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Don't Forget the Experience Points

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Later, much later, Sam will accuse Dean of having orchestrated the whole thing from Day One.

But said accusation would be completely wrong, because on Day One it really was just coincidence that had Dean walking past the café where Sam was having his workday lunch. The city wasn’t small but for all their differences the Winchester brothers tended to stick to places they liked once they decided they liked them, and that included eateries.

So when Dean passed by the café’s large glass windows and saw his brother inside, he had to go in and say hi, right? It was the brotherly thing to do. Sure, the fact that Sam wasn’t alone made Dean’s choice all that easier, because picking on each other’s choice of companion – casual or not – was just a way of life, and this guy was a new guy.

“Heyyy,” Dean announced himself at Sam’s table, “what a coincidence. Got place for a third?”

Sam wasn’t impressed. “Aren’t you working?”

“Aren’t you?” Dean replied. “Who’s this?”

“This is a colleague from work, Castiel,” Sam said. The pair of them had taken off their coats before sitting down, but this guy’s clothes needed to be reintroduced to an iron, a better launderer, or a better owner. “Castiel, this is my brother, Dean.”

“Hello Dean, nice to meet you.” That was a perfectly normal response, but there was something unnerving about the calm, eerily direct way Castiel looked at him. “Sam talks about you a lot.”

“Yeah?” Dean said. “All good, I hope.”

Castiel nodded seriously, and Dean only justremembered that it would’ve been inappropriate to laugh. “Of course.”

Castiel. The name didn’t ring a bell but that didn’t really surprise Dean because Sam had only been at this new job, what, three months? And he didn’t like sharing work stories at home, which kinda made sense, because Sam’s work stories were boring.

This guy, this Castiel, had the well-meaning but slightly unkempt look of someone in admin or middle management, maybe. Dean couldn’t imagine him in legal with Sam, but that was a shallow conclusion based on the work wardrobe Sam had been amassing for himself, i.e. the boring side of Tim Burton with all blacks and whites and grays, while this Castiel guy had a tan overcoat that would be more at home in a pawnshop and hair that looked it hadn’t seen the friendly side of a comb anytime recently. Oh, and he had stubble – Dean did some mental recalibrations and put him in archival, or some cushy basement gig where no one gave a fuck if a corporate minion forgot to shave in the morning or put their tie on properly.

“Are you actually going to sit down or what?” Sam asked, a little irritably.

“Nah, I got something.” Dean clapped Sam on the shoulder, ignored his sigh, and winked at Castiel. “I’ll be seeing you. Enjoy your lunch.”

If someone asked Dean at the moment what his level one priority thoughts from that encounter were, it’d be the satisfaction of having annoyed Sam, pride that Sam made a work friend he could talk to about personal things (mentioning family counted as personal) and the vague curiosity that always accompanied meeting one of Sam’s friends.

Not that Sam was lousy at making friends. Dean’s younger brother was great at putting strangers and newly-met people at ease; if everyone in the world had superpowers, then this was one of Sam’s. The semi-nomadic life that had been theirs growing up meant having to switch schools so fucking often Sam might’ve just developed that skill out of stubbornness. But making friends was not the same as keeping friends, and after the mess that was Brady and Ruby tag-team fucking Sam over for a percentage at his last job, Sam had understandably retreated into himself. In the aftermath Sam had traveled a little (Dean kept the postcards), wrote a little (Dean kept the magazines), tried out a couple of other jobs (Dean archived the emails), before coming back and taking up the spare room Dean said was always open to him.

So if Dean was a little anxious about Sam’s going back into the fold, that was also totally understandable. Having with a lunch with a colleague was totally something to put on the accomplishment list, so Dean wandered off back to work feeling pleased with the world in general.



It was only the third time he met Castiel that Dean properly registered him as a human being instead of a blue-eyed Sam-satellite. (The second time was when Castiel sent Sam home after his car broke down at the office, and Dean only got out a quick, ‘Thanks’ in between grilling Sam on what the hell happened.)

That third time was New Year’s, and Sam was late arriving at the Roadhouse so Dean was already a couple of drinks in and feeling pretty loose when his brother finally showed up with his uninvited extra.

“Be nice,” Sam said a low voice.

“I’m always nice.” Dean watched Castiel slide into their booth, overcoat and all, and squinted at the wall to read the day’s specials. “Didn’t have anyone else on New Year’s?”

“Dude, you are not one to talk.” Sam pressed a hand against Dean’s shoulder and squeezed, a little more firmly than was necessary. “We’re in the middle of a big project and… it’ll just be nice to take a breather, okay?”

“Gotcha.” Dean clicked his fingers at Sam. “That’s why we’re here, right? New year, new opportunities, new drinking buddy, please stop squeezing me now.”

An invitation to an off-the-clock gathering told Dean that this guy might be hanging around Sam more from then on, and thus Dean was duty-bound to vet him.

“What’s your poison, buddy?” Dean asked.

“I...” Castiel hesitated. “Don’t mind beer?”

“You don’t mind beer?” Dean echoed. “What?”

“I don’t drink often,” Castiel said, and Dean refrained from saying anything about this making him boring. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t at all.”

“He’ll have what we’re having,” Sam said.

“As long as what you’re having includes a party hat,” Castiel said.

Dean stared. “What?”

“It’s New Year’s, isn’t it a prerequisite?” Castiel asked seriously.

It was the delivery that threw Dean. Castiel had a rough, sandstone voice that made Dean wince with sympathy every syllable that came out of his mouth, but apparently that was just the way his voice box rolled. Castiel’s flat, Alfred Hitchcock, old-fashioned-radio-show-host cadence didn’t know what buttons to ping in Dean’s mind so it kept wavering between please evacuate to a minimum safe distance and what does Sam see in you I must know more.

Basically, Dean didn’t know how to respond, and so didn’t respond.

Sam, however, laughed. Sam just fucking lost it, eyes scrunched up and body shaking, and he leaned over to bump his shoulder against Castiel, who – now that Dean knew to look – was smiling faintly.

“Okay,” Dean said, which seemed like a good thing to say when he was completely lost. “I… should get you a party hat?”

Castiel immediately stood up. “You’ll order the drinks, I will get us party hats. Where are they?”

“Over there,” Dean said, “Ellen’s been giving them out all night.” He quickly gave his orders to Jo at the bar and returned to their booth, the whole time keeping an eye on how Castiel marched straight across the room, collected three hats and noisemakers after what appeared to be a brief argument with Ellen, and then returned to their booth to deliver his goods.

Castiel adjusted the hat on his head. It had a purple bear and rainbows all around the band. “I like my hat. It’s festive and good for morale.”

“Uh,” Dean said.

“Hit your KPI for the year, man.” Sam happily put one of hats on himself and saluted Castiel. “You are an example to us all.”

Dean was about to ask if they’d already had a couple of drinks before coming, but Sam was laughing, and even if Dean didn’t completely understand how the hell they got there, Sam was still laughing.

“Give me a goddamned hat,” Dean said. Castiel opened one for him and carefully arranged it on his head, making sure the blue-colored mouse was facing the right direction. “How do I look?”

“Very handsome,” Castiel said.

Because it seemed like the only way to respond to such a statement, Dean replied, “You should see me when I’ve got nothing else on.” That earned him a napkin in the face courtesy of Sam, but it wasn’t anything less than he deserved.

Thus began the surprisingly easy night tucked in a booth waiting for the New Year’s countdown, during which Dean sketched a vague outline of how the hell these two became friends, the answer of which was that these two were such huge fucking dorks who only talked some antiquated version of dork that even normal dorks could not comprehend. Sam acted as a translator between Dean and Castiel where necessary, and it was all worth it for how Dean caught snippets here and there of Sam’s work life – he was still figuring things out but doing well, Sam thought his boss hated him but Castiel assured him that was just her face, and so on.

Once the Roadhouse’s crowd reached critical mass and the countdown was imminent, Dean excused myself with a quick, “That’s my cue,” because the only way he was going to get a proper New Year’s kiss was away from their booth.

He found Jo at the bar, and although she was in good spirits she pointed out she’d already promised a kiss to Ash, to which Dean merely shrugged and said, “I’d kiss both of you.” Which he did, and it was a good way to enter the New Year.

When Dean looked over at the booth he’d left behind, he half-expected Sam and Castiel to be exchanging a hug (not that Castiel seemed to be the hugging the type). But the pair hadn’t budged from their seats, and had instead pressed the rims of their glasses together in something almost like a toast, except they weren’t saying anything and their heads were bowed a little – a moment of silence for the past, or in anticipation of a better future. Sam’s lips were pressed together firmly, a kid unable or unwilling to shove the weight of the world off his shoulders, and Castiel nodded a little at him, perhaps (hopefully) in understanding.

Yeah, Castiel was okay.



It didn’t take all that long before Castiel started showing up at their apartment (Dean’s apartment, technically), and although Dean didn’t mind at all he made a token protest about Sam ‘bringing his work home’, to which Sam replied, “If you get to invite Benny over whenever the hell you want, I get to invite Cas.”

And that was that, really.

Truth be told it was almost like the good parts of old times again, when Dad kept moving them around the country, his job taking them wherever he said it needed to go (hah), and Dean and Sam did the best they could. They hadn’t lived under the same roof since Sam left for college, so there was an element of relearning how to become roommates, with the additional baggage left behind by Sam’s self-imposed exile.

Although the home-making parts returned easily enough – watching out for each other’s space, splitting the bills and chores, organizing the kitchen – it had taken Dean all his self-control not to constantly badger Sam to join him hitting the pool tables at the Roadhouse, or hanging out with the guys from the garage, or marathoning a couple of seasons of the hot new show at home. Sam had to set the pace for Sam.

So Sam’s going out on weekends and such was something to note as an achievement, and Castiel became a special guest star of their comings and goings (Sam preferred Castiel to drive because something something carbon footprint something). Cas’ overcoat joined the apartment’s background noise, along with the hats Benny kept leaving around the place, and the ringtones Charlie kept plugging into their cellphones.

“So…” Charlie said, when Dean brought up this new piece of information to her. “Sam’s doing stuff with people who are not you. That’s good, right?”

“Depends on what you mean by ‘good’. Far as I figure it’s ‘cause Sam found a running buddy. They go to the park. For fun.

“Sometimes we go to the park for fun.”

“Well, we have actual fun. How are paragliding lessons fun?”

Charlie laughed. “Look, do you want me to do a background check on the guy?”

“Whoa, no. You know what, ignore me, I’m making noise. I’m stoked for Sam, but if he starts nagging at me about my diet again I’m not gonna take that shit lying down.” Dean nodded to himself. “Cas is cool. I can tell.”

“You can tell?” Charlie echoed.

“I can tell. How’d you think I became friends with you?”

“Excuse you,” Charlie said with a laugh. “Of the overtures made in this relationship, I made them towards you, Mister I Think My Laptop is Possessed.”

If Dean had any reservations at all, it would’ve been that Castiel was someone Sam worked with. Work and play hadn’t mixed well for Sam in the past (see: Ruby and Brady), but Dean couldn’t exactly bring that up since most of his best friends were people he got to know through the garage. That said, Ruby and Brady had been all about sucking Sam into business and financial promises beyond his scope, bleeding him dry and convincing him his family was holding him back. Castiel had so far shown more interest in jogging with Sam at godforsaken hours of the morning than of that shit, so that was definitely an improvement.



“You’re playing what?” Dean asked.

“Futsal,” Sam told him. Saturday morning was supposed to be all about cartoons and long breakfasts, yet Sam had put on one of those stupid muscle shirts and was doing stretches with a piece of toast in his mouth. “It’s a type of soccer.”

“You’ve never even played normal soccer.”

“I have, too! Third grade, and you made fun of my shorts.”

“Wasn’t that lacrosse?”

For a moment Sam looked confused, then he picked up a cushion and threw it at Dean. “Do not do that. Anyway, I’m curious. Figured I’d give it a try.”

“Okay.” Dean looked at Sam skeptically. “You look like a douchebag. Can I come watch?”

Sam grinned. “This douchebag says it’d drive you crazy.”

“Hey! Organized sports can be… interesting.” Dean shrugged. “Look, if I get bored I’ll just hightail it out of there, no skin off my noise. But I have this feeling in my gut that there are some embarrassing pictures to be taken, and I must seize the day.”

“I still have pictures from your last Comic-con, don’t push me.”

“No, see, the difference between you and me is that my con photos are sexy as hell.” Dean relished the slow, dramatic sigh Sam gave him as a response. “I got nothing on today but reruns, seriously.”

“Can you get dressed in fifteen minutes?”

“Is that a challenge?”

Sam huffed under his breath. “If you’re seriously serious, well… I don’t think Cas would mind? If you want to come, sure, why not.”

It wasn’t that Dean didn’t like physical activities, it was just that he and Sam had very different ideas on what physical activities meant (LARPing was really fucking intense, goddammit, Sam). But that Dean didn’t mean that he couldn’t appreciate what Sam liked – there was a freaking reason he’d never missed any of Sam’s games and events back in school (Sam did play soccer in third and fourth grades, but sadly only got one of those You Are a Champ For Participating trophies).

So Dean joined Sam for his futsal thingamajig, which turned out to be a thingamajig that they played indoors. Sam left Dean in the audience stand before going off to meet the other players, and Dean conceded that it was nice to be a spectator in a place that was nice and cozy. This also meant that all the playing dudes and dudettes weren’t bundled up in too many unattractive layers.

For some bizarre reason, it hadn’t occurred to Dean that Castiel would be like one of those players, like Sam. Castiel was the corporate guy in constantly too-big shirts and an overcoat, and Dean had perhaps come to the conclusion that the guy was doing what he did with Sam as part of a resolution to lose weight.

Yet when Castiel jogged up to Dean in the stands to give him his bag, Dean couldn’t help blurting out: “Holy shit, check out that gun show.”

Castiel frowned at him, and then rummaged around in his overcoat to pull out his phone.

Dean felt a flare of annoyance – fine, ignore him, see if he cared – but after a moment Castiel’s head suddenly came back up, eyes wide with delight, and he said, “Oh. Gun show.” Then he put his phone down and slowly flexed an arm.

“Oh Jesus Christ.” Dean burst into laughter. Castiel started a little at the sound, but he also seemed really proud of his successful internet researching skills, as he well should be. Dean said, “Okay, four for you, Cas.”

“Thank you.” Castiel patted his chest nervously – which was a very nice chest to match the very nice biceps, and it was wrapped in a very nice jersey that teased the presence of nipples. That wasn’t even starting on the strong, hair-dusted thighs that lead out from Cas’ shorts. “I try my best, though your brother has done very well trying to beat me at everything.”

“Crap, are you competitive? Shit son, Sam can be the absolute worst at that.”

“I know,” Castiel said knowingly. “You’re not?”

“Nah, I’m pretty chill.” Dean gestured at himself, pointing out how he’d managed to sprawl in an uncomfortable plastic chair. “I mean, I’ll try anything once, but when it comes to being built like a brick shithouse – I’d ride it, but I don’t wanna be it, you know?”

The thing about talking to Cas was that Dean couldn’t always tell what he would get and what he wouldn’t. Sam had that all sorted out but for Dean it was a crapshoot, and in this case Cas’ whole body froze up like a confused question mark for a handful of seconds, just before his gaze sharpened on Dean’s face – calculating, recalculating, contemplating. Dean just grinned.

“I’m going to take your brother down,” Cas said firmly. “Nothing personal. Just thought I’d say that up front.”

“Hey man, just ‘cause Sam’s new at this doesn’t mean you should underestimate him.”

“I never underestimate him.” Cas cocked his head, thinking. “Fine, I underestimated him the first few weeks at work. It was the hair. It made me believe he would be unprofessional.”

“Yeah, I know. I keep telling him to cut it.”

“Ah, so that’s probably why he doesn’t.”

“Hey!” Dean smacked at Cas’ arm – an automatic gesture, it’s just what he did – only to have to suppress a grunt when he hit the bar of iron that was Cas’ triceps. Holy shit again. “Just go… Get your ass kicked mister hotshot.”

“Any ass-kicking to be done will be done by me,” Cas declared, and if that made Dean shiver, that was his own business.

Dean stayed for the entire game and then some.



Technically Sam’s company’s Annual Dinner was only for employees and their spouses, but their rules were apparently just guidelines. That was how Dean found himself gussied up in a rental and dragged to said Annual Dinner with the promise of a decent spread. “You can leave after twenty minutes, I swear,” Sam told him earlier, “and you will take me with you.” Which made Dean want to make the effort to stay, just to be contrary.

At the event itself, Dean was polite enough to let Sam introduce him to his boss, Sam was polite enough to distract her when she started to hit on Dean (them’s the breaks with a face like his, it’s a curse), and then Dean wandered off to execute his plan of commuting between the buffet table and bar, and not talk to anyone if he could help it.

Once he’d taken his fill from the buffet table, Dean straightened up and studied the room. He could be intimidated by the fancy dress and fancier surroundings, but he had a drink in his hand, he looked damn good, and that was Cas now walking towards him with a surprised smile.

Dean struck a subtle pose as he basked in Cas’ appreciative look-over.

“Dean, you made it,” Cas said.

“Well, yeah,” Dean said. “Aren’t you gonna say something about how I clean up nice?”

“You clean up very nice,” Castiel said earnestly.

“So do you.” Dean gestured at him with his glass, and Cas actually looked down at himself, as though it’d completely missed his attention that he’d finally put on a shirt and suit that fit. Maybe he only had the one pair. “Do you only have this one shirt and suit that actually fit you?”

“I don’t like throwing things away if there’s still use in them,” Cas said. “The overcoat was inherited, the large shirts are… an error.”

“An error?”

“I dislike shopping,” Cas said sheepishly. “I tend to take the first things I see on the shelf.”

“Oh man, you can totally hit me and Charlie up help for that,” Dean said. “We won’t even charge you, except maybe for food and coffee afterward. Uh, Charlie’s a friend, I don’t think you’ve met her?”

“Sam’s mentioned her.” Cas should totally wear dark suits more often. They brought out the blue of his eyes, which were already striking on normal days but could go up to the high-def level of hypnotic if he played his cards right. Cas said, “I didn’t know you could comb your hair down like that.”

“And then there’s you, Radagast,” Dean chortled, eyeing Cas’ never-changing dark shock of hair. “What do you even work as?”

“Finance,” Castiel said. “I’m a manager in Finance.”

“A manager? And they let you dress the way you do at work? I just met your boss Josie, she seems like, uh… like appearances are important to her.”

“They are.” Cas leaned towards Dean, his smile small and secretive. “Fortunately, I am very good at what I do.”

Dean’s mouth abruptly went dry. “I’ll bet you are.” Cas smelled good, Cas was still smiling, Cas was maybe possibly hitting on him. Dean needed to recalibrate. “So they’re just cool with you walking in like you just crawled out of bed? Not that I’d complain, it’s a very good look on you.”

Cas seemed startled for a moment. But then he said, easy as anything, “That’s an exaggeration and heinously incorrect. I find clothes too restricting to wear in bed.”

Again, it was Cas’ delivery that fucked up the connecting synapses in Dean’s head. But connect they did, eventually, and it kicked out Dean’s responding, “I should totally borrow your wardrobe.”

Cas laughed. That was so surprising that Dean forgot to laugh himself, mesmerized by the parting of Cas’ lips, the glimpse of Cas’ canines, the way Cas’ eyes changed shape. “Your brother warned me about you,” Cas said.

“Yeah?” Dean said. “What’d he say?”

“That you’re a chronic flirt and excessively charming.”

“You mean he left off the part about my perky nipples?” Dean suppressed a grin at the way Cas’ eyes immediately dropped to Dean’s chest in search of said nipples; that always worked like a charm. “I’m hurt.”

“But the thing about encountering a chronic flirt is that I can’t always tell where and what the endgame is.” Cas’ whole body was angled toward Dean in curiosity. “When you say such things – is it to everyone? Is it indiscriminate?”

“Not everyone.” Dean thought about it. “I mean, sometimes I do it ‘cause it’s the easiest thing to do when I got nothing else to say.”

“Ah. A defense mechanism.”

“But not always. Sometimes I’m fishing, sometimes I’m curious.”

Cas nodded. “I’d sleep with you.”

Dean almost dropped his glass. Once he was sure he’d properly restored his grip, he slowly turned to the Serious as Balls face Cas was giving him. “What?”

“I’d sleep with you,” Cas said. “If you’re interested, if you meant it. No pressure, of course. Just say no if you don’t want to, I won’t mind.”

This managed to be both a shock and a non-shock. Of course this was how Cas would proposition someone – it made sense from what Dean knew of him, just like how Dean knew that if he said no, Cas would accept it and let it go. Also a non-surprise was that he found Cas attractive – Dean had noticed Cas from the beginning, but to appreciate someone’s physicality from afar was a different beast from being given a chance to get to know that physicality up close.

“I, uh…” Dean cleared his throat. “I’m not really looking to date right now.”

“I wasn’t asking about a date,” Cas said. “I just thought it might be enjoyable. We could have a good time.”

“And that’d be it?”

Cas frowned a little. “It’s okay to say no, Dean.”

“I’m not saying no,” Dean said quickly. “Just… you know, I’m making sure what’s on the table.” And what was on the table was that Dean hadn’t realized until that moment how long he’d been in his current dry spell post-Lisa, and sometimes a six-foot willing specimen of hot figuratively falling into his lap was simply a sign from the universe.

“I’ve got to send Sam home after this,” Dean said softly. “Then I’ll call you, we meet up somewhere?”

Cas’ eyes darkened with intent. “That works for me.”



Cas’ studio apartment had very little in common with Dean’s. There was more space and a nicer view, and most of his furniture didn’t look like it’d fallen off the back of a truck. That said, Dean’s kitchen was way better, not that Cas was the type to appreciate it.

“Please try to focus,” Cas said. He came to stand in front of Dean, wearing a stern little frown. “This was your idea.”

“Hey, this was your idea.” Dean rested his hands on Cas’ waist, testing the give of the muscle there. “Don’t forget it.”

“You started flirting with me first.”

“You can’t prove anything.”

“You’re always talking about your sexual prowess, your sexual interest.” Cas was only maybe an inch or two shorter than Dean, but that made it interesting when he tilted his head up, mouth ghosting over Dean’s. “So impress me, Dean Winchester.”

Never let it be said that Dean wasn’t up for a challenge. Especially a fun challenge like this, where impressing Cas meant that Dean got to kiss him until his jaw ached (which Cas liked) and make a show getting out of his clothes (which Cas also liked) and then driving Cas crazy with a some strategic licking in interesting places.

The main event took them to Cas’ bedroom, where the host insisted on climbing onto on all fours on the impressive king bed and spreading for Dean, because Cas was apparently a man with a plan. Dean was definitely game for that, too, the only hitch in the proceedings being the part where Cas fucked the way that he played sports – aggressive and frantic and determined to set the pace.

“Hey, hey,” Dean said soothingly. He tightened his grip on Cas’ hips, steadying him where he was shoving back too quickly. “Cas, slow down, this isn’t a race.”

“No!” Cas snapped.

Dean went still, half-buried inside of Cas. “You want me to stop?”

Cas craned his head round and gave Dean a death glare that was probably meant to be scary and was probably very scary when Cas was at work being all finance manager bossy and stuff. Unfortunately the current context involved Cas’ ass flexing around Dean’s cock in all sorts of interesting ways, and the glare only made Dean’s toes curl.

“Do not stop,” Cas said in a low voice. “Do not go slow either.”

“You’re bucking too hard, man, I need to —”

“I like to go fast,” Cas insisted, and this time Dean caught the petulant, teasing edge of his demand. “Which is the opposite of slow. Don’t you like orgasms?”

“But slow can also be good,” Dean said. “Let me show you.”

It took some negotiating, but Dean eventually got Cas to scoot further up the bed and reach up, keeping his hands on the headboard. This meant that Dean got to fuck him slow and hard and deep, and watch the way Cas’ back muscles flexed with every thrust he received. All that muscle and sinew made Dean’s teeth ache with the urge to bite, but he settled for fucking Cas into a different, breathless sort of frantic, Cas’ knuckles white and his body straining with impatience for the orgasm Dean was going to give him.

Cas made a choked sound when he came. Dean stroked him through the aftershocks, and then hauled Cas up so their bodies were pressed together for Dean’s turn. Hell yeah he was going to wrap as much of himself as he could around Cas’ solid body to ride what it could give him, and Dean let his teeth ghost over the line of Cas’ shoulders as he did hit orgasm because, hey, new kink.

After a brief nap, Dean awoke with a yelp because Cas was staring at him, and when Dean asked when the hell he was playing, Cas just said, “I want to blow you.”

“Oh,” Dean said, because that wasn’t a bad idea at all. “Okay.”



Truth be told, Dean needed that. Perhaps it was his advanced years (ugh) that made him forget that getting laid worked like a charm in clearing his head, because it did. Cas was classy about it, too, rolling his eyes when Dean tentatively asked if he could walk of shame before sunrise. “Yes, yes, go,” Cas said, and it had to be one of the neatest hook-ups Dean had ever had.

Then Sam had his appraisal period at work, which made him anxious and snappish; the apartment’s fridge broke down and Dean had to haul Benny over for help salvaging the thing; and one of Bobby’s customers threatened to sue for misquoting the cost of a job. It was interesting times for everyone, and it only occurred to Dean weeks later, when he saw Cas again at the apartment, that they hadn’t said anything.

“You didn’t tell Sam,” Dean said. “About me and you.”

Cas looked panicked. “Was I supposed to?”

“Well, uh… I guess I thought you would?”

“But nothing’s changed,” Cas pointed out. “Isn’t it?”

It was true, nothing had changed. Sam still worked with Cas, still hung out with Cas, still rolled his eyes whenever Dean said something inappropriate in Cas’ direction.

For the most part Cas’ response made Dean feel better. For the most part, though, because there was a small part that remembered the couple of years where he was a total asshole and every time he visited Sam at school he’d ended up sleeping with one his friends and, although Sam said it was fine and didn’t matter, Dean was supposed to know better by now.

“What’s this really about?” Cas asked.

“I don’t want to mess things up for Sam.”

“I’d say you have done the opposite,” Cas told him. “Based on what he’s said, you are… you have been the anchor he needed at a time of trouble.”

Dean almost laughed. “I wasn’t there when he needed me the most.”

“That’s in the past, and you’re both trying to do right now.” Cas smiled a little. “It’s funny, he said practically the same thing about himself, relating to you. That he left when you and your father needed him, that he didn’t listen when both of you told him he was in trouble.”

Dean snorted. “Of course he did. Well if he ever brings that up again, tell him it goes both ways, okay?”

“I know it’s not my place,” Cas said carefully, “but I admire both of you, what you have with each other. I’m sorry your father never got to see you reconcile, but I think he would’ve been very happy. You’re doing a wonderful job.”

Cas wasn’t saying anything that Dean hadn’t heard before. Bobby and Ellen had gone down that route, as did Jo, and Charlie, and Benny in his own way. Still it felt good to hear, momentarily settling that pit in Dean’s stomach that never completely went away, and Cas seemed like the kind of guy who didn’t waste his breath on things he didn’t believe in. So Dean should at least try to believe him.

“Sam’s not a job,” Dean said. “He’s my brother.”

Cas smiled. “Very good.”



It was only a matter of time before Charlie asked how the paragliding thing was coming along, and then only a matter of time before she invited herself along to watch Sam have a go at it. This meant that Dean had to tag as well because Charlie decided that someone had to be designated photographer for the day and that it would be Dean.

(“So that’s Cas, huh,” Charlie said.

“Yep,” Dean replied.

“Kinda intense.”

“Not really, that’s just the way he is.”)

Dean may have put on sunblock and an Indy hat for the occasion, but that he didn’t mean he had to be happy. Normally he would’ve been all over this place – the large open space, the clear skies, only a handful of people around and none of whom had any fucks to give about anyone else’s business, but Sam had a helmet and goggles on and wasn’t going spelunking.

“It’s unnatural,” Dean said.

Sam made an agreeing sound. “That’s kind of the point.”

Some fifteen feet away Cas was getting strapped into his harness, while Charlie and some kid with buzz cut hovered nearby and pointed at whatever Cas was doing. Dean shook his head, muttering, “You put your life in the hands of a child?”

“That’s Kevin, he’s not a child, and he owns the business,” Sam said.

“They’re letting school kids start their own businesses now?”

“He earns more than you do.” Sam grinned at Dean’s reaction. “Earns more than me, too. This is just a side gig.”

“Whatever happened to building cars?” Dean asked. “And other normal, perfectly healthy hobbies?”

“Dean!” Charlie shouted. “Last chance for a tandem flight!”

“I’m good, thanks!” Dean shouted back.

The flyers went out in the Jeep, leaving Dean to stay at the landing site with Kevin and his assistant, their chatter through their walkie-talkies oddly soothing. Cas took off first, the black-and-grey of his canopy catching the wind. After a while it was followed by Sam’s red-and-yellow.

There was something annoyingly beautiful about watching Sam take flight, the wind scooping him up and sending him soaring. Those first few minutes made it hard for Dean to breathe, but he managed to focus enough to use the ridiculously huge camera Charlie had given him and get a couple of good shots. But then Dean lowered the camera and there was nothing between him and the tiny figure in the sky that was supposed to be his gargantuan baby brother, and Dean’s hands itched to pluck Sam out from the blue and place him firmly on the ground where there was at least the chance that Dean could reach him.

Sam moved like he was meant to be up there. Or maybe he was terrible at it, Dean wouldn’t know.

Dean wanted to throw up.

It took him a while to register footsteps, the crumple-and-drag of the parachute being carried, and then the voice of the first flyer to land. It was Cas, who said, “Dean, are you…” There was a sharp intake of breath. “Close your eyes. It’s all right, just close your eyes, I’ll tell you what’s happening.”

It helped. Fuck it all, closing his eyes actually helped despite it being Dean’s duty to keep watch. Dean didn’t jump when Cas touched his back, a tentative and then firm press of a hand that reminded Dean that he wasn’t floating away, that he was on solid ground just like Sam would be in a couple of minutes.

“Sam’s making a turn.” Cas’ voice was calm, controlled, easy to focus on. “He’s adjusting the angle and starting his descent. Kevin’s talking to him on the radio, everything’s going well. Charlie and Delta have just taken off in their tandem set-up.”

Dean’s eyes were still closed. “Tell me I’m overreacting.”

“Would it help?”

“I wouldn’t know until you actually say it, right?” Dean snapped.

Cas was quiet for a moment. “When I’m up there, my problems on Earth feel…”


“Manageable,” Cas said. “It’s a change of perspective and in many ways freeing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to come down, or that coming down is a punishment. There’s a sense of renewal in landing on solid ground – in returning home.”

That made sense. It would be a cold day in Hell before Dean would try something like this, but if that was the appeal then, yeah, it made sense.

“Sam’s landed,” Cas said. “I think Charlie would like some pictures of herself at this point.”

Dean’s eyes flew open. “Oh, shit.”

Cas moved his hand away but stayed close by Dean’s side as he snapped pictures of Charlie surfing the skies. Cas didn’t have to say anything but it was still nice to have a ballast that just stopped Dean from bouncing on his feet in anticipation of Sam finishing the walk back to the checkpoint.

Then Sam was indeed back on the ground, perfectly healthy and grinning wide like the canopy he was hauling was his kill of the day. Dean felt his face grow warm, the worries from just a few minutes ago suddenly obsolete. He didn’t want to look at Cas but his eyes betrayed him, flicking sideways to where Cas was watching him worriedly.

“Dude, stop that,” Dean whispered. “Sam’s gonna ask what’s wrong.”

“Oh, right.” Cas closed his eyes briefly, and when they reopened his expression was neutral. One day Dean had to ask him how he did that.

Sam’s goals weren’t Dean’s goals, of course, so the first thing Sam said once he got back was, “One day I’m going to do that cross-country. It’d be amazing.”

Dean’s responding laugh wasn’t forced. He could see Cas shift closer towards him but Dean touched his arm gently – thank you and not necessary – because now Dean was basking in Sam’s excitement and pride of accomplishment, and that was all he needed.



Cas’ presence in their life was clearly Sam’s job’s fault, but Dean didn’t know who to blame for Kevin. One minute the kid was the diminutive paragliding instructor that yelled at Sam for botching his landing (“Your legs are too damn long, Winchester!”) and the next he was there for the occasional movie outing, and Charlie started regularly bitching to Dean about that ‘punk-ass blood elf stealing [her] shit’ in some online game.

This meant that Kevin had to be invited to their next sort-of-monthly tabletop gaming sessions for Charlie to attempt her revenge.

“Is it even legal for you to drink?” Dean asked Kevin, when he showed up at the apartment.

“Is it even legal for you to be this pretty?” Kevin countered, and although he could barely reach Dean’s nipples there was something about the sharpness of his smile that made Dean want to duck and cover. “It’s like looking into the sun.”

“Okay, whatever,” Dean muttered. “That’s Jo, that’s Benny, everyone else you know, sit wherever you want. Everyone say hi to Kevin!”

There was an immediate chorus of, “Hi, Kevin!” from everyone except Cas, who was too busy scowling at the little game figurines.

It was a good day. It traveled along some familiar paths, including Charlie declaring war on everyone, Sam being quietly strategic and swiping people out when they least expected it, and Benny being mildly confused by everything and being judgmental to make up for it (“Why am I friends you again, Dean?” “Because I’m adorable and no one else takes all your crap”).

Then there were the new things, such as how scary Sam and Cas could be when they teamed up against everyone else, although Charlie and Kevin gave them a run for their money when they realized what was going on, and Dean made as if this was his plan all along. Sam even got along with Benny, though in Dean’s opinion that only happened ‘cause Sam left it all to Cas, who had a quiet, extended, hair-rising argument with Benny about the technicality of the rules, and Dean failed to not hum the Jaws theme.

Dean even got to mediate an honest-to-goodness angry walkout – from Cas, no less, though he only retreated to the apartment balcony to sulk and Dean went after him. (“I know it’s just a game, Dean.” “So what? Football’s a game, baseball’s a game, people still got plenty of feelings about them. The body doesn’t differentiate – when you’re feeling attacked, it’s not like your gut’s gonna care where it came from.” “You’d make an excellent motivational speaker.”)

It was good, it was great, victory was a tie between Kevin and Jo, and Dean lorded over it all and marveled that Sam was the most animated he’d seen him in months (ages).

This time, Dean was prepared for what happened next.



“I’m sorry to drag you around like this,” Cas said.

“No big deal, man,” Dean said.

Cas still looked apologetic. “I know that you’re busy.”

“Dude, it’s cool,” Dean insisted. Being dragged around a department store wasn’t really Dean’s scene, but Cas asked him for help and it wasn’t like he was going to say no.  “Really, I’m happy Amelia wants to host Sam’s birthday party.”

Cas huffed under his breath. “You don’t need to say that to be polite.”

“Fuck you,” Dean said amiably. “You know why I’m cool with it?”

“Because organizing events can be stressful?”

“Because I can’t surprise him anymore,” Dean said. “Sam knows all my tricks, all the things I’d want to pull on him. I’m predictable – I’dve done a cook-out on the roof or in the apartment, and gotten him one of those Lilliputian cakes to fuck with him, and plastered his baby pictures all over the walls. It’s a standard gig, and it’s gotta be tiring for him.”

“For him?”

“For him,” Dean said firmly. “Let someone else take the wheel, why not?”

“They’re not actually dating yet,” Cas said.

“They might never date at all, and that’s okay, too.” Dean shoved at Cas a little, amused by his dismay at being denied an ally. “You need to loosen up, buddy.”

“Amelia’s rather mean.”

“Eh, it’s what Sam’s drawn to.”

Cas nodded, and then turned sharply to glare at Dean. “I see.” He tried not to smile when Dean laughed.

Dean already had Sam’s present at home, wrapped and hidden away in his room, but Cas had called him a few days ago confessing his crisis of faith, i.e. that he’d completely forgotten to get a present and Dean was his only hope. A dude in distress usually made for a good Saturday, especially when said dude in distress made an entertaining wail of despair when they arrived at the Home & Living department.

“Don’t you already know what Sam likes?” Dean asked.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Cas said.

“What’s your price range?”

“I… don’t know.” Cas gave a helpless shrug. “I don’t have many people to shop for.”

“Rest of your family?”

“Only child, single parent. Large extended family but we don’t see them often because of said single parent situation.”

“Oh,” Dean said. Cas’ elbow was within range, so Dean cupped it gently and squeezed. “Does it suck?”


“Explains why you can be a tetchy son of a bitch about getting your way.”

Cas laughed softly. “It did take me a while to learn how to listen to others and share things, yes.” He took a deep breath. “Now let’s canvas the area. To me, Dean.” Then he grabbed Dean’s arm and pulled; Dean went with him easily enough, but he did mutter, “Mush,” under his breath.

They braved the dangers of Bed & Bath and Home Décor and Kitchen & Dining, Cas asking questions and Dean trying to answer them whenever he could. There were bookshelves and patio accessories and travel accessories (Dean talked about his favorite books, Cas told him about the time a previous roommate set their grill on fire, Dean described about how he and Sam and Dad used to travel all over the country) all for low, low prices, gee whizz.

“Where do you like shopping best, then?” Cas asked. “What is your favorite thing to shop for?”

“What,” Dean said with a laugh, “hasn’t Sam told you everything there is to know about me?”

Cas made a confused sound. “Even if he did, I’d still ask. No one is the sum of what another person thinks of them.”

That statement made Dean trip a little on his own feet. Cas started in surprise but Dean waved him off, the back of his neck warm for no reason other than Cas had the steadiest, warmest eyes Dean had ever seen despite how color theory was supposed to make that impossible.

Dean covered his fluster by starting on his ‘ol reliable rant about record stores and thrift shops and weekend markets, of those little stalls with hand-made and/or stolen goods that sometimes were rip-offs but other times had hidden gems, and how Dean loved to treasure hunt. Apparently it didn’t take much to enthrall Cas, because this enthralled him.

Even so, practically combing the entire building couldn’t make Cas decide on a single item. Dean almost even convinced him to pick up an Aeropress coffee maker (“Just look at this fucker, look at the fucking size, Sam could leave it at work!” “There are coffee machines in our office, Dean.” “So what.”) but Cas seemed unable to commit to anything until he was sure that he’d seen everything.

Dean only noticed that his feet ached when Cas pulled him towards the food hall and announced, “I’m hungry.”

“Big boy worked up an appetite, huh?” Dean laughed. “Yeah, let’s refill that tank.”

Cas ate burgers like it was his job. This wasn’t new information but this time Dean got to watch it happen up close. He also gave in to temptation and planted a drop of ketchup on the tip of Cas’ nose, and watched him go cross-eyed trying to focus on it.

“What was the point of that?” Cas asked.

Dean chuckled. “It was there, and I wanted to.”

Cas stared at him for a moment, and then shrugged. “That’s as good a motto as any.”

“Yeah, I’d totally put that on a bumper sticker, except where I think bumper stickers are tacky as hell.”

“I have a bumper sticker on my car.”

Dean patted Cas’ arm. “Sorry bud, you’re tacky as hell.”

“Yet of the two people sitting at this table, I’m the one built like a brick shithouse.” Cas put the fake-saddest face he could manage; he’d definitely been taking lessons from Sam. “You have my condolences, Dean.”

Dean flicked the salt of his fries at Cas. “Take your condolences and shove it.”

When they were done Cas dragged Dean back to Kitchen & Dining, where he’d finally decided to get some fancy-pants stainless steel meal container set that deeply offended Dean despite Cas’ logical assertion that it made sense as a gift considering Sam’s outdoor activities.

“You do want him to eat well, don’t you?” Cas reminded him.

“Yeah, okay.” Dean grumbled, but he trailed after Cas to the cashier, and was surprised to see him plant the coffee maker they’d seen earlier alongside the container set. “You’re getting him both? Don’t make the rest of us feel inadequate now.”

“I’m already paying.” Cas nodded at the cashier to bag the items. “You may stop your commentary.”

Dean was just teasing, of course, because whatever Cas wanted to get Sam was his own business. So after Cas paid and started to walk away – Dean falling into stride next to him – Dean wasn’t at all prepared for Cas to suddenly shove one of the two bags at him.

“That one’s for you,” Cas said.

Dean blinked. “What?”

“The coffee maker,” Cas said. “You were singing its praises earlier, so that’s for you.”

“Dude.” Dean looked down at the bag, with the narrow rectangular box inside that was somehow much larger than it’d been ten seconds ago. “You don’t need to bribe me to get me to hang out with you.”

Cas gave him a look, and then reached over to take the bag back.

“Hey!” Dean batted Cas’ hand away. “No takebacks!”

So Cas withdrew his hand and smiled, victorious. “Use it well, that’s all.”

Dean clutched at the bag, unable to speak although he could keep up with Cas’ quick stride well enough. Dean had been serious when he’d told himself that whatever Cas wanted to buy was his own business, so he couldn’t very well protest now.

Actually, in all honesty, he didn’t want to. Cas looked so pleased with himself, and although Dean’s feet still hurt he was kinda sad they were done and Cas had to send him back now.

Then the thought struck Dean – why the hell wasn’t Sam interested in this guy, like interested interested? They obviously jived really well and had plenty in common, and Cas was smoking hot without even trying.

Sure, Cas could be abrasive and tended to come off as distant, but he always listened when Dean talked, regurgitating whatever minor detail Dean might’ve mentioned in passing weeks later as though it was all important (as though Dean was important). Cas tried so hard to be kind even though his definition of kind didn’t always match up to everyone else’s, and although it had taken Dean a while to get that, Sam had caught on quickly and astutely.

Amelia was cool and all – at least, from what Dean could gather from having met her a handful of times – but still, Cas.

“Thank you for helping me, Dean,” Cas said. “I really appreciate it.”

“What?” Dean said. “Hey, no big. Seriously.”



Sam’s birthday dinner was held at a restaurant. A proper, non-Roadhouse restaurant, with an entire section cordoned off for their party because Amelia didn’t do things by halfsies. Dean didn’t know the full story about how she and Sam met – there was a dog involved, but Sam seemed too embarrassed to spill the details yet – but Amelia apparently had enough management skills from her gig at the vet to organize the small army that was their social circle to get the event done.

There was a banner, and a cake, and streamers. The banner had a cartoon penis in the word ‘BIRTHDAY’.

Yeah, Dean could learn to really like Amelia.

Good food and good company made a good night. Jo and Ash brought cards for impromptu gaming, Charlie dressed up in some way obscure costume only Kevin understood, and Benny finally brought Andrea with him to introduce her to everyone. Even Bobby showed up, despite his grumping earlier that he never knew what to do as these kinds of affairs, and Ellen took this as an invitation to crow her triumph the whole night.

Sam seemed a little overwhelmed like he didn’t know what to do with the attention, but at the same time he didn’t look like he wanted to run. If anything he looked determined to have a good time, and to enjoy and appreciate what had been done for him.

“You doing okay?” Dean asked, when he got Sam to himself for a moment. “Not too much excitement?”

“If you want to call it a night, old man, be my guest.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna let that pass just ‘cause it’s your birthday.”

“How much would you let pass ‘cause it’s my birthday?” It was phrased like a joke but there was a real question in there, a subtle poking of the waters.

“Don’t wait for your birthday,” Dean said. “If there’s anything you want to tell me, you can tell me.”

Sam ran his hands through his hair – one of his favorite stalling tactics. “I think this might be the worst time to bring this up.”

“Amelia’s pregnant?”

“What? Holy shit, no!” Sam made a face at him. “Dude, we haven’t even… That’s not funny, okay? It’s not like that.”

“Okay.” Dean shrugged. “That’s cool.”

“Is it? I don’t…” Sam looked down at his hands, and for a moment he was a kid again, barely reaching Dean’s shoulders and big eyes peering up through his bangs. “I don’t know if I trust myself. I mean, if I trust myself to be able to trust someone else.”

“Well, you got me,” Dean said. Sam frowned, not following him until he added, “You got me and Cas, and Jo and Charlie and Ash… So it’s not like the last time. Right?”

Sam took a slow, shaky breath. “Right.”

“So if, hypothetically, you and Amelia do get it on, I will happily double-date with you with—” Dean cast his eye about the room, pulling the name of the first face it landed on, “—Cas.”

“Oh Jesus, Dean,” Sam said, choking, “I like surprises but come on.”

Dean scowled. “What? I’m not good enough for Cas?”

“I think that ship already sailed when Jo turned you down,” Sam said kindly, and it was Dean’s turn to blanch. “Of course you’re good enough for whoever you want, don’t be stupid. I don’t think you’re his type, though.”

“Maybe you don’t know him as well you think you do,” Dean said, sharply enough that Sam double-taked. “Wait, don’t change the subject on me now. What’s the thing that might be the worst time to bring up?”

“Oh.” Sam paused, clearing his throat. “Would you, uh… Do you think you could help me find my own place?”

“Of course,” Dean said immediately, ignoring the drop in his stomach. He knew this was coming, he did. “Whenever you want. If you want me to find an agent, scout places for you, whatever.”

This seemed to be the birthday present Sam needed. He turned away for a moment, mouth pursed together and brow all fierce like he was both the dam and the Superman that had to stop it from collapsing. Dean shoved at his shoulder.

Sam cleared his throat. “I haven’t seen you try the cake?”

“’Course I haven’t, it’s cake.”

“Benny helped make it.”

“Don’t mean I’m not sticking to my principles.” Dean groaned at the face Sam was making the face at him. “Ah fuck.”

So Dean had the cake and made stupid faces for everyone’s pictures, because it was Sam’s birthday. There wasn’t a thing he would change about this night, but when Ellen got it into her head that what they needed now was slow-dancing and Charlie got that set up thanks to her laptop, Dean decided it was time to take five and slipped out of the room, passing by the men’s and stepping into the alley at the back.

It wasn’t that cold but Dean pulled his jacket tight around himself, drawing the collar up as far as it would go. He leaned against the hard brick, shuffling a little to find a good spot, and then let himself rest.

For some reason Dean wasn’t at all surprised when the door creaked open and Cas’ head peeked out. “Do you want to be alone?” Cas asked.

“Nah, is cool.” Dean shifted over, making space for him. “Just wanted some air.”

“All right.” Cas joined him, though he didn’t lean against the wall the way Dean did. Cas could make meditation out of standing, practically, his gaze alert and watchful as though he was Dean’s bodyguard for the night. “Would you like me to make small talk?”

“I don’t know, do you want to make small talk?”

“I’m just here for the air.”

Dean shook his head and Cas accepted it with a quiet nod, turning back to watch the passing of traffic further up the street. Dean would talk to him about Sam’s moving out later, once he’d let that news settle in. Cas would be great at helping Sam pick out a place, too – better than any agent, narrowing in on all the fine print and pointing out the hidden financial corners like the bird of prey he was. Cas would help Sam get furniture, too, though Cas and Dean would probably battle it out on that front because the crap in Cas’ place was nice but boring, and Sam should have personality in his new place if he could, no matter that Cas would be spending more time there.

Cas would be spending more time there.

Sam getting his own place had its own meaning, its own baggage; Dean hadn’t done too well when Sam left for college the last time, but that was years ago and they were different people now. Sam’s orbit was his to decide, and Cas was part of that, wasn’t he? Cas was Sam’s friend; Dean was Sam’s brother.

It seemed like forever ago that Dean and Cas slept together. Dean might as well have slept with a stranger for all that it meant for either one of them – it had been a good time, that’s for sure, but Cas had been too right on the money on how nothing had changed. Perhaps something should have changed. Perhaps Dean wanted something to change.

“Shit,” Dean said. He laughed when he saw Cas turn to him with concern, brushing it off with a quick, “Sometimes I wish I still smoked. Give me something to do instead of standing here like a moron.”

“You’re not a moron,” Cas said. “Might I suggest – plenty of people use their phones as an equivalent.”

Cas liked him, didn’t he? Dean figured that Cas must at least somewhat  like him, because there was no way someone so fussy about his time and effort would’ve wasted any of it on him, even if he was just the brother of his best friend.

What would Cas do, if he were in this situation? Cas wouldn’t give a fuck about nerves, that’s what he’d do.

“Do you want to do something one of these days?” Dean said. Fine, Cas wouldn’t put it like that, but it was a decent effort. “Catch a movie or, or, or dinner, maybe?”

“Do you have somewhere in mind? A few years ago I used to have this resolution that every month I would try a new eatery I’d never been to before. I’d forgotten about that.”

“Oh, yeah.” Dean nodded. “Yeah, that sounds good, I could check if there’s anything new around?”

“Excellent, just let me know when.”

That was too easy, Cas’ expression too agreeable. Dean rewound the conversation in his head and groaned internally. “No, wait, I meant… I meant just the two of us. If you wanna do something, like a just-me-and-you kind of something.”

That got a better response, Cas’ brow coming together in a thoughtful scowl that almost put Dean onto his toes. “Oh, you mean…” Cas turned away a little, discomfited. “You mean sex? I’m sorry, Dean, I don’t think I... That’d be awkward for me now so – sorry, no.”

Geez, no, I…” Dean briefly pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. Better try again. “I didn’t mean a hook-up. I meant the other part, the before part. The – the hanging around together and maybe a movie and maybe dinner or whatever else you wanna do except it’s just both of us, and sex doesn’t have to be on the plate but it could be? In the future? If that earlier part went okay?” Dean swore he used to be better at this. “I was talking about that.”

By now Cas’ eyes had gone wide. He blinked twice but said nothing, and Dean was about to curse creatively when Cas suddenly turned away – but not quick enough that Dean didn’t see how his face broke into a wide smile.

“Whoa now,” Dean said, grabbing at Cas’ arms and trying to get a good look at his face. “What’s that, what’s that?”

Nothing,” Cas protested, trying hard to maintain a frown that wouldn’t stick. “I’m contemplating your offer.”

“Contemplating?” Dean echoed.

“I should play hard to get,” Cas said, voice cracking into a laugh. “I should…” Those blue eyes of his – sadly almost black in the poor lighting here – focused on Dean’s face, and for reasons Dean couldn’t comprehend said eyes were calm and full of wonder. When Cas rested his hands on Dean’s collarbone, his touch was light, tentative, almost nervous.

Yeah, Dean understood the sentiment, though hell if he knew what to do when someone else was responding like that to him.

“You do like me,” Dean said, trying for smug.

“Very much,” Cas said. “Why wouldn’t I?”

They’d kissed before, of course, during that one night of admittedly awesome sex. Yet when Cas leaned in this time and their mouths met, it felt brand new, a whole universe popped open with possibilities, a different kind of hunger driving them to get to know each other. Dean knew firsthand that Cas could kiss like a mean motherfucker, but here he was careful and sighing between kisses, and slowly savoring everything Dean did, and everything Dean did must be awesome.

Dean didn’t think Cas was the kind of person to have a dopey face, but he was wrong because that was exactly the face that greeted him when Dean slowly pulled back. He looked dopey and content and happy, though Dean realized abruptly that he was pretty happy himself. Pretty fucking excited, even.

“We have to tell Sam about this one,” Dean said.

“Oh, oh yes.” Cas touched Dean’s face gently, and then started walking away.

“I didn’t mean right now!” Dean yelled after him.

It turned out okay, though. Dean didn’t feel like putting up a real fight about it anyway, and returned to the party room just in time to see Cas pull Sam towards a corner and awkwardly throw his arms around him.

Why shouldn’t Dean have something nice, too? He decided that he was not going to freak out about this, not even when Sam’s back went ramrod straight when Cas ended the hug to speak.

“Oh,” Sam said. “Well, uh…” Dean couldn’t see his brother’s face, but he could see Cas’ face, and there was no way Sam could resist the open hope in Cas’ blues. After an indeterminably long wait Sam finally said, almost too quiet for Dean to hear, “Be good to him, okay Cas?”

Cas nodded. “Of course.”

“’Cause I have to kick your ass if you don’t,” Sam said. “You know that, right?”

“Naturally,” Cas said.

Maybe it really could be that easy. When Sam turned around his expression was calm, maybe a little shell-shocked, but in a good way. The corners of his mouth lifted when he saw Dean, and then he was making a bee-line right for him.

Dean brought his fists up automatically, but all Sam did once he got close enough was to hiss accusingly, “You asked Cas out.”

“You’re moving out,” Dean whispered back. “Aha! Gotcha.”

“What does that even…? Augh.” Sam reached for him, the movement so sudden that Dean had no time to take evasive maneuvers before he was wrapped up in a hug.

Dean made a noise of protest and weakly tried to push him away, only to sigh when Sam pressed his huge palms repeatedly against Dean’s skull – his fucking brother was fucking petting him. “Get the hell off, I can’t breathe,” Dean muttered.

“I know we never really…” Sam took a deep breath and drew back to look Dean in the eye. “I never told you how I appreciate—”

“You don’t have to, Sam.” Dean shoved a quick hand through Sam’s hair to make him yelp. “We don’t have to. That’s the point.”

“Okay,” Sam said. “Thanks anyway.”

It was Sam’s birthday, hugs were definitely allowed. In fact, once Dean pulled away Jo shimmied in to collect one her own, followed by Ellen, and then it was a freaking conga line of hugs. Dean let them to it, retreating to the other side of the room where Cas was practically glowing with contentment, and stood next to him.

“Having a good time?” Cas asked.

“It’s okay.” Dean laughed at Cas’ fond expression, and then pressed his shoulder against Cas’. “Better than I thought it would be.”