Actions

Work Header

Oxymora

Work Text:

~destiel~

Dean is watching Cas carefully as they make their slow way out of the barn. It’s taking all of his willpower not to set a hand at his lower back; not with Mom and Sam watching. So, he’s hovering instead, sticking close to his side just in case he goes unsteady.

It’s stupidly unsatisfying. Ridiculous how much Dean wants to touch him again. The lingering hand up from the couch wasn’t nearly enough. Not after hearing Cas say I love you.

The words echo with each step and by the time they get to the cars, Dean’s got his fingers curled so tightly into fists, they ache.

“Sammy, you wanna take Cas’ truck?” he asks; hopes he doesn’t sound as keyed up as he feels. Cas frowns toward him. “You can’t drive.”

“I’m fine,” Cas mumbles, but he’s got a hand on the back of the Impala and he looks about two seconds from toppling to the ground.

“You look like shit, man,” Dean says. Cas sighs, and that’s as good as an agreement. Dean’s still got the keys from stashing the cars earlier so he tosses them over.

Sam smiles between them before ushering Mary toward Wally’s truck, which she wants to return to his wife; tell her in person.

“Here,” Dean says to Cas. Puts a hand around his elbow to guide him forward.

“I’m okay,” Cas tells him, but Dean knows him well enough to ignore the protest and gets him into the passenger seat.

“You good?” he asks, trying not to project too much worry his way. Cas nods and sets his head back against the seat. Dean has an urge to lean in and kiss the top of his head. And maybe, maybe he can. Not yet though. Not yet. He swallows hard, pats Cas’ shoulder lightly and shuts the door.

Once he’s got Michael’s spear stowed, he gets in the car and starts the engine. It’s a comforting sound, just as soothing as the vibration beneath his fingertips as he puts his hands on the wheel.

Cas is still quiet, his breathing a steady cadence that calms Dean’s anxious heartbeat. “So, you really did that, then,” he says, words cracking just a little. “Deathbed confession.”

“Dean,” Cas says, sounding just as strained. Dean glances over at him. His jaw is hard as he stares out the windshield.

“No, I get it,” Dean tells him quickly. “I don’t mind. And look, I…” He rubs his thumb along the leather. It’s starting to rain. “I should probably tell you…”

“We don’t have to talk about this.”

Dean blinks, turns a little more toward him. His jaw is still set, hands in fists on his lap. Time to stop being a coward. “We don’t?” Dean asks with a small smile. “Why? Because you think I don’t love you too? Or because you think I can’t sack up and admit that I do?”

Cas closes his eyes, which is not the kind of reaction Dean was looking for.

“Look,” he says seriously. He reaches out to rest his fingers on Cas’ knee. “I’m not good with the whole… love… thing, but I—”

Dean.”

Dean shuts his mouth, frowning a little as Cas’ jaw flexes. “You’re my family,” he says tightly.

“I know, Cas—”

“You’re my family,” he repeats, finally turns his head and meets Dean’s eyes. “My brother. Like Sam is to you. That’s what I meant.”  

Dean stares at him. Feeling like he’s moving in slow motion, he takes his hand off Cas’ knee and turns away, everything sharp and hollow inside as he stares at the dark trees; blinks at the drops of rain as they flick against the windshield.    

He should have known better. Of course Cas doesn’t love him.

“I’m sorry, Dean,” Cas is still talking, but it sounds far away. “I didn’t realize you would think it meant anything other than familial love.”

Dean nods, swallowing through the ache.

“Dean—”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Dean cuts him off, aiming his best practiced smile at the dashboard as he switches the radio on. “We’re good. You like this song, right?”

“Yes, Dean, but—”

“Good. It’s a good one.” He dials up the volume and twists to check over his shoulder as he shifts the car into reverse. “We should probably find a place for you to stay tonight,” he says as he gets her nose around and drives away from the trees.

“I’m fine, Dean. I—”

Dean ignores him to call Sam. “Hey. You feel like stopping for the night?”

“Everything all right?”

Dean takes careful stock of his tone and forces his shoulders to relax. “Just think Cas should probably take it easy.”

“He okay?”  

“Yeah, he’s good. Wasn’t there a motel a few towns back? Looked like it was on its last legs, with the—”

“Sign half torn off, yeah, I remember it. Want me to grab some food?”

“Nah, I’ll get it once we check in.”

There’s a short pause, one in which Sam is probably working his big brain trying to figure out what’s going on, but Dean doesn’t give him the time. “See you in a few.”

He clicks off the phone and as soon as he does, Cas says tiredly, “Dean.”

“Leave it,” Dean’s voice comes out harsher than he intends and he feels a twinge of remorse. It’s not Cas’ fault. He swallows and forces his hands to relax on the steering wheel and sorts out a mellower tone. “Don’t worry about it, okay?” It dips halfway through but he aims a short smile at Cas without really looking at him and adds, “I’m fine.”

“I’m sorry,” Cas says again, sounding wearier even than when he sat on that couch and said he was dying. Dean wants to tell him he didn’t mean it. Doesn’t love him at all, but the words wither and die in his dry throat and all he can manage is a shrug as he reaches over to turn up the radio.

And when that doesn’t help, he mutters, “We should probably get gas.” Again, he doesn’t wait for a reply before he’s calling Sam and telling him to pull over at the first station he sees. No way he can sit here for as long as it takes to find that damn motel.

Sam hangs up, with no added suspicion only because Cas always seems to need gas. Dean almost asks him why he was driving around so close to empty—it’s a point he’s always making and Cas never fucking learns. But if he says that, it won’t be his usual casual ribbing, and Cas won’t roll his eyes and Dean won’t tell Cas to get his ass in the truck so they can take a quick trip down to the gas station.

Just in case, Cas. You never know when you might have to haul ass.

And Cas won’t smile in that small, exasperated way that Dean is so fond of. Dean won’t insist on driving even though it’s Cas’ stupid truck. But Cas doesn’t like driving, reminds him too much of what he’s lost—

And they won’t argue over what to listen to on the radio and Dean won’t give Cas any more mix tapes. A fucking mix tape

“Dean?”  

Dean blinks, shakes his head a little. “I said drop it,” he says gruffly, still half in those pleasant memories. “I didn’t even…” But as much as it hurts that Cas doesn’t want him that way, Dean can’t pretend he didn’t give everything away. “It’s not like I can’t find someone else to fuck, right?”

The words feel foreign and wrong; sounds that don’t seem to go together. But his tongue is heavy, his throat thick and he doesn’t even know what the hell’s wrong with him.

But Cas doesn’t even seem to notice. His voice is bland, toneless when he replies, “Right.”

And Dean wishes he were invisible or that Cas had his wings again just so he could vanish like he’s done so many times before. Left him in the middle of sentences and grief and every goddamn time Dean needed him, he’s left.

Dean sets his jaw so hard it hurts. It doesn’t matter. Of course he always leaves. Everyone always leaves. And this time, Dean didn’t even get a chance to fuck it up first.

Where in hell is the goddamn gas station? He needs to get out of this fucking car. And away from the silence and the pity Cas would feel if angels knew how to feel anything

Someone out there must take pity on Dean, at least, because he can see a gas station only a few hundred feet away and he nearly closes his eyes in relief. Settles on a sigh and presses down on the accelerator.

He’s pulling into the potholed parking lot a minute later, easing into a space just beside the pumps. He swings out of the car as quickly as he can, cutting off Cas’ voice as he slams the door.

“You okay?” Sam asks as he hops down from the truck, just behind them.

“Great,” Dean tells him, tosses the keys to his brother and asks, “You got this? I’ll get food.”

He can feel Sam’s eyes on him, but he ignores it, ignores the way his muscles itch to move and stretch; to do something. Anything. He flexes his fingers, which doesn’t help much at all as he goes inside the gas mart. It’s old, but clean enough. The woman behind the counter gives him an assessing eye before she goes back to the book she’s reading.

Dean heads straight for the bathroom, slamming the lock home before he leans back against the door. What an asshole he is. Why the hell would he ever think Cas could possibly love him? He’s never been enough for anyone else, not that there’s been many, but this is Cas.

All this time, all the times he thought there was something there. It was all just in his head? How the hell could it all be in his head?

How the hell he went so wrong he doesn’t know, and the stains on the ceiling don’t enlighten him.

With a frustrated sigh, he pushes away from the door and turns on the faucet; the sharp squeak ratchets up his dissatisfaction. He splashes the cold water on his face and then scowls into the mirror as he watches it drip down his face.   Before he can give into the urge to send his fist through his reflection, he rips a paper towel from the dispenser and presses the rough paper to his face instead.

It doesn’t help.

And he can’t stay in the bathroom all night, damn that yellow-eyed son of a bitch for stabbing Cas. He wouldn’t even be in the Impala if he hadn’t been hurt. Scowling anew, Dean pulls the door open and blinks a little in the harsher light outside the bathroom.

The cashier is back to suspicion, so he smiles at her, the sincerest one he’s got and she relaxes. But of course Sam chooses that second to come tromping through the front door, setting the bell on top to jangling and she’s right back to it. Sam doesn’t even look at her but comes right at Dean, the keys to the Impala dangling from his fingers.

“You’ve been in here forever, dude. You okay?”

Dean takes the keys back, and tries the same tested smile on his brother; he doesn’t bite. “Yep.” He stuffs the keys into his pocket and tosses a packet of off-brand veggie chips at Sam’s chest. “You filled them both up?”

“Cas tried to fill up the truck. He wanted to take it on to the motel but I told him you’d tell him not to be a dumbass.”

Dean’s digging through gummy bears and root beer barrels as he says, “Great. Licorice?” Because he knows it will get him Sam’s deep offense, which means Sam moves off to look for bottled water and whatever passes for health food at a gas station in the middle of Nowheresville.

“We should probably just keep going,” he says, catching up to Sam as he heads toward the cash register. Lowers his voice. “I don’t know if anyone will notice Ramiel has gone missing, but why take the chance?”

Sam glances back at him. “What about Cas needing a breather?”

“He’ll be fine. I mean, he was healed up, right? So—”

“Okay, dude, what’s going on?”

The cashier has taken interest again, not being subtle at all as she peers at them over the book.

“Nothing,” Dean says, brushing by him to plunk the supplies on the counter. Sam doesn’t take the clue.

“Nothing? I mean, I’m not blind here, Dean. Did you two talk about what he said—”

“And these,” he interrupts with a sunny smile for the cashier, who is beginning to look amused, but at least she’s no longer wondering if she’s about to be robbed. She picks up the gum Dean just threw onto to the pile and starts scanning. “Nice town,” he says to her while Sam huffs beside him. “Bet you don’t see many strangers.”

“We have our share,” she allows. “Do you need a bag?”

“Love one.” Best grin and he finally gets a small smile in return. He hands over the cash when she finishes and thanks her enthusiastically. She tells him to drive carefully.

With the plastic bag in one hand, Dean leads his brother out of the store. Sam opens his mouth to start with the questions again, but Dean picks up the pace when he sees Cas getting out of the Impala.

He visibly cringes when he sees Dean. The icy feeling in Dean’s chest picks right back up. Ignoring it, he pitches his voice as easy as he knows how, “What are you doing?”

Cas’ eyes flick to Sam and back again. “I feel fine, and I think I should go on with my search for—”

“Are you serious? You almost died.”

“I know.”

Dean’s eyebrows fall together, the familiar discontent that always tightens his chest when Cas disappears without a word. He opens his mouth before he remembers Sam is standing beside him. Sharply, he says, “Sam, can you give us a minute?”

Sam gets into Cas’ truck without a word, and that’s probably not going to be good at some point but Dean can’t focus on it right now. It’s an effort to keep his voice level when he says, “You don’t have to—”

“Dean—”

He ignores the undertone of gruff warning. “I’m fine, okay? It’s not the first time someone’s… I mean, it doesn’t matter, okay? I’m not mad. You don’t have to bolt.”

He’s humiliated, lungs thick with it, but even without any hope of his feelings ever being returned, he doesn’t want Cas to go. With a choice between humiliation and no Cas at all, he’ll take the humiliation. He knows what that says about him and can’t find a reason to care.

Cas is looking at him, studying him like he always does so Dean adds, trying not to sound as plaintive as he feels, “I was a dick before, okay? But come on, it’s not the first time, right?” He tries a smile but Cas doesn’t return it.

“You weren’t a dick,” he says and he even sounds like he means it. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I’m not,” Dean lies. “It’s just… humans are weird, you know? I’m fine. We’re good. So just… don’t be an idiot, OK? You can ride with Sam if you want, if it’s… weird or whatever—”

“It’s not weird.” Dean’s halfway into accepting that with a nod as Cas asks uncertainly, “Would you prefer it if I rode with Sam?”

It’s reflex that almost has Dean scoffing at that, so he clamps down on it and shrugs. “Whatever you want. We don’t even have to stop, just let him drive you home, okay?”

Cas doesn’t look happy about it, but at least he nods. Dean is careful about helping him into the truck; doesn’t touch. Barks at Sam to give them a hand and Sam does; still without a word and Dean is fucking grateful for that, is what he is. Once Cas is safely in the truck, he grimaces his way through a smile and slams the door home.

It’s an echo, drowning out the Impala’s engine as he turns it over. Music doesn’t help. Nothing helps. Not even when he pulls out of the gas station and speeds ahead, just so he won’t have to watch Cas’ truck plodding along in front of him. He trusts Sam to keep Cas safe, so he focuses on the road and the yawning pit of grief in his stomach and just drives.

--

He doesn’t ignore Sam’s call at hour three, even though he wants to. But it’s been an unspoken Winchester rule for as long as he can remember: if the phone rings, you pick up.

So he picks up. He knows immediately from the tone of Sam’s voice that it’s not an emergency. It’s the tone he uses when he’s being careful of Dean’s feelings. “It’s another three hours back to the bunker,” Sam presses carefully when his query about stopping for what’s left of the night gets a negative.

“I’m good,” Dean tells him. “But if Cas needs a break, you two should stop.”

A hesitation before the pained agreement, “I think he’s okay. So… see you at home?”

“See you at home,” Dean agrees before hanging up. Whatever Cas told him, Sam thinks he’s gonna be fragile about it. Because Sam doesn’t understand that he never expected anything else. It’s why he never opened his mouth in the first place.

Of course Cas doesn’t love him. He’s an angel, for fuck’s sake. And, as far as Dean knows, he’s not even into dick. Even if he was, there are millions of other men to choose from. Someone who’s not so fucked up that they’ve done pretty much everything a person can do for someone else; except nut up and say something.

But it’s good, Dean thinks, even as his throat goes tight all over again. Because Cas doesn’t love him. Never has. And so it doesn’t matter that Dean forgave him for breaking Sam’s head. Doesn’t matter that he slashed his way through purgatory just for a chance to bring him home. Doesn’t matter that he carried a goddamn trench coat all over the United States for no better reason than because he couldn’t bear to toss it.

None of it matters because Cas doesn’t love him, and Dean should’ve known better.

--

He stops at a seedy roadhouse an hour from the bunker, after sending off a text to Sam to let him know he doesn’t need to worry.   Because he doesn’t. It’s not the first time he’s had to move on—not even the first time he’s had to move on from Cas.

And at least this time, no matter what else, Cas is alive.

Hell, if he plays to form, he’ll be off and out of the bunker in a few days and none of this will even matter. They’ll go back to the way things were, the same way they’ve always been. But this time Dean will know for certain that the long stares don’t mean anything. Cas’ concern is the same concern he has for Sam—and apparently Mary now.

It’s fine.

Dean starts to believe it around the fifth shot. The bartender—name’s Chris, with dark eyes and a slow smile—is leaning just far enough into his space that Dean knows exactly what he wants. Has no problem providing. It’s been a long time since he’s fucked a guy.

“Meet you outside,” Dean agrees easily, puts a few bills on the bar and slides off the stool. Chris is behind him as he steps outside, following Dean’s path to the Impala—where he’s parked in the shadows.

It’s a warm night, the sky dusted with stars, and Dean isn’t expecting the brush of lips at the back of his neck as he digs in his pocket for the keys. He turns around, meets Chris’ gaze with a smirk; dark eyes smile back.

The Impala has been home in a lot of ways, especially in this, as he presses the hot bartender back against the leather. It should be. But Dean’s chest is tight, his thoughts not entirely dulled by the alcohol. How many times has he dreamed of doing this with Cas? Letting Cas be the one to press him back, begging Cas to fuck him harder, deeper? Mouths moving together, Cas’ stubble and his warm hands; Dean’s roaming everywhere. Finally, finally allowed to touch like he’s wanted to for so long.

“You okay?” The question shakes him sharply from his fantasy. It’s like a bucket of cold water, finding brown eyes looking back at him. He shakes it off.

“Just thinking of all the things I want to do to you,” he says, low and at his sultry best. The hot bartender smiles slowly.

“Show me what you got, then.”  

Dean puts Cas out of his mind and leans in to kiss the bartender.

Kissing is always a highlight, so Dean focuses, lets himself get lost to it. Grunts in approval when hands slide down his back to clutch at his ass. Kissing is good, but it’s just a lead-up, a means to an end.

A way to white out his thoughts for a little while.

And Chris is good, mouth talented; hands even more so. He’s vocal and eager, their dicks dragging together in just the right way once they’re both free from their jeans, lube generously applied.

And he’s teasing Dean’s throat with his teeth, making his breath stutter out more than once. It’s not quite what he wants, not quite enough. A request for more is at the tip of his tongue, but he pulls back every time; doesn’t often let it get too rough with guys; only if he knows them. But this is good too. The feel of naked skin, the weight of tight balls against his own.

He revels in it, takes his time as the pleasure makes everything hazy.

As his balls tighten and his hands clamp down a little harder against the sharp hipbones beneath his own. “Come on,” he breathes, encouraging the writhing body beneath his, keeping their rhythm steady; presses down harder with each slide until the gasp against his mouth draws out into a moan and warm jizz coats his fingers.

The pulse of Chris’ dick against Dean’s sends him the rest of the way over and Dean groans his way through the orgasm, panting a little as his hips lose their cadence. And that’s—it’s fucking good is what it is. The warm lips against his neck; he doesn’t even care that they belong to the wrong person.

There is no wrong person. There’s just this hot bartender who knows how to fuck. Dean smiles and kisses him back.

When the cum starts to cool, the tacky spill not at all sexy, Dean pulls away. Offers over one of the handkerchiefs from his back pocket and Chris smiles gratefully. Dean lets him clean up; does his own cleaning and shifts his shirt back into place. They didn’t even bother undressing and Dean has not one single regret.

“You from around here?” Chris asks as he buttons his shirt, gaze tracing the stretch of Dean’s muscles as he lifts his ass to pull his jeans back into place. “Or just passing through?”

Dean smiles, easy, as he zips and tucks. “Passing through.”

There’s disappointment in the acknowledging hum. It’s not surprising; maybe just a little. But Dean doesn’t think too hard on it. The endorphins are still coursing through his veins and everything feels good, a buzz beneath his skin and his muscles lax.

Chris watches him, that same lazy smile curling his mouth. “We could make the most of it. My shift ends in an hour and my apartment’s not far.” His voice is warm as he leans in and Dean accepts the kiss, presses him back against the door and enjoys the hell out of it.  

“Be right in,” he says, same warmth; no warning that this isn’t a promise he intends to keep. “Gotta make a phone call.”

Chris smiles, licks his lips. Goes in for another kiss, this one full of promise. And Dean takes that as well, watches him get out of the car. Chris smiles over his shoulder before he slips back inside the roadhouse.

The smile falls away, and Dean sighs; rubs at his eyes with the back of his hand. Even if it would be nice to accept the invitation, someone else’s maybe—someday.

Dean shakes himself out of the thought. He’s still feeling good, just like he always does after sex. It was a good time. Just like he told Cas. Someone else to fuck. He doesn’t need anything more.

Not a life with a hunter, like his ridiculous brother suggested. Not Cas. Not anyone.

He smiles a little as he gets out of the backseat and slides behind the wheel. He’s got his baby, Sam isn’t going anywhere and there’s probably a vamp nest just waiting around the corner.

He turns the engine over and pats her dashboard. Everything’s fine.

--

The kitchen’s dark when he passes through on the way up from the garage. He frowns a little, but refuses to worry just because the truck wasn’t parked in one of the empty spaces. Maybe they stopped for dinner. Or maybe Sam parked outside, because that’s what Cas usually does.

Because Cas never stays.

He’s not any more likely to stay now. He’s probably less likely, now that Dean went and ruined everything.

He’s still frowning when he gets into the war room, and only some of the worry abates when he sees Sam sitting at the table, a tablet and his computer in front of him.

Dean sets his bags on the table with a noisy clatter and greets his brother with a smile on his way to the mini fridge for a beer.

“Hey,” Sam says back, looking him over like he expects to see some sort of visual confirmation that he’s heartbroken. Dean just twists off the top of his beer and lets him look as he takes a long drink.

“You took forever,” Sam finally says and Dean waggles his eyebrows.  

“Good night,” he says as he passes behind the table. Sam wrinkles his nose, and it’s all so normal that Dean’s brain skitters to a halt when he finds Cas standing on the top step into the room.

Once he finds it, Dean’s voice comes out in a warble, “Hey.”

Cas gives him the same kind of long look that Sam did; longer with a more definitive squint. “You found someone to fuck,” he says, and Dean bristles at the judgment in his voice because what the hell does he care? “A waitress?”

“Bartender,” Dean retorts evenly. “Free drinks. And he was hot as hell, which doesn’t hurt.” He smiles a little, but Cas doesn’t return it. He makes his way slowly to the table and sits down with a sigh.

“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself, Dean,” he says, lifting his head finally and smiling in that soft way Dean used to think was meant just for him. And maybe it is. Maybe it’s because Cas is fond of him; the profound bond seemed to mean something to him once.

Maybe it still does.

Dean turns away and rests a hip on the edge of the table. Sam is watching him, so Dean takes another sip of his beer and turns back to Cas, “How’re you feeling?”

“Sam suggested I sleep—”

“You should,” Dean agrees gruffly. “Your bed’s made up.” He made it himself; washed the sheets and everything after Cas left the last time. Any other day, Dean would make a teasing comment about the state of his clothes. “You can borrow some of my clothes.”

Cas sighs again. “Thank you,” he says quietly. “I’ll repair these once I’ve had time to heal.”

Dean wants to tell him not to be a dumbass, but he pulls back on the urge. Agrees with a shrug instead and straightens up out of his slouch. “I’m gonna call it.” Taking his beer and bags with him, he heads toward the stairs. “Night.”

Sam’s, “Night,” echoes up the stairs after him. He tries not to let Cas’ lack of response bother him. He makes it to his room with his beer drained, so he drops the bottle into the trash with a ringing clang before tossing his bags on the bed.

He’s in the middle of separating the clean clothes from the dirty ones when Cas’ soft, “Dean,” makes him jump.

He twists around, his heart not quite settled, to find Cas hovering.

“Hey?” At least his voice is even this time. But Cas doesn’t respond. Dean rubs a hand over his jaw and finally asks, “You need something?”

“I’d like to accept your offer of clothes,” Cas says, stiff as hell; and it’s like they’ve gone back in time. Dean doesn’t like it. None of this is Cas’ fault. He can’t help the way he feels.

Dean smiles at him, even though it makes his chest ache. “Sure, Cas,” he says, just like he would have any other day. Cas still doesn’t smile back, but Dean will keep working on it. Cas deserves that much.

“You want a flannel?” he asks as he moves over to the dresser left behind by whatever Man of Letters used to live in this room. “Or just a t-shirt?” He’s not gonna think about what Cas will look like wearing his clothes; he’s not.

“Just a t-shirt, please.” His voice is still strained, so Dean picks up two shirts, smiles as he shows them off. “Which one?”

Cas blinks at them. “That one has a tiger on it.”

“It’s a song,” Dean explains and then offers the shirt out, crumples the other one in his fist when Cas tentatively reaches. Cas is still studying the tiger with a bemused eye as Dean turns away to rummage for pants. He chooses a pair of sweats because they’ll fit; doesn’t think about how much time he’s spent considering Cas’ hips, broader than his own…

He works out an easy smile as he hands those over too.

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas says, tone smoother now; soft in his Cas way and it’s a little easier to breathe. It’s okay if Cas doesn’t love him back. He’s here, and that’s what matters.

“Anytime,” he says seriously. And then while Cas folds the clothes neatly over his arm, he asks, “You good?” Hopes Cas can’t hear the we.   “You look better.” Tired, he still looks tired. His shoulders are hunched up, but maybe that’s more about his discomfort than any lingering effects of almost being killed.

“I feel better,” Cas tells him and Dean relaxes.

“Good. Uh… anything else you need? A shower… I mean, it might help. You used to like them…” He lets his words trail away because Cas is studying him again and Dean’s skin is getting hot. Suggesting a shower to the angel who doesn’t think of you as anything more than a friend is not a great idea. “Or sleep,” he adds lamely. “That’s good too.”

Cas nods solemnly and Dean turns back to his unpacking.

“Dean…”

He turns back, eyebrows rising. “Yeah?”

But Cas shakes his head, doesn’t finish. “Thank you,” he says instead. His voice is deep, resonant; taking Dean back to the day they first met. The awe he felt when he saw the shadows of his wings against the barn; the electricity between them when Cas leaned close that first time, their chests only inches apart; the gratitude when Cas betrayed his brothers for a chance to save Sam.

The devastation when Cas betrayed them; the grief when Dean thought he lost him. The year he spent looking for him in purgatory, only to lose him trying to get them both home.

He can’t lose Cas again.

“Sure.” Dean smiles. Lets the ache bloom and spread. He fucking loves Cas. Loves him so much it feels like it might eat him whole. “Let me know if you need anything else, okay?”

And just like that, with a nod, Cas is gone. Dean swallows through the pinpricks and turns away from the empty doorway.

--

“You okay?” The question comes with coffee the next day—and a nonchalant look that doesn’t match Sam’s tone at all.

“With what?” Dean plays stupid as he stabs at the eggs he no longer feels like eating. Frowning, Sam pours himself another cup of coffee; settling in for the heart to heart Dean is in no way planning on having.

But Sam doesn’t immediately start in. Fiddles with the sugar, which is suspect since Sam doesn’t put sugar in his coffee. Dean watches him, curious now as his little brother takes a breath. “Look, Dean—”

Cas appears in the doorway then, and both Sam and Dean look up at him. He’s got a hand on the corner of the wall, leaning on it just a little. He’s wearing his suit and trench coat again. But he looks better than he did last night, and Dean feels himself relaxing a little. About that, anyway. All the tightness in his chest comes right back. But he smiles up at Cas anyway.

“Morning,” he says; easy, he hopes. “Coffee?”

“No,” Cas’ voice is more subdued than it was last night. “Thank you. But I think I have a lead on Kelly—”

“You’re leaving?” Dean has no idea why he’s even surprised.

“If I want to find Kelly,” Cas tells him, not moving from the doorway, “I don’t have a choice.”

A frown tugs at Dean’s mouth, but he tries not to let it come out in his voice. “Don’t you think… maybe you might want to give yourself a few days to heal?”

“I’m fine,” Cas tells him but Dean ignores that and catches Sam’s eye.

“Wanna help me out here?”

Sam shrugs as he reaches for his coffee. “If he says he’s fine …”

The incredulous look Dean gives him isn’t even noticed. Letting the frown free, he tilts his face up again. “We’ll find Kelly, okay? Sam and I can help. Right, Sam?”

“If he needs help, sure.”

Dean’s what the hell face goes unnoticed too.

“I don’t need help,” Cas says quietly. “It’s my responsibility.”

This again. Always this. But Dean doesn’t know how to combat it anymore; feels uncertain for the first time in years. With everything he has screaming at him not to give in, Dean gives in. “Keep in touch, okay?” he adds, because he can’t help that much at least. “And if you need anything… anything at all, you call us, got it?”

Cas’ face softens, and for a second, Dean thinks he’ll get a smile. “Yes, Dean. I got it.” Not quite, but it’s enough to set a riot in Dean’s chest.

“Be safe,” he says gruffly, and Cas nods gravely before he turns away. Once his footsteps have faded, Dean turns to Sam. “What the hell was that?”

Pinching his lips briefly, Sam answers in that same weird ass tone, “Dean, if he says he’s fine, he’s fine. He has to make his own choices too, right? Like we said.”

Sam’s a terrible liar, always has been. But Dean doesn’t know what the hell there is to lie about. Not after the last nearly world-ending time Sam and Cas were involved in the same lie. But that’s not this. Sam’s been weird lately anyway. Pretending he’s not affected by Mom up and leaving them; pretending even harder that Dean’s the only one who isn’t dealing well.

“Look,” Sam says, finally meeting his eyes and Dean studies him carefully, “this is just what Cas does, right? And if you two… If you’re not…”

“If we’re not what, Sam?” His voice is pitched lower and he knows Sam can read the warning stamped all over it.

“Nothing,” Sam sighs. He reaches for his tablet and holds it out. “Feel like killing some vampires?”

“Always.” Dean takes the tablet. He’s kind of surprised Sam folded so easily. Dean expected a lecture on how pushing Cas away isn’t the answer; a few disappointed glances, at least. Sam’s gotta think that’s what he’s doing. He obviously thought the I love you was for Dean too.

Dean kind of wants to tell him it wasn’t, just so he can watch Sam’s face go through its I Had No Idea I Could Be Wrong About Something expressions. His brother’s good at a lot of things, but admitting he was wrong isn’t one of them.

“It’s a ten hour drive,” Dean says instead.

“Ten hours in the car. A nest of vamps, just waiting for you to chop their heads off,” Sam says lightly, all traces of caution gone from his tone. “It’s your perfect day.”

Dean smiles a little as he glances up. “You had me at vamps. Ready in ten?”

“Twenty,” Sam says as he pushes up from the table. “I still need a shower.”

“Good call.”

Sam flips him off as he jogs up the short flight of stairs. Feeling better, Dean goes to get his guns.

--

They kill the vamps, and a bunch of other things that go bump in the night, while Cas is off doing whatever the hell he’s doing in his search for Kelly. He keeps his word though, checking in on a regular enough basis that Dean doesn’t worry. At least not more than he always worries when Cas is off doing his thing.

The ache comes and goes. Flares bright when Mom betrays them, hunkers down again when he tells her he gets it; tells her she doesn’t have to be his mother; doesn’t have to be anything more than the wandering hunter she wants to be.

He’s never been enough for anyone. Why should she be any different?

Tightens, like it always does, when Sam betrays him too. Not a betrayal—not like Mary’s. But it still hurts. He clamps down tight on that as well, lets Sam have what he wants; knows his brother saying yes is more about Mary than anything else.

Dean doesn’t trust the Brits, but Cas is gone. Mary is close enough to a stranger that she might as well be. If Sam leaves—

So Dean does what he always does; he lets the ache carry him along.

At least until Cas stops calling. The worry sharpens, everything slows down. But he tells himself, over and over he tells himself, that Cas will be okay. He’s a fucking angel, for Christ’s sake. He has to be okay.

But no matter how many times Dean calls, leaves ridiculous—longer each time—messages in Cas’ voicemail, Cas doesn’t call back. Sam tells him it will be okay, the stupid, sad look in his eyes that he’s been wearing ever since Cas didn’t tell Dean he loves him. Dean ignores it. Ignores Sam and the awful, gnawing thing growing in his gut.

He keeps busy and that helps. Cases, dictated by the Brits, as much as he wishes it didn’t, as much as he hates every second, helps. Sleeping with the hot waitress he meets while they’re hunting some weird monster god—that helps even more. Her name is Carmen. Younger than he typically goes for these days—not that he’s old, no matter what his judgey little brother has to say about it—but there’s just something about her. She smiles, and she’s sweet and Dean is drawn in.

Sex that night is fun, something he hasn’t had in years, or so it seems. Her easy smiles catch him off guard while she rides him and he finds himself staring up into her face, smiling as she so clearly enjoys herself.

She’s radiant and Dean wants more; holds her hips and lets her have her fun. He loves it, loves making someone feel this good. Could do this forever with someone; could easily fall in love with this.

With someone who is this happy just to be with him.

It’s easy. Easy to let go, to enjoy the sounds she’s making; the nails raking down his chest as she rides out her orgasm on his dick. Easy when she laughs in delight—still breathless—as he flips them over, her arms locking firm around his back as he fucks into her.

Both of them moaning with pleasure, lips and hands and skin on skin. Everything he loves about sex. Getting lost in it; eventually finding satisfaction in tired eyes when he pulls out and rolls to the side. She comes with him, curling against him. And he’ll take that too, basks in the feeling of someone next to him; breaths slowing together.

They’re both sticky, but it doesn’t seem to matter to her. She kisses his shoulder, content for the moment. It’s good. It’s fun. And it all has to end, he knows. But for now, he enjoys the drag of her fingertips over his chest and treats the soft skin of her hip to the same.

--

He knows he shouldn’t be pissed. He knows it. He’s got no claim on Cas. No right to be angry that Cas ignored him for weeks. For fucking weeks, Cas ignored him.

He wants to keep the damn Zepp tape, wants to fling it into the garbage can beside his bed, just to see the hurt pinch Cas’ face. He’s just standing there like an asshole, offering a shitty apology with no heart behind it. And that’s just it, isn’t it? Cas won’t be hurt if he tosses it into the trash. He’ll just stand there and nod and accept it as just another human quirk. Another random oddity that makes Dean Winchester tick.

But that’s not the reason Dean gives it back. Even if Cas doesn’t understand it, Dean wants him to have it. It means he’ll take a piece of Dean along with him, wherever the hell he plans to go next. It’s the only thing Cas might want from him.

And either Cas does want it, or he just wants to be done with Dean and his bullshit because he takes it. And then the asshole just goes straight for the door.

Dean doesn’t know why he stops him; has no idea why he’s trying to explain how hurt he is; how out of his mind with worry he’s been.

Maybe because he has nothing left to lose.

It pains him—physically pains him to add Sam’s name to the we when Cas asks. Team Free Will feels like sandpaper coming off his tongue. That’s all they are. The three of them—brothers, a family, a triptych of dudes who save the world.

He doesn’t want another brother.

But it’s what he’s got, so he nudges Cas out of the way and goes for a beer. Cas doesn’t follow him. Which isn’t a surprise.

Cas stealing the Colt, that’s a surprise.

And Dean doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, even as he pushes Cas up against the wall in the motel room where he’s been hiding. Watches the way Cas’ lips part and wishes everything was different. Even as pissed as he is, he wants to kiss him, wants to take Cas’ face between his hands and never stop; keep him just right here and then he’ll have to stay. Wants to wrap his arms around the goddamn angel and tell him how fucking much he loves him, please please don’t keep doing this to me, man.

Dean lets him go instead, reluctant and still pissed, when Sam calls his name. And when Cas drives off with the Impala, he can’t help but defend him to Sam while he’s fiddling with Cas’ truck.

“You sure you wanna chase him?” Sam asks after Dean slams the hood. Frowning, Dean pulls the handkerchief from his back pocket and works at the grease on his fingers. “If he’s planning to go back to heaven,” Sam goes on, like he honestly believes Dean is just gonna let this go, “there’s not much we can do.”

“We can haul ass and knock some sense into him before he does,” Dean counters, already moving toward the driver’s side, but Sam is slow to follow suit.

“I’m not sure he’s interested in sense,” he says over the top of the truck. Dean narrows his eyes.

“Dude, what’s your problem with Cas?”

Sam’s eyebrows climb. “After all the shit he’s pulled—”

“Already told you, Sam, he’s just mixed up, okay? We’ll work it out. Just get in,” he says, impatient to wipe that skeptical look off his brother’s face.

Sam sighs, but he gets in. Wishing he could make Cas listen so easily, Dean starts up the truck.

--

They find the Impala at the playground where heaven’s portal waits. And Dagon, lying dead in the sand.

“What the hell…”

“He must have gone up already,” Sam says with a frown.

“How the hell did he kill Dagon?”

“I don’t know.” Sam drops to the ground, looking for clues. “No stab wounds, eyes aren’t burned out. She’s just… dead.” He squints up at Dean. “You think he really went through with it? Took Kelly up there to kill her and the baby?”

“Looks like,” Dean grunts.

“Still think he’s just confused?”

“I don’t know, man.” Dean doesn’t know what the hell to think anymore. “If he thought it was the right thing to do…”

Really, Dean?” Sam asks as he straightens. “You’re really gonna defend this?”

“What the hell’s your problem, Sam?”

Sam stuffs his hands into pockets and mutters, “Nothing.”

“You’ve had a bug up your ass for weeks about Cas.”

“Yeah, well…”

Dean cocks an eyebrow. “The hell’s that mean?”

“Nothing. I’m just tired of his bullshit.” Sam glances back to the portal. “We’re not waiting for him, are we? Who knows when he’ll come back out.”

He hears the if in Sam’s words. Sam seems to hear it too. He ducks his head against the wind and turns toward the Impala. It takes Dean a little longer to follow suit.  

--

There’s a car parked in the shadows of the bunker when they pull up, and Dean’s stomach feels like it lurches; like a fucking cartoon character. He considers briefly that it’s something like that case they worked with Cas a few years ago while he squints into the darkness.

“Is that Eileen?” Sam asks, squinting too and the disappointment is like lead in Dean’s chest. It’s not even Cas’ truck, so of course he should have known it wasn’t him. There’s no way he could have beat them back to the bunker anyway, the way he drives.

He shakes off the disappointment, the hope, the everything and glances over at Sam. “She tell you she was coming?”

“No.” But Sam looks pretty happy with the surprise.

Dean eases the car to a stop. Eileen smiles at them as soon as they get out. And Dean watches Sam’s smile, the way his face sort of lights up as he steps forward to hug her and yeah, he saw this coming a mile wide a year ago.

It’s good, he decides as he steps up for his own hug. Sammy needs someone like Eileen; someone who knows the life. Just like he talked about last year. Both of them legacies even.

He smirks as he steps back, and Eileen tilts her head, eyes curious in the moonlight. “Is it okay that I’m here?” she asks.

“It’s okay with me,” Dean tells her. “And I’m pretty sure Sam’s thrilled.”

Sam sighs behind him. Smiling, Dean says, “ I’ll let you two catch up. I’m gonna park the Impala. We have a garage.” He hooks a thumb at her smaller car. “If you wanna bring it in.”

“Thanks.”

Dean nudges Sam’s arm on his way past. “Take your time,” he says with a wink, and a pair of waggled eyebrows. Sam makes a face that Eileen can’t see before turning back around. Eileen, though, sends a grin at Dean; and yeah, this is gonna work out just fine.

But once he makes his way upstairs alone, walking through the dim bunker, the smile is gone. This is what it’s gonna be like if Sam does decide he wants to settle down. It’s just gonna be him, all alone in the bunker. Probably on cases eventually too. It’ll be good for Sam, Dean knows it. And what’s good for Sam… well, Dean can deal.

Rubbing a hand over his face, and wishing he didn’t hate the idea quite so much, he drops his bags on the map table and turns for the kitchen. The front door clangs open before he takes two steps. Prepared to see Sam and Eileen, he glances up and sees Cas instead. The relief is immediate and overwhelming; the anger fast on its heels.

Scowling, Dean watches him come down the stairs, too pissed to even manage a hello, but Cas isn’t talking either and that just pisses Dean off even more.

As soon as he’s on level ground, Cas says, sounding breathless, “Dean—”

“You hurt?” Dean interrupts brusquely. Cas blinks, confused, before shaking his head.

“No, Dean, but I—”

“So, you got an explanation for this one too? Stealing my car, and running off with Kelly?”

“I didn’t,” Cas starts to say and then cuts himself off when Dean gestures incredulously. “Kelly was driving,” he says and then shakes his head. “But that’s not—”

“Is your phone broken? Of course it’s not,” Dean answers himself when Cas glances down at it with a grimace. “So, phone’s working, but let me guess, Kelly wouldn’t let you call after she kidnapped you.”

“No, Dean, that’s not—”

“Then what?” he demands. “What the hell are you doing? You took her to heaven?” 

“We were already there, Dean, and it’s what Kelly wanted—”

“So, they can kill her, and you’re apparently fine with that? What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Dean, if you would just listen—”

“What the hell are you going to say that I haven’t heard a million times before?”

He actually wants a fucking answer. But Cas is looking at him, jaw working in a way that signals he’s pissed and probably Dean should back off. He should, but he doesn’t. He raises his eyebrows, about to demand an answer, but Cas narrows his eyes and surges forward, catches Dean’s face in his hands and kisses him.

Dean’s brain is slow to catch up. He’s got his tongue past Cas’ lips, and his hands reaching, before he realizes this isn’t supposed to happen.

He rips his mouth away, palms shoving at Cas’ chest as he rasps, “What the hell…”

Cas blinks at him, confusion tugging at his eyebrows. “Dean? I thought…” He takes half a step forward, but Dean steps back and Cas halts.

“Did you just kiss me?” Dean demands, which sounds so idiotic he grimaces, because what the fuck else was Cas’ tongue doing down his throat? “What the hell?”

And how the hell is Cas confused?

“I thought…” he says. Stops and starts again, “Did I misunderstand your interest in sex?”

“My…” Dean’s mouth opens and closes before he asks stupidly, “With you?”

“Yes.”

He probably looks like an idiot, the way his lips are trying to say all kinds of things at once. “What happened to you and me being brothers? And me…” The wild gesticulations probably aren’t helping. “… misunderstanding the whole…”

“Love thing?” Cas asks quietly, a hint of a smile pulling at his lips, and Dean feels the edge of hysteria creeping in.

“Yes! The love thing! You said it wasn’t… that it wasn’t…” The words don’t come any easier so he sputters, “What the hell, Cas?”

“My vessel stopped working the way it used to after I got my grace back,” Cas says; like that’s supposed to mean something.

“Okay?”

A slight frown appears over Cas’ eyebrows but what the fuck does he expect?

“When I was human,” he says, “this body worked the same way most human bodies seem to. I had sex, and I enjoyed it—”

Dean interrupts irritably, “Does this story have a point?”

“Of course it has a point, Dean—”

“Then get to it!”

Cas scowls at him before he snaps, “I couldn’t have sex with you.”

It takes a second of blinking stupidly before Dean’s mouth works. “What?”

“That’s why I told you I was referring to familial love,” Cas says in a quieter voice. “Because I couldn’t have sex with you. My sexual responses haven’t worked since I stole Theo’s grace. They worked before Metatron cut mine out, and I thought they would work once I got it back, but they didn’t.”

Dean can’t do anything but stare.

“I should have explained after Ramiel almost killed me,” Cas goes on hesitantly, “but I was expecting to die, and I wasn’t prepared—”

“You weren’t prepared?” Dean finds his voice and it’s high and manic, but he can’t stop it. “Are you kidding me?”

And of course Cas takes that literally. “No, I’m not. I thought this would be easier—”

Feeling strangled, Dean demands, “Easier for who?”

“Dean… I was trying to spare you—”

“Spare me?” Dean croaks. “You were trying to spare me by telling me you didn’t love me…” He shakes his head. “How could you…”

“Because I knew you would say it didn’t matter.”

So?

“Dean, I know how much you enjoy sex.”

Feeling like there are knives in his chest, Dean can’t figure out even one thing to say to that. Can't understand what the hell is happening. Cas said he didn't love him. He said that.

But Cas is still trying to explain, “I knew you would give up what you needed if it meant I was happy."

And that’s… Dean can’t process it, can’t even figure out why the hell… “So instead of telling me you can’t have sex,” he says, voice wavering even as he tries to stop it. “Instead of telling me that you have some kind of angelic war injury, you pretended you didn’t tell me you loved me? You let me make an ass of myself. You let me walk around for weeks thinking this was all in my head, all of this—“

He pulls away when Cas reaches for him. “No, man. Just… no.” He turns away and doesn’t look back.

--

Hours later, he still can’t process it. Not the sex thing, although that’s something he’s not sure he can wrap his head around either. It’s not like he hasn’t thought about Cas and sex, and how much he’d like to be involved in that equation.

He’s thought about it a lot.

He’s tried not to think about it even more.

How the hell did Cas think they were going to have a relationship without sex?

And more importantly, how the hell did Cas think Dean would just go along with his shitty excuses? That he would just roll the fuck over and not give a damn that Cas lied to him? Probably because he always rolls over; always forgives him.

Maybe he doesn’t realize it was an asshole thing to do. He’s learned how to be a human from Dean, after all. And Dean’s done a lot of asshole things.

He thanks the bartender when she slides another shot to him. She winks before she turns to serve someone else. A dark-eyed brunette; definitely interested. And for the first time in a long time, Dean isn’t.

He downs his shot and heads toward the pool table. It’s a good night for it. Good night to fuck someone over. Might as well share the misery.

He’s sinking his last ball against a hopeless drunk when Sam comes in.  

The worry clears from his brother’s face as soon as their eyes meet. Dean collects his winnings from the now-disgruntled drunk and meets him at the bar. Sam’s already got two beers. He slides one across the wood, probably thinking it’s time for Dean to switch over. Dean’s not going to bother to tell him he’s barely downed two shots.

He just accepts the bottle with a grunt of thanks and takes a sip as Sam settles himself in on the barstool. “You okay?” he finally asks. Grimaces when Dean just gives him a look.

A little amused at that, Dean takes another mouthful of beer before asking, “Where’s Eileen?”

“She thinks she’s got a case. She’s checking a few things before she heads out.”

Dean takes that in. Glances at his brother’s face but finds exactly what Sam wants him to find, which is nothing. “You’re not going with her?” he asks, and Sam shrugs.

“She’s used to hunting on her own.” Another swallow, this one swished carefully before it slides down his throat.

“She ask you?”

Sam’s thumb taps against the neck of his bottle. “It’s just a salt and burn.”

Rolling his eyes, Dean swivels his stool so he can see Sam’s pensive face. “I don’t need a babysitter.”

“I know.”

“Right.” With a shake of his head, Dean goes back to his beer while Sam works up to whatever he wants to say.

“He said they’re not going to kill Kelly.”

Dean just snorts at that.

“He’s pretty upset…”

Dean doesn’t say anything, takes another sip of the beer.

“Dean, I know he fucked up—”

“Still can’t pick a side,” Dean mutters, not even surprised Sam apparently knows everything.

“This isn’t about Cas,” Sam says, an edge in his words that brings Dean up short. “I’m pissed at him.” Dean glances at him, surprised. “But I know how you feel about him. I know you’ll tear yourself up if he runs off again.”

“If,” Dean scoffs.

“He will if you don’t go back there.”

“If he wants to go, he should go.”

“He doesn’t want to, and I know you don’t want him to.”

“Sam.”

“Dean,” Sam retorts in the same, flat-mouthed tone. Dean can’t help but smile. He shakes his head, swivels back to stare at whatever the hell’s on the bar’s TV. “He was a total dick,” Sam adds, to which Dean frowns. “But you know he wasn’t trying—”

“Seriously, Sam.” Dean turns his head, tone hard now.

“Okay,” Sam says quietly, “But come on, all the other shit he’s pulled, and this is the thing you can’t forgive?”

Dean doesn’t even respond. Sometimes he seriously can’t believe what an idiot his little brother is.

“He broke my head, Dean.”

“He fixed your head too.”

Sam sighs.

Because he doesn’t get it. He never does. Dean knows he’ll forgive Cas. Has known it the entire time he’s been sitting at this stupid bar. It’s what he always does. Forgives everyone because he doesn’t want to be alone. He’s a fucking mess is what he is, but at least he knows it.

“You should go with Eileen,” he says. “Sammy, look,” he says when he gets the expected frown, “I get it, but I’m fine. I am.” And because Sam needs it, and only because he does, “It’s no different, okay? We’re not gonna be—” He makes a face. “—whatever you thought we were gonna be. It’s no different. And you don’t have to babysit me.”

“I know, Dean. I just…”

“What?” Dean finally prods.

“Nothing, I just wish it was different.”

“Well, it’s not. I know you were all set to pick out china or whatever, but I’m good.”

Sam shakes his head, but doesn’t keep pressing. “You want to come with us?”

“With you and Eileen?” Dean snorts. “Yeah, that’ll be fun, the two of you making kissy faces over lore.”

“Shut up.” That gets him a smile, at least. “Maybe Mom has something. Ketch probably—”

“I’m sure I can find something to do.” Mom doesn’t want to spend time with them. She actively avoids it by working with the Brits, and Dean isn’t going to push where he isn’t wanted. Not with her, not with Cas…

Dean gives Sam his best smile. “There’s a whole wide world of monsters just waiting to be ganked.”

--

He gets a day-old newspaper from the bartender, finds a potential case.

“Probably a nest of vamps,” Dean tells Sam while they’re climbing the stairs from the garage. “Looks like the Brits missed a few.”

Sam just nods before going off to find Eileen.

Cas is nowhere to be seen, and even though Dean didn’t expect anything else, it still hurts like hell.

He’s inspecting weapons on the map table when Sam and Eileen come in together, Sam carrying all of the bags. “I’ll take these up for you,” he says while Eileen protests that she can manage.

Frowning, Dean looks up from the sawed-off he’s cleaning. “I thought you were going together.”

Sam’s shrug is awkward with all the straps strung every which way over his shoulders. “You’re hunting a nest of vamps. You can’t do that alone.”

“Mine is just a salt and burn,” Eileen tells him with an easy smile and Dean gets why Sam likes her so much. He finds himself smiling back at her.

“You two can have mine,” he says. “I’ll take the ghost.”

Eileen and Sam glance at each other, and Sam protests, “It’s fine—”

“I can go with you, Dean.”

Startled by the soft offer, Dean turns. Cas is standing in the doorway again, holding it up like he always seems to be doing these days. His face is pinched, eyes fastened on Dean but he doesn’t come in any further. He looks small and frail; and Dean hates it.

“Then none of you have to change your plans,” Cas says, eyes flicking to Sam briefly before skittering away again. Dean glances at Sam too; watches his jaw work and everything clicks.

“You knew before, didn’t you?” he says, not even bothering to dredge up any anger when Sam’s eyes snap over to him. He’s got no anger left.  

“Dean, I—”

Dean waves him off. “I get it,” he says. And he does. Maybe. Who the hell knows anymore?

“Cas and I can take the vamps,” Dean says, not sounding convincing even to his own ears. No one contradicts him though, least not until he hands over Sam’s favorite guns, and some extra salt rounds.

“I’m sorry,” Sam says quietly. “I didn’t know if I should—”

“It’s fine, Sammy.” He smirks. “Go have fun with Eileen.”

But Sam still hesitates. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”

Dean plants the duffel full of weapons firmly at his chest. “Call if you need anything,” he says. “Be safe.”

It’s reluctantly that Sam nods, echoing the same before following Eileen up the stairs.

Dean goes back to his weapons, avoids Cas’ eyes. He’s still standing at the top of the stairs. It wouldn’t be that difficult to go without him. Sam will be pissed, but what else is new?

“Dean,” Cas says tentatively, just as Dean tosses the last of the guns into the bag. “I was trying to protect you.”

“Yeah, you said, Cas.” Dean zips the bag and puts it over his shoulder as he turns to face Cas. “Same bullshit, different day.”

Cas frowns. “What does that mean?”

“This is what you do, man. You and Sam,” he adds on a mutter. “I’m tired of people trying to spare me from things. You pulled the same shit when I was at Lisa’s—” He stops talking abruptly. It’s not a rehash he wants to have, even if Cas wasn’t looking at him with such regret. “Never mind,” he says. “Let’s just… Everything’s fine, okay? We’ll go gank some vamps and then you’ll go off to do whatever the hell you do…” His throat is beginning to burn, that same hysterical feeling pulling at him.   He turns away. “You coming, or what?”

He can hear Cas’ footsteps behind him, but Dean doesn’t slow down. Doesn’t look at him. Not even after he stows his gear and starts the car. Cas takes shotgun and is absolutely silent.

Dean hates that too. All of his skin feels itchy, the words he wants to say tickling at his throat. He wants to say a hell of a lot of things, like he always does with Cas. But like always, he doesn’t know where to start, doesn’t know what Cas wants.

He does know. He knows, because Cas kissed him, didn’t he? Why the hell did Cas kiss him? If he can’t have sex, what does he even want?

“What were you planning on doing?” he asks gruffly once the Impala is out of the garage and pointed toward the vamps. “Were you just gonna let me find out you couldn’t have sex once I was naked?”

He can feel Cas’ eyes on him. “I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t mean to kiss you like that.”

“Didn’t mean to kiss me, didn’t mean to tell me you loved me. Good thing you can’t have sex, or you might have accidentally fallen on my dick.”

It’s a shitty thing to say, and he regrets it immediately. Cas doesn’t say anything, and Dean shifts, hands restless on the steering wheel as the silence stretches on.

They make it to the highway before Cas says, “I would have explained everything before you were naked. I knew it would upset you, but I—”

“It ain’t about that, Cas. We could have…” He swats at the air, impatient and hating that words won’t come. “Just because you have some kind of angelic war injury, it doesn’t mean—” He scowls and says harsher than he means, “That’s the kind of shit you can figure out, okay?”

“How, Dean?” Cas asks tiredly, but not like he wants an answer. “Not being able to have sex is specifically the kind of shit we couldn’t have figured out.”

“I don’t give a damn that you can’t have sex,” Dean snaps. “You think that’s what all I wanted from you? You think that’s why I tore purgatory apart trying to find you? Just in case I might get a chance to fuck you?” Dean laughs bitterly. “You think that’s why I forgave you for breaking Sam’s head?”

Cas’ voice is hollow as he answers, “No.”

“I spent months trying to find you after you let Lucifer in, like a dumbass. And then you disappear for weeks, off to heaven, while I scoured morgues. After you told me you didn’t fucking love me, Cas. But what, I was still hoping to get into your pants?”

“No,” Cas says, just as quiet; just as flat. “But I didn’t realize you loved me too. You never told me—”

“Yeah, you don’t get to pull that. I’m not the one that fucked up here.”

“I know,” Cas’ voice wavers, but Dean forces himself not to cave. “I should have told you the truth from the beginning.”

“Yeah, no shit, Sherlock.”

“I thought you’d be more upset about my inability to have sex.”

“Then why did you kiss me?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Cas murmurs.

“Yeah, it matters,” Dean retorts. “It matters a whole fucking lot.”

Cas sighs, but doesn’t answer him. And Dean doesn’t ask again, is about five seconds away from some kind of nervous breakdown. Or just a breakdown in general, tears and all. Or, maybe he just wants to yell. Scream until his voice is hoarse. At Cas, at Sam for not telling him, his mother for not caring about him just like every other goddamn person has never cared about him—

“Dean?”

His hands are shaking on the wheel, jaw aching from clenching it and Cas’ voice is laced with new strain, with worry that Dean thought he had no right to. He doesn’t know what he has a right to anymore.   “Sorry,” he mutters, makes his hands relax. “Sorry.” He doesn’t even know what the hell he’s apologizing for.

Cas doesn’t say anything, and Dean doesn’t know what to say either so he turns up the radio and says nothing at all.

--

They roll into the vamp-infested town four hours later, just the right time to troll the local bars for information. They haven’t spoken since Dean’s shaky apology. Seriously, he doesn’t know why the hell Cas even came.

He’s no help when it comes to interrogations, standing silently behind Dean’s shoulder while Dean does the talking. He can feel Cas’ eyes on him the entire time and although he’s used to it, he doesn’t like it. Not like this.

“Knock it off,” he snaps under his breath when the bartender—useless for information—goes back to her work. Cas blinks at him, rapid and confused.

“Knock what off?” he asks, and yeah, he probably has no idea that he’s scrutinizing every interaction Dean has with anyone even remotely attractive. Dean sighs and tells him to forget it; gets back to work.

And when he finally gets a lead, he’s just relieved to be able to leave. “We’ll wait it out until dawn,” he says as he leads the way out of the bar.

“You don’t want to scout out the location?” Cas asks. It’s the first thing he’s said in nearly an hour.

“Vamps hunt at night,” Dean reminds him tiredly. “I don’t wanna be some fang’s dinner.” Or worse, get turned by one. Better to wait until morning when they’re sleeping. Which Cas should know. But Dean doesn’t point that out. Doesn’t comment at all except to grunt, “Come on. Let’s find a room.”

He pulls into the first motel he sees, a seedy place that probably rents rooms by the hour. They’ll catch a few before dawn.

The clerk gives them a once-over, a smirk to go with it; Dean steadfastly ignores it and pockets the key, leaving Cas to follow him.

He hovers behind Dean while he grabs the bags, offers to take them and then falls back uncertainly when Dean says he can manage. He’s still hanging back while Dean tosses everything onto the bed and drops down onto the mattress.

He’s fucking exhausted; wants nothing more than to sleep. Maybe Cas will find his voice by morning. Sighing, Dean drags a palm over his face, lets his head fall and blinks tiredly at the threadbare carpet between his boots.

“I can keep on eye on the vampires while you sleep,” Cas’ low voice brings his head up. Dean squints at him; there’s only one lamp on.

“What?”

“I don’t need to sleep…”

“Okay… But, what are you gonna do by yourself? Besides get yourself killed snooping around a vampire hunting ground? They’re nocturnal,” he reminds him with a roll of his eyes as he reaches for a boot. “They’re not gonna leave town before dawn.”

Cas stays where he is, and Dean looks up once he’s got both boots off. “You just gonna stand there all night?”

“I can wait outside.”

“What?” He squints again, trying to figure out if Cas is just messing with him now. They’ve gone on hunts before, not even always with Sam, so why the hell—

“I don’t want to upset you again,” Cas says quietly, and all of Dean’s anger dries up. He swallows, really looks at Cas and the way he’s standing; all hunched up again like he’s been since the barn. Uncertain like he never is these days, like he’s never really been unless Dean is pissed at him.

Because Cas fucked up.

And Dean should have realized from the jump that something was off. That Cas was hurting. He hates that look on Cas’ face, he fucking hates it—

“It’s fine,” he hears himself saying. “You don’t have to wait outside. Look, Cas, I…” he tries, but his voice is hoarse, and it fades away before he can even figure out what he wants to say. “It’s fine,” he repeats, like that’s gonna help to smooth over this shit show. “Just… you can watch TV or something, okay? It won’t bother me.”

Some of the worry clears from Cas’ expression. His shoulders relax as he says, quietly. “Thank you, Dean.”

That’s not really what he wants—to be thanked for not being a dick—but he doesn’t know what else to do here. Feeling like he’s walking on eggshells, he goes into the bathroom to wash up. Briefly considers a shower and then decides against it since he’ll probably need one as soon as they obliterate the nest.

When he gets back into the main room, the lights are all out, just the blue glow from the television. Cas is sitting on the end of the bed.

Careful as he slides past it, Dean takes off his flannel and settles on top of the comforter. It’s scratchy, the bed too hard; nothing beats his memory foam these days. Cas in the bed with him might be the only thing—

Startled by the thought, although it’s one he’s had more than once, Dean blinks up at the dark ceiling. It’s not just sex that came to mind when he’s thought of them together in his bed. He’s thought about that too, obviously, but the idea of having someone to share a space with again, like he did with Lisa…

That’s what he wants. More than a quick blowjob or Cas’ dick up his ass, he wants Cas. Wanted.

Frowning, Dean curls his fingers at his sides and turns his head. He can see Cas’ profile. There’s an old movie on TV—looks like it’s from the seventies, from the hairstyles. Dean strains to hear what they’re saying, and realizes it’s on mute.  

Amused despite himself, Dean says quietly, “You can turn it up, man.”

After turning it up exactly one press of the remote’s button, Cas looks over at him with curious eyebrows. “The noise doesn’t interfere with your sleep?”

“Nah.” Dean uncurls his fingers and tries to get comfortable; shifts so he’s staring at the dark ceiling again. “Sammy used to have nightmares when we were kids. When Dad was gone, mostly. I used to turn the TV on, usually to an infomercial and it’d knock him right out. Got so I’d just leave it on in the first place and if he woke up in the middle of the night, we just watched it until he fell asleep again.”

Cas doesn’t say anything, and when Dean glances at the TV again, there’s an infomercial on the screen.

Dean looks at Cas, but his eyes are focused on the guy selling pots that double as waffle irons. Smiling to himself, Dean turns his gaze back to the TV. “Just FYI,” he says through a yawn, “the stuff they sell on these things is usually shit, so don’t get any bright ideas about stealing my credit card to buy something.”

Cas twists to look at him, eyes furrowed. “I would never—”

“It was a joke, Cas. Except the part about the stuff being crap.”

“Oh.” He can see the edge of Cas’ lips lifting in a soft smile. It makes Dean’s chest ache. If Cas had just told him the truth from the beginning…

“How’d you get roped into going back to heaven?” he asks, voice coming out gruff again.

The smile falls away. Cas doesn’t turn to look at him. “They needed my help.”

“Aren’t there hundreds of angels up there already?” He doesn’t mean to be a jerk, but he can see the way Cas’ shoulders stiffen in response. “Sam said they’re not going to kill Kelly,” he says, hoping a swerve in topic might help.

“If they can avoid it.”

“What does that mean?”

Cas takes in a slow breath, and Dean doesn’t know what that’s about—maybe he’s trying out new strategies to deal with him. “I was asked to bring her to heaven, and that’s as far as my involvement went. I hope they both survive. I believe they will, but she and the nephilim are no longer my concern.”

Dean frowns, pushes himself up on his elbows. “What happened to Lucifer being your responsibility?”

“I was the reason he was free to create a nephilim in the first place. And that’s why I agreed to bring her to heaven.”

“You weren’t the only reason,” Dean reminds him. “Me and Sam had a hand in it too.”

Cas turns to look at him. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I did what I needed to do, and now it’s time for heaven to take care of its own problems.”

Dean blinks at him. “And if they kill Kelly? You’re fine with that?”

“It’s not up to me.”

“Since when are you Mr. Heaven Knows Best?”

Castiel turns away, eyes bright in the low light from the TV. “Since I realized that I made a terrible mistake when I told you I didn’t love you.”

Dean’s chest feels hollow as he stares at him, but Cas isn’t done.

“I didn’t realize it would be unforgivable. I didn’t understand that it would upset you so much. I keep… doing everything wrong, Dean. It doesn’t seem to matter how long I’ve been here, amongst humans, and with you and your brother. I never seem to do anything right.”

“It’s okay,” Dean manages, and he’s slid across the scratchy comforter without even realizing it. But the gulf between them feels vast anyway. Cas is looking at him, that sorrowful expression that Dean’s only seen at the worst of times. After he broke Sam’s head, and he was filled with Leviathan; pledging to do whatever it took to make things right.

“It’s not… unforgivable, okay?” Dean scrapes over the words. “I just…” But he doesn’t know. His palms are damp, his heart beating too fast. It doesn’t even matter. It won’t be long before Cas is off again. Once his guilt dulls, he’ll leave again. Especially now that he’s back in Heaven’s good graces, or whatever the fuck. “It’s fine.”

“You’re not fine, Dean,” Cas says quietly. “You’re angry.”

“I’m not,” Dean lies.

“Dean.” There’s a sad smile on Cas’ face. “I’ve touched your soul.”

“And?” Dean challenges, because why the fuck can’t he just let it be?

“I know when you’re angry.”

“Unless you’re reading my mind—”

“I’m not reading your mind. But I am well acquainted with your darker emotions.”

“You want me to be angry? Fine,” Dean snaps. “I’m angry. I’m pissed. How could you let me think—” He cuts off the furious words, the adrenaline sending him off the bed and to his feet, but he doesn’t make it any further than the flimsy divider. His hand grips one of the bull-shaped spindles, trying to still the urge to just grab his boots and get the fuck out.

He hears the bedsprings creaking. He closes his eyes, waiting for the brush of Cas’ trench coat as he slips past. But instead Cas says quietly, from just behind him, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth. I thought it would be easier for you.” His voice is closer now, and Dean has to stop himself again, but this time from moving toward Cas; like he always seems to be doing. “I thought you would find someone else to have sex with. Like you said.”

Incredulous, Dean turns around. “I only said that because you—”

“I know, Dean.” Cas’ face is in shadows, except his eyes. “I didn’t want you to give up anything else. You’ve given up so much—

“My choice, Cas,” Dean says hoarsely. “When are you gonna get that through your head?”  

“It’s… difficult,” Cas tells him, but not in a way that raises Dean’s hackles. He doesn’t sound smug or self-righteous. Not like he sometimes does when he’s got a bug up his ass. “It’s woven into my very being,” he says slowly. “My father created me with the sole purpose of guarding his creations. And with you, Dean…” He reaches out, toward the place where he left the handprint all those years ago, but he doesn’t touch; just stares at it like he can see it through Dean’s sleeve. “... The moment I touched you, with no vessel to act as a barrier between us…” His fingers curl away and he lifts his head so that their eyes meet. “I don’t know how to stop protecting you.”

Dean finds himself nodding, lips caught halfway to a smile. “I know,” he says gruffly. “But it’s not your job to take care of me, man.”

“But it’s yours to take care of me?”

Dean laughs, low and bitter. “When have you ever let me? You disappeared for weeks, Cas—” He swallows, turns his eyes away again. He can’t fucking do this.

“I won’t do that again,” Cas tells him.

“Yeah, right. It’s what you do, Cas. It’s what you always fucking do. You always take off. Most of the time I don’t even know where the hell you are and now that you’re heaven’s errand boy again—” His breath catches at the feel of Cas’ fingers against his bicep. Curling gently so that they barely dent his skin, but it feels like electricity where Cas is touching him.

He lifts his eyes, but Cas isn’t looking at him. He’s staring at Dean’s arm like he expects the scar to materialize. And when he moves his fingers, the electricity moves with him.

“What is that?” Dean asks, hushed. Cas lifts his eyes, blinks like he wasn’t even aware of what he was doing. His eyes seem brighter than they usually are; bluer. But his fingers curl away, and the impression fades. Dean shivers, suddenly cold in just one layer.

“Retrieving Kelly was my last errand for heaven,” Cas says quietly. “I won’t be going back.”

“Okay.” And he even manages to sound like he believes it. Or maybe not, by the sad eyes Cas is giving him. “Look, Cas, you can do whatever you want. I get it.”

“The only thing I want to do is be here with you, Dean. I’ve always preferred to be with you.”

Dean doesn’t say anything; doesn’t want to rehash years’ worth of mistakes. It’s not like he hasn’t made plenty of his own. “You can stay with us,” he finally says. “For as long as you want. Whenever—“ He pushes past the heat in his throat. “—whenever you’re around.” He smiles a little, but Cas doesn’t return it. He just looks sadder, which Dean didn’t think was even possible at this point.

It makes no sense—nothing with Cas ever does, but Dean wants more than anything to kiss him. Actually kiss him this time, so that he’ll finally know what it feels like to have Cas in his arms. It will hurt like hell when he leaves again; when he finally makes it permanent. But Dean still loves him. It’s ridiculous how much he still fucking loves him.

The phone starts vibrating on the bedside table, and Dean doesn’t know whether or not to be relieved. Either way, it’s an effort to look away from Cas’ face, but he does it anyway.

“Hello?” he says, gruff, when he gets the phone to his ear. A frantic voice greets him, one of the women they talked to at one of the local bars, hysterical and terrified. “She found her boyfriend’s keys in the parking lot,” Dean explains to Cas once he extracts coherency from her; and tells her to get back to the bar and stay put. “Come on.”

“You think the vampires—”

“Probably,” Dean interrupts as he laces up his boots. “Grab my machete. One for you too, if you—”

“I don’t need it,” Cas tells him, his demeanor calm now, the way he gets when he’s got a specific task that needs doing. “I have my blade.”

Dean gets his flannel on quickly, coat too and goes over to the door, where Cas is waiting with both his machete and his favorite gun. “Thanks,” Dean says sincerely, the smile lifting his lips without his permission. And it’s startling somehow, although it probably shouldn’t be, the way his stomach dips when Cas returns it.

He’s always loved Cas’ smile.

Dean ducks his head, can’t deal with this right now. But at least Cas is right behind him. They cross the street together. The sound of Cas’ trench coat flapping behind him is comforting.

--

The frantic woman turns out to be a vampire.

They’re surrounded as soon as they slip inside the crumbling barn. Dean doesn’t even have to time for a smart assed comment before they attack. There are way too many of them, and Dean’s good, but numbers are numbers.

Cas though, Cas holds his own and Dean’s fucking grateful for that. And at least Sam’s not here to get killed too. He’d dwell on the fact that he didn’t kiss Cas when he had the chance but he’s too busy

He manages to lop off four heads before he’s pinned against the wall. Just as he’s about to put a knee in the fucker’s groin, there’s movement behind the vamp and suddenly Cas is there, hand on the fang’s head, like he’s done so many times before. He yanks the vampire’s head back and the vamp screams as light rushes out of his eyes.

Dean turns his head instinctively but he can still see its echo behind his eyelids. He hears the body drop a second later, and his muscles coil to continue the fight as he opens his eyes.

And freezes right where he is.

Cas is still standing in front of him, the bright blue to his eyes that always signals he’s got his smite on. Normal, all normal… except for the huge grey wings spread out behind him.

“Dean?” Cas demands, his own voice pitching upward with worry. “Are you alright?”

Dean doesn’t answer. He’s too busy staring at the canopy of dark grey feathers. He can hear muffled voices; dull thuds, the pounding of fists or weapons, and it’s like the wings are a shield, an impenetrable wall, and Dean has no idea what the hell is happening. “Cas…?”

It feels like it takes forever for Cas to answer, and Dean finally looks at his face; frowns at the grimace he finds there. “Cas? What the hell is going on?”

“They were a gift,” Cas says quietly, still grimacing.

“What—”

There’s a heavy thud, and the wall of wings shudders. Cas narrows his eyes.

“Don’t move,” he orders, and then he turns around so quickly Dean can barely account for it. The wings are still there; spread out in front of Dean’s face so that they’re the only things he can see. Except the glow of Cas’ grace around the edges, and the screams of the vamps as their eyes are burned out—at least that’s what Dean assumes is happening.

He’s about to try to slip around the wings, but Cas is turning back around before the thought is half-formed, the wings moving with him.

Dean watches them dip and rise, the slight tremble as they settle. He pulls his eyes away with an effort, checks Cas’ face and chest. There’s not a mark on him. “You okay?” he asks anyway. With Cas’ murmured yes, Dean asks gruffly, one finger circling the air around them, “Wanna explain this?”

Cas’ grimaces again, but Dean has no idea why. “I got my wings back,” he says.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Dean mutters, voice low as he studies them, and has an almost overwhelming urge to touch them. “How are they… I can see them.” They were always shadows before. Intimidating as all hell. They still are. But now... all the feathers… the way the grey looks like smoke, growing lighter toward the edges.

“I don’t know why,” Cas says, and it takes a second for Dean to figure out he’s responding to the comment about being able to see them. Cas steps back, and Dean almost chases him, his fingers lifting toward the wings. Stops himself, and watches with his chest tight as they drop away from their canopy and disappear altogether.  

“How did you…”

Cas lifts his face, eyebrows drawing together. “They’ve always been there,” he says. “You just couldn’t see them.”

“Oh.” Why the hell is he disappointed? Dean shakes the feeling off and gets back to the point. “They were a gift?”

“From my father.”

Dean stares at him, can’t quite process that. “From Chuck?”

“He and Amara,” Cas explains, his voice stilted like it physically pains him to relay the news, “returned to heaven. He’s the one who sent me on the mission to retrieve Kelly.”

“So, they were a bribe.”

“No. A farewell gift.”

Dean’s eyebrows fly up. “A what?”

“He and Amara settled their differences.” And hell if he doesn’t sound bitter about that, or maybe it’s just Chuck in general. “They intend to restore heaven to its former glory… and close the gates behind them.”

Dean stares at him, too stunned to say anything. Cas finally turns away, moving toward one of the felled vampires.

“Whoa, whoa, wait.” Dean grabs his arm before he can stoop to examine it. Cas lets himself be turned around like he always does. “What does that mean?”

“It means exactly what it sounds like,” Cas says, with an edge to it this time. “Exactly what it sounded like when I attempted to do the same thing with Metatron’s help.”

“Okay… But you were gonna be on the other side last time.”

Cas takes his arm back. “And now I’m going to be on this one.”

Dean’s jaw works, and even though he tries not to let it, the anger still comes out, “Why the hell would you do that?”

“Because I had to make a choice, and this is what I wanted.”

This?” Dean echoes, mouth twisted.“ You wanted to be stuck here, killing random vamps and listening to me bitch at you for lyin’ to me?”

Yes.” Cas’ voice is sharp; too loud in the crumbling barn. “This is always what I’ve wanted. I’ve always preferred to be here, on earth, amongst humans, with you. And obviously I thought that would mean something different once I told you the truth, but no matter how angry you are— ” His shoulders sag, and the fight’s gone out of his voice, leaving it raw when he says, “Even though you can’t forgive me, I don’t regret it.”

Dean stares at him, his heart hammering a painful beat in his chest. He thinks about the vamps, and wishing he’d kissed Cas. Thinks about all the times he’s almost lost him and now Cas wants to cut himself off from heaven. He wants to stay on Earth forever even though Dean is pissed at him. “You’re a dumbass, you know that,” he says quietly, warbling just a little.

Cas doesn’t even reply, just stands there looking as desolate as he did at the motel. Before he can lose his nerve, Dean takes Cas’ face between his hands and kisses him.

The slack surprise only lasts a second, and then Cas is kissing him back, dragging him in sharply so they’re touching everywhere. Dean is startled back by the whoosh of displaced air, mouth still caught in the shape of the kiss. But he doesn’t let go of Cas as he blinks up at the great wings.

“I’m sorry,” Cas says, and Dean’s eyes snap back to his face at how wrecked he sounds. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

Dean stares at him, caught by the bright blue eyes. It’s not a new sensation, this inclination to simply stare when Cas is in close proximity. But it’s different now, knowing he’s the one who gave his lips that pink tinge. Seeing his own hands against the dark stubble.

He slides his thumb along Cas’ prickly jaw without thinking about it. He still has no idea what it means that Cas can’t have sex. But if Dean has to choose between no sex and no Cas… “You good with this?” he asks, quiet in the rickety barn.

“Of course. I like kissing you. And I like the way it feels to hold you again.”

“Again?”

Cas smiles a little. He moves away without a word, but before Dean can protest, he’s sliding around and behind, coming up close to catch Dean against his chest, one arm across Dean’s like a manacle and his hand coming to rest right over the place where the handprint used to be.

Dean closes his eyes as images flash through his mind, broken bits of memory, screams and tearing flesh; great wings slashing through the fire toward him; confusion and pain.

And then comforting quiet; peace as strong arms wrap around him.

Dean opens his eyes.

His heart is beating a mile a minute. He’s never remembered that part; never thought to wish for it. He thinks he might happily stay like this forever.

The thought sets the nerves alight again; the last three weeks rushing back to tighten his chest. “Cas,” he breathes, hates how weak his voice sounds. He pushes through it. “Cas, you can’t…” But he doesn’t know what he wants to say. Don’t be a dumbass and lie to me again? Don’t leave me? Don’t ever leave me.

Cas’ wings curl around him, until they’re hovering in front of his face. It feels like he’s in a cocoon. Dean only has to lift his hands and he’d be touching them.

“I am very sorry I hurt you, Dean,” Cas’ low voice vibrates against his neck. Dean shivers with it. “I won’t do it again.”

Dean’s pretty sure that’s not true… maybe not the huge lie that nearly kills him part, but hurting each other seems to be something they keep doing. Even if Dean wishes it wasn’t. But at least they always manage to work it out. If they can work out Dean breaking Sam’ head, and Dean kicking Cas out…

“Okay,” he hears himself saying, and he means it. He still has no idea how this is gonna work. But he wants it anyway. Cas’ arms tighten, wings too, and as much as Dean wants to stay like this… “But we should probably do something about the vamps…”

It’s with obvious reluctance that Cas pulls away, and Dean lets himself revel in that.

--

With the vamps taken care of, they head back to the motel. Cas hovers just like before, but it’s without the anxiety. He doesn’t necessarily look relaxed, but at least he doesn’t look like he’s lost his best friend.

And that… that sets a pang in Dean’s chest. He smiles at Cas in response to it, and Cas smiles back, a little hesitant. A little surprised. “I’m gonna hit the showers,” Dean tells him. “I smell like a sewer.”

“You smell like blood and moldy wood.”

“Not much better, buddy.” Dean gestures at his trench coat. “Why don’t you take off your coat—”

“-and stay awhile,” Cas murmurs, that small smile touching his mouth again. It’s as familiar as Dean bitching at him about keeping the truck’s gas tank full. Dean watches him settling his trench coat over the rail of the chair like he always does, and lets himself believe he could get used to this.

He takes that feeling with him to the shower, but as the water pounds down over his sore muscles, the guilt starts to settle in. How much shit has Cas given up for him already? Defying his family. Destroying them too, in a dumbass attempt to keep Dean safe. And now this? Dean’s no fan of heaven, even less of the angels, not least because of the shitty way most of them have always treated Cas, but giving up your home… for what?

To hang around the bunker watching infomercials? Vamp hunts? Beer runs on their days off? It’s not like Dean has anything else to offer besides bickering and a damn good burger. It’s obviously not enough. It wouldn’t even be enough for a human, let alone an angel who’s been cut off from heaven.

Why the hell would he do that? How the hell is Dean supposed to live with that? The guilt about all the rest of it is enough to bury him already.

He comes out of the bathroom in a pair of sweats, pulling on a t-shirt as steams spills out behind him. Cas is sitting on the end of the bed again, watching cartoons with that same smile he always wears when he’s caught up in TV land. He turns toward Dean as soon as he emerges though, just in time to watch him struggling to pull the bunched fabric of his t-shirt over his damp chest.  

“Damn it,” Dean mutters.

“Do you need help?” Cas asks. He knows well enough to be amused by the sight.

“I’m good,” Dean grunts as he finally gets the damn thing untangled. It’s sticking to him in damp patches, and there are drops of water slipping down his neck. Probably should have taken an extra second to dry off.

“Would you prefer to watch something else?” Cas asks, and Dean realizes he’s just standing there staring.

“No, I’m good. That’s fine—” Dean tilts his head, squints at the TV. There’s an orange moose—or maybe it’s a reindeer—wearing a striped shirt and a pink creature that looks kind of like an alien. “What the hell are you watching?”

“I don’t know,” Cas answers, following Dean’s gaze, “but I like the songs. I think their intention is to teach children how to interact positively with one another.”

“Probably,” Dean chuckles, and heads for the other side of the bed.

“Sam called,” Cas tells him as he’s working his way across the room. Dean pauses just a few feet from the bed.

“Everything okay?”

“He and Eileen are still working the case. He said Mick—” He raises his eyebrows at that and Dean grimaces. Cas doesn’t know about the Brits yet. “—has a case if you want to join them, and go on from there.”

Dean sighs as he picks up the phone; his gun too and sets both down on the bedside table. “Just me?”

“I think he’s still angry with me.”

Dean lifts his eyebrows, lips pinched together but doesn’t really know what to say to that. The pick a side thing seems to have sunk in—if only it had worked that well with Mary. Not that Dean really blames him for not wanting Mary to have another reason to leave them. Even though everything would be a hell of a lot easier if Sam realized that was the main reason he said yes to the Brits. “He’ll get over it,” Dean finally says. “Did he say what the case was?”

“Sam said Mick isn’t sure what monster it is. They’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Dean picks up the phone and drops onto the bed to text Sam, ask him where he wants to meet.

“It is the same Mick who erased the sigils on the home where Sam was being held?” Cas asks.

“Yeah. And look,” Dean sighs, “I know it’s jacked working with them. But Mom thought they could help, and then Sam, he uh… he agreed to work with them too, so…”

“And you felt you had no other choice,” Cas murmurs, and even though he doesn’t mean to make Dean feel like an asshole, it does anyway. And at some point, he’s probably gonna have to explain in even more gory detail, especially the part about Claire. But he doesn’t want to talk about Mick and all of his bullshit right now.

“You in?” he asks instead; jiggles the phone.  

“If you don’t think Sam will mind,” Cas says quietly while Dean’s phone pings a reply with an address from Sam.

“He won’t mind.” Adds Give Cas a break, okay? to his own reply telling Sam they’ll be there by noon. Those bones about burned?

Not far off, Sam eventually replies. Eileen says hi.

Dean smiles at that, sends off the same to her and then tells his little brother to be safe before setting the phone back on the table and claps palms to his thighs. “You, uh…. We could find a movie?” That’s not at all what he wanted to say.

“You don’t want to sleep?”

“I told Sam we’d meet him at noon, so yeah, probably should.”

“I’ll change the channel,” Cas says, turning back to the TV. And okay, if that’s what he wants—to sit on the end of the bed while Dean sleeps, it’s not like they haven’t done that dozens of times before. But if he doesn’t want… or if he doesn’t know there’s another option here…

“Unless you wanna get in here with me? I mean, you don’t have to, and I know you don’t sleep—”

“I’d like that, Dean.”

Dean smiles, enjoys the anticipation fizzling in his belly as he slides backward with his palms. He’s not used to sleeping barefoot in motels, usually ready to go at a moment’s notice, but he can’t be bothered to worry about it. Not when he’s busy watching Cas taking off his jacket. “So, how do the wings work?” he asks, because he can’t not wonder if they’re there somewhere; stretched out behind him or tucked away. “Are they always just flapping along behind you?”

Cas’ smile quirks as he shakes his head. “It’s difficult to explain. And they were never corporeal before. I don’t think they’re entirely corporeal now.”

“But they’re always there? They always exist?”

“Yes.”

Dean nods, stops trying to squint hard enough to make them out. “You coming?”

“Yes.” But he hesitates before actually getting in the bed.

Dean reaches over to turn off the lamp and then gets comfortable on his back. “It’s just sharing the same space,” he tries to explain, and it seems to be enough. Cas gets in carefully beside him. He’s still wearing his shoes, but Dean doesn’t mention it. He hasn’t shared a bed in ages—not with anyone other than the random lays that are getting fewer and farther between these days.

It’s kind of awkward, the two of them lying shoulder to shoulder. “Thanks, by the way,” Dean says. “For the vamps.”

Cas turns his head to look at him. “You’re welcome.”

“Must be nice to have the transporter working again?”

“I haven’t given it much thought,” Cas says, which makes Dean frown in confusion. “Once heaven’s sealed, I won’t be able to fly.”

“What?” Panic squeezes Dean’s chest. He pushes up on an elbow to gape at Cas. “What about your grace?”

Cas frowns before he answers, “It will fade slowly. Much like it did before.”

“And that’s okay with you?” Dean asks, trying not to think about how vulnerable Cas was without his grace. “It means you’ll be human again.”

“Essentially. I’ll retain enough of my grace to keep my wings. That was the gift.” He smiles a little, but Dean can’t be amused right now.

“You’re really okay with that?” he asks. “With not having your grace? Being powerless?”

“Yes.” No hesitation at all.

Dean doesn’t think he can talk without letting the unease through. So he touches Cas’ jaw instead; figures he’s allowed. And yeah, Cas leans into it. His eyes are curious as they slide over Dean’s face and down over his shoulder. He fits his palm right over the same place as before.

And just like before, Dean’s breath catches; the sensation of electricity pricking his skin as surprising as it was the first time. He pushes his breath out again, slowly because he’s mesmerized by Cas’ eyes—the way they seem to be glowing. “What is that?” he breathes out again.

Cas meets his gaze and without a word, he moves forward and Dean knows what he wants without having to think about it. It’s instinct, muscle memory, as he bends his head the bare inch to meet Cas’ lips.

And just like before, the wings erupt around them, and Dean is torn between staring up at them and keeping on with the kiss. They’re gone again before he can make up his mind, and that’s—something’s definitely off about that, but Dean can’t concentrate on it. He likes the way Cas feels too much. He gets an arm around him, slides a hand up his back to pull him closer.

Cas’ hand moves too, the one not gripping his bicep, still sending sparks between them. It’s weird. And awesome. Really, really awesome.

It’s a slow kiss, the kind Dean likes. He could happily do this for hours. He moves Cas’ face for a better angle. Cas’ fingers tighten against his arm, and that spurs Dean to deepen the kiss. Cas trembles, and with an echoing flutter, his wings erupt. Dean startles, pulling back a little and can’t really help the way he’s staring. God, they’re beautiful..

“Sorry,” Cas breathes, the wings already ducking away again.

“You can leave them out,” Dean mutters, still staring. They hang in midair, tips quivering. Dean licks his lips, and focuses on Cas’ face again. “I don’t mind,” he adds before going back in for more kisses. He can see the shadow of the wings in his peripheral vision. They’re curling toward him instead of away. He smiles, which makes it sort of hard to keep up the kissing.

Better anyway, because he’s starting to get hard, can’t really help it. Can't help thinking about all the times he's fantasized about this. Those damn thighs Dean has dreamed about putting his head between. Or locked around his back while Dean fucks him.

But it’s not like it’s the first time he’s had an erection because of Cas. It is the first time he’s gotten hard from kissing him though. He likes the way Cas looks after a thorough kiss. The relaxed expression is something he rarely sees.

“I could probably do this all night,” he says, which makes Cas smile just a little. And that’s better than starting a conversation about Cas deciding to leave heaven. It can wait 'til morning. “But I need my four hours.”

“I’ll stay here with you,” Cas tells him, earnest. Dean leans forward and catches his lips. Not for a long make-out this time, but just a kiss to let Dean knows he gets it. He does get it. Cas wants to stay, even if it hurts somewhere deep in his chest knowing he’s the reason Cas made that choice.

“Good,” Dean says when he pulls back. He has so much he wants to say, but he settles for a kiss and works on a comfortable position. He’s distracted by the wings, which are still hovering. It looks kind of awkward, actually, the way Cas is lying on his right side, with the one wing crooked up. “Does that hurt?”

Cas follows his gaze. “I’ll put them away.”

“No, you don’t have to. Is it… I mean, if you don’t want them out or whatever, but I’m fine.”

The wings dip and ruffle, like a breeze’s just gone through the feathers. “It does take effort to keep them invisible from you. If you don’t mind…”

“Are you kidding? They’re awesome.” He’s surprised by how startled Cas looks. “I thought you were glad to have them back.”

“I didn’t realize you would like them.”

“What’s not to like?” Dean really, really wants to know how they feel. But he contents himself with looking his fill, watching as they lift into a wider canopy. “You have wings, man.”

Cas smiles, but his words are hesitant when he says, “I expected them to be a brighter color.”

“Are they usually?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe they’re different because they were broken.” Dean can’t really see why it should matter. And the grey feathers really are beautiful, even more so as they grow lighter toward the tips.

“That’s not why. A few of my brothers’ and sisters’ wings were restored as well,” Cas explains for Dean’s expectant look. “I don’t know why mine are different.”

Dean knows that look; understands well Cas’ feelings of self-loathing. “You said it was a gift, right? Well, it was a good one.”

It takes a second for the clouds to clear from Cas’ face, and maybe it helps that Dean is right there. Maybe it helps that Cas is a quick study, good kisser too. Good enough that it takes Dean awhile to realize it’s gone seriously dark while they’ve been kissing. Even longer to realize there’s a wall of feathers between him and rest of the room.

He wonders if Cas even realizes it. He doesn’t seem to. He’s licking his lips after the kiss winds down. “You’ll be too tired to drive if you don’t go to sleep soon,” he says and Dean has to smile at that.

“Not letting you anywhere near my baby.”

“I do know how to drive, you know,” Cas huffs, but it’s easy; no offense anywhere in sight.

“Not happening,” Dean tells him with a smile as he shifts to get comfortable. The wings are even more awesome like this. He shouldn’t even be able to see anything, but it’s almost like they’re there own light source. Although he can’t figure out how.

“Should I…” Cas asks quietly. “Do you need me to move?”

“Nope, just…” Normally, he’d pull Cas in to curl into his shoulder, his go-to with a partner, but he can’t figure out how that would work with the wings. Same if Cas is on his back—

“Can I try something?” Cas’ hand is warm on his hip.

“Uh, sure,” Dean says, trying to keep his voice level and failing miserably. But he’s happy enough to let Cas manhandle him. He ignores the little voice in his head that wants to make a dirty remark about manhandling, and lets Cas maneuver him. He’s not expecting to be tugged back into his chest.

He’s never been the little spoon—he hates that phrase. He likes the way Cas’ chest feels against his back though, likes even more the weight of Cas’ palm; still curled at his hip.

“Is this okay?” Cas’ voice tickles his ear. Dean shivers with it. “Are you cold?” His wing moves over both of them, and Dean blinks up at it, doesn’t quite know what to expect. The other one is somehow beneath him… and how the hell that works, Dean has no clue. But he likes it, loves the way they feel like they’re holding him; both of them together as they curve in front of his face.

Feels a bit like they’re in a tent. If this is what camping would be like with Cas, he’ll go every single day.    

Tentatively, Cas asks, “Are you… comfortable?”

“Yeah,” Dean breathes. “Yeah, it’s good.” He twists a little, gets more comfortable and Cas shifts with him; like they’ve been doing this for years. Dean knows he has to say something, figure out if this is what Cas really wants. If it’s too late—it can’t actually be too late, right—

“Dean?” Cas’ voice, right next to his ear. “Your heart is beating faster.”

Dean swallows, tries to make himself relax. “Yeah, sorry.” Cas’ fingers curl a little around his hip.

“What’s wrong?”

The words come out and he doesn’t even try to stop them, “You’ll be stuck here, Cas.” With me. “If you really can’t ever go back…”

“I don’t want to go back.”

“I know,” Dean says impatiently. “But you might want to and if Chuck really is gonna close the gates—”

“I asked to stay, Dean.”

“I get that, Cas, I do—”

“No, you don’t.” Cas’ tone is even more impatient as he moves away. The disappointment is sharp in Dean's chest, but turns out Cas just wants to be able to see him. He sits up, nudging Dean onto his back with just his palm and Dean lets himself be nudged. Cas’ wings stretch out above them. He looks exactly like one of heaven’s most fearsome warriors. “I’ve never wanted to be in heaven.”

“Except that time you fucked off the first time Sam went in the cage,” Dean says, and when Cas grimaces, he hastily adds, “I’m not trying to be a dick here, you were planning on being on the other side once. What makes this different?”

“I was trying to fix my mistakes.”

“So now that the nephilim’s boxed up, you’re good?” Dean can’t help the skeptical eyebrows. “What about Lucifer?”

“My father and Amara will find him. And the archangels will be restored as well, although it will take some time.”

But Dean’s still stuck on Lucifer. “Just like that? Chuck’s just gonna nab Lucifer and it’s over?”

“There are still other angels to be retrieved.”

“And you don’t wanna help with that?”

“They don’t need my help.”

He doesn’t sound upset about not doing what he’s always considered a duty, and Dean can’t wrap his head around it. “But, what are you gonna do here?”

“Other than continuing to share your bed if you’ll let me?”

“The memory foam’s more comfortable than this shit mattress.” They smile at each other for a second before Dean says, “But, seriously, Cas, what are you going to do? If you’re not running errands for heaven or chasing after the devil?”

Cas’ pinched confusion is not comforting.

“I intended to hunt with you and Sam,” he says it like it’s a question. “If you don’t want me to, I understand. I realize I’m not as useful to you without heaven’s full power behind me—”

“Cas, that’s not what I meant.” He sits up; slides closer so their knees knock. Cas’ wings arch a little and Dean is momentarily distracted—and worried he’s fucking up—but they’re just moving to make a canopy over the two of them and Dean has to smile at that. Shakes his head to clear away the warm feeling and refocuses. “I don’t want you around because you’re useful. And you can hunt just fine without any powers.” Dean will just worry about him more—panic more. “But don’t you think it’s a little impulsive to just up and decide to kick heaven’s ass to the curb?”

“I didn’t up and decide, Dean.” The impatient tone is reassuring. “I’ve been trying to avoid heaven for years, but it’s always been difficult…”

Dean’s fingers curl around Cas’ kneecap, and Cas relaxes a little.

“I told you that the instinct to protect humanity was woven into my being. But I also want to protect them. Protect you and your brother. I like helping people.”

“I know,” Dean interjects and Cas’ smile is full of warmth, but it fades back into his serious expression.

“Instinctual loyalty to heaven and the other angels was also woven into my being, but it’s not… what I want. It’s a duty, rather than a desire. And when my father said he was closing heaven, I just… Dean, I said no.” Cas smiles. “The first time my father has ever spoken to me—as me— and I said no.”

Dean nods, amazed and proud and pleased and terrified. “No, I get it. That’s…” His throat feels tight. “It’s good, Cas. That must have felt good.”

“Leaving heaven. That’s what felt good. It felt right.”

Dean’s nodding again, can’t figure out how to make his throat unstick. So he grabs the back of Cas’ neck instead and kisses him hard. Cas’ kisses are enthusiastic and it’s easy to forget about the rest of it. No matter what Cas says, at some point, he’s gonna want something more than Dean can give him.

Cas’ fingers are at the base of his skull, holding tight like he doesn’t want Dean to get away and it’s too much. Dean lets the kiss wind down, sets his forehead against Cas’ and soaks in the soft pattern his fingers are making. “I’m glad you’re here, man,” he mutters.

“Me too,” Cas answers quietly. “Thank you for giving me another chance.”

Dean feels a bubble of hysterical laughter in his chest at that, and has to kiss Cas again. Not as hard, but it’s good. It’s nice. Cas’ wings are pressing gently against his back and Dean kind of wants to just stay here forever. A tent of Cas’ feathers; Dean freaking loves it.

“Your wings are awesome,” Dean says when the kiss winds down, but he doesn’t move away and neither does Cas.  

“I’m glad you like them.” He looks absurdly pleased about it. Makes Dean wonder just how often he did that wing shadow thing to impress him. Probably every time.

Dean wants to touch them, run his fingers through them just to see how it would feel. He shifts closer; Cas’ wings dip, flutter and settle and that urge to touch is like a nervous anticipation in his belly.

“Cas?” Dean’s not sure why he’s whispering. “Can I…”

Cas’ forehead presses against his. “If there’s anything I can give you, Dean, I will. Anything at all.”

It’s the same thing he said years ago, when Dean first asked for his help. But this is different. Dean can hear it in his voice, feel it in the strength of his arms. It makes Dean feel like he can't breathe. And it’s way too heavy for where this started. So he huffs quietly, a little breath of laughter and hopes it will do the trick. “Your wings. I sort of want to know what they feel like. If that’s okay,” he hurries to add; just in case.

But Cas’ feathers ruffle in response; they freaking ruffle like he’s a peacock or something. “Of course,” he replies in that deep rumble that Dean loves so much.

Dean’s careful as he reaches out, even more when he touches just the very tips of his fingers to the closest feathers. But as soon as he does, Cas inhales sharply and Dean quickly draws his hand back. “Shit, sorry.” Cas’ eyes are wide. “Sorry,” Dean says again, cringing. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

But Cas shakes his head. “It didn’t hurt.”

“Oh.” Dean frowns, glances up at the arching wings. Cas is still staring at him when he looks back at his face. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. It felt… the same way it feels when I touch you here.” He puts his palm over Dean’s bicep and Dean has the same reaction; the same quick gasp. That weird electricity sparking between them.

“Like a shock?” Dean asks, half-breathless. “Like those sparks,” he tries to explain. “When you came into the barn that first time. You killed all the electricity.”

“Yes.” Cas drags his thumb over Dean’s skin and the spark goes with it. Dean wants more. Apparently so does Cas. “You can try it again,” he says. “If you want.”

They’re soft when Dean finally makes contact, softer than anything he’s ever felt. Almost liquid, really. Except each feather is solid and real. They slip through Dean’s fingers like water.

And when his fingers skate over the edge of the great wing, Cas’ fingernails dig into his arm.

Dean stops, and realizes his own breathing is hurried. He tries to steady it out before he asks gruffly, “You okay?”

Cas’ eyes are starting to look smitey again, like he’s powering up. “I don’t know,” he says again, voice shaky.

Worried now, Dean starts to move his hand but Cas breathes, “Don’t. Dean, I…”

The breathy moan startles him. “Is this turning you on?” Reflexively, Dean glances down at Cas’ crotch, and gets his answer.   “Um… Cas?”

“I didn’t realize my wings would respond this way,” Cas says, sounding so baffled that Dean looks up. “My father said my sexual functioning would be repaired, but I had no idea… Dean?”

“You said you couldn’t have sex.” It comes out more accusatory than Dean intends.

“Before I went back to heaven, I couldn’t.”

The pieces fall into place when Cas glances at his lips. “Oh. That’s why you kissed me.”

Cas’ eyes roam over his face, and whatever he sees there makes him grimace. “This is something I should have told you sooner, isn’t it? I didn’t think you would forgive me,” he rushes to add, “so I didn’t think it mattered. I didn’t intend to lie—”

“It’s okay, Cas, I get it.”

“You’re not angry?”

“That your dick works like it used to?” Dean says with a grin. “Hell, no.” He grabs Cas shirt. “C’mere.” He pulls back abruptly before their lips meet. “You good with this?

“That my dick works like it used to?” Cas asks, eyes lit with amusement. “Hell, yeah.”

Dean lets the laugh escape this time before he yanks Cas forward and kisses him with everything’s he’s got. When he eventually pulls back, he has to keep a hand on Cas’ cheek to keep him from chasing the kiss.

“Has anyone ever touched your wings like this?” Dean runs his thumb along the edge of one, and Cas shivers. “I mean, when they were actual wings and not beams of light?”

“No…”

Dean is smiling slowly. “Maybe that’s how angels get their rocks off. By bumping wings.”

“Angels don’t have sex. Not in their true forms…”

“You sure about that?”

Cas’ cheek grows warm under his palm. “I’ve never had sex in my true form.”

Dean knew that already. At least he figured it hadn’t happened since they talked about it years ago.

Gently, Dean runs his fingers over the dark feathers. Cas closes his eyes, wings tipping into the touch. Dean touches his cheek, and that brings his blue eyes open. Dean kisses him.

Cas is an eager kisser; dives right in. He catches the back of Dean’s neck and drags him in. But Dean doesn’t mind that; never has. Cas’ other hand touches down on Dean’s bicep. It’s electricity all over again, Dean moaning with it. And Cas—Cas makes a noise, low in his throat and shoves Dean backward.

It breaks the kiss, but before Dean can catch his breath, or ask what he’s doing, Cas demands, “Can I try something?”

“Okay?” He doesn’t know what he’s expecting, but it’s not for Cas to sit up and straddle his freaking hips. His wings are spread out above them again, curving to create the cave that Cas seems to enjoy so much. Good thing, because Dean likes it too. “What are you planning?” he asks, smirking a little at the way Cas looks like he’s concentrating very hard on whatever he’s thinking about.

Cas’ head tilts, and he’s in serious mode when he says, “I’d like to touch you. With my wings.”

The words send heat straight to Dean’s dick. And with Cas sitting on top of him, one eyebrow popped, and his dark wings poised above them, he looks like a goddamn bird of prey ready to strike.

Dean shivers.

“Yeah,” he breathes out roughly. “Whatever you want.”

Cas smiles, and he looks so freaking delighted about it that Dean can’t help but grin. He’s still confused, but if he can make Cas look that happy, who the hell cares?

Cas doesn’t do anything right away, and Dean tries to tell his dick to chill the fuck out, but with Cas looking at him with that considering eye…

And then he says quietly, the thread of worry clear, “I don’t know what I want. Not exactly.”

Amused and trying not to show it, Dean plucks at his own shirt. “These things usually happen with less clothes.”

“I know, Dean,” Cas huffs.

“So you want me to…”

Cas reaches for his shirt, and Dean lifts up to let him take it off. He lets it fall to the mattress, attention on Dean’s chest now. It’s a bit disconcerting to have that blue gaze focused on his naked skin. He has no idea if Cas likes what he sees.

“Your body is very different than mine,” Cas murmurs as his fingertips skate up Dean’s stomach; hands diverging to trail thumbs over his nipples. “I like it.”

Dean grins. Cas meets his eyes and the reaction is immediate. That same pleased smile. Dean doesn’t know how the hell he’s ever lived without it. “You can touch me too,” Cas offers, no hesitance at all, and yeah, Dean does want. He settles his palms on Cas’ thighs; runs his thumbs lightly over the thick muscles and imagines what it would be like to have them wrapped around him.

“How do the wings work with your clothes?” he asks, to distract himself.

“They’re an extension of my grace.”

Dean doesn’t know what that means, but it doesn’t matter. Not when they’re right there, corporeal; and sweeping forward. He licks his lips, stomach moving with his slow inhale as the tips curve toward him. “Is this okay?” Cas asks and Dean nods.

“Anything, man. Seriously.” It’s low and inviting. Seems to be anyway. Cas’ wings dip closer and when they brush his bare skin, Dean shivers. They’re warm still, a low hum of that same electricity. Soft and silky against his stomach…

His dick perks up in response and Dean sucks on the inside of his lip to catch the moan when the tip of one of the wings brushes over his nipple.

“You like that,” Cas say, and he sounds so fucking pleased with himself.

“Pretty sure I’m gonna like anything you wanna do, Cas.”

Cas’ gaze is speculative and when it travels down Dean’s chest, the wings go with it. By the time they brush his belt, Dean’s dick is straining against his jeans. His hips jerk as they brush over his erection.

Cas’ look of smug satisfaction is hotter than it should be. “You should take your pants off.” The wings lift up. Arched right along with Cas’ expectant eyebrows. Dean doesn’t immediately obey; slides his hands slowly up Cas’ thighs instead; watching his face while he does it.

Dean’s thumbs brush close to his groin. The jerk of Cas’ cock is just what he’s looking for. “Yours too,” he says quietly. “If you want. Come on,” he adds when Cas murmurs a yes. Pulls at the belt and zipper. “Gonna have to get off me for a second,” he says, low with a laugh as Cas tries to twist his hips in an effort to help.

He moves away, not very far and Dean watches him take off the shoes and pants, and that stupid shirt that’s too big for him. So mesmerized he fumbles his own attempts to peel his pants off his legs.

He’s sitting in the middle of the bed, sweats still halfway on one of his legs, mouth watering at the sight of the completely naked Cas in front of him. He doesn’t get a chance to appreciate it. Cas is moving back toward him, climbing into his fucking lap. Startled, Dean reaches to steady him. But Cas is already steady, his wings wrapping Dean up so they’re in their cocoon again; lit by the glow from Cas’ wings.

Dean stares up at him, awed and terrified and giddy. “Cas…” But he has to swallow, has to blink and steady himself. His palms slide around Cas’ waist, slowly up his back. He can feel where the wings erupt from his skin, even though that doesn’t seem possible if they’re not even corporeal—

Cas rocks against him and Dean’s thoughts scatter. He can feel Cas’ erection against his own. Can’t decide if he wants to fuck him or just stay like this and stare at him.

“We really gonna do this?” he asks, muted in the space Cas has created for them with his feathers and his grace.

Cas’ fingers are gentle against his back, a rhythm that already feels familiar. “Do you want to do this?” he asks, and it’s warmth and acceptance. Cautious hope that Dean’s not sure he’s ever heard before.

Dean pulls Cas’ face toward him and answers him with a kiss. Keeps a hand steady against his back as he explores the wings with gentle fingers. Listening for every hitch of Cas’ breath, the jerk of his hips as he combs toward the edges.   It does something to him, every time Dean touches his wings. Makes him moan when Dean runs a thumb down near the base.

Cas inhales sharply when Dean touches the soft feathers there and Dean stills. But Cas’ fingers dig into his scalp and he demands shakily, “Do that again.”

Dean obeys, skating carefully still. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“They’re an extension of my grace,” Cas repeats, still half breathless.

“I have no idea what that means,” Dean says, halfway to laughter.

“It means you can’t hurt them.” Cas is impatient now and Dean loves it. Skims his fingers close to the base of his wings again; lifts away before he gets there.

“Something you want?” he asks, all teasing as he drags his fingers closer—almost there and then withdraws them again.

Dean.”

“Tell me,” Dean murmurs into his jaw while he listens to Cas’ breaths hitching as he runs his fingers through the silky feathers. “Tell me how you want me to touch you, Cas.”

Without even seeming to realize it, Cas grinds against him; looking for friction just like his wings seem to be. They’re pulling Dean closer, twitching restlessly against his skin. “My wings,” he says gruffly, grinding down again and this time Dean meets him. Revels in Cas’ moan and his own sharp pleasure as his fingers continue their journey toward the base of his wings.

Cas catches his mouth as soon as Dean’s fingers touch down. Sucks on his tongue as Dean caresses from the base and up over the edge of the velvety wings. It’s smoother, hotter along the edge, and Cas’ nails dig into his back in answer. Moving totally on instinct, Dean runs his thumbnail along the edge of Cas’ wings. Cas makes a choked sound, the kiss broken. “Dean—” It’s high and panicked.

Dean nuzzles his cheek. “I know, sweetheart,” he mumbles. “I got you.”

Cas groans, his hips looking for friction again. Dean pushes up, lets him have what he needs. Keeps running his fingers through the feathers since Cas likes it so much. The muted light from his wings seems brighter, pulsing in time to the movement of his hips.

Dean doesn’t know what the hell’s going on really, but he takes Cas’ dick, gathers it up with his own and starts jacking them both in the same rhythm. Cas gasps and buries his face in Dean’s shoulder, the muffled groans telling him he’s doing something right. But holy hell, he almost loses it in the next second when Cas’ wing brushes his bicep; right where the handprint was.

Does something to Cas too. His hand clamps down at the back of Dean’s neck, his mouth hot and wet at the base of his throat. “More,” he breathes raggedly and Dean thinks he means with their dicks. “You won’t hurt me, Dean. Please.”

Oh. Oh. The realization of what he wants nearly sends Dean over the edge. “Okay,” he breathes, using his weight to pull Cas even closer. He curls his fingers through the feathers and tugs, and Cas gasps again, his body jolting and Dean nearly loses his grasp. He regroups and does it again, and the wings light up all around them while Cas’ hips stutter out of rhythm and he breathes Dean’s name.

His wings are shuddering, sending shockwaves over Dean’s body, his heavy breaths making Dean think of every orgasm he’s ever had. But there’s no jizz coating his fingers, or their dicks; no outward proof at all.

But Cas is pressing kisses to his neck, over his shoulder, the pads of his fingers gentle as they slide over sweaty skin. His wings are settling too, feathers ruffling in a way that Dean can’t see as anything but the stretch and pull of someone highly satisfied with the sex they just had. Meanwhile, Dean’s dick is still hard, but he doesn’t mind as he moves his hand. He’s staring at the wings, watching the light settle back to its earlier muted glow.

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas finally says between the soft kisses, and yeah, that’s the voice of someone who’s been well fucked. “I enjoyed that.”

Dean runs his fingers upward through Cas’ hair. “Yeah?” But has to ask, “Was that some sort of angelic orgasm?”

Cas kisses his shoulder once more before he lifts his head. “What do you mean?”

“No jizz,” Dean says, runs the back of his fingers over Cas’ rigid cock. “And you’re still hard, so I guess not?”

“The sensations were similar to my experience with April,” Cas says thoughtfully. “Similar, but much more enjoyable with you.” He glances down between them while Dean grins stupidly. “My penis did return to its normal size after I had sex with April though.”

“Maybe angels have a miniscule refractory period,” Dean says with a snort.

“I think it’s more likely that this body simply doesn’t work like it used to. I shouldn’t expect it to. Does it bother you?”

“Not if it doesn't bother you. Cuz, that was hot," he can't help but add.

“But you didn’t have an orgasm.”

“It’s early yet.”

“It’s almost two o’clock.”

“It’s an expression,” Dean huffs. He kisses Cas’ cheek and pulls back a little. “But we can do it some other time if you want. Or not, it doesn’t matter—”

Cas plants two hands on his chest and shoves him back. He lands with a grunt, flat on his back. “If I’m not allowed to lie,” Cas says gruffly, “then neither are you.”

He blinks up at Cas, at the wings stretched out grey above them.   “Okay,” he says, voice thin with the spike of arousal that always comes along with that particular growl in Cas’ voice; the manhandling definitely doesn’t hurt either. “Okay. Then, come fuck me.”

The wings dip down, trace a slow trail down Dean’s chest. He shivers, the anticipation, and those wings, sending sparks across his skin. Dean wants to touch them, needs to, but before he can say anything, the tip of one slides over his dick and Dean arches off the bed.

“Fuck,” he breathes, hands scrabbling at Cas’ thighs; nails biting into his skin. “Oh, fuck…” He has no time to wonder how the fuck not entirely corporeal feathers can feel so good. They glide over his cock again and Dean moans Cas’ name.

Cas mouth is curved into a smile, his voice low as he says, “You really do like my wings.”

“Yeah,” Dean breathes. “Yeah, Cas, fuck… if you keep doing that…” He groans as the feathers glide over his slit. “… won’t… won’t last long…”

“And that’s a problem?” Cas asks, but even as he says it, his wing curves around Dean’s dick, one deliberate pull, and that’s all she wrote. The orgasm hits him like a freight train, whiting out everything else except Cas’ wings, the shape of each feather etched into his skin.

It feels like it takes him forever to come down from the high, and he’s still trying to catch his breath when he opens his eyes. Cas is stretched out beside him, his smile soft as his hand soothes a path down Dean’s chest.

Dean’s face is hot; embarrassed even though it was amazing. He’s about to breathe out an apology, but Cas leans in and kisses him. No intent in it, just soft and slow and deep. Dean winds his fingers through Cas’ hair, the awkward feeling fading as they kiss.

“I’d like to do that again,” Cas says eventually as he moves the kisses to Dean’s jaw. “I didn’t realize my wings would have that effect on you.”

His face warming again, Dean mumbles, “Yeah, sorry about that. It’s not usually… uh, over so quickly.”

“I enjoyed it immensely," Cas tells him, sincere and with renewed heat.

Relieved, Dean lifts his chin to give Cas better access to his throat. “Me too.”

“That’s why I enjoyed it,” Cas says as his nose brushes just beneath Dean’s ear.

Smiling, Dean tips Cas’ chin up and brings him in for a kiss. Takes awhile for that one to wind down, and once it does, Cas fetches a washcloth to clean Dean up, and then maneuvers him on his side so he can slide in behind. Dean’s careful not to tug at any of the feathers, but Cas doesn’t seem concerned. They move easily, which makes sense if he’s always had them.

He pulls Dean in snug against his chest. Dean closes his eyes at the feel of Cas’ lips against his ear.

“Dean?”

Dean’s fingers slide over Cas’, fits them together. “Yeah?”

“Do you want to work with the British Men of Letters?”

Startled by the question, Dean doesn’t answer immediately. Lets it settle uncomfortably around his ribs. “Not really, no,” he eventually sighs. “But it was either that or…” He shrugs.

“You said Sam and your mother…”

“Yeah.” Dean shifts a little, but Cas’ arms stay right where they are. “They, uh… Mom decided to work with them on her own. And then Sam started in and it’s just… easier, I guess.”

Cas is quiet for a while. “If you don’t want to work with them,” he says eventually. “I’ll… back your play.”

Dean smiles at the phrase, the way the words rise because he’s not sure he’s saying it right. “Yeah?”

“They don’t seem particularly trustworthy.”

“That’s because they’re not. I don’t know what the hell Sam’s thinking.”

“Maybe we should ask him.”

“Yeah, I guess.” But Dean does know what Sam’s thinking. He knows what Sam in denial looks like, and dealing with that seems a lot less appealing than reporting in to the Brits. But with Cas on his side…

“Thanks,” Dean says, although it feels pretty lame considering everything else.

“You’re welcome,” Cas says quietly. Dean closes his eyes again, feeling drowsy and content under the warm blanket of Cas’ wings. He’s drifting when Cas says his name again, almost too quietly for him to hear.

Dean mumbles something that sounds like, “Yeah?”

Cas’ wings tighten. “Angels don’t experience emotions the same way humans do. At least, we’re not supposed to.”

Blinking himself mostly awake, Dean mumbles, “’s’okay, Cas…”

The soft kiss behind his ear doesn’t really help with the wakefulness. “It took me a long time to understand this feeling, and I wish now that I would have chosen a better moment, but I do love you, Dean. Very much. More than I think I can make you understand.”

Dean’s heartbeat has picked up, the sleep pulled away. Cas kisses him again. And then he breathes, just a whisper into his skin, “I love you.”

The same terror balls in Dean’s chest at the words; just like it did back at the barn. But it’s nothing to do with Cas dying this time. The words are there, stuck in his throat and all he can do is squeeze Cas’ fingers.

It should be easy to tell him how he feels. He almost did before. Cas isn’t taking it back this time. That much is clear. But it doesn’t seem to matter to the panic lodged under Dean’s ribs.

But Cas doesn’t press him, doesn’t ask for anything more. Just holds him tighter and tells him to sleep; tells him he’ll be there when he wakes up. Dean believes him, but it still takes him a long time to fall asleep.

--

Dean is momentarily disoriented when he wakes up, but it only takes a second to realize he’s wrapped in Cas’ arms. The wings are there too, keeping it darker than it should be… or maybe it’s just too early to be up. He’s careful as he shifts to get a look at his watch; not wanting to dislodge his angelic blanket. Too late though.

They shift with him, but to Dean’s relief they stay close around him as he feels Cas’ mouth at the back of his neck. “Good morning, Dean,” he says, the familiar rumble comforting.

“Mornin’.” It fills in slowly, the memory of Cas telling him he loves him. Feels the same dread when he thinks about not saying it back. Still can’t, even though he wants to. Cas knows, he’s pretty sure. Which doesn’t mean he’s not a dick for keeping the information to himself anyway. Dean ignores the ache in his chest, and runs his fingers gently over the feathers in front of his face.

“That feels nice,” Cas says, so Dean does it again. And is promptly interrupted by his phone. He sighs.

“It’s probably Sam.”

Before he can figure out how to extract himself from Cas’ wings, they pull away; Dean feels the loss in his gut. Which is probably strange, but after he blew his load last night just from the touch of those wings, he’s not gonna question it.

Cas is watching him as Dean sits up and fumbles for his phone on the nightstand. Sam’s voice greets him, “You on your way?”

“’Bout to be,” Dean grumbles. “Jeez, how early did you get up?”

“We went for a run,” Sam tells him. Dean smiles, runs a hand over his stubbled jaw and smiles over at Cas, who’s got his wings folded behind him.

“At least you have someone to share your madness with,” Dean says to his brother and then listens to him ramble about the health benefits of running before grunting, “I’m good,” when Sam switches topics to ask how he’s doing. “We’ll be there soon,” he adds, and Sam sighs but lets it go.

Dean smiles at Cas once the call ends. “Your hair looks good like that,” he says. It’s sticking every which way, and it reminds Dean of the days when Cas was new to Earth. “Your wings aren’t rumpled. But they’re an extension of your grace, right?” he says before Cas can; gets a quick grin in response.

“Yes.” He shakes out his wings, just for a second and asks. “Did you sleep well?”

“Like a baby." Dean looks him over. "You must have been bored off your ass.”

“I enjoyed holding you,” Cas tells him; echo from last night. Propelled by the bright warmth in his chest, Dean leans forward and plants a kiss on his lips. No morning breath—that’s a perk. He grins and pushes himself off the bed.

“Sam’ll bitch if we’re late.”

“We don’t have to drive,” Cas says to his back, and Dean glances over at him, hands already in his duffle. “The transporter’s working for the moment.”

“Baby’d never forgive me if I left her behind.”

“I can transport her as well.”

He shakes his head, and then remembers how much Cas hates driving. And if he’s only going to be able to fly for a limited time… “You can fly us over there if you want,” he offers.

“I don’t mind driving.”

“You hate driving.”

“I don’t mind when you’re with me. I like driving with you.”

“Yeah,” Dean grunts as pulls out clean clothes. How exciting for Cas. Following him around, with nothing better to do than watch over him while he sleeps and keep him from becoming a vampire’s dinner while his grace slips away.

Hell of a lot to look forward to.

“Look, Cas,” Dean starts to say, wants to ask if he’s sure as he turns around but Cas is right there and the words die. Cas always stands this close, but he doesn’t smile like this when he does it. Expectant like that, and Dean can’t help it. He smiles too, because he’s lost all control over everything. And he doesn’t even care.

All Dean wants to do is kiss him. So he does.

--

The drive is easy, Cas back to his normal self, commenting on the flowers on the side of the highway—mostly weeds that Cas waxes poetic about anyway. Complains about the inconsiderate drivers too. And Dean loves every goddamn second of it.

They find Sam and Eileen packing up Eileen’s car. She waves in greeting as Dean puts Baby into park next to them. “Hey,” he greets them as he shuts the door; takes the hug Eileen offers and then slugs Sam in the arm. But Sam’s eyes are alert, doesn’t even seem to notice.

“Hey,” he grunts, eyes tracking Cas’ movements. Dean smiles a little, waiting for him to comment on the wings, which come fully into view as soon as Cas is out of the car.

But he doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even look surprised as Eileen goes over to say hi while Sam and Dean stay where they are, shoulder to shoulder. “So, what the hell happened?” Sam eventually asks.

Dean shrugs, and Sam shifts his scrutiny. “We’re good,” Dean tells him, wanting to leave it there. But it’s Sam.

He’s frowning, that brain of his trying to put the pieces together, but he doesn’t know the whole story; rarely does. “Good… like…” He narrows his eyes at the smirk Dean can’t quite hide. Sam looks a little like a fish when he gapes like that. “Did you two actually…”

“We trading stories?” Dean asks, eyebrows tilting toward Eileen.

“All right,” Sam sighs. “Point taken.” He turns back to watch Cas and Eileen. Dean can’t hear what they’re saying, but Cas looks happy. So does Eileen. Cas glances over, smile brightening when their eyes meet. Dean grins back at him, has to bite back the laughter when Cas’ wings stretch and dip like they’re waving. His blue eyes lit with amusement, Cas turns back to answer whatever Eileen’s saying.

“So, you’re not even going to mention the wings?” Dean asks.

“Wings?”

Frowning, Dean looks over at Sam. “You can’t see his wings?”

Sam follows his gaze, but there’s no surprise; nothing. “You can see Cas' wings? Are you sure you’re okay?”

“So, apparently,” Dean says, amused all over again, “Chuck’s back.”

What?

With a shrug, Dean tries to explain everything Cas told him. Sam is back to gaping at him again when he’s done.

“Cas is stuck here now?”

“Not yet, but when they close the gates up there… yeah, he will be.”

Shaking his head, Sam turns to look at Cas again. “Wow…” He shakes his head again, like he’s trying to clear it. “You really did work it out.” He doesn’t let Dean say anything before waving to get Eileen’s attention.

“You ready to take off?” he asks when she looks at him. “You want to ride with Dean, and I’ll take Cas in your car?”

“If it's okay with Dean and Cas,” she answers, already handing over her keys. Cas looks startled, but Sam’s smile is friendly, easy as ever, so Dean doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about there.

“It’s okay with me,” he answers, keeping eyes on Cas. But he’s agreeing too so it’s fine. Cas returns Sam’s smile, so yeah. That’s gonna be fine.

“Before we go,” Cas says and Dean frowns. Maybe not. “Dean, do you still want to talk to Sam about Mick?”

Dean rolls his eyes. All right, so that’s more like it. Sam turns to look at him, frowning now too. "What about Mick?"

Dean rubs a hand over his jaw while he braces himself. “Look, Sam," he finally says, "this whole checking in thing, waiting for cases from them…. It’s jacked.”

Sam’s eyebrows go up. “But I already told him we’d work the case.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ll work the case. Obviously, if there’s a monster snacking on people, I’ll work the case, but this whole up with the Brits… I can't keep doing it.”

The eyebrows come down again and Sam doesn’t look pissed. He just looks very, very confused. “But you said you were fine with it.”

“Yeah, well, I lied.”

“What? Why?”

Dean glances at Eileen, because having Cas here for this is one thing. Then again, Dean’s fairly sure his little brother is falling in love with her, so she might as well get used to this. “What else was I supposed to do? You kind of hijacked me, man.”

Sam looks over at Eileen before turning back to Dean. “I know," he says, voice low. "And I apologized—”

“No, I’m not mad, Sam. I just think we need to re-think this, okay? Working with the Brits is a bad idea. It’s always a bad idea.”

“But, Dean, Mom—”

“Mom hasn’t been here. She doesn’t know what we know. She hasn’t made the same mistakes we’ve made. Trusting the wrong people?” he adds pointedly.

Sam’s jaw flexes, and that’s not really how Dean wants this to go. He angles his body so that it feels like they have privacy and softens his voice, “Look, Sammy, I know you think they can kill more monsters than we can, and maybe they can, but they’re also people who are willing to torture other hunters in order to do that.”

Sam’s eyes narrows, voice tight as he says, “I know, Dean, I was there.”

“I know you were.”

Sam looks away, but Dean keeps going in the same tone he’s used on his stubborn brother a million times since they were kids. “And I know you think if we keep doing this, if we keep playin’ nice with the Brits, Mom’ll come home.”

Startled, Sam looks at him again and Dean just looks back. “I’m not the only one who sublimates.” He’s just the only one who seems to realize it.

“That’s not—” Sam shakes his head, anger resurging, but Dean doesn’t back down.

“We’ve been Mick’s beck and call girls for weeks now, and we’ve barely heard a word from her.” Sam can pretend all he wants that none of this has been affecting him; that he’s fine with whatever Mary chooses, but Dean knows better. Knows Sam tends to project his fears and insecurities onto Dean. He’s been doing it for years. What else is a big brother for? “No matter what we do, Sammy, even if we work with the Brits until they exterminate every last monster on Earth, it’s not gonna change anything. It’s not gonna make her come home.”

Sam stares at him, the shine of tears exactly as expected. Dean watches him struggle, waits to see if it’s gonna do any good. And then Eileen touches Sam’s arm and he turns his head to look at her. She doesn’t say anything, but Dean recognizes the silent communication; he’s done it with Cas a million times.

Sam’s chest rises and falls as he looks at her, and eventually he nods. Glances at Dean to say in a voice finally scratching beneath the surface, “You’re right. I know you’re right.”

Eileen’s answering smile is an echo of his grief.

Dean squeezes his brother’s shoulder and then lets her take over. And she does. All she has to do is take one step toward him and Sam has his arms around her, face buried in her hair as she squeezes back just as tightly.

Dean watches them for a second before turning away, and finds Cas right behind him. Dean smiles, just to let him know he’s okay. But Cas’ wing moves around his shoulders anyway; draping warmth and comfort over him without any words at all as they walk back to the car to wait.

Eventually, Sam and Eileen make their way over. Dean does a quick inventory and finds Sam looking alright. He and Eileen are holding hands. His eyes are a little red, but he looks okay. He smiles when they reach the car.

“So, Cas,” he says, nothing in his voice to alarm Dean, “I hear you got your wings fixed.”

“For now, yes.” Cas looks confused at the random question, but Dean just smiles and turns to the trunk; they have weapons to sort if they're gonna hunt. Eileen joins him a a minute later.

“Is that a grenade launcher?” she asks, sounding impressed enough that Dean lifts it out and hands it over while Sam peppers Cas with questions behind them.

--

“They’ll probably send Ketch back here,” Dean says with a grimace as he sets two beers on the kitchen table and hands a third to Cas before dropping beside him and taking a long drink of his own.

Sam gives one to Eileen before taking a drink of his. “We might actually see Mom, then.” Meets Dean’s eye and Dean has no real answer to that except a shrugging set of eyebrows. At least they’re talking about it.

“They can’t force us to work with them,” Eileen says, pragmatic as ever. Dean appreciates that about her. “And if they try…”

Dean grins. He appreciates that even more.

Smiling, Sam drops his hand beneath the table and Eileen leans in so their shoulders are touching. They all drink in silence. The hunt only took two days—easy in, easy out. Dean’s looking forward to a full night of sleep, hopefully with Cas curled at his back. He glances over at him, smiles to find Cas peering thoughtfully at the beer’s label before he takes a cautious sip.

“What do you think?” Dean asks.

Cas takes another sip before deciding, “It’s better than the one we had at the bar last night.”

“Good.” Dean nudges him with an elbow, and takes note of it. Cas doesn’t need to eat... not yet, but if he’s gonna be at the bunker, Dean wants to make sure there’s stuff he likes. If.

The ping of Sam’s phone interrupts that depressing thought. “Mick?” Dean asks. “What is that? Eleven?”

“Twelve,” Sam sighs.

“Just tell him to fuck off.” At Sam’s dubious face, Dean makes a give it here gesture. Sam hands over the phone, looking amused as he watches Dean tapping at the keys. With a smirk, Dean hands back the phone and Sam smiles slowly.

“Nice.”

“I know.” It won’t take care of the problem, but it’s a good start. They drink the rest of their beers, conversation easy. It’s good, Dean thinks. The four of them in the bunker. Not that Eileen’s moved in or anything. And Cas…

Better not to think about it too hard.

“You ready for bed?” Sam eventually asks Eileen, once the conversation winds down and they’ve made a few more beers disappear. They say their round of good nights, Dean waving off their attempt to clear the table. Sam claps Cas’ shoulder before he and Eileen head out.

“Do you think Mick and the others will leave you and Sam alone?” Cas asks as they gather up the beer bottles together.

“Doubt it,” Dean says through another yawn. "It'll all come to a head eventually. It always does." He rubs a hand through his hair as the bottles clink and settle at the bottom of the can. “You, uh, still planning on sharing my bed?”

The frown is probably answer enough but Dean doesn’t retract the question. “Of course,” Cas says. A pause, head tilted in consideration. “Unless you’d rather I didn’t?”

Dean snags one of his belt loops and tugs him in. Kisses him before settling a hand at his waist while Cas considers him. Dean kisses him lightly once more. “Come on.”

Cas follows him to his room. He takes off his coat and jacket without any prompting and that’s good, Dean thinks. A good start.

Dean busies himself with his boots and tries not to think about all the firsts they haven’t had.

“We should get you some new clothes.” Dean says once they’re mostly undressed and settled on the bed; same sides they’ve slept on the past few nights by some unspoken pact. “It’s easier to hunt in t-shirts and jeans. You know… if you stay.” He smiles a little, but Cas doesn’t smile back.

His wings are still tucked behind his back and Dean misses them, which makes no sense since Cas is only a few inches away. Dean turns on his side, runs a hand down Cas’ chest. Which doesn’t mute the weird wish for Cas’ wings to be around him, but it helps. Even more when Cas sets his palm low on Dean’s hip.

“Dean,” Cas’ solemn voice brings Dean’s eyes back to his face. The expression there mirrors his tone, but he’s still not expecting it when Cas says, “I know you have no reason to believe I want to stay here with you.”

“Cas, that’s not…” Dean shakes his head. “I know you don’t really like being in heaven.”

“That has nothing to do with my choice.”

“I know.”

“But you don’t believe I want to stay here.”

“No, I do. I mean, it’s not like you’re Mom, right? She said she wants to be here too. And sure, maybe she would… if me and Sam weren’t closing in on forty…” He realizes he’s gone way off track when he sees the surprised tilt of Cas’ eyebrows.

“No,” Cas says seriously before Dean can backtrack, “I’m not your mother.”

Dean looks away as he nods. But Cas touches his face and without even thinking about it, Dean meets his eyes. “Maybe she simply needs more time," Cas says quietly.

“She’s had months. And I get it. Coming back like that is fucked up. Me and Sam are all grown up, and she doesn’t want…” He swallows, tries to let the hand on his face anchor him. “She wants to hunt, and be on her own. I get it. But I just…”

“You want her to come home.”

“That’s the thing though, isn’t it? This isn’t her home. We’re her blood, but we’re not...” He shrugs as he looks away, jaw clenching as he gets his shit together.

The wings, which have been hovering, draw around him and Dean closes his eyes, lets the warmth wash through him as he breathes out. Keeps them closed as Cas pulls him into his chest. Dean goes in easily, lets himself relax into it.

“I know she worries about you, Dean. I think she loves you.”

“She loves the kids she left. And it’s not her fault, you know?” He burrows in closer as he feels Cas’ fingers stroking over the back of his head. Can’t help but smile when he realizes he’s mirroring the motions Dean uses with his wings. “There was this kid a few years ago,” Dean says after a minute. “Timmy. His mom died, and she was sort of his guardian angel ghost.”

“I’ve never heard of that.”

“Yeah, it was weird. She was trying to keep him safe, but she was hurting people. He didn’t want to let her go because he didn’t want to hurt her, but it was better, you know? And I told him sometimes you gotta do what’s best for you even if it hurts the people you love. So, I get it.”

“I know, Dean,” Cas's voice is soft and soothing; the tears tighten at the base of Dean’s throat.

“If you decide you want to go back,” he says, the words scraping. “If that’s what you want—”

“That’s not what I want, Dean.” Cas pulls back a little and Dean has no choice but to look at him. “I’ve made my decision.”

“I know. But you’ve still got time. The gates are still open, right?”

Cas squints at him. “Yes.”

“And you don’t know when they’ll close.”

“Not the exact moment, no.”

“Yeah.” Dean looks away for a second; tries a smile when he looks back. “If you change your mind, Cas, it’s…” But he can’t finish, because it’s not fine. It's not. He doesn’t want Cas to go.

“I won’t change my mind.”

Dean nods, his throat aching. He can’t… If Cas leaves…

He swallows, and just barely keeps the tears at bay. Looks at Cas’ face, sees the face of the man he’s loved for so long and wants more than anything to tell him. Wants Cas to know. “I love you,” he says, voice wavering as he finally lets himself say it, “and I don’t want you to go.”

Cas’ blue eyes are bright as he takes Dean’s face between his hands. He smiles in that soft way that Dean knows now is just for him. “I’m not going anywhere," he promises.

Dean breathes out, shaky, as he smiles. “Good. Good.” He leans in, and Cas meets him with a kiss.

Epilogue

It happens on a Thursday.

He and Cas are out on a case; digging up a couple who’ve been haunting the shit out of a family in a huge old farmhouse three towns over while Sam and Eileen work on a tulpa case down in New Orleans.

“Fucking finally,” Dean grumbles as he hoists the shovelful of dirt and sees the wooden coffin. He tosses the dirt aside and sends the shovel’s tip straight through the wood and then starts prying up the lid. When he’s done, he aims his voice high and to the left. “Cas? You almost there?”

He starts when he hears Cas’ reply above him, “I’m finished. Do you need help?”

“Nah, I’m good.” Even in the darkness, he looks good in the new duds, especially since he’s taken to ignoring the t-shirts Dean bought for him, in favor of wearing Dean’s instead.

Smiling up at him, Dean swipes a hand over his face and creaks back to standing. He twists the twinges out of his muscles and tosses up the shovel. Cas catches it easily and then reaches a hand down to help him back onto level ground.

“Are you all right?” Cas asks quietly.

“Just a crick in my back. Getting too old for this.”

“Here, let me…” The healing grace washes through him, making him warm. Totally unnecessary but appreciated all the same. Cas tends to use it as often as possible now, for every scrape and twinge. While I still can, he explained when Dean protested that it wasn’t necessary. Dean doesn’t protest anymore.

“Thanks, sweetheart. You’ve got a little…” He brushes a streak of dirt off Cas’ cheek with his thumb and watches Cas’ face soften as he smiles.

“Thank you.”

“Come on,” Dean says, smiling too. “Let’s light ‘em up so we can go home.”

Dean takes charge of the salt, while Cas follows after with lighter fluid. Sets that aside and nods to let Dean knows he’s ready. Dean feels Cas’ wing curving around his shoulders as he digs into a pocket for the matches, and moves closer instinctively. He’s not expecting the tremor that runs through them.

“Cas?” he says, worried as he turns. “You okay?”

Cas is staring at nothing in particular, his face creased with a frown. It’s the look he gets when he’s listening to angel radio. Dean tenses, waits while Cas’ eyes slowly focus on him again. “It’s heaven,” he says quietly. “They’re preparing to close the gates.”

Panic flares, but Dean doesn’t let it out in his voice. “Was that angel radio?”

“Yes. They’re calling the last sentries to return home.”

“Oh.” Dean scratches at a phantom itch on his cheek. “Are they, uh… Are they calling you too?”

“It’s a general message.”

Dean nods, but before he can say anything, another tremor shakes Cas’ wings. Frowning, Dean asks, “Is that what usually happens when you dial in to angel radio?” When Cas only looks confused, Dean’s eyes widen. “You can actually feel the gates closing, can’t you?”

“I think you’ll feel it in a moment as well…”

As soon as he says it, a shiver crawls up Dean’s spine, leaving the hair on his arms standing up. “What the hell was that?”

In answer, the sky rumbles overhead and both Cas and Dean look up, Cas’ wing curling tighter around his shoulders. Stars are scattered across the sky, but something's not right. Dean squints as he tries to figure out what’s weird about this. “Are the stars getting dimmer?”

“They’ll return to normal,” Cas tells him calmly; like it’s just a regular old Thursday at a salt and burn.  

“That’s gonna cause some panic…”

“Probably.”

The ground shakes beneath their feet again, catching Dean off guard. Cas takes his hand as he stumbles, holds on tight while Dean gets his feet back under him. But he doesn’t let him go when he’s steady again. And his wing doesn’t move from its steady perch.

Together, they watch as the stars wink out, one by one, above their heads. Until there’s nothing but black sky above them. Just for a moment, and then one by one, the stars map their way back over the darkness, back into the patterns set eons again.

Cas is still holding his hand.

“It’s done,” he says quietly.

The finality of it makes Dean’s chest ache. He looks over at Cas, waiting for regret or sadness to settle over his face. But he’s smiling softly, face as relaxed and content as Dean’s ever seen it. He turns to Dean, eyes blue and steady in the moonlight. “We should burn these bones so we can go home.”

Smiling slowly, Dean hands over the matches and lets him have at it. And once the bones are burning—the ghosts finally laid to rest—they kiss under the stars, Cas’ wings a canopy around them.