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The ride back from Flint is quiet. Dean drives on autopilot; he sticks to the interstate, even though that means late-night traffic through Lansing and the Chicago suburbs, and he keeps the radio low, just a dull murmur under the rumble of Baby's engine. It's a cool night, mist beading on the windshield and rainclouds gathering to the north. Every rough patch of road makes the necklace Marie gave him jump and swing on its cord.

They stop for the night outside Joliet in Minooka, at a tired-looking motel just a few blocks south of I-80. Their room is bigger than what Dean had expected from the outside, and Baby is the third car in a parking lot meant for at least twenty, so Dean parks right in front of the door. He snags the bed closest to the window, and he starts unlacing his boots the second he sits down.

A couple minutes later, Sam comes in with a six-pack and his laptop and the reloading press, which -- yeah. They've only got about a hunt's worth of salt rounds left, but Dean isn't too interested in fixing that tonight.

"You hitting the sack?" Sam asks.

It's pretty early for them -- just a little after one in the morning -- but it's been the kind of day that makes him feel like an old man. Hanging out with high school kids, and getting tossed around by that scarecrow -- he's fucking exhausted.

"Yeah," he replies, pulling off his socks. "You should, too. We can get an early start tomorrow -- catch some breakfast at the diner down the road, maybe find ourselves a new case."

Sam's mouth twitches. "Just the two of us against the world?"

The three of us, Dean thinks, switching off the bedside lamp.

 

+

 

Sam turns in shortly after that, leaving the motel room quiet and dark, but Dean doesn't fall asleep. The vacancy sign flashes through the window, washing the kitchenette in a dull, red glow despite the dusty curtains; it's just bright enough that Dean can track the rhythm of it with his eyes closed, but that isn't what's keeping him awake. His problem is the two girls from the play -- the Dean and the Cas -- and how they'd looked hugging each other, wrapped up in each other, maybe even -- well.

It's not like Dean doesn't know. There's no way he couldn't know at this point, not after all the time they've spent working together, fighting beside each other, saving each other. It's just one of the four billion things Dean refuses to think about, because it's not like they can just -- they fucking can't.

Dean doesn't have any illusions, about himself or the job. Hunters don't live long enough to get old, and they don't live clean enough to never make enemies, and they don't live easy enough to really settle down. Dean's relationship history is both a minefield and proof positive that he isn't exactly boyfriend material, and Cas -- Cas is a fucking angel, and he's currently living on borrowed grace. Between the two of them, they wouldn't even know where to start.

But.

Sometimes, the other side of Dean's bed feels cold.

Sometimes, his left shoulder aches like something is burning beneath his skin.

 

+

 

They pull into Lebanon just after midnight.

The bunker feels like a tomb, all cold shadows and silence; Dean puts Hair of the Dog on the record player and reads an article in Tulsa World about an unexplained death in Sand Springs.

 

+

 

Four days later, Cas turns up at the bunker looking heathy but irritable and kind of like he drove through the night. His hair is disheveled, and his shirt is unbuttoned at the neck. He smells like the interior of the Continental, old leather and a stale peach air freshener; Dean wants to pull him close, maybe kiss the hollow of his throat.

"You doing all right?" he asks instead, because Cas is just standing in the doorway, his head tilted to the side as November gusts into the bunker around him.

"Yes, I -- yes." Cas frowns at Dean for another second, then steps inside far enough for Dean to shut the door. He opens his mouth, then closes it, then sighs and says, "I was just remembering another time when I -- Dean, I don't want to burden you with my problems, but -- "

"Hey, no. Don't worry about that. Whatever you need, man. You know that."

"I do, yes. It's just -- angels are tiresome creatures."

Dean snorts under his breath. "You don't have to tell me twice. Come on, I'll make some coffee."

"I don't need coffee."

"Yeah, but it can't hurt," Dean says, nudging him toward the stairs.

 

+

 

They drink it in the kitchen, sitting across from each other at the tiny table wedged between the fridge and the pantry door.

"I drank a lot of coffee," Cas says, cradling the cup in his hands. "Before -- when I worked at the Gas & Sip."

Dean forces a smile; Cas' human Idaho adventure is another one of the four billion things he tries not to think about. "Is this better or worse?"

"Different," Cas says thoughtfully. "As a human, I only tasted the coffee. Now I taste the beans, and the ash from the roaster, and the leaves of the coffee shrub, and the dirt it was planted in."

"Okay, Mister Wizard."

Cas' mouth curls up at the corners, but he doesn't say anything else. Dean lets the silence drag on for a minute or two, listening to the uneven drip of the faucet, the dull hum of the fridge.

Then: "What happened to your partner?"

"She had to abandon her vessel. It may take her a few days to locate a new one." Cas sips his coffee, then makes a lemon face and sets it aside. "She -- that's why I'm here."

"Oh," Dean says, something sour knotting in the back of his throat. "Did you two -- were you guys" -- Jesus Christ, he can't even say it -- "did you two -- um."

Cas shifts in his chair. "No. We -- no. These last few weeks, we have been trying to find the angels who have not returned to heaven."

"Okay," Dean says, finishing his coffee. He starts to get up for a refill, but Cas catches his wrist. His thumb brushes over Dean's pulse, and they stare at each other until Dean finally clears his throat and says, "So -- what? Are these runaway wingnuts giving you trouble?" He's not sure how much help he and Sam will be against angels, but if Cas is asking, they'll do their best.

"No," Cas says quietly. He releases Dean's wrist and pushes his barely-touched coffee across the table. "That's just it. They haven't caused any trouble -- not unless provoked."

"Provoked?"

Cas sighs. "These angels have made lives for themselves here, and now all they want is to be left alone. After everything -- after Daniel, after Adina" -- he frowns and touches his chest -- "I'm no longer sure forcing them to return is the best path."

"Then don't," Dean says selfishly. He knows he should encourage Cas to go back -- to go home -- but the thought leaves him so cold he can barely breathe. "Look, Metatron screwed you guys over good, and -- yeah, some of you made a mess while you were down here, but that -- it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You don't have to put everyone on time out just because a few of you screwed up."

"My partner -- she doesn't think it's possible. She doesn't think angels can live among humans without causing destruction."

"What do you think?" Dean asks, and this is dangerous ground, thin ice. He can feel it cracking under his feet. "What do you want?"

Cas is silent for a long moment, long enough that Dean almost changes the subject, if only to stop the embarrassed flush crawling up the back of his neck. He sips Cas' coffee, which has sat just long enough to be slightly bitter; as he sets the cup down, Cas reaches out, sliding his hand over Dean's jaw, and says, "I want to stay here."

"Cas."

"You must know," Cas says, his eyes very wide and very blue. "You must."

"Yeah, I -- yeah." Dean turns his head a little, letting his mouth brush the heel of Cas' hand. "I do."

Cas watches him, his head tilted to the side and his mouth open just enough to show the pink of his tongue, and Dean tries to tamp down the weirdly hopeful feeling brimming in his chest. He should just tell Cas no, that it isn't going to work, that he isn't willing to try, that he doesn't -- that he just doesn't.

He leans across the table and kisses Cas instead.