Although they do get told to unsuspecting tourists. Anything to pump up the business, you know?"

Dean nods as he admires the long line of her throat, letting his eyes linger on gentle swell of cleavage. She's hot, she's interested and Dean is pretty sure he can remember how this all works. He smiles again. "Good to know. So listen, I'm only in town a couple of days and--"

"Whiskey, please," a familiar voice interrupts. "A large one."

The bartender straightens, startled by the sudden appearance of a man sitting next to Dean. "Didn't see him coming, did you?" Dean asks.

She frowns and shakes her head.

"Yeah, I never do either," Dean commiserates. He turns to Cas. "What's up?"

"Raphael," Cas says slowly, "is a dick."

The bartender looks from Dean, to Cas, and back to Dean again. "Make it a triple," Dean tells her. As she moves off to pour the drink, Dean turns back to Cas. "Let me guess, he's still a little pissed about the burning ring of holy fire we left him in?"

Cas inclines his head in agreement. "It is likely."

"Can't say I blame him." Dean takes a long pull at his beer. "Please tell me he's staying up in heaven for the time being? Because he is one scary-assed dude."

"He is more concerned with heavenly machinations. I don't think he has any interest in earth. After all," Cas adds with an annoyed shake of his head, "humans are beneath him."

"Of course we are." Dean says with a hollow laugh. "But I'm more than happy to stay below his radar."

The bartender returns with a large glass and a bottle of bourbon. "How's this?" she asks.

Dean nods. "Good job."

"He'll pay," Cas says with a wave of his hand toward Dean.

"Of course he will." Dean sighs and reaches for his wallet. "Can you bring an extra glass?"

Dean pays, she brings the second glass. As Dean pours he listens to Cas complain about heaven, happy to lend a sympathetic ear. He finds it all pretty damn funny, angels arguing about rules of order and the resulting political posturing. For all their smug superiority, angels are fucked-up bunch, even more so than humans. After a beer and glass or two of bourbon it becomes downright hilarious and maybe he shouldn't get so much pleasure out of Cas's frustration but damn it, Cas couldn't leave earth fast enough to go play sheriff in heaven.

Serves him right.

"But--but Dean," Cas sputters. "They are cherubs. Third class angels, yet they want an equal place at the table." He shakes his head, dismayed. "It's not right."

"Who says they're third class?"

Cas downs another shot. "Who says? I don't know. God says. That is simply how they are made." His tone is dismissive.

"Oh, really? How are angels made, anyway?" Dean asks.

Cas puts his glass down. "What?" His brow crinkles as he frowns at Dean.

"Angel babies." Dean refills both glasses. "Are there any? Where do they come from?"

Cas's bewildered expression makes Dean laugh out loud. He really has missed Cas, and it must the bourbon making Dean feel such affection for him, so much that when the pretty bartender leans in and asks "Can I get you anything more, boys?" he hardly even notices.

By the time Sam comes in Dean is feeling no pain, just the bubbly happiness of a good buzz. They head over to a table in the corner and Dean promptly tells Sam about the cherubs, just to see Sam smile. And Sam does, he laughs out loud, orders himself a beer and starts right in to a civics lesson. Soon he and Cas are arguing a deep and profound argument over what Dean is pretty sure is important stuff--one angel, one vote and all that--but all the while he simply drinks and grins at them and then drinks some more. His little angel pal and his big over-sized brother who beat the devil, who the hell else could do that?

They're both just so damn awesome.

"Am I right, Dean?" Sam asks after a particularly heated exchange.

"Sammy, you're awesome." Dean throws back the rest of his bourbon and slams the glass on the table. "And so are you, Cas my buddy." He pats Cas's shoulder.

Sam puts down his beer and eyes Dean with suspicion. "Dean, please don't tell me you were trying to keep up with Cas."

"What? Got a problem with that? Because I don't. I don't have a single freakin' problem with the whole entire universe. Ain't that a kick in the pants." Dean picks up the bottle, but for some reason it's empty. "Except for this. This is a problem. Barkeep!" He waves the bottle in the air.

"Dean," Sam hisses. He snatches the bottle from Dean's hand and waves the waitress off.

"Party pooper," Dean complains, even though the room is beginning to sliding out of focus.

"Perhaps it's time for Dean to rest." Cas rises up from the table. "Thank you, Sam, for the enlightening conversation. You've given me a great deal to think about."

"My brother," Dean says with a broad grin, leaning back in his chair. "He's really smart."

Sam laughs. "Yeah, Dean. I'm going to quote you on that. Cas, I'm glad to help." He gestures toward Dean. "Now, if you can just give me a hand with this?"

"Of course." Cas reaches a hand to Dean but Dean is quicker, reaching out and catching Cas's hand in his.

"Hey--no zapping," Dean insists. "It's only a couple blocks, I can get back on my own steam, thank you very much."

"I wasn't going to 'zap', I was helping you up," Cas says, indignant.

"How am I supposed tell your zappy hand from your helping hand?" Dean grumbles. "And I don't need your help." He's still holding Cas's hand, though, and maybe he does need Cas to help him up. All that bourbon is weighing him down, he must have drank more than he realized. He's out of practice but damn, he needed it.

He lets Cas pull him out of the chair, but then shakes his hand free as they make their way out of the now-crowded bar and step out into the cool night air, Sam leading the way. It's a clear night with billions of stars twinkling in the sky. Dean slings an arm around Cas's shoulder as he gazes up in awe. "Cool, huh?"

It's so dazzling that Dean loses his balance but Cas slides an arm around his waist, supporting him. A few deep breaths and Dean's head clears enough for the world to come back into focus--wind sighing in the pines, a soft hoot of an owl and Cas, pressed against his side. It's dark, very dark and when they begin to move again Dean stumbles over a tuft of grass and bumps hard against Cas. Still, Cas holds him steady. He doesn't even sway under Dean's weight.

"You know what you are?" Dean asks, patting Cas's chest.

Cas ponders the question. "Awesome?" he suggests.

"Exactly. But also? A pretty good guy. For an angel. Because most angels are douches. How did you get to not be a douche?"

"There are many angels who believe I am," Cas tells him.

"Because they're douches," Dean explains, pleased by the logic of his argument. He leans against Cas, and Cas's arm tightens around his waist. "Right, Sammy?"

"Sure. Whatever you say, Dean."

Clearly, Sam is too drunk to follow Dean's argument, but at least he's smart enough to agree. "You remember that," Dean says. "Big brother is always right."

"Of course you are."

Sam snickers at him, and it's pretty fucking obnoxious but Dean's shirt has ridden up and Cas's hand is warm on his naked skin and it's distracting as all hell. It occurs to Dean that would only take a tug of his arm to pull Cas around to face him and they could be kissing. Not that he wants to kiss Cas or anything. It's just a thought. Still, it would probably be a sweet kiss, just like in his dream.

But dream or no dream, Dean is not the kind of guy who goes around kissing other guys. He's done other things with guys--sometimes you just have to make do with what's available--but kissing? No way.

Then again, Cas isn't really a guy. He's not even human. He's an angel of the lord.

And Dean is important to him. Whatever the hell that means. If Dean really was so important, Cas could have hung around instead bugging out and going back to heaven, right?

"You could have said 'goodbye', at least," Dean tells him.

Cas stops. "But I am still here."

"I know." Dean stumbles again, hip thudding against Cas's. "Whoa. I think I might be drunk."

"No shit, Dean," Sam tells him, laughing. "How much bourbon was that?"

"Cas drank most of it. Right? Hey, are you feeling anything?" Dean turns and Cas's face is right there, skin soft and pale, cheekbones catching the moonlight and Dean feels like such a fucking dork for noticing, but hey, it's not his fault that Cas is pretty.

It would be so easy to kiss him right now.

"I think I may be feeling something, yes," Cas says, watching Dean intently.

"Good to hear it, chuckles." Dean pokes Cas's chest with a finger. "Hate to think I wasted all that bourbon on you."

"Come on, Dean," Sam says. "Here we are."

A jingle of keys and Dean looks up to see they're in front of their cabin. "Hey, honey, we're home." He grins broadly at Cas, who stares blankly back at him. "It's uh--" Dean starts to explain. "Never mind."

He lets Cas lead him into the awesome paneled pine cabin, with the leather seats and the pine tree mural on the wall. But Dean doesn't remember the lights being so damn bright and when Cas drops him on the bed, the room begins to spin sickeningly. "Uh oh." Dean lays flat, eyes tightly closed as his stomach lurches and damn, that must have been a lot of bourbon.

"The bathroom is right next to you," Sam says. "Feel free to puke your guts out in there, and not all over my stuff."

"Bite me," Dean groans.

The bed dips as Cas sits beside him. "Dean," he says with a sigh.

Opening his eyes, Dean sees Cas staring down at him in exasperation and despite Dean's discomfort, it fills him with something very much like joy. "Hey buddy," Dean says, reaching up to grab a handful of Cas's coat, "you know what? You're important to me, too."

Dean may be drunk but he's pretty sure that right there, on Cas's face, is a smile. A slight but genuine smile. Cas nods, then touches Dean's forehead, fingertips lingering in a soft caress.
Dean's eyes drift shut and his hand slides from Cas's coat onto the bed. His stomach settles, the room stops spinning and he sleeps a deep, thankfully dreamless sleep. He doesn't wake again until morning. And when he does wake up, his head is clear and his stomach is happy and hungry, as if he didn't have a drop to drink the night before.

***

Dean spends the entire day with Sam at the library of a local university, photocopying and jotting down notes. They compare sightings, drawing on commonalities, and narrow down the selection. It's familiar work and comforting, hunched over a book with Sam, although in this case, arguing over the likely number of heads is unusual even for them.

By nightfall, they're ready. As ready as they'll ever be, Dean thinks.

"Okay," Dean says, tossing another branch on the fire. "We're going to do this?" The fire crackles and sends sparks up into the air.

Sam drops his duffel bag onto the sand. "Yup."

"Are you sure this is wise?" Cas asks, staring out over the water. His coat flaps around his legs in the strong breeze.

"Not even a little." Dean snorts. "But we need to know what we are dealing with."

As Sam lays out the vials and notes for the summonings, Dean lays out a shotgun with salt rounds and a revolver with silver bullets. The demon-killing knife is tucked securely in his belt, right next to the knife with the silver blade. He's feeling the familiar thrill of another hunt, a quickening of his heartbeat, his senses tingling--this is what they do and they're damn good at it. And yet his palms are sweating and his shoulders are tense and he can't help but think that they already saved the world, damn it, can't someone else step in and save the damned lake?

Dean shakes himself out of it and takes a deep, steadying breath. Laying a hand on Cas's shoulder, he says, "Listen Cas, if something does show up, and it's really badass? You're going to have to zap us out of here."

Cas nods. "I'd be happy to do so."

It's a minor comfort.

"Why don't we start off with Scylla?" Sam says.

"A water nymph with six heads, twelve legs and a body made up of barking dogs? Sure." Dean pulls out the demon knife. "Bring it on."

Sam picks up his notes and stands at the water's edge. He sprinkles the mixture of herbs and ashes into the water and in a quiet voice, begins reading the Greek incantation. Dean holds the flashlight in one hand, shining it on Sam's notes, and with the other, tightens his grip on the knife. Despite his uneasiness, he's intrigued.

"I actually kind of want to see this, with the barking dogs," he admits to Cas, who is now standing beside him. "What's up with that?"

Cas cocks his head. "I would rather not."

Sam finishes, and they wait. Dean scans the horizon, looking for activity on the water, but he sees nothing. Just the lights from a container ship off in the distance, most likely heading for the Soo locks.

Ten minutes pass in tense silence, with only the crackling of the fire behind them.

"All right then. Not Scylla," Sam says. "Ready to try for the Hydra instead?"

"Damn." Dean sighs. "I was really hoping for a water nymph."

"It's said that the stench from the Hydra's breath is enough to kill man or beast," Cas muses.

"We're talking nine heads here, right?" Dean asks. "That's a lot of bad breath."

Sam nods as he flips through his notebook. "Sort of like you after you've gone through a plate of onion rings, Dean."

"Just for that, I'm eating a double order full next time."

"I believe if we're indeed dealing with the Hydra," Cas says, "there would have been a greater number of deaths, rather than mere destruction of property."

"There was a drowning with the first sinking, but yeah, that's a good point," Sam says.

Dean wouldn't mind if it wasn't the Hydra. Nine heads are a little too much. Especially if they really do grow back two for one when cut off.

"Well, hopefully this will amount to nothing, then." Sam turns and sprinkles a handful of a powered minerals and herbs into the fire. The fire flares up, blue and green and pink.

"Just be ready with the zapping," Dean whispers to Cas.

Sam runs through the incantation, helped by Cas as he stumbles over a word here and there. Dean keeps his eyes on the water. He's not sure they're doing it right, there were a number of different summonings for the Hydra and while Sam is trying out several of them, it's possible that all of them are wrong.

Fifteen minutes and still nothing.

Dean takes a deep breath and lets it out slow, shoulder muscles relaxing. "Ready to call it a bust?"

"There is one more summoning we can try," Cas says. "The leviathan, a serpent demon."

"That's just one head, right?" Sam asks.

"Just one, but it is enough. They normally reside in hell, but perhaps when Lucifer rose--"

"Yeah." Dean grimaces. "A serpent demon? Figures. Just what we need."

Cas steps forward, the water now lapping at his feet. With one arm outstretched, palm facing the horizon, he closes his eyes and leans his head forward, as if listening. The wind picks up, there's an electric buzz in the air and Dean's breath catches - this is serious mojo. He forgets sometimes that Cas is fully powered up again.

When Cas begins reciting in Enochian, his voice low and monotone, the hairs on the back of Dean's neck stand up. He glances over at Sam and sees Sam watching the water nervously.

Dean doesn't want anything to do with hell and demons, not just yet. He's not ready for it. And judging from the look on Sam's face, Sam isn't either.

Cas falls silent, listening again. Dean scans the water, the shore, the line of trees beyond the sand - nothing. After a minute or two, Cas drops his arm. "No," he announces. "It's not a leviathan."

Sam claps him on the back. "Good to hear it."

Dean sheaths his knife, relieved. "That's all we got. Maybe we should try some catnip for the Mishipishu, huh?" He's talking too fast, his knees feel weak and to cover his uneasiness, he turns to the fire, which is blazing merrily. "Anybody got any hot dogs?"

"No," Sam says, opening the flap on his duffel. "But I have something better." He pulls out a package and tosses it to Dean.

Marshmallows.

"Oh god, please tell me you have graham crackers and chocolate bars in there, too."

Sam grins. "Yup. Go find some sticks."

Dean hurries off, Cas in tow, still keeping one eye on the water. But nothing comes to visit, supernatural or otherwise and soon they are settled in around the fire. Dean teaches Cas the intricacies of making s'mores - the careful toasting of the marshmallows (do not, repeat, do not let them catch fire), setting up the crackers and the chocolate, and the final smooshing down of the cracker.

"Push it flat," Dean explains as Cas gingerly places the cracker on top. "You have to make sure the marshmallow is in complete contact with the chocolate, yeah, it's going to be messy--careful, don't break the cracker--"

Cas glares at him, sticky marshmallow smeared over his hand.

"Just eat it," Dean tells him, shoving his own s'more into his mouth and getting crumbs everywhere. And yeah, it's messy, but it's delicious, sweet and chocolatey and crunchy. Sam grunts happily at his side, devouring his in one bite, but that's okay, there's plenty more to be made. Cas is making a face as he carefully bites into his and Dean laughs, happy just to be there, next to a warm fire on a cool night, good people at his side and not a leviathan or hydra or water nymph in sight.

***

Even though the sun is warm, there's a cold morning breeze off the lake and Dean wraps his coat tighter around him. Another interview, a motel owner who heard from a friend of a friend about a huge, undulating creature seen from a tour boat. A vague story, nothing solid. But now, as Dean picks his way through the shoreline, wood strewn everywhere, this is definitely something--remains of a wrecked dock, pieces of boat, and just off shore is a ruined sailboat, listing gravely to one side. Sam is talking to the boat owner, a bearded man who simply shrugs and seems unfazed by the disaster.

"Hey," Dean calls out to a woman walking by. "did you see what happened here?"

She shakes her head. "We don't know, woke up this morning and it was like this. I guess maybe a storm came through last night, but there was nothing this morning, not a cloud in the sky."

"Maybe a boat hit the dock?" Dean suggests.

"They're looking into it. Hope not. Hate to think someone got hurt. Bad for tourism." She shakes her head in dismay. "Listen, I've got to get to work."

"Yeah, bad for tourism," Dean mutters under his breath.

A shriek in the distance startles Dean. A woman, up by the pier. He turns and runs to her, heart pounding. When he gets there it looks like a pile of rags have washed up on shore near the rocky outcropping, but then Dean sees long brown hair. And a small, delicate hand.

The woman rushes over, sobbing. When she reaches the girl Dean can see that it's too late, there's blood everywhere, and the girl's face is crushed, nose flattened. Fuck.

Dean feels sick to his stomach, he wants to puke.

He doesn't want to do this anymore, he doesn't want to see this, he's already seen enough of Death. The mother is is shrieking and now there's a man next to her, kneeling over the girl's body, head bowed as he reaches to touch her. A crowd begins to gather and Dean wonders if a Reaper is there yet, waiting to collect another soul, from a body rendered lifeless by yet another monster.

Dean spins around and stares out over the water, searching. He sees Sam doing the same, but there's nothing out there, nothing he can make out other than crashing waves, driven by the wind. Sam catches his eye and shakes his head, holding his arms up in puzzlement, then points past Dean to where the girl's broken body lays.

There's a trench in the sand, as if something long and heavy had been dragged across it. Dean moves closer, purposely avoiding the small crowd that had gathered around the body. "What the hell?" He nudges the trench with his foot. Could be from a small boat, could be something else.

Someone brushes past him, a familiar blur of beige and flapping coattails.

"Excuse me." Cas elbows his way in to stand beside the girl's parents.

"Are you a doctor?" the father asks, his voice low and shaky. The mother is still sobbing, raising her reddened eyes to Cas.

"No," Cas intones.

Dean watches in astonishment as Cas crouches down beside the mother, reaches out a hand and touches two fingers to the girls forehead. Then, just as quickly, he rises up and walks away from them, up the short path that winds between the dunes.

"Mom? Dad?"

The young girl sits up, bewildered. There isn't a mark on her. Both parents stare in disbelief and Dean takes in their cautious joy, shares in it. He doesn't understand why Cas has done this but he feels like a weight has been removed from his shoulders. And then he's moving, past the small crowd and onto the path, following Cas's steps.

Dean catches up with Cas halfway down the path, still moving fast when Cas turns to him. Dean's momentum carries him right up to Cas and into Cas's space. Cas had saved the girl's life and Dean feels--he feels something, it's more than gratitude, more than wonder, it burns hotter than that.

He doesn't know what to say so he wraps a hand around the back of Cas's neck and kisses him. Just like in his dream.

Cas's lips are soft. He kisses Dean with great care and it takes a moment for it to sink in--Dean's kissing Cas and Cas is kissing him and it's kind of cool and more than a little freaky and the fact that Cas is just going with it--that's kind of freaky, too.

Dean pulls back and Cas regards him with a warm look. He doesn't seem to be shocked or dismayed at all. He might even look pleased.

"Hey guys, I--uh, guys?" Sam calls out behind him

Dean is still nose to nose with Cas. The wind has blown Cas's tie over his shoulder, so Dean reaches over and flips it back down. Then steps back and turns to Sam, who is looking at them both with wide eyes. "Yeah, Sammy?" Dean is surprised to find his voice sounds perfectly normal.

"Am I interrupting something?"

"What?" Dean says, heart pounding. "We're looking for the creature."

"Oh. Last I checked, it wasn't in Cas's face." Sam is pursing his lips, and Dean knows that look. It's Sam trying very hard not to laugh.

"Sammy, this is serious business," Dean insists. "A little girl almost died out there. You're right, there's something out there, and it's killing people."

"Dean, she fell," Sam explains. "Onto the rocks. The dock owner saw it happen."

"Oh." Dean is taken aback. "Not a serpent attack?"

Sam shakes his head. "No serpent this time."

"I'm sure you will find one," Cas says encouragingly.

"I'm good with no monster, really, I am," Dean tells him.

Looking at Cas is a mistake--his eyes are an intense blue in the sunshine and he's staring at Dean as if fascinated. Dean can't take his eyes off of Cas. Or Cas's wide, surprisingly friendly mouth. Which is tilted in a hint of a grin and Dean wants to kiss him again or run like hell in the opposite direction. He's not sure which.

Cas cocks his head and his eyes grow distant. "Right," he sighs. He focuses back on Dean. "I must go. Duty calls. Regrettably."

And just like that, he's gone.

Thank God.

"Dean--" Sam starts.

"Come on, Sam, let's check on that family." Dean turns and heads back up the hill, trotting to prevent Sam from catching up to him with his long long legs.

***

"Make a left up ahead," Sam tells him.

It's hard to see with the rain, but Dean finally spots the turn-off and guides the car down the road. The lake is to his right, waves hitting the shore. Gray sky, gray water, wind buffeting the car, the storm is powerful and Dean's glad to be inside the Impala, warm and dry. "How far up this way?"

"Till we hit the end of the peninsula. I think." Sam squints at the map. "Not a lot of roads out here, but I figure they all lead to the main dock."

"Crazy weather. We'll be lucky the road doesn't flood."

"Hey," Sam says, "Speaking of crazy, how long have you had this thing for Castiel?"

Dean turns the music up loud and pounds his hands on the steering wheel. "Great song, huh?" he shouts as American Band blares through the speakers.

Sam reaches for the radio knob.

"Sammy, don't you dare--"

With a raised eyebrow, Sam turns the volume down. "Nice try, Dean. Now, you and Cas?"

Dean grips the steering wheel tight. "What hell are you talking about? Dude, there's no 'me and Cas'."

Sam turns and watches him. Relentlessly.

And just like that, Dean deflates. "Okay. Fine. But it was only one kiss."

"Hah. So you did kiss him," Sam announces triumphantly.

"What? Oh, god damn it, Sammy," Dean says, realizing that he just gave himself away. "You are such a jerk."

Sam laughs. It's a hearty belly laugh, and Dean has to turn away because he doesn't want Sam to see that he's starting to laugh with him. He loves that sound and it's been way too long since he's heard it.

"Hey, I get it, he's kind of pretty--"

"Shut up," Dean says.

Sam only laughs harder. "With the big blue eyes--"

"I said, shut up, dorkface--"

"I think he'd be good for you, really."

Dean stabs a finger in the air. "If you don't stop right now, I'm pulling this car over, so help me--"

Sam slaps his leg in delight. "Are you practicing for when you guys have kids?"

Dean slams on the brakes and pulls the car over into the shoulder, controlling the skidding tires on rain-slicked pavement with ease. He tries to glare at Sam, but he can only hold it for a few seconds before he grins and shakes his head. "I have no idea what the fuck I'm doing, Sammy," he finally says. And honestly, he doesn't.

"That's nothing new," Sam says, growing serious. "Do any of us ever really know?"

Dean stares. "Wow. Little brother gets all profound and shit."

"I'm just saying," Sam continues, "I used to think I knew, I'd be so damn sure, and then I'd get pissed when it didn't work out. I'm not sure that it was ever really worth it."

"Okay." Dean nods. Maybe Sam has a point. "I get it."

"So, this thing with you and Cas, maybe you just need to go with it."

"And that doesn't freak you out?" Dean asks. "Because I'm telling you, it's freaking me out. In so many ways."

"I'm not saying it isn't a little weird, but think about it, Dean. I drank demon blood. I said yes to Lucifer. And I do remember having a nice little chat with him in my head." A wry laugh and suddenly Sam sounds old and weary. "In comparison, this ain't nothing. And anyway, I like Cas."

"It's not like there's a 'thing' with us. I'm not--you know. Cas is a guy. Now Anna," Dean says with a smile, "that was different. She was a girl. And human. At the time, at least."

Dean likes girls. He likes everything about them--they way they smell, the way they taste, all those curves--

"Trust me, Dean. There's a thing with you two."

Dean frowns at Sam. "What do you mean?"

"Have you seen you two together?"

Dean shakes his head. "We're driving now." He puts the car in gear and pulls out onto the road.

There isn't anything between them. He just kissed Cas because -- because he was grateful Cas had saved that girl's life. Sure, he likes Cas well enough, he's a good friend, they've been through a lot together. Like hell, and the end of the world. But Dean saves the romantic stuff for real people. Human. Not other-worldly beings. No matter how fascinating they may be.

***

Dean flops back on the bed and grabs the remote. "Hey, bring me back a sandwich," he yells to Sam as the door closes.

Sam pops his head back in. "Dude, get your own sandwich."

Pointing the remote at the TV, Dean pleads, "It's almost time for Dr. Sexy."

Sam shakes his head and leaves.

"Mustard, not mayo," Dean shouts after him.

He turns on the TV just as the theme begins. The bed squeaks as Dean arranges the pillows, propping himself up comfortably against the wooden headboard. Another motel, another sea of knotty pine.

He likes this region. They need to investigate lake monsters more often. Great scenery, good food, not a lot of people. The TV reception sucks, though. Dean frowns at the TV, turns it on and off again for good measure. The picture flips, bends, and then clears just as Dr. Sexy himself comes on screen, dashingly handsome as ever in his flowing white lab coat.

"You are one good-looking man," Dean tells him.

Dr. Sexy is having it out with the lovely Dr. Franklin, but Dean knows she's not really angry. She just has the hots for Dr. Sexy. Which Dean can totally understand. If she had any sense, she'd jump into the nearest closet with him, not go storming off like that.

At the first commercial break the picture degrades again, the screen flickering as it fills with snow. Then it goes black for a second, only to return with an entirely different channel and Dean looks up and yes, of course, Cas.

"Hey Cas," Dean says, all casual. He's decided to pretend the kiss had never happened. He may be willing to face demons and monsters head on, hell, he even looked in the face of Death, but this--this is different. Scarier, somehow. He turns the TV off then decides to get up off the bed, since sprawling in bed while Cas is in the same room suddenly feels fraught with danger.

Or fraught with something else. Potential, maybe.

"So how goes it with the angels?" Dean asks as Cas approaches. "Committee moving things along?"

"Do you really want to know?" Cas's voice and low and rough and he continues his determined approach until he's face to face with Dean.

Dean is frozen in place. He should step back, he should turn away, but he can't, he's too fascinated by the curve of Cas's lips, by the shape of his mouth.

Dean doesn't move away, not even when Cas leans in and kisses him.

This is not what Dean had in mind. He doesn't kiss angels, he sticks to humans. Female humans, hot sexy female humans. But now Cas is kissing him, lips soft and tentative and Dean can't resist; one kiss leads into another, and another, an endless series of kisses until Dean is sure he's losing his mind. When Cas moves to nuzzle Dean's cheek, Dean wants to tell him to stop-- just stop, damn it--but then Cas kisses the sensitive skin of Dean's neck and Dean shudders.

"I like this," Cas whispers, fingers curling around the back of Dean's neck.

Thing is, Dean likes it, too. He grips the lapels of Cas's coat and pulls Cas in for a real kiss. With a lick of tongue he parts Cas's lips because hey, if Cas wants to kiss a human, Dean's going to show him how it's really done.

Cas responds by pressing against Dean with a small, desperate noise, incredibly needy and human-sounding. It's a rush, a fantastic rush of power and Dean slips his hands under Cas's coat, pulling him close. Cas's body is warm and hard as he pushes against Dean, hard enough to force Dean to step back.

The kiss turns a little messy and a whole lot desperate as Cas backs him against the wall. The last time they were this close Cas was beating the crap out of him, and this is much, much better. Especially when Cas pushes his thigh between Dean's legs and grinds slowly against him.

Dean gasps, head thudding back against the wall. "Jeeze--Cas."

Cas kisses Dean's exposed throat and he smells a little like sweat and fresh lakeside air.

"What--what happened to the blushing virgin?" Dean asks in a hoarse voice. He can feel Cas's cock pushing against his thigh, hard and insistent.

"You. You brought me to a den of iniquity," Cas murmurs against Dean's skin. "When all I wanted was you."

Startled, Dean takes Cas's head in his hands and pulls him up to look him in the face. "Seriously? You never said anything."

Cas's eyes narrow. "And if I had, how would you have reacted?"

"I would have run screaming into the night." Dean still might, if he ever regains control of his senses.

It's too much to take in so Dean kisses Cas as Cas feels his way up under his shirt, sliding over his stomach and up along his ribs. Dean leans into Cas's hands and it's crazy, how desperate he is for Cas's touch.

"Dean, I must ask something of you." Cas stills his hands on Dean's ribs.

The formality of Cas's tone gets Dean's attention immediately. "What?"

Cas pushes Dean's shirt up, exposing his chest. His eyes linger on the tattoo as his fingers slide down the center of Dean's chest. "I marked you and Sam both with sigils to hide you from angels. But unfortunately, you are also hidden from me."

"And?" It's hard to focus with the way Cas's fingers are stroking his skin.

Cas raises his eyes to meet Dean's. "With my greater powers, I could mark you so that I, and only I can, can find you. If you'll allow it." He presses his palm flat against Dean's chest.

Dean opens his mouth, then closes it again. "What, like you own me or something?" he finally asks. He's trying to sound belligerent but fails miserably. The idea turns him on. And that's just wrong.

With a faint smile, Cas shakes his head. "No. Far from it."

Dean takes a breath. "Yeah. Fine. Do it."

"Thank you." Cas closes his eyes, concentrating.

A sharp sting, and Dean gasps, but not from the pain.

"It is done," Cas says quietly.

"Kinky," Dean tells him. Cas looks puzzled so Dean kisses him. He's pretty sure this is ten kinds of wrong, that angels and humans shouldn't make out like this, as if their very lives depended on it. But the way they fit together feels very right, especially when Dean reaches down to cup Cas's ass and Cas moans and moves against him and Dean wants, he wants to push Cas down on the bed and strip him naked and--

There's a familiar rumble outside the window. It's the sound of the Impala's engine.

"Damn it." Dean hands go to Cas's hips and he eases Cas away. "Sam's back."

Cas frowns, as if he has no idea why the kissing has stopped.

"My brother?" Dean reminds him. Who has either really good or really bad timing.

"Right." Cas nods.

Dean pulls his shirt back down. "Down, boy," he says to his overexcited dick, pushing his hands in his pockets to adjust himself. He checks on Cas, who hasn't moved. He's simply standing there, contemplative and more disarrayed than usual.

"Cas, come here, let me just--" Dean adjusts the front of Cas's coat, smoothing it out while Cas stares down at his hands. The tie is more crooked than usual so Dean straightens it, but no, too straight, it looks obvious so Dean tugs it to one side again and that isn't quite right either, he's pretty sure it's the wrong side but he can hear Sam's big feet coming up the path so he turns away, running a hand over his hair as he tries to compose himself.

"Hey Dean," Sam pushes through the door, arms loaded with bags. "I got a line on a sighting up in Copper Harbor--oh, hey Cas."

"Sam," Cas says, eyes shifting away to stare at the floor.

Sam looks from Dean to Cas, then back to Dean again. He silently mouths, "No thing?"

Dean scowls back at him. "Did you bring my sandwich?"

Sam holds a bag out to him and Dean snatches it out of his hands. He turns and gets a glimpse of himself in the mirror--flushed cheeks and ruffled hair and a red mark on his neck--no wonder Sam is smirking.

"You want anything, Cas?" Sam asks. "I brought donuts."

Cas eyes the box thoughtfully, then reaches in and selects a chocolate covered one. As he bites into it Dean can't help asking, "Hey, not turning human on us, are you?"

Cas shakes his head. "No. But walking among humans for so long, I have developed some...appetites."

Sam snickers, and Dean refuses to look at him. Or Cas. Because yeah, fine, there is a thing between him and Cas all right, some kind of weird, unholy thing. Or maybe even holy. Dean puts his hand over his chest, over the new sigil. This thing, whatever it is, it would be big, there's no other way it could be.

"Hey," Dean says, dropping his sandwich on the bed. "I just remembered, I need to hit the store, out of toothpaste, you know?"

Sam frowns, confused. "No, Dean, I don't think so."

But Dean is already out the door. He heads for his car, slides down into her welcoming seat, one hand gripping the wheel as he turns the key and as he heads out onto the road he can still feel the burn in his chest from where Cas had marked him.

He puts in an AC/DC tape and cranks it up loud.

When he returns an hour later, he's feeling more like himself again. Sam is on the computer and Cas is gone. "He's observing a Canadian parliamentary session," Sam says.

"Lucky him," Dean peeks into the fridge and finds his sandwich. "Thanks, dude."

"You okay?" Sam asks with his typical earnestness. "You went running out of here pretty quickly."

Dean scowls. "No I didn't."

"Dean--"

"I'm fine." Dean unwraps his sandwich and takes a large, 'end of discussion' bite out of it.

"Well," Sam leans back in his chair. "If you want to talk about it, I'm here."

"Seriously, Sam? You want to hear all about my sexuality crisis? That I like dick now? But only angel dick?"

Sam stares, mortified. "Okay--uh, on second thought, please let's not ever talk about this again."

Dean snickers and takes another bite of his sandwich. Truth is, saying it out loud was oddly comforting. "I'm glad we had this little talk, Sammy."

***

Dean grabs the railing as the boat pitches and rocks. He's not too sure about this, the water is rougher than he expected, and he's feeling a little green around the edges. "You had to spring for the full day charter, didn't you?"

Sam nudges him and smiles. "Come on, even if we don't see anything, with any luck we'll have fresh trout for dinner."

"Awesome," Dean sighs. Eating is the last thing on his mind. He prefers his fishing to be done from a dock. A motionless, safe, secure dock. Docks don't sink.

"Here," Sam says, shoving a bag of cookies at him. "These will help."

"Ginger snaps?" Dean is dubious, but a cookie is a cookie, and he pulls one out and carefully nibbles on it, all the while checking the locations of the life preservers.

Sam, however, is having a grand time, chatting with the other passengers, asking leading questions about their experiences. It's what Sam is good at, Dean will give him that much. There are five other passengers on board, one older couple and three friends and Sam already knows them by name. A woman from the crew helps them set up their lines.

"The name's Dean, right?" she asks, adjusting the brim of her baseball cap.

"Yes ma'am."

"Name's Sue, not ma'am." Sue checks Dean's rod and reel, making sure it's set up properly. "You ever done this before?"

Dean shakes his head. "Only river fishing. Or on a dock. Nothing this big." He's doing his best to keep his eyes on the water, checking for any suspicious activities.

Sue smacks his arm. "Well you'll do just fine, as long as you listen to what I have to say and pay attention to your reel, here."

Dean catches Sam grinning at him. "Can you promise me I'll catch more fish than my dumb brother?"

She laughs, loud and boisterous.

Sue looks nothing Ellen, she's taller and her hair is short and gray, but her attitude is the same and all at once Dean's chest aches, the loss still as raw as ever. Ellen and Jo, gone forever. He's alive, despite the number of times he's died. And they're still dead. Because God sucks. He hopes that they've managed to meet up with Ash in heaven, that they're all partying down together in Ash's heavenly version of the Roadhouse.

"I said, which kind of bait would you prefer, Dean?" Sue is watching him curiously.

Dean runs a hand over his head, having missed half of her instructions. "Sorry. Whatever kind my brother isn't using, how's that?"

She helps him get set up, and despite himself, Dean finds he's having a good time. Bright sunshine, cool breeze and the overall good cheer of the other folks fishing help shake him out of it, especially when one of the others snags a big one and else on the boat cheers them on.

Dean laughs, and suddenly wishes Cas was there with him. It's ridiculous, really, wanting to share something like this with him, but he's getting used to Cas's silent, steady presence all over again. It's oddly comforting.

Not to mention the kissing. Which wasn't comforting at all. It was something entirely different.

Sam is next to bring in a fish, a big lake trout.

Dean wonders what Cas is doing right this very moment. Probably sitting in a meeting, up in heaven. Poor bastard. He really should be with them right now. Fishing. In his trench coat and suit and tie. Dean laughs out loud at the image he's conjured up.

Sam looks over at him, eyebrows raised.

"Cas. Fishing," Dean explains.

Sam laughs. "I'd like to see that."

"He'd probably just whammy the fish out of the water."

"We'd eat good, that's for sure."

Dean moves in closer to Sam. "Hearing anything useful?" he asks, cocking his head toward the other passengers.

Sam shakes his head. "Nah. I even talked to the boat captain, he thought I was nervous and kept assuring me that the boat wouldn't sink, that he's been running this lake for thirty years without incident."

"Hey, he's not going to tell us anything that would keep people off his boat, you know?" Dean squints out over the water, calm and clear today, container ships moving slowly on the horizon.

"Nothing left for us to other than catch some fish," Sam says with a shrug.

Dean wants to point out that this has got to be one of the least productive hunts they've ever been on, but his reel starts moving and oh yeah, there's a big one on there, definitely bigger than Sam's little guppy and Dean starts reeling it in.

***

Another day of investigation. They talk to five gift shop owners, six motel managers and four waitresses. Only one, a waitress who has lived in the area all her life, has heard anything about a creature in the lake--a sighting by her great uncle on a fishing trip twenty years ago--but the creature she describes sounds like a large snake.

Their fifth stop is Roy's Fish House. The waiter simply shrugs when they ask about a large creature living in the lake. "You mean, like, fish?" he asks. "We've got plenty of them."

Dean rolls his eyes. The waiter is young and clean-cut, looks like a college kid, and Dean gets the sense that he thinks serving people is beneath him.

"No, not fish, exactly." Sam takes the menu from him. "Like something big enough to sink a boat."

"Yeah," Dean says. "We've been hearing stories about all these boats going down this season. Kind of weird, don't you think?"

The waiter smooths the front of his uniform, then leans toward them. "Well, I probably shouldn't say this." He glances over his shoulder.

Dean hunches forward. "Come on, you can tell us."

The waiter takes a breath. "All right. My dad says it's insurance fraud. Economy around here is getting pretty bad, and those boats cost a lot of money to maintain." He hands a menu to Dean and straights up. "Can I get you guys something to drink?"

After he leaves, Dean raises an eyebrow at Sam. "Insurance fraud? We're out here investigating insurance fraud?" Not that he completely believes the snotty kid, but still, there may be something to it.

"Dean, we don't know that for sure. People come up with all kinds of crazy theories to explain things."

"Doesn't sound so crazy to me," Dean says. "People want out of the business, they find a way. " He leans back in his seat, and catches sight of Cas, striding into the room, looking utterly out of place in a sea of jeans and tee-shirts and flannel. Dean's face grows warm at the sight of him.

Sam waves Cas over. Dean wants to tell him not to bother, Cas can find them now, or rather, find him, at least. He hasn't told Sam about the new sigil, and doesn't know if he should.

"And don't forget about the big snake," Sam is telling him. "That wasn't insurance fraud."

"That was twenty years ago," Dean says.

The waiter returns, handing out coffee, a salad for Sam, and a slice of pie for Dean.

"Seriously, Dean?" Sam asks as Dean digs in. "Is that your fifth piece today?"

"Fruit," Dean says, waving a fork at the large slice of peach pie on his plate. "It's good for you." He looks up and see that Cas has reached them, and is waiting patiently. After a moment Dean relents and slides over in the booth to make room for him. "Cas, uh, hi. What's up?"

Cas lowers himself into the booth, his expression dour. "I have sat through two parliamentary sessions and one US senate hearing." He leans forward, thigh pressing warmly against Dean's. "Does this establishment sell bourbon?"

"Dude," Sam laughs. "Sorry, no."

Acutely aware of the touch of Cas's leg, Dean studies Cas's profile, admiring the line of his jaw, the curve of his neck. He's a good looking guy, handsome but not necessarily someone Dean would look twice at. But it's not Cas's face that he is seeing. He can never lay eyes on Cas's real face, only Jimmy's. The poor bastard. Jimmy been gone a long time now, waiting in heaven for his family to join him.

Cas sighs. "And yet it was better than listening to Jeremiel go on about the good old days when the lower orders knew their place. He's claiming the Ophanim and the Cherubim are plotting take over the host of heaven."

Cas turns to Dean, and his piercing eyes give it away. They're not Jimmy's eyes. They're all Cas.

Dean nods, even though he's lost track of the conversation and doesn't know who the heck Cas is talking about. All he knows is that the press of Cas's thigh is making his heart beat faster. "Want some pie?"

Cas shakes his head. "How goes the hunt?"

"Doesn't seem to be much in the way of sightings in this area," Sam says. "Water might be too shallow."

"Not to mention it all could be chalked up to insurance fraud," Dean adds.

Sam glares at him. "But there was a sighting of a large snake. That could be related to Lakota mythology, which mentions a creature called Uncegila, a large snake that swims in river waters and pollutes them with salt."

"A twenty year old sighting," Dean reminds him. "And what are you, a mythology encyclopedia?"

"Somebody has to be--"

"So I gather," Cas interrupts, his leg nudging Dean's, "the search is not going well."

"Uh, well, it's fine," Dean says, noting that Cas looks happier now than when he first arrived. As if he's enjoying himself. Enjoying being there, with the two of them. "Could be better."

They finish eating, and soon after the waiter stops by with the check. Sam reaches for it. "I'll go pay this, and see if I can catch the owner and talk with him."

He slides out of the booth before Dean can stop him, and now Dean is alone with Cas.

"I suppose it would be inappropriate," Cas says, eyes on Dean's lips, "to kiss you here."

"Yes," Dean says quickly. "It would. Absolutely."

Cas glances around the room. Half the tables are empty, and the remaining patrons are focused on their food. "No one is even looking," he points out.

"Cas." Dean shakes his head. He's not having this discussion in the middle of Roy's Fish House. "Let's go for a little walk." He nudges Cas until Cas slides out of the booth. They head to the door. "Sammy, we'll be outside, all right?" Dean calls out. Sam, busy with the owner, nods and waves in response.

Outside, the late afternoon sun is bright and Dean gazes up at the sky. "Weather's cleared up," he announces, then winces. Talking about the weather--that's about as lame as it gets.

He used to be a whole lot smoother than this.

"Yes, Dean. It has." Cas gives him a look as they walk along the path.

As they round a turn, they are surrounded by trees, out of sight of any passersby. "Listen," Dean starts. He turns to Cas and Cas brightens, his expression growing hopeful. Irresistibly so. "Damn it, Cas."

Dean grabs the front of Cas's coat and pulls him in for a kiss. Cas leans into him with a small, content sigh, as if this is all he's ever wanted out of life. Dean's uncertainty flees, he's too busy enjoying the sweet slide of Cas's lips on his and the way Cas's hands are moving up onto his shoulders and the warm puff of Cas's breath on his cheek.

"Cas," Dean says again, pulling back.

Cas follows the movement to press one last, swift kiss to his lips, then releases Dean. "I know. You and Sam are heading to the library now."

"Yes," Dean says. His hands are still fisted in Cas's coat.

"I'll catch up with you later, then."

So human with the lingo, and it makes Dean smile. "You do that. We'll be back in the same motel."

"I know how to find you," Cas says, and his voice has gone low and suggestive.

The new sigil. A sweet thrill low in his stomach and fuck, it still turns him on. "Go on, get out of here." Dean gives Cas a little shove as he lets go of Cas's coat.

With a rustle of leaves in the wind, Cas disappears.

***

Another dusty library and Dean leafs through old newspapers with a disgruntled sigh."Sammy, people die all the time on this lake."

An article catches his eye--three people this time, a drowning in 1954 due to a sudden storm on the lake. Too many people. Dean doesn't want to read about death anymore, or hear about the sorrows of the people left behind.

Been there, done that, too many times.

Sam glances up from across the table. "You think it might be a ghost then?"

"What? No. I didn't say that." Dean turns a page, then another, skimming headlines. A sheriff caught with his pants down, literally, making time with his secretary. Dean grins. Now that's a story.

"Okay, here," Sam says, turning the book around so Dean can see. "It's called a Mishegenabeg." He shows Dean a roughly drawn picture of a large snake, with an enormous head, jaws full of teeth, and large, bulging eyes. "The great snake. Says it can take the form of any animal, including a human."

"Okay," Dean says. "I see that coming out of the water, I'm running the other way."

"The last sighting in the lake was in 1883, though." Sam shakes his head, then tucks his hair behind an ear. "It was connected to the death of a fisherman. The son survived to tell the story. Says the Mishegenabeg rose up and snatched him, right off the boat, because they came too close to its lair."

He turns the page, and there's another drawing, this time of a man caught in giant jaws, blood everywhere, boat timbers splintered and torn. Dean turns away and stares down at his hands, clenching into tight fists to keep them from shaking.

Stupid, it's so stupid of him, to react like this to a mere picture. So luridly drawn, it's ridiculous, almost a caricature but Dean can hear the bone-shattering crunch of a toothy jaw clamping down on a struggling body.

"Dean?" Sam is calling him.

Dean forces himself to look up. "What?"

Sam looks down at the picture, then back up at Dean. "What is it?"

"It's nothing, you freak." Dean takes a deep breath, composing himself. "Just tired, that's all."

Sam nods. "Of course. Eating all that pie can be exhausting."

"Now who's being a smart-ass." Dean pulls the book away from Sam. "So if this is it, how do we kill it?"

"I thought you were convinced we were dealing with insurance fraud," Sam counters.

Dean scowls. Sam is such a pain in the ass. "Must you keep track of every fucking word that comes out of my mouth??"

"Believe me, Dean, it isn't always easy, but yes, I actually do listen to what you say."

Dean stares down at the book and the drawing of the giant man-eating snake. He wants to snap at Sam some more, to tell him off in no uncertain terms, but when he glances up he sees that Sam is smiling warmly at him.

All the anger leaves in a rush, and Dean feels like an ass. "Maybe I just want it to be insurance fraud. Instead of," Dean waves a hand at the book, "this stupid thing."

"Yeah." Sam nods. "Me too."

Back to reading, and by the time they are done, Dean's pretty sure they know less than when they started. The giant snake stories don't hold up, and there's not much going on in the immediate area. By the time they leave, Dean is beginning to think the entire hunt has been a waste of their time.

***

Hot water runs down over Dean's head, his shoulders, his back, easing muscles tight from hunching over books. He cranks the hot water up and lingers under it, rolling his shoulders, ducking his head so it the water strikes the back of his neck. He wants to wash the dust of the library off of him, the dust of a million stories about dead brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and friends and loved ones.

He's just so damn tired.

When he's finished, he pulls the shower curtain open and fumbles for a towel, wiping his face as he steps out of the tub.

Then nearly drops the towel when he opens his eyes and sees Cas standing in front of him.

"Hello, Dean."

"Cas? Seriously? I'm in the bathroom. What if I was taking a crap?" Dean's not so sure this new sigil is a good thing. It's been a long day, and now there's Cas to deal with and Dean's not sure he has energy left to so.

Cas is staring at him.

Dean becomes aware that he's naked. Very naked. Which seems to fascinate Cas, who watches droplets of water travel down Dean's chest as if he's never seen a naked human body before.

Maybe he hasn't.

"Cas," Dean says softly.

Cas glances up, catches sight of Dean's left shoulder and his eyes widen. Dean turns so that Cas can see the handprint in its entirety. "You have one hell of a grip," Dean reminds him.

"I didn't know--" Cas raises a hand, palm out.

"Yeah, freaked me out when I first saw it," Dean told him. "I didn't know what had grabbed me. Figured it was a demon."

"Your soul. It shone like a beacon in hell." Cas places his hand on Dean's shoulder, watching as it fit over the handprint. "It was beautiful. Damaged, yet beautiful."

Dean feels a chill, despite the steam of the shower. He doesn't have the strength to think about his time in hell, not now. Not ever. "I'd be surprised if there was anything left of it by now."

"You're wrong, Dean." Cas turns his focus to Dean's face "Very wrong." That sharp-eyed stare again--Cas sees too much, but there's no place to hide.

"So," Dean says. "Now you're the expert on my soul?"

A slow nod. "Trust me, Dean. Why it that so hard to believe?"

"I trust you." Dean can't break Cas's stare, can't look away from his eyes. "I just don't trust myself."

Cas presses his lips to Dean's shoulder, his neck, his cheek, and finally, his lips. Slow, careful kisses, as if Dean is precious and fragile. It feels too much like forgiveness, too much like understanding and Dean wishes that Cas would go back to shoving him against the wall and taking what he wants.

"Why the hell are you here?" Dean asks, pressing his forehead against Cas's. "Why didn't you just stay gone? You finished what you had to do here on earth."

It would all be so much easier. He would have gotten used to it. Eventually.

Cas steps back, hands still resting on Dean's shoulders. "I went back to heaven because I thought that was where I belonged. Where I was needed." His voice is a low growl of frustration. "And yet all I could think about was being back on Earth with you."

It takes a moment to sink in. "Free will," Dean says at last. "Ain't it a bitch?" He almost feels sorry for Cas.

"Peace or freedom," Cas whispers, eyes intent on Dean. "Or you."

Dean swallows. "Hell of a choice." Cas is just as screwed as he is. It's strangely comforting.

"Maybe not." Cas touches his cheek, then kisses him.

Still too damn gentle, yet Dean finds himself responding in kind, cupping the back of Cas's neck and moving closer, dropping the towel that has been clutched in his hand and maybe this is what he needs, to be naked with Cas, consequences be damned.

"Dean." Cas steps back. "I'm sorry, I have to go."

"What? Go where?" Dean asks, frustrated.

"Heaven. That's what I came by to tell you." Cas drops his hand and looks away. "Believe me, I'd rather not."

"I don't want you to, either."

Cas jerks his head up, his eyes meeting Dean's. "That's good to know."

"Yeah. Well." Feeling more naked than ever, Dean retrieves the towel from the floor. "For how long?"

"A few days. Perhaps more." Cas frowns. "A special meeting has been called. I'm sure it's of utmost importance."

"Sarcasm, I like that. " Dean says, amused despite his disappointment. "Try not to have too much fun."

When Cas comes forward and kisses him again, Dean can taste the regret.

***

"So, Sammy," Dean says as they head down the highway. "How long we going to keep chasing our tails?"

"What do you mean?"

"It's been almost two weeks, and we have no real evidence. The Mishegenabeg story didn't pan out. What's it going to be in the next town, a giant octopus?"

Sam shifts in his seat. "We haven't tried everything yet. It's a big lake and--"

"Yeah, it's freaking huge. I know that." Dean watches as Sam frowns and gets that look, the one that means he's trying to figure out how to say something Dean is not going to want to hear.

And that kind of scares him.

"Yo. Talk to me. Asshole."

That gets Sam's attention. "Dean. Do you really want to do this?"

"What, drive the car? Yeah, I do." Dean is being deliberately obtuse.

Sam scowls at him. "I mean hunt. Do you really want to go back to that life? Or are you just doing it because I'm here?"

"What?" Surprised, Dean has to turn his focus back to the road for a minute. "I tried the apple pie lifestyle, and that worked out so well."

"You didn't exactly give it a chance, Lisa was already engaged, fine, but now there's--"

"Sammy, I'm not going to settle down and live happily ever after with Cas, I mean, come on," Dean laughs. "That's ridiculous."

Sam falls silent, and Dean concentrates on driving as the road curves around a stand of trees. He swerves to avoid a large pothole. "How are things with Cas?" Sam asks quietly. "You seem kind of distracted these last few days, ever since he left."

"I don't know." Dean shrugs. He wants to tell Sam to try and be with someone who can see into your soul, see how he feels about that, but instead he just mumbles, "Trying to work things out in my head, I guess."

"Maybe that's your problem."

"Huh?"

"Maybe you shouldn't be working it out in your head, you should be working it out with Cas."

"Thank you Dr. Phil," Dean says, but there's no heat behind it. Sam is right. If Cas hadn't had to leave, Dean's pretty sure things would have gotten worked out right there in the bathroom and Dean's still trying to wrap his brain around the fact that he's the reason why Cas came back to earth in the first place.

"So, Dean, you haven't answered my question," Sam points out. "Do you really want to go back to hunting or not?"

"You're asking an awful lot of questions," Dean says, "And it's really getting fucking annoying. What about you? Do you want to keep it up?"

"Do I want to hunt? To save people? Hell yeah." Sam isn't convincing, though.

"You could go back to college," Dean says, holding his breath.

"Nah. I don't think so." Sam looks out the window. "Classrooms seem a little cramped, at this point."

"Go Team Free Will," Dean scoffs. He's not sure if he's glad or disappointed. Sometimes he's not sure of anything when it comes to Sam. "Are we back to it being our destiny, that we don't have any choice but to go back to the life of hunting? Or is that just the easiest answer?"

"I don't know what the hell I'm saying--oh, hey Cas."

Dean checks the rear view mirror and sure enough, Cas is sitting in the back seat. "Speaking of free will," Dean says, stupidly happy to see him. "Hi Cas. You're back."

"The value of free will," Cas tells them as he leans back, looking more relaxed than Dean has seen in a long time, "is the freedom to change your mind."

"True," Dean says, watching Cas with open curiosity.

"Dean, you're right, by the way," Sam says. "I was never all that convinced there was a monster in the lake."

"What?" Deans turns and stares at Sam, who meets his eyes, looking appropriately sheepish. "So what the hell are we doing up here?"

Sam shrugs. "Taking some time off. I just wasn't sure you were ready for a real hunt."

"Seriously?" Dean's kind of pissed now. "So you had to lie to me about it?"

"Dean, I know how hard it is to be the one left behind." Sam doesn't look at him. "And I know you're not really 'fine' right now, no matter how hard you insist that you are. You need a break."

"Oh, really? Now you can read minds?"

"Dean, how long have I been your brother?"

Dean slinks down in the seat of the car. "Yeah, yeah." Dean can still feel it, the emptiness, the pain of thinking Sam was gone for ever. How pointless every single damn thing he did felt.

"And maybe it wasn't a total lie, because some of the evidence was there, right? And if I said 'hey Dean, let's take some time off', would you have agreed?"

Dean hates when Sam is right. "No," he says in a huff.

"You always want to jump right back into hunting after shit happens, so you don't have to actually think about anything."

"What's wrong with that?" Dean points a finger at Sam. "Huh?"

"Perhaps," Cas says in his quiet voice, "Sam, you needed a break, too?"

Sam turns to look at him. After a moment, he sighs, nodding his head in acquiescence. "Okay, fine, maybe I needed a break, too."

"And you couldn't tell me that?" Dean snaps.

Sam stares at him. And, to Dean's surprise, grins. "Guess I kind of got caught up in worrying about you, you big jerk."

Dean shakes his head. "You're such a freak. A ginormous one. Try talking to me next time, okay?"

Sam nods. "Maybe you should try talking sometimes, too." His eyes drift back to Cas, lounging in the back seat. "Work things out, you know?"

Right. Every time Dean tries talking to Cas, they end up kissing instead.

"So, if there isn't any monster, what about the sinkings you were tracking?" Cas asks.

"Bad weather, most likely," Sam says. "Strong currents and wind--nothing really out of the ordinary for this area."

"And let's not forget insurance fraud," Dean adds. "But it's kind of a shame, not even a single sighting of our own version of Nessie. That would have been cool, huh?"

Cas nods thoughtfully.

"Hey Cas, what's up with the deliberations?" Sam asks. "How are things in heaven?"

"Ah, the cherubs." Cas leans forward, hands resting on the front seat. "They have been granted a place at the negotiating table."

"Really?" Dean is strangely pleased. "How very egalitarian."

"Yes. It took some convincing. Raphael was not at all for it at first, but once he was, the other angels followed. Of course. So a deal was made, with very strict provisions on how the cherub representatives may greet the other angels."

"No hugging?" Dean asks.

"No hugging."

"Good."

"It is a relief to all of us," Cas agrees. "But it was a struggle. Every step of the way. The angels still want someone to tell them what to do. Me, specifically. Or Raphael. And the two of us don't agree on much."

"I can understand that," Dean says with a shudder.

Things might be kind of crappy on earth, but Dean suspects it's a whole lot better than being in heaven and dealing with angels.

***

They grab dinner on the road, a little shack with five tables and the best cheeseburger Dean has ever tasted. Plus, some crazy "fruits of the forest" pie, which also might be the second best thing Dean has ever tasted. A few more hours on the road, and at last they turn off and find a small motel, two stories high, a bright neon sign guiding them into the parking lot.

Dean gets out, leans against the car with Cas, breathing in the cool night air as he waits for Sam to get them a room. A door slams shut and Dean turns to see Sam striding out of the motel office. "About time, dude. Where is our room?" Dean picks up his bag.

"My room," Sam says, "is 6A. You are in 12B." He holds a key out to Dean.

"What the hell is this?" Dean asks, indignant.

"Thought you might want a bit of privacy. To work things out," Sam adds with a glance toward Cas. He waves the key at Dean. "Go on, take it."

"Get out of here, I don't--we--"

Sam rolls his eyes, and slips the key into Dean's pocket. "I want a good night's sleep for once, without having to listen to your snoring."

Dean sputters. "I do not snore."

"Good night Dean. Cas." Sam nods at them both, laughing as he picks up his bag and heads toward the door.

"You think you're cute, don't you," Dean calls out after him. A touch of a hand on his shoulder and Dean has been transported to inside the motel room. With a single, king-sized bed looming in the center of it. He spins around. "Damn it, Cas--"

Cas pulls him close and kisses him.

"Again, with the kissing," Dean murmurs against Cas's lips.

"You don't like it?"

"I didn't say that." Dean goes with it, the warm, relentless press of lips against his and this time Cas is the one licking into his mouth. Cas's hands are sure yet gentle as they slide over Dean's shoulders.

"Cas," Dean says with a sigh. He rubs his cheek against Cas's, rough stubble catching his skin. "You're making me crazy."

Cas draws back. "That's a feeling I can understand."

"Okay, fine." Dean snorts, shaking his head. "So we're both crazy."

"What do you want, Dean?"

Surely Cas can see it, see how badly Dean wants. "You already know."

"But you still have a choice." Cas speaks slowly, his words measured.

"Listen to you, lecturing me about choice." But Dean's made his choice. Probably made it the first time he kissed Cas. He wants this. He pulls Cas in for a rough kiss. "Come on. We're doing this."

"Yes," Cas says eagerly. He reaches for Dean, hands sliding under the hem of Dean's shirt.

"Hold on," Dean orders. He places hand on Cas's chest, stopping him as he moves back. "Take your clothes off."

It's only fair, after all Cas has already seen him naked.

Without breaking eye contact, Cas drops the coat from his shoulders, leaving it to puddle at his feet. The tie is next, then his jacket, and he doesn't look away from Dean, not even when he fumbles with the buttons of his shirt. Trousers, shoes, socks, underwear, it all lays where it falls and then Cas is naked, absolutely, stunningly naked.

He's slimmer than Dean expected, narrow-hipped but solidly built, long lean muscles and pale skin with small dark nipples and a half-hard cock and curly brown pubic hair -- Cas is clearly a guy, or at least, in a guy's body and yet it still turns Dean on.

Dean's breath catches as Cas pads toward him on bare feet. He might be wearing a human body, he's not human. He's Castiel, a creature of heaven--a powerful warrior -- and somehow that shows through. And yet Cas's skin is soft and smooth under Dean's hands and when Cas kisses him, it's gentle and even a little sweet but Dean doesn't want gentle, he wants hard and fast and hot. He breaks off the kiss, scraping his teeth across Cas's chin as he slides his hands down Cas's chest, admiring the hard muscle as he nips at Cas's neck, smiling at the gasp of surprise.

"Dean." Cas's voice has gone low as he tugs at Dean's shirt, trying to pull it over his head. "Please."

He doesn't sound quite so sure of himself anymore.

Dean pulls his shirt off, then kicks off his shoes, unzips his jeans, and manages to get it all off, socks and everything, despite being fumble-fingered and off balance. But Cas's hands are on his shoulders, holding him steady, and Cas is watching with such affection and open admiration that it warms Dean straight through. He wants to kiss Cas, needs to kiss him.

And he's free to do so. He's free to do whatever the fuck he wants. And he wants to do Cas.

Cas makes a low noise, shuddering as Dean kisses him. "The human body," Cas says, his bare chest pressed against Dean's, "is truly my father's greatest accomplishment."

"Hold on." Dean clasps the back of Cas's neck. "No talk of fathers during sex. It's just wrong."

"Dean, my father intended humans to have sex. A lot of sex." Cas rubs against Dean so that Dean can feel his erect cock. "That's why he made it feel so good."

"No talk of God, either," Dean insists, but he grabs Cas by the hips and pushes his own cock against Cas's skin. "Unless--unless its the 'oh god, don't stop' kind of talk."

An annoyed huff and Cas asks, "Are there any more rules I need to be aware of before we continue?"

"Do whatever feels good," Dean instructs. "As long as the other person doesn't say 'ow, stop it'."

Cas's expression turns quizzical as he processes this and Dean takes the opportunity to kiss him. And then, it's on.

Dean can't touch Cas enough, he runs his hands down Cas's back and over his hips and back up his stomach. He's taller than Cas, but Cas is bigger than the women he's been with, more solid, and the difference is fascinating. He kisses Cas's neck and shoulders, all muscle and bone and with an impatient noise, Cas drags him over to the bed. Cas is weirdly strong, and when Cas flips him flat on his back with one hand, Dean finds it insanely hot, moaning as he pulls Cas over over him, all heavy body and eager cock. Dean rocks his hips, it's clumsy and needy and primal, frantic kisses and the slick slide of sweaty skin--Cas is sweating, dampness pooling at the small of his back and the noises he's making sound very human to Dean's ears.

"Okay, okay," Dean whispers, pushing Cas off to one side with difficulty. If Cas finds the simple press of naked bodies awe-inspiring, then Dean can't wait to show him more, show him what humans do, and do pretty damn well. And while Dean may not have a whole lot of experience with guys, he does know how to get a guy off.

Dean props himself up on one arm, licks his palm and wraps his hand around Cas's dick. When he strokes, Cas grabs Dean's shoulder and groans, hips moving.

"Good, eh?" Dean asks, knowing damn well that it is.

Cas nods breathlessly, he looks completely wasted, lost in the sensation of being touched. Dean slides closer, kissing him. Cas's mouth is wet and hot and he keeps making those fucking noises and Dean loves it, thinks maybe he can get off just on those noises alone. He even loves the feel of Cas's cock in his hand, the hard, solid length of it and maybe he's more into guys than he realized. Or maybe he's just into Cas.

With a startled gasp, Cas jerks against him, buries his face in Dean's neck and comes all over Dean's hand. Dean strokes him through it, gently, wringing out the last bit of pleasure. When Cas's shudders finally subside, Dean simply rests his hand over Cas's wet cock, letting Cas pant warmly against his neck.

Cas lifts his head, vaguely awestruck. "I had no idea." He stares at Dean, almost accusingly, as if the wonder of sex was a big secret Dean had been keeping from him.

Dean grins. Yeah, he's just that good. "Oh, we're just getting started, cowboy." He wipes his hand on a corner of the sheet and Cas doesn't look quite so angelic with a big smear of come on his hip. "You'll be amazed at the things we can do."

"I am not a complete innocent, Dean." Cas runs his hand down Dean's stomach and curls it around Dean's cock. "I have been observing humans for a very long time."

Delicate fingers slide over hard flesh, and Dean's hips jerk when Cas runs his thumb over the head. He licks his hand as Dean did, then puts it back on Dean's cock and fuck, it's perfect. Sheer pleasure, coiling tighter with every stroke. Dean gasps and wriggles closer and god, he needed this.

"Am I doing this right?" Cas is watching, waiting for an answer, a hint of a grin on his lips.

"Yeah," Dean manages between gasps. "You're--it's--oh fuck that's good."

Cas nods, apparently satisfied by Dean's garbled answer. He gives a little squeeze and Dean falls back against the pillows, spreading his legs and pushing into Cas's fist. With Cas's eyes on him he feels more naked than ever, yet there's nothing left to hide, Cas knows exactly who and what he's had to do, all his dark secrets and yet, here they are together, despite everything that's gone before.

Dean moans, twists his hands in the sheets and arches his back, Cas is keeping a slow, steady pace and it's making him crazy, he wants it faster, needs it faster, needs more pressure. When Cas slides down next to him and licks his throat, Dean moans again and pulls Cas into a harsh kiss, a clash of teeth and lips. And then it's all too much and Dean comes and it's fucking fantastic.

He has no idea why he's waited so long to do this.

Dean has to stop Cas's hand when it's all over, Cas slows down but doesn't know when to stop and Dean's twitchy and oversensitive when he pulls Cas's hand away. But still, he can't stop grinning, he just had sex with a fucking angel of the lord and that? That is pretty damn awesome.

"Congratulations," Dean says when he can speak again. "You're no longer a virgin."

"I am very grateful," Cas says, and Dean's pretty sure he's being a smart-ass.

Dean laughs. He feels relieved. A little giddy maybe. Closing his eyes, he stretches his legs out and sighs contentedly. When he opens them again, Cas hasn't moved, he is still watching Dean thoughtfully, eyes heavy-lidded.

"This is the part where we chill out for a bit," Dean explains.

Cas nods, but does not move.

Dean rolls his eyes. "You're going to just watch me lay here?"

"You are very beautiful," Cas tells him.

"Shut up." Dean shifts on the bed, embarrassed. He scratches his stomach where semen is drying on his skin. "You could make yourself useful and go get me a towel," he says, changing the subject.

Cas glances up, peering into the bathroom. He lifts a hand and a towel lands in it.

It's like having sex with a superhero.

Cas offers him the towel and Dean cleans himself off. After a moment he cleans Cas off, too, then runs a hand over Cas's chest, still getting used to the feel of it--a man's naked chest, flat and hairy with little freckles every here and there. Dean expects to see the scars of the banishing sigil Cas had carved into his own skin, but Cas's chest is smooth and unmarked. Of course, it's a new body, remade by God after Lucifer exploded him. Burst him like a bloody balloon, bits of Cas splattered all over the cemetery.

His hand falters and Cas places his own over it.

"You keep blowing up and coming back," Dean says in a tight voice. He clears his throat, then presses his mouth to Cas's shoulder.

"Apparently, God still had a purpose for me."

Dean bumps his forehead against Cas's chest. "Must you keep bringing up God?"

"Yes, Dean. I must." There's a low rumble deep inside Cas. Laughter. Dean likes it.

"Okay. Yes, God's purpose for you is to get down and dirty with Dean Winchester." Dean nuzzles the crook of Cas's neck. "That's one heck of a holy mission."

"Perhaps you are my reward," Cas says.

"Then God definitely has a sense of humor, you poor bastard."

Cas pushes Dean flat on the bed and kisses the center of his chest, directly over the new sigil. "This is meant to be, Dean."

Dean squirms, fuck, he's getting turned on all over again, especially when Cas moves to suck on a spot of sensitive skin over his ribs. "But isn't all this all some kind of mortal sin? Angel and a human? Or two guys being together? Pick either one." Not that Dean cares. But he doesn't want anything or anyone coming after Cas.

Cas raises his head, his gaze sure and steady as he meets Dean's eyes. "Love is never a sin, Dean," he admonishes gently.

"Huh," Dean says. "Okay." He nods, and tries not to panic. It shouldn't come as such a surprise. After all Cas has given up for him, after all they've been through together, Dean should have known.

Cas is still watching, waiting. Eternally patient. And maybe Dean does feel the same way but he's a little overwhelmed just the same so he reaches for Cas, kissing him with a vengeance. No more talking, just kissing, and Dean hopes Cas understands what he's trying to say.

Maybe Cas does, because with a soft exhalation Cas relaxes, tension leaving his shoulders. He stretches out over Dean and Dean spreads his legs, letting Cas slide down in between. Slow, steady friction as Cas rocks against him and Dean lets it all go, he simply holds onto Cas and doesn't think about anything other than how good it feels, Cas warm and alive against him, the soft, gentle kisses. There's no rush to the finish, just an easy climb and after it's all over, Dean drops off to sleep, content and secure.

***

Dean wakes during the night and he's alone in bed. He looks around the room. No Cas anywhere at all. He grumbles into his pillow, "Love 'em and leave 'em, Cas?" But Cas will be back. He knows it now, right down to his soul. Soon he falls back to sleep.

When he wakes again it's morning. Sunlight streams through the window, birds are singing, and Cas is by the window, completely naked, looking out at the sky.

"Hey," Dean croaks, his voice rusty from sleep. "Good morning."

"Good morning, Dean." Cas's lean body is glowing, kissed by sunlight and Dean admires it openly. He enjoys the view even more when Cas approaches the bed, completely comfortable in his nakedness.

"Thought maybe you left and went back to heaven for a while," Dean tells him.

"No," Cas says with a small smile. He pulls the covers back from Dean, exposing him. "I won't be doing that. Not for a long time."

"What? What's up?" Always so damn cryptic.

"Raphael tells me that because of my time here on earth, I've grown too fond of humanity." Cas gazes thoughtfully at Dean's body. "That I've been 'contaminated'."

"Did you tell him to suck it?" Dean asks, indignant on Cas's behalf.

"No." Cas climbs on the bed and straddles Dean's hips. "I agreed with him."

Dean reaches out as Cas settles onto him, a solid weight on his hips, Cas's erect cock brushing his stomach. "You--you what?"

"I told him I couldn't possibly serve in heaven any longer. I resigned my position."

Dean stills his hands. "You resigned?"

Cas smiles.

It's beautiful. He's beautiful.

"I choose to live among humans in all their dirty, brawling glory," Cas says, hands moving over Dean's chest. "Than a bunch of self-righteous dicks who can't make a decision because they don't even know what hell they want."

"Seriously? Did you actually say that?" Dean asks. "Please tell me that you did."

"No," Cas cocks his head to one side. "Not in so many words."

"And you can just do that, leave the job?"

Cas nods. "Yes, Dean, I can."

Laughter bubbles up in Dean from deep down inside. "I told you it was a bad idea." He pokes Cas, pleased. "So, you're not heaven's bitch anymore."

"No, not heaven's." Cas looms over him, hands planted on the bed on either side of his body.

"Wait, wait," Dean says, before Cas can kiss him. "You knew this--you knew this yesterday. In the car, when you talked about changing your mind."

"Yes."

"And you waited until now to tell me?" Dean is more curious than annoyed.

"I needed to be certain," Cas nuzzles Dean's cheek, "that it was something you were ready to hear."

"Cas." Dean pulls him down and holds onto him, pressing his face against Cas's neck.

"So," Cas says, voice muffled. "You're not going to run screaming into the night?"

"Nah," Dean says easily. "Takes too much effort. And it's morning, anyway."

A huff of laughter against his shoulder, and Cas slides a hand down onto Dean's hip.

The phone rings, startling Dean. He grunts and reaches for it, still holding Cas flat against his chest. It's Sam.

"Breakfast in fifteen, you sleepy head," Sam says cheerily.

"Make it twenty," Dean insists. "There's something I've got to do first."

He hangs up the phone and kisses Cas.

***

Twenty five minutes later he meets Sam in the coffeeshop, Cas in tow. "Not a word," Dean says, pointing a finger at Sam.

Sam nods, but he's dimpled and grinning like hell at them both.

But really, it was warm out, and there was no need for the trench coat and suit jacket and tie. Seeing Cas settle in at the table in rolled up shirtsleeves is worth any of Sam's razzing.

"Guess who quit his day job?" Dean announces as he slides into the seat across from Sam.

Sam frowns, confused. "Who?"

"Cas."

"What? You're kidding? Cas?" Sam turns to Cas. "What's going on?"

"He likes earth better," Dean says, before Cas can open his mouth. He doesn't say and me, too, but Dean's pretty sure that Sam hears it.

The waitress comes by, an older woman with a pen tucked behind her ear. She calls them 'hon' and pours their coffee before Dean can even ask. They place their orders and just to bedevil Sam, Dean stretches out the process, asking just how many pigs are in the blanket, and can he have a side of bacon with that, extra crispy please, and what kind of pastries are available? He grins as he sees Sam fidgeting, clearly dying to ask more questions but won't, not with the waitress there.

When she finally leaves, Sam bursts out, "Really? Cas, you can simply quit?"

"It was agreed by all involved that I'm better suited to do God's work here on earth," Cas explains.

"God's work?" Sam raises his eyebrows. "Is that what they're calling it now?"

Cas's eyes shift downward and he stares at his place setting as if his knife and fork and paper placemat are the most fascinating items on earth. "There's actual work to be done, along with--with, more pleasurable pursuits." A sideways glance at Dean.

Sam grins. "You do know how annoying my brother is, right? I mean, like, really annoying?"

"Hey," Dean says, indignant.

Cas nods. "Yes, believe me, I am well acquainted with that aspect of your brother's personality. He is also contrary and obstinate."

Sam tilts his cup toward Cas. "Right."

"Hey, the brother in question is right here," Dean interjects sharply.

Sam grins at him, and Dean scowls. Sam's grin only broadens. Before Dean can say anything more--he is so not obstinate, contrary, maybe; but obstinate, no way--the waitress arrives with their breakfast. Dean is reminded that he's starving, and digs in with gusto.

"So," Sam asks, sipping his coffee. "What's next, Dean?"

"I was thinking more pie, for dessert," Dean says around a mouthful of pancakes.

"Dean," Sam says, shaking his head.

"Are you truly giving up this hunt?" Cas asks Sam.

"There's nothing to give up on." Sam shrugs. "There's nothing out there. Except whitefish and trout."

"Don't remind me," Dean says, spearing a sausage with his fork. "I am so not cut out for fishing."

"I guess we'll find something real to hunt," Sam says without much enthusiasm.

"Or," Dean says, gulping a mouthful of coffee. "we go on vacation." A snap decision, but as soon as Dean says it, it sounds like a damn good idea. "Hell, I've always wanted to see the world. After all, we did save it. So we should check it out."

Sam laughs. "Right, Dean."

"No, no, I mean it, Sammy. We take a couple months, do some traveling, and when we're done, maybe we go back to hunting, maybe we don't." Dean's fairly sure that they can't avoid it, that hunting will find them if they don't go back to it. "Let's face it, we need a break."

"You're serious about this, aren't you?" Sam asks.

Dean nods. "Sammy, I'm--you were right. I'm not, I'm not ready to dive back in to life yet, you know?" It feels good to say it out loud, to acknowledge that he's not whole. He glances over at Cas, who is watching him with compassion, and this time, Dean's willing to let him. Just this once.

Sam leans forward. "I think it's a great idea. Where do you want to go?"

"Anywhere you want. Cas, you willing to provide some transportation? I don't think I can drive the Impala overseas. And damn it, I hate flying."

Cas sits up straight. "I'd be happy to do so." He nudges Dean's foot.

Dean nods. "There you have it. We'll head back to Bobby's, gather up some money, and go."

"I can't believe we're actually going to do this." Sam laughs, shaking his head.

"You in?" Dean asks, even though he knows the answer.

"I'm in," Sam says.

***

"All right," Dean says as they load up the car. "Let's get the hell out of Dodge. You coming, Cas, or are you going to meet us at Bobby's?"

Cas is staring out past the stand of trees, his eyes on the water.

"Yo, Cas?"

Cas turns to him. "Before we leave, I wish to show you something." He spreads his arms out.

Before Dean can speak, he's been transported. Wind hits his face, the ground is wet and slippery and there is clear blue water all around, lapping at his feet. He grabs Cas's arm to keep from falling in and sees Sam on the other side of Cas, doing the same. "What the hell?"

"Shh," says Cas.

They're on a small rocky outcropping, barely above the water level. "Cas?" Dean wonders if he should be freaking out or not.

"I visited with St. Francis last night, while you were sleeping. We had a fascinating discussion," Cas points out over the water. "Ah. There--"

"Dean," Sam says excitedly at the same time.

Dean looks out and sees something in the water, it's getting larger and larger as it rises out of the water. A long thin neck, glistening in the late morning sun, and a body, with--with fins. Long feathery fins.

"Holy shit," Dean says, panicking. He tries to step back but there's no place to go, they're surrounded by water. "How do we kill it?"

"Dean." Cas's tone is gentle. "It's not a monster."

"Right," Dean says. "It sure as hell looks like a monster." The thing is fucking huge, and it's diving beneath the surface, creating barely a ripple.

"It's simply one of my father's creations. A rare, wondrous creature of the deep water," Cas explains. "It poses no threat. It has harmed no one. It is merely...different."

The creature has disappeared completely. Dean tries to make out a shadow in the water, but he can't see anything, it's too deep. "It certainly looks like a threat. A really big one and where the hell did it go?"

"Wait, I think I see something," Sam says. "Oh my god, look--"

Cas hushes them again. "It is very skittish. Easily spooked." He's watching Dean now, and gives Dean's arm a squeeze. "But if you are careful, it will come close to you. They are beautiful to behold."

The water breaks, directly in front of them. Dean holds his breath as a dark head rises up. It's less then five feet away and Dean can make out its face, dark round eyes, pointed snout, and--

Whiskers? Dean frowns.

Like a cat's. A giant cat, except this cat has iridescent green scales that catch the light, sparkling. It glides closer, tilts its head to one side and Dean can see the nostrils twitching as it sniffs them. Dean hopes fervently they don't smell like dinner. Beyond the head and neck, Dean can see the long stretch of the creature, small ridges breaking the surface of the water. It's at least thirty feet long.

A ripple of water next to him, and another head comes up. There's a second creature, and it bumps up against the first, rubbing it's head against the neck of the other.

"Multiple heads," Sam says under his breath.

Dean grins, he can't take his eyes off them, watching in wonder they glide through the water. They're strange yet beautiful, and Cas is right, they might be big but they're not so scary after all. He slides an arm around Cas's waist, leaning against him as the creatures dive beneath the surface, disappearing with a final splash of their tails only to return again, a little further away.

Dean thinks they might be playing. "Awesome," he says, laughing as one twines around the other, both rolling over as they dip back under the water again.

"Yes," Cas agrees. "Very much so."

Dean looks over to find that is Cas smiling at him, not looking at the creatures at all. Dean laughs, shakes his head, then leans in and kisses him, right on the lips.

"Oh, way to spoil the experience, Dean," Sam says.

"Shut up, freak." Dean grins over Cas's shoulder at Sam. "I love you too, you know."