One day Dean is hanging around with Cas and it's like a light switch is flipped somewhere in the region of his bellybutton and just then the corner of Cas's mouth gets tugged up in a smile, like a sunrise, like an affirmation of what he's feeling, like a wax seal stamped on an old-timey envelope, and Dean can't help but put words to it. All of a sudden, he knows he's in love.
He can't step on it anymore. It's some boulder that got washed out of the river of his insides, worn away to sand. There's nothing to dam the knowledge away with.
And, a flash in the pan, Cas's smile dissolves into the absent line it normally is.
And the moment is not over.
Dean carries it home with him. At the door to the Men of Letters' bunker, he and Cas part ways.
"So let us know what you find, huh?"
Castiel nods. "Of course."
"And don't--" Dean pauses, rotating his key ring in his hands, "Don't stay away so long. Okay?"
Cas seems to lighten a little, somehow. "I'll see you later," he tries, seems to taste the words.
"Yeah," Dean allows, jerks his thumb at the front door. "Come around for dinner or something. You haven't even been inside yet."
Cas looks a little taken aback. Like he didn't expect to be invited to come in ever. "I'll call. Um. And see what you're up to." He nods. "When I'm done."
Dean nods, too. Shrugs. "Okay." He supposes that's all he can ask for.
So, then he straightens up. Because this new thing coursing through him reminds him that he doesn't need to watch Cas go. He can go anywhere Cas does. Why not? Why does Cas have to be alone all the time? Why does Dean have to be?
And he's got his mouth open to extend the goodbye further or to make a joke or to be fucking charming. Maybe to ask him not to go yet. And he blinks and all the air in front of him is cold autumn, brown trees, dirt road. Cas is gone.
That's basically what it normally is.
He shakes himself, thinks his brain into a good smooth move, Winchester kind of lather of embarrassment and reproach and.
The words don't come. He's got no lecture to give himself that he hasn't heard before. He's got nothing to add on the subject. And, at last, he's not carrying that persistent doubt, the one that's now a few years old. That low-level surety that, one of these days, Cas will say he'll be back and Dean will wake up thirty years older and Cas will never have come back.
Dean's phone is on. Cas has got his wings strapped on. Nothing they could immediately name is aiming to kill them this week.
And he might see Cas for dinner.
What a world.
Dean heads inside. Mind quiet except for the last song he heard on the radio. Jumping Jack Flash, it's a gas, gas, gas...
From that moment on, he can't help anything. He can't help but show it. He wants to say it so badly, it's crawling out of his fucking throat and it's so bad, he has, like, a vision of sitting down and having a no-nonsense, please-don't-joke-about-how-this-is-awkward, please-for-the-love-of-fuck-help-me conversation with Sam.
Like: I fell for Cas and I am 100% committed to what that means and I have to tell him. So since you've always gotta be the first one to know, I had to tell you that I'm gonna tell Cas and if he says yes, we're gonna be together and if he says NO, I'm walking after him until he comes back, until he changes his mind, until he says yes. Because I suddenly realized this is it for me. He's what I want and if we could just accept that, we'd be perfect together. Years. I don't care if it takes us years to get there, I'm meeting him there.
That. Well. He's not going to say that. He can't yet.
He had some sort of crazy gourmet shit planned with steaks and butter sauce and hand-mashed, non-boxed potatoes, but instead he sets a roast in the oven for an hour so he can sneak around the library and research love potions. Maybe he got whammied or something; it would almost make more sense. But unless he somehow offended a witch who was undercover at the grocery store, he's got fucking nothing.
"This is cruuuel," he hears Sam rage from the kitchen.
"Back away from the oven, bigfoot," Dean commands, nose still buried in The Massive Book O' Curses.
The stealthy shit, of course, is unexpectedly right there in the very next instant, reaching for the top corner of the book. "What, have we got a case or something?"
Dean slams the book closed, shut tight with his fist on top.
"Uh. Bit of light reading?" Sam teases, knocking his knuckles on top of the, yes, gigantic tome Dean dragged from the shelf.
Oh, that's just great. Sam automatically straps on his suspicious face and Dean, panicked, slaps his other hand on top of the book to keep him from inspecting the spine.
"I think your roast is burning," Sam threatens.
"It's your roast, too, bitch."
"Gimme the book, jerk."
"I will hit you with this," Dean threatens, wields another book in his right hand.
"WOAH," Sam says, eyes wide.
Dean still has the other book up in midair, poised to hurl at Sam if necessary.
Spine clearly visible.
"Dean. Did you get dosed?!"
"Uh." Dean looks from Sam to the book and back. "No," he considers Sam's anxious face for a long moment and then just hands the book over. "At least I don't think so. Can't think of where I would have been cursed recently or anything, either."
"Love potions," Sam reads off the title page, like he can't believe it. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to tell me something."
"Mmm," Dean stands, turns, retreats to the kitchen and says, "yeah, about that."
"Dean," Sam says; a warning.
"Hold on," he hollers, and goes to check on the roast. Miracle of miracles, Sam doesn't follow him. He slides the rack back home, resetting everything to give the meat more time, and then mentally gathers his shit. But there it is again: The glaring lack of any shit to gather. It's as if some truth simply exists in him now. Some fact, solid, like Baby's engine block, or Sam's shoulders, or the barrel of his favorite sawed-off, something keeping him tied to the ground.
When he approaches the great table again, spinning a potholder absently in his hands, Sam is waiting, palms flat to the wood, looming over the books.
"I wanna be with Cas."
Sam is leaning on the tension in the air like he expected there to be more to the sentence or something.
"With Cas?" Sam repeats for clarity. Dean nods.
Sam waits for a moment like, come on, this has happened innumerable times. The next thing that comes out of Dean's mouth is going to be some feathery bullshit about touchy-feely-woobie-Sammy and joking-joking, ha-ha and whatever else. And when the next things don't come and Dean just stands there tossing a potholder into the air and catching it lightly, Sam sits down.
"You might be right about a curse."
Dean says nothing.
"Or. You're. Telling me? That you're, um," -- he seriously feels so weirded out he has to reach into his mental thesaurus for a word that isn't 'love' -- "interested in Cas."
"No, I'm in love with Cas."
They stare at each other for what seems like a really long time.
This is fucking.
Because Dean's not shaking it off. He's standing there, casual as you like, like they're not having what might be a life-changing discussion.
Maybe if Sam is the one to turn the tables...?
"So. Great. Just. Keep the noise to a minimum. No christening the dining table. Use protection."
Dean just fucking stares at him. Then says, "Thanks, dick."
"Oh my fucking god. You really are," Sam marvels. "Are you sure you didn't get whammied by a witch or somebody?"
"Who have we even seen in the past two weeks with that kinda power, Sammy? I'd be willing to throw a jug of holy water in that dude's face at the deli counter, no question, but not even that asshole strikes me as somebody who's gonna lay, what? A love spell on a guy? That was my first thought. And then my second thought was, like, why am I not panicking about this? And then," Dean trails off, tosses the potholder on the table, throws his hands out in the air.
"Then?" Sam prompts.
"It's Cas," Dean says, simply. "It's. I donno. It's Cas, man. I just. He's here," Dean motions to the left, "He's not here," Dean motions to the right, "He's not here and I need him."
Sam hadn't realized he'd reeled so far up in his chair, but that little speech nearly lays him out flat. He falls back with all his dead weight, the chair groaning slightly. And just stares, zones out, eyes unfocused slightly to the left of his brother.
"Okay," he says at last. At long last. And Dean drops into a chair across from him. "So what are you going to do?" Sam asks. "I mean, I assume you didn't tell him."
"No," Dean sighs and leans an elbow on the table, propping his head up. "I donno what to do. He's. He. I want him to stay here. And I don't even know what that means for him. And I wanted you to know before I asked him if he'd be willing to. To stay. To stick around here."
"You haven't even mentione--"
"I haven't said shit to him, Sam. Not a goddamn thing. And don't think we're sitting here having a fucking strategy session on how I'm gonna-- chirst." Dean blinks, looking walloped.
"Wrangle yourself an angel boyfriend?" Sam provides.
"Shut your whore mouth," Dean spits. "We're not talking about this. I just needed you to know."
Sam smiles. So big. He can't help it.
"Nothing, man. Just you. Just you and Cas. Wow."
"Stuff it, Samantha."
"It's kinda beautiful," Sam shrugs in a, like, you've-gotta-admit-it kind of way.
Dean doesn't have to admit shit. "You're getting potatoes out of a box tonight, bitch."
Castiel doesn't show up for dinner. Later, Dean sleeps, and somehow he expects the entire notion to have ebbed in the night, but it doesn't go anywhere. He can't shake it out of himself.
Cas doesn't call for breakfast, either, but Dean gets a phone call before lunch.
"Hey. Where are you?"
"The Hague. Can I come by?"
"Yeah, pop on in."
"I'll meet you by the front door."
Okay, sure, why not? If Cas comes through the front, he gets to show off the entire place.
On the other side of the front door, Castiel is glaring.
"Oh. Is it warded against angels or something?"
"Not heavily," Castiel says. "But it should be."
"Huh. Well, at least this way you can get in. C'mon," he motions inside.
"There are very... unique safeguards on this place," Cas says, leaning over and glaring inside now.
"Yeah. Tell me about 'em inside," Dean steps forward and plucks at the sleeve of Castiel's coat. "Close the door behind you."
Castiel does so, and Dean drags him into their home.
On the walkway above the main hall, Dean gestures expansively. "So. This is it, Cas. This is home. Lookit this place, man."
He turns to see that Castiel is looking over the rail, glaring at the floor in the next room.
"I can't be here, Dean."
"What? What do you mean?"
Castiel points at the wooden floor ahead of them. "Sigils were painted on the planks and then reversed and installed. Warding against several things."
"Dude. Including you?"
"Only one, a sigil with a dual-purpose, I think. But yes. I can sense something repelling my presence," Cas confirms.
Well, that was unexpected. Dean pulls his keys from his pocket. "Don't fly off. I'll be right back."
When Dean returns he hears Sam's voice echoing up.
"For thousands of years, though, nobody even thought they were real. Hunters hadn't seen them and even the Men of Letters assumed angels were mostly myth. Their angel feathers all came from foreign suppliers, I can't find that they ever met one."
"I believe the warding was installed with another intention. It's likely that they took it for a simple blessing," Cas says.
Dean comes up behind him and claps a hand over Castiel's shoulder. "Whatcha thinkin', Sammy?" Below them, Sam has a hand on his hip and the other scrubbing his jaw, thinking. He looks above to see Dean waving at him with a crowbar.
"I'm thinking that," Sam points, "That exactly. Cas says he can't come past the stairs."
Dean looks to Cas who confirms this with just an apologetic look.
Dean squeezes his shoulder and then descends. "Any idea where we start first?"
Sam looks up to Cas.
Castiel squints. "Somewhere on the left side."
"My left or your left?" Sam asks.
Castiel points. "By the seal in the floor. But I don't think you should."
"Why the hell not?" Dean shucks his jacket and approaches the panels in question.
"They were set there for a reason. The floor was obviously crafted to provide--"
Dean crouches down and cracks a baseboard off the wall in one swift move.
"We got a drill, Sam?"
"Uh, yeah," Sam wanders off to another room.
"Dean," Castiel says, practically hanging over the railing, "this may be unwise. The sigils may have been interconnected. Removing one or damaging the surrounding ones may be--"
Sam returns revving a hand-held drill with a battery pack. "This should have enough juice to get it done," he offers the drill to his brother.
"Sam," Cas implores, "tell your brother to stop. I should just go."
"What are you kidding, Cas? I wanna see what's written under those panels," Sam says.
"Yeah," Dean adds, "and you're not going anywhere. Sit your ass down and give us a minute."
They start strategizing on how to lift and separate the timbers. It takes them a few minutes but then some of the panels come up and as they raise each, they flip them over to reveal the old, red stains of spell work.
Sam gasps over each one. "They didn't just install the floor backwards, they made a grid of the whole image, the whole," he motions wildly, "mess of symbols and painted them on backwards so they'd assemble correctly upside-down."
"Yeah, geniuses," Dean mutters as he cracks up a new board, "pains in my ass." After a few more he looks up. Cas is leaning on the rail with his head in his hand like he's watching... like he's watching two morons spontaneously disassemble their floor. "It let up yet, Cas?"
"No," he grumps.
Dean pries up another board. "There weren't any blueprints you could find, Sam? There wouldn't be, like, a record of where this thing is drawn so we don't have to pull up the whole floor?"
"Dude, I still can't find out why we have running fucking water in this place. I'm thinkin' they burned all the records so no one knew how to-- to, well, do what we're doing."
"One panel to your right," Cas instructs from above.
Forty minutes and an entire eighth of the floor later, Cas ventures downstairs and into the common room. He looks so dubious.
"It's not like we can't cover the place in our own warding. We're kind of used to lining everything in bloody symbols by now," Sam points out.
Cas still shakes his head. "The building was very secure. You didn't have to let me in."
"Let you in?" Dean asks "I invited you. You belong here," Dean says like it's some unquestionable truth.
Sam smiles at them and pats Cas on the back. "We'll put other sigils up. Welcome home, Cas."
Castiel only blinks at Sam, but Dean grins like he can't help himself.
"C'mon. Time for the grand tour. And lunch, probably," Dean says, pulling at Cas's jacket again.
Sam gives them a while. He copies some of the wards on the floor panels into a journal. He doesn't have to whine at Dean to feed him yet.
Castiel doesn't try lunch, but he eats meatballs at dinner and seems amused by them.
"Balls of meat," Sam says by way of explanation.
"Meat in ball form," Castiel replies.
Dean kind of wants to die watching him chase spherical meat around a plate. Long after the humans are done eating, they sit and watch the angel chase his food. The show is worth not having any leftovers for tomorrow.
When Dean gets up to retrieve his fourth beer, Sam asks if Castiel would know if Dean had been potioned or poisoned just by looking at him.
"Yes," Cas says, fork making that ear-splitting screech on ceramic as he misses another meatball.
"Like you'd know if someone slipped him a mickey or a love potion or whammied him to speak only in Yiddish?"
"Sam," Dean says, a warning.
"Have you been speaking in Yiddish?" Cas asks Dean and gives him the x-ray eyes.
"Uh. Not that I know of," he sits back down only a little clumsily.
"He hasn't been 'whammied,'" Cas says to Sam with confidence, a meatball speared on his fork and upheld in victory. "I would know."
Sam can only drill Cas on their new book collection for so long before the beers start to set him nodding. It's already the wee hours of the morning and, much as Dean wanted Cas here in the first place, he is feeling the time, too.
Sam bids Cas a fond goodnight and gives Dean this half-directional, mocking nod that Dean scowls off. "Go to sleep." Sam laughs and leaves.
Castiel stands, too. "It's late," is all he says.
"You leaving?" Dean asks, drains his last beer.
"I'll call again. Let me know if you come up with a hunt. I'd like to assist."
"Okay." Dean frowns. "You sure you don't wanna stick around?"
Castiel's eyes sweep over the great room, down and around, certainly seeing things inside the walls that her human occupants cannot see. "This place is nice. I'm glad you have it." His eyes land on Dean, at last. "And thank you for inviting me."
Dean doesn't wanna be pushy, but: "You don't have to go, Cas. This is it, this is HQ. Home base. You can come and go as you please. But, you know, you can stay is what I mean. If you're not doing anything else."
Castiel considers him for a moment. "This is your house, now. It's nice that you can have this instead of an endless series of hygienically dubious rooms. You deserve this, Dean. You deserve peace. I have work I should attend to." He nods to himself. "Research I can do."
Okay. Dean slides the empty bottle across the surface of the table between his hands and parses those words out. Well. It wasn't a rejection.
"Sure. But Cas. You can be here, too. If you want to be," he emphasizes again. "I mean." Dean licks his lips and feels surprisingly little internal resistance to speaking the words aloud. "You don't think it would give me peace to know where you are? To know you're here? Safe?"
For a long, quiet moment, Castiel just stands there and considers this, trying, clearly trying, to look anywhere but at Dean. It doesn't seem easy for him.
Dean rises, pushes the empty brown bottle to the center of the table with the others to deal with later.
"Just. Whatever, Cas. Just think about it. You know. There's a TV here, and it's old and it doesn't get a hell of a lot of channels, but I know you like TV. Or my laptop. You can watch anything--" A sudden flash of heat and horror as he wonders if his browser has parental controls and how many RedTube tabs he's got open right now. "You can do all kinds of research from here," he says instead.
Cas visibly wavers now, physically leaning less towards the exit than he had been a moment ago.
"Or," Dean says, keeping his distance, giving Cas room to move, consciously not stepping in front of his retreat, "go take care of your angel business and, yeah, I'll see you when you call next. You can hang out here any time."
Dean watches him and tries to radiate an air of understanding as best as he can. Cas was born with wings. If there's one thing he knows for sure it's that he doesn't want to box Cas up. He won't change him that way. He won't do it. He wants Cas to want to be here, now, of course. He wants that and he can't shake the feeling off. But he won't clip Castiel's wings to do it. Cas wouldn't ask him to scrap the Impala; Dean won't ask him to cage himself.
"I should be further from this arrangement to attempt flight," Castiel finally says, motioning at the floor beneath them with the great set of sigils painted on the opposite side. "I expect I'll call again tomorrow."
Castiel doesn't move to leave.
"Okay," Dean says. "'Night Cas."
Cas nods. "Goodnight," he says, without moving. "Dean?"
Dean quirks an eyebrow.
"You wouldn't mind if I stayed down here and used the laptop for a while?"
Mind? Fuck. He'd prefer it. Instead he says, flat-out, "I wouldn't mind. Not ever."
Castiel swallows. Nods. "I'll see you tomorrow, Dean."
"Yeah," Dean says to his retreating back.
Dean sleeps so well in his bed in his room in his home.
And another morning doesn't change his mind. So he doesn't sleep past his internal alarm.
Instead, he makes coffee so early it'll be cold by the time Sam wakes up. Then, before he makes breakfast, he recovers a coat rack from a dusty storage room and moves it into his own.
He'd kind of thought the words were empty, but Cas does actually call again, the next afternoon.
"You know where the door is, Cas," Dean says automatically upon accepting the call. And hangs up.
A few moments later he can hear Castiel's sensible shoes tapping down the metal stairs behind him.
Dean got this wild idea while subbing out half a marinade recipe with his own choice of ingredients. What if the intricate demon-killing bombs that Kevin found the formula for could be modified to destroy other monsters? He's playing around with an idle kind of interest. Thinking of substituting certain ground bones for silver shrapnel or something. He's got a few books out and a well-scratched list of herbs. He hasn't even pitched the idea to Sam yet. Sam is "taking the day off" by reading an unrelated book, like a novel or something, and what is up with that kid, anyway? Christ.
He can feel Castiel come to hover over his shoulder as he continues to flip through an herbalists' guide.
"A mixture with a higher explosive content might work on wendigos," Cas says, reading the unlabeled notes and comprehending perfectly. "More like a," he pauses. "Holy flash-bang?"
Dean smiles wide. "You really think so? I was wondering if any of this made sense."
Castiel leans over, his chest to Dean's shoulder, and flips over one page of formulae with quiet disapproval. Another page he pulls forward and reads carefully before slipping into the next chair. He opens a book on minerals and searches for an entry. When he finds it, he closes the page within the book and hands it to Dean. "I would start there."
Dean accepts the book. "Thanks, Cas. Whatcha got going on today?"
Cas digs a hand into his coat pocket and pulls out a folded page of newsprint. "I wondered if you had an empty curse box."
Cas opens the folds of the paper to reveal a half-handful of glittering and polished stones.
"Do I even wanna know?"
"A witch in Rhode Island was tired of birds and rodents destroying her garden. The animals were very attracted to these cursed gems."
"You spent the day saving a bunch of magpies and squirrels from certain doom? That's very PETA of you, Cas."
"The neighborhood children also enjoy shiny objects. She had these planted around the yard and, like the squirrels, they would eat these and the dirt in which the stones were buried. Then gravel from a nearby walkway where they were scattered. Then they would attempt to eat the fence posts. I found one of them gnawing on a mailbox..." Cas looks into the folds of the paper and clatters the stones around. "It certainly kept them out of her garden."
Dean shudders. "Fuck, I hate witches."
Cas gives a look of wry agreement.
"Can we just smash 'em?"
"I did attempt that at first. The spell work is strong. Also, prolonged exposure gives even my vessel an urge to--" Cas swallows.
"Yeah. Let's not do that." Dean notices that Cas is still staring down into the newsprint as the low light glints off the stones. He reaches over and pulls the corners of the paper together and takes it from Cas. He holds it out at arm's length. "I'll find a box before you start eating the walls."
They search for a curse box but find none of them empty. You don't want to stash too many cursed objects in one box. Or at least Cas seems to think so. They find a good, sturdy lockbox with an uncursed artifact in it. Dean sends Cas to find Sam and see if he can decide what to do with the small figurine and gets to work on emulating the symbols from the outside of a similar curse box.
Sam eventually comes to find him. "LEMME SEE 'EM!" he hollers down the hallway, almost tripping over himself in excitement.
Dean doesn't look up from his paintbrush but points to the small bundle. "Careful, Sammy."
Sam pulls over a lamp and dumps the stones on the desk to inspect them while Cas recounts the whole gruesome tale. Sam asks for more detail and when Cas gets to the part about a kid eating the entire contents of a recycling bin, Dean throws up his hands in a big 'time out'. "No. Nope. Uh-uh. That's enough."
Sam's using a pair of pliers to handle a red gem. "How do they even do this?" he wonders aloud.
And they're off. Cas spends the rest of the evening tutoring Sam on the colossal effort it takes to install curses into common objects and their geeky chatter follows him from the last marks on the curse box to the kitchen while he prepares those steaks he had been wanting.
He doesn't notice the absence, in the distance, of Sam's talking or Cas's low, rumbly voice until said rumbly voice chimes in from right beside him as he's stirring rosemary into melting butter over the stove.
"None of this is your usual fare," Cas comments.
"Mm," Dean agrees. "We can get enough pizza and take-out when we're on a job."
"But at home you cook," Cas concludes. "You know how to cook."
"Cas, you don't live thirty years on the road without picking up work as a line cook on occasion. You could be a convicted heroin dealer and as long as your steak makes grown men weep you can hold down a job in a restaurant."
Cas is quiet for a minute. "You cook well. Sam seems rather thrilled with it."
"Yeah, Sam hasn't had to do any of the work yet." Dean considers Cas for a minute as he stirs. "C'mere," he pulls Castiel in front of him by the arm. Any idiot could do this but Dean chooses to treat Cas like a complete novice.
Because it means he gets to spend a few moments all pressed up against Cas's back, and wrap Cas's hands around the pot handles and utensils as they cook. It's a bit gratuitous. But Cas holds his knife all wrong so it's, you know, important that Dean tutor him appropriately.
Castiel stays for dinner, again, and a while after.
Sam doesn't give Dean any smart noise or stupid looks tonight. He looks about as happy as Dean feels, in fact, with the family close and the day long, easy, quiet. After Sam drifts away, Dean shows Cas where the television is and they sit through an episode of something neither of them really care for. They can't find any cartoons on other than fucking Family Guy.
Cas intends to leave again. Dean can tell.
He doesn't want to stop flipping channels, he doesn't want to turn the tv off or admit that he needs to hit the hay. "You want me to get the laptop for you?" he asks Cas.
Castiel responds still watching the flash of commercials reel on in front of them. "Thank you, no. I should be going."
"Cas. Dude. Why not stick around? Charlie's gonna be by tomorrow, she's been dying to meet you."
He turns to watch Dean. "I can come back to meet her."
Dean's got nothing. He wishes he did. He can only think of the things that would draw himself in. He can only think of what would keep him here, what would make this a home to him. What he has on offer is only this building, this hole in the ground; Sam, of course, and himself. Cas could take or leave the cooking. The life.
Dean wishes he were the main enticement, but that's unrealistic. This family Dean's tried to draw Cas into, it's precious and important to himself, but he never forgets that it looks more like a curse from the outside. Cas has pulled away from the angels, escaped one family and, what, Dean's going to trap him in another?
He was going to say something.
But, fuck it.
He walks Cas to the door this time, wondering how the hell to reach out. How to stop him as he's the one opening the door to let him go.
He almost regrets his request from the other day. Almost rather Cas didn't drop by all the time if he won't stay. He leans on the door watching Cas ascend to ground-level, Cas's eyes up on the stars. He doesn't leave for a long minute. Just stands there.
"Come back inside," Dean finally calls.
Cas turns and smiles down at him. "You're tired. I'll see you tomorrow, Dean."
Dean chews on his lip for a while. Barefoot, half-out in the cold after Cas disappears. He doesn't stare up at the stars. Hasn't for a while. All it reminds him of is how many years came before him, how many more will come after him. But he is acutely conscious of not looking up. Everything in existence is up there, the ancient sky, as old as Cas. Dean nothing but an infant in comparison to the whole wide world.
And since when did Cas being there or not being there start to color his appreciation of anything?
He replays the smile Cas flashed down at him. He watches it in his head until it disappears and the warmth of it leaves him out there in the elements with no socks on.
"Look," he says to the empty air, two hands short of a prayer, "I just want you to know we're here if you ever--" Ever what? Get bored? Get fucking tired? Cas doesn't tire and with the world at his wingtips who the fuck--
Thoroughly sick of his own pining, Dean just goes straight to bed.
The first thing Charlie says is, "You've redecorated," with an eyebrow flicked up high, toeing loose floor panels.
Sam explains about the sigils in the floor.
"It probably would have been easier to carve 'em into the concrete," Charlie says.
"Well, of course, the fucking know-it-alls had to do it the hard way," Dean grouses.
"If it was carved in, though, it would have been harder for you to get Cas in here," she points out, then perks up. "Hey, is Castiel around? Like, now?"
"Uh," Sam shrugs and looks to Dean.
"I'll call him, see if he's coming around," Dean offers. He pulls out his phone to dial while he grabs Charlie's bag and hefts it over to the spare room they keep for her.
Dean gets the voicemail. ("This is... Cas? Please leave a message," and Dean can hear himself in the background say, "Good enough, now press--") He hangs up, situates the bag on the end of the bed and then sits next to it to type out a text.
Hey Charlie is here are you coming by?
He waits a minute, hoping for a response, and frowns when he doesn't get a call or a text back. Must be that Cas is busy.
Charlie brought the BSG board game but it's best with four or more players so they can't really settle into it unless Cas comes around. Instead they load into the car and head out to see the latest Marvel movie. Dean tries very hard not to check his phone, but Charlie elbows him and passes the popcorn the second time his screen illuminates the inside of his jacket.
They even hit up the market so Dean can buy stuff to make mac & cheese from scratch. Still nothing from Cas.
Dean's frowning at his phone late into the evening when Charlie gives him a sad smile. "Maybe next time, huh? He's probably out there saving the world so you don't have to for once."
"I just wanted you to meet him. I don't know-- I donno why he won't stick around more. I mean. I just think he-- it would be nice," Dean finishes lamely, pulls on the last of his beer.
"Well, it's his loss," she tosses her hair over her shoulder. "Because we're fabulous and he can't be the most fabulous angel in the garrison if he doesn't hang out with us more."
Dean laughs at least a little at that.
"C'mon," she grabs Dean's hand. "Come tuck me in, I've got a long drive tomorrow."
Dean waits by the door for Charlie to change clothes.
Fucking footie pajamas.
"You are one delightful little screwball," he says with a raised eyebrow.
She cackles, which is disconcerting.
They sit on her bed with her laptop and watch a documentary about supernovas until she starts to nod off. Dean slides out and closes her computer and pulls the blankets up around her shoulders, kisses her on the head.
"G'night softie," she slurs. And he only tucks her hair behind her ear and turns the lamp off.
Sam finds him at the great table, nursing another beer and trying not to text Cas. He only sent the one message. He didn't bother him all day. Cas really must be busy; he does go off and try to help people whenever he can. Dean just hasn't decided at what point he's supposed to start worrying that someone trapped him in a ring of holy fire or something.
Sam takes a seat near him and drops his feet into another of the chairs.
"Can I ask you something?"
And from his tone, Dean knows he's not gonna like the discussion. "No."
"You know what you said the other day about Cas?"
"Shut up, Sammy."
"You haven't changed your mind, but I've never seen you move so slow."
Dean avoids his eyes and drains his beer and drops his phone into his shirt pocket before taking it out and dropping it on the table again.
"I just. Dean, do you want me to get scarce for a couple days?"
"No," Dean scowls, "no. Why would I want that."
Sam drops his feet down and rolls his eyes. "Alright. Okay. I know you don't want to talk about this out loud in a normal, conversational tone, utilizing the English language. So, Dean: You're having, like, a personal situation. How about I go hang out at Rufus's cabin for a few days while you deal--"
"Goodnight, Sam. Set an alarm, we're getting an early start," Dean rises and grabs his empty and brings it to the kitchen to toss.
"I could always take the decision out of your hands and just head out right now," Sam challenges. "Only I know you'd spend the whole time looking for me instead of dealing with your shit."
Dean comes back around the corner. "You know what, Sam? I asked him to be here today and he said he might be but he's not. So, really? I need you to just fucking forget I said anything. Do me the favor of fucking dropping it already." He scoops his phone off the table and troops off to bed.
"Hey, maybe he was busy!" Sam shouts from behind him as he meanders into their living quarters.
The truth is, Dean wants to be angrier than he is and simultaneously knows he has no right to anger. He'd only called and texted once. Just once. He's trying to throw Cas a line and if he doesn't take it, he's not gonna beat him over the head with it.
He wants Cas to want to come to him. Come home.
He decides to call in the morning. At the 24-hour mark he'll let himself worry that something's wrong.
He thinks he won't be able to sleep, but he does. Quite well, actually.
Dean has a sex dream. It's rolling and pleasant and when he wakes up he jerks off and feels pretty good. It's about Raquel, from that time in New Mexico. She'd been sweet and slightly bratty and he remembers her sometimes. Remembers the stars she'd had tattooed in a cluster below her hipbones. That's the only way he knows who the dream was about, because in the dream, every time he dipped to taste them, each star was a different flavor, like Willy Wonka's wallpaper or something.
He's up early. He doesn't turn off his alarm because that would bring up the home screen on his phone and he's not ready to know if Cas called him in the night or not. Dean takes a shower, first.
He's on the point of checking it, at last, scrubbing a hand through his still-damp hair on the way to the kitchen, when he hears voices. Charlie's, and a deeper rumble that's not Sam.
Charlie smiles wide. "Look who I found!" she kicks her feet under the table, and Cas smiles lightly at him.
Dean's smile blooms in his chest before it travels to his mouth. God, there's just something wonderful about seeing Cas sitting next to Charlie, next to this little thing who they've claimed, who is theirs, who is their little sister and ain't nobody saying otherwise.
Cas gets up all at once to tend to the coffee pot. He makes Charlie's carefully with milk and sugar and sets it down in front of her while Dean pulls out a skillet. Cas pours two more mugs, leaves them black, and sets one beside the stovetop for Dean.
"Castiel was just telling me about how zombies really work."
Dean groans. "That is not breakfast table conversation. How you want your eggs, sunshine?"
"I want an omelet. Stuff it with everything."
"You got it. Cas-- you want anything?"
"Um. I don't know."
"Alright. I'll surprise you. Wanna go wake Sam up for me?"
Charlie pops up from the table, trouble written all over her. "I'll go get him!" and she darts off.
Everything's quiet until Dean starts putting things in the pan. Cas comes around to hover at his elbow. Dean lets him. Doesn't know what to say.
"Come cook the bacon--"
"I'm sorry, Dean, I--" they say at the same time.
Dean looks back to Cas as they both go silent. He lets it sit. Goes to slice up a few mushrooms.
"I didn't check my phone until a few hours ago," Cas jumps in real quick. "I'm sorry. I would have come. Charlie has to leave right away?"
Dean clears his throat. "Yeah. She's got a freelance thing in Charlotte to head to." He puts the knife down and sets everything aside for a moment, then turns. "Hey. Are you okay?"
Cas comes closer and nods.
It's Cas's own business where he was, what he was doing. He's not tethered here. Dean just wants to know he's alright.
They only get another moment in the quiet before Sam is grumbling his way down the hall. Dean pulls Cas over to stand in front of the stove and shows him how to cook bacon. Sam walks around the kitchen to fill a mug of coffee for himself with Charlie literally wrapped around his neck, riding on his back. He's blurry and ridiculous and Charlie is laughing before she hops down and tugs him to the table with her.
Breakfast is nice.
Cas does not like his egg.
Dean takes back the plate with the sunny-side-up and slides over his scrambled. Cas makes another face and Sam hands over his cheese omelet and takes the scrambled. Cas is more fascinated by the cheese and its consistency than in actually eating it.
Charlie hugs Cas first on her way out.
"You should climb him," Sam says. "He's strong enough you could ride around on his head."
Castiel shrugs and ends up carrying her up to her car by the back of her hoodie while she howls with laughter.
Sam hugs Charlie and heads back in to take a shower while Dean indulges in a longer good-bye.
Dean and Cas watch her disappear down the road after a while.
"Are you headed out today?" Cas asks.
"Yeah. Looks like something in Tacoma. Could be ours." He kicks at the scrubby grass. "You gonna come with?"
He doesn't look up for Cas's response and Cas is silent for a while.
"Thanks for coming. To meet Charlie. And have breakfast." He finally looks up. "It's pretty awesome to have you around, Cas. You know." He swallows against saying it. Decides to anyway. "I want you here. As much as you can be."
Cas looks around with his narrow eyes and wets his lips before responding. "If it's alright, and if it's what you'd like. I'll make an effort to, Dean. I, um. I overstay my welcome in some places. I don't want this to be one of them."
"Psh, you're kidding me. This. Cas. Bottom line, man. This is home. My home, Sam's home, your home. You should feel -- I want you to feel like that -- like you've got a home here. It's important. I know you don't need a place to stay. But you've got one if you ever want it."
Cas is blank-faced, staring for a while longer.
"C'mere," Dean says, and heads back down into the bunker.
He leads Cas down into the dorm rooms. He leaves the light on in Charlie's. She's got some stuff she stows there, now, along with extra cords and a couple loose hard drives. A sweater. Her FBI heels and a suit. It's not much but it's warm and there's a map of the Capital Wasteland from Fallout on the wall, a light-up Cortana figurine on the bedside table that serves as a nightlight.
The other rooms are a lot sparser but they've all got furniture. Dean knows Cas doesn't need a bed, so they head back to his room and he tosses his jacket up on the coat rack he'd brought in. "You know, you can kick off your shoes, at least. Hang up your coat." Dean turns to tug on his sleeve. "You know. Stay awhile?"
Cas looks all tilty-headed at the coat rack and Dean steps away before he can tug on him again. Because he really wants to right at this moment. It hurts to have had so much family in one place for so brief a time this morning. There are more people he'd like to come around sometime. And they're just gonna scatter to the wind again. Him and Sam will be gone within the hour to drive north, too. Sometimes it's just not possible.
But he wants to try this more. Even if it takes months for that hour of breakfast to stretch into a half day, a few days, then a week.
"Call me when you get there," Cas says, turning away from the coat rack and staring at Dean.
"And. If you need help."
"Right. What about when we get back?"
"Yes. Definitely," Cas insists with a nod.
"Okay. You, uh, gonna go hunt more on your own while we head up?"
"There are things to do, yes. I'll check my phone, Dean. You can call."
It's amazing how much he relaxes at that, internally, how each breath he takes feels like it sends oxygen deeper into muscles that have been tensed too long.
Somewhere down the hall Sam hollers about the suits being dry-cleaned.
"Well. Lemme walk you out," Dean says. This is good, letting go. Letting Cas go, not looking too desperate. Taking what little he's been offered today.
"It's alright, I know you have to pack. I'll see you later, Dean," and there's that smile again. A small one, natural but brief, before he's turned and gone.
It's like the lights get a little dimmer.
"Yeah," Dean says, long after Cas has actually left the room.
Sam comes in and finds him standing there, scratching his neck.
"Did you hear me?" he asks.
"Yeah. Cas gone?"
"Mm," Dean nods.
Sam steps back and gives him a weird look. "That alright with you? It seemed like he showed up pretty suddenly this morning. Is everything--"
"It's okay, yeah. Hey, did you grab more silver bullets yet?" Dean turns to dig through his dresser.
Dean texts when they get to Washington, and Cas does reply, but Dean doesn't call him until three days into the hunt, when it looks like they may be wrapping up soon.
Cas answers automatically.
"Hey. Where are you?"
Dean hears some hollering in the background. "Sounds like you're having fun," he offers, for nothing else to say.
"Yeah," Cas sighs. "It's thrilling," and he's so dead-pan about it, Dean absolutely loses his shit laughing.
Cas's hunt has taken him to a college town and a bunch of kids he finds absolutely intolerable. He gripes for the whole phone call and Dean does almost nothing but listen and laugh. After a while, he's finally got to go to meet Sam in a shop they're monitoring. He smiles bigger than anything when Cas tries to stop him. "Wait. You didn't tell me about your hunt. You're doing alright?"
"Fine, Cas. It's no biggie. I mean, thanks. Um. And thanks for just. Talking. You know, it's seriously good to hear from you."
"It's-- Likewise, Dean. I'm glad you called. Will I see you soon?"
"Shit, as soon as you want to. I-- well. We'll be back home soon, probably, if that's what you mean."
"You'll call," he states rather than asking.
"Yeah. I'll let you know. Be careful out there, okay? I got no easy way of getting into Canada to rescue your ass."
Cas sighs again. "I can't imagine anything here could possibly overpower me. But. I will."
Inside the arts-and-crafty little collective store, Dean glances over a jar of buttons and rolls his eyes and laughs when he sees a white one with plain text that simply reads, I'm really excited to be here. It reminds him of his phone call with Cas and he can't not have it.
Dean remembers all the times he's tugged Castiel's tie into a respectable arrangement only to see it all skewed and backwards the very next time he pops up. He wonders if he put the pin on Cas's coat if it would disappear into the æther the first time he flew off or if Cas would keep it on.
He decides that, for forty cents, he can find out if it's possible to leave a mark on the angel at all.
"Nah, I'm good. I'll drive," Sam says as they exit the diner. The sun's long past gone down and Dean is nearly stumbling, exhausted in truth. But he can't deny that he'd rather push on toward the bunker, toward his bed, his real bed, rather than hit a motel and not see home again for that much longer.
He still thinks about it for a minute. Sam seems like he's in good shape.
Dean tosses over the keys and heads for the passenger side.
Time blurs, flies forward, and the next time he comes to, there's the buzz of Sam's voice, but it's not addressing him.
Dean knows that when he wakes up like this, with his neck at such an angle, if he doesn't move slowly, he'll wrench it. There will be a stabbing pain there for the next three weeks if he isn't careful. The lights are bright but not exactly where he is. It's dark but then it's bright.
He's still in the car. And they under the artificial sunlight of a gas station roof.
"No," Sam is saying, "it's okay, I was just about to. Yeah." There's the sound of fabric shifting on the seat.
Dean blinks his eyes open all the way. His arms are tense, crossed into his chest, almost aching with how tightly he's wound himself down in the seat while sleeping.
"Yeah, no problem. Hey, hold on," Sam changes tone. "Dean, hey."
Sam's hand on his arm gets him to nod up and look.
"Here," he passes Dean his phone. "Back in a sec," he adds, and opens the driver side door to slip out and head toward the shop.
Dean puts the phone to his ear. "Hello?"
"Dean. I didn't want him to wake you to--"
"Cas. Nah. It's alright. Probably my turn to drive, anyway. Oof," he stretches. "Time izzit?"
"3:22 your time. Sam said you'd be back by morning?"
"Yeah," Dean sighs, then looks around for any indication of what town he's in. "Depending where we are right now."
"Sam said more than half-way. He said. Um. He told me how to get in. To the bunker. He said I should wait there for you. Is there some kind of development on the tablet?"
"Ah. Not sure? I mean, could be. I guess I was out for a while, maybe somebody called him with something. But you're gonna be there? By the time we get back?"
"I'm wrapping up this case, now. I just have some paperwork to..."
"Destroy? Flambé? Disappear?"
"Obfuscate. I don't want to get the lieutenant fired."
Dean yawns into the phone and his face falls back into a fond sort of smile. "Good lookin' out, Cas." He watches Sam come out of the shop, back around the car to put $80 worth in the tank.
"So, um. I guess. I'll see you at home?"
"Yes. I'll be there. See you then, Dean."
"Yeah. 'Night, Cas. Or whatever it is where you are."
Cas's voice is a little quieter over the line. "Goodnight, Dean."
Dean climbs out and stretches slowly, rolls his shoulders. There's nobody else that he can see at the gas station with them except the clerk behind the glass.
He goes around to the other side where Sam's leaning against the car, watching the numbers roll over on the pump.
When Dean slouches next to him, Sam wordlessly passes over a bottle of soda. "Your turn?" he asks.
"Yeah. How far are we?"
"You've got all of Nebraska to yourself. I'm gonna pass out. You got four, five hours in you?"
Dean waves a hand. "No problem." They watch a pickup pull up next to a far pump. "You, um. Thanks for telling Cas how to get into the bunker."
"Yeah. The-- well. It's one of the extra keys I hid around. I figured he could keep it. If you wanted him to have one." Sam turns to him. "You do, don't you?"
Dean shakes a hasty nod. "Sure."
"I mean, we gave him an open invitation. He's--"
"It's his home, too. Yeah." Dean bounces up off the car and goes to dig for his wallet. "I need something to eat. You good?"
Twenty minutes away from home, Dean's brain gives him this image:
He busts in through the front door and calls down the hall to Cas.
Cas wanders into the room downstairs in his socked feet and greets Dean when he tromps down.
Dean tosses his bag to the side and reels Cas into his arms and says 'good morning' into his ear before kissing him there.
And that's so not gonna happen.
Cas isn't gonna take his shoes off without being ordered to. He'll probably leave the key they stashed where Sam told him about it and just be leaning against the railing when they pull up.
Cas in the kitchen, carefully stacking a sandwich, centering it on the plate. Blushing when Dean tells him with a full mouth how good it is. Cas saying how much he missed him.
Ten minutes away from the bunker and Dean's thinking of excuses to stop at the hardware store and the grocery store. Delay their arrival for another hour or two. Just until Cas loses interest in waiting for them.
It's inevitable, right? It might as well happen now. If he's just gonna leave again, Dean would rather Cas pop off while he's not around to see it.
Four minutes from the bunker, flying down the road to home, pushing further past the speed limit than he has all morning, he notices his left knee. It's vibrating with how fast he's jiggling it against the door in anticipation.
Honey, I'm home.
Cas, you there?
A big, hollered, Good morning!
Christ. He doesn't even know what to say.
As happens with every event you blow up in your mind, arriving back home is nothing like he imagined or expected or feared.
Cas isn't waiting outside the front door. Dean doesn't call down the hall or announce that they're home. As they bustle through the door, he's still bickering with Sam over whether or not they should scrap the old machetes and buy new or just give the old ones a really good sharpening and some TLC.
They get downstairs where Cas isn't anywhere to be found.
Thank god, Dean thinks. Cas didn't come after all. He didn't hang around. He doesn't want to be there. Dean can stop hoping now. He can pack this shit in and set it aside and only revisit it when he's alone and wallowing and staring at the coat rack in the corner of his room with just his one jacket on it.
Sam tosses his stuff in his own room with a relieved noise and grabs a towel. He heads away to shower off the road and unwind.
Dean moves further down the hall and tries to decide if more sleep will erase all the hope he'd had built up in his bones.
Cas is sitting on his bed, hunched over a comic book as if he's inspecting the molecules instead of reading it.
He feels the weight of his bags slip from his shoulders and crash around his feet.
Cas looks up.
They stare for a minute which Dean doesn't think is right at all. He can't really suss out the expression Cas is wearing and Cas still doesn't play human all the time, so whatever he looks like could mean nothing anyway.
"I hope you don't mind. Do you need me to leave?" Cas asks.
"No. I mean, hey. Good morning, Cas."
Cas nods. "Good morning, Dean. You look..." Cas squints.
"Yeah, I'm still a little tired. Coffee'll fix that. Um," he points back down the hall. "You want?"
Cas closes the comic book reverently and sets it on the bedside table. He straightens up and stands. "I'll come wi-- keep you company."
He deliberately just implied that he'd be sticking around to hang out. He won't just attend Dean to the kitchen. He'll stay with him.
Okay. So Dean's not setting anything aside. He's not wallowing until he falls asleep. He steps forward and crowds into Castiel's space.
He loves this fucking asshole.
He grabs a trench coat lapel in each hand, tugs a little. "Coat off, first."
Cas makes this stupid-- this Cas face. This face Dean refuses to find adorable. But he shrugs out of both his jackets underneath Dean's demanding hands.
They hang up his coats carefully and Dean lets him keep his shoes.
When Dean covers a yawn, Cas actually turns him and almost presses him out of the room, back down the hall.
Cas tries Lucky Charms for breakfast.
A week later, Cas meets them near Hemet, California with the recon already finished.
Cas has got a real thirst for Crowley's blood right now, but as he's the only one who knows where the angel tablet is, and Sam's the one doing the tasks, Dean thinks it ought to be himself who tracks down the King of Hell.
Naturally, his exclusion of them both only makes Cas and Sam roll their eyes and huddle together over the blueprints, ignoring Dean's protests.
It's a museum and Cas has intel that another stray Lucifer Loyalist lead them to it. So many demons have converged on the town as of late that omens emerged. Cat parts strewn in the parks, freak lightning storms, sulfur levels rising in the lake, and more than the usual missing persons cases. People also start speaking in tongues. Real ones, not just those of religious fanatics. Long-dead languages and obscure dialects that they have no business knowing. A child learns to communicate perfectly with the local jackrabbit population. A woman starts speaking in a language native to the fairy realm in the middle of a conference call at her job.
They're worried that there are other tablets. That one might have been dug up by archaeologists and tucked away on a nice, easy-to-access shelf somewhere. Or worse, it could be some kind of Rosetta Stone that would give Crowley the meaning of his half of the demon tablet without a need for Kevin.
She is a Courier. Dean can hear the capitalization when Cas says it. She had access to the Metatron during his days taking dictation for the Lord. Cas can hear her peculiar mix of languages as she babbles. Because they're already too late. Crowley's guys are already set up inside the museum with his equipment and he's drilling into her head. Her screaming sends strange shockwaves across the town. Not like last time, with the burning bush-- this time it's the languages that they mistook for demonic omens.
Crowley hopes that she is his Rosetta Stone. And from the sounds of her screaming, he might be close to cracking her.
The angel warding is a lot more trumped up this time, and they don't have any demon bombs to spare.
Sam and Dean watch Cas get incredibly intense incredibly fast when they realize it's another angel being tortured in there.
No one controls him now. This time, he's going to save the angel. Nothing's gonna stop him.
Cas single-handedly takes out all the demons at all the doors while the Winchesters dart inside to get rid of the angel warding. Sam runs through his spray-paint can too fast and they hadn't known what they were walking in to when they showed up in town, so there's none left. Scraping the paint off the walls with the knives takes too long. Demons keep showing up while they're at it.
Dean has to leave Sam to fight off two demons on his own while he kicks in the door to a janitor's closet for something else. There are jugs of chemicals... some which might dissolve the paint given enough time--
And there, two buckets and a roller.
Sam finishes off the demons in time to come find him and help him jam open the lids.
Sam carries one of the buckets and Dean the roller. They dart through as many halls and rooms as they can, doing a hasty job of covering the defacing, running through the maze of the building, ever closer to the screaming.
They have to stop along the way to deal with several other demons, one big fucker who almost throttles the life out of Sam. It's then that Cas appears, panting, bent at the waist, still not enough of the sigils struck from the walls, but he wouldn't stay outside any longer.
Cas pulls the demon off of Sam, attempting and failing to burn it out with a grip under its chin. Sam recovers enough to roll forward and plant Cas's sword in its belly and they both let it fall between them.
Dean grabs the paint can and flings it at the wall, splattering a huge grouping of anti-angel symbols liberally. Sam finds where the roller rolled off to and comes up behind him to smear it over the whole wall.
"Good enough?" Dean asks over his shoulder as he plants his hand in paint and starts hand printing over all the sigils he can find.
"It'll have to be," Cas still has a hand pressed to his middle like he's got indigestion. "The preservation lab," Cas says through clenched teeth and points ahead.
They bust through the double doors leading that way. Dean smears a handprint across the door even though opening it broke the sigil.
And the screaming stops. Abruptly. The air rings with the absence of sound.
Cas falls against the wall when they stop to listen. Sam gets around him and hauls him up. "Come on," he leads them forward.
Dean ducks the glass window to the far side of the door and Sam sets Cas back so he can draw his gun as well.
Knives in one hand, guns in the other, they kick in the lab door to a gust of sulfur-foul air and a continuous lack of sound.
The Courier lay dead, strapped to a stainless steel table. Her name tag says she's Sandra, from the Kids Classroom Discovery Lab. There's a gaping hole in her center where an angel blade was thrust. Wounds along her temple where they were drilling into her skull. But she's been left. Abandoned. Apparently of no use to Crowley and now, Cas can't even save her.
"They musta killed her and just," Sam shrugs, defeated, "Flashed off. Fuck."
Dean heaves a breath and safeties his gun. He turns to see that Cas is clinging to the door jamb trying to stay upright, staring in at Sandra's body, as blank-faced as her corpse.
Dean tucks the demon-killing knife away, too.
"C'mon, Cas," he gets a grip on his elbow. "Come on."
"We gotta go check that nobody's still around," Dean says, firm. "Come on," he pulls Cas away from the room. He trusts Sam to unstrap her and make her look less of a mess. He can't have Cas staring down defeat at Crowley's hands again. Not after Alfie. Not after Dean watched Cas cry fucking blood and then fly off, presumably to the place that made him doubt the value of his own life.
He tugs Cas back toward where the symbols are best covered up and they push open doors on the way, peek out of the glass to see no one outside. The demons must have turned away (or killed) the cops that probably showed up earlier in the night, when the building alarms must have gone off. The number panels flash red, near the doors, but they haven't seen a patrol car on the museum campus since they showed up.
Eventually Dean pushes them out into the too-warm night air and Cas takes in this huge, gusting breath. It's a relief for him to be out of the building, at least that much of a barrier between himself and the warding.
But the breaths keep coming, and Cas turns away from him.
Cas is losing it.
"Hey," Dean catches up with him as he moves to stumble away, "Hey, hey. Wait. Hold on." He grabs Castiel by the elbow again and, like he normally does, he lets himself be turned.
Dean sees, now, the streaks of white wall paint his hands are leaving on Cas's coat. That's really the only thing that keeps him from yanking Cas in, wrapping him up, holding his face. "You didn't fuck up. We got here as soon as we could. We had no idea what was going on." He comes close as he can, weaves in to try and catch Cas's eyes.
Cas's breaths punch out of him and when Dean finally catches his sight, he jerks his head up, holds the eye contact. His eyes pull away, dart back to the building, and back to Dean again.
He's the one who reaches out to clutch at Dean's jacket. He shakes Dean, almost like he's angry at him, almost like he's trying not to be violent.
"We got here as soon as we could," Dean repeats in vain. And in his mind he sees Cas pressing himself to Samandriel's vessel with its cut strings, sees Cas broken and flying away and not telling him he's okay for weeks.
Or for ever.
But Cas doesn't disappear. His grip tightens in Dean's jacket and he pulls him forward to crash his head into Dean's chest, to breathe heavy and unsteady into his shirt.
Dean knows this feeling. Knows what it's like to show up too late or to not have fought at all. To think he could have done better. To think he's a destructive force and he can't save fucking anybody.
He stays mindful of the paint on his hands, but hooks his elbows over Cas's shoulder, his neck, keeps him held in and lets him think crushing thoughts until his breath slows. That's enough of a breakdown. Cas can't keep thinking that way.
So he says, "Cas, Sam should be coming this way. What do you want to do with her? Where do you want her to rest?"
He wills him not to say "heaven," pleads for it, projects the mental image of the town from his mind. Thinks of the rooms they had passed inside the museum. Imagines them full of curious children and thinks of what Sandra would have looked like there, teaching kids about mammoths and smiling and loving her job and going home to her family at the end of the day.
If he hears it, Cas doesn't say anything. He lifts his head and accepts the plastic-draped body when Sam comes outside with it.
He looks down at the shapeless lump in his arms for a while before he tells them to meet him back at their motel in an hour.
"One hour," Dean repeats, emphasis on the one.
Cas meets his eyes. "One."
Sam's voice is a little scratchy when he stops Cas from turning away with an outstretched hand.
"Cas, let us help you. Please."
Emotions don't flash across Cas's face like they do in a human's. He's still not steeped enough in humanity for microexpressions or practiced enough for covering up quickly. He looks at Sam, so mournful, for an unobstructed moment before schooling himself.
"Thank you, but no. I promise that I'll see you in an hour," and he is gone almost before the sentence ends.
"Dammnit," Sam sighs. He was there last time, too. Not privy to the same information as Dean. He didn't know that Cas feared for his own will to live. "He shouldn't be--. He shouldn't be alone. Not in heaven, not here. Not right now."
"Yeah, I know," Dean says to his paint-caked palms. "He gets one hour and then. I donno. I'll find a summoning if I have to." He turns to get back into the building. He has to clean his hands and make sure he didn't leave any distinct prints in the paint. He'll find the roller and go over them again.
"What do you think Crowley got out of her? Nothing?" Sam asks.
"I donno. We can't know. Probably nothing if he just left her there. I mean, Kevin's supposed to be the only one who can read any of it. She probably couldn't do it. He was probably just pissed at her."
"And shivved her."
"I fucking hate this. Dean, I wanna slam the door to hell closed on his smarmy ass."
"We gotta visit Kevin. We gotta get him to hurry up."
Dean doesn't comment just kicks through the bottles of chemicals on the closet floor.
"I'm sick of this," Sam continues. "I'm sick of people dying over this."
Dean turns. "We're all sick of it. You think I'm not?"
"No," Sam backtracks a little. "No, I know you are."
"You think because I let Cas fly off I don't care what's happening here?"
"No," Sam puts his hands up, "that's not what I'm saying."
"I care, Sam. I care that Crowley's pulling us apart at the seams this time around. I care that even heaven-- this Naomi chick. Even she tried to. I care."
Sam sets his jaw. "You care so much you wanted to come gunning in here on your own? Setting me and Cas on the sidelines? Man, you know that's not gonna happen-"
"And it didn't!" Dean yells. "You both came barreling in here half-cocked, true to your fucking nature. Cas keeling over from all the sigils and you getting the shit kicked out of you! Us with not enough paint! Not enough planning to come in quiet so they wouldn't gank her before we got here! Don't tell me I don't care because I give a shit for caution, Sam. Just because you're ready to kill yourself over this. I ain't ready to see you go. I'm not ready to watch Cas kill himself to prove he learned his lesson, either. I'm not doing this if the price is my goddamn family!" He ends his rant with a kick to a half-full jug of bleach that sends it skidding across the hall.
He lets Sam glare at him for a wordless moment before turning back to find a cleaner to dump on his hands. "Were the cameras on?"
He looks over his shoulder. "Sam," he snaps, "the museum cameras. Were they on?"
Sam huffs and leaves to go check.
To their relief, Cas is waiting for them at the motel. The paint's gone from his jacket sleeves where Dean touched him.
He waits a while. Stays just long enough that Sam and Dean start to think it's okay, that he's working through it. But over the pizza they ordered he finally states, "I don't want to be behind Crowley on this all the time. I'll um," he rises from the chair he'd been stiffly perched in, pretending human for a little while. "I'll call you. When you get back to the bunker. With any information I might have."
Dean starts to reel up, the gears clanking in his head, trying to think of something that would slow his roll.
Sam gets there first. "No," is all he says.
Cas looks a little taken aback. He recovers after a moment, while Sam chews another bite of his pizza. "I thought I might-"
"Think again, Cas. The way we're gonna do this is together," Sam sets his plate aside, on the counter he was leaning against, and comes to tower over Castiel. "We're stronger as one unit. When we split off, that's when we're slower. I'm not saying we were slower because you got into town first or because you couldn't get into the building with us. I'm saying Dean's wrong for wanting us to hang back. We're wrong for going into the building without clearing each hall with you. I'm not even gonna be able to get through the trials all on my own. Dean's right. I'm getting slower since the first one. I'm hurting. And I'll get through the second trial with your help. The both of you."
Sam clamps a hand down on Cas's shoulder. "We're gonna get through this alive. All of us. We stick together," he seems to decree. He slides a beer bottle off the kitchen table and presses it against Cas's chest until he takes it. "Sit down with Dean and watch tv. We head back in the morning."
Sam doesn't allow time for questions or protests, he turns back to his pizza and stuffs the crust in his mouth.
Cas looks slightly confused from up close. But he sits next to Dean on the end of his bed and opens his beer. Dean takes his pizza back up and keeps eating, watching Cas out of the corner of his eye.
Sam collects more pizza and sits on his own bed and doesn't complain that they're watching the Food Network again.
Sam may have laid down the law, but he's still careful with Cas, gentle almost. He knows how much Cas has lost but his eye is on the prize. He doesn't want to lose more. He won't lose more. It's just that Sam is firm in his belief that they'll seal the gates of hell only if they do it together. He doesn't want anyone treated like less than they are. He doesn't want Dean marching off to pick up the slack himself, nor does he truly want to complete the trials on his own.
He also remembers what Dean said about Cas. Sam wants Dean to have that, no matter where it comes from: somebody to come home to.
Especially in case this whole thing pans out like they fear. With him dead.
Maybe Dean won't be so quick to follow if he has to answer to Cas at the end of the day.
So no matter how intent he is upon shouldering this part of the battle for the both of them, he makes it clear that he wants to work as a team.
Sam won't clip Castiel's wings, either. He imagines it must be boring to keep watch during their sleeping hours, so he doesn't mandate that Cas always stick around. A little while after they get back, he does go off and research and hunt or whatever, but when he's gone too long, when Dean gets a little melancholy, when he hasn't checked in, Sam calls. He doesn't take every silence as abandonment like his brother does. And he's not gonna play fucking matchmaker. But he isn't going to watch Dean get left alone.
The price for their success against hell will not be all of Dean's family.
It's time to turn in again, which means it's time for Dean to grow incredibly tense and suddenly get super interested in how poorly the adhesive keeps the label on his beer bottle. Him and Cas are hanging out at the kitchen table tonight and he told Sam he could leave all the plates there, that he'd get to them eventually. Sam took that for the message it was: get scarce, give him some time to try and convince Cas to stick around before he inevitably leaves for the night.
Sam's been good about it, lately. Dean can't protest his campaign to get them to work as a team.
It's just that he also can't allow himself to pin Cas down. Make him stay just so Dean will feel good about it.
Cas is on beer number two of his own. There's not going to be any effect, but it's like the coffee and the occasional plate of food. He's found value in having something to do with his hands when around other people. His eyes slip from the level of liquid in Dean's beer to the differing labels of their separate brands. He doesn't have to stare in Dean's eyes all the time so they are able to nurture comfortable lulls in their conversation.
More and more, when they don't talk shop or talk about Sam or reminisce, Cas will pull out some interesting, ancient story. Today they talk about how beer is pretty much the most ancient of all beverages, after water. How it's a little more ancient and used to be much more revered than even wine. How it was the measure of health and wealth. Dean didn't know that. He had kind of always figured that wine was the drink of the old gods and the most ancient civilizations.
"But there are wines you would like, I think."
"Wine's fancy, you need glasses for wine," Dean says, doubtful.
"No you don't. When you need a certain glass for wine, it's mainly to keep the bowl away from your fingers, to avoid heating the wine with your body. Or to let it breathe or to accentuate the smell. But there are wines that are good when they're heated. Like mulled wine. It's sweet and spiced. And, believe me, no one in what you would call 'Ancient Greece' was worried about having the proper stemware. The point of wine was conversation."
Dean smirks a little sadly. "Got nobody to have conversation with."
Cas cocks his head and pulls on his beer before asking, "What am I, then?"
Always flitting away, Cas. "You've got better things to be doing. Angel business and whatnot."
Cas is quiet for a while. He drains his beer and slides it over with Sam's empties. "Not tonight," he says, avoiding Dean's eyes. "I was going to ask if I could stay. While you sleep." He eyes their surroundings. "I could do the dishes for you. And then I'd borrow your laptop, if you were willing."
The beer is suddenly making him feel a little heated. Dean sits up. "Uh. Sure. Sure. You want to?"
Finally, Cas meets his eyes again. "I want to, yes. You said that would be alright."
"It's great," Dean says, too fast. "Yeah. Hey, c'mon," he stands up and starts gathering plates. "Let's do this first. I'll show you how. And then..." he shrugs, implying whatever. Cas hangs out. Or they hang out. Or he goes to bed.
Or maybe he convinces Cas to try and lay down or something.
He shows Cas how to clean everything. The bunker was built kinda pre-dishwasher, but as soon as he finds a door big enough, he's hauling one'a them bitches in here and installing it somewhere. This hand-washing shit is for the birds. Sam somehow never helps and Dean somehow always lets him get away with it.
Maybe he likes things done in one particular way. But there's no reason Sam can't learn The Ways of The Kitchen.
Cas manages to slosh his sleeves with soapy water. No doubt he could blink it away, and eventually will, but he tends to do that kind of thing when no one is paying particular attention. Dean leads him down the hall to his room and stops him there. "Alright, come on, if you're gonna be sitting around, you can at least relax. Get comfortable. I mean, that's the point of being at home: that it feels like home." He tugs at Cas's sleeves until he wrestles out of his jacket and hands it over. Dean shakes it out and hangs it up on his new (old) coat rack. "Suitcoat, too. And kick off your shoes for once," he requests.
Cas trips out of his shoes while shrugging off his coat. Dean hangs it up, kicks the shoes to the side. Then he considers Cas for a moment. He doesn't request his tie, just reaches out and loosens it further for him. He nods at Cas who only looks curious in turn.
Earlier, he wasn't doing anything more incriminating on his laptop than checking up on the news of the weird in North Carolina. Just making sure nothing popped up while Charlie's still in the area.
He stops on his way over to the desk. "Where, uh. Where do you wanna--?"
Cas squints around. "If you're going to sleep, I should probably use it in another room."
"Sure, yeah." Instead of handing it over, he pulls out the plug and leads Cas back to the library. Cas sits and takes command of the mouse and keyboard. He's not entirely unfamiliar with computers and only has a few questions.
"Anything else?" Dean asks after a while.
Cas pauses and turns slowly. "Are you going to sleep right now?"
Dean stands up straight and considers. "Not right now, I guess."
They make some coffee for Cas and talk for a while longer. This time when Dean does go to sleep, he leaves Cas there, but he's fully aware of him. Like some kind of warm beacon, close by, accessible. Better yet, safe and protected within the walls of the bunker. Cool and dry and relaxed in the presence of family.
Dean sets a don't-look-too-eager alarm for a little later in the morning.
Anyway, if Cas is gone by the time he wakes up, he can easily excuse it. He's got things to do, places to go. Can't be waiting around to try waffles with the Winchesters.
Cas is there in the morning. When Dean starts pulling down pans, Cas automatically gets to peeling apart the raw bacon and laying strips out.
It drives Dean wild inside. He tries as best as he can not to grin and grin.
Cas helps them out for a day. He stays and helps Dean pick through some of the rooms, exploring how high the bunker goes and what, exactly, is being stored in the old tower of the power plant the bunker was constructed around. Then he helps them in the evening as they get a call about a case.
But he won't be coming with the next day.
He comes to Dean's room to gather up his jackets and shoes. "Hold on," Dean says, and gently handles him around. Cas is pliable under his palms and stands still while Dean puts the 'excited to be here' pin on his lapel. "It's, um. A housewarming present," Dean says. "When you get a new home, you get presents sometimes."
Cas carefully pulls his jacket so he can read the pin. "And I'm excited to be here," he says.
Dean kinda laughs. "Yeah. Aren't you?"
Castiel's smile takes him totally off-guard. It lights up the whole universe. Dean falls into it, nearly falls into Cas's face and tastes his smiling lips.
But he doesn't and Cas only agrees with good humor and takes his leave. Sam's the one who walks him out so he can, whatever, apparate away from the bunker's wards.
Dean feels ridiculous.
He remembers he's in love.
He doesn't forget again.
They're in Maine, investigating incidents in the deep woods. An unknown attacker leaving animal parts and forcing seasoned hikers and huntsmen to run screaming from the forest.
It's anticlimactic. When Cas calls, Dean is bored, doesn't have much hope for the case. Sam wants to make sure. Dean is all for leaving town and moving on to some tenuous leads on the other half of the demon tablet.
But Sam keeps hesitating. He's not sure the case is quite as simple as it sounds.
"Look," their key suspect finally confesses, body drooping in defeat. "Here, just take it." He digs his phone out of his pocket and hands it over. Sam backs off on the looming a little and drops his suspicious look from Ace to his phone.
"It's in the music section under the MP3s. All those barks and howling and the screaming those guys were hearing in the woods?"
"That was me."
Dean feels his mouth drop in surprise.
Of course, it couldn't be that simple, either. Would a werewolf really just turn himself in?
"You wanna explain yourself?"
"It's right there," he gestures to the phone looking exhausted with it all, at last. He just wants the cops to stop coming to his home, drawing attention to him. He already seems like something of an artsy-fartsy outsider. Now he's almost a total pariah, thanks to the investigation.
Sam taps the screen and clicks through to the music files.
"That one," he reaches over and taps the file for him and a godawful barking, snarling, and shrieking comes out of his phone.
Sam actually startles a little. He hits pause on the track and exchanges a look with Dean.
"I recorded it off some monster movies. It was me, in the woods, with this sound file. I was--," he pauses again, reluctant. Sighs. "I was in the woods. Naked. It's how I like to paint. Everything is just so free and clear and beautiful out there! And when I paint landscapes, well," he blushes a bit, "I like to be in the nude. It's not a crime!"
Dean shakes off the laughing grin that's pulling at the corner of his mouth to get stern. "Running people out of the woods thinking they're gonna get killed, causing a panic, that is."
"Indecent exposure, too," Sam cocks his head. "And it's dangerous out there. You mean to say you just hang out--," He blinks, like he's trying not to imagine it, "naked as the day is long and j-just," he stutters, shrugs. "You're not worried about bears? Predators?"
"Well, yeah!" Ace almost shouts. "That's why I have the sound file! It's the best way to run assholes off when they get too close! It gives me time to get dressed, at least."
Ace is a scrawny kid, an art geek. His clothes hang on his thin frame and he's got yellow paint flaking off a big swipe on his left arm. He's got canvases stacked all against his walls and behind the ratty couch. Deep reds and blues on them, abstract nudes and reverse-color fruit bowls. Dean can only imagine the beatings the poor guy must have taken in school. And he's seen the locals. Hunting, hiking types, lumberjack-looking motherfuckers. Big guys.
The dude's just trying to be left alone. It's as good an explanation as any for the howling, and certainly a unique story. There haven't been any human parts found yet, just lost hikers. And that could make sense. Not every man who challenges Mother Nature wins.
"So the animal parts, the bones, the gore?" Sam finally asks when they're in the car driving back to the Inn.
"I'd chalk it up to a prank," Dean says. "Buncha kids hear some bad shit's going down in the woods? Just like... just like the haunted house in west Texas," he posits. "They throw around some chicken parts, let everybody think there really is a monster there. Go home to their dorms and laugh about it."
"You're probably right," Sam finally concedes, shaking his head. They decide to leave in the morning.
Dean's walking back to the Inn with Chinese take-out for dinner, thinking about calling Cas, thinking about telling him they'll be heading home. Telling him how funny this case turned out. Thinking about asking Cas to meet them at the bunker. Thinking about how good it will be to see him.
When he sees the door to their hotel room, illuminated in moonlight.
Half-way across the parking lot, in three distinct pieces.
He drops the bag, the 2-liter cracks open and explodes in soda fizz behind him as he darts through the dark, close to the wall, drawing his gun, checking that the silver bullets are still in the mag, taps and clacks it home. Readies himself to go gun-first around the corner and into the room.
He takes a deep breath. Darts into the room. He aims, checks his corners, glances under both beds, rounds the corner into the bathroom, throws aside the shower curtain.
Nothing. No one. Nowhere.
Dean grabs a flashlight out of his bag and runs back out to the parking lot. He jogs to the corner, gun at the ready, flashlight held under it. He shines it into the nearby woodsy area. Nothing moves. He gets behind the building. The only movement there is an oblivious employee, in the far distance, six units over, dumping one laundry tub of towels into another.
Dean races back out front. Nothing's happened to the car, no one has touched her. The room isn't really disturbed. There's only the evidence that they had been sleeping in it.
The only clues that there'd been a disturbance are the pieces of the door lying out on the blacktop. And there, he spots it: the edge of the carpet, where it's tacked down by the baseboard, next to the wastebasket. Three silver bullets. Not casings, bullets. Unfired.
Sam had gone for his gun too late.
But there's no blood. No blood, no carnage. No one was disturbed enough to come outside and looky-loo or call the police. The staff clearly aren't aware.
Shit. He's saying 'shit' out loud endlessly, a mantra. His heart is thrumming in him like fan blades. Where the fuck is Sam? Who the hell even took him? There wasn't even a goddamn case in this town!
S h i t .
He grabs their bags. He's gotta bolt before someone does call the police. The last thing he grabs are the files Sam had stacked neat underneath his laptop.
Where had the disturbances been? There were ones scattered throughout the woods. If he was wrong about the animal parts--
Where were the animal parts found?
He throws himself into the driver's seat and tears through the files, tossing the irrelevant shit into the footwell on Sam's side.
He tosses papers aside messily until he finds the reports where there had been blood evidence. Every time he finds the words on a page of a police report he throws that page on the dashboard.
Fling, fling, fling, papercut, fling, fling, animal parts, fling, fling, feathers and entrails, fling fling, gore of unknown origin, fling...
He gets to the last page and throws the folder to the side.
He's got six pages on the dash'. He yanks a tourist pamphlet out of his jacket pocket.
First one: west of Long Pond. Second: out by Perry pond. Third: near Echo Valley Road. Fourth: near Byron Road. Fifth: west of Greenvale Cove. Sixth: near Byron Road.
He speeds south, out to Webb Lake. He makes the 50 minute drive in 32.
He screeches to a halt on the side of Byron Road, near as he can figure to the clearing.
He gets lucky.
Dean crashes across the brook and when he bursts out of the trees and into the nearby clearing, he's soaking wet to the thighs, armed to the teeth.
Ace has built himself a pack of attack dogs. Looks like they bring their victims back to the altar in the woods.
There's a werewolf snapping at Sam's neck, holding him down with his paws. Ace is helping and both he and the wolf get kicked in the chest by Sam when Dean fires two perfect shots, executing the two werewolves nearest to him in the clearing.
The rest of the fight is trickier. Sam's free and he's grappling with one of the wolves while Ace chants something with his hands out in front of him. Every time Dean fires a shot in his direction it falls to the ground as if it hit a shield. The gun flies from Dean's hand when he's tackled, leaving him with the two silver knives he's got on each of his sides.
Sam ducks his attacker long enough to go for the fallen gun. Dean's got the rest of the ammo, though. He's gotta toss it over a werewolf's shoulder as it's charging headlong at him. He thrusts his knife up and into its chest at the last second.
It's still snapping at him, so he yanks the knife out and stabs up a few more times until the transformed body of a woman slouches all over him, bleeding out.
Two left, and Ace still in the corner of the clearing, chanting his protective spell.
Sam doesn't seem to be bleeding too bad, but it looks like he was drugged. There's blue dust coating the left side of his face and he stumbles into his crouches and can't steady the gun.
Dean's up from under the weight of the dead body when another wolf slams into him. Its claws sweep across Dean's torso and it takes a chunk of him with it as it collides their tangled bodies into a tree.
Dean can feel the blood like four warm lashes just snapped across his center. But he's still running on adrenaline hard. He loses the blood-slick blade in his hand somewhere in the grass. He's on his back, crawling away for a minute while the werewolf is raring up to come at him again. Dean fumbles for the sliver blade at his left side and the wolf falls down onto it when his shining jaws come slicing for Dean's neck again.
He howls in pain, features fading back to mostly human at the shock of it. Then his eyes glow fierce and he pulls himself up and off and Dean rolls just in time to dodge another lunge. He rolls onto his knees and scrambles to his feet, and this time he comes at the werewolf instead of waiting for the attack. He nails him in the shoulder with the knife, uses the grip on it to wrestle him back against another tree and pulls the blade down diagonally, across his chest, to thrust it down and cut his heart open.
He falls down dead to the side.
Across the clearing, the firing has stopped. Dean turns to see Sam stumbling in the moonlight over to the bodies of the skinny humans, checking for a pulse. Ace is nowhere to be seen.
They should go after him. They should.
Dean's hand falls to his side and comes away soaked in blood. He looks down. He's everywhere. His blood that is. All of him is draining out onto the ground. His already-soaked jeans now growing dark with it.
Out of the corner of his eye, something flashes into view and it's Ace.
But it's Ace hanging by the neck from Castiel, who is dragging him back into the clearing.
Dean blinks and it feels slow. Everything feels slow and the air is getting colder on his soaked legs.
He watches Sam rise to greet Cas, to take Ace from his custody and then he doesn't know what. Doesn't care. Because, that's Cas. God, he was just thinking about Cas. He was thinking about eating Chinese on the hotel bed while watching Pitch Black maybe. It was supposed to be on SyFy and so Dean could maybe text Cas during the commercials.
Dean hears himself rasp, "I was gonna text you," as he floats over to Castiel.
Cas is wide-eyed, taking him in now. He looks almost scared. But all the wolves are dead. Sam has got Ace, he'll decide what to do with him.
All Dean is interested in is the fact that he was gonna call but Cas is here now and the moonlight makes a little white dot on Cas's jacket glow. It's the button. That makes Dean smile.
He stumbles into Cas who catches him at the elbows. He reaches up and grabs the lapel of the trench coat, runs a thumb over the shiny white button. Cas is really excited to be here.
Dean smirks and watches the smear of blood that his thumb leaves over the round plastic.
"Dean," it sounds distant when Cas calls to him but he's right here. That's weird. "Dean!"
He comes back kneeling on the ground. His knees must have hit it hard when he slipped. They ache almost as much as his knitting stomach.
Cas is at eye-level still, but that's because he's kneeling in front of Dean, glowing light into his torso, erasing the claw marks, but not the blood soaking his shirt.
Sam skids into the ground next to Dean and that's great, super great, because the feeling of all that skin and muscle knitting back together is weird as hell and never not uncomfortable, but Sam's there to lean into. Sam wraps around him, pulls Dean to his chest, shouts his name in his ear.
"Wow. Shut up," Dean finally mumbles.
Cas is all done healing him so they both help Dean collapse back onto his butt.
Sam's breathing hard. "Holy crap. Good catch, Cas," he slaps Castiel on the shoulder in thanks.
Sam's still a little wobbly, too, so he ends up dumping himself to the ground at Dean's side, only a little awkward still.
Cas sits forward on his knees. He looks around, curious. "A coven of wolves?"
Sam wavers for a moment but ends up shrugging. "Basically. Turns out they were recruiting the scrawny guys and taking down bigger and bigger men. They thought sharing big guys' hearts in the ritual made them stronger."
Hence why they stole Sam.
Dean just has to lie back into the grass for a minute.
Sam's head pops into view above him.
"Need a minute."
Sam looks between Dean and Cas as explains. "Ace is Actaeon. He was a servant of Artemis. Didn't you grab one of her arrows off the ground after we met her?"
Dean dredges a shrug up from somewhere. "Trunk."
"Okay." Sam pats him lightly on the stomach, almost like he's checking the integrity of Cas's work. It doesn't hurt when Sam's hand lands there. "The car out on the road?"
"Nnh." Dean waves his hand dismissively. He's not ready to deal with the Big Bad right now. He just needs to be horizontal for a few more minutes.
"I'll be back. Cas?" He rises and leaves Dean's side. Dean doesn't hear anything until Sam makes off out of the clearing, toward the brook, toting Ace who has his mouth stuffed with an altar cloth.
The field of bodies is really gruesome. And Dean's covered in his own brand of gruesome.
Dean lies there in the grass watching Cas line up the bodies of the men and women, close their eyes, and sink them into the ground. From Ace's scattered herb kit he plucks some flowers and lays them over the six strangely-perfect mounds of dirt. Whether it's from respect or to keep them undisturbed, he doesn't know.
Cas kicks Actaeon's stuff into the mat that they were holding Sam down on. He sets fire to all of it with one of the candles and leaves the mass of it there to burn.
Dean is still lying there when Cas finally comes over and offers down his hands.
Dean reaches up and lets himself get hauled to his feet. Cas steadies him, too, and only lets go once he's sure Dean is okay on his own two feet.
"You were like the walking dead, coming at me like that," Cas sounds like the experience shook him up, like he's still seeing it on replay.
Dean grimaces. "Sorry," he pulls his sleeve over his hand and attempts to wipe the blood off Cas's button. He's got Dean's blood all up and down his front, though, so cleaning the one spot seems a little silly.
Cas grabs for his hands again, and Dean blinks and the blood is all gone from the front of his trenchcoat. "You have other clothes in your motel room?"
"Uh. We were at an Inn and the werewolves kinda destroyed the door. So everything's in the car."
His shirts have seriously gotten sticky. And drafty. Dean pulls his battered jacket around himself. He supposes he could ask Cas to clean it all up for him, he just doesn't like essentially charging an angel with laundry duty. He doesn't give Cas dumb little tasks and he thinks Cas understands that Dean prefers things the human way.
They leave the clearing behind and head into the trees. Cas helps Dean when his head swims a little, helps him across the brook, and they finally trudge up to the car.
Sam is, like, trying to blow his nose into his sleeve or something. Trying to induce sneezing, maybe? Cas approaches and puts two fingers in Sam's face, a silent offer.
"Yeah. Thanks," Sam steps forward until Cas's fingers are pressed to his forehead.
"That blue dust was a multi-use powder. Depending on the words it could incapacitate you in any number of ways." Cas explains. "Where is Actaeon?"
"I used Artemis's arrow on him. He turned to ash. I don't know what the lore says, if that'll keep him dead or not. But I'll let the local LEOs and rangers know he was their perp. What about the bodies?"
"Laid to rest," Cas assures him.
"Just more names on the list of missing," Sam sighs. "Maybe I'll call in a tip in a couple weeks or something." He shakes his head, still a little pissed. "I think we need a new room," he says after a final sneeze. "They busted in on me real fast, blowing that stuff in my face."
"Yeah. But can we get out of Maine first?" Dean asks, switching out shirts behind the trunk.
"Is that powder out of my system, am I good to drive, Cas?" Sam asks.
"It should be."
"Good. Then you get shotgun. Dean? Keys," he demands.
Dean slams the trunk shut. "Like hell. Why?"
"You almost died. Lay down in the back. I'll wake you up when we hit New Hampshire."
Dean shakes his head and swaggers up to push Sam away from the driver's side door.
And walks right into the puppy-dog eyes.
Aw, hell. Fine.
He hands over the keys and eyes Cas across the roof of the car.
"You are coming with, right?"
Cas glances back over his shoulder in the direction they'd come from. "I think I ought to, yes."
They leave Mount Blue State Park behind and Dean actually finds it easy enough to doze in the back seat until they hit Gorham. He jolts awake when Sam closes the door, off to check them into a motel.
Cas looks over the back of the seat at him.
"You lost a lot of blood," he comments.
Dean blinks. "Yeah. You took care of it."
It's hard to see. It's really dark in the car right now. The moonlight isn't coming in this side. But he thinks Cas looks up, away.
"What if I hadn't been trying to find you right then, Dean?"
The obvious answer is that he would have died right then and there.
He tries to shrug but isn't sure it comes off in the dark, or from where he's still huddled under his jacket, lying there.
"I followed your phone's signal in," Cas seems to ramble. "And I showed up just in time to catch Actaeon. But I looked over and you were spilling out all over your own hands." His voice is quieter but Dean hears him say it. "I showed up just in time to watch you die. I was out hunting on my own and you were out here dying."
"That's the job, Cas," Dean starts the old, familiar tune.
"I don't--" Cas jumps in but stops. "Why am I still hunting on my own?"
Like he doesn't know.
He's the one who keeps their lives separate.
Dean's wanted him closer for a long time now but he's been careful about it. Careful not to be the one to clip Cas's wings.
"We could look out for each other," Cas offers, like this is some very new shit, like this is a concept he's never heard of before. Like Dean didn't go trekking through Purgatory for a whole year with this very plan in mind.
It's the thing Dean's been hanging his heart on. Those very words. The step before 'family.'
The reply croaks out of his throat, far from casual. "Y-yeah. Yeah. Definitely. It would be... an advantage," he seems to decide. He sees Cas nod above him in the dim light. "You'll watch over me. While I sleep tonight, right?" Dean asks all of a sudden. "I mean, the blood loss and all."
"Of course," Cas says, instantly.
It's weird and transparent. It's like Dean's hearing the first echoes back at him. The first signs that Cas is finally coming to claim what's being offered. So, he adds, "And you'll come with us to the bunker after we wrap everything up tomorrow, right?"
Cas gives it a pause. "I'd like to," he says.
"Good," Dean says. "No take-backs," he adds.
"Nothing. I've been dying for you to stay."
"Blood loss," Cas repeats.
"No," Dean says, firm. "I want you to stay."
Cas seems to keep looking at him over the seat. At least that's what his shadow seems to do. When he drops back into a sit, Sam opens the door soon after.
"Gotta drive us to the other side of the lot. Dean awake?"
"Yo," Dean speaks up.
"Room 18," Sam says and drives them over.
Sam pushes Dean into the room and points him in the direction of the bathroom. He drops Dean's bag on the floor and shuts him in there.
Once they haul the rest of their stuff in, Cas watches Sam swallow hard, inspecting Dean's blood-soaked scrap of a shirt. He'd left it in the trunk, tossed it in with the other stuff. His life's blood all over it, the jagged cuts of claws making it seem a fragile thing.
Cas pulls the shirt from his hands after a few moments and balls it up. "Dean said it would be alright if I stayed. Is that fine with you, Sam?"
Sam is still watching the ball of cloth in Cas's hands. "Yeah. That's okay. Just, um. Just. I'm gonna go get us a couple burgers from across the street. Check on him, okay?" Sam finally tears his eyes away from the shirt.
Cas nods. "But you should change, too," he motions to the holes in Sam's own shirt. The rest had been healed when Cas flushed the powder out of his system.
But Sam's eyes keep dropping to the shirt in Cas's hands. He shakes himself and digs a jacket out of one of the bags. "I've got this. I'll be fine. Back in a few." He pretty much flees the room, clearly distressed. He'd seen, from across the wide field, the same thing that had shaken Cas up considerably.
That's his brother soaked into that shirt.
Cas finds a complimentary laundry bag in the closet and stuffs the shirt in. Ties it tight. Drops it in the wastebasket.
He doesn't intend to pry, but he can see well enough through the walls at a glance to know that Dean's alright. He's drifting through the process of showering a little slower than usual, but he'll be fine. Mostly he is trying to warm up in the hot water.
Sam had dumped his bag on the bed nearest the door, so Cas divides the other bags up between the appropriate beds. He reloads Dean's gun, safeties it, and puts it on the nightstand with the car keys.
He waits around for the shower to stop and still some more for an appropriate time to pass. When he knocks on the bathroom door, Dean's got new jeans on. He's pink and fresh and unbloodied. Unscathed except for the patterns of old scars.
He must stare for an inappropriate amount of time because Dean shifts, wordless, in the doorway, but doesn't turn back to his things to grab a shirt.
"I didn't say 'thanks,'" he says after a while. "So thanks, Cas."
Castiel finds that he can only nod but cannot manage to look away. Dean had been closer when he was breathing out what would have been his last words, about how he was going to contact him. I was gonna text you.
Dean is still shower damp and heat softened when he steps into Cas and wraps his arms around him. He smells clean. This close he smells strongly of his soap and shampoo and himself, just with some little iron traces of the blood he'd lost. Castiel closes his eyes and concentrates on smelling all but the blood, his hands drifting to Dean's sides.
Dean tightens around him. Castiel remembers this embrace from the riverside. It's different allowing himself to touch back.
There's a long moment, but Dean does pull away and Cas's eyes do open again. "Lose the jackets and shit, Cas. C'mon. This is home for the night, same rules apply."
He nods, and works on removing and folding his jackets and tie. Dean turns to get a shirt and then moves to take stock of his bags. "Sam went to get hamburgers," Cas remembers to say.
"Yes. Good. I'm starving. I think that wolf dude took a chunk of my stomach along with him when he came at me."
Cas looks up from taking off his shoes to convey with his face that this isn't an amusing theory. It's easy to look as stormy as he feels. Dean doesn't laugh at his own joke for long.
In the morning, after Sam passes on some select information to the authorities back across the border in Maine, they go home.
The hunt has shaken something loose in Sam. A kind of impatience. The job always reminds him of how little time they all have left. He's pissed at Dean for getting that torn up but not too pissed because he doesn't like thinking how close he came to losing him.
Mostly he's pissed that Dean didn't call Cas ahead of time for back-up.
Cas has got Dean's back. It should be automatic to call him for help. If Dean weren't spending so much time avoiding giving his goddamn feelings away, Cas would be sticking with them.
He drove back in the car with them to Kansas. He stuck around for a couple days. But then he got ansty about the angel tablet and decided to take off. Decided he had to check on it or move it to another stash spot or something.
Dean isn't brooding around the bunker or anything, but recently it takes him the first couple hours after Cas disappears to gather up his confidence again. To shake off the funk and ignore the parts of himself that so easily fuse to Cas when they're around each other.
Sam's not going to force the issue, he really isn't. He is, however, Dean's family. Family makes more problems than it solves. Sam sees where getting yourself stuck to somebody can hurt. Where allowing yourself to love can be more trouble than solace. He also sees Dean always alone. Always wrapping up into himself, wanting more, wanting to connect, but deciding it's safer alone.
There's safe and there's alive. And Sam wants Dean to live while he's alive.
He hasn't responded to Kevin's e-mails in a few days and, really, they're deteriorating in sense as they stack up in his inbox. Kevin needs company, too. Kevin needs a friend and Sam knows Kevin is growing into their family, as well. He needs somebody around.
Sam packs a couple bags, draws up a shopping list, and combs through the library for a few volumes that might help with the translations.
He makes all his plans and then determines that he'll leave on Friday morning with minimal notice. Bright and early. He'll let Dean know where he's going but won't give him any choice in the matter.
As he expected, Dean is already up, thumbing idly at his phone, caffeinating last night's alcohol away.
"Hey," Sam greets, already with his jackets on and with his second bag hanging from his shoulder. The other is already stashed by the exit, under a desk.
Dean looks up with interest.
"We goin' somewhere? Wait a minute, lemme get us some breakfast," he gets up, phone still in hand.
"Have you called Cas yet?" Sam asks, stepping into his path.
Dean narrows his eyes. "Last night. He's busy."
So that's two days, now, that Dean hasn't heard from him.
"Sam, Cas is just-"
"Gone again. He just went and left you without telling you where he was going. Wanna know where I'm going, Dean?"
Dean's eyes dart around like he's trying to figure out what this is. "Yes?"
"I'm gonna go help Kevin for a few days. I'm gonna clear outta the bunker and let you and Cas have the room so you can get Cas to settle in and you don't have to worry about having an audience when you finally tell him you're in love with him."
Dean's eyes go wide. "This is like nine kinds of none of your fucking business, Sam."
"You're making it my business," he pokes Dean in the chest with one firm finger. Big brother or not, Sam's got his boots on and Dean's in his socks so he's looming by about six inches and he's using all of that height, drawing himself up, laying down the law. "You were reckless charging into that field full of werewolves on your own. You didn't call Garth or Cas, you didn't find out if there was another hunter in the area, you didn't pause when you saw how many there were. You just charged in."
"If I hadn't you would have been puppy chow! Are you kidding me?"
"You call Cas all day but you don't call him when you need help? Dean, we need him as much as we can get him. And you need him. You told me this, weeks and weeks back. That you wanted to be with him but you needed me to be okay with it first." Sam throws his arms wide. "I'm fine with it. Cas will be fine with it. The way he looks at you, man? He loves you. And you've gotta trust me. It's gonna be alright. So when I get back, I just expect Cas to know he's going on the next hunt with us. And the next and every one after that. That if you're hunting, Cas is gonna be there."
"I can't just fucking tell someone what to do, I--"
"You ask, Dean. You ask like a big boy. You ask if Cas can love you enough to be here and you accept the fact that sometimes." Sam stops. He licks his lips and tries not to be wrecked by the idea. "Sometimes you can't love someone enough to be there. That might happen. But I don't think it will. Cas is like a brother to me. He's so much more to you. He'll be here. He'll love you, too. Stop giving him space. If he wants it he'll fucking ask for it."
Sam rearranges the strap of his bag on his shoulder and backs off, he heads toward the stairs. Pauses again.
"You never want space, Dean. You've always wanted somebody but you've been playing it safe, trying not to drag people down with you. Stop acting like you want space. Stop acting like you want Cas to have his space. I want you to smother each other and get it over with. You know where I'll be. I'll call before I head back."
"This is ridiculous," Dean calls after him, tossing his phone aside. He walks Sam up to the surface, anyhow, bitching the whole way about how Sam is butting in-- except that he's not butting in because he's going away. He needs to get his nose out of Dean's business-- except that Dean's the one who told Sam he loved Cas in the first place. By the time he hits the door he's just a sputtering fountain of incomprehensible anger.
Sam's last eye-roll before he gets in the cab he called does not disappoint. It's less of that, 'please be happy' bullshit and more 'this is a vacation -- I'm going on a vacation.'
The first thing Dean hears when trudging back into the bunker is his cell.
He RACES down to go answer it.
"Just making sure you're by your phone. Call Cas again," Sam demands, and hangs up.
"Mother. Fucker." Dean hisses. He'd be a great brother if he weren't such an unrelenting brat.
Dean's been relying on the cell phone lately. His thoughts don't feel safe. At least as far as smothering an unassuming Castiel with his feelings goes.
There's a certain amount of intent to prayer, thankfully. Cas doesn't tune in unless he's called and doesn't respond to stray thoughts or idle musing. It's hard to explain, but Dean has a handle on it, knows how much focus he has to put into a thought to slingshot it at the back of an angel's head.
Mostly these days he sits behind this wall of ambiguous thought about the laundry and the oil level in the car and the last time he had a really choice donut and that's where he thinks about Cas. Behind everything -- the laundry, it's the stupid button, clean and pristine as the jacket after Dean bled all over it, but there still. Something Dean gave him, marked him up with, something seemingly worth keeping.
The oil in the car. Gotta pick up a few quarts and -- imagining Cas with him. Imagining some doofy scenario where Cas would let him hold his hand across the seats, or reeling Cas in between his knees and kissing his forehead until the sunrise crests brilliant over a valley in Idaho while they listen to the radio.
Breakfast is harder to think about. Breakfast is Charlie and Cas and Sam. And, shit. Jody, Kevin, fuck it-- Benny. Garth. Dammnit. Breakfast is what happens after waking up in the warm sheets with his mouth pressed to the seam on the sleeve of the t-shirt Cas would borrow from him. Blinking awake over Cas's side and creeping his fingers over belly and chest, not wanting to wake but wanting to wake.
Cas doesn't eat. Cas doesn't sleep. Cas doesn't change fucking clothes. It will be a sun-shiny day in hell itself before Dean can rope more than four people into clattering cereal spoons with him and nudging his knee under the table.
He's pretty sure he doesn't start off there. Doesn't start searching for Cas in his head that way, seeing sunlight in the bunker where there is none only because he could imagine Cas next to him on the pillow.
But it turns into a prayer. He doesn't think the good stuff, the really good stuff that he wants in his gut and his dusty, aching soul. He inhales, sets his coffee cup to dry on the rack and leans over the sink thinking, Cas, your headphones plugged in?
The flap and rush of air is automatic.
"Good morning, Dean."
Dean huffs at him, then snags him by the jacket to draw him closer. He pulls at the fabric and grabs at Cas's coat pocket trying to find his cell phone. When he retrieves it, it's completely off.
"Oh," Cas says, takes it back, holds it between both his palms and glows into it. "I forgot to charge it," he explains.
"Nice," Dean says, unamused.
"I was actually about to come find you," Cas says, then pauses and turns an ear to the doorway. "Where's Sam?"
"He's gonna help Kevin while we've got time for it. What did you need us for?"
Cas goes tight-lipped all at once. He looks down to his phone, scrolls through the texts Dean sent him for a minute, then sighs. "You know I don't know what that acronym means."
Dean taps his hand, "Hey. Focus. What were you gonna find us for?"
"This is," Cas hesitates, like if he were anybody else, he'd be chewing on his lip or thinking of a tactful way of backing out. "It's not exactly of paramount importance. If there's something you can be doing to assist Kevin--"
"There's no work for the grunt yet," Dean says, indicating himself. "We gotta let Kevin do his brainpower thing and that's something Sam can help with. Come on, Cas, gimme some heavy lifting. Not like I had anything else planned for the day."
Cas cocks his head, doubtful and curious. "Then why were you calling me?"
"That's not important right now," he shakes his head. "What's up, Cas. Talk to me."
Castiel finally puts his phone back in his pocket and straightens. "I'm positive that this won't work. But I'd like to ask you to come to Indiana with me, anyway. Technically, you were a witness. You might be able to help me."
He was a witness? "What's in Indiana?"
Ignoring three rapid-fire texts and calls from Sam while checking into the motel distracts Dean enough that he accidentally gets a double. Cas doesn't need to sleep. Maybe he can have the bed with the best view of the TV.
(Maybe Dean can suggest that Cas stay in a casual enough manner that he'll get to roll over in the morning and watch the sunrise light him up on the other side of the motel room. He can watch the orange of it set fire to his dark hair and watch for when studious regard turns into humor, pleasure, with the little uptick at the corner of his mouth.)
He gives Cas a copy of the room key and lets him get familiar with the wide range of movie channels while he changes into something with a tie and creases.
Cas's eyes keep darting over to Dean like he's worried Dean is gonna blow up at any second. So he concentrates on projecting just how okay this is. Cas keeps mumbling about how it's a waste of time.
Dean's gone searching for things he didn't expect to find before. He's found them, too. You never know.
He's straightening his tie in the mirror when Cas gets up and grabs his gun and wallet to bring to him.
He mumbles thanks and arranges everything in his pockets so it looks natural under his suitjacket. He stands a bit taller in a suit.
Cas looks down at his own tie and attempts to undo and retie it without it falling backwards again. Dean was just gonna leave it. Cas looks like such a harried professional, anyway, wide-eyed and nervous; he pulls it off. But he pushes at Cas's shoulder until he turns and lifts his chin. Dean fixes his collar for him and sweeps the blue tie flat. "You're good. You have your old ID? I've got one in the car."
Cas digs through his pockets again and comes up without a fake badge. Dean waves him off and leads the way out of the room. "What are we even going to ask them?"
Dean thinks about it while he digs through the trunk for the fake cards. "We're... following up on some missing persons cases. Cold cases I guess. Or no. We're, um. Yeah. Got a lead that one of the missing persons in our district in...," he sorts through the IDs and comes up with some for the City of Chicago, "Cook County. One of the John Does that had body parts recovered at the scene, we think we can ID him."
Cas is quiet until Dean sorts out a flask of holy water and a knife for himself and shuts the trunk. Cas's palm lands on top of it and he purses his lips before saying, "This is a waste of time, Dean, really, we could--"
Dean slaps the leather-bound ID holder against his chest to silence him and simply walks to the driver's side.
A field is where they end up, just before nightfall.
Cas crouches by the stripped stone foundation and sweeps his hand over a patch of tall grass that reaches to brush his fingers.
Dean only watches. Keeps his eyes on the curve of Cas's back and tries to divine his mood from what little of his profile he'll allow to be seen.
When he stands it's not in that tense way, that angelic way. His shoulders slope slightly down and his head leans to the side in chagrin, not curiosity. His jaw ticks.
"You, I donno. Feel anything?" Dean asks.
Castiel shakes his head. His hand goes to stretch in front of him again but retracts and tucks into his pocket.
"Does that mean... What does that mean?"
"It doesn't mean anything. It's been a long time. Even the scar of grace on the earth could have gone. Would have gone. Creation from destruction. It could be the grass. Or it could have been swept away when the building was demolished."
Curiosity gets the better of Dean and he asks before thinking it through. "Lucifer was here, too. He's the one who did it. Would his evil scar the earth or something?" He envisions wildflowers turning to mold and rot at Lucifer's very touch, and only after that recalls the Lucifer he'd been shown in 2014. Full of grace. Of creation and beauty, just like the other angels. Better, in fact.
"Sorry, that was a stupid question," Dean quickly amends.
"No," Cas turns. "It's not. There's nothing lingering of him. He's not a spirit. He would prefer, I'm sure, to have left a part of himself in the living world so he could more easily return here, but that's not how it works."
He takes one final look around.
"Gabriel is gone," he says. Giving up. "This was a foolish idea."
"No," Dean says for the hundredth time. "It wasn't. There are still ways we can look for him. I mean. What if we did some heavy-duty summoning or something? Just to make sure he doesn't pop up?"
"You had to flee the hotel and you left Gabriel here with Lucifer. Sam said he was certain that he saw, through Lucifer, what he had to do. That he killed Gabriel after you left. It was a foolish hope. It was foolish," he repeats, shoulders slumping more.
"Gabriel disappeared for, what, thousands of years? And showed up alive? It's not hard to imagine he'd do it again if he could swing it, Cas."
Cas spreads his arms out to the side. The plains beyond him, and all around the flat grass and cracked cement of where the Elysian Fields Hotel used to stand. "Dean. This is me nurturing a delusion that I could save someone after killing so many." His hands drop. "This is me being desperate and foolish and you've taken the time, before, to corner me and tell me I was being an idiot and I didn't believe you. I think," he swallows. "I think I need you to tell me, now, that I'm being a... stubborn... moron. And that I have to move on from this. That I can't undo everyone I killed by hoping that some were simply playing dead."
Dean narrows his eyes. "You didn't kill Gabriel, Cas."
"If I had listened to you. At so many points. At so many different points, if I had simply trusted in you, in us as a team, and followed your direction and believed in you? There might be even more people, more brothers and sisters,... everyone. So many who might not have died. If I'd just listened."
"My word's not gospel, Cas," he says, low. "I fuck up. So much." He shakes his head. "You have no idea."
"Not on this scale."
"Alright," Dean massages the space between his eyes briefly, "I don't understand what this has to do with Gabriel."
Cas shakes his head. "He, out of all of them, could have put on a show elaborate enough to make him look truly dead. Or. Or, I don't know." He restarts. "Or I'm desperate. And I have no idea what I'm doing. I have left piles of bodies in my wake and this was the one I never laid eyes on. It was a desperate hope. It was foolish. Can we agree on that, now?"
Dean's throat closes up and stings. The way Cas looks right now. Just asking to be told that he can't change anything and that his screw-ups are final and there's no redemption for him. Dean can't say those things. Can't come close. If that's true for Cas, then it certainly is for him, and even Sam in some ways. He can't do that.
And he can't order Cas to do anything. Let alone give up on something so harmless as hope.
"There are other ways we can look at- other ways to find out, I mean. He liked that Kali chick. What about her? What about the summonings in her religion? What if we could talk to her?"
Cas just keeps staring at him. His mouth might have fallen open in utter shock if he were anyone else.
"Could he have left his vessel here and made it look permanent? Could he have gotten another one? I know some angels can't use more than one vessel. Maybe he did, maybe he knew how," he keeps theorizing.
Cas shakes his head. "Stop."
"Why not," Cas demands.
"I wanna help you, I wasn't bullshitting about that, Cas. What do you want to do? Do you wanna give up? Do you wanna keep looking? I'll go wherever you want. But you have to want it."
"You know I'm wrong," Cas says, voice booming across the field.
"Cas," Dean sighs. "If you've taught me anything, it's that I don't know shit. I just know how to keep going." He shakes his head. "I don't know that you're wrong. What I do know is."
What he does know is how much he doesn't want to be walking away from Cas again, or watching him run off. Or fearing that he'll go away, rattled and hurting, and not come back.
"Is that I wanna help you. How can I help. Huh?" he closes the space between them. Puts his hand on Cas's arm. Squeezes and lets go instead of dragging their hands together. "What do you think? What's the next step? Tell me."
"I don't want to," Cas starts, eyes a little far off. He pauses. "I don't want to dredge up anything harmful. But. It would help if I could talk to Sam." He straightens a little and searches Dean's face. "I want to talk to Sam."
Dean nods. "Okay. 'Kay, here," he pulls out his cell phone and pulls Sam's number up quick. "Hold on."
Sam starts out mocking but Dean makes it clear this phone call is for Cas.
Cas needs help, and this isn't a joke.
He passes the phone. He wanders in the long shadows and growing weeds while Cas talks quietly.
Dean calls his brother again in the morning. Cas stayed. He'd sat on the other bed and borrowed Dean's laptop to do who-knows-what. All he said about it was that he'd looked up some rituals. But he wanted to go home.
What's important is that he stayed. And while Dean runs out to get breakfast, Cas is packing the stuff up and getting ready to head out. Getting ready to go home to the bunker.
Sam's eager to know, "Is he okay?"
"I donno. We're working on it. I think maybe we always will be. You said you and Samuel tried looking for Gabriel before?"
"And you didn't tell me?"
"Dean, I didn't remember until, I donno. A while ago. You know that time without my soul? It doesn't come in so clear for the most part. Something'll jog my memory and," Dean hears the faint sound of Sam snapping his fingers on the other end. "But, yeah. We were looking for a trickster. And I thought it could be him. But it was a weaker one. Nothing near as powerful. We looked into it while we were researching. There was a body, it was cremated. Meaning it stuck around long enough to get shoved in a furnace. I mean, if Gabriel's still around and he's not showing, he's playing celestial hide-and-seek or something? Then I don't think there's anything for it."
"Fuck. I mean not that I liked the guy. But. Well. Cas."
"Yeah, I know. Sucks. Sorry, man. So you're headed back? Cas is coming with you, right?"
"I-- yeah. I think so."
"I know so," Sam says with more surety.
The static of air as Sam sighs. "You know I love you-"
"I hate it when you start lectures like that," Dean moans, parking the car at the first fast food joint he finds.
Sam laughs. "You know I love you, man. And I'm happier than anything that you're okay. But when I saw you like that in the field, staring at Cas like it would be the last time you saw him, knowing that you hadn't told him yet. Look. You didn't afford me the same with Amelia. And I am still pissed about things that happened. And... I don't know where they're going for me now. But I know at the end of the day you wouldn't begrudge me that life if it was what made me safest and happiest and you would have let me have it. You really would have. I need you to do this thing that you've been worrying about, Dean."
Dean stares at nothing, circling the steering wheel idly with his fingers. Very judicious of Sam to call it 'this thing' instead of 'messy love confession.'
"It's not unreciprocated," Sam says into the silence. "It's not a whim, it's been building and it's important. I've seen it happen. And just because he's an angel-"
"He's also a 'he,'" Dean interrupts.
"And? What, you're gonna try and convince me that gender is a bigger issue here than species?"
"I just didn't. I donno," Dean says, still seeing nothing in front of him.
"This isn't a mission, Dean. This isn't the next thing you have to fight. This is the bunker. It's a space of your own. A little peace."
Cas is peace?
Cas is so not peace.
Cas is violence and action and stubborn and blunt. Fierce. Strange. Invisible and old. Flying and dying.
And Dean can keep him, all thousand towering feet of grace and rage, boxed up in a motel room while he gets a chicken sandwich for breakfast.
Well, fuck me running, his brain says when it knows, all at once, that Sam is right.
That this will actually work.
The car ride is quiet, but they're together.
The stops are quiet, but they're together.
They talk some. Cas hurts a little. Doesn't want to look anyplace else for Gabriel and, at the same time, does. Dean knows how that goes. But he doesn't want Cas to chain himself to redemption. It can't be what he does with the rest of his life.
Dean's hands tighten on the steering wheel when the inevitable thought follows, Cas is what I'm doing for the rest of my life, and double entendre aside, he intends to make it good.
So, well, actually. Maybe double entendre not aside. He does intend to make it good, every way he can.
They get back after nightfall. Cas follows Dean into his room with his other bag.
He imitates Dean in taking off his shoes but before he can shrug off his jacket, Dean steps in and pulls him closer by the lapel.
He dips his hand into each pocket and comes up with things. There's some change and an old gold coin with an ancient language on it. There are little balled-up receipts and stray strings. A dry leaf. Cas watches from up close as Dean pulls out each object. Cas had taken his 'excited to be here' pin off before they entered the police station in Indiana. Dean had looked away one moment and it was gone. He's pleased to find it in the left pocket. He pins it back to the front of Cas's coat.
Cas smiles down as his fingers drift away. From his pants pockets, Cas produces his cell phone and an individually-wrapped Twizzler.
Dean accepts them both. The Twizzler he unwraps and rips in half and hands the bigger part to Cas. He chews on the second piece and unlocks Cas's phone.
He scrolls through the apps and contacts. No surprise that there are several listings for both Sam and himself. They have to go through a lot of phones to keep from being traced. At some point Cas just started calling them like "Sam September" and "Dean January."
There's one listed "Home."
The number looks familiar.
But he doesn't ask. He hands the phone back over.
"Coats off?" Cas asks.
When he emerges for breakfast, Cas is all rolled up shirtsleeves and strangely tanned skin. Dean gets a good look at him still leaning over the laptop before he proceeds to the kitchen. "Mornin' Cas."
"Good morning, Dean. There's coffee."
"Nice. You eat yet?"
Cas still gets thrown by that kind of onward roll of normality. "Nn..... no?"
Dean scrubs a hand back through his hair, wet from the shower, and considers for a moment. He feels fresh and light and new. He wants Cas to feel the same, to put his most recent disappointment behind himself. He can't tell what Cas was researching all night, but he doesn't have a good feeling about it. Cas isn't slumped or mournful still. He made coffee. He deserves to start a new day. Dean wants him to feel like life goes on.
He grabs cereal, two bowls, two spoons, and he comes to set the milk on the table next to Cas's elbow.
Cas blinks up.
"Come up top with me."
"Up top? The roof?" Cas stands, shutting the laptop lid.
Dean nods to the half-full gallon and also hands Cas the two spoons.
He heads for the tower.
When Cas has stuck around in recent months, he's helped Dean work through the many floors of the power plant structure that the bunker was built around. There are loads of old documents, boxes, objects, artifacts, and substance samples. The important stuff seems to be filed properly, below. So the less vital information seems to have been stored in the exposed brick tower that's set against the hillside.
Dean's wandered to the top before, but he doesn't think he's showed Cas yet. There's a square access door at the top of the stairs and a simple, flat roof.
Dean heads to the edge and sits, his bare feet against the building, sat facing towards the east. Cas lowers next to him and scoots right to the edge, though he sits with his legs crossed and sets their spoons on his knee. They dish out the cereal and milk between them and join the sunrise already in progress.
The cool morning gets warmer. The sun pinkish red, almost unbearably bright. But Dean endures it. It's sunrise, everything coming to life. Not that the birds start chattering around here. Something about the bunker keeps even the surrounding trees quiet. But some deeply human part of him, something in his marrow, fills with every inch of light that edges over the horizon. Sunrise is when it's safe, when things begin anew, when the dark is pushed back a while longer.
Cas leaves the dregs of the milk in his bowl and sets it aside to lean back and absorb, too.
Dean drags the bowl back and stacks it inside his.
"Why did you go to Indiana with me? I still can't figure it. You knew we wouldn't find anything there. You knew."
Dean doesn't have to pause to consider. "You wanted to try. I wanted you to try."
"You knew it was a waste of your time."
"I wasn't doin' anything else important, Cas."
Cas is silent.
Dean amends: "I didn't have anything else going on. And you're important. And the things that are important to you are important to me," he says slowly. The sun burning away everything that's extraneous, giving him the pure words he needs to drive the point home. "I didn't need for there to be anything there. I needed to support you while you looked. While you went after this because it meant something to you. There have been enough times I haven't been there when you asked."
"As there have been on my part." Cas at least agrees. "We've hurt each other. And I don't want to do that anymore."
Dean shakes his head. "Well. Me neither."
He takes a deep breath.
"I wanna show you. That I love you." His throat almost closes up on him. "And that I'm gonna be there for you. And that I want you here. That's why I went with, even thinking there wouldn't be much to find. Because that's what you do."
Dean nods. "That's what you do for family."
"We've done a lot more for each other than visit old crime scenes."
"Well, yeah," Dean says. "I wanna do more. I wanna give you something."
Cas turns his head to look at him. "You already gave me something."
Dean's hand rattles the bowls when he moves to get up. He scoops them and the box up. Cas grabs the milk and Dean doesn't restrain himself from reaching, because Cas is too close to the edge. He might still be invulnerable but you don't let your person fall off a fucking roof.
He leads the way back downstairs.
In the living quarters, they take their fresh cups of coffee to one of the darkened rooms.
Dean snaps the light switch on. The room's been made up for a while. All intention of Kevin moving in some day or of offering it to anybody who ended up needing shelter.
But Cas is here, and this room has a coat rack of its own.
"You should have a room for yourself," Dean says, and motions Cas to enter in front of him.
"I wanna give you that," Dean says to Cas's back as he's silent, taking in the deep corners of the room and the sparse walls. "I want you to have a place to call home. Your own space, a space you own."
He snaps the light off and then on again, so Cas turns his attention back.
"I want you to stay, I mean. If that's something you think you want."
Castiel seems to consider him for a while. Then he comes forward and flips off the switch again. He moves around Dean to leave and walk quietly back to Dean's room.
There, Cas snaps on the light and eyes up his coat dominating the rack in the corner, before he steps inside and places his coffee mug on the bedside table.
Dean puts his mug on the desk and rubs his jaw and tries not to read anything into Cas's actions.
He watches a moment while Cas takes off his tie and drapes it on the coatrack, too. While he's there, he digs those little handfuls of stuff back out of his pockets, the things that Dean had picked out of them the night before. He takes these objects across the room and dumps them on the dresser. Cas flattens out the receipts and stacks the coins on top of them. He removes his cell phone from his pocket and puts it on the nightstand next to his mug of coffee.
Castiel turns back to Dean. He swallows, stands straighter, seems determined. "This is my home."
"Right," Dean agrees at once.
"So I can choose where I want to be. Where 'my own space' will be."
Dean doesn't grin. Or he doesn't want to be grinning like some loon. He doesn't know if he can really feel his face right now. He thinks he might be floating back up into the tower and out of the bunker entirely.
"So my space can be in here, with you."
Quiet and calm in the room, in the whole bunker with just the two of them. In the dark and quiet corners of their home. That is exactly how he had wanted this to happen all along.
Not out on the job in some anonymous motel. Not at the last minute with one of them bleeding out over a gut wound. Not desperately, after fighting each other tooth and nail to stay away from what is, resoundingly, a true, good thing. A good idea. A good feeling. A lightness grown between them. That's not when this should happen.
Now is when this should happen.
Home is where he wants this to happen.
Arguably, anyplace would have been fine, but pressed close in privacy, breathing the same air and stillness, is better. Is lovelier and warmer and better. It shows their respect for each other, that they should wait to kiss when they're home, safe. Dean likes to think this is how anybody would want to be kissed. So he does.
Dean pulls Cas in like he's been doing, plucking at the fabric of his shirtfront and drawing him close. If Cas had wanted space, Cas would never have allowed all the times he'd done it. He smiles and steps into the kiss while Dean's paused a moment, feeling electrified by that look of pleasure.
Cas really had wanted this. And now that Dean's made it clear what this home means, made it clear that Cas belongs here as much as Dean and Sam do, he can accept Dean's kisses, his affection and love, without further hesitation. Without worrying ever again if he's welcome.
Dean wants to twine them up and get them all confused, combine their socks in one drawer and leave his marks all over Cas so he will always come back. And Cas has to understand that Dean always wants him to come back, beyond all reason, and since he wants to come back all the time, anyway, he would be helping Dean by staying and loving him back and no longer pulling away.
He'll work on it, he thinks. He will remind Cas constantly and he will buy Cas new ties and give Cas things. Dean wants a picture of him to tack up above the dresser. He wants Cas to come to bed with him and read while he sleeps.
Dean doesn't need him to pretend he is human.
He pulls away and looks at Cas's kiss-reddened lips. They smile. It tugs on his insides.
He just needs him to want this.
At night, Cas lets Dean pull his slacks and shirt off. And everything else.
They go right where they belong. A puddle on the floor, tossed on top of Dean's jeans.
Cas stays warm along his side for as long as he wants.
Right up until Dean unfolds from around him and leans up on his elbows.
He reaches over Castiel and grabs for the phone on his nightstand. (On what is, now, and for as long as he wants, Cas's side, where his stuff goes.)
Cas makes no sound, observing, supporting the weight of Dean lying atop him briefly with no comment. Dean thumbs through the contacts again and he dials that mysterious number. 'Home.'
Behind Dean, on the floor, his phone rings in his pants pocket.
Dean's smile brightens the room for him, wide and happy and stupid in fucking love. Cas watches this, watches Dean's lips curve and his eyes crinkle at the corners and yanks him down to kiss when he can't stand it anymore, the flare of joy in him and love and want.
Though Dean's mouth is otherwise occupied from illuminating the room, the moment is not over.