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Ghost Dance

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In the beginning, it becomes aware of light.

It doesn't like the light, but sometimes the light isn't there. Those are better times.

Sometimes the light is there, but shadows move around within it. The shadows are easier to look at than the light, so it watches them for a while... until it forgets what it was doing and why.

In the end, always, the light scares it again. Then it remembers the safety of shadows, at least for a little while.

It likes the darkness.


"...taxo... git... ...p nn..., dea..."

One of the shadows is making a noise. So it really looks at this shadow and sees a face, the face of a man with dark hair. The face comes very close and fills up its vision so that it can't just forget this shadow like it does the others.

"... bork ta... sigi..., dean," the face says. "cu... on, dean, yeroo lie k'da dorka..."

It thinks then that the name for the thing thinking these thoughts has to be 'Dean'. Because that seems right, seems like it belongs to it, to him. The face says 'Dean' a lot to him. It feels good to remember that he has a name. He'd forgotten that things have names, but now he knows. He has a name, so he is a thing, not just thoughts in a... in another thing.

He is a someone.


The man is making Dean move again. The man does that a lot; Dean never seems to be where the man wants him to be. They have three rooms: the big room with the bed and the man's sitting place; the smaller room where the man makes things hot; and the even smaller room with the cold, white things in it.

Sometimes, like today, the man wants Dean to move to the smallest room. This is where he takes off Dean's... coverings? No, clothes. The man takes off Dean's clothes and makes Dean sit in warm stuff-- water -- in the biggest white thing.

'Tub' -- that's what the big white thing is called. Dean's taking a 'bath' in the 'tub'. He smiles at the man, happy to remember all those words, words he now realizes the man has been saying to him a lot during these getting-wet times. Bath times.

The man rubs Dean all over with a wet, slippery cloth. He always does this. It's one of the things he does to Dean, just like putting things into Dean's mouth and making him chew and swallow. Sometimes those things taste nice, and sometimes they don't, but they didn't used to taste like anything at all, so things are changing.

Dean didn't used to really feel it when the man rubbed him clean either, but now he does. The cloth is rough against his skin, but the man's touch is gentle. Dean likes bath-times.

There's a part of Dean's body that he especially likes the man to rub clean, but he can't remember what it's called. When the man touches him there today, Dean puts his hands over the man's hands and tries to hold them in place. He tries really hard, but the man is stronger than Dean. He pulls his hands away as easily as if Dean wasn't holding him down at all.

"No, Dean," the man says. "I carn takavil tagu dat wee."

Dean still doesn't understand a lot of what the man says, but he's learning to recognize the word 'no' just fine.


Dean has remembered that what he's eating is called 'pizza'. It's good to know the right words. He's not a... not a kid and shouldn't have to use made-up names for things.

Dean remembers a kid sometimes -- a boy with a cute nose and hair that flops over his face. The boy's the most beautiful thing Dean can remember. He smiles to himself when he remembers the boy, and he wishes he could tell the man about the boy. He still can't remember how to speak though. He knows he knew once, but now... Now is just now. Nothing more. Maybe he'll remember how to speak in another 'now'.


The man has started touching Dean in a new way, a way that isn't feeding or cleaning or helping him remember how to pee.

He makes Dean get almost naked, keeping only the clothing that covers that nice body part Dean's forgotten the name of, and then he makes Dean lie down on his front on the big drying cloth on the floor.

The man puts slippery stuff on Dean's back and rubs it in firmly, all over Dean. He makes Dean turn over after a while so his front can be done too. Dean likes this new touching a lot; it makes him feel all kinds of nice. He can't help wishing it included touching that part of him still under cloth, though.

"More," he says, before he remembers he doesn't know how to speak.

The man looks up, his eyes wide, and he smiles at Dean. Dean doesn't think he's seen the man smile before, but he likes it. The man seems happy. "Ya din sa wel, Dean," he says and keeps smiling.

Dean smiles back and says, "more," again, feeling pleased with himself. He's finding he likes making the man smile almost as much as he likes the man to touch him. "More, please."

The man smiles even wider and starts touching Dean again, smoothing the slippery stuff all down Dean's legs.

Now Dean can say two words, so there's no reason at all he can't say all the other words he knows. "More touch," he tells the man, trying out some of them. "Hungry, please." He points to the part of him that he's forgotten the name of. "More, here, please. Touch Dean."

The man's smile fades, and he shakes his head. "I can't, Dean. I'm sorry. It wodnbee right."

Dean understands nearly all of that and knows it's just a longer way of saying 'no'. "Please, man," he says, wishing he knew the man's name. He knows now that the man has a name, that, like Dean, he's a someone. Dean thinks he did know the name once. "Please touch Dean here, man."

"Angel," the man says, and it's a correction, and suddenly the room turns very cold. "I'm an angel, not a man."

Dean shivers, turning away from the man and curling up tight. He can hear the man saying "sorry, sorry, sorry..." like it's the only word he knows, but Dean pretends he can't hear him. He pretends so hard that, eventually, he can't.

He doesn't hear him for many days, and even when he does hear the man again, Dean refuses to speak. He knows the man wants him to, but he's angry with the man, so he won't. He pretends he's forgotten how to do everything all over again so that the man has to do it all.

Then, one day, the man gives him something to eat that's crumbly on the outside and red and sour and sweet on the inside. It's the best thing Dean has ever tasted, and before he can remember he isn't supposed to, he says, "More."

The smile the man gives him then makes Dean wonder why not talking had seemed like such a good idea.


Dean has started following the man with his gaze at all times when he's awake. He no longer just waits for the man to tend to him, but demands attention with words and wordless noise and by getting up and standing right in front of the man until the man gives Dean whatever it is he wants.

Every time Dean uses a new word, the man smiles, at least a little, and sometimes he touches Dean too. Sometimes he grips Dean's shoulder, and other times he puts his hand on Dean's chest and just stands there, doing that and smiling his small smiles. Dean really likes making the man happy, so he tries to remember as many words as he can. They have to be real words though. He's tried using made-up ones, and they don't have the same smile-making magic at all.

Today, Dean has managed to remember three new words all at once, and the man is standing close, touching his chest and saying how pleased he is. Dean feels proud and hugs the man, who lets himself be hugged, but only seems to remember to hug back just as Dean is drawing away. Dean stops, halfway between a hug and a not-hug, and that's when it happens. He finds that if he looks at the man in a certain way, a different way, he can see that the man has wings. Once he's sure that he's really seeing them, Dean screams.

He doesn't stop screaming for a very long time.


The wings don't go away.

They're always there when Dean looks at the man now. He doesn't seem to be able to stop looking in that way anymore. The man seems really unhappy, even now that Dean's stopped the screaming. He talks, over and over and over, about how he'll never hurt Dean, how Dean is safe.

It takes a while, lots of days, but Dean makes himself stop looking away whenever the man speaks, stop cringing whenever the man's close. Dean learns to pretend he doesn't see the wings and just looks at the man's face. The man seems happier almost immediately, so Dean knows he's doing the right thing.

The wings aren't dangerous, anyway. Some wings are safe. These wings.


One day, the man makes Dean put on more clothes than normal. It takes a long time because Dean knows that more clothes will make him hot, and he doesn't want to be hot. "No," he says and folds his arms. "No clothes."

But the man looks sad and says, "Please, Dean," and a lot of other things Dean still doesn't understand. So in the end he lets the man dress him.

The man takes him outside the house. Dean didn't know the house had an outside, and he doesn't like it at all. It's too big and too bright, and it smells all wrong. He clings to the man, saying, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no..."

The man takes him back inside.


The man is drawing on the walls again. He does that a lot, but he never draws anything new. He just paints over his old pictures, again and again.

He uses his own blood to do the drawing, which Dean finds very interesting. He watches the man cut his arm with a silver knife so that the blood bubbles out. It's so red. Dean has red blood too; he's seen it on tissue paper when Dean moves too much while the man is shaving him, but the man has a lot more blood than that. Dean tries to touch the blood coming out of the man's arm, but the man pushes him gently away.

Dean follows the man around the walls, and when the man isn't looking, Dean dabs his finger on the wet drawing and then tastes the blood. It's salty.

The man sees Dean sucking his finger and gets angry. He tells Dean to go and sit down, that he mustn't touch the drawings ever, that the drawings keep out the bad things and a lot of other stuff Dean doesn't understand at all. It doesn't matter; he understood enough. There are bad things out there that want to get Dean. Only the man and his blood are keeping Dean safe.

Dean sits on the bed and pulls his legs in to his chest. He starts to rock. After a while, the man finishes doing his drawings, and he makes the cut on his arm go away. He sits down beside Dean and tries to talk to him, but Dean can't hear the words anymore. He's too busy listening for the bad things. He thinks they're all out there, outside the house, just waiting for the drawings to break. Then they'll swoop in and carry Dean away to eat him whole. Dean doesn't want to be eaten whole.

Not again.


The man is trying to take Dean outside again. Dean's not sure how many days it's been since the last time, but he thinks 'lots' will cover it. The man tries very hard to get Dean to put on his stupid 'outdoor' clothes, and Dean can't make him stop trying, no matter how much he folds his arms and says 'no'. So Dean takes all his clothes off instead and sits down on the floor, refusing to move, and the man sighs heavily.

The man opens the door to outside and leaves it open when he goes out. Dean whimpers, thinking the bad things will come in now.

They don't.

Dean crawls naked to the doorway and peeps out. The man is sitting on the step just outside the door. Most of the light has gone away from outside, and Dean likes that much better than before, even though it's colder now, but he's still scared.

"Where bad things?" he asks the man in a harsh whisper.

The man twists around and looks at Dean carefully. Then he nods. "They're much further away, Dean, and they can't see us. We're safe here. I've made and buried powerful magic all around our..."

Dean stops listening. The important thing is that the bad things are far away and don't know where Dean is. He crawls back inside and puts his clothes back on. He puts his outside clothes on too and then goes to sit by the man on the step, wrapping both of his arms around the man's nearest one.

He can hear running water gurgling close by, and the creaks and groans of the windmill are much louder out here than they are inside. He doesn't really know what a 'windmill' is, only that it's one of the friendly monsters that make the lights and the oven work inside the house. The man told him that one night, when there was something called a 'storm', and the windmill groaned so loud that Dean got scared it was trying to come inside.

After a little while, the man stands, so Dean does too. Together they walk deeper into the outside. The man frees his arm and puts it tight around Dean instead, which makes Dean feel safer. Whenever anything is a little scary, Dean turns towards the man and holds onto his coat tightly until whatever it is stops being scary.

The man shows things to Dean and gives him back the words for them: tree, mountain, river, moon, stars... The moon is like the sun only Dean can look at it without it hurting. It gives enough light for Dean to kind of see the things the man is teaching him. Anyway, Dean remembers them. He's told the word 'tree' and touches the hard, rough skin it has, and he remembers trees, all kinds of them.

Dean remembers all by himself that the darkness is called night, and when he says proudly, "This is night," the man's face is full of smile.

Making the man happy makes Dean happy. He holds the man close, saying, "Night, night, night, tree, river, night..." and doing a jumping, bouncing dance, until the man laughs a little, rubbing Dean's back.

Dean decides he likes the night. It belongs to him, he thinks, like his name belongs and like the man does. Outside doesn't smell wrong in the night.

Dean's tired when he finally goes back inside, so he lays down on the bed.

He soon finds himself somewhere else outside, and it's not night anymore, but for some reason, he's not scared by the sun. He's sitting by water, which is like the river only it doesn't move so much. He has a long pole in his hands. He knows he's been here before, many times.

The man appears, standing beside Dean, and he seems really upset, but Dean doesn't think it's with him. The man gives Dean a small white thing before vanishing again, and Dean fills up with fear because he knows, somehow, that this means the man is gone for good, that they have got the man and won't give him back to Dean.

Dean wakes up weeping.

Only the man is still there, holding Dean and half-patting, half-stroking his hair, and Dean remembers the word 'dream'. Dean has been dreaming.

The man is still his.


One day, in the bath, Dean remembers the word 'dick'. This makes him very happy indeed, and so he says it a lot, and the man seems to be trying not to smile, but he's not very good at it. The smile just won't stop coming out.

The man doesn't wash Dean these days; he kneels at the side of the bath and helps Dean wash himself. But Dean takes the man's hand now and tugs it lower, announcing, "Man touch Dean's dick."

The man says, "No," and sighs. He looks sad as he pulls his hand away from Dean's and stands up, stepping away from the bath. His wings are pulled in tight to his body, and Dean has learned to understand that this means the man has lost his happy. The man says other stuff too, and Dean even understands some of it. Something about Dean not really being Dean, and if Dean were really Dean, he probably wouldn't want the man to touch him.

How can Dean be Dean and not-Dean at the same time? That makes no sense at all, so he ignores it.

The man stares down at Dean, and for the first time, Dean realizes the man's eyes are 'blue'. It's a good word. They are good eyes. Dean stares into them and wonders if his own eyes have a color, and if they do, what color? The man licks his lower lip, kind of sucking it into his mouth a little afterward. Dean watches that and then bites his own lower lip.

His dick twitches. It does that sometimes, but today he moves his hands down to touch it. Dean doesn't need the man to wash him anymore, so maybe he doesn't need the man to do this, either. He picks up the soap and makes his dick slippery so that he can give it a good wash even though he's washed it once already. He doesn't think he knows another way of touching it.

The rubbing feels good, and his dick starts to grow in his hands. He thinks he was expecting it to, though he doesn't know why exactly. It's never done that before, has it? But it keeps doing it, getting bigger and harder, and Dean remembers the word 'awesome', so he says it. He wraps his fingers around his dick and feels its weight and hardness, and his hand just seems to know what to do, rubbing slickly up and down and kind of pulling. Dean lets it happen and says 'awesome' again because it is. It really, really is.

Then he says, "More, please," and because he's been a good Dean, he gives himself what he's asked for. Lots more. There's a heat inside his belly, low down, and it's getting hotter.

The man stands still near the sink and stares at Dean, and Dean stares back. He doesn't want to make the man unhappy, but the man doesn't seem unhappy anymore. The man seems ... like nothing. He has no kind of face on. Not a happy one, not a sad one, not an angry one. So Dean keeps staring and keeps pulling on himself in a way he knows he's got to have done hundreds of times before even if he can't remember it. It feels more familiar then almost anything except eating, drinking, pissing and pooping, so he has to have done it.

He leans back against the cold bit of the tub, the bit not covered in water. "Look," he tells the man. "Look at Dean."

The man's lips twitch, and the muscles in his forehead bunch, but all he says is, "You're doing really well with sentences now, but maybe you could stop referring to yourself in the third person."

Dean doesn't understand, but the man looks where Dean wants him to and doesn't look away, so Dean's happy enough.

The top of Dean's dick is all firm and shiny now. He sees that when he stops to get more soap. "Pretty," he says to the man, and he thinks the man maybe nods a little. Just a very little.

Dean starts rubbing again, and soon his breathing has gotten all wrong-but-right, and he's making all sorts of interesting noises, and the water's splashing where his hand keeps dipping into it and pulling out. "Man touch Dean now," he says hopefully, but the man shakes his head.

"I can't," the man says softly. "I'm sorry, Dean. It would be wrong to take advantage. I wouldn't even be in here while you... while you do that if I could feel sure you'd be safe on your own."

Dean knows all those words but one. He doesn't know what 'advantage' is and doesn't much care. "Please," he begs, tensing his legs and shoulders and pushing his hips up so that the man can see better. Maybe the man doesn't realize how badly Dean needs his help. "Please. Man touch Dean, please, more, please, hungry, need man, please... ple... plea... Ah, please."

"Dean," the man says, whispers, but he says nothing more. It doesn't matter because he still doesn't look away from Dean's hand, and he licks his lips again and swallows, and Dean likes seeing that.

Something is happening inside Dean.

His eyes are going funny, and all that he can really see is the man staring down at Dean's hand and Dean's dick. The rest of the room has burned away somehow, and the fire that did that seems to have also made the man all hot 'cause his cheeks are red. And Dean's body is all stiff and tense everywhere, and there's something making a pounding noise in his chest, and he thinks it's maybe the fire in his belly that burned away the room 'cause now it surges up and up and up, and Dean forgets how to breathe, and his body kind of curls, and his dick starts spitting out white spit that doesn't look like fire, but he thinks that maybe it is all the same because it feels so good getting rid of it, so right, so... awesome...

After all the spitting and shaking and funny noises are done with, Dean lays back in the cooling water and grins up at the man. The man is still staring, his mouth half-open and his breath a little weird, like the wrong-but-right breath Dean was just doing, only not so much of it. Dean looks at him and says, 'Cas,' because that's the man's name.

The man, Cas, staggers closer to the bath, his gaze finally lifting back to Dean's face. "What was that, Dean? What did you just say?"

"Cas," Dean repeats and laughs when Cas falls to his knees by the bath, looking almost as happy as Dean feels right now. "Cas. Angel." And Dean can say that word now, can hear it, because Cas is a good angel, just like his wings are good wings.

"That's right," Cas says, reaching out to touch Dean's face and looking like he can't really believe Dean remembered. "Castiel, Cas -- that's me. I'm an angel."

"Dean's angel," Dean says because he knows it's true.

"Yes." Cas nods seriously. "Your angel."

"Angels are dicks," Dean says, and he laughs and laughs and laughs.

Chapter Text

Dean can feed himself now, even the complicated things. Cas has started trusting Dean enough to let him use knives, and sometimes Cas cooks steak for him. Dean likes being trusted. Steak is Dean's second favorite thing ever.

His first favorite thing is pulling on his dick. Though that's never as good as the first time was 'cause Cas won't stay in the room with Dean when he does it now. He says he trusts Dean to be on his own for a little while, now that he's gotten so much better.

Sometimes being trusted isn't so good, Dean guesses.

One day, it's raining outside, and Dean watches it from the window with a sense of wonder. There's a big puddle underneath the window, and the rain drops fall into it with lots of little splashes. So many new words. "Dean go out?" he asks Cas.

"Ask in the first person like I taught you," Cas says, not getting up from his chair. "Say 'I'd like to go outside' or 'Can I go outside?'.

Dean just stares, not understanding. Then he goes to get his outdoor things. "Dean want to see rain and puddles."

"Say 'I want to see rain and puddles'," Cas says, still not moving.

So he's not 'Dean' anymore; he's 'I'. But his name is still Dean, 'cause Cas still calls him it. But Cas calls himself 'I', even though Dean calls him 'Cas'. Dean kind of gets it and kind of doesn't, but it's easy enough to swap his name with 'I' when he talks.

"I want to go outside now, Cas," he says, adding the angel's name 'cause saying it always seems to make Cas happy.

"Perfect sentence construction," Cas tells him, standing up. "Well done, Dean." He starts to help Dean put on the extra clothes. Dean doesn't need the help, but he likes it.

Outside, he looks up at the sky and sees mostly greyness. Fat raindrops hit his cheeks, and he opens his mouth wide to catch them in his mouth. He can't believe that he'd totally forgotten rain until today. It makes no sense.

"Why have I forgotten so much stupid shit, Cas?" he asks.

"Something bad happened to you," Cas says, sounding sad. "I think you'll remember when you're strong enough. That was another excellent sentence you used."

Dean's not at all sure he wants to remember 'something bad'. He thinks it probably involves the bad things he and Cas are hiding from here, and he doesn't want to think about them at all. "When will Dean be-" He stops and rethinks his words. "When will I be strong enough?" he asks instead, saying each word carefully.

"Everyday, you're a little stronger," Cas tells him, which isn't an answer, but maybe it's the only one Cas has.

"What was the 'something bad'?" Why did he ask that? Didn't he just decide he didn't want to know? Dean scowls. Why can't he ever do what anyone tells him?

Cas draws in a long breath. "I think it would be better for you to remember that for yourself. Let your healing mind decide the 'when', Dean."

Dean screws up his face. "The bad things that made me forget made me stupid too."

Cas steps closer. The rain has made his hair lie flat, and Dean wants to reach out and mess it up, make it spiky. Cas looks upset though, so Dean doesn't do that.

"You're not stupid," Cas says fiercely. "You're doing so well, Dean. You suffered huge damage to your mind and soul, but you're getting better. I was told you wouldn't, not ever. Everyone told me that, angels and human doctors alike. There aren't enough years in the average human lifespan to reach even the start of 'getting better' from a trauma like the one you experienced; that's what they all told me in so many words. But I knew you better than all of them. You are... exceptional."

Dean shifts uncomfortably under Cas' direct stare. He tries to think over what Cas was just saying, but so many of the words just won't come into focus, no matter what he does. Starting to feel really pissed off with himself, he kicks at the muddy grass by his feet. Looking down as he is, the rain starts to fall between his collar and his neck. It runs down his back, making him shiver.

"Time to go back inside," Cas announces, taking hold of Dean's arm.

"No," Dean protests and then adds, "I wanted to see the river. Please, Cas. Let me see the rain hit the river."

Cas pauses but then nods. "Okay, we'll look at the river for a few minutes." They walk to the river together, Cas putting his arm around Dean's waist as they walk. "The bank will be slippery. I don't want you to fall in."

Dean doesn't want himself to fall in either, but it wasn't like he was complaining about being held. The conversation they just had about the bad things has left him all edges and sharp points. He puts his own arm around Cas and feels a little happier for it.

Together they watch the raindrops make circles within circles on the river's surface. The circles interlink with other circles made by other rain drops, and all the while the ripples and flow of the river continue, lifting and dropping the growing circles. Dean stares at it, his eyes unfocusing. It's awesome.

He remembers something. He sees it in his head like it's really happening now, but he knows it's a memory. That boy he's thought of before is playing with twigs, leaves and pebbles at the edge of a river. It's a big river, bigger than Dean's by at least twice. Dean tells the boy to come back from the edge, but the boy doesn't listen. Dean tells him again, and the boy answers this time, but only to say he's fine. He's not gonna fall in. Then the boy does fall in with a big splash and vanishes under the surface. Even just remembering it, Dean's really frightened.

But then a big man comes and jumps into the water. It only comes up to his thighs, and he grabs the boy and hauls him spluttering out of the river, giving him to Dean. The man's fierce, and he yells at Dean for letting the boy fall in the water. Even though that's not fair, Dean doesn't argue. The boy's all right; that's what matters. Dean will take the boy inside and towel him down, and later on, he thinks, they'll all laugh about it.

"I knew a boy once," he tells Cas.

"Did you?" Cas says, but he doesn't seem very interested, so Dean doesn't say anything more.

They are standing together in the bathroom. Cas has been shaving Dean. Shaving isn't something Dean's allowed to do for himself just yet. Cas says the razor is dangerous, and Dean doesn't argue. Cas doesn't touch him much anymore, not now that Dean can do most things for himself, so Dean pretends he can't shave so that they can keep this time together.

He thinks maybe Cas is pretending a little too, but he isn't sure.

The shaving's all done now, but they're still standing together, talking about beards and stubble and why Cas' never seems to grow the way Dean's does. It's just one of those things that's different between angels and Deans. Like wings.

Without much thought, Dean reaches out with one hand and touches Cas' wing. The feathers are smooth going one way and rough and prickly going the other way.

There's a sudden noise as the razor falls to the bathroom floor.

Dean looks up. Cas' eyes are round and wide open, just like his mouth. He gapes at Dean and then just vanishes. A small golden feather falls from Dean's hand to join the razor on the floor.

Dean whimpers. He whips his head around, but Cas is really gone. Cas isn't in the main room either when Dean rushes out there. Dean thinks he might be about to cry or scream. He doesn't know which, and he doesn't want to do either, but Cas has gone!

But then Cas is back and letting Dean cling to him. "I'm sorry," Cas says. "I shouldn't have done that. I was... surprised, but it's all right. I promise, it's all right."

Dean lays his forehead on Cas' shoulder and lets himself be held and soothed until he calms down. It takes a while, a while that Dean maybe draws out a little. Well, a lot. It feels nice, being held, and he doesn't know when he'll be able to get Cas to hold him again.

But then Cas pulls back, so with great daring, Dean reaches out and touches Cas' wing again, just the slightest touch before letting his hand drop. When Cas stiffens but doesn't vanish, Dean asks, "Does it feel bad?"

"It feels... intimate. Humans normally can't touch me like that, but after what happened to you, well, I should've realized what that would mean. My true form won't hurt you anymore."

Dean's mind kind of slides around Cas' words like they're ice on the path. "Touch more?" he asks, but then, not waiting for an answer, he combs his fingers through the stiff feathers, though he doesn't think that's what they really are. They do look a little like the bird feathers he's picked up outside, but also kind of like leaves. They feel like something metallic -- cold and shiny, like the foil Cas sometimes uses when cooking. Dean feels tiny shocks hitting his fingers as he moves them within the feathers. They tickle.

He laughs and traces his way up to the strange limb that supports the wing. The limb is warmer and hard but covered in smaller, softer feather-things. It's not like any of Dean's limbs at all. It quivers under Dean's touch, making the larger feathers rustle. Dean tries to trace it back further to where the wing joins Cas' shoulder, but the clothes get in the way. Cas doesn't often take off his clothes. Only the coat came off for the shaving today.

Dean smooths all the way down the wing to the very tip, and Cas shivers. "Stop now, Dean," he says quietly. "Please."

Nodding, Dean does what he's told and steps back. He looks Cas up and down. "You need to rub that," he says helpfully. "Or it won't go away."

Cas looks down his own body and seems to focus on the tented material as if he's surprised to see it. He frowns, and the bulge quickly goes away. Apparently, there's another way other than rubbing to get rid of such things. For angels, anyway. It doesn't seem like even half the fun of Dean's rubbing method.

"Are you scared of fucking?" Dean asks Cas, using another word he's just remembered.

Cas looks up, his frown lost somewhere on the road between confused and annoyed. "I'm wary of sexual activity between us," he says like a correction. "Allowing it would be wrong while you remain in my care."

"Why?" Dean tries his best smile at Cas. "I like you touching me, and you like me touching you." Cas doesn't deny it, just repeats a load of crap about how bad, naughty, wrong it would be, and Dean stops listening. "I like fucking," he says once the noise he's not listening to stops.

Cas raises his gaze to the ceiling. "You always have."

"I want to fuck with you," he says and then pauses. That isn't right, is it? That means something else, something he doesn't mean to say at all. "I want us to have sex," he tries instead.

"Dean, I can't!" Cas sounds pissed, but he takes a deep breath, and when he speaks again, he's back to toneless calm. "I need you to accept this."

Shrugging, Dean walks out into the main room, taking off his clothes as he goes.

"What are you doing?" Cas asks, which Dean considers a stupid question since it's obvious what he's doing. "Would you like some alone time now?"

Dean finishes getting naked and heads for the door to outside, still saying nothing. He hears Cas behind him.

"Dean? You know you don't go outside without me."

Dean doesn't answer and does go outside. Cas follows him, of course. Dean walks down to the river. The grass feels bumpy and hard under his bare feet. It's not exactly hot out here, but it's not cold either. The sun is out, and even though Dean still doesn't like the sun much, it warms his skin, and that's okay with him. He'll be fine.

He jumps into the river.

Okay, so the water is way, way colder than the air, and for a moment, he thinks he's forgotten how to breathe, which is scary as anything. But then he's suddenly fine again, and he's remembering how to swim too, which is handy, considering.

Cas stands on the bank, looking flustered, his wings held wide.

Floating on his back and kicking his legs in order to stay in one place, Dean starts to touch his dick. He's going to have to do this quick before the cold water spoils the whole thing. Cold or not though, he knows he's been really clever, thinking of this. By doing this out here, he knows Cas will have no choice but to watch him, just in case Dean does something stupid like try to... to drown.

So Dean makes a big deal out of his performance, putting on a show for Cas. He strokes all over himself with his free hand, while his occupied hand squeezes and tugs and shows off to Cas. Just the thought of Cas watching is enough to make him harder than he's been in weeks, since the first time in fact. He's gonna come all over himself and say Cas' name when he does, and Cas is gonna see it, hear it. It's gonna be so good.

But then Dean makes the mistake of looking, really looking, at Cas' face, and he sees all the naked pain Cas has suddenly stopped hiding. He knows then, somehow, that the pain is always there, just beneath the surface, but now Cas is choosing to let Dean see it, and it hurts Dean to see it. It really hurts.

Dean stops touching himself immediately and stands up in the water, wading for the bank where he struggles out. He pulls Cas into his arms without hesitation and says, "Sorry. I'm sorry, Cas. I'm really sorry. I'm really, really sorry. I won't do it again, I promise. I'm sorry."

After a little while, Cas' arms snake around Dean in turn. Then they stand there by the river -- one naked and wet, the other clothed and silent -- until Dean's 'hard-on' has long since become a 'soft-off', and he's starting to shiver big time.

Then they go inside, and Cas makes hot beef soup and toast to warm Dean up.

Dean keeps his promise. He keeps his promise everyday, every time Cas touches him or passes close to him. Each time, Dean thinks of fucking and starts to reach out, and each time he stops himself, remembering the pain he saw on Cas' face. He doesn't want to ever see it again. He even stops asking for alone time. He doesn't want to touch himself now even without Cas watching, just in case.

Days slip into weeks and weeks into months. Dean notices time passing more. Once it was all just one big 'today', but he gets more stuff now. Now there are tomorrows and last weeks and changing seasons.

One day, Cas takes Dean around the borders of their land, teaching them to him by landmarks 'cause Dean can't see the magic the way that Cas can. Outside the invisible circle is danger and dangerous things, inside is safety and Cas. There's their house with its black roof all shiny in the sun, the windmill beside it and the watermill upstream. As far out as Dean can see, all the way around the house, there are no other buildings in this valley, no other human crap at all. No bad things either, just grass and trees and rocks and mountains.

But he doesn't need to see other people to know they're out there. He doesn't need to be attacked by the bad things either to know they're out there, waiting.

Cas says the danger isn't in the valley while Dean stays inside the circle, but it'll come quick enough if he steps outside. Dean isn't sure he's memorized the landmarks well enough and gets scared he'll accidentally step over the line. Then the bad things will know he's here and... He tries to walk only where Cas walks, stepping in his footprints in the damp grass. It's weirdly difficult. Then he slips and falls to the side, the wrong side.

"Dean?" Cas asks. "Are you hurt?"

Dean has curled up into a ball, his head resting on the ground. He whimpers softly, keeping his eyes tight shut. Then, suddenly, there's carpet underneath him, not grass, and Cas' arms are around him.

"Tell me what's wrong, Dean."

"Bad things," Dean manages to reply, uncurling enough to cling to Cas. "Coming for me."

Cas looks briefly alarmed, but then seems to relax again. "They're not, Dean. They don't know you're here. You're safe, I promise."

Maybe he didn't fall over the invisible line, after all. Dean uncurls further. "Don't want to go far away from the house no more," he mutters into Cas' coat.

"Okay, we won't."

Dean wakes from bad dreams five times that night.

Cas is reading a book while Dean sprawls on his bed. Dean knows that once he could read books too, but like so many things, he's lost the knack for it. Now when he looks inside a book, it's full of tiny black insects that swarm all over the page. He doesn't like them much. Even though he knows it's stupid and that they won't, he can't stop thinking they're going to crawl off the page and swarm all over him too.

What he does like is Cas paying attention to him, but Dean has recently remembered that everyone needs a break at times. Cas had to help him remember that one. When Cas reads? That's him taking his break, so Dean tries to leave Cas alone when he's reading. It's not always easy. He's just so bored. Bored, bored, bored. He used to be content with just staring at whatever was in front of his eyes, or later on, at Cas. These days, he needs more to do.

"Can we get a TV?" he asks.

Cas looks up from his book. "You remembered television. Well done, Dean."

"Pay-for-view porn," Dean says, not really understanding his own words, but somehow knowing they're naughty all the same. He smirks at Cas, who looks at the ceiling for a few moments.

"Pay-for-view anything would be hard to achieve," Cas tells him when he moves his gaze back down, "without using more of my power than would be wise while we remain... beneath the radar. But I'll see if I can find something to help you occupy your recuperation. We generate surplus electricity on most days." He marks his place in the book and puts it down. "Will you be okay while I'm gone? It won't be for long."

Dean looks at him uneasily. "You don't normally go away when I'm awake." He knows Cas goes shopping sometimes while Dean sleeps. Things sometimes appear in their little house overnight that weren't there when Dean went to bed. At first he thought it was just the way things happened. Then he remembered it wasn't, so he decided it was magic, but it wasn't that either. He knows now that it's Cas going shopping, but Dean's never yet woken up to find Cas gone.

Cas nods. "I don't have to today either. It's your choice, Dean. I could go tonight instead."

Dean doesn't want Cas to go, but he does want a TV. He doesn't know how to make a decision like that. He fidgets and then says, "Why do your wings pass through things? Like that chair. They're more than half inside it when you lean back."

Cas flares his wings out. They take up all of his side of the room and go through the walls. "My wings are without physical reality. They exist only as energy, like light."

"I can't touch light," Dean points out, and Cas pulls a strange face.

"You shouldn't be able to touch my wings, either."

"But I can."

"Yes," Cas agrees, "you can."

"Will you be real quick?" Dean asks, knowing he sounds nervous, but that's better than the shit-scared he really is.

"About thirty minutes. I'll need to locate a surviving cache then collect together the items we'll need. I can't risk playing with time; it could be sensed."

"I dunno how long thirty minutes is," Dean confesses, looking down. It feels like something he should know.

"About as long as it takes you to have your bath, these days," Cas says, and that helps.

"Okay," Dean agrees. "I can wait thirty minutes."

Cas stands up and walks to Dean's bed. He sits on the edge and puts his hand on Dean's chest. "You'll be safe here without me. Our defenses are multi-layered and thorough."

Dean puts his hand on top of Cas'. "Promise?"

"I promise."

Then Cas is gone.

When Cas comes back, there are lots of big boxes around his feet that he's brought back with him. He doesn't seem to care much about them though. Instead, he looks open-mouthed at Dean, who's sitting on the floor in the middle of the room.

Cas cries, "Dean, no!" He strides towards Dean and drops to his knees, grabbing Dean's arm. "Why did you do this?"

Dean notices that his arm is trembling. No, all of him is trembling. "I can't make it stop," he confesses. "I tried to do what you do. I drew the pictures real good, Cas. I really did. But I can't make it stop the way you do, and it keeps coming and coming."

Cas clasps his hand over the slit in Dean's arm that won't stop pouring out scarlet. "I told you never to touch the wards," he says, sounding more pissed than Dean has ever heard him sound before. Dean can't stop the whimper that escapes from his mouth. The room won't keep still around him. He tries to do tell Cas about why he did it, but he really wants to lie down now...

Cas seems to flare with light so bright that Dean can't see Cas' face, just a golden outline of a way bigger man with huge wings. It hurts his eyes a little to see it, but Dean kind of doesn't care.

"I should never have left you," Cas mutters as the flare dies down.

Dean stares up at him from where he seems to be lying on the carpet. "Did you make it stop?"

"Yes," Cas says, though he doesn't let go of Dean's wrist. "And restored your blood levels. You cut very deep. What did you use?"

"Steak knife. It hurt. Cas, I still don't feel so good."

"You're experiencing an emotional reaction." Cas sounds like he's really far away somehow.

Dean's starting to feel almost as freaked out as he did before he tried to do the special paintings. He'd gotten scared the bad things would try to come in 'cause Cas was gone. Doing the paintings had made him feel better, and he'd done them perfectly. He knows he did.

"We're lucky," Cas goes on, "that I arrived back before the blood loss reached critical levels."

Dean whimpers again. Cas is holding his wrist so hard it hurts, really hurts, and Dean thinks he might have to scream. He doesn't though 'cause he already remembered how to be brave earlier on, when he put the knife in his arm. Now he can do brave just fine even when it's Cas doing it to him. The pain isn't why Dean whimpered. He whimpered because Cas seems so far away even though he's actually really close and staring right into Dean's eyes, frowning.

Cas says, "You're feeling faint. I want you to look at the tree outside the window and count the leaves you can see. Do it now, Dean."

Dean doesn't understand why he has to do this, but he tries anyway 'cause Cas sounds so serious. "One, two, three, four... Cas, they keep moving, and I think you're gonna break my wrist bones."

He feels the pressure around his wrist abruptly released, and he looks down at it. The cut has gone like it was never there, only it's not really like that since there's still blood all over him. "Sorry, Cas," he says thickly. "Thought I knew how to do it from watching you, but I got it wrong."

"I should never have left you alone for so long," Cas says, repeating himself. More or less.

"Thirty minutes," Dean remembers.

"Long enough to make a spirited attempt to kill yourself, apparently," Cas mutters, starting to undress Dean. "I should've--" He shakes his head. "Dean, I can heal myself, and I can heal you, but you can't heal yourself like that because you're not an angel. So, in the future, try not to damage your body, please."

"I can't do the things you do," Dean said, getting it now. "It's not just that I've forgotten how."

Cas manages the smallest of smiles. "Yes."

"I can't fly," Dean says, then frowns. He remembers flying, he thinks. He remembers wings... Maybe it was just a dream.

"That's right." Cas strips Dean to his boxers and then puts an arm around him, helping him to his feet. The room still tries to spin a little, and so Dean clings to Cas' coat. Cas helps him to the bed and, after pulling back the covers, makes him sit down on it with his feet up. He fetches a clean undershirt and gives it to Dean. "Put this on."

Dean does what he's told, and then Cas pulls the covers over Dean's legs.

"Stay there while I fetch you a drink."

Dean nods unhappily. "But I want to look in the boxes you brought."

Cas puts lots of pillows behind Dean and pushes him gently back into them. "Once I've made sure the wards are still sound and cleaned up the mess you've made, then I'll open the boxes and show you the things inside. You can play with them while I cook dinner."

"I'm sleepy," Dean says. "Don't want dinner."

"Regular meals are important."

Dean thinks Cas is maybe quoting something. He watches Cas go into the kitchen, and he thinks about dying. He's only just remembered that it's possible to die, that if the bad things got him and ate him up, he wouldn't just live forever in the bad things' bellies. He'd die. He can't fly, but he can die.

When Cas comes back, Dean says, "I don't wanna kill myself." He looks down, away from Cas' eyes. "Don't want to die."

Cas sits down on the edge of the bed beside Dean and gives him a glass of orange juice to drink. "I don't want you to die either," he says softly, tipping his head to one side and studying something he seems to see in Dean's face. "This wasn't your fault. It was mine."

"I thought I heard the bad things coming."

"Even if I apparently can't keep you safe from yourself, you can still trust me to keep you safe from those who would hurt you."

But Cas hadn't, had he? 'Cause the bad things got to Dean before, when they did whatever it was they'd done to him that made him like this, only half the man he knows he used to be. Cas didn't stop them then, but... maybe that wasn't his job at that point? Maybe it's only since Dean got all messed up that Cas has been keeping him safe. Yeah, that makes sense.

Dean drinks his juice and gives the glass back to Cas. Then he slides further down in the bed and turns on his side, his back to Cas. "Wake me up when it's dinner time." He'll look inside the boxes later.

He feels a warm hand on his upper arm. "Trust me, Dean."

Dean nods and closes his eyes. He does trust Cas. Cas makes even Dean's fuck-ups all right again somehow.

Cas is awesome.

Chapter Text

So the boxes had turned out to hold more boxes, metal boxes, and a big flat TV. Their little world has been full of different noises these last few weeks. Electronic noises.

There's a slim black box that plays the shiny DVDs of cartoons that Cas had also gotten from somewhere, and a little box of special fun called an 'ex-box'. Dean thinks the name has to be sarcastic or something, but he doesn't really get it. He does get the games though. They're all full of cartoony animals and people too, but Cas says Dean likes cartoons, and he seems to be right about that so far.

Dean is very, very good at the games. He has beaten all the levels and unlocked all the secrets and special moves in each game in turn, and Cas says he'll try to get some new ones, but Dean has to beat them slower this time.

Cas is just sulking 'cause he sucks ass at the games, and it's hard to make him play with Dean in multiplayer mode now 'cause Dean beats him every single time. Cas keeps trying to argue with the little cartoon people about why they're doing it wrong. Dean tries to tell him that they just are the way they are, and it's Cas who's doing it wrong, but then Cas says angels are just the way they are too, and Dean feels it's a good thing that at least one of them here can adapt to shit.

The controllers are just lying on the bed covers right now though, 'cause Dean's watching Scooby Doo and eating some really big sandwiches Cas made for him. Cas didn't used to make his sandwiches even half this big, but Dean's gotten him trained right now. These are fricking awesome: roast beef slices, spiced chicken, pickle and what Cas called salsa, and tomato, cheese slices and, oh yeah, bacon still hot from the pan.

And mayo, of course.

Sometimes Dean thinks having his own angel has to be the best thing ever. He knows he's still forgotten a lot, but it's hard to imagine much being better than this.

Scooby Doo is kind of stupid though. "It's the janitor," he tells Cas. "Him or the fat cop. Always is. Never a real monster."

"That's why it's fiction," Cas says dryly, and Dean shoots him a look.

"Monsters are real, huh?"

Cas nods, watching him with a serious expression. "We've fought them together."

Dean raises his eyebrows. "We're the meddling kids?"

Cas' lips twitch. "You could say that."

"I'm not Shaggy," Dean says immediately. He's sure on that point. "I'll be Daphne before I'm him."

Cas just looks at him and asks, "Enjoying your snack?"

It takes a full minute for Dean to get that he's just been called a big greedy dog. He mock-glares at Cas. "I don't care 'cause you're so Velma."

Cas does his best blank nothing in reply to that, but his lips start twitching again when Shaggy and Scooby share a gargantuan sandwich on screen. Dean laughs.

"It's an awesome sandwich, Cas. Thanks." He keeps watching the cartoon silently for a few minutes, his mouth full of scooby snack. Then he swallows the last few crumbs and says, as casually as he can manage, "The bad things that did this whatever it is to me -- were they monsters?"

"It's as good a description as any," Cas says, watching Dean and not the TV.

"Are they really still after me?"

"I... don't know. I felt it better not to take chances. You're safe here, either way."

"They are still out there," Dean says glumly, using the remote to switch off the TV. "I can feel them, milling around like those hound dogs trying to catch the scent in that cartoon yesterday." He glances at Cas. "I'm not making that up. I can."

Cas nods. "Yes, it's possible that you can. But there's no scent for them to catch; I've seen to that."

"With your blood paintings."

"And other magic."

"Big with the mojo." Dean manages a smile at Cas.

"I limit the use of my angelic 'mojo' in case any powers are watching for it," Cas says. "But I've had increasing practical experience with human magic since I pulled you from... from some other monsters." Dean notices the little break in that sentence and wonders what Cas had originally been going to say. Probably some word Cas doesn't think Dean will understand yet.

"So, you're like Presto now?"

Cas stares at him without blinking and says nothing.

"Presto," Dean explains. "The boy in the cartoon. He's a magician."

"Oh. Then maybe. A little."

"What am I?"

Cas seems to understand this question, at least. "You're a warrior, Dean. One of the best."

Dean doesn't feel much like a warrior. Warriors are supposed to be strong and pretty fearless, aren't they? He's not fearless. Sometimes he feels that fear is all he is. That's when he thinks about things outside of Cas and their home together, anything beyond this time or this place. He's not strong either. Cas is way stronger than him.

Almost as if Cas is reading Dean's mind, he says, "Now that you're more yourself, you'll need to exercise to become fit again. I've scheduled a daily exercise routine. You've lost most of your muscle mass through inactivity. Physical therapy wasn't sufficient to maintain it."

If Dean becomes strong again, then maybe he won't be so scared. Cas thinks of everything so Dean doesn't have to. He's awesome. "Does every human have an angel?" Dean asks.

Cas shakes his head. "As usual," he says dryly, "you're the exception."

"How come I get to have one?"

"I chose to become it." Cas looks down at his hands as he talks. "It was the least you deserved, but all that was in my power to give."

Why does Dean deserve an angel of his own? What the hell did he do? His mind seems to shy away from the questions, and he starts to play with the bedspread. "Do you... I mean, are you happy, Cas, being my angel? Or is this, I dunno, duty or something?"

Cas tips his head to one side. "Caring for you is both duty and pleasure."

"Pleasure?" Dean screws up his face. "Angels sure have a freaky definition of pleasure."

"Not all pleasures are physical, Dean."

"Good thing for you really."

They pull a face at each other, and Dean laughs.


Dean is dreaming. He's getting really good at recognizing them now, not that it helps him escape them any quicker.

Dean's walking in a desert. He thinks it may be Arizona, except he can't really remember what Arizona looks like. Shouldn't there be big prickly plants? Yeah, he's pretty sure there should be, like in that Bugs Bunny cartoon he's seen way too many times now. Cas really needs to get him some new DVDs.

There are no plants at all in this desert though. Just sand, golden sand in still waves and ripples, wherever he looks.

The sand is warm and kind of crunchy/slippy under his bare feet. He thinks he's maybe been walking in it for days. When he looks behind, there's a trail of footsteps going back as far as he can see. There's nothing in front of him but more sand, shining in the sun. The sun's way too hot and bright, and Dean longs for night. Even now that he's okay about going out in the daytime, he still likes the night best.

Of course, some of that day-hate might be all the stupid exercise crap Cas makes him do outside during the day now. It sucks rocks. Lots and lots of hard, untasty rocks that make his arms and legs and pretty much everywhere else hurt. And if he's lost all his muscle mass, just what is it that's hurting so damn much anyway? But at least the sun outside their house is never as bright as it is here. This sun seems to want to burn the hair from his head. It's so hot he can almost not breathe at all in the air, and it's getting hotter.

Brighter too. Even through he's still stumbling on across the sand, he now can't open his eyes more than a crack.

Which might explain why he doesn't even notice the angel until he's walked straight bang into it. Something has to explain it, 'cause no way is he this stupid normally. Even back before he remembered how to speak, he wasn't stupid enough to walk right into a naked angel. And by naked, he means it hasn't got its skin on. It doesn't look like a human at all. It looks like someone made a vaguely man-shaped being out of the heart of the sun and gave it wings of sculpted flame.

The angel's as hard and still as a golden statue. Maybe that's all it is. Dean tries to quell his panic by telling himself that's all it is. He doesn't dare look up at the angel's face, but he reaches out a trembling hand to touch the angel's chest. It burns his fingers, and he immediately pulls them back, sticking them in his mouth. Then the angel lifts its scalding golden arms, and as the world suddenly goes all slo-mo, it brings down its hands onto Dean's shoulders, and Dean feels like he's being cooked inside.

He yells wordlessly, turning to run, stumbling, slipping and skidding over the low dunes. He hears the waft of huge wings behind him... and then he's running straight into the angel again.

There's no escape. It's happening again. Even when he spins and runs in another direction, he knows it's pointless. The angel's gonna take him again, use him all up and spit him out, just like before. He knows the angel's just behind him because it burns like the sun fallen from the sky, and he can see his own shadow on the sand growing darker and huger. The angel could take him any time it wants; it's just playing with him.

"Dean," it says, and Dean feels his ears start to bleed. "Dean, you know you belong to me. Why are you distressing yourself like this?"

"Go away, go away, go away," Dean moans, and he trips when the sand moves too much beneath his feet. He falls, arms outstretched, onto his own shadow in the sand.

Under his hands, his shadow fills up like a balloon, becomes 3D, and it too raises its arms and places its hands on Dean's shoulders.

Dean screams, flailing out blindly, and scrambles away on his hands and knees. The shadow is worse than the angel. Ten, twenty, fifty times worse. The angel will just eat him up, burn him away from the inside, but the shadow...

"Dean," the angel says. "Stop running, you silly human. Only I can save you from memory. Only I can stop anything mattering at all."

And Dean's so terrified of the shadow that he stops, not looking around, but he knows he's about to say 'yes' to the angel now. Say: 'yes, do it, take me, get it over and done with. Be quick now. Just don't let the shadow touch me.'

But then Cas is there, in front of him, pulling him close with one arm, the other stuck out, palm facing the angel and shadow both. "Apage, Micaelis!" Cas shouts. "Hic regio consecro et inanio. In nomine hic animus, tu veto. Tu non habes cursum hic." Dean hears the angel wail like steam from the kettle Cas sometimes uses.

Cas crushes Dean tight against him, burying Dean's face in the cloth of his coat, and Dean clings to him, chanting, "Thank you, thank you, thank you..." and somehow now he's laying in bed under the covers, and Cas is leaning over him, holding him tightly. Dean guesses that means he's woken up.

"It's all right, Dean," Cas is telling him. "It was just a dream. You're safe. I used a human banishing chant just in case, but it was unneeded. You're with me. Nothing else is here, just us."

"I was gonna say 'yes'," Dean says, too shaken to be ashamed of the tears in his eyes. "I was gonna say 'yes', Cas."

"No, not again. I won't allow that, Dean." Cas sounds really stern, and Dean moans, wiping his face on Cas' coat and then trying to burrow his way inside it. Cas strokes his hair. "You're safe. It's all right."

Dean tries to relax, but he can't stop shuddering. The skin on his back feels like it's burned, and he'd swear his ears are really bleeding, but none of it's as bad as his hands, where they touched the shadow. They feel deep frozen and even when he manages to get to Cas' skin under his clothes, they won't warm up. He feels Cas tense under his touch and guesses that means Cas can feel the cold coming from them. It's not just Dean's fucked up imagination.

Either that, or Cas thinks Dean is trying to grope him again. "Sorry," he says. "Sorry." But he doesn't remove his hands.

Cas just keeps on with the 'it's all right's and the 'you're safe's like if he says them enough they'll be true. But Dean knows he isn't safe now. He knows he never will be. The angel and the shadow will never stop looking for him, and Cas can't hide him away forever.

Cas tries to lay Dean back down. "You'll feel better in the morning," he says. "This'll fade from your conscious mind, like dreams always do."

"No." No way does Dean want to go back to sleep. He knows they're there, behind his eyes, just waiting for him to doze off again. "They'll get me, Cas. I can't."

"They won't," Cas says patiently. "I'll be with you in whatever dreams you have, from the moment they start. I'll keep you safe in all of them."

Dean sighs out some of his fear -- a long, drawn out stream of surrender. "Okay. But be where I can see you, huh? In the dreams."

"I will," Cas promises, and he starts to pull away from Dean, who sits right back up.

"Stay with me!"

"I'll be just there." Cas gestures behind him. "In my chair. I'm not leaving you alone."

"No, Cas, stay with me. In bed. Please." Cas looks doubtful, and Dean adds, "I promise I won't touch your wings, not deliberately. Or your... anything else. I just... Please, Cas."

Cas stares at him, all big eyes glinting in the low light. Then he pulls back the covers. He slips in beside Dean, all his clothes except for his tee and shorts just vanishing from him. He curls an arm around Dean and holds him close, and he's warm and real, and for a moment, Dean feels so grateful he can hardly breathe. Then he lets himself relax against Cas, taking some deep breaths that quickly turn into yawns.

"Thanks, Cas," he mumbles as he drifts into a safe and comfortable darkness. "For, y'know, everything, pretty much."


Cas is sleeping with Dean most nights now. It's made waking up a lot less of a lottery for Dean.

Well, 'sleeping' isn't right. Dean doesn't think Cas really sleeps as such. But he lies still and quiet, curled around Dean, and Dean's not looking anywhere near that gift horse's mouth. Talking of metaphorical horses, Dean's not had a single nightmare since the bad one. One tried to start a couple of days ago, but Cas stopped it dead and made the dream become way more fun. With girls.

Dean remembers girls now. It isn't that he'd forgotten about the whole female sex or anything; but he'd lost why girls were important. Girls as in girls. He remembers just fine now though, thanks to Cas... which is kind of weird actually, now that Dean thinks about it. But, gift horses and mouths, still not going there.

He rolls over now to look at Cas, who's lying on his back, his hands over the covers, fingers interlaced. Cas turns his head and smiles his small smile at Dean. "You slept well."

"Thanks to you."

"I didn't need to interfere this sleep period."

"Huh." Dean reaches out and touches the leather cord that's hung around Cas' neck. He guesses it's always been there, but until this sleeping together thing, Dean didn't get to see Cas without his shirt and tie. There's something hung on it, under Cas' t-shirt. It makes a small lump in the cloth. "What's this?" he asks. "Some kind of human or angel mojo?"

"Human mojo," Cas answers, slipping his fingers under the cord and pulling it out from his clothes. "Recognize it?"

"Should I?" Dean asks, hedging for time 'cause he thinks maybe he does. It's a funny little amulet thing, a little man or imp or something. He holds it in his hand and runs his thumb over the cool surface. Something makes him shiver.

"It belongs to you," Cas says in a voice so soft it might as well be a whisper.

"Yeah?" Dean looks up. "How come you're wearing it?"

Cas does that thing that feels like he's seeing straight through Dean's skull to his thoughts. He frowns slightly and says, "For a long time, you weren't well enough to wear something around your neck. Would you like it back now?"

"I... I don't know." The thing kind of gives him the creeps, but at the same time, he can't look away from it, can't stop touching it. "Maybe? What does it do?"

"It heats up in the presence of God."

"Huh." There really isn't much Dean can say to that. Well, except, "Uh, so God. Is he, uh... Well, I guess he's your boss."

"He's my father, Dean."

"Father, right." Dean frowns, his hand still resting on Cas' chest as he plays with the amulet. "Guess I have one of those somewhere too."

"Do you want to talk about your family?" Cas says with what sounds like way too much care. It makes his words feel like a warning.

"Shouldn't I?" So Dean has a family. He's not sure what he thinks about that. He's not sure why he hasn't wondered about it before. Seems there's some kind of issue with them, the way Cas said that. Dean meets Cas' steady gaze. "Think I'm gonna have to be guided by you on this one."

Cas stares at him a little longer, and Dean shivers again. His skin is suddenly all prickles and goosebumps. But then Cas closes his eyes for a second or so before saying, "I continue to think it's better to wait for your own recovering memory to provide you with the answers."

"Okay." Dean's kind of glad about that. He wasn't sure he wanted to be ready. With another body tremble, he lets go of the amulet and pulls the covers up, snuggling closer to Cas to get warm again. He lays his head on Cas' shoulder. "Did we used to do this?"

"Do what?" Cas puts an arm around Dean and strokes his hand over that weird patch of skin Dean's got near his shoulder on his uppermost arm. Dean's pretty sure it's a scar, some kind of leftover from the encounter with the bad things.

"Cuddle, share a bed," he tells Cas. Cartoons don't show Dean much of the world out there, but since remembering girls, he's been pretty sure this way he and Cas are together isn't all that white bread normal. And no, he's not totally sure what he means by that either.

"We never did." Cas' voice is calm and without real expression. Dean's sure that if he looks up now, he'll see that familiar blank look back on Cas' face. "Do you want to stop doing it now?"

"Never said that," Dean says quickly. "You trying to weasel out of our agreement?"

"Agreement?" Cas moves a little in the bed, turning more towards Dean, who resettles his head on a pillow, Cas' arm under his neck.

"Yeah, you know. I don't touch you in the places that feel good in the bad way, and you stay close, keep me safe."

Cas makes a small noise in his throat. "I'd no idea it was so formal an arrangement."

"I kept my side of things." Well, technically, Dean's lying on one of Cas' wings right now, but since it's buried deep inside the mattress, he doesn't think that counts.

Cas nods. "You did. I see no reason to stop my side of this agreement unless you want me to."

"I don't."

"Fine."

"Fine."

There's a long silence, and Dean's starting to drift off to sleep again, but then his hand moving aimlessly over Cas' upper chest meets with the amulet again. "I want this back," he murmurs close to Cas' shoulder. "When we get up."

He almost expects a protest, but all Cas says is, "It'll be nice to see you wearing it again," and he sounds kind of wistful.

"Thanks," Dean says, almost asleep now. "Thanks for keeping it safe, Cas."


They're walking together along the river in companionable silence. It's mid-afternoon, but the sun's already low in the sky. The trees have golden leaves now, and Dean knows it'll be winter soon. There's already a chill in the air.

He wonders if they'll have snow. The thought makes him smile. He thinks he'll like snow. Hell, maybe he already does. "Have I ever seen snow for real?" he asks.

"I'm certain you have," Cas answers. "You've traveled through many latitudes throughout all times of the year."

"Does it snow here?"

"Yes, this small place has a continental temperate climate."

"How long have we been here?"

Cas pauses. Maybe he's working it out in his head. "You've had growing awareness of the world around you for almost eighteen months now," he says in the end. "But last winter, you weren't ready for things outside the house."

"But it did snow?"

"A lot. At one point, you couldn't have walked outside even if you'd wanted to."

"Cool!" Dean grins at Cas. "We can go tobogganing and have snowball fights. It'll be awesome!"

Cas laughs in that sudden way of his that always seems to surprise him as much as it does Dean. "You're really so much better," he says, still smiling. "It's very..." He kind of trails off, and when Dean glances at him, Cas has his lower lip trapped between his teeth as he stares off at the mountains that loom protectively over this place.

It occurs to Dean, all of a sudden, that Cas is maybe as nervous about Dean's returning memories as Dean is. They both know that there's a really big one out there, waiting to be reclaimed by Dean's mind, the one that'll explain why he's all fucked up this way in the first place. Maybe Cas worries it'll break Dean all over again.

Maybe he's right.

Dean had another dream last night. Oh, Cas fixed it in the end, but he could've been quicker about it. It was that kid again, that boy with the floppy bangs. The boy had grinned shyly at Dean and held out a hand with something Dean couldn't see properly hanging from it. He couldn't spare it a closer look because, behind the boy, darkness rose. It was the shadow, the one from the old dream, and when Dean looked at it, he turned to stone.

Dean watched, helpless, voiceless, while the shadow caught the boy and oozed over him, covering him completely, making a boy-shaped silhouette. It grew then and became huge, but still boy-shaped, looming over Dean. It bent low, until Dean could feel icy breath on the top of his head and hear a faint wheeze -- it sounded like cries coming from far away. It was as if Dean could hear the boy screaming from deep within the darkness.

Then the darkness started to envelope Dean too...

Then Cas was there, dispelling boy and shadow both and making it so Dean could move again, but it was too late. Dean had already seen the worst. He turned to Cas and demanded to be woken up. Cas had obliged immediately, and Dean had gone to sit in the bathroom 'cause it had the brightest light in the house and hardly any shadows at all. He used to fear too much light, but now he knows that while the sun burns and consumes and moves on, leaving only ash, the shadow takes and keeps on taking. It never stops taking, forever, 24/7, until you pick up the knife yourself and cut, letting the shadow inside.

Back in the now, he stops on the river path and closes his eyes.

He feels a hand on his arm. "What's wrong, Dean?"

"That dream. It keeps coming back."

Silence and then, "I thought it might."

"What's that supposed to mean? I thought you could keep me safe!"

"I can," Cas says, and cool hands hold Dean's face, fingers pressing lightly to his temples. "I'm just not sure I should, not in this case."

"'Cause the shadow is the memories." He's already pretty much worked that out, not being totally dumb, just... damaged. "Or the memory, singular. The big one."

"I believe so, yes."

Dean opens his eyes to find Cas very close to him. "I don't want to remember it," he says, trying not to cross his eyes as he focuses on Cas. "I'm not ready. Please, Cas. Make it go away for longer. I'm really not together enough for it yet."

Cas nods, sighing and dropping his hands from Dean's face, though he doesn't move back. "I think you're right, though I mistrust my own judgment in this." He licks his lips, drawing Dean's attention down to them.

"You think I'll go back to having a mind of mush when I remember."

"No... Well, it's not impossible. Dean, I-"

Cas doesn't get any further with whatever he was about to say 'cause Dean's kissing him. Not something Dean planned at all; it just happened. Dean didn't even know he knew how to kiss, or remembered, or whatever. He stops quick enough now 'cause Cas isn't kissing back and has instead gone rigid, but hell, at least it's stopped them both from talking.

Dean pulls back. "Uh, sorry. Guess that falls into the same category as wing-touching and jerking off where you can see me, huh?"

"I... I don't know." Cas looks and sounds genuinely bewildered.

"Maybe we should do it some more 'til you do know?" Dean suggests in as helpful a tone as he can manage. When Cas does nothing except continue to look bewildered, Dean leans in again and touches their lips back together. Cas' are slightly parted, so Dean pokes his tongue a little way through them.

Cas tastes of coffee and chocolate, which for an angel who claims not to need food is very suspicious. But more importantly, he's starting, ever so slightly, to kiss back. Dean presses closer, starting to enjoy himself, and Cas' hands appear at Dean's waist, holding him still.

Dean moans a little when he feels Cas' tongue move over his own. Forgetting himself, he slides his hands around to Cas' back, ending up pretty much accidentally with handfuls of not-feathers.

"Maybe not," Cas says, pulling suddenly back. He flares his wings out, freeing them from Dean's grip, and then pulls them in tightly to his body when he faces forward again. "We'll walk to the lightning tree and then go back home. It's nearing time for your exercise."

"Awesome," Dean says sarcastically, cursing himself for momentarily forgetting about the wings. "'Cause making my body jump around like a puppet on strings is so much fun. Wouldn't want to miss out on a moment of it."

 


(art by ebke-vile)

Chapter Text

Dean's cheeks and hands are burning. His feet are kind of numb and kind of hurting at the same time, but he doesn't care. He's having, if not the time of his life, then the time of what he remembers of his life. It's Christmas Day, and he's hiding behind trees, pelting his angel with balls of pressed snow.

Cas doesn't really get it, of course. Dean's managed to stop him from using his angel mojo to whoosh around -- since, beyond unfair. Then Cas developed a habit of just standing there as Dean threw snow at him, which was equally no damn good at all, though admittedly kind of funny for a while. Now though, Cas is doing it almost right, using only human methods of getting around and actually trying to avoid being hit.

He's still not throwing anything at Dean though. "It's hard for me," he's saying as he darts from bush to bush, "to embrace this concept of pretend violence. An angel either fights, or he doesn't. I've no desire to hurt you, Dean."

"Dude, don't say that like it means I want to hurt you," Dean complains, letting his current arsenal start to melt in his hands.

"I've noticed humans are prone to wanting many contradictory things at once," Cas claims, crouching behind his latest poor choice of camouflage. "It's frequently a mystery to me how they manage to choose just one objective from the range their minds constantly offer."

Dean shoots him a withering look, or at least he shoots it towards the bush Cas is hiding behind, which annoyingly fails to wither. "And angels never want two contradictory things at once, of course."

"We're simpler beings in that respect."

"Yeah," Dean says, letting his snowball fall slushily to the ground. "I call bullshit." He walks out into the open, striding to Cas' hiding place. "Get up. Game over."

Cas straightens, looking cautious. "Are you... angry with me?"

Dean thinks about it and then grins. "Nah. It's Christmas! What's to be pissed about? Let's go inside and get warm before my fingers freeze and break off into little pieces."

Indoors, Cas insists on examining Dean's hands and feet for, what? Chilblains or something. The fire is stoked up and filling the room with a crispy kind of heat, and savory smells are wafting in from the kitchen. Cas' warm hands feel good, examining every inch of Dean's feet, but still, Dean feels like a fool, lounging on their sofa with his bare feet resting on Cas' kneeling thighs. At the very least, the kneeling thing has got to be wrong.

Dean guesses it's stupid to feel embarrassed when with the person who fed his mouth and cleaned his ass for God knows how long, but if he thinks too hard about any of that, he'll self-combust in humiliation.

"I've got way more interesting extremities to examine if you're inclined," he tells Cas with a smirk and gets a disapproving glance as his only reply.

Cas gets up and walks over to the drawers, coming back with clean, dry socks. Dean lets Cas put them on him, despite the implication that he's helpless. Cas has put so much effort into this whole Christmas deal, even getting Dean the gifts that are lying all wrapped up under the tree. The least Dean can do in return is let Cas look after him. "Thanks," he says when the socks are on.

"You're welcome," Cas says with one of his small smiles.

Dean straightens on the sofa and pats the cushion beside him. "Come. Sit."

With a snort of dry humor, Cas rises gracefully to his feet and does what he's been told. "The turkey needs checking on soon."

"How long?"

"Six minutes."

"Plenty of time." Dean holds up his hands, and when Cas' gaze focuses on them, Dean moves them behind his own back. "My lips got real cold out there. They need warming up."

Cas, ever obliging, moves in, and soon they're kissing like pros. Or how pros would kiss if kissing were a profession, which Dean is pretty sure it isn't -- a shame since it'd be awesome to be a natural genius at something.

This is how it is now between them. Kissing, Cas has decided, is acceptable, providing Dean's hands behave themselves. Dean finds it easier to keep his hands behind his own back so no accidental feather-clutching can occur. That way, the kissing can go on and on, and generally it does. Unless Dean fucks it up by trying to take more than he knows he's allowed. Sometimes, when Dean can make himself behave, they go all night just kissing and sitting close. Cas is always happy to continue unless the alarm clock he apparently keeps in his head goes off to say it's exercise time or some other task on his stupid schedule.

And Christ, Dean never wants to stop. Kissing Cas is his new best thing ever. Sometimes he falls asleep at night with Cas' mouth still pressed against his. It's the best. It's awesome.

Okay, so he saves up all he can remember of each kissing session and replays it when Cas allows him his 'alone time'. Yeah, he's started asking for it again. Not jerking off at least a few times a week was making his balls ache and making his dreams veer into territory that made him wake up sticky. Seeing as Cas was still on nightly dream patrol, this wasn't good for either of them. Not that they ever talked about it in the waking world.

So thinking about kissing Cas and imagining doing more with Cas has kept Dean's hand busy for weeks now. But Cas isn't stupid; he's got to know exactly what Dean's thinking about during his alone times, and Cas still keeps on kissing Dean, so he can't have a problem with it, can he? Or not enough of a problem to stop, anyway, and that's really all that matters. Better out than in – in dreams, anyway.

God, Cas tastes good.

Cas holds Dean's face in his hand as he pulls back. "The turkey," he says, sounding regretful. "I'll be back soon."

Dean follows Cas into the kitchen and watches him remove the small turkey from the oven. "D'you need me to peel any more potatoes?" he asks 'cause it doesn't seem right that Cas is doing most of the work when Dean's so much better now. "I didn't do many."

"You did enough to roast some and still have some to mash. There's only you to eat all this, Dean, and there are so many other things to go with them. You can scrape the carrots if you like."

"Aren't you gonna eat anything at all?" Dean asks, mooching into the kitchen. "Not even today? You should at least taste some of it."

Cas glances around at him from where he's spooning up melted fat to cover the top of the small turkey. "Would you like me to?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, I'll taste a little of everything."

Dean grins. "You should let me feed you choice bits, just 'cause I can. I'm sure last Christmas you were still feeding me."

"You could manage most things by yourself, even then, but we didn't celebrate Christmas. I felt it would just confuse you at the time. The carrots are in a bag in the fridge."

Dean likes their kitchen in the morning best. It's painted in light, bright colors that kind of glow when sunshine blazes in. It's way too late in the day for that now, but the awesome smell of cooking food gives a warmth of its own. After finding both carrots and scraper, he starts on his task.

"So how come you know how to cook even though you hardly ever eat?" he asks.

"I read a lot of books when I first started to look after you. Medical opinion was that the more I could stimulate your physical senses, the better your chance of returning to conscious awareness of the world around you, so I needed to understand those senses, taste being one of them."

"You've got a tongue," Dean points out. "Why can't you taste for yourself?"

"I find the wealth of sensory input from my vessel confusing even now," Cas says, arranging seasoned potato chunks around the bird in the roasting pan. "Angel senses are very diff- Dean? Dean, what's wrong?"

Dean has dropped the scraper and is clutching his forehead. It doesn't hurt; it's not that. He's trying to concentrate, trying to force back a memory that something Cas just said invited out to play. He's trying very hard to forget it again, to erase the hasty sketch outline of the memory that was all he'd had a chance to recall before he clamped right down. He's singing the Scooby Doo theme in his head over and over, trying to fill up all the space available.

"Make me stop thinking, Cas," he says fiercely. "Please. I don't want to remember this. Not today. Not for a long while, but 'specially not today."

Cas doesn't move. When Dean casts a beseeching glance his way, he sees Cas looking almost as desperate as Dean feels. "Dean, if it's ready to come out, maybe-"

"Do it, Cas!"

Cas makes an uncomfortable noise in his throat, but he puts down his spoon and moves to touch Dean's forehead with two fingers. Dean feels the pressure subside almost immediately. Now all he needs to do is to have something else to think about to stop him from prodding at the place in his mind from where the memory was trying to herniate out. He grabs Cas' face between his hands and kisses him, hard and rough.

Cas doesn't kiss back much to start with, but then suddenly he's all over Dean, hands groping him in ways and in places that Dean's forbidden to mirror. Dean feels himself stumbling backwards until the counter's at his back. Cas' tongue shoves hard into Dean's mouth, and Dean can't hold back a moan, his hands clutching at Cas' hips. He's never known Cas so hungry for him... but then Cas pulls back. Right back.

What the fuck?

Cas is breathing fast, his mouth open and lips a little pulled back from his teeth like he's some place between ravenous and furious. He's glaring at Dean from under lowered brows, his eyes dark and stormy, like he blames Dean for something terrible. Dean puts all that 'what the fuck?' he's feeling into a glare right back, and Cas turns away, but not before Dean sees him swallow.

"Uh, the turkey. I have to put it back in the oven." Cas' voice seems impossibly deep and hoarse and kind of broken.

Dean snorts, finding it funny despite his frustration. Angel's cute as hell all flustered like this. "You do that. Don't want it to catch cold, after all."

He watches Cas play housewife for a few more minutes, shaking his head at how hot it's gotten in the small room, what with oven heat and that little eruption of lust back there. Cas, of course, still has his damn jacket on. Who the hell cooks in a suit? Dean's sure that's not normal even if he can't remember for sure.

Eventually everything's where Cas seems to wants it to be, and he turns back around to look at Dean. He seems the picture of blank again, no emotion of any kind showing in expression or posture. "Would you like to open a couple of your gifts now?"

"Hell, yeah." Who would say no to that, for crissakes? Even if it is just a convenient distraction or avoidance or whatever, it's a damn good one. "Lead the way, Melcizar!" Dean says, but then pulls a face at Cas' reaction. "What? He was one of the three kings, wasn't he?"

"Which cartoon did you learn that from?" Cas asks dryly as he walks past Dean back into their main room. Dean pulls a freak face behind his back.

They sit on the sofa together, Cas having picked up two of the smaller packages from around the tree. He gives the larger one of the two to Dean first. It's obviously a wrapped box, but what's inside the box? It doesn't rattle much. It's been wrapped real neat with gold-colored paper and a red metallic ribbon.

After pulling the bow undone and removing the ribbon, Dean spends a few moments attempting to carefully peel back the tape on the sides with his blunt nails until Cas says, "I believe it's customary to simply tear off the wrapping."

"I know that." Well, he does now.

Dean has the box unwrapped in half a second flat. It has writing on it that's big enough for him to read. He's getting better with reading text now. He still can't handle the pages of small print inside books, but big stuff like this doesn't try to crawl around the surface it's printed on anymore. This is an 'iPod Gift Set', apparently. He looks at the picture on the box and has a flash of incongruous memory -- ripping one of these things from a car's dashboard and chucking it behind him with something close to disgust, like it was a gross parasite leeching from the car somehow.

What the fuck's that about?

He had a car?

"I've filled it with the music you like," Cas says. He sounds... uncertain.

"Yeah?" Dean shakes himself back into the here and now and starts opening the box. There's what looks like a scorched area around one of the box corners, which is kind of weird for a gift. "What kind of music is that?"

"Set it up and listen. There's something called 'a speaker cradle'."

Since Cas seems to have memorized the instruction leaflet, it takes less than no time to set up the iPod in its cradle and start it playing on 'shuffle'. Then Dean is hearing music for the first time since coming back to himself. Real music, that is, not the kind of crappy twiddlings used in console games and cartoons. There's a noise he recognizes as guitar, and then a male voice going on about how he's 'running away from a feeling, hiding his face in the sand'.

Well, that's just peachy. Stupid lyrics. He's seen that damn desert far too often in his dreams recently to enjoy the imagery.

They sit on the sofa together, staring straight out at the window, listening. The song moves on, but doesn't get any better, what with the guy whining about 'shadows' and 'living so long in the darkness'. When the singer claims to be 'waiting at the crossroad, baby', Dean shivers and folds his arms, though he's not sure why.

"You don't like it," Cas says flatly.

Dean looks around at him. "Just this song, dude. It's a little too on the money, y'know?" He's not even sure what he means by that.

"Click the right side of the wheel control for the next track."

"Huh." Dean does what he's told. More guitar, and it's better guitar, faster and ballsier. He can feel his head start to move with the beat. When another male voice starts to sing, it's okay 'cause, this time, Dean can't make out more than three words in every twelve. That suits him just fine; he can feel the music running through him like a burst of borrowed energy. He turns and grins. "Awesome gift, Cas. Thanks."

Cas tips his head, and Dean gets that impression again that Cas is looking inside him, checking that he's sincere. Whatever Cas sees, it seems to reassure him, and he smiles one of his rare full smiles. "You're welcome."

Dean wriggles around on the sofa and then lifts a hand, combing his fingers into Cas' hair at the temple and resting his palm on Cas' cheek. "Wish there was something I could give you in return."

"There is," Cas says seriously. "You give it to me every day."

Dean narrows his eyes. He thinks his angel might be being a bit of a girl there, but then, Dean started the tender moment, didn't he? Damn it. He seems to have lost his testosterone along with his memory.

He kisses Cas to try to cover up the embarrassment he's suddenly feeling. Cas doesn't respond much and pulls back quickly. Maybe he's scared of things getting like they got in the kitchen again. Cas holds out the second gift to Dean, falling back on more distraction. Not that Dean minds. Gifts are the best.

This one is small, like a fat envelope, but when Dean looks down at Cas' hand holding it, everything changes. The hand is smaller, and the gift kind of crappily wrapped. Confused, he looks up and sees Cas looking almost as puzzled.

"Is something wrong?"

Dean pulls a face and looks down again. Everything's back to normal -- Cas' hand and the neat little envelope style gift. Hesitantly, Dean reaches out his own hand to take the package. It's very light. He moves on the cushions, leaning into the corner between the back and the arm of the sofa and pulling one leg up onto the seat. On the iPod, some dude's singing almost sweetly about 'leaves falling all around, time he was on his way', and Dean tears open the wrap, which seems to be made of newspaper. Weird.

Inside he finds his amulet on its leather cord, and that's more than just weird, 'cause he'd swear blind he was wearing it around his neck up until a second or so ago. Looking up, he sees the boy with the bangs sitting where Cas had been, and Dean suddenly isn't surprised.

He's not even surprised when he hears himself say, "Thank you, Sammy. I love it," because, yeah, that's how this goes. There's a lump in his throat. No one's ever given him anything this meaningful ever before, and Dean doesn't care that Sam got it for Dad originally. Sam gave it to him, and that's what matters. It somehow makes worth it all the struggles he goes through every day, just trying to make sure Sam is all right.

He puts the amulet on, looking down at it on his chest and feeling a sense of total rightness. When he looks up again, Cas is staring at him intently. The iPod guy's on his way, he's been this way ten years to the day, and Dean asks Cas, "Who was Sammy?"

Cas looks at him very seriously. "Sam was your brother, Dean."

His brother. He had a brother, the boy with the floppy hair... Oh. Oh God. Sammy.

---I want you to watch out for Sammy, okay? | Watching Sam sleep, long bangs over his eyes. Needs a trim, needs Dean to take care of things. | Long as I'm around, nothing bad's gonna happen to you. | Sam, pale and frail under the Shtriga, limp in Dad's arms as Dad shakes him. What has Dean done? | Sam's bed empty at Flagstaff. Dad striding towards Dean with his eyes full of fury. | Sam, older now, almost a man, doing his sincere voice: Dean, we are a family. I'd do anything for you, but things will never be the way they were.---

"Dean. Tell me what's happening."

Can't Cas see? Can't he look in Dean's head and read him like a book? Dean stares helplessly at him. "Was'? You said 'was'? He's... dead?"

"Yes. I'm sorry, Dean."

"Sammy..."

---You and me, we're all that's left. | Side by side, the way it should be. Back on the road again. Got his car, got his brother, got a case -- all's right with the world. | I would die for him in a second, but I won't let him do this to himself. | He said that I had to save you, that nothing else mattered. | Y'know, Sam and I, we can get pretty obsessed, but you, you watch out for this family. You always have. | Sam! Sammy, what's wrong? | Oh God, oh fucking Christ, look at him, rolling around the walls of the panic room like the ball in a roulette wheel. How did it come to this? Dean's holding Sam down by a belt tight across his open mouth while he convulses, but feeling like he's the one who can't breathe. | Where's your brother, Dean? | Dean. Dean! Help me!---

Dean can feel himself rocking as the memories bludgeon him. "How... how did he die?"

"To save you, he-"

---I won't let my brother turn into a monster. | Maybe you're right, but one day, he's going to be a monster. | I'm the only one who can do this, Dean. | Sam, sitting on a bed, clothes stained with old blood. Sam begging Dean to kill him, putting the gun in Dean's hand. It's not him. It's not him. | I know that kid. | You don't know me. You never did, and you never will. | If it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna save you. | Blood on his hand, Sam limp in his arms. Sammy? Sam! Hey, listen to me. I'm gonna patch you up, okay? You'll be good as new. Huh? I'm gonna take care of you. Gonna take care of you; I got you. It's my job, right? Watching out for my pain in the ass little brother. Sam? Sam. Sam... I can't do this alone.---

His face stings with the salt of tears. They're flooding out, like the memories, like the fucking, goddamn memories, and he wishes to hell they'd stayed forgotten, but that's wrong, isn't it? He owes his brother more than that. So much more. "Oh hell, Sammy. Fuck it. I should've saved you. I'm meant to be the one who saves you."

"You did save him, Dean." Cas' voice, gruff and steady. "Many times."

---You saved my life, over and over. I mean, you sacrificed everything for me. | Because I'm such a saint, I'll give you one year and one year only. | What is it with you Winchesters, huh? You, your dad, you're both just itching to throw yourself down the Pit. | Did I die? Did you sell your soul for me like Dad did? | What choice did he have? What the hell was he without Sam by his side, riding shotgun? You know, you fight and you fight for this family, but the truth is, they don't need you. Not like you need them. | Dean, you're holding me back. I'm a better hunter than you are: stronger, smarter. I can take out demons you're too scared to go near. | The axe in his hands, he lifts it high, riding on the crest of a wave of fury so vast it engulfs everything. | You're going to Hell, and you won't lift a finger to stop it. | I had to serve what he put on me, and I don't deserve to go to Hell!---

Hell. He went to Hell. Oh fuck. "Cas, make it stop. For pity's sake-"

"I can't, Dean, not now. To try and dam this now would only hurt you further."

Dean slams his head back into the sofa, and someone somewhere screams.

---Pain, pain, pain, pain, pain. | Somebody help me! Sam! | Endless days of shadow and pain, dripping with red: red screams, red scalpels, red laughter ricocheting around him, buzzing like flies around the corpse he surely is. Hooks in his body, skin and muscle torn from him, or cut carefully, methodically, one little slice at a time. His organs eaten while he watches; his teeth pulled from his head only to grow again; his fingers severed and planted like fell seedlings inside of him. Demons lining up to use him in every way possible, making their own holes if they have to. | Hallucination after nightmare after foul hallucination. There are no rules here, except that he keeps on screaming, no constants but his pain. | One of the demons who takes him looks like Dad, but he knows it isn't. Dad escaped, but Dean never will. | Years pass, but the pain goes on. On and on and on and on. They tell him Sammy's dead now, that the world's dead, that the Devil's risen and taken Sam as his skin suit. Alistair comes daily to make his offer. | Oh, the first time you picked up my razor, the first time you sliced into that weeping bitch...---

"Dean!" Cas' voice, insistent and close to his ear. "Remember this!"

---Dean doesn't hear the warning when it comes, if it comes. He's getting the hang of manipulating Hell-reality by now, got himself some snazzy little earphones that play endless Bon Jovi. Yeah, not so great, he knows, but this is Hell. Just think what they could be wailing into his ears. He wears them so he doesn't hear the screams of the souls he tortures. It's a crappy noise, all that screaming, and he's really fed up with it. It's not like cutting out their tongues or gagging them with their own flesh really stops it. So he blocks the screams out with Livin' on a Prayer on endless repeat, and he doesn't hear it when the demons around him, working on their own racked up souls, start to scream too. He's blinking in this blinding light that seems to have come from nowhere when the hand grips his shoulder---

"Cas..."

"We came for you, Dean. We broke you free of that place. I was the one to carry you. I still don't know why I was given the order and not a more senior angel, but I didn't falter. I dragged you out and laid you back inside your body, which I remade, breathing life back into your limbs and goodness back into your heart."

"You saved me." Dean's hand moves to his own shoulder. He understands now what the huge scar on it really means. "You kept saving me."

---Because you're chosen. It's a great honor, Dean. | Castiel staring, always staring, but this time not at him. Children play, and Castiel says he's not a hammer. | You have some kind of angel watching over you. | See, he has this weakness. He likes you. | Oh Cas, not for nothing, but the last person that looked at me like that? I got laid. | I killed two angels this week -- my brothers -- and I did it, all of it, for you. | Dude, you full on rebelled against Heaven. | We're making it up as we go.---

"Cas..." He manages to make his eyes focus on Cas and sees the intense expression. "You... I thought you weren't here to perch on my shoulder, dude? How long you been looking after me now?"

Cas shrugs, ever so slightly, just a small twitch of a shoulder. "As long as it takes. The time doesn't matter."

Dean stares, his mouth twitching with thoughts half-formed and entirely unspoken. "Still just about immortal, huh?"

Cas nods. "I'm still an angel."

"And still saving me."

---What is so worth saving? I see nothing but pain here. I see inside you. I see your guilt, your anger, confusion. | You stupid ass, what did you do? WHAT DID YOU DO? | Quit asking, Sammy. Man, you don't want to know. | Climbing out of his own grave, his fingernails ripped and bloody, only to find himself at ground zero of what had to have been some kind of huge, fuck off explosion. It didn't seem real, but he knew in his bones that it wasn't an hallucination. | Why would an angel rescue me from Hell? | I didn't pick you, Dean. The Lord did. | I gave everything for you, and this is what you give to me?---

Dean tips his head back into the sofa again, his voice so thick it feels like he's having to force it out through setting glue. "You still an Angel of the Lord, Cas? Or just a generic, small 'a' angel now?" He snorts, and it turns into a kind of sob as he turns to look at Cas. "An angel of mercy, maybe, tending to this broken freak here?"

"My Father lives," Cas says calmly. "You give me my faith back daily."

"Me? What the fuck do I do?"

Smiling softly, Cas tells him, "What you've always done -- refuse to do what everyone else thinks that you should."

---Don't give me that holy crap. Destiny, God's plan, it's all a bunch of lies, you poor, stupid son of a bitch. | A bible clutched in his hand, he raises it to his trembling lips, smelling the fake leather, trying to form a prayer in his terrified thoughts. | I can't do it, Cas. It's too big. Alistair was right. I'm not all here. I'm not strong enough. | I got off that rack. God help me, I got right off it, and I started ripping them apart. I lost count of how many souls. | You don't think you deserve to be saved. | You simpering wad of insecurity and self-loathing. | When we win, when we bring on the Apocalypse and burn this Earth down, we'll owe it all to you, Dean Winchester. | Castiel's hand over Dean's mouth as Dean's slammed into a wall. Castiel's blood, a gash of hard color in this stupid non-reality, smeared onto the same wall---

"I'll always save you, Dean. If I can, I always will." That's the real Cas talking again. The one in this room with him. The memories are coming so thick and fast now that Dean can't keep up.

"And Sam," he says. "You kept saving Sam too. I remember. Even when you didn't like him all that much."

---Your brother's heading down a dangerous road, Dean. | So, Sammy's got a thing for the bad girl. | I need you to watch out for me. | You take care of your little brother? You do anything for him? | We're brothers -- y'know, family -- and no matter how bad it gets, that doesn't change. | If we're gonna see this through, we're gonna do it together. | I told you not to leave this room. I told you not to let him out of your sight! | It turns out that, you and me, we're the fire and oil of the Armageddon. | Whatever we have between us -- love, family, whatever it is -- they're always gonna use it against us. | And Sam's an abomination...---

"That changed," Cas says, looking down. "Sam was my friend. I... owed him."

God, that past tense hurts. How did Sam even die this time? How could Dean have let that happen again? He wraps his arms tight around himself, feeling like he's been slashed across the guts, and he's gotta somehow keep them from spilling out onto the floor in a stinking mess. And still the memories come...

---I couldn't live with you dead. Just couldn't do it. | I can see it in your eyes, Dean. You're worthless. You couldn't save your dad, and deep down, you know that you can't save your brother. | I'm gonna be the one to bury you. | You were born to this, boys. It's your destiny. It was always you. | We offer up our lives, blood, souls to complete this tribute. | He's your brother, and he's drowning. | Sam didn't die in Detroit. He said 'yes'. | You chose a demon over your own brother. | This isn't a war. This is about two brothers that loved each other and then betrayed each other.---

But Sam didn't betray him, not this time. Oh Christ. No way did he, not after they'd made up and- "Cas, tell me how he died. Please."

"He became Lucifer's vessel, and we-"

"No!" Dean grips Cas' arms and tries to shake him. "No way, no how. Sammy didn't do that. He wouldn't ever. Not ever." But he did, and Dean knows it. Dean remembers it.

---Deep down you already know. | I just don't look at family the way you do. | Everybody leaves you, Dean -- mummy, daddy, even Sam. Ever ask yourself why? | So screw destiny right in the face. I say we take the fight to them and do it our way. | You're gonna suck it up, accept your responsibilities, and play the roles that destiny has chosen for you. | All those angels, all those demons, all those sons of bitches, they just don't get it. | So I gotta ask, Dean, what exactly are you afraid of -- losing, or losing your brother? | I mean it, Dean, what would you rather have: peace or freedom? | I mean, hell, if you've grown up enough to find faith in me, least I can do is return the favor. | If this is what you want, I'll back your play.---

"Oh God, Cas. I actually gave... I gave him my blessing."

"At the time, he was the only hope we had for success," Cas says, unmoving in Dean's frantic grip. "There was only the slightest chance he could overwhelm Lucifer, but there was no other... straw to clutch at."

Dean releases Cas and presses two fingers hard into the space between his own eyebrows. "But he did it. He took control. Lucifer was beating the living shit out of me, and Sammy..."

"Sam gained control long enough to throw himself into the Pit."

"So he's in Hell?" Fuck, the thought of Sam going through what Dean had experienced at the hands of Alistair is more than he can bear. Dean feels his face screw up, his throat thicken still further. "Sammy's in Hell?"

"No, Dean." Cas' gaze is an anchor in the storm of memory, fear and pain. "I believe Sam to be in Heaven."

"But he fell..." There's something Dean isn't remembering. He's remembered so much, but there's something more. A lot of somethings.

---You gotta promise not to try to bring me back. | We're supposed to be a team. Supposed to be you and me against the world, right? | You go find Lisa. You pray to God she's dumb enough to take you in. You have barbecues and go to football games. You go live some normal, apple pie life. | Hey, you gonna sit down? C'mon, we only have an hour before we have to pick Ben up from baseball. | I know the life that I live. I know how that's gonna end for me. Whatever. I'm okay with that, but I wanted you to know that when I do picture myself happy, it's with you and the kid. ---

Lisa. Oh jeez, Lisa and Ben.

---This place feels real, but it's Memorex. Real is down there. | So it's the djinn all over again, but this time there's no happy anything. However hard Dean tries to fake it, it just ain't coming. There's no Sammy, and there never will be any 'happy' again. | Until there is, just for one beautiful moment. Sam's face in the window, staring in with a strange look upon his face. And Dean knows joy and hope and all those crappy, crazy, stupid emotions that are never ever anything more than lies, plain and simple.---

"Lucifer came back," he says flatly. "Escaped. Lucifer and... and Michael." Oh God, Michael. "Adam..."

"Adam didn't make it."

"Why? What does that even mean? If Lucifer was loose, wouldn't Michael need his... his..." Dean rocks back and forwards, his arms wrapped tightly around himself. He doesn't want to hear the answer to his own question. He doesn't want to remember it.

But he knows already, otherwise why fight it so hard?

---Do you give yourself over wholly to the service of God and his angels? | If I let him in, then Michael fights the Devil. The battle's gonna torch half the planet. | Michael is much more powerful. It'll be far worse for you. | By the time I'm through with you, you're going to be begging to say 'yes'. | You're the vessel, Michael's vessel. | The Lord guides me. I looked into your heart, and you just stood out from all of the rest. | When our side wins -- and we will -- it's paradise on Earth. Now, what's not to like about that? | In Paradise, all is forgiven. You'll be at peace, even with Sam. | Unlike my brothers, I won't leave you a drooling mess when I'm done with you. | Nuclear's the only option we have left. Michael can ice the devil, save a boat load of people.---

"Make it stop, Cas," he pleads, his eyes staring blindly. "Please."

"You need to remember, Dean. I'm sorry."

"What good is sorry if you won't stop it?" Dean just about wails it out, but Cas seems as unchanging as a fricking rockface.

"In his proper vessel," he tells Dean, "Lucifer was finally capable of fulfilling his promise to eradicate humanity from Earth. Only Michael could stop him, but Adam wasn't a strong enough vessel. Lucifer stripped him easily from Michael during the first clash after their escape. We were there. You thought that maybe you could help bring Sam to the surface again."

---You need to watch out for me, all right? And if I ever turn into something I'm not... | When Satan takes you over, there's gotta be somebody there to fight him, and it ain't gonna be that kid, so it's gotta be me. | Sam, but not Sam. Sam's face, Sam's body, Sam's voice, but all of it so wrong, so overwhelmingly wrong... | For you or Dad, the things I'm willing to do or kill, it's just... It scares me sometimes. | There is no other way. There must be a battle. Michael must defeat the serpent. It is written. | Whatever you do, you will always end up here. Whatever choices you make, whatever details you alter, we will always end up here. I win, so I win. | It's not blame that falls on you, Dean. It's fate. | I'm tired, man. I'm tired of fighting who I'm supposed to be. | It's not random; it's not chance. It's a plan that is playing itself out perfectly.---

Dean's remembering it all now. He remembers Detroit, remembers Stull, remembers his little 'family' and what happened to them.

---I don't want you to worry because I'm making arrangements for you and Ben. Whatever happens, you'll be okay. | I'm so sorry about this, Dean. Truly. I know how much this hurts you. But, you see, Ben is of your bloodline. Really, I'm showing mercy to the kid. If Michael ever tries to take him, it'd blow him apart. | Lucifer, not Sam, looking out of those puppy dog hazels. Lucifer, not Sam, laughing as he destroys the life that had been Sam's last wish for Dean. A hand gesture and Ben is nothing, dust scattering on the breeze. Lisa's not so lucky... Lucifer, not Sam, standing over Dean, dripping in blood and grinning his alien grin.---

Dean had thought that was finally it; he was dead, about to be, and he was way more than okay with that. But Lucifer just placed a soft hand on Dean's hair as if laying a blessing on him and told him that he'd never hurt him. While Dean lived, Sam wouldn't give up, would stay angry, just the way Lucifer liked him.

And anyway, Michael needed Dean, which was as it should be.

It was then that the ghost took up residence in Dean's heart, breathing its icy breath, painting crackling frost over all that Dean was. Life in the deep freeze was no fun. It wasn't anything at all. But it made him hard and sharp like ice, which was... as it should be.

---You can't win, and you know it. But you just keep fighting, just keep going through the motions. You're not hungry, Dean, because inside you're already dead. | The time for tricks is over. Give yourself to Michael, say 'yes', and we can strike. | Destiny can't be changed, Dean. All roads lead to the same destination. | I'm gonna die, and you can't stop it. | This is what happens to the world if you continue to say 'no' to Michael. | From the moment Dad flipped on the lights around here, we knew it was all gonna end with you. Always. | When the push shoves, you'll make the right call. | Dean, I was wrong, and I'm begging you, say 'yes'. | Just say 'yes'. | Because we're blood.---

"I did it, didn't I?" Dean turns a desperate face to Cas. "I spread my legs for Michael." The angel in his nightmares, God's first born, the Archangel Michael. After everything, all the pointless denial and defiance, Dean had gone and done it, and this time, no one had tried to stop him.

"You made a deal with him after seeing the horror of pandemic Croatoan," Cas says and there's something rough and grating in his voice now. "You'd say 'yes' if he vowed to protect Sam's soul during the fight, if he guaranteed Sam would be granted a place in Heaven once Lucifer was defeated, and if he promised to save all the non-infected humans he could after the fight was over. Michael... made that vow."

Dean focuses his eyes more sharply upon Cas. "And did he also keep that vow?"

"I believe so. I felt it best to avoid Heaven after stealing you away, so I can't be sure. Certainly the Croatoan virus has vanished from this world."

Dean heaves a shuddering breath. That's it then. He's remembered it all, every awful little fact of it. The dream-shadow's got him good, but at least it's done with him now. "Was it the right decision, Cas?" he asks, and Christ, his voice sounds so harsh to his own ears. "The one I made, to break out the 'vacancies' sign and welcome mat?"

Cas starts to reach out, but then his hand just drops to his lap. "You didn't feel like you had a choice. The world was burning, and Sam was in constant torment. We knew that by then, that he was still alive inside his body. Lucifer wouldn't hurt you physically, so he made do with that, with letting you catch brief glimpses of Sam screaming inside him each time you met."

"That part's not coming back," Dean claims, eyes widening as he puts an immediate lockdown on his thoughts. "Think Michael must've nuked my short-term memory but good. Don't remember anything about being a vessel either."

Cas tips his head to the side and looks like he doesn't quite believe Dean, but all he says is, "That's probably for the best."

"Why?" Dean suddenly feels anger, roaring up inside him. With it comes words he doesn't plan, spilling out from his lips, betraying himself with each one. "Tell me why, Cas! Is it because I killed Sammy? I did, didn't I? Just like everyone and everything always said I would. And don't go telling me now that it was Michael, not me, 'cause it was still my damn hand that did it, wasn't it?"

"I won't tell you that, Dean," Cas says and then closes his eyes. "Because I can't, not truthfully."

"It wasn't Michael?"

Cas shakes his head and opens his eyes back up. He reaches over to touch two fingers to Dean's forehead, and fool that he is, Dean doesn't stop him. "Remember," Cas whispers, and Dean does.

Lucifer had gone hardcore, striding around the world in Sam's body and apologizing for the tragic necessity of it all every time Dean saw him. Dean was the only one who could get close to him safely, Lucifer having promised, and the bastard seemed to take it as a matter of pride that he never lied. It was hell for Dean each time, seeing Sammy like that, but he kept on going 'cause that was what he did. Never did know when to give up on a hunt.

Lucifer had let Sam out, again and again, just for half a minute or so, no more, but each time long enough for Sam to beg Dean not to hesitate if he got the chance. Killing him would be mercy as well as the right thing for the dying world. That's what Sammy said, and damn him, Dean had to agree.

So after the last meeting, Dean had gone back to Cas and hugged him tight, and then, 'cause he really had nothing left to lose, he kissed Cas for the first time. Cas seemed to know immediately what that meant. Dean never even said a word, didn't feel he needed to with Cas staring at him like that, and then Cas placed his hand on Dean's chest. Looking as grim as Dean had ever seen him, Cas closed his eyes. Dean felt a jolt and knew that the protective sigils were gone from his ribs.

A day or so later, Dean gave up on waiting for Heaven to notice. He went into the parking lot and called to Michael, who came immediately, like the freaking sun dropping from the sky in front of Dean.

He felt it as the archangel entered him and kept on entering him. It was too much, way too much. Dean was only human, only human size. There was nowhere near enough room inside him for that much light. It burned away everything, even the fear, but 'burned' was the wrong word really. Angels don't burn; it seems that's a Hell thing. Angels cauterize with a kind of spiritual liquid nitrogen. For Dean, already deep-frozen in his heart, it was like being buried fifty feet under packed snow. He was flat and numb and slowing right the hell down 'til he couldn't even think one word a minute, couldn't remember anything about who he was or what he was doing at all.

He remembered light though. He never lost that.

He doesn't know what happened next or how long it took. All he knows is that when he next became aware, he was in some kill or be killed slaughterfest with Sam. Only, it wasn't Sam, and he wasn't Dean, not really. Just a one soul audience to Michael's star performance.

It was one hell of a showdown. Dean knew that even though he only caught glimpses at first, here and there, when his soul or psyche or what-the-fuck-ever bubbled up to brief awareness before sinking back down into cryogenic storage again. As things got fiercer, more desperate, he saw more, stayed up longer, as if Michael couldn't spare the energy to keep Dean completely out of it.

So he watched himself fly at impossible speeds, wielding a sword that, yeah, was actually sparkling with electricity or something similar. He was slashing at Sammy-who-wasn't with it, drawing more and more blood, but still not getting in that killing blow.

There'd never been any doubt in Dean's mind that it was Michael who would win the fight, so it took him a little while to get what was really happening. It was when Michael somehow missed the third and even more glaring opportunity to end it, end Lucifer and Sam together, that Dean finally got it. For all his 'I'm the good son' rhetoric, when it came down to it, Michael couldn't make himself kill his little brother. Christ knows, no one had expected that one, but maybe Dean, of all people, should've.

Eventually, even Michael grew tired, but Lucifer, sensing maybe that the tide was turning, was twisting Sam's face into a hungry wolf grin. There were taunts and telekinetic missiles as well as plenty of good old Enochian flying around, and under the cover of this pelting rain, Lucifer struck like a snake. And Michael... Michael fell down to the ground, his wings all twisted and fucked up and his sword gone flying.

Lucifer swooped down to steal the sword and then hung in the air above Michael like a miniature star, spouting his usual stupid bullshit about how terribly tragic this all was and how he wished it could be different. Michael just lay there, staring up, and Dean recognized the symptoms 'cause, hell, he'd been there enough himself. It was too much, and Michael couldn't do it, so he'd surrendered inside.

Christ, Dean actually felt a little sorry for the bastard.

Lucifer raised the blade, and Dean consoled himself that soon it'd be over for all of them. Only it wouldn't, would it? Sam was still stuck inside the heart of the hurricane. Dean stared up with eyes he could suddenly control again and begged, "Sammy? You in there, bro?"

And Lucifer froze in place. "Dean," he staggered out, only it wasn't the cuckoo talking. It was Sam. "Dean, do it now. I can't hold him long."

"Sammy, I can't!" But even as Dean said it, he was struggling to his feet.

"You have to, I'm begging you, Dean. Don't make me live through any more of this. Please, let it end now for all of us. Stop this while there are still people left to save." And Dean remembers that he nodded because, after years of denying he'd ever do it, he now knew there really wasn't any reason left not to. When Dad, possessed by Yellow-eyes, had begged Sam to kill him, Sam hadn't been able to do it. Well, looked like Dean was the good son, after all...

He took the sword gently from Sam's raised hand. "See you in Paradise, dude," he said without real hope as he pushed it through Sammy's throat in one hard thrust and then twisted, just to make sure...

And so there Dean was, right at point blank range, when Lucifer's grace finally detonated in a tempest of mutually assured destruction. It was that which had wiped Dean from his own skull, he now realizes, not Michael possessing him. He's not sure that Michael was even still there at the end.

Dean has to guess that Cas found him in the wreckage afterward and dragged him to this place, wherever the fuck they are. Or maybe after hospital visits and similar shit, 'cause he'd talked about doctors, hadn't he? And then Cas had started his shiny new career as the full time nurse of an adult-sized baby.

Dean doesn't remember anything after twisting the sword and that inferno of light, until finally becoming aware of himself in the cottage here.

On the sofa, back in the present day, Dean shudders.

"Dean?" Cas asks from beside him.

"That's me."

"Are you all right?" It's such a damn stupid question that Dean nearly laughs, but in the end he decides he can't be bothered.

They sit in silence for a while, Cas' concerned stare feeling like an ever heavier weight upon Dean's shoulders. It's like Cas is waiting for something to happen, some further dam to break or something like that.

"Cas?" Dean says in the end, doing his best to oblige.

"Yes, Dean?"

"You should've left me to rot, you stupid fucking bastard."

Chapter Text

"Dean, come to bed."

Every time Dean closes his eyes, he sees light, nothing but bleaching, obliterating light, and he thinks he might just be the only soul alive who knows what it's like to stand at ground zero when the bomb hits. He sees light so bright it's like he sees nothing, and he hears an endless scream.

It's Lucifer screaming with Sam's throat.

So he's stopped closing them, his eyes. He tries hard to not even blink, just stares, eyes unfocused, at the blurred throb of the flashing Christmas tree lights. He stares, and he remembers... other things.

"Dean. It's several hours past the time you normally retire."

He tried sleeping earlier. The knife that twisted in his guts every time he woke and remembered it all, all over again, persuaded him that no way was he going to take another stab at sleep until his body gave him no choice about it at all.

Back in the days before Lucifer and Michael, before Hell and demon blood addiction, back then when Dean woke suddenly during the night, he only needed one thing to soothe him back to sleep. That was the sight of his giant baby brother sprawled all over the other bed, snoring and snorting and just there. If Sammy was okay, then so was Dean. Things were that simple once.

Christ, it hurts worse than anything, remembering those days now -- the time before angels and destinies, when all that mattered was having enough salt cartridges and watching out for his brother in a fight. And yeah, he gets that it wasn't really before those things, but he and Sam, they didn't know about them, not then, and that was enough.

How's he supposed to go on, to keep living, with all his family gone? How?

"Dean, please..."

He guesses Cas is family in a way now, but it was Cas who did this to him, so he's lost all privileges as far as Dean's concerned.

Is Sam really in Paradise now? Michael promised, but Dean's long past trusting any angel, arch or not. If he can only know Sam's okay, for definite, then maybe he can do this, go on in a world without Sam in it. What the fuck ever's left of the damn world, anyway, 'cause once Lucifer escaped Hell in his new designer suit, he made it clear just how much 'Nick' had been holding him back. For all Dean knows, there's just him and Cas left down here, if 'here' is even still Earth.

But yeah, if he could know for sure about Sammy, then maybe he could do this. He tried it for a while, after all, with Lisa and Ben... but look what happened to them.

How long did Michael ride Dean's bones 'til the arch-dick finally thought he had the balls enough to commit fratricide? How many more millions died in the meantime? It can't have been that long. For all that he was the biggest bad ass of the winged tools, Michael wasn't that much of a douche. Dean might even have liked him in different circumstances. Very different circumstances.

He could ask Cas all these questions and more, he guesses. Find out how much of the world is left, find out who, if any, of his few remaining friends survived. But he doesn't want to know if Bobby's rotting in some grave somewhere, without even the proper hunter's funeral that was his right. Why the fuck would Dean want to know that? If he doesn't ask, then maybe Bobby's still alive and giving the world hell, pulling it up by its scruff, helping it get back on its feet again.

Anyway, if he talks to Cas right now he's liable to punch him hard in the mouth, and he really doesn't need a broken hand on top of everything else. Cas is supposed to be Dean's friend, his best friend. How could the bastard do this to him?

Everyone betrays him in the end. He guesses it's because he's not worth the effort of keeping promises. Jesus, he's turning emo.

"Dean, you're shivering. I want you to get into bed now. Maybe some music would help you relax."

Moving for the first time in what's probably been hours, Dean snatches the iPod out of the cradle, and for a few seconds, he considers throwing it hard against the wall, watching it smash. Could be good, watching Cas try to paint a mask of blank over the hurt. Dean wants him to hurt. It's not like anything Dean could do would ever do Cas the harm that Cas has done to him.

Then Dean remembers getting into the Impala for the first time after Hell and seeing an iPod there, Sammy's iPod. He cradles this new one to him and instead grabs the earplugs from the open box as he stands. "Bathroom," he mutters. "Teeth and shit."

In the bathroom, he rapidly dismantles his razor enough to make a crappy scalpel, and then he slices at his arm, taking care to miss any major blood vessel 'cause suicide's not what this is about. Not yet, anyway. It's a matter of less than thirty seconds to recreate the symbols he's seen Cas paint again and again on their walls. It's not the 'fuck-off, celestial dick' spell. It's just the 'keep the hell out' one.

"Get the hint, Angel of the Lord," he says quietly. Can you divorce friends? Well, you can now 'cause he's just drawn the line. Their friendship stops here. The 'more profound' bond is broken.

Dean can hear Castiel on the other side of the door now. He's obviously sensed the warding, but too late. He's starting to sound a little frantic, but he's not banging on the door. Dean guesses he can't, thanks to the sigil on this side of it. Adiós, angel. The earphones, once Dean's started the music playing, take care of the annoying yelling.

After wrapping the hand towel tight around his arm, Dean sits on the floor, his back to the door and his knees bent up. Peace at last. Peace and the screams of Lucifer, 'cause it'll take more than Clapton warbling about 'waiting in a place where the shadows run from themselves' to block that out.

But that's okay because -- inside Dean's head? -- he and Lucifer are full on duetting that scream.


(art by ebke-vile)

Dean is floating on his back in the river, fully dressed. He lets the slow current bob him gently downstream. He's not cold, not anymore. There's still a little snow on the shadowed areas of ground under the trees, but Dean's not cold. He's not anything much at all.

He's staring at the clear winter's sky through the bare branches of the overhanging willows. Somewhere, he knows, Castiel is watching him. That's all the angel ever does now, watches. He gave up trying to talk to Dean weeks ago. Well, sometimes he still stops Dean with words as well as hands, puts an end to Dean's more actively emo displays, provides the padding for the padded cell that this house of theirs has become. Maybe it always was. It's not like Castiel's any more sane than Dean is, not by angel standards.

Castiel will be putting a stop to Dean's latest exhibition of crazy any moment now. Dean's waiting for it, but he's not impatient. He can't lift his arms anymore, but he's not worried. He's not anything. It's so peaceful out here. Is this what Paradise is like? The child is grown; the dream is gone, but Dean has become comfortably numb.

He closes his eyes, listening to the caw of crows nearby. When he opens them again, he's lying naked in a bath of scalding hot water. He tries to struggle up, but his body's not responding well to his commands. Ah, there's an angel's hand on his chest, holding him down. Might as well be an anvil, for all that he can shift it.

The water's probably not as hot as it feels, he tells himself. If he remembers his back country first aid right, it'll be lukewarm. So it's not really boiling his skin from his body, just feels that way now that sensation is returning to his limbs. Why the hell couldn't Castiel just fix him with the usual two-finger salute? He glowers up at Castiel, who is kneeling beside the bath, blank-faced and silent, but his eyes are reproachful. Dean doesn't much like that look so he closes his own eyes.

After a little while, he opens them to find himself moved again. He's dry and in his bed now, Castiel adding extra blankets as Dean focuses on him.

"Make me forget again," he tells the angel. His voice doesn't even sound like him. Rusty from lack of use, he guesses.

"I can't."

"Liar. Lying bastard."

Castiel straightens, closing his eyes briefly and releasing a tiny sigh. "Very well, I won't. I'm not prepared to damage you like that."

"Because you get off on my pain."

"Dean, I don't-"

"Shut up! Shut the fuck up. I don't want to hear it." Dean struggles to make his weakened body turn under the heavy weight of blankets. He hears Castiel move away from him. After a little while, Dean starts to shiver again. He curls himself up like a pill bug, sobbing. He wants to be numb again. He wants not to feel anything at all.

Then he feels the covers being pulled back, and Castiel gets in behind him. Dean's so grateful for the heat that he lets Castiel move him around however he wants. Castiel puts a wrapped hot water bottle to Dean's belly and loops an arm around both Dean and it, holding them together. Castiel's body is like a fire all the way down Dean's back. It's momentarily blissful until Dean remembers everything again.

They never tell you that about mourning, do they? How sometimes you forget for whole seconds of a time, just long enough to enjoy something small, to maybe form half a smile. And then it's just there again, a known fact, sticking huge fuck-off pins into your heart and making everything swim in that piss-colored haze of pain.

"Cas, please. I'm begging here. Don't answer; don't tell me all the reasons you can't. Just do it. Please. Give me back to the shadows."

Castiel doesn't answer, but he tightens his arm around Dean, and Dean feels something that feels like a kiss on the back of his neck. He briefly considers violence, but what's the point of raging against this indestructible machine? Even when the indestructible machine's being a touchy-feely pervert -- because they both know Castiel could warm Dean up with a single thought if he wanted to. What the fuck's the point of any of this anyway?

Dean closes his eyes and makes believe it's Sammy holding him, keeping him warm, which is wrong in so many more ways, but what does he care? Nothing matters anymore.

"I'll never forgive you for this," he tells the person he's refusing to believe is really there. "Never."


When Dean walks into the kitchen, Castiel is chopping up vegetables with his back to the door. Dean yanks a carving knife from the rack and thrusts it with all his regained strength through Castiel's not-really-there wings and into his back. It goes through the clothes just fine, but hits a rib. Dean adjusts his aim ever so slightly and puts his whole body into his second thrust. The knife sinks deep.

Castiel doesn't react much to start with other than to straighten up. Dean lets go of the knife and steps back while Castiel slowly turns around. There's a bubble of frothy blood on his lip, but he pays it no attention. Instead, he frowns a little absently at Dean and contorts himself, twisting his arm around and up his back. The knife falls to the floor behind him. He turns again, crouches, and picks it up, studying the bloodied blade as if he's never seen anything like it before. The hole in his jacket remains, but the blood around the frayed edge looks old and dried.

As Dean continues to watch in silence, Castiel stands again and takes the knife to the sink, where he proceeds to wash it carefully. After leaving it to dry on the rack, he goes back to chopping his vegetables as if nothing has happened.

Unexpectedly, Dean finds his face is wet. He doesn't know what the fuck that's about. So he just tried to kill his best friend; so what? Not like it would ever take, is it? Nah, a knife in the back's little more than a love tap to his ass of an angel.

Some sort of crazy hybrid, Castiel is, between the good fairy keeping Dean safely asleep behind a fence of thorns and the handsome pretty-boy waking him up with a kiss or thirty.

"I hate you," he tells Castiel's back. He aims for casual with his tone, but gets nowhere near that bullseye.

"I know," Castiel says without inflection.

"You pitiless bastard. You're worse than any demon."

"Because I won't mutilate your mind?" Castiel puts his chopping knife down and gathers together the pieces of carrot, mushroom and onion into a small bowl. "Because I won't let you kill yourself?"

"What you've done to me by bringing me back into this world is worse than my forty years in Hell. You hear me? I'd rather have Alistair's blade digging into my hidden depths again than have another moment of this life you've brought me back to."

He thinks Castiel's shoulders are, maybe, more slumped now. He hopes they are, but it's hard to see for sure, what with the huge wings pulled so tightly in, the apex of them taller than the top of Castiel's head. "What was I supposed to do?" Castiel asks quietly. "Break my promise and just leave you in the basement of some institution?"

"Why not? It wouldn't have bothered me, would it? I could've stayed mindless, not knowing and not feeling, 'til I died. Instead, you set me up for this, you selfish bastard. You coward."

"Coward?" Castiel's wings flare, his hands gripping the edge of the counter. "Selfish?"

"You think I don't know why you did this to me? You think I'm that stupid? Have you completely forgotten who I am, what I did? I'm the fool who kick-started the fucking Apocalypse all because I couldn't bury my brother. Just couldn't do it. I brought him back just so he could watch me die in turn. So he could screw a demon and get himself hooked on hell-blood and then give up everything to Satan just to redeem himself. You really think I don't know co-dependent behavior when it bites me on the ass? Or, you know, carries on making my supper after I just stabbed it in the back?"

Castiel bends his head. "So, your theory is that I've nursed you, taken care of you, because I... need you?"

"Too damn right you need me. You'd done the prodigal son thing, gone home with a hefty promotion package. You were gonna be the new sheriff in town; that's what you told me. But you couldn't keep away, could you? Oh yeah, I sensed you outside Lisa's house, night after night. I used to lie there wondering if you'd ever find the balls enough to talk to me, but you never did. Not until they escaped. Then suddenly you were back at my side, telling me the world needed me again, but it wasn't the world that needed me, you stupid douche. It was you."

Castiel's wings are giving nothing away. "You are my friend," he says quietly. "I have no others left."

"Yeah, welcome to the family, bro, but news-flash? You ain't got this one either, not any more."

Castiel turns around to face him. "I chose you over my brothers, and having made that choice, I found I couldn't unmake it. But I chose to look after you rather than let some stranger do it because you asked me to, Dean. You made me promise. "

"I asked you to?" Dean repeats uncertainly.

"A few days before you said 'yes' to Michael -- it was just after the San Andreas fault cracked open."

"Christ," Dean mutters.

He scans through his reclaimed memories. He hasn't exactly wanted to actively remember any of that time just before Michael took up residence, so though the memories are now accessible, he hasn't been going over them in his head, and yeah, Castiel isn't lying. Dean did ask him, but he hadn't really meant this, this 24-hour care thing. He just didn't want to be that poor dribbling vegetable that had been Raphael's vessel, stuffed in an empty hospital room and just forgotten.

Dean looks down. "We were standing on a hillside looking down at the lights of some burning town, just us. I'd asked you to take me somewhere to talk, but we didn't do much talking in the end, did we?" He snorts softly. "What was the point? We both already knew what was going to happen. We were just waiting, the both of us, for Lucifer to lay that last little straw on my back."

"I'm sorry."

"Fuck. Fuck it." Dean bites his lip and strides in ragged circles around the kitchen. His hands are already scabbed and bruised from punching walls and trees, but he's clenching them again now and knows it's only a matter of time before he adds to the wound count. "Did you have to look after me so damn well that I came back? I never wanted that. I never wanted to come back to this."

"I'm sorry. If it means anything, I never really expected you to recover your wits." Castiel looks down and adds very quietly, "I can't regret that you have."

Dean stares at him for a long time. In the end, Castiel turns back to the counter and picks up his bowl of vegetables. He takes them over to a frying pan on the stove and pours them into it.

"I'm not gay," Dean hears himself say.

"What?"

"You heard me."

"Yes, I did, but I failed to understand. I'm sorry." Castiel adds oil to the pan. Dean glares at his back, at the shield of his wings.

"Yeah, always so sorry about everything. Doesn't actually stop you from doing those things though, does it? All those things you're so damn sorry about." Just like Lucifer. All angels are the same when it comes down to the basics.

"Dean, I know you're angry with me, but-"

"You don't know dickshit, you kinky douche. You're not sorry. You're only sorry I remembered, that's all. Liked having me dependent on you, didn't you? Hanging on your every word 'cause that's all I knew. Letting you make out with me, grope me, 'cause I didn't know better. You. Fucking. Pervert."

"Dean, I didn't!" Castiel turns around again. He looks... shocked. "I stopped. Every time you- I always stopped it!"

"Not the fucking making out you didn't! Persuaded yourself into believing that was okay, didn't you? And how long would it have been before you talked yourself into thinking a little naked touching wouldn't do any harm, huh? Hell, we were cuddled together every night in bed wearing next to nothing, your hard dick pressed against my ass. Against my fucking ass! Shit, for all I know you were getting yourself off for months before I came back to myself, feeling me up in the bath."

"That- That- That's unfair, Dean! I would never-"

"Unfair." Dean snorts loudly. "Yeah, 'cause I care so much about being fair to the super-powered dick who's been getting his pervy human-molesting kicks at my expense for months. Freaking months!" If not years. How long's he been here anyway? Could be two, three years? One hundred years asleep behind a wall of thorns? He's damned if he knows and isn't sure if he cares either.

There's nothing remotely blank about Castiel's expression right now. His whole face is contorting, like his muscles are trying to twist his flesh in all directions at once. He stares at Dean, his posture becoming more and more bent over and huddled. Then, just like that, he's gone.

Fuck.

Suddenly all the fight has gone out of Dean, and all he can hear is all the things Cas didn't say in his own defense. He didn't have to say them; Dean hears them just the same. Now. When it's too late. Just how much of an ungrateful little shit is he?

He takes the frying pan from the heat and fully intends to place it on the tiles to cool down. Somehow he finds himself empty handed and staring at a large jagged hole in the kitchen window instead. Cold air rushes in, hot air out, and Dean sinks to his knees.

Where's a poisoned spindle when you need one?


The disappearing act, Dean decides, would have more of an impact if he didn't know full well Cas is still watching him. It's been days since the angel decided invisibility was the better part of valor, but Dean can sense him out there, at a different angle from the rest of reality, or whatever the hell it is that angels do to achieve the peeping dick effect. Cas doesn't trust Dean to be on his own for even a second now, and hell, he's probably right not to from a guardian angel point of view. From a self-hating, nihilistic, death-wish point of view, however, Dean wishes Mr Flappy would just flap the hell off and stay flapped.

Seriously now.

Dean sinks down in the grass, his back to the trunk of a tree. His legs are weak and shaking. Despite Cas' exercises, he doesn't feel like he's recovered even half the muscle mass he used to have. That's okay. It means his body matches his mind now - feeble and flailing and so fucking tired it's a miracle it can still function at all. He hasn't exactly been sleeping. The bed feels all wrong without Cas in it, and all he can see when he closes his eyes is Sammy's face as the life left it, the way that strong jaw went slack and the determined eyes dulled.

There's something wrong with Dean's hands. It's not just that they're cold and dirty. Trying to bury stuff in the frozen dirt without tools does that. It's not just that they're shaking. They shake all the time now, like he's in withdrawal, or has some nerve disease. No, it's his fingers that are bothering him. They seem to be stuck in a shape that's all wrong. They're fine when he's using them. They do stuff just the same as ever. It's that, when they're supposed to be relaxed, they're not. They're wrong, rigid and clawing like restless talons, like he's got the worst case of arthritis ever.

They ache, but pretty much everything aches now, and not just things that are part of him. The whole world is one big, throbbing ache, pulsing around him, big and then small, and then huge and then tiny, his whole perception of things in constant flux like he's feverish, but he doesn't think he is, just crazy. Just out of his head, no relenting and no release crazy. Or maybe just so tired he's sick with it.

At this extreme of no sleep, there's probably not all that much difference between crazy and exhausted anyway.

Still, he's got to be crazy to be doing what he's doing here. Calling a crossroad demon after everything that's happened? Yeah, that's beyond loony tunes. Not that it seems to be working. It's because he couldn't find the right things to put in the box, isn't it? And there weren't any photos of him anywhere in the house, so he's resorted to drawing a self-portrait on a piece of notepaper. It looks like a four year old did it.

Doesn't help that there's no mirrors anywhere in the house, but what do you expect from angelic home decor?

It's not like this crossing of tiny paths that he himself trod down into the long grass is a real crossroads, either. Even the box he's using is wrong. It's an old cardboard rice box 'cause that's all he could find, and it's way too disrespectful for a prideful demon to bother answering. That's if there are still crossroad demons out there, but last time Dean saw Crowley, the demon was looking forward to 'getting back to the job' once Lucifer was out of the way. And Crowley would come for him, disrespectful box or not. Dean's sure of that.

But after half an hour or so of shivering beneath the trees, he guesses Crowley just isn't getting the message. The stupid box is never going to work, and that's why Cas hasn't bothered to stop him so far. Something inside Dean feels a little sad, realizing that, as if he'd been looking forward to seeing his stupid angel again. Well, it is kind of lonely out here, just him and his insanity, which isn't, Dean feels, the best of conversationalists. They keep having the same chats over and over, and Dean's getting bored of the gibbering now.

Maybe Crowley or whoever just can't get through all the warding around this place. Maybe they don't just to protect this place from angels.

Sighing, Dean crouches again and digs his pathetic little box back up, ignoring the sharp pains that stab through his otherwise numbed fingers. He pushes the box's contents back in when they tumble down onto the hard clods of soil. Standing, he heads for the borders, intending to rebury it all outside the protections, but as soon as he crosses over to the unsafe outside, he drops the box and freezes on the spot because he can feel it.

The light has sensed him immediately and is coming for him.

He'd forgotten. In all that mind-consuming remembering he's been doing, all the not-sleeping, all the ranting at invisible angels and swimming around in oceans of his own sickening tears, he's somehow managed to forget about the danger in the here and now.

It can only be a matter of a few seconds, but it feels like aeons to Dean. He stands in the long grass and bracken, not breathing or even thinking, paralyzed with terror, feeling the light get closer and closer...

And then he's back, safe in the house. The light -- Michael, he guesses -- is nowhere to be sensed. Cas has saved him. Again.

Even as he realizes this, he feels his shoulders grasped hard, and he is shaken, making his teeth chatter together. "Are you really so angry with me," Cas demands, standing far too close, "that you'd give yourself back to Perdition just to spite the one who took you from its clutches in the first place?"

"That wasn't why I was doing it, why I wanted a deal," Dean mumbles, unable to meet Cas' eyes as he tries to recover some sort of composure. He can't believe he just did that. Demons and Hell are one thing, but archangels with the hots for his bod are something else altogether. He's not going there again.

The grip on his shoulders tightens further, making Dean wince. "It's a pretty elaborate suicide method considering the other tools at your disposal," Cas spits, his voice as hard as his fingers.

"That wasn't why I was doing it either. I just wanted..."

"What? What did you want so badly you'd sell yourself into never-ending torture again?"

"Just... Just what we had." He manages to meet Cas' glare for a second or so before his gaze slides off to the side. "What you refuse to give me back."

"What I refuse...?" Cas tips his head to one side, looking perplexed, and the gesture is so rich a memento for Dean that he feels something rupture inside him. "To take your reclaimed memories back from you?"

"Happiest I've ever been in my whole fricking life," Dean says, ignoring his own tears 'cause they're kind of a given these days. "Never knew such peace existed. Please, Cas, can't we go back? Just me and you, this house, the windmill and the river -- can't we have that back? You were happy too, weren't you?"

Cas nods. It's almost imperceptible, but Dean's sure he didn't imagine it.

He grabs at Cas' shoulders in turn. "It was Heaven, close as I'm ever gonna get to it. I had none of this... this baggage. I didn't have to remember all my failures and fuck-ups, all my losses, Sammy, and ... and Hell. I was free for the first time in my life, free to be happy. It was blissful, Cas. Fucking blissful."

Cas kind of twitches. "It was temporary. It could only ever be temporary, Dean. Only Paradise is permanent for human souls. It was... like childhood. Eventually, every human has to grow up and take on adult responsibilities."

"I had adult responsibilities from when I was four years old onwards," Dean points out. "Never really had a damn childhood. I might have sinned plenty since, but the original sin? That wasn't mine! I deserve a little Eden, for fuck's sake."

"And you had it," Cas points out in turn, dropping his hands and backing off so that Dean's hands fall too. "To put you back in that state would be immoral."

"Why, for fuck's sake? It's no more immoral than, I dunno, amputating a gangrenous limb." Dean steps forward and grabs Cas by the shoulders again. "My mind's dead and rotting, Cas. Time to operate!"

"Dean, I can't. I just can't." For a few moments, Cas' face is a picture of naked pain, but then the blankness is back, not that it's hiding anything, not with his wings all hunched and looking like they're fricking moulting. "You don't mean it, anyway. You're stronger than this."

Dean shakes his head slowly, ignoring the claim that he's stronger than anything when they both know he's so fucking weak it's laughable. He breaks as easy as wet tissue paper. "This is hurting you almost as much as it is me, isn't it?" he says instead, releasing his grip because the shaking his body's doing is getting embarrassing. "I just don't get you, Cas. Never did, really."

Cas manages something almost like a smile. "Ironic."

"Why?"

He is fixed in place by an exasperated looking glare. "Because, Dean, when I disobeyed for you, when Heaven cut me off and cast me out, you were my example of what I had to become. You could say I remade myself in your image."

Dean blinks. "What? You're nothing like me." Cas just stares at him, his eyes huge and unshielded, and Dean says, "You think I would've given up years of my life to nurse you like this?"

"Maybe not." Cas looks down, his anger, or whatever it was, gone. "But you would have for Sam."

Dean doesn't let himself think about that. "Could you have gone home? When it was all over, and Lucifer was dead, would they have taken you back?"

"Possibly." Cas makes a small shrugging motion. "I didn't hang around long enough to ask. Michael wanted to personally oversee recovery on Earth, and that would have meant-"

"Riding my bones again."

Cas nods. "You'd ended it, fulfilled your destiny as the breaker of the first seal. You'd given enough. I took you and ran."

It's Dean's turn just to stare 'cause he really doesn't know what to say. Well, other than sorry. He knows he owes Cas about a billion of those, and they're there, hovering on his tongue like messenger pigeons all eager to get flapping, but he can't quite set them free. In the end, he just holds up his hands and says pathetically, "There's something wrong with my fingers."


Cas is washing Dean's hands in the bathroom, which is just the right level of warm but way too bright for Dean's eyes.

There's absolutely no reason why Dean can't wash his own hands, but Cas seems to want to do it, and Dean... Dean doesn't want to refuse him the dubious honor. It's like an apology in a way, letting him do it, seeing as Dean's apparently too much of a douche to say the fricking words. Feels nice anyway. If he's got to feel anything at all, this is way better than pretty much everything else on offer right now.

He leans more heavily against the wall and concentrates on the sensation of Cas' deft fingers. Every time Dean's own fingers form claws, Cas gently smooths them out. "You're holding onto tension," he tells Dean.

"You don't say."

"You need to relax." Cas massages the rigid tendons with a firm thumb. "You need to let go of whatever it is you're clinging to."

Yeah, like that's going to be happening any time soon. "Open to suggestions."

"Your body's awash in increasingly toxic stress chemicals. You haven't slept for days. Would you let me force the issue?"

"Put me to sleep?" Like a sick dog?

"I won't touch you beyond the initial contact necessary to help me reach your mind." Frowning, Cas lets go of Dean's hands abruptly as if he's only just realized that he's touching Dean now. "You don't need to worry," he adds, sounding a little shaky.

Dean feels himself wince. All his emotions have been stewing together for so long that you'd think they'd all be mixed together now, just one thick, sticky, indeterminable mess, but no, they're crystal clear. He knows exactly what he's feeling, all the different things, and why. They haven't been cooked so much as refined, distilled... Everything is all high-pitched and taut and sharp edges, and he's had more than enough of it.

"I think," he starts carefully. "I think you need to ignore anything I said in the kitchen that day. I think I need you to. You're not... I don't really think you're... like that. Like those things I said. I just knew they'd hurt you, and I was being a dick."

"And you say you don't get me." Cas manages a soft, shaky smile.

"I say a lot of things, most of them bullshit. You've gotta know that about me by now. I always figure it doesn't matter with you 'cause you see inside. You know the truth of me. It doesn't matter what crap spills from my mouth." So he has to know that Dean's sorry. He has to.

Cas just stares at him, and Dean sighs.

"Yeah, okay, put me to sleep." The way he's feeling right now, he'll be doing it standing up soon, even without Cas' help, but the difference is that Cas will make sure he stays asleep for long enough for it to do some good. "That's almost what I want, isn't it? Oblivion? A taste of it, anyway. Just watch my dreams, okay?"

"If that's what you want."

"You know what I want," Dean points out dourly, "but you won't give it to me."

Cas looks at Dean for a few moments and then breathes out heavily through his nose. "You compared what you want to the amputation of a gangrened limb. Your analogy is flawed. To do what you ask would be more like severing a broken arm, something that could have been fixed, that would've healed in time to be usable again. You will recover, Dean."

"From losing Sam? From killing him? From carrying around a fricking sun inside of me and then standing by another when it went supernova?" Not in a million years.

"You didn't so much kill your brother as you did save him. And he's at peace now. You gave him that."

"Uh-huh." How he wished he could know for sure that Sam was up there and not down below. "You could say that -- me and Sammy? -- we did it together. We were both ourselves at the end."

"I'm sorry, Dean."

"Better me than some dick of an archangel, really." He shrugs. "Ever since my memories came back, all I've been able to hear is Lucifer screaming. I think it did something to my ears, left an echo of itself like a scar on my eardrums."

Cas stares for a few seconds longer and then turns away to open the bathroom cabinet. "You need a band-aid on two of those fingers. You've ripped the nails half-off."

"Why are you even still here, Cas? Now that I'm myself again."

"Where else would I be?" The sad thing is Cas seems to mean it.

"Out there," Dean suggests. "Doing good deeds. Or is there no one else left on Earth but us?" He can't believe he just asked that. The potential answer freaks him the hell out.

But Cas says, "There are many large pockets of survivors, most of which are holding onto some semblance of civilization."

Could be worse. Could be a lot worse, but could be way the hell better too. "Should've said 'yes' earlier," Dean says gruffly.

"I'm not sure how much difference that would've made in the end."

"Cas..." Dean moves forward without thinking much why. He only realizes he was going to try to hold Cas, to be held in turn, when Cas backs away, looking guarded. "Oh Christ, can't you just forget those fucking stupid things I said?"

"I... I don't think I can, Dean. I'm sorry. I've thought a lot about them. There was... truth in some of your accusations."

"I don't care," Dean says, taking another step forward.

"I do," Cas replies, stepping back from Dean again.

Dean looks down, taking stock. He's amazed he's still standing, frankly. "Cas, there's no way I'm gonna survive this even a tiny bit sane if I've lost you too."

"You haven't lost me." There's a little heat in Cas' voice now, stung into assurances. "I'm right here."

"You won't let me touch you." He can hear the pleading tone in his voice, can hear it cracking. It's pathetic. He's pathetic, and he's too tired to even care.

"I... I won't take advantage of you."

"Screw that. Look, this is me, 100% memory-enabled me, and I say bring it on. Take advantage all you can. God knows, I'd be taking advantage of you right now given half a chance."

"My vessel remains male," Cas says in what has to win a top prize in the 'stating the fucking obvious' category.

"I don't care. I'm not talking about sex, Cas. Not yet, anyway. I couldn't even start to get it up right now. I just... I need you. You're all I've got left, just as much as I'm all you've got, and I'm so fucking tired of being angry at the only thing that could even start to take some of this pain away." He feels a tear slide down his cheek, ignores it and takes a step forward again. This time, Cas doesn't move back. "C'mon, angel, show me some mercy here. Let's go back to how we were before Christmas, just you and me at peace together."

"It won't be the same."

"It will be if you take my memories away."

"Dean..."

"Yeah, yeah. I know. Just... Just hold me, please." He closes the remaining distance between them and presses against Cas, wrapping his arms around him and full on clinging. Cas' arms creep slowly around Dean in turn, and Dean lets go of a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.

Cas is warm and solid and deceptively human, and Dean feels his eyes close in reaction. He lays his head on Cas' shoulder. "I'm so tired. I'm not the same person I used to be, Cas, and I never will be. You've rebuilt me, again, but I'm more scars than flesh now. If I'm not allowed to die, then I need you to keep me alive."

"I know." There's a waft of air against Dean's skin, but he doesn't bother opening his eyes immediately. He knows he's just been moved, angel style. "Lie down, Dean. I'll stay close and keep your dreams safe."

"Lie with me," Dean says, sitting down heavily on the bed covers and then collapsing back, half on and half off the bed.

"If that's what you want," Cas murmurs, sitting beside him and lifting Dean's feet to his lap in order to undo his laces.

"Thanks, Cas." Dean can feel himself sinking into soft darkness already. "You're the best."

His last thought before he makes it all the way to sleep is that his fingers have finally stopped that horrid clawing.

Chapter Text

It's not the same as it was before, but after a few weeks of let's pretend have passed, Dean decides that it nearly is. Especially now that he's trained Cas not to speak about things that have no business here in the land of make-believe.

It's not even all that pretend at times; Dean's honed his natural skill at avoidance over years of the kind of shit that would've destroyed most guys. Now that Cas isn't trying to burst all the pretty balloons, rain on any passing parades, and harsh the buzzes of the local happy bee population, Dean's doing okay. Sometimes his smiles even manage to go a little deeper than his lips. You know, past his bared teeth.

Of course, Cas still has to put him to sleep every night 'cause that's when it gets hard. Yeah, and doesn't he wish he meant that in the innuendo kind of way. Lying in bed, nothing to distract him, is Dean's all new definition of 'hell'. Memories, that he can wallpaper over with the sweet life of Dean and Cas during the day, wake up as soon as his head hits the pillow. They surge up through the crazy-paving in his psyche like a slimy black horde of demons all fighting for the chance to ride him through the night.

So Cas doesn't even offer anymore, not after Dean yelled at him to get the fuck on with it that second night back together. He just lies down beside Dean and puts two cool fingertips on Dean's forehead, and that's Dean gone from the world until morning.

Well, unless Cas is slow enough at stopping Dean's dreams that Dean actually remembers a few moments of them, but that doesn't happen often.

So it's all working just fine, a well-oiled machine. In fact, Dean only has one thing to complain about now, and that's how chaste everything is. Well, the chastity and the food, he guesses, so that's two things.

It's not that there's anything precisely wrong with the food; it's just, well...

Case in point. Dean is currently watching Cas cook again. Cooking is something he's grown to realize that Cas actually enjoys. The angel's got himself recipe books from somewhere, and their meals are getting more elaborate every day. Dean hasn't got the heart to tell Cas that he'd be happier with just a burger and fries. He's sure Cas knows anyway, but it's all part of their mutual non-acknowledgment pact. Cas stays out of the no man's land of certain topics, and in return, Dean lets him cook whatever shit he wants.

It's the least he can do for Cas, anyway, all things well and truly considered. He's got a lot to make up for.

So Dean eats the squash ravioli with the nutty mushroom stuff that looks like pureed flies, or the chicken ho-hos with green goo and reddish slime, which is all a bit too Pestilence for his liking. He eats it all, and he smiles and tells Cas he's made a winner tonight or some such empty praise, and Cas smiles his little smile back, and all's right with their wrong-so-wrong world.

Today's meal seems to involve another excuse for Cas to use his new favorite toy, a pasta roller/cutter thing. He flattens out the pastry with a rolling pin and then feeds one end into the roller, turning the handle 'til it's all come out the other side a little flatter. Then he resets the gadget and does it again. And again. Maybe he just gets off on the motion or something. Hell, maybe it's some kind of symbolic communication from the angel, but if so, Dean's just gonna keep on not getting it.

"So what're we having ourselves tonight, Emeril?" he calls over.

"Beef cannelloni with char-grilled vegetables," Cas replies without turning around. It doesn't sound so terrible.

"No spinach?" Dean checks. The spinach cannelloni last week had pushed his resolve to 'eat up and shut up' to breaking point.

He watches Cas' wings give that slight shiver through their feathers which Dean has long since decided is a show of angelic amusement. "No spinach," Cas confirms. "Nothing green at all, in fact."

"Awesome."

Dean wanders over to stand behind Cas, pretending to watch him work. Really he's just getting his kicks watching Cas' wings and imagining touching them. They're so fucking beautiful. Dean wants to slip his fingers between the feathers and tug lightly down them.

The wings move with Cas while he cooks, flaring a little, ruffling at times, and now, suddenly, pulling in very tight.

Dean frowns. "Aw, come on. I can't be be in trouble over things I'm just imagining!"

"Your imagination is very loud," Cas replies, turning. He's smiling slightly though.

"Wish you'd let me touch them," Dean says wistfully.

"To touch me there would be too intimate within our current relationship infrastructure."

That makes Dean snort. "What happened to making it up as we go? Anyway, there's no piece of me you ain't had your sparkly angel fingers all over, more than once. And before that pole up-inside you gets all twisty again, listen up. I'm not complaining!"

Cas tips his head to one side. "I believe you're jealous."

"There's only us here, Cas!" Dean pulls a face. "Who the hell have I got to be jealous of?"

"That pole you persist in referring to."

Cas says it, of course, with deadpan face and tone, so it takes a second or so for it to filter through Dean's admittedly not-so-lucid-right-now brain cells that Cas just made a joke. A rude one. Dean thinks he might be gaping a little.

Cas' lips twitch as he turns back to his pasta, and another shiver passes through his wing feathers. Dean grins, feeling a moment's uncomplicated affection. He suddenly remembers taking Cas to that brothel that time. Jeez, but Cas had been hilarious.

"You still a virgin?" he asks.

"I've not visited any more dens of iniquity," Cas says with another little tremble of feathers.

"No pretty geek-girl angels up in Heaven waiting for you?"

"That seems unlikely for multiple reasons." Cas' hand rests on the roller handle. He snorts softly. "Until I met you, I'd no interest in such things."

"But you do now?"

After a pause, Cas says, "Sometimes," but his wings pull closer in, tight to his body, and Dean knows what that means.

He looks at Cas and sighs. Then he sighs again, more heavily. He hasn't got the will to keep pushing today. "Going for a walk," he announces and ignores the concerned glance he feels at the back of his neck as he heads outdoors.

He doesn't know what Cas' problem is. He can do just as good a job of 'being alone' out here as he could in there.

Later on, they sit at their table and act like that little scene never happened -- that scene and so, so many others.

Cas serves his latest creation. Dean tucks in and absolutely doesn't think of Lisa and Ben, even though, as soon as the food hits his tongue, he knows with cold granite certainty that Lisa cooked him something just like this once. But he doesn't think of that, or her, or Ben and their secret War-Against-Vegetables that they waged together each mealtime whenever Lisa wasn't looking.

Yeah, he's especially not thinking of Ben. He wonders if Lucifer was bullshitting, or if Ben really was his. Only he doesn't wonder about that because he's not thinking of Ben. Or Lucifer for that matter. It's just him and Cas in their happy little world of unicorns and sparkles. Those names never even entered his thoughts.

He takes another forkful of pasta.

"You seem to be enjoying it," Cas says cautiously.

"S'great," Dean tells him with his mouth full, waving his fork around. It tastes like shit, in fact, but that's not Cas' fault. Everything tastes like shit today, as if the mesh of lies they're living in is somehow filtering away all the flavor of things. They're living inside a faded photo of better times.

Dean sometimes wonders where Cas gets all his ingredients from. The world can't be in that bad a state if you can still get fresh sweet peppers and eggplant, can it? He can't ask though. Usual reasons.

"We should grow our own veggies," he says instead, and he's not sure why, except that it kind of goes with the whole unreal idyll thing they've got going.

Cas head-tips. "Do you want to?"

"Yeah. I mean, sure." Dean shrugs. "Something to do, isn't it?"

"You're bored."

"Nah." Way too busy not-thinking of things to be bored. "Just wanna, you know, contribute."

"Okay." Cas nods slightly. After a pause he adds, "I'll get some seeds."

Dean doesn't know shit about gardening, but he figures he can learn. Yeah, it's a practical skill, means using his hands. He'll be fine. Christ, but some days he misses the Impala like a lost limb. There were days, many of them, when it was only losing himself in her engine that kept him sane. There's nothing like that here, nothing to keep him sane.

But hey, sanity's way overrated anyway.

He forms a smile. "That'll be great. Doing the self-sufficiency thing. Neat."

Cas watches him, but doesn't say anything more, so Dean goes back to his food.

He's two mouthfuls away from finishing when he finds himself choking and shaking because he's suddenly, from nowhere, crying. He's fucking weeping like a little kid, all snot and wails and big gasping sobs, and he doesn't even know why.

Well, shit, of course he knows why, but what the hell was the trigger this time? There was nothing. Nothing at all. Was there?

Cas is beside him, ready for action but not acting, waiting. Dean looks up at him through blurry eyes and tells him, begs him, "Make it stop."

Cas doesn't even argue, even though you could plant some of his promised seeds in the aura of disappointment he's giving out. They'd grow into 'you're better than this, Dean' trees -- a fricking forest of them. But Cas doesn't argue, just puts his fingers on Dean's forehead, and Dean feels himself fill with heavenly peace.

"Thank you," Dean says thickly, letting his eyes close. "Thanks, Cas. Dunno what I'd do..."

And that's pretty much that for the evening.

Dean stares at the hard ground, moves his gaze to Cas' magic box of gardening toys and then back to the earth again. Okay. He can do this. He's proven he can play Cain, and now it's time to put on the Abel costume, and why the hell did he even just think that? Jeez, his mind's his own worst enemy.

He digs the seed packet out of his jacket pocket and glares at it, feeling a little like a drill sergeant as he forces the letters to stand still in neat rows long enough to read them. It says to sow seed in late March, early April. He doesn't have a clue what month it is and doesn't want to ask Cas. It's still cold out, but new life is starting to sprout all around. Winter's over, he thinks, anyway. Whatever. It's close enough.

Next problem. The packet says to sow into sterile potting soil in a tray. Cas has collected him a lot of shit, but none of it is soil or a tray. Sighing, Dean grabs a hand fork from the toolbox and crouches to start loosening up the packed earth at his feet. Maybe Cas'll be able to sterilize the dirt with a touch or something.

The fork prongs make a good small-scale plow. He also uses them to press holes into the loosened soil. The packet wants him to drop in one seed at a time. He tries that over the first hole, but achieves more of a general scatter-shot effect. That's okay. He can spread out any seedlings that grow when they grow. It's not really a waste, not when there's so many of the little bastards in the packet.

Not like he hasn't spilled plenty of seed already in his lifetime, anyway. The only time it ever counted was with Lisa, and there's his worst enemy back again, dropping names that shouldn't be dropped. It never shuts the fuck up.

As if to prove Dean's point, when he tries to flick in some of the spilled seed with his fingernail into its rightful hole, suddenly all he can see is Sammy, arms spread, falling backwards into the pit.

He screws up his eyes for a few seconds -- which, of course, achieves nothing -- and grits his teeth. Then he carries on along the row.

Next seed. Now he's seeing the ragged hole he looked down on after digging himself out of his own fricking grave.

And on it goes. Seems like his life has been one big hole: all the graves he's dug up to salt and burn; all the filthy sewers he's climbed in and out of; caves and crypts; cellars, air ducts and elevator shafts. Then there's the hole he buried his tin in at the crossroads -- making that stupid deal to save his unsaveable brother. That's a way too obvious one, he guesses, but he sees it with the rest, all of them with every hole he presses into the earth.

The list goes on and on: the wendigo mine; the trapdoor opening they spilled concrete down, filling the circular room where they trapped the spirit of America's first serial killer... Hell, Bobby's panic room for that matter. Wounds and empty bottles and the cunts of pretty, nameless girls -- hole after hole after hole for him to fall into like the fool he is.

None of them hurt him like seeing Sammy fall though. That's the killer. The last time before the real last time that Sam had any control over his own life, and hell, he's gotta stop thinking about all this.

Grim-faced now, angry with himself, Dean keeps going until the packet's empty. Then, having filled up all the gaping pits in his memory with the promise of new life, he covers the holes with the loose soil and a hefty sense of relief. Jeez, him and his mind need to have some serious words.

"There you go, boys and girls," he mutters when he finally stands up from his crouch. "You get cozy and grow up nice and strong; have yourself lots of sweet, plump kids for the angel to slice and dice for my supper." He snorts softly at himself as he wipes his hands on his jeans. Do plants even come in boy and girl varieties? He doesn't have a clue about that. Maybe they're like vessel-less angels, junkfree.

Not that he knows that for sure about angels, but he's implied it enough, and Cas has never corrected him, so he guesses it's got to be true.

When Dean goes back inside, Cas has hot coffee and fresh baked cookies waiting for him, which is all kinds of awesome. Dean sits down at the table and picks up his mug, surrounding it with his cold, dirty hands -- cold, dirty hands that miraculously become warm, clean hands after a frown from Cas.

Dean snorts. "Could've just told me to wash them. Thought you weren't doing shit like that for fear of detection," he points out, grabbing at a cookie. It's crisp and crumbly and full of peanuts. Better still, he can even taste it, sweet and buttery. Seems like becoming a gardener has done him some good.

He gets a quick flash of Joshua explaining why God spoke to him, of all angels, but the memory doesn't hurt that much, so Dean lets it be.

"These are great," he says, spraying out crumbs.

"I'm glad," Cas says seriously.

Dean crams the rest of the cookie into his mouth and grabs another. "D'you think they'll grow?" he asks through peanutty crunch.

Cas seems to get that he means the tomato seeds, not the cookies. "I'm certain they'll thrive." Dean half-suspects that his angel will make sure they grow or else.

"What'll you cook up with them?" he asks after a swallow of coffee.

Cas smiles his little smile as if he's imagining all the juicy cooking he'll be able to do. "Lots of concentrated tomato sauce, which I'll be able to use in many other recipes."

Dean nods and takes a third cookie. Two left on the plate, and he knows they're all for him. He could kiss Cas, only not, he guesses. "Can I ask a personal question?"

Cas frowns slightly, but he nods, so Dean goes for it.

"What was it like being a little girl that time?"

Cas' frown deepens further, but then it's gone from his face as he seems to figure out what Dean's asking. "Claire Novak."

"Yeah."

"I wasn't a little girl; I was merely inside a little girl."

Dean winces. "Man, you gotta find a better way of putting that, 'cause that's all kinds of wrong."

"She was my vessel," Cas says with the slightest hint of exasperation.

"Yeah, so what was it like? It's gotta have felt different than Jimmy here."

"Jimmy's gone from this body, Dean. I've told you that before."

"Yeah, but it's still his body, isn't it? Product of his gene code?"

"Yes."

"So what was it like, looking through Claire's eyes?"

"You were a lot taller."

Dean snorts. "Okay, chucklehead. Thanks for that. You've gotta know what I'm getting at here. You feel things in this body, male things. With Claire, you wouldn't have."

"I was with Claire for only a short time, Dean. I wasn't all that aware of her physical sensations. This vessel is different. With only me inside here, I..." Cas' brow creases again as his eyes unfocus. "I do think of it as more of a part of me than any vessel I've taken previously."

"So human gender...?" Dean starts leadingly.

Cas looks amused, his wings shivering. "What are you trying to ask me, Dean? Whether I feel 'male'?"

"I guess." Dean shrugs. "If it's too personal..."

Cas gives a slight shake of his head. "I don't mind. I'm not sure I can answer, however."

"Why not?"

"To feel male or female -- or even to be confused about one's gender, or to consider oneself to be a gender outside the binary reproductive system -- these are all core human experiences, and I'm not sure I can ever feel them with the intensity or significance that a human can."

Dean puffs out air. That's not a good enough answer; that's just an avoiding-the-question answer. "Put it this way, dude. Imagine you lost this vessel somehow and had to take another. Would you have a preference over the sex of any wannabe vessel?"

Cas sits still and unanswering for a long time, long enough for Dean to start to get uneasy, but then the angel says, "Maybe a small one. I've grown accustomed to male pronouns. But that wouldn't be what was most important to me."

Now Dean's curious. "And what would that be?"

"Aside, obviously, from ensuring that the would-be vessel was both willing and able to become one without harm, and assuming you were still alive at this theoretical time, and we remained friends, then I would desire a vessel that you would feel comfortable having around."

Dean imagines Cas walking around inside some hot busty babe, but the thought makes him feel weird, so he quickly stops it and looks down. "I like Jimmy," he mumbles after shoving another cookie into his mouth. "His body, I mean."

"I'm glad," Cas says softly. He's doing that big-eyed, expressionless look now, which Dean guesses is an expression in itself. This is the one that seems to be drinking in all that Dean is and just, somehow, accepting it. It's always made Dean nervous, 'cause how could anyone, no matter how holy and made-of-God's-love or whatever shit, accept all the darkness he carries around inside him?

He shivers that thought away and finishes his coffee.

"I do," Cas says suddenly. Dean looks up at him, trying to figure out what that was in reply to. Cas smiles a little and adds, "I accept every part of you. More than that. I love it, love you."

Dean feels his eyes widen, but then he doesn't know where to look. Cas did not just say that. It's not like Dean didn't know, not really, but it didn't need to be said.

He can feel Cas staring at him. "You shouldn't feel embarrassed by love, Dean. It's one of my Father's greatest gifts to humanity."

"You're the one that's made of the stuff," Dean mutters, staring at the table. "Not me. I'm just made of mud, remember?" Nah, not mud - holes. Holes in mud, full of dark, dirty, dangerous things.

"Angels are not made of love. I'm sure I've told you that before."

Whatever. Not like Dean has any right to expect love anyway, not with the things he's done, the things he's let go.

He heaves in a deep breath and holds it for a few seconds, trying to flatten out any spikes of feeling that just jagged up out of his murky depths like shark fins. Then he looks up, fixes a bright, utterly false smile on his face, and asks,

"So what do I get to plant next? I vote for cherry trees."

Two weeks later, Dean falls asleep in the armchair during a long, lazy afternoon, a break from gardening. He's been working very hard. They even have a baby orchard now. Cas is busy baking a blueberry apple pie in the kitchen, a treat to reward Dean for his hard work. The room is warm, and the chair is soft, and Dean just drifts away.

Dean dreams of Sam on the rack, Sam screaming under the knives of Alistair. Dean dreams this just long enough for Alistair to morph into Dean; just long enough to feel himself push the scalpel into Sam's writhing flesh and laugh, seeing the blood well; just long enough to feel a fricking sexual thrill from it all, before Cas grabs his wrist, touches his forehead and wakes him up.

"Jesus fucking Christ!" Dean yells, standing bolt upright from the chair and right into Cas' face. "What the hell kept you?"

"I apologize," Cas says kind of awkwardly. "I was distracted."

"That's not good enough, Cas! I mean, did you see what I was dreaming?"

"I saw."

"I thought you were supposed to be protecting me from shit like that? What the hell kind of guardian angel are you supposed to be if you can't even keep me safe from dreams? Fricking dreams!"

"I'm sorry."

"Jeez." Dean slumps back down into the chair. He feels sick, really sick, like maybe he should be heading for the bathroom sick.

Cas hovers at his side, all concern and studied inaction. Dean looks up at him and feels a qualm of guilt.

He sighs heavily. "It's not your fault, Cas, not really. Just, you know, try to pay more attention when I'm living the slack life." He takes some deep breaths, trying to calm himself.

Part of him knows he's being a kid about this, about all of this. When he came back from Hell, he never demanded Cas rescue him from his nightmares. He suspects Cas sometimes did all the same, but he'd never have demanded it, even if they'd been as close then as they are now. It's just, they have their deal, don't they? The whole status quo thing they both want? Cas with his unnecessary cooking and sexless nurturing, and Dean, well, carrying on being alive and nurturable. How's Dean supposed to keep up his side if Cas lets him dream shit like that?

"You will always be plagued by unwanted thoughts and nightmares," Cas says suddenly, "while we persist in this 'deal' of yours. If I understand human psychology correctly, repressed feelings, denied a place in the conscious mind, will grow ever larger in the subconscious until allowed release."

Dean tenses and glares at Cas. "One," he says, starting a count off on his fingers, "it's not 'my' deal; it's our deal, and two, didn't we already do all that with the amnesia? I've remembered it all now. I'm not denying it fucking happened. I just don't want to talk about it!"

"You need to feel it." Cas is getting that dogged look about him now.

"You think I'm not?" Dean stands again and tries to shove Cas' shoulder hard. Cas lets himself move with the blow. Yeah, Dean doesn't kid himself into thinking that's not Cas choosing to move. "You think I'm not feeling it every fraction of every second of every fucking day, Cas? Huh?"

"I think you're fighting it, Dean, not feeling it. You've... mounted a powerful resistance against the feelings and forced them to engage in guerrilla tactics to attract your attention."

"Oh, as if a robot like you would know a feeling if it bit you on the ass."

Now it's Cas' turn to sigh. He turns, giving Dean a handy view of his clenched tight wings and heads back into the kitchen, where he opens up the oven to check on the pie. A pie that smells heavenly and that he's made especially at Dean's request.

Jesus, it really isn't the angels who are the dicks here, is it?

Still, Cas chose this, him and Dean in their survivalist Eden. Dean didn't get offered a choice. That gives Dean a license to be a dick if anything does.

Dean's lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling and making mental patterns from the cracks and specks in the paint.

"Your tomato seedlings need attention," Cas says, suddenly beside the bed. "And something has eaten the lower leaves from the saplings you planted on Monday."

"You can sort them out." Dean doesn't turn to look at the angel. "I don't mind."

After a pause, Cas says, "I thought you wanted to 'contribute'."

"Yeah," Dean says slowly after thinking about it. "I did want to."

"You don't anymore."

"Not so much, I guess."

"I see."

Now Dean turns his head to look at Cas. "You pissed?"

"Do you want me to be?"

That makes Dean frown. It's a bad habit, answering a question with a question. "If you don't wanna answer, Cas," he drawls, "just say you don't. Enough with the shrink crap."

"Are you going to lie there all day?"

"Thinking about it, ma, yeah." Dean turns back to the ceiling. "Did yesterday, and that worked out just fine."

After long enough that Dean's forgotten Cas is even there, the angel says quietly, "Do you really think Sam would've wanted this for you?"

Dean's out of bed in half-a-second flat and right up into Cas' personal space. "You. Did not. Just go there," he spits through gritted teeth.

Cas doesn't move his human body other than to tip his head slightly. His wings move though, curving loosely around the two of them as if he's trying to protect Dean from something. "By refusing to accept the truth of what happened to Sam, by refusing to feel it, you are insulting the sacrifice your brother made. You should be honoring him, Dean, not trying to pretend he never existed."

Dean has never felt the desire to commit murder as strongly as he does now. His fists clench painfully, and he glares at Cas, hating him with every fiber of his being. He thought they had a bargain, the key point of which, the absolute essential point, was that Cas never mentioned Sam. Ever. Let alone lectured him on the right way to mourn him.

"You know what, Cas?" Dean says suddenly, turning to the bed and throwing himself back on it. "You can't cook for shit. And what you do cook might as well be shit 'cause that's how it tastes. I'm sick of it. I'm not eating any more."

Cas doesn't answer, and a few minutes later Dean makes himself glance that way. It's no big surprise that the bird has flown.

Chapter Text

Something's going on, and Dean's trying to decide whether he cares on not. After two weeks of the World Bone Idle Championships -- Dean lying on the bed, staring sullenly at the ceiling, and Cas sitting in his chair staring sullenly at Dean -- now, suddenly, the angel's on the move again.

Cooking again, to be exact, for the first time since Dean told him his cooking was shit. Since then, Cas has stocked up on bread and sandwich fillings every night while Dean sleeps and left Dean to cater for himself, which he has done, when he can be bothered.

But now some big meal's being prepared again. It seems to involve half a cow, looking at the amount of prime beefsteak the angel's playing with. Not only that, but Cas seems to have decided their house needs a spring clean, so he's dusting and rearranging furniture simultaneous with food prep. No angel-click quick answers, either. It's all being done the human way.

After so long a period of heavy silence, it's like a storm has broken. Maybe Cas has decided to forgive Dean, it being divine and all.

Cas appears suddenly beside the bed and looks down at Dean. He has that self same peeved look on his face that he's been wearing all the time just lately, so not so much on the forgiveness front. "You smell," he growls out.

"Gee, thanks, Auntie Cas," Dean tells him with a snort, not looking away from the oh-so-fascinating ceiling.

"You have dried food on your clothes, which you haven't changed for many days. There's the remains of a squashed insect in your hair and something unidentifiable in your growing beard. Your breath is foul, and your body an offense to my vessel's nose."

"Yeah, love you too," Dean drawls. "If you want me to take a bath, Cas, try just saying that."

"The last eleven times I said exactly that did not result in a cleaner you."

"Yeah, well, I was busy."

"Doing nothing."

"Exactly. Hard work, doing nothing. Takes a lot of concentration." The sad thing is that's even true. Doing nothing means nothing to distract him from the bad thoughts bar his own willpower.

"Clean yourself up -- now -- or I'll force the issue."

Dean's tempted to say 'force away' to give himself the distraction, but in the end he thinks better of it. While Cas probably just means he'll two-finger the grime and stench away, Dean can't take the risk of being hauled into the bathroom and held forcibly under the water.

He slides himself off the bed. "We're all just prisoners here," he mutters as he heads to the bathroom on feet made unsteady by lack of use, "of our own device."

Cas has nothing to say to that and sure as hell won't recognize the quote, but Dean can feel the angel's gaze boring into the back of his neck until the bathroom door shuts off the power supply.

Fifty minutes later, Cas straightens up from looking into the oven and disappears. Dean, who's back on the bed, wouldn't even have noticed if not for that waft of wings noise making him look up. Disappearing like that's not normal behavior, and Dean finds it instantly worrying. Has Cas cooked him a goodbye feast and left for good? Dean could hardly blame him, but...

...what the hell is he gonna do without Cas?

Fuck. Dean's just sitting up to... he doesn't know what when the angel's back, beside the bed, and he's not alone. A man with a silver beard and a grubby baseball cap is standing beside him.

Dean sits bolt upright in bed. "B- Bobby?"

"Dean," Bobby replies with a fierce nod, his hands jammed in his pockets. "Good to see you, son."

"Y- you're alive."

"And kicking." Bobby makes a wry expression, his face crumpling up, and jeez, but the post-apoc world hasn't been kind to the man. He's aged -- a lot, but he's alive. He's alive. "Just no high kicks, these days. High kicks or hi-jinks." He snorts. "I should be so lucky."

Dean shoots a quick glare Cas' way. "You never told me."

"You never asked," Cas replies, rolling his eyes.

"I didn't dare!" Jesus H. Christ. Dean struggles off the bed and pulls Bobby into a hug, which is returned with a fierce warmth. Bobby's breath is loud and uneven by Dean's ear.

"Your angel's been keeping me up to scratch on your progress," Bobby says gruffly, his hands still gripping Dean's shoulders hard. "You've done damn well, boy. Should be proud of yourself."

Suddenly Dean is anything but proud. He pulls right back and nearly tumbles onto the bed, staring at Bobby uneasily. What has Cas told him? All the shit Dean's been putting Cas through? All the stupid games, all the attempts at out-stubborning and, worst of all in Bobby's eyes, all the whining? Suddenly Dean finds himself inside out, finds himself outside looking in, and seen from this perspective, his behavior recently...

"Shit," he mutters.

"What's wrong?" Bobby asks at once.

Dean looks from Cas' impassive face to Bobby's concerned one and back again and takes a deep breath. He decides with an almost overwhelming sense of relief that Cas can't have told Bobby the bad stuff. Not the really bad stuff. There's nothing in Bobby's lined face but worry and affection.

Feeling wobbly, Dean sits down on the edge of his bed and looks up at his long-lost father figure. "Sorry. It's just... I th- thought you were dead, Bobby. Y'know, along with everyone else. Jesus..."

Bobby looks at Cas. "You could've prepared him better for this, angel."

Cas just stares back silently in reply, and Dean manages a weak snort. He owes Cas an out for this one, what with all the shit Cas could've said to Bobby and apparently hasn't. "Cas and me, we ain't exactly been talking much, these last few days. My fault."

Bobby nods and looks kind of grim. He turns to Cas. "Reckon you could give us a moment here?"

Cas says nothing, but he vanishes with another of those wafts of wings, and that's answer enough, Dean guesses.

He looks at Bobby, feeling a tremble in his lower lip. "Thought you were dead," he says again and winces at how dumb he sounds.

Bobby moves and sits down beside him. He's dragging his left leg a little, Dean notices. "Well, I ain't dead," he grumbles out, "and maybe your angel shoulda told you, but seeing as he's done what everyone said was impossible and nursed you back to yourself, I guess I'm inclined to cut him some slack."

"Yeah." Dean rubs his hand roughly over his eyes, trying to pretend he doesn't feel the moisture he's scrubbing away. "Alive and low-kicking, huh? A- anyone else make it?"

"Rufus is still holding on, so I've heard. Communication ain't the easiest in this brave new world of ours, but things are getting better in that two steps forward, one step back kind of way."

"Are they?" Dean says weakly. He's not sure he wanted to know that.

Bobby pulls a face. "Yeah, Cas told me to go easy on the outside world info. Sorry about that. One thing I'm free to tell you -- your car's fine."

"My c- car?" Just where the hell has this damn stammer come from anyway? It's embarrassing. "You have her?"

"Yeah. Collected her myself. Hair-raising journey there and back, but she's safe and sound under a tarp in my yard. I let her run for a while every week or so. She'll wait for you long as she needs to."

"Fuck..." Dean whispers almost under his breath.

Shifting in place, Bobby frowns at Dean. "Your angel also warned me not to expect too much from you this first visit. I know he's got some big meal cooking up for us, but you gotta say when you've had enough. Don't overdo things. I can come back any time Cas'll bring me. The control's all yours here."

"No." Dean only just stops himself grabbing at Bobby's jacket. "Stay, Bobby," he says gruffly. "Break bread with us and all that. Stay 'til you wanna go. Just don't... Don't expect me to be what I was, okay?"

Bobby nods, twisting to lay a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Yeah, son. What you've been through, it changes a man. I'll take you as I find you. Mind, that don't mean I won't call you on any shit I see. Speaking of which, what's this not-talking bullcrap about? Castiel not done enough for you over the last decade or so to win your respect?"

Dean narrows his eyes, feeling suddenly worried again. "What's he said to you? Wait-" Dean feels his brows draw together. "Decade or so? What the fuck, Bobby?"

"Watch your mouth, boy. I'm still your elder here."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever, Bobby." A feeling something like dread seems to be building inside Dean. "Answer me. What the h- hell year is it anyway?"

Bobby's the one frowning now. "2025." The numbers hit Dean like a jumbo truck crashing through the wall.

Can it be? Hell, why would Bobby lie? If it's really Bobby, anyway. Dean's made dizzy with a sudden sense of unreality. He wraps his arms tight around himself as his eyes unfocus, staring blankly out.

"Dean?" Bobby's voice asks distantly. "What year did you think it was, son?"

"I dunno," he says faintly. "2014? 15?" He shakes himself, trying to get control of his spiraling thoughts and focus on his companion.

Bobby's baggy old face is crumpled up with concern, and yeah, Dean gets now why Bobby's looking so much older than he should be -- because he is. "You were AWOL for a long time, Dean," he says gently.

Dean works it out in his head. It takes a while; his brain's not really feeling like math right now. It was 2013 when he... stuck the sword in. It's 2025 now. Twelve years. Jesus. He's, what, forty-four now? Nah, forty-six. Jesus Christ.

"Angel never told you that either, did he?"

Dean shakes his head numbly. "Fuck it. Thought I was playing the drooling idiot for only a couple of years. Five at the most."

"But," Bobby starts, staring, his face full of something like pain, "you've gotta have seen yourself. I mean, your hair..."

Dean pushes his fingers into his hair. Just feels like his hair to him. Running them over his brow, he can feel lines, sure, but he's had lines there for a long time, hasn't he? "There's no mirrors here, Bobby. Guess Cas wanted me to stay ignorant."

"That's not true, Dean." Cas is back in the room, leaning against the arch that leads into the kitchen. He could've been back for a while for all Dean knows. He's feeling really weirded out. "We have a mirror," Cas says.

"Damn well is true," Dean mutters, though for some reason he can't look Cas in the eye. "I've searched this fricking place from ceiling to floorboards looking for one to shave in."

"Dean," Cas says, with that whole 'tried patience of angels' thing going on strong in his voice. "There's a mirror in the bathroom above the sink."

"Since when?"

"Since I brought you here."

"No way."

Cas flexes his wings out as if stretching stiff muscles. "Way," is all he growls in reply.

Dean gets to his feet, ignoring Bobby's hand reaching out in an attempt to either help him up or keep him down. He stumbles to the bathroom doorway, where he stops and forces his eyes to look at whatever's above the sink. His eyes don't want to; it's an effort of will to make them, but Dean wins. Of course he does. He's not gonna be beaten by his own fricking eyes, godamnit.

Sure enough, there's the mirror. The mirror he has to have looked at or in two hundred times or more. Hell, a lot more if it's really been twelve years. Shit.

He remembers the mirror now. Oh yeah, now his memory helpfully offers up the info. He remembers being amused that Cas' wings never showed in it, just his back and his ever-present trench. Yeah, it's always been there, and Dean has to have looked in it, but...

Fuck, he's a headcase, isn't he? Totally loony tunes. Well, he's had enough of this particular cracked nut. He walks to the sink, puts his hands on the rim of the basin, and looks up.

He looks like... hell. Is that even him? Even ignoring the freakshow star-shape scarring all around his eyes, he looks like a stranger. No, not a stranger, like the face he saw in the mirror after that manwitch aged him a half-century that time. Okay, right, so not that ancient, but damned if he isn't looking more like that old guy than the youngish dude he should be seeing. His hair's silver for Christ's sake, though still in his usual style -- Cas obviously has a secret other life as a barber someplace. Dean's got lines and bags and a kind of gauntness that has no right to be there considering how out of shape he still is. His eyes are... His eyes...

His eyes are freaking him the hell out. Again, it's not the scarring, even though that's creepy as fuck -- though it does have a kind of X-Men-ish style to it, now that he thinks about it, 'specially with the white hair -- but it's not that; it's his eyes themselves. Something's totally not right with them. They stare back at him with that oh so familiar blue, but...

But...

"CAS! CAS, GET THE FUCK IN HERE NOW!"

"Calm yourself, Dean," Cas says from just behind him. Dean whirls around full of a rage he's not sure he can even explain, let alone express.

"My eyes are green, you bastard. My eyes are green!"

"They were," Cas agrees calmly.

Dean stares into eyes identical to his own and shakes. He feels like he's gonna shake himself apart. Wasn't it enough? Hasn't he been smacked around the face enough? Every time the horror revelations seem to have finally come to an end, there's another, then a-fricking-nother. "Why... Why have I got Jimmy's eyes, Cas?"

"The damage done to your optical and auditory systems by Lucifer's destruction was beyond my ability to heal unaided. Such damage exists on many levels, not just the physical. However, I could heal my vessel of similar damage. The logical solution was to replace your lost sensory systems with mine, one at a time."

"So I got your ears too?" Dean turns back to the mirror with a weary sense of here-we-go-again, but his ears look the same as they always have.

"You have Jimmy's inner ears and auditory nerves, modified so that your body would accept them."

Dean stares at himself, trying to find the person he once thought he was looking back out of his blue eyes. "I need to sit down," he says shakily. He feels Cas' arm circle around his waist.

He's helped back to the bed where he sits on the edge. Cas sits beside him. Bobby is standing again, leaning against the dresser and frowning deeply at Dean, like all this is Dean's fault. Hell, well, he guesses it maybe is, looked at some ways. He tries a weak smile at Bobby. "So I'm forty-what? Six?"

"Sounds right to me," Bobby says. "And still a kid from where I'm standing." Dean can't decide if that was a reprimand for behaving like a kid, or just a reminder that Bobby's still older than him and always will be.

He makes a noise, an exhale or sigh or snort or something. He doesn't know what he means by it, but he's got nothing else to say.

"It wasn't the first time I've rebuilt your body, Dean," Cas says in his best eternal-spirit-of-compassion voice. "I'm sorry that I didn't have the strength of the Host to call upon this time."

Dean puts his head into his hands.

An hour or so later, Bobby's gone, having not stayed to eat, Cas is back in his chair, and Dean's back lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling. To an observer, Dean guesses, it might look like nothing's changed since the morning, but it has. Everything's different now.

He looks over at Cas, who stares back at him without expression. "Thanks," Dean says, and he seems to have to drag the word out from deep inside him. "For bringing Bobby here, and, you know, sorry. I'm sorry." Cas' expression seems questioning so Dean adds, "For being a dick. 'Cause I have been, regularly; I get that now. Can't even promise I won't be a dick again 'cause I'm messed up, Cas. The better I get, the worse I realize I really am. I dunno where 'Dean Winchester, fearless hunter' has gone in this scrambled head of mine, but I can't find him." He snorts as if it's funny, which it really, really isn't. "Maybe he got burned out with my eyes."

"He's still there," Cas says, one corner of his mouth lifting slightly. "I see him, still fighting monsters, and day by day, he's winning through."

Dean's eyes narrow slightly 'cause that sounded just a little bit like his angel was getting fond and sentimental, but he decides not to say as much. "Monsters," he starts instead, but then trails off. He lets his eyes shut as he heaves in a huge breath, keeping it for a few seconds before yawning and saying, "Personal demons? Yeah, maybe. Got enough of them, but can't exactly level a shotgun full of rock salt at them, can I?"

Cas' head tips a little to the side.

"Yeah, I guess," Dean says, replying to himself since Cas didn't. "I dunno. I just feel so... useless. Helpless or something. Hell, Cas, I'm afraid of everything now pretty much. Seeing Bobby, well, I can't ignore that there's a world out there now, can I? A world that could probably do with my help. But..."

"You've still got mending to do, Dean," Cas says, standing up and walking over to sit at the edge of the bed. "When you're fully healed, the idea of going back to the world will seem more bearable. That's one of the ways we'll know you're ready, when it does."

Dean stares without focus at Cas, smiling a little and feeling... weird. Not bad, just weird. "That's angel wisdom, is it?" He has to admit it makes a kind of sense. Makes him wonder what he's been worrying about too when it's put that way.

"It's my wisdom," Cas says with a small smile. "I've not been a typical example of anything angelic for a while now."

That brings a grin out of Dean. "Since you met me, right?"

Cas just stares back, but that small smile is still hanging around, so Dean knows he's right. He lets himself relax more on the bed, and if his leg moves closer to Cas' ass, well, it can hardly be classed as groping, can it? He's just making contact, touching base... or ass. Whatever.

Cas seems to get it. He lets his nearest hand fall on Dean's knee. They are comfortably quiet together for a while. Despite the shocks of the day, Dean comes to a realization that he feels calmer now, more at ease with himself, than he's felt since before his memories returned.

"Would you like me to change your eyes to have the pattern of colors they used to hold?" Cas asks suddenly.

"You can do that?"

Cas nods. "I believe so. I should've realized how important eye color was to the human self-concept. I'm sorry, Dean."

Dean shakes his head. "You don't ever need to apologize to me, Cas. I'm the malfunctioning one here."

"I'm not perfect," Cas says, looking down at his hand on Dean's leg. "I make mistakes."

Dean shakes his head again. "You do the best you can with the resources you have. No one can ask more of you than that." He swings his legs off the bed and shuffles along the edge 'til he's sitting close to Cas. "Bobby seems to think you've performed some kind of holy miracle with me, and who am I to argue?"

He looks down at his clasped hands, wondering if Bobby saw him while he was still an eyeless, dribbling vegetable. Jeez.

"He didn't see you, Dean," Cas says, not even trying to hide the mind-reading today apparently. "To start with, I didn't risk drawing attention to myself by contacting him."

"Good." Dean lets himself lean lightly against Cas, and when Cas' arm circles around Dean's back, Dean makes a contented noise. "Do my eyes tomorrow," he says. "Or the next day. No rush."

"Whenever you feel ready," Cas replies as a wing curls around Dean in much the same way as Cas' arm already has.

Dean lays his hand on Cas' leg and feels... at peace. Christ, who would believe it? Maybe the trauma of the day has left him with an overdose of endorphins or something. "Food was good," he says. "Bobby should've stayed."

"I'm glad you liked it."

"Yeah. I did." Dean hopes it's obvious that was another 'sorry'. "Cas?"

"Yes, Dean?"

"Something I've been wanting to know -- how come you had my amulet? After our lovely heavenly vacation courtesy of being shot to death, I threw the damn thing in the trash and never looked back."

Cas seems to straighten further. "Are you sure you want me to answer that?"

"Sam picked it up, didn't he?"

Cas lowers his gaze briefly. "Yes, Dean. He gave it back to me in Detroit; asked me to keep it safe until you wanted it again."

"Figures."

Cas does his head-tip thing. "Are we talking about Sam now?"

"I guess." Dean sighs. Hiding from it all takes up way too much energy when it comes down to it. Means he's always on the run. He's tired of running. "Yeah. It's time."

"Sam deserves to be spoken about," Cas says softly, and Dean nods because it's true.

"He deserves a lot more than just that. They better be treating him like the world-saving hero he is up there." Dean shoots a glare at the ceiling.

"He will be happy." Cas states it like a given fact, like no one can't be happy in Heaven.

"I dunno," Dean tells him. "Kinda sucked when we were up there, even before wacko Zacho started fucking with us."

Cas makes a non-committal noise, like he doesn't really believe Dean, but is too polite to say, and that makes Dean think over what he just claimed.

"Well, the first bit was okay. Me and Sammy, 4th July 1996, setting the sky alight." He smiles as he remembers his little brother's excitement. "Yeah, it was good reliving that. But I guess if a place relies on your own memories to provide its happies, some poor souls ain't gonna have all that much to choose from."

"Sam had many good memories."

"Yeah, and all of them without me in them." Dean snorts. It doesn't hurt anymore, realizing that. Dean's just glad Sam got himself some good times in what little he was allowed of his life in-between the ploys of Heaven and Hell's finest.

"Many of Sam's best memories involved you, Dean," Cas says, mildly chastising, but Dean just laughs. Somehow he doubts Cas ever stared into Sam's soul that much, if he ever did at all. Every time Dean's ever seen that soul-gazing expression on Cas' face, it has been directed at him, not his brother, or anyone else for that matter. Just like when all the accusations about why Cas had done this or that 'bad' thing got growled out, it was always Dean who Cas had done it all for. Sam only ever got mentioned as an afterthought.

Dean sobers suddenly. He's still maybe seeing things from an altered perspective because suddenly, all the things Cas has done for him? It's fricking scary. "What are you doing here with me, Cas?" he asks in a voice that sounds rough to his own ears. "A lifespan like yours? I should be just a speck, a passing thought. But I'm not so blind I don't realize what an impact I've had in your life. Even if I am here and gone in a second to your perspective, it's been one helluva second. Not something you can forget easily?" He hates the way his voice rises into a question at the end there, but despite everything he just said, he isn't sure.

"I'll never forget you, Dean," Cas says almost fiercely, leaning a lot closer, his wings lifting and flaring. "For however long I continue in Creation, I'll remember you and remember the things I learned because of you. You are so much more than a... a speck."

"So more a dust bunny then?" He says it with deliberate humor.

Cas smiles back, kind of, though he's still way too close. "More a-" he puts a hand on Dean's chest, above his heart "-tattoo."

Dean laughs. "You can get them removed with lasers now, you know?"

"Why would I want to?" Cas asks and moves his hand to Dean's face as he leans forward.

Dean kisses back mindlessly to start with, too surprised that Cas has initiated this to take stock. It's been weeks since they last kissed, and even then, it was almost always Dean who started things off. He gets with the program quickly enough though, twisting his upper body to face Cas and carefully slipping his hands under lifted wings to circle Cas' waist. Cas tastes like he always does, of coffee and darkest chocolate, and Dean's really gonna have to ask him about that, but not now. Now is just for now, for the moment, for them.

Cas' hand slides up into Dean's hair while the other slides up under Dean's shirt, over his tee. Cas' mouth is sealed perfectly over Dean's -- any breathing getting done via nostrils or not at all. Cas' tongue slides under Dean's slowly, as if tasting him right back, and even though Cas isn't doing anything he hasn't done before, it somehow all feels different now. Better.

"This a reward?" Dean asks a little gruffly when Cas finally pulls back a little way. "I've stopped with the denial so I get my privileges returned?"

Cas snorts softly, his thumb smoothing over Dean's cheek in a way that seems very human, almost possessive, to Dean. "It's more another symptom of your improvement."

Dean feels his brows pull together. "What does that- Oh. I've got my shit together enough now for you to not feel you're abusing me or your position or some such shit when we make out?"

Cas nods, just the once. "You may not be fully recovered, but you're possessed and accepting of all the facts, and you... know your own mind."

Dean echoes the single nod. If it were him, and Cas was the recovering headcase, he'd wait a bit longer to check if the acceptance wasn't just a passing thing. But no way is he gonna suggest that to Cas right now, and certain nosy angels better not be listening into any thoughts right now or else... or else something. Something bad.

"Dean," Cas says, smiling and looking positively fond goddammit, "your acceptance is real. I can see."

"Get out of my head and get back to kissing me," Dean growls, grabbing at Cas' tie, but then he rests his hand flat on Cas' chest instead, feeling body warmth through the cloth, as a thought starts to form in his head. "Hey, wait a second." The thought gathers momentum quickly, snowballing, growing huge. "Hey! Now that I've reclaimed full adult status in your eyes, does that mean... what I think it means? I've waited so long, Cas..."

Cas puts his hand on top of Dean's on his chest. "I hope your expectations aren't beyond my capacity to fulfill," he says in a wry tone.

Dean finds himself grinning suddenly. "Oh, my virgin angel, I've got so much to show you. So many naughty, filthy, dirty, utterly sinful acts to teach-"

"Dean!"

Cas looks so scandalized that Dean bursts out with laughter. "Haven't seen you look like that since the cat house, dude," he points out.

"Dean..." Cas still doesn't seem able to meet Dean's gaze.

"Cas, I'm teasing, man," Dean says in as appeasing a tone as he knows. "We'll take it slow, I promise. Come here."

Dean pulls Cas close again, and Cas doesn't resist, pressing his face into the crook of Dean's neck. "What if I... What if I don't want to go slow?" he asks, his voice a low growl by Dean's ear. It goes straight to Dean's dick, and Christ, he only just holds back a groan.

"Then we don't," he tells Cas, his hands rubbing up and down Cas' back and getting a little thrill every time his hands brush past feathers without Cas complaining or withdrawing. "All I'm saying is -- you're in control here. You can say 'stop', or 'slow the fuck down' or 'more right now' and I'll listen, okay?"

"Okay," Cas says, lifting his head again. "You can too."

"Absolutely. Now, can we stop talking about doing it and actually, y'know, do it?" Dean grins, biting his lower lip. Cas reaches up with two fingers and gently pulls the lip free, smoothing over where Dean's teeth were as if he's left a mark, which he doubts.

"I don't want to go slow, Dean," Cas says, slowly and seriously, but his wings are quivering over Dean's arms.

Dean half-laughs, half-groans, then he's leaning in and kissing Cas again, kissing him hard, a clash of lips, tongues and occasionally teeth.

Cas' hands seem to be under Dean's clothes, sliding warm over skin, and Dean suspects some angel mojo at work 'cause he didn't feel any untucking, but hell, he ain't complaining. He lifts his own hands to Cas' lapels, shoving at both coat and jacket. He mutters into Cas' mouth. "Take 'em off. All of them."

For a moment, nothing's happening. Cas isn't moving, and Dean seems to have stopped too. Then suddenly Dean feels something -- feathers -- dragging over his back, and he knows he's naked. Hell, Cas is too. Dean grabs and pulls, tugging Cas over his lap and wrapping his arms tight around him when he's there. "Cas. Jesus fuck, you feel good." There's a warm, firm weight pressing against Dean's belly, and Christ, he wants to get his hands on it more than anything.

Cas' wings flare out huge behind him, his naked body seeming slight in the shadow of them. He writhes against Dean, inside the shackles of Dean's arms. "Dean." The growl is all the warning Dean gets before Cas seems to surge forward, over him, lifting him, pulling him or something, and then Dean's lying flat on the bed with Cas above him, and Cas is pretty much ravishing him, hands and mouth everywhere.

Dean gasps, pants, fingers clutching at the covers as he tries to reassure himself this is real. It's really happening.

Cas drags up his head to gaze at Dean through pupils so blown Dean can hardly see blue. Cas' lips are swollen and flushed, and his voice is harsh when he asks, unsmiling, "Should I stop?"

"Fuck, no!" Dean pushes his fingers into Cas' hair, holding his head. "No way, dude. Don't you dare stop now."

"I won't," Cas says, and Dean feels a hand move rapidly down his body.

Dean feels a full blown shudder go through him as Cas touches his dick. He presses his head back into the bedding and groans deep, the noise grating in his throat. "So long, Cas. So fricking long I've wanted you to do this."

"I've wanted to do it," Cas rumbles, still gazing down at Dean. "All that time and longer."

Cas' hand grips Dean firmly, tugging up and down, and Dean wants to tell him to spit in his palm a little, but he can't get the words out, not with Cas staring at him like he's everything Cas ever wanted all laid out for him to take. And then it doesn't matter because Cas isn't staring anymore, and he isn't touching Dean's dick. Instead he's moving down Dean's body, kissing and stroking and getting lower and lower until...

Oh fuck.

"Cas. Oh God, don't you dare stop now. Oh Jesus, so good, so fucking good..." Dean really doesn't have a clue what's coming out of his mouth because all he can think about is what's in Cas' mouth, which is so warm, so enclosing, pulling him in further with gentle suction and then letting him slide out over a firm bed of tongue, and oh Jesus-God-fuck, this is it. This is what he's wanted. Yes. Oh Yeah. "Cas..."

It's been too long, way too long, and Dean knows as sure as he knows anything that it'll only take a few more swipes of tongue, a couple more dives into the tight heat at the back of Cas' throat, and he'll be coming. Hell, he'll be blowing the top of his head off.

"Cas," he says again, his fingers in Cas' hair and tugging. "Cas, stop."

Cas looks debauched, but also kind of pissed off when he looks up. "Make your mind up."

"I'm gonna come."

"Good?"

"No. Yeah, I mean, yeah, good, of course, but-"

"Let me do this, Dean." Cas' strict voice. The angel may suck at some interactions, but hell, he does assertive well. "I want this experience. I've been wanting it a long time."

And what the hell can Dean say to that? The only thing he does say, in fact -- a weak, "Okay," as he collapses back onto the bed.

This is what Heaven should feels like, he thinks as Cas encloses him in warmth again, taking him so deep there are angel lips touching his fricking pubes, and oh hell, there's gotta be something wrong with that, but Dean doesn't care, not now. Now he's holding on for dear life as Cas takes him in again and again, and his vision is closing in, his hearing, everything just concentrated on this moment, this chain of sensations, as Cas swallows around him, and Dean close to screams as he's coming, and coming, and...

Chapter Text

"Look at those little beauties," Dean says, shielding his eyes from the early summer sun and feeling stupidly proud. "Each one of those green lumps is going to be a tomato on my plate in a few weeks."

"If all goes as it should." Cas crouches down as if to get a closer look at Dean's thriving plants. He touches the leaves of one with a couple of fingertips.

"You're still zapping them?" Dean checks, moving his leg slightly to touch Cas' arm. "Killing off any nasties that wanna wilt them."

"I am." Cas looks up, smiling slightly.

"We grow good shit," Dean told him, grinning. "Us two."

"You grow 'good shit'. I... help, but you nurture these plants."

Dean decides not to mention the weeks he neglected them completely. They both know the only reason these plants are still alive is Cas, but Dean's tried to make up for it in the two months since. He puts his hand inside the cape of wings and squeezes Cas' shoulder.

"Caring for them," he says, "raising them if you like, it feels like me, or the new me anyway. Seasons didn't used to mean much other than how they affected the roads. We never stayed in one place long enough to get continuity, I guess. Now that I've got my fingers deep in the dirt, I think I'm getting them more. It feels kinda like looking after the Impala. I'm starting to know somehow when things are out of sync and need fixing."

"You're a Gardener," Cas says, and Dean seems to hear a capital-G.

He snorts. "Like Joshua?" He moves his hand to muss the not-feathers over the arch of Cas' nearest wing. "We haven't even had a crop yet. Little early to call me that."

Cas' eyes close. His smile seems almost lazy when he says, "Maybe you always were one, just in a bigger garden."

Dean snorts. "Gardeners don't normally attack problem bugs with shotguns and holy oil." He combs his fingers in deeper through the not-feathers, still relishing being able to do this even though it's been many weeks now. "So that Joshua dude - was he God or not?"

"Joshua has tended the Garden for longer than I've existed. It's not impossible that he's an aspect of our Father." Cas' wings flare out, and one circles around Dean as Cas straightens up. It doesn't stop the heat of the sun from hitting Dean's back, but it adds an all-different kind of warmth. "Some have speculated, quietly, that it might be so, but we'll never know for sure unless He wants us to."

"Must get lonely, being God. A guy needs equals, or almost equals, around him to stay sane."

Cas smiles, running his hand over Dean's pecs, now nicely defined again after all the intense working out he's been doing. "You speak as a social animal."

"If He wasn't lonely, or at the very least bored shitless, why make angels and then us?" Dean asks. "Thought He made us in His own image, anyway."

"I wouldn't take that too literally," Cas advises, and Dean laughs.

"You haven't met the man. He could be my identical twin for all you know," he says, and Cas looks halfway between scandalized and highly amused by that idea, so Dean gooses him, just because he can.

Cas captures Dean's evil-doing hand and holds it tight. "Shall we inspect the orchard?"

"Yeah," Dean says with a nod and a grin. "Apples for Little Eden."

"Is that how you see this place now?" Cas asks as they start to walk. "It's not wildly inappropriate."

"Yeah, but eating the apples here won't get us chucked out," Dean says. "Seeing as we already know we're naked, so to speak."

Cas makes an amused noise, his wing shivering against Dean. "The Bible sees those days as through a glass darkly."

"Oh yeah?" Dean raises his eyebrows. "You gonna lighten my glass?"

Cas stops at the pile of rough chopped wood that Dean's been using to build a fence around the orchard -- for no better reason than the young trees seem to deserve something to mark them out as special, valued. "What was true then," Cas says, turning to face Dean, "isn't necessarily true now."

Ah, the return of the enigmatic angel similes... or mottoes or whatever. Dean so has not missed them. "True is true, Cas. It doesn't change, only whether we can see it or not."

"You're wrong," Cas tells him, looking almost apologetic with his eyes unblinking and vividly blue in the sunlight. "Truth is whatever God wants it to be. The laws of the universe are His laws, and He can change them as He wishes."

"And we'd be none the wiser?"

"Probably."

Dean shrugs. He doesn't like the thought of that, but hell, it's not like there's anything he could do about it even if he did somehow know when it happened. "'Mysterious ways' is just another take on 'the old man got bored and poked the rat cage' if you ask me."

Cas moves closer, placing gentle fingertips on Dean's lips. "He has given us this time together. Ingratitude would be unworthy of us."

Dean sighs against Cas' fingers. It's hovering on his tongue to point out that God's the bastard who set up the foundations of the whole Apocalyptic mess, who let the Winchesters and Campbells be twisted and prodded and fricking tortured just so two archangels with the emotional intelligence of two-year-olds could have their moment of mano-a-mano. But without those foundations, Dean probably would never have been born, Sam even less so, and Cas would just be another tin soldier in the dick squad. Dean exists only because of God's will and... ah, shit. He honestly doesn't know if that's a good thing or not anymore.

A few months back, he'd have claimed for sure that he and Sam? Better off having never been. But now? Now he just doesn't know.

Cas removes his fingers and replaces them with his lips in a soft kiss. "Blessings are to be treasured, Dean," he says when he pulls back. "All the more so if they come at the end of a long, hard road. Evil must exist if free will is to have meaning, but sometimes the sun still shines, and we'd be fools not to rejoice when it does."

"Amen. Preach on, brother," Dean says, dry as desert sand, but then he laughs. "Yeah, I know, Cas. Make the most of the good times 'cause tomorrow the sky's a-falling. You're preaching to someone who's been converted since he was born, near enough. I get it."

"And these are good times," Cas says firmly.

"Yeah," Dean replies and waits for the inevitable pang of guilt for admitting he's happy even though Sam's dead and gone.

It doesn't come.

Dean remembers how Sam's last wish for Dean before saying 'yes' had been to see him happily settled in a family. And yeah, so an angel and a bunch of plants ain't exactly a family, but it's good all the same. Maybe, just maybe, Sam's looking down right now at Dean and Cas together, and he's smiling.

"There's a storm coming."

"Yeah, sky's as ominous as fuck." Dean turns away from the window to look at Cas, who's sitting in his armchair closing his book.

Cas nods. "It's going to be bad."

Dean thinks of his fruiting tomato plants, his little lettuce patch, and his strawberries, and he frowns. They won't survive a bad storm, not like they are. "Gonna quickly do something," he says, heading for the door.

Cas appears in front of Dean before he gets there. He's holding Dean's jacket. "Put this on. I'll secure the mills," he says and then vanishes again. Dean snorts, but does what he was just told.

Outside, the wind's already starting to build. It's only mid-afternoon, but it seems like evening under the heavy cloud cover. The birds have stopped singing, and Dean wasn't wrong when he said this was ominous as fuck. He was a hunter for too long to ignore signs like this.

He heads for his timber stockpile. Cas has been bringing in all sorts of sheet-wood and planks since Dean started making shit. He grabs an armful together with his tool box and sprints around to the back of the house to his tomatoes, his first-grown. The back wall will protect them on one side. Dean needs to make some kind of temporary but strong shelter around the others.

He's probably not the world's best carpenter, but he learned a lot over the spring, building the orchard fence and then the shed, and then a table just because. By the time the first heavy drops are falling on the back of his neck, he's hammered together a sturdy if ugly little lean-to and fixed it to the wall. It'll stand up to anything bar a full-scale hurricane or flash flood. He'll take it straight back down after the storm's passed so his babies can get their dose of sun. For now, they're safe.

Rain's pelting down, soaking through his jacket, as he rushes back around the house, heading for the vegetable patch. He finds Cas just finishing closing down their shutters.

"Get inside," the angel tells him, having to yell over the sound of the gale and rain.

Dean shakes his head. "Gotta cover the green stuff and check the orchard," he yells back, starting to move around Cas.

Cas grabs his arm just as a flash of lightning brightens the yard. The almost immediate crack of accompanying thunder makes Dean's bones judder. The storm's right over them then and choosing this moment to break. Great, just great.

"Get inside," Cas yells again, and apparently he's taking no chances of disobedience, 'cause he's dragging Dean to the door.

Dean digs in his feet, about to argue, but then lighting flashes again, and Dean almost lets himself be dragged over in shock at what he sees.

In the white light strobe effect, beyond Cas, Dean sees a winged figure more made out of the light than silhouetted by it. At first he thinks it's some weird, distorted negative-shadow of Cas made by the storm, but the wings are way too big, and they're spread while Cas' are pulled in and lifted as if to somehow keep the rain from hitting Dean. The figure's wings cover the whole fricking yard, and it's hovering above the ground, fuck-off huge, and...

And even through he can't make out a single feature, just light so bright it'll scar his vision for days, Dean knows who he's seeing.

He lets Cas haul him inside and close the door. Dean stares at the back of it, still seeing the echo of the Archangel Michael.

Cas fusses over him, stripping off Dean's jacket, and Dean ignores him because... shouldn't Cas be at battle stations? Outside the wind smashes rain into the shutters like buckshot. Thunders crashes, and Dean starts to shiver.

Cas is still stripping him with the efficiency of someone who's had to do it countless times over the decade and then some that they've been here. Dean lets him, even helps a bit, but mostly he's trying to find the words to say, 'what the fuck?'.

"Cas," he gasps in the end; his voice seems high and reedy. "Was I... Was that an hallucination?"

Cas looks up from unlacing Dean's boots. He's frowning. "The storm?"

Dean half-shakes his head, more a tremble really than anything else. "Michael. I saw Michael out there."

Cas immediately stands, his eyes wide and chin raised, and does his 'stag trying to catch a scent' thing. Then he relaxes, putting an arm around Dean. "Michael isn't out there. Our wards are unbroken."

Well, that's beyond a relief. Dean feels his knees weaken and lets Cas take some of his weight, just for a moment.

"So I'm seeing things now?" He wishes so hard his voice wouldn't give away his weakness and fear like it seems determined to do. It's not that Cas wouldn't know anyway, it's just that... well, Dean himself might be able to pretend he wasn't so scared if he couldn't hear it with his own ears.

Cas detaches himself from Dean long enough to wrap a blanket around him. He guides Dean to the bed. "As I understand it, such moments aren't uncommon amongst survivors of severe trauma."

So just a PTSD waking nightmare. Okay, he can handle that. He's handled worse, after all. It's just... "Why's it always Michael?" he asks plaintively as he gets into bed, not questioning Cas' non-verbal directions to do so. "My dreams, now this. All the things I could be seeing, but most of the time, it's him."

Cas stands with his back to Dean, straightening out and hanging Dean's abandoned clothes. "There's a connection between you," he says with the flattest tone he has. Dean guesses thinking about that connection doesn't make Cas all that happy. Hell, it's not like Dean himself is all hearts and flowers about it.

"You're my angel," he says, and he doesn't really know who he's trying to reassure most, Cas or himself. "I want nothing more to do with that bastard who couldn't even complete the one task he'd been working toward for fucking millennia."

"You're his true vessel." Cas stands unmoving now, his back still to Dean and his wings clenched tight. "Now that you've joined once, you'll always be able to find each other outside of these wards."

"He wants to find me," Dean says dully, shivered under the sheets. "Known that for a long time now. Guess I'm stuck here 'til I die, but hey-" he manages a crooked smile that Cas won't even see "-there's nothing so terrible about that."

The electricity takes that moment to flicker, and then thunder crashes so loud it vibrates the china on the dresser.

"Don't worry," Cas says, turning back to Dean. "Our generator is sturdy. We won't lose power."

"I'm cold." Dean wriggles further down under the covers.

"Would you like me to hold you?"

Dean pulls a face. "What I'd like is for you to not ask, but just do it. That way I won't feel like I'm about to grow a vagina."

Cas snorts and walks to his side of the bed, his outer clothes doing a vanishing trick on the way. He gets under the sheets and pulls Dean close. Cas always burns hot, like he's got a mild fever, but now he feels like a full size hot-water bottle and just what Dean needs. They lie quietly together for a while, hands absently stroking, mouths occasionally pressing together in kisses, while the storm does the whole 'signifying nothing' thing outside.

After many minutes of peace and warmth, Cas pulls back enough to say, "With enough research, we may be able to find a way of letting you leave here without Michael sensing you."

Dean flinches at the name, but he's learned his lesson about avoidance and so doesn't object to it. Instead, he shakes his head. "Maybe. Yeah, research can work wonders; Sammy taught me that. But no rush. I got orchards to tend, and I thought maybe I could build a coop. Think you could find us some chickens from the great cosmic superstore out there?"

Cas smiles slightly, but all he says is, "I don't want you to feel you're trapped here, Dean."

"I don't, so shut up about it." Well, he's learned his lesson to a point.

"Dean."

Oh, for... "Cas, listen." Dean takes the angel's head in his hands. "All I want is you, okay? You, this place here, and long enough to enjoy it. I've done my duty by the rest of the world. This is my well-deserved retirement."

Cas' eyes flicker shut. "You may start to feel differently. I need you to know that, if you-"

Dean shuts him up with a kiss since that seems to be the only way. He feels Cas sigh against his lips. Dean rolls his eyes, pulling back just enough to say, "Wasn't it you a few weeks ago telling me to rejoice in the good times? Take your own advice, angel."

Cas, wisely as far as Dean's concerned, keeps his mouth shut, so Dean kisses him again as a reward.

"This is damn good." Dean's eating the first of his tomatoes on a home-made pizza, courtesy of Heaven. Well, Heaven's ex-foot soldier anyway. "They're sweet as sugar."

"They are fruit of excellent quality," Cas agrees, sounding pleased. He even has a slice to eat himself today, to celebrate the crop.

"Vegetable," Dean corrects, but Cas just smiles fondly at him in return before taking another bite.

Dean follows suit because it's a really good suit and deserves to be followed. The base is thin and just crispy enough. The cheese is tangy and stringy, and Dean even likes the green bits, not that he'll admit it under torture. But it's the tomatoes that are best: sweet, plump and delicious, his babies. And maybe he better stop thinking of them like that 'cause remembering baby-eating Lilith? So not good for the digestion.

"You've got the New York style down pat," he says through a full mouth. "This is perfect."

"Thank you, Dean," Cas says seriously after swallowing. "It does taste good."

"What did I tell you? Your chef-ing and my green fingers means we'll eat like kings every day." Dean grins. The day's really looking up.

It didn't start that way. It began bad and way too early. Dean's nightmares have started again, triggered somehow by that storm two weeks ago, and last night's dream was a fright-night special. Michael was chasing Dean through the air as Dean ran through a corn field, having the full-on North by North-West experience. The chase went on and on, Dean stumbling, hurting himself, struggling up again consumed with unreasoning terror. He ended up bleeding and limping, panting helplessly, but Michael wouldn't let up. Dean could feel the wind from Michael's wings on the back of his neck, and he knew, absolutely knew, that Michael was just playing with him, that he could catch him any time he wanted, but the chase was fun.

And then Cas was there, swooping Dean up and flying away with him, somehow leaving Michael way behind.

"Dean?"

He looks up to see Cas staring at him in what looks like concern. Dean shakes his head. "It's nothing. Just remembering that dream is all."

Cas frowns, his uneaten pizza crust dropping to the plate. "It was particularly persistent. I found it hard to break through."

Dean shrugs. "Trials and tribs of PTSD, huh? How long d'you think it'll go on for, this bout?"

"I don't know," Cas says. "I've read several books on the subject recently, but they all seemed to disagree."

"Guess we'll just have to wait and see." Dean shrugs again. "It's not so bad. Not like it's every night again or anything." He helps himself to the last slice of pizza. "Sam would have loved this."

"Would he?" The frown fades from Cas' face as the subject changes. "I don't remember him liking pizza particularly."

"Are you kidding? It was his favorite! As a kid, anyway, and it still was really 'til the day he... well, stopped eating anything, I guess. See, it was junkfood, so he had to whine about it. That was like an obligation with him, you know? But he secretly loved every time circumstances meant he had to eat it. And this? All home-made, home-grown and shit? He'd be in- Huh... yeah. Heaven." Dean gives Cas a twisted smile.

"I would have liked to cook it for him, I think."

Dean snorts. "Better for him than for me, anyway. He actually ate spinach and liked it, or claimed to, anyway. Pretty sure that was a lie though."

"It's full of important nutrients."

"Yeah, yeah. If you're Popeye."

"If you're Dean Winchester, too."

"Not if I won't eat it, it isn't."

"True," Cas agrees with a small smile.

They finish the little left of their meal in peaceable silence. Just recently, Cas has been finding beer from somewhere, and Dean leans back and savors the last drops from his bottle before stretching and standing up.

He walks over to Cas. "You've got a spot of sauce on your pinion feathers." Not that Dean exactly knows what pinion feathers are, but it sounds good.

"That's not possible," Cas says with a frown.

"Sure it is. Just here." Dean points at the totally invented stain. "I'll just get it off for you."

"Dean," Cas starts, but doesn't get any further because Dean's standing behind him, combing fingers between angel feathers.

"There. It's coming out just fine. You should take more care of your wings, Cas. Preen a bit."

"Dean, you are attempting to seduce me."

"I am? Hmm. Is it working?"

"Of course." Dean can almost hear Cas rolling his eyes; it's so obvious in his tone. "But there are plates to clear."

"Just click 'em clean. Waste the mojo for once." Dean drags through feathers, tugging lightly. He bends to speak close to Cas' ear. "I wanna do that thing to you that you did to me last night. Been thinking about it all day. Gonna take it nice and slow."

Cas' wings flare, and Dean's pretty sure he heard a little gasp from his angel. Grinning, Dean runs his hands along the edge of each wing.

"Want your hands on me, Cas. Want your mouth, your dick, all of you. Come to bed."

"It's still early," Cas says, but Dean can tell from the higher pitch and slight breathless quality in Cas' voice that he's already won. Got him.

"We can get up again after." Dean moves around and crouches beside Cas' chair. He runs a hand up Cas' thigh and squeezes. "Let me make you lose it again, Cas. Love it when you start glowing inside like a reactor going critical."

"I should have better control," Cas mutters as he gets to his feet.

"With me doing my happy best to make sure you haven't? You got no chance, man." Dean grins wolfishly as he stands too.

Cas is staring at him. Dean continues to grin, moving closer. Cas rolls his eyes, and Dean find himself walking backwards way too fast to the bed, where Cas puts a hand on his chest and pushes him down to sit on the edge.

Dean looks at the encouraging sight right in front of his face and laughs, putting a hand on Cas' belt. "Look, more plump and delicious home-grown delights. Seems like I really do have the gardener's touch."

"Dean," Cas growls. "Less innuendo and more 'doing that thing I did to you last night'."

Dean laughs. Stupid Michael dreams can go fuck themselves backwards with a jackhammer. Dean's bed is still the best place left on Earth.

"Why are you hiding from me, Dean?" Michael asks, head tipped, and Dean knows he's dreaming, so where the hell is Cas? It's been taking him longer and longer to end Dean's nightmares ever since they returned, and Dean's starting to get a little freaked that one night, Cas won't come at all.

"I'm holding your foolish little foot-angel away," Michael says in a mild tone. "He'll only get himself pointlessly hurt. There's so little need for this resistance."

Michael looks like Dean. Only he doesn't, not at all, 'cause Dean's just a human being. A handsome one, sure, but not... Not so stuffed full of heavenly glory he looks like the greatest miracle ever all encased in well-toned flesh. Michael's got Dean's old eyes too, the bastard. And his hair's not silver. He looks just like Dean did when he said 'yes' all those years ago now, like some part of Dean was frozen in time at that moment.

"You can't take me," Dean says, "not without me giving the invite all over again." He lifts his chin as he says it, stands firm like he means it, like he's not shitting himself in terror here. He hopes to God that what he just said is true. He remembers Cas in Claire Novak's body getting Jimmy's permission all over again before switching vessels. It's got to be true.

Where the hell is Cas?

"Dean," Michael says, stepping forward and sounding kind of exasperated. Dean feels a weird disconcerting moment, seeing an expression so like one of Cas' on his own face. "You've got your facts wrong," Michael goes on. "Castiel has misled you-"

He doesn't get any further than that because -- from nowhere -- Cas is on him, hands of fire grasping Michael's head from behind and flaring. Michael screams.

Fuck. Dean watches in horror as his own features start to melt under Cas' hands. Cas looks up at Dean over Michael's shoulder and spits out, "Expergiscere!" Suddenly Dean is back lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling in the half-light of morning filtered through the drapes.

He instinctively turns towards Cas' warmth, but Cas is asleep. Cas never sleeps, but his eyes are closed, and he doesn't respond to a gentle shake, and he smells funny, or something else in the house does.

Dean shakes him again, a little harder. No response.

Okay, don't panic. Cas'll wake up in a moment. He's just finishing things up in Dean's dream, that's all. It was just another nightmare. One that went on way too long, but that's all it was. He tries patting Cas' face and falls back onto the bed in surprise when Cas suddenly sits up, gasping.

"Cas?" Dean asks, not even trying to hide the worry in his voice.

Cas turns his head to look at Dean. He's wide-eyed, still panting a little. "I... I'm sorry I didn't reach you sooner."

Dean sits up, shaking his head. "He said he was keeping you away. I guess that's dream talk for my subconscious putting up the shutters and bars. Not your fault, Cas." He sees Cas twitch a little and guesses his angel is getting heavy with the self-blame, so Dean pulls him closer. "It's okay, Cas. It's all right."

"Isn't that my line?" Cas mutters in the crook of Dean's neck, but what sounds like an attempt at a wry tone doesn't amount to much, and he presses closer still.

Dean can't help but notice Cas leaning on him but isn't holding him back, and suddenly the bad smell clicks into unpleasant focus. Dean pulls back. "Show me your hands."

Cas frowns. "I don't understand," he says, and yeah, still a crap liar.

"Show me your fricking hands, Cas."

With obvious reluctance, Cas pulls his hands out from under the covers and shows Dean his palms. They're blackened and blistered, the skin kind of tattered. "They're healing," Cas claims. "Just... slowly."

Dean stares, grossed out and approaching horrified. "How's this even possible?" he asks, moving his gaze up to meet Cas'.

Cas' gaze slides away from Dean's, soft-focusing on his shoulder. "We are so bound together, you and I... It's possible that, within your dreamworld..." He stops talking as if deciding that it was a pointless line in bullshit. Dean's inclined to agree.

"It's really him, isn't it?"

"I don't know," Cas says, still not meeting Dean's eyes.

"You think it is."

"He was... very powerful."

Dean snorts, utterly without humor. "You just defeated him."

"Only by waking you." Finally, Cas meets Dean's eyes. "I'm sorry."

Fuck it. "How long?" Dean asks grimly. Cas tips his head, looking questioning, so Dean says, "How long have we got? Before he breaks through?"

Cas takes a small, sudden breath, a little gasp. "I... I don't know, Dean. I don't even know for sure that it's him."

"I do." He's always known really. Nothing good ever lasts in his life. "How long?"

Cas seems to straighten up, lifting his chin. "I can keep him out."

"For how long, Cas?" Dean pretty much shouts that.

"For as long as I have to!" Cas roars back, grabbing Dean's shoulders with his tattered hands. "He can't have you."

Dean shakes his head, not sure if he's denying the truth of Cas' words, or just wondering at how much his damn stupid angel loves him.

"I'm not worth dying over," he says quietly, looking away.

Cas just snorts. "Seeing as I already have, twice, I think I'll be the judge of that."

Dean can feel his throat thickening, his eyes stinging. "I'd rather die ten times over; I'd rather give myself back to that bastard, than be stuck in this place without you, Cas." With Sam and Cas both gone, just what the hell would be the point of anything?

"So what're you suggesting?" Cas asks acidly. "A suicide pact?"

"No!" Dean stares at him. "Just. I don't- Oh, come here."

He holds Cas close and kisses him, and Cas kisses back like a starving man. It feels like that time in the kitchen, just before Dean's memories came back, and Dean knows Cas is as terrified of losing Dean as Dean is of him. More even. Dean just doesn't do non-co-dependent relationships, he guesses.

Cas pushes Dean back down onto the bed with hands that've gotta be hurting, falling on top of him and immediately pressing a half-hard cock against Dean's. Dean groans deep. Understanding that Cas' possessive passion is born of desperation doesn't make it any less hot, and it's as hot as hellfire.

"Cas. Cas, I'm not leaving you. Never," he swears gruffly, his hands clutching at whatever flesh he can find. He knows he can't really promise that, but he'll make it true somehow.

He will.

Cas is moving like he's getting old.

Dean's lying on the bed, watching Cas moving around the inside walls of their home, cutting himself and renewing the wards. Cas does this every day now, his upper garments removed the human way, like he can't spare the mojo anymore. He seems to think that the fresher the blood, the stronger the ward, and it's not like Dean knows any better, but Dean sees Cas moving, slow and careful like his bones hurt, like everything hurts, and Dean dies a little inside every time.

It's the nightly fights with Michael doing it, of course. Dean's dreams have become a battleground, in which a foot soldier repeatedly throws himself at a... a demigod and gets beaten off. Dean does what he can. He's found he has a certain amount of power thanks to being the dreamer in question. He boosts Cas as much as he's able, and he joins in the fights, but every night the fight lasts longer, and last night, Cas couldn't get in at all. Dean fought Michael off by himself, and if he's completely honest with himself, he's pretty sure he only won because Michael felt sorry for him in the end.

Not that that makes Dean warm to Michael at all. Not when he looks at Cas now and knows that, slowly but surely, the Archangel Michael is killing the angel Castiel.

"Dude, we have to talk about this."

"There's nothing to talk about, Dean."

"Yeah. There really is."

"Nothing you might say would make any difference to my resolve," Cas says, pressing his knife to his wrist yet again, despite that the last cut's still oozing lazily away.

Dean looks over at Michael, who's standing by the window today with his arms folded. Dean glares at him, furious and frightened and God knows what else, and Michael shows him that self-same, sickly look of sympathy that Lucifer was so fond of -- pair of self-satisfied sociopaths, the both of them. Dean thinks murderous thoughts as loudly as he can.

Cas doesn't show any sign of picking up on Dean's thoughts. He hasn't for a while now, ever since Michael decided to become Dean's daytime companion as well as after hours. Cas can't see Michael either. Obviously since Michael's not really there. Dean knows that, knows that Michael's not really in their house, but he is really in Dean's head.

Yeah, okay, so it could all just be Dean getting even crazier. He's willing to admit to the big maybe that he's turning full-on Russell Crowe schizo now. It's possible... but he doesn't think so.

Dean knows with everything he is that Michael, or at least a bit of him, is really here. Hell, maybe he never even really left. Maybe he was so freaked out at having to kill his own brother that he went into deep hiding inside Dean's soul. Only now he wants out again. It doesn't seem possible that a being like a super-condensed star could fit in Dean's soul, but who knows what archangels can do? Pretty much anything, looking at Gabriel, and Michael and Lucifer were everything Gabriel was and a lot more in terms of power.

Either way, Michael's real, and he's piling the pressure on Dean to go back into the meat suit business. It's taking all Dean has to resist the impulse to do a Captain Oates, to walk out into no man's land beyond the wards and shout 'here I am'! Michael's calling him, and something deep inside Dean wants to obey. The compulsion is stronger every day.

Cas doesn't know that either since he can no longer see inside Dean, and Dean's doing his best bit of improv ever, lying here, pretending he's A-OK and just being a lazy fuck.

Cas finishes the last ward and just stands there in front of it, wavering, blood dripping slowly to the floor. Dean stands and grabs a small clean towel from the folded laundry. "Come here," he says, wrapping it around Cas' arm. "Bleeding your vessel to death's not gonna help either of us."

He leads an unresisting Cas to the bed. "Lie down under the covers and I'll join you," he says, smoothing down not-feathers that are getting increasingly bedraggled.

"I don't feel like sex," Cas says, and he sounds regretful. In truth, Dean doesn't know if he himself could get it up, not with Michael playing peeping Tom, but that isn't what he wants anyway.

"That's all right," he tells Cas. "I just want you to take it easy for a while. We can make out, or just lie here. It doesn't matter."

"Dean, I..."

"Cas. It's all right. I know, and it's all right. Let me look after you for once."

Cas gives in, lying back in the sheets. "You should sleep."

"Not in the mood." Dean investigates Cas' wrist, satisfies himself that it's stopped bleeding and started to heal, and throws the towel in the direction of the kitchen.

"Dean, you have to sleep."

Not this argument again. "I really don't."

"By refusing to sleep, you're weakening your defenses, making it easier for him to get in."

Dean pulls back enough to give Cas a helpless look. "It's catch 22, man. Doomed if I do, doomed if I don't."

"I'll... I'll try harder."

Dean feels his heart catch at the weariness in Cas' voice. "You don't need to. I'm not even tired," he lies, smoothing his hand over Cas' chest.

Ignoring the touch, Cas sits up. "I'll make you a warm drink."

"With what?" Dean says, getting annoyed. Cas hasn't risked going grocery shopping -- or whatever it is he does to get supplies -- over the last week or so. He's either too tired or to unwilling to risk Dean sleeping alone. "All we have left is water."

"There's a little coffee."

"That's hardly going to help me sleep."

"No," Cas admits quietly. "If you're determined not to sleep, I should take this time to replenish our stocks." He doesn't exactly look eager to flap off, however.

"Cas, I love you so fucking much," Dean says, "but you gotta stop doing this to yourself. I can't just lie here and watch you work yourself to death trying to keep me alive and untenanted."

"You are not," Cas says, "just lying there."

"I am right now."

"You know what I mean, Dean. We're fighting this war together."

Dean sighs silently because, yeah, they are. They're going down together like Leo and Kate, but... But nothing. He's got nothing.

"Maybe it won't be so bad this time," he says slowly after some time spent absently grooming Cas' wings. "I mean, it was only Lucifer self-nuking that got me all frazzled last time. Maybe we should just let Michael get what he wants, and then afterward-" whatever fricking century it is by then "-we could meet up again, be together if we still want to."

"No," Cas says. Just that bare word, no discussion, no hesitation. Just no.

"Cas-"

"I said 'no', Dean."

Dean lets his hands drop from Cas' wings and wonders what the hell he would have done if Cas had said 'yes'.

 

"Cas, I'm fricking starving. A man can't live on tomatoes alone."

Cas, who's been standing at the window, looking out, turns to face Dean instead. He's looking worse than ever. He's not even sparing the mojo to clean himself up anymore - there are blood stains all over his crumpled clothes, his perpetual stubble is now closer to a beard, and his skin sunken and kind of yellowy. "You're right. I'll replenish our supplies," he says, sounding unbearably fatigued as he walks over to Dean.

Dean has been getting his cute little bandicoot ass kicked on the X-Box. He looks up through eyes that really don't want to open fully. He's so fricking tired it's unreal. It's gotten worse since evening came on. Several times he's found Crash's adventures slipping into trippy dreams in front of him and had to jolt himself awake.

"I'll be as fast as I can be," Cas says. "Do not sleep."

"Make your mind up," Dean says, but he smiles as he hauls himself up, trying to show it's a joke. Though really, Cas gave up telling him to sleep a good 24-hours ago now. Dean sighs and steals a kiss.

He doesn't get much of a response to it. "Don't sleep," Cas repeats as Dean pulls back, and then he's gone. Dean lets the controller fall to the ground.

Sighing again, more heavily, he grabs his jacket and a bowl from the kitchen and heads outside. At the back of the house, in the light from the back windows, he fills the bowl with the last of the tomato crop.

Back inside, he leaves it in pride of place in the center of the kitchen table. It's the only way he can think of to say all the things he has neither time nor words to say.

Returning to the night, flashlight in hand, Dean heads straight for the river and then along its banks to the old willow. Beyond the tree lies no-man's land, the land beyond the wards. Very deliberately, Dean walks past the tree and a little way further on down the river.

He's not even scared anymore. In fact, he's approaching relieved.

It doesn't take long at all to hear the waft of mighty wings. Dean's flashlight flickers and goes out, and then Dean's looking at his dad, only his dad younger than Dean has ever known him and with wings ten times his size, and he's glowing bodily with a fiery inner light.

"What the fuck?" Dean says, which definitely wasn't how he was planning to greet the Archangel Michael.

Michael seems to get it because he looks down at himself. "I borrowed your father for a few years out of his time," he says in a mild tone. "He was willing and fully informed, though he'll remember nothing of this afterward."

"Oh yeah? And how the fuck does that square with history?" Even as Dean demands an answer, he finds he already knows it. "Oh. 'Nam."

Michael nods. "I'll return him with appropriate memories of the conflict and the correct trail of official paperwork."

Dean... is beyond caring any more, he suspects. So there's been another spot of Winchester-fucking by the heavenly dicks? What's one fish in an ocean? "So, if you've conned him into playing this week's must-have, ready-to-wear special, what the hell do you need me for?"

Michael tips his head, staring at Dean as his wings stretch out a little, passing through the trees and bushes around him and filling them with a weird-ass light. Michael burns so bright that the rest of the night is now pitch black to Dean's eyes. He knows the river's still out there 'cause he can hear it, but all he can see is the archangel wearing his dad's body and frowning at him. "You thought I wanted you as my vessel again."

"Well, don't you?"

"No, Dean." Michael steps forward, still giving Dean the angel evil-eye. "You've served your time and served it better than anyone hoped. Now that you've recovered from the trauma and damage done, I want to reward you."

For real? After all the futile resistance effort, all the exhausting nights after nights, after all the damn running... "Reward me? How?" he demands, disbelief dripping from his every word.

"That depends on what you want. I made certain promises to you, and I've kept them. Your brother is reliving the good life in the heart of Heaven. He'd be very happy to see you."

Christ. Dean reaches out blindly to the side, finds a slender tree to lean on. "Sammy's really there?" he asks weakly. "You did it?" Please let it be true. Please let it be true.

"Sam is there, as are many of your mutual friends. I rearranged local geography for him. He's happy, Dean. Truly."

Dean's eyes close without permission. He had no idea how much he needed to hear that until he did. "Thanks," he says with a voice like gravel and sawdust.

"You're welcome. Would you like to join him?"

Dean's eyes shutter open. "What does that even mean?"

"A pain-free death, devoid of stigma, and a personal escort -- no reapers -- straight to your brother's door."

Christ. Fuck. Jesus fucking Christ. There's been many times in his life when Dean has toyed with the idea of suicide, but never has it sounded so tempting as right now. To see Sam again... "And if I say no?" He can't believe he's even asking that, but Cas -- he can't leave Cas, can he?

"Then you keep on living, Dean. Did you think I'd murder you in cold blood?"

"Yeah. No. I dunno. Not thinking all that much right now to tell the truth."

"You're tired," Michael says sympathetically. He lifts a hand and touches Dean before Dean even has a chance to flinch. Dean's head clears like he's just had the best mega-cup of Starbucks ever. "Decisions shouldn't be made by a fogged mind," Michael says, his hand dropping back to his side.

"Uh, thanks." Dean's not sure he wanted a clear head. Now it's more obvious than ever that he's being asked to choose between Cas and Sam. "So, uh, you saying that if I choose to stay here-" stay with Cas "-I can?"

"You can make your decision at any time. It's an open-ended offer." Michael smiles. "John and I still have work to do on this plane, but even when we're done, you can still call me. I'll come."

"So, for real now, all those nightmares, all the hallucinations and shit? They were all just you trying to find me to give me the golden handshake?"

Michael frowns again, and for a moment he looks so much like John that it hurts inside Dean in a place so old he'd almost forgotten it was there. "You seem to have suffered further," Michael says, sounding puzzled, "because of me. That wasn't my intention. I regret it."

"You and me and Cas both," Dean says, letting grammar go fuck itself.

"Your angel has been very foolish. He, at least, should have understood."

"Understood what?" a grating voice says behind Dean. He whirls around to see Cas standing there, the weak moon to Michael's blazing sun, a thunderous expression on his face. "What was there to understand, Michael?"

Dean turns back enough to see Michael stepping forward again, saying, "That I'm not the monster Dean's subconscious seems determined to paint me?"

"Aren't you?" Cas steps forward too, and Dean starts to feel a little like a rabbit caught between two rutting stags.

"Castiel, really," Michael says, "What have I ever done to you to deserve this futile enmity? It was you who tried to fricassee me with holy oil, if you remember?"

"Do you want a list?" Boy, Dean knows that tone. That's Cas at his most pissed off. Dean's jaw hurts just hearing it. Cas practically snarls at Michael. "You and your brother's ridiculous games of pride brought this Earth, this best treasure of our Father's, to its knees. That should be reason enough, but no. You called me 'Dean's angel', and if I am anything any more, I'm that. And your minions tortured the Winchester boys for fun and petty revenge, while you-"

"Enough." Just one word from Michael and even the river seems to go quiet. "Zachariah got his comeuppance at Dean's hands, for which Dean is forgiven -- the only mortal ever to kill an angel and not immediately become anathema. I have never wished Dean any harm."

Dean snorts rudely, and Michael's frown deepens.

"Castiel, you've nurtured Dean well, and for that your insolence and disobedience is forgiven, but I'll play this game no longer." Michael waves a hand dismissively. Lines start burning in shapes and figures on the ground behind them and off into the dark. The wards, Dean realizes with a chill. But Michael hasn't finished.

Michael's hand is outstretched and clenched, and looking behind him, Dean sees Cas lifted from the ground, his muscles tense. Michael says, "By hiding Dean from me for so long, you committed treason. Do not try it again."

Okay, that's enough. Dean steps forward, totally into Michael's personal space if he even knows the concept. "Hey! Leave Cas alone. He's the only good dick in the whole heavenly dick cart, and whatever you owe me, you owe him as well!"

For a moment Dean recognizes angelic confusion on Michael's face. Then something worryingly like anger, and he thinks, okay, this is it, smiting time. But then Michael relaxes with a sigh, and Cas' feet touch earth again.

"I didn't come here to fight," Michael says, sounding resigned. "Dean, think about what I offer. You deserve your reward, and I'll even welcome your overly self-willed little angel back into the Host with suitable recognition for service seen. If you decide to take it, call me. Any time."

And with that, Michael's gone. Dean blinks in the dark as his flashlight flickers back to life. He turns to Cas, but Cas has vanished too.

Shit.

Chapter Text

Dean finds him standing in the middle of the floor between the bed and kitchen, doing nothing. Cas' arms hang loose at his sides; his spine is rigidly straight, his eyes staring blankly -- it's like Cas isn't really in his body at all.

Feeling strangely hesitant, Dean approaches and puts a hand on the trench sleeve. "Cas?"

Slowly, Cas turns to look at him. "Dean."

"You vamoosed," Dean says, and he knows his smile is nervous.

"So did you."

Dean winces because, yeah, Cas must have gotten back to find Dean gone. "Sorry, man. I thought... well, it doesn't really matter what I thought, does it? I was wrong, wrong about what Michael wanted."

"Maybe I was wrong too, wrong to once apologize for considering you a burned and broken shell of a man. Once again, you got rid of me before heading out to offer yourself to your archangel."

Dean feels his wince turn into a full-scale grimace. "Aw, Cas, come on. The fights have been killing you. I'm not fricking blind. I see how much they're taking, how little you have left."

"And all for nothing."

"Not for nothing. We know now that he doesn't wanna wear me again. That's good, right?"

"Of course." Cas couldn't sound more flat or uninvolved in the subject matter if he tried. He's made no attempt to touch Dean back, and Dean lets his hand fall.

"Cas, please, man. Don't be like this. Sometimes it's better to turn and face the tiger than it is to keep running. Yeah, chances are you'll get eaten, but comes a time, even being eaten isn't as bad as another minute of running scared."

Cas just stares and then turns away. "Do you want to say goodbye to Bobby before you go?" he asks as he heads to the Xbox on the floor and starts putting it away. "I'll take you there."

It's Dean's turn to stare. "So, what, that's it? I'm taking the golden hand in mine and heading to Heaven in a cavalcade of triumph? Goodbye and no regrets?"

"Sam has always been your priority."

"Yeah, but, Cas-"

"We have food now. Do you require a last meal?"

"Before I head to the chair?" Dean's sure he must be pretty much boggling by now. "Cas, for Christ's sake! We need to talk about this. Nothing's settled. Stop acting like it is."

Cas turns and looks at him, and Dean suddenly notices that Cas has cleaned himself up. More so than normal, in fact. He looks like he used to look during the early Apocalypse years. Dean only realizes seeing him now how much Cas had let his appearance relax since settling with him here.

"Dean," Cas says, and now his tone is gentle. "Of course you will say 'yes'. Sam and you share an unbreakable bond. You need each other."

Maybe Dean needs Cas too. "We need to talk about this, man."

"We are talking."

"Yeah, but no. That was me talking, you saying fuck all. You gotta tell me how you feel about this. Should I really... go to bed early?"

"That's entirely your decision," Cas says calmly. "You are close to fully recovered. You don't need me to take responsibility for your life any more."

"There's needs and needs. Don't go acting like this is none of your business." Dean can feel himself tensing, his throat becoming rough. "We're each other's fricking business."

"Dean, it's imperative I say nothing to influence you either way."

Pretty sure Cas has already broken that little resolution. "Why?" Dean demands.

Cas doesn't answer, and Dean kicks the doorjamb so hard he hurts his foot.

He takes some deep breaths, gets control of himself. "Do you want me to say 'yes'? Is that what this is about? You heard Michael's promise of a return to grace, promotion even, and you want to head home?" Dean walks a few steps towards Cas again. "I mean, I get it, dude. It must suck being stuck down here, all limited, encased in meat that's not yours. You only gotta say. I'd understand."

"Your decision must be based only on your own desires, Dean."

"How the hell can you even say that after all we've shared?" Oh God, it's finally happened. He's turned girl. "I mean, Jesus, Cas."

"Don't take the Name in vain."

"Now you're worried about that?" Dean's definitely boggling now. "Please," he practically begs, "just tell me. Tell me what you want."

"Dean," Cas says, and finally there's a shred of emotion back in his voice. "I was there after Sam fell into the Pit. I was with you after Lucifer brought his body back. Bobby and I watched as you slowly unraveled while Lucifer set about destroying this Earth, and it was me you kissed, knowing that you had to say 'yes' to end Sam's suffering as well as the world's. Most recently, I was here when you regained your past and remembered your loss. No one knows better than I how much Sam means to you."

"Yeah, and do you know how much you mean?" Dean says, his voice thick, and he is not crying. He's not.

"I have a pretty good idea, yes."

Not much he can say to that, really. "Please tell me how you feel, Cas," Dean asks wearily. "You want me on my knees or something?" Cas takes a step back at that, like he seriously thought for a moment that Dean was about to go down on him. Stupid, feathers-for-brains dick-nerd.

"You shouldn't decide to stay," Cas starts slowly as if trying to talk to a preschooler about something important, "based on some mis-imagined suffering you think I'll experience as a result of you leaving. When you leave with Michael, I'll follow and rejoin my brothers in Heaven. Once there, human emotion will have little hold on me."

It hurts a lot more than Dean expected, hearing how little Cas truly needs him. All this time Dean's apparently been kidding himself about the 'co' in the co-dependency of their relationship. Seems Dean's the only dependent here. "Okay," he chokes out. "I get it. So, yeah, guess I'm going. God knows, you're right about me wanting to see Sammy. But don't you go thinking I'm not properly grateful for all you've done for me. Never had a friend so good."

He turns away, heading outside so that he can't embarrass himself completely.

Dean stands at the riverside, under the chestnut tree, watching the flow of the water. He's letting the ripples tug at his thoughts and carry them away downstream: all his plans, all his hopes. Well, he doesn't need them anymore, does he? He's heading up early to the big bed in the sky, and he should be happy.

He really should be happy because he's going to see Sam again, and... Well, he guesses the happy will kick in just fine once he's there. Not that he noticed it so much when he was up there before playing fox to Zachariah's hounds, but it sounds like Heaven doesn't do miserable, or hurt, or pain of any kind. It's gonna be nothing but sugar, sugar and more sugar for the rest of time.

He never really thought he'd be the one to swallow the blue pill. Just goes to show.

Once he's up there, he guesses he won't even miss Cas, not with the local radio playing all-day, every-day greatest hits. Cas'll be there with him when the right memories hit the turntable. Christ, Dean feels nauseous. Too long since he ate.

Sam'll be real, though, as real as Dean once he's all-soul, anyway. Sam and Dean together again. Cas is right; there's something just wrong about him and his little bro being separated. Dean aches at the thought of seeing Sam again, of having a 'most recent' memory of his brother that isn't Sam gagging on Dean's sword through his neck.

Yeah, Sam and Dean's Adventures in Happyland -- that does feel like what Heaven should be, even if nothing else does. Sam. Yeah.

A leaf drops from the chestnut tree and floats away. It's not fall, not yet, but there's a feel of it the air all the same. Something hurts in Dean's chest when he thinks about leaving the orchard. Half a year isn't enough to have gotten it securely established, not even with angel mojo helping things along. He guesses Heaven will give him fruit trees if he wants them, but he doubts they'll feel the same.

There are no seasons in Heaven, could be snow in one memory, height of summer the next: timeless, random, fricking meaningless. Happy and aimless, Heaven, for human souls at least, is just a giant bottle of Prozac, or E, something along those lines. Woodstock without the classic music and orgies. Dean guesses he likes linear, things happening in order following the whole cause and effect routine. Maybe he's just been hanging too long with Heaven's most anal retentive angel.

Oh fuck, Cas. Cas does care for Dean, a lot. Nothing can persuade Dean otherwise. But sometimes love -- or whatever -- is nowhere near enough. Not for some humans and especially not for angels. Dean thinks that angels like Cas maybe need service more than they need what humans think of as love, and Dean's better now. Duty done and time to go home.

Still, Dean would've waited. Even with all his longing for Sam, he would have waited. If Cas had said 'stay'.

Shaking himself, Dean turns and walks up to the orchard gate. The saplings he planted in the spring grew taller and stronger through the summer months. After reading a book Cas got him from somewhere, Dean pruned the embryo fruit away once the blossoms fell, so the trees would put their energy into growing tall and strong. He missed one though, on a low branch of the largest baby tree, and by the time he discovered a fruit still growing, it was big enough that he thought he'd let it be.

Now he walks to that tree and finds this single fruit of their orchard. It's an apple, of course. What else would it be? Sometimes Dean agrees with whoever it was that said: 'there is a God, and he's a sonuva bitch'.

The apple's small and hard; needs another week or more, and it doesn't want to let go of the twig, but Dean picks it anyway. His plan, as much as he has one, is that he and Cas should share it. And then, maybe, they should fuck. Yeah, a goodbye fuck. No tears or speeches, just some unbridled passion to close on. A grown-up goodbye.

So Dean goes back to the house and in through the door he left open. He looks around for Cas, hoping he hasn't flown off already. Dean spots him in the kitchen, facing the sink and the window out. Cas' wings are close to his body and quivering, and he's making strange little noises Dean can only just hear.

At first Dean is surprised and a little more hurt to think Cas is laughing, but then his brain catches up with what he's really witnessing.

Without another thought, he drops the apple and strides forward, grabbing and turning an unresisting Cas in order to hold him. "Jesus, you stupid bastard. Why didn't you say? You only had to say!"

"You-" Cas starts and then stops, limp and shaking in Dean's arms. Then he repeats, "Sam has always been your priority."

Dean only just stops himself rolling his eyes. He can't let any impatience show, though, not when his angel is crying, fricking weeping in his arms. He's never even seen Cas shed a single tear before now. Jimmy, yeah, but not Cas. Not when they brought home Joshua's message from God, not when Cas faced almost certain death, not even when Cas was powerless and hopeless in the faked up future.

He turns Cas a little and grabs a clean dish towel from the drawer, using it to clean up Cas' face. Cas, it seems, cries like a little kid, if a load more quietly. He's all snot and streams of unwiped tears. Dean isn't even sure if Cas knows that he's crying. Cas seems perplexed by Dean's actions, trying to follow the cloth with his gaze and going cross-eyed as a result.

"Dude, you're an idiot," Dean tells him. "A big-brained, fluffy winged idiot."

"My wings are not fluffy," Cas says, his lower lip trembling slightly, and it's probably the most outrageously cute thing Dean's ever witnessed in his life, and he can't help himself. He laughs.

"Notice you're not denying the 'idiot'," he says dryly. "Let me make it plain. I miss Sam every moment of every day. That's not gonna change, not ever, not 'til I'm with him. But he's happy up there, and hell, even archdick-assisted suicide is for suckers. If you want to go home, then I'll be that sucker, and I'll be happy with Sam, 'cause that's Heaven for ya. But I'd rather stay, down here, with you, for however long I've got left of my allotted span."

Cas' arms sneak slowly around Dean, who tugs him closer and lets Cas rest his head on Dean's shoulder. Cas sniffs noisily, and while Dean can't see it, he imagines Cas wearing that stupid frown of his, trying to work out where the noise just came from. Dean smiles to himself.

Cas says quietly, "I've no right to ask you to stay."

"You ain't asking; I'm offering. There's a difference," Dean says. "But that don't matter anyway 'cause of course you have that fricking right. I'm giving you that right. For once in your self-sacrificing, service-centric, stupidly long existence, go for what you want. Not what's capital-R right, or what you think Daddy wants, or even what I want, but for whatever lies dearest in your heart or grace or whatever."

"I... I don't know how to do that."

"You need an order to follow? Okay, I get that. Well, we all seem agreed that you're my angel, right? So here's my command. Not to be disobeyed under any circumstances. You hear me? Tell me what you want!"

"You." Cas says it so quietly Dean barely hears it, and then Cas wilts in Dean's arms, almost collapsing on him. "I want you." Warmth surges inside Dean, and he holds Cas as tight as he can, supporting, accepting and reassuring him all at once.

"Then you've got me, feathers-for-brains. You've got me for as long as I live."

"Thought I'd better let you know what I've decided."

Dean's back outside the boundaries again. Not that they really still exist outside of memory, but it seems right somehow, coming out here to summon Michael again. This time, Cas is here from the start, standing a little way off and watching over.

"You've decided to stay," Michael says, and Dean can't hear any disapproval in his tone. Can't hear any approval either, just, maybe, acceptance. Dean starts to wonder if Michael's inability to fulfill his destiny has softened him up a bit, made him more 'human'. He's still wearing John, and Dean's glad he never knew his father this young, because otherwise it would just mess with his head.

"Yeah," Dean says. "Gonna live out the rest of my natural life and hope it's longer than, y'know, a few days. 'Cause if not, then I'll feel like a dick." He grins at Michael, but then sobers, swallowing, before asking the thing that really matters. "Sammy's all right, isn't he?"

Michael smiles a little and nods. "Sam's perfectly content in his little corner of Elysium. He has the souls of friends and family all around him. Sometimes they visit, or he visits them. Other times he's content just to relive good times. You might be surprised at how many of them he has to choose from."

Dean gives a half-laugh. "Nah. Been thinking a lot, realizing just how much good there is to grasp at even in a life afflicted with a crappy apocalyptic destiny. So he won't be, y'know, waiting for me?"

"Heavenly time is infinitely flexible for the souls of the blessed. Sam isn't impatient. He knows you'll be with him for eternity soon enough."

"Right. Good." At least, Dean thinks it's good. He glances at Cas. Yeah, it's good. He takes a deep breath and holds it for a few seconds before saying to Michael, "So, thanks, and I mean it, but no thanks and no offense."

"None taken." Michael's smile is approaching warm. The archangel steps forward and puts a hand on Dean's shoulder. "You and your brother have sacrificed much for the sake of the world, Dean, given more than most can even conceive."

"Thanks. Uh, appreciated."

Michael shuts John's eyes, and Dean feels a sudden burning presence inside of him. For a few moments' rising terror, he thinks Michael's good guy routine was nothing but lies, and he's being taken again, but as quickly as the presence appeared, it's gone again.

Dean wobbles on the spot, unsurprised to feel Cas' arm circling around him, lending support. He glares at Michael. "What the hell?"

Michael drops his hand, his fuck-off huge wings spreading out behind him, filling this small clearing and then some. "I've created an improved link between us," he explains in a mild tone. "Like that shared between holy prophets and their archangels, only less... trigger happy." He smiles. "If you're ever in truly desperate straits again, I'll know, and I'll come."

"Uh." Dean doesn't have a clue what to say about that, but it seems Cas does since he steps forward, putting himself between Dean and Michael.

"I will protect him."

Jesus, what is he? A helpless maiden in distress? Dean shares a glare between the two over-protective feather-trees.

Michael rolls his eyes, a mannerism that seems painfully John to Dean. "Relax, Castiel," Michael says. "You remain Dean's angel. But there are threats that even fierce little seraphs can't combat, and that's where I'll come in. Dean is God-touched and worthy. It would be an insult not to give him this."

Cas' hard stare is not one to mess with; Dean knows that of old. He also knows his 'fierce little seraph' is gearing himself up for some kind of stupid fricking fight. Hurriedly, Dean steps between the angels before Cas finds himself experiencing full-body explosion #3.

"Thanks, dude," Dean tells Michael. "Not sure about the prophet protection scheme, or the bit about being God-touched, which sounds way too dirty to me, but I'm forever grateful for you getting Sammy settled up there."

Michael smiles softly and nods. "Live a good life, Dean, a long one. Your brother will be there for you once it's over."

And then he's gone.

Dean turns to Cas. "Less of the possessive crap, dude."

Cas scowls under his brow. "He put his-"

"I don't give a shit what Michael did or does, Cas. It's you I've opted to spend the rest of my life with, not him." Maybe he's being too hard on Cas, considering how his angel's been spending every night fighting Michael in Dean's dreams, and then there was the whole maybe leaving Cas to go upstairs with Michael thing. "Look. I appreciate that you want me around, man, probably more than you'll ever know, but you got me already. Lighten up!"

"He-"

"For fuck's sake!" Dean grabs Cas to him and kisses him hard, hoping actions will speak louder than words clearly did.

Cas is rigidly resistant at first, and Dean's about to pull back when suddenly, he's being propelled backwards. His shoulders thump hard against what feels like a tree, and before he can take a breath, Cas is on him. An almost savagely hard mouth seals over his own. Hands seem to be everywhere, under and over Dean's clothes, and Cas is grinding into him.

Dean rips his lips from Cas' and tips his head back onto the bark. "Christ, you're so fucking hot like this." He probably shouldn't encourage such behavior, but jeez, it makes him harder than pretty much anything he's ever known.

Cas growls something unintelligible and shoves a hand into Dean's jeans, and Dean... absolutely doesn't whimper like a little girl.

"Cas. Fuck, Cas."

They're gonna do it out here, aren't they? Outside the no-longer-boundaries. Cas is practically ripping Dean's clothes off with his free hand, and Dean...

Well, he's okay with that.

"Gonna see my car," Dean says happily. He's sitting on the floor, lacing his boots. He glances up and grins at Cas. "Bobby's kept her on ice for me, but I'll give her the full service and then some before we head off wherever. Let her know she's mine again."

"Of course," Cas says, almost smiling back, but the corners of his mouth drop too quickly back into a straight line. "You'll find it painful to start with."

"'Cause Sammy's not riding shotgun?" Dean's own mouth straightens out. "Yeah, I know. It's okay, Cas. Hurts less now that I know he's all right, and that I'll see him soon enough."

Cas puts down the duffel he just packed. "We'll take things slowly at first. You may find large groups of people difficult to deal with until you've gotten used to a wider world again."

Hadn't they already talked about this a good six times now? Standing up, Dean frowns at his angel. "Knew I should've taken those damn PTSD books away from you when I had the chance. I know my own head, Cas; know what I can do and what I can't."

Instead of arguing, Cas says, "I may find it difficult too. We've been isolated for a long time. I could... encounter issues."

Dean's just starting to feel concern when he catches on to Cas' ploy. Rolling his eyes, he steps closer and holds Cas' face between his hands, tipping it forward just enough to kiss Cas on the forehead. "I'll be cautious, dude. Stop fretting, okay?"

"That's not possible, Dean," Cas tells him calmly, taking Dean's hands in his and tugging them down.

"I'll be fine; you'll be fine. So there may be a hitch or two along the way, but that's all there'll be. Bobby's giving us easy cases to get us back into the swing. It's all good." Dean smiles and winks, trying to reassure. He squeezes Cas' hands.

Cas nods and then nods more firmly. "Let's kill some evil sons-of-bitches," he says with what sounds like satisfaction, and Dean laughs.

"Now that's the hunter spirit. People out there survived the Big A only to have their lives ruined or ended by some ugly scumbag demon or monster, and that's not good enough. We've got a job to do."

"Yes." Cas finally smiles properly, and Dean grins back, and for a few moments they just stand there, holding hands and grinning at each other, until it catches up with Dean just how much of a girl he must look right now. But instead of dropping Cas' hands and stepping back, he gives in to the ever-present temptation and kisses Cas properly.

He's just making the most of things, really. They've agreed to absolutely no PDAs in front of Bobby or anyone else that matters, so he's gotta get his quota of lip-locking in now, while he still can.

"Dean," Cas says into the kiss. He pushes Dean gently back. "Dean, we told Bobby 'eleven'."

"So mojo time to give us more of it," Dean replies before renewing the kiss and adding a touch of tongue.

Cas pushes him back again, a little more firmly. He's frowning. "That would be an abuse of power. Besides, we've already had sex three times today. I'm starting to suspect that you're not as keen to get back to work as you claim."


Dean pulls a face. "It's not that, not really. It's just... I know we're coming back here. A lot, if I have my way, but I've lived here longer than I've ever lived anywhere, man."

Cas' frown seems to melt. "It's our home."

"Yeah," Dean says softly, glad that Cas gets it. "Never really had one since I was five. It means something. A lot. And it's what Sam wanted for me too, kinda."

"We'll be back between each hunt, Dean, and take extended breaks whenever we -- or our gardens -- need them. If you want, I can bring us back here every night."

"No more taste-vacuum motel suites?" Dean says with a laugh.

"Isn't our bed better?"

Looking back, Dean isn't sure when exactly it became 'our' bed and not just his, but he wouldn't have it any other way. Anyway, the crazy motels were a him and Sam thing; he'll miss them, but only because he misses Sam. This is the place where his new life began, and it's all about him and Cas. Yeah, home.

"You know the thing I'm most unhappy about?" he asks quietly. Cas tips his head, and since Dean speaks his language, he gets the unspoken question and answers it. "That Sam will never see our home, see what we've made of it together."

"Sam would have liked it here very much, I think," Cas says, which, really, is exactly the right thing to say, even though Dean's pretty damn sure that with no internet and nothing much to do, Sam would've gone stir-crazy in a week.

"Yeah," he says then shakes himself. He bends and picks up the duffel Cas has packed. "I'm ready. Let's get ourselves back on the carousel."

Cas smiles, puts his hand on Dean's shoulder, and spreads his wings.