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a crooked splinter

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"This is stupid," Dean says.

"No, it's not," Sam says, his tone already wheedling through the other line. Dean snorts, tightening one hand on the steering wheel. "It'll be great."

"Yeah, you know what else you think is great? Sudoku. Greek salads. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You know what sucks? All of those things."

"First off," Sam says, "you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And secondly, this is exactly what we all need right now."

"Yeah," Dean scoffs. He shifts his arm to readjust his grip on the wheel, and the Mark catches on the fabric of the flannel like an old scab. "Exactly what we need. A ski trip, Cabin in the Woods-style."

Sam sighs.

While hunting what was supposedly a Yeti, according to a bunch of local stoned college students, in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, Sam had decided to do all three of them a favor and book a cabin ten miles outside Keystone for four days as an escape from Possibly-Third-Armageddon events. For like, literally no reason.

"You know what happens to people like us in old mountain cabins, Sam?" Dean asks. "The next Blair Witch Project."

"That movie sucked," Sam says. "And besides, you've got Cas to protect you."

Dean tosses a half-hearted scowl toward Cas in the passenger seat, who's fixated on his phone with a half-relaxed, half-concentrated frown. He's typing out every single emoji in straight, linear lines into a texting bubble.

Dean lowers the phone receiver to his cheek. "Uh, what are you doing?"

"Claire," Cas replies, distractedly, "is very skilled at emoji use. My ineptitude in it is a constant source of mockery and amusement for her, so I've set out to remedy it."

"And you've left me with the Great Emoji Warrior," Dean says sarcastically, to Sam now. "What could go wrong?"

Approximately four seconds pass before Dean receives a text from Cas, which contains a simple mad-faced emoji.

"You shut up," Dean says out loud, frowning over at Cas.

Cas sends him an angel emoji.

"Well, it sounds like you two are having fun," Sam says in a bright voice that Dean knows is intentionally used to annoy him. "So I'm gonna head out and wrap up the rest of this case. I'll meet you there tomorrow around noon."

"Whatever," Dean grumbles, and hangs up.

--

"Home sweet home," Dean says sarcastically when he opens the cabin door, and drops his duffel loudly as a punctuation mark. "Not."

"I like it," Cas says, sliding in behind him and heading toward the kitchen.

"This whole thing is stupid," Dean says, to no one in particular. "There's no point in being here."

Cas doesn't answer, but Dean hears the hush of a cabinet door opening in the kitchen. Dean can hear a lot of things now, thanks to the Mark.

Usually, if he were in a better mood, he'd check out all the other rooms, or even the views from all the windows, but as it is, Dean's in an incredibly shitty mood, so he moves toward the TV and navigates through the three channels that are available.

He settles on a Spanish soap channel, because that's far more interesting than a documentary about tadpoles, and settles deep into the leather couch cushions. He elbows a pillow to prop himself upright when Cas comes back in.

Cas looks at Dean hesitantly, before he settles on the far end of the couch. They don't speak, except for Cas' quiet translations when the Spanish gets too fast for Dean to understand, and Dean itches at the Mark with a thumbnail until it turns an angrier shade of red. He sometimes is so wild with desperation and hatred for the thing that he considers just scraping it off with his pocketknife, but he has a feeling the Mark has deeper roots in him than his skin.

"Dean," Cas says, his eyes focused on where Dean is idly tracing the sickle-shaped arch of the Mark with a fingernail. "Don't mess with that."

"Whatever," Dean says, and keeps tracing the shape with the pad of his thumb. Cas goes quiet at that, perhaps sensing Dean's foul mood, and spends the rest of the evening focused on the TV with a quiet, feigned scrutiny. Dean can feel Cas' periphery surveillance of him, and wants to resent him for it.

Sometime before Dean conks out, he says, "I'm sorry," just to hear himself say it one more time, and Cas says, "For what?"

"I've been in a shitty mood and taking it out on you. I just….I can't…." Dean swallows and fiddles with the flap of his sleeve where it touches the base of the Mark. "I can't control it. I'm angry all the time. I'm so fucking angry, Cas."

"It's not your fault," Cas says, softly. "I know that, Dean."

Dean fades out after that, too scared and miserable to stay awake, and when he wakes up again, Cas is half-sprawled on top of him like a human quilt, his cheekbone digging into Dean's hip. Dean blinks in surprise. Cas' arm is draped over him, his thumb resting against the Mark on Dean's arm.

Dean knows all of a sudden with this funny, clenching feeling in his chest what Cas had been doing. Either that, or Dean's first time in months waking up without the tang of blood in his mouth is a hell of a coincidence. It's been awhile since Cas has been on nightmare patrol for him, maybe years, since hell, and Dean feels a sticky sense of discomfort at the thought of Cas knowing the dark, ugly things knocking around in his brain.

He wants to wake Cas, roll him over, shove him off, but he doesn't do any of those things. Cas shouldn't be sleeping, anyway--isn't he an angel again? Angel enough to heal, human enough to sleep, Dean guesses. He just blinks out at the way he can see snow collecting like fleece in the windowsills, bluish from the light of the muted TV, and falls asleep again.

When he wakes up again, Cas is gone and it's morning. Cas is talking to Sam on the phone, scratching a hand through his hair and saying, "Yes, I'll tell him. Drive safely." He hangs up and stares at his phone for a few more minutes.

"That Sam?" Dean asks in a groggy voice, and Cas gives a quiet start then looks over at him.

"Yes," Cas says, pocketing his phone. "The weather overnight blocked off almost all of the upper mountain roads. He won't be able to make it here until at least tomorrow."

"Figures," Dean grumbles, then sighs, draping a forearm across his closed eyes to block out the light. "This was his dumb idea."

"I made hot chocolate," Cas says, apropos of nothing. He holds up the mug he's got in his hand in a gesture of invitation and nods to another mug on the coffee-table, next to Dean.

Dean peeks at him from under his arm, then frowns. "Why not coffee?"

"I think chemicals like caffeine might aggravate the Mark's effects," Cas says, looking strangely self-conscious. "Just a precaution though."

"Look at you," Dean says, pulling himself into a sitting position, and he doesn't mean for it to sound snide but it definitely does. "Playing nurse."

A sudden stab of pain resonates in Dean's skull, behind his temple, and he sucks out a low groan of pain and attempts to stand. Everything is dizzy. He can taste the hot rancor of blood in his palate, rotting flesh where he'd stripped it from corpses with his teeth--

He counts in deep breaths, trying not to lose it, one hand shaded over his eyes.

Cas walks to him and with hot chocolate curled in one hand, he uses the other to press a thumb firmly into the Mark on Dean's arm. Dean flinches in surprise, then hisses low between his teeth as a tendril of something icy-hot lances through him, the kind of bone-deep, pure cold that burns. It burns the way saltwater had burned when he was a demon, a sharp sting behind his teeth, and suddenly he's yanking his arm away and snapping, "Don't."

Cas just stares at him, his hand still cupped in the shape of Dean's arm, before his jaw tightens, then clenches with frustration. "I'm trying to help you, Dean."

"Well, quit it," Dean says, unrolling his sleeve along his arm to cover the Mark. "Save your grace for something that actually matters."

Cas' head gives a slight list to the side, uncomprehending.

"You matter," he says, blankly, as though citing some uncontested truth.

Dean gets this thick, cottony feeling in his mouth, in his throat, and he says, "Don't do that."

"Don't do what?"

"You know what." Dean takes the hot chocolate from Cas' grasp, and presses his fingers into the ceramic until it burns steadily.

Cas presses his lips together into a white line. He turns sideways and pauses, as though meaning to go to the kitchen, and sometimes, in rare moments, Dean thinks he still has the stiff, marble features he did when they first met, that seraphic, unfeeling grace--but Cas' edges are softer now, a gentle, rounded pinch in his brow, his eyes creased with worry, his mouth relaxed into something somber or bitter.

"I'll make you coffee," Cas says, quietly, and Dean's chest tightens and fills like it's going to burst, like a helium balloon waiting to pop. The burn in his fingers feels waxy now.

"Hey," he says in this cheery, false voice that has Cas turning to him in guarded surprise. "We should go for a walk. Get outside the house, you know?"

Cas frowns. "And do what?"

"We can…." Dean casts his eyes around the room, desperate for something to decompress the dark mood in the room. They land on the fireplace. "We can collect firewood."

Cas looks at him cautiously, relaxing a bit. "Okay."

"It's gonna be freaking cold, though, so uh." Dean sets the hot chocolate down on the coffee-table. "You're gonna need layers, and gloves. And probably a hat."

"Okay," Cas says again, looking at Dean all bemused, and Dean would feel shitty and self-conscious if it weren't for the way Cas' mouth tilts up at the edge, like a reward for Dean's obvious efforts.

"Great," he says gruffly, and brushes past Cas to unzip his duffel.

It takes a moment to root through the layers of packed clothes, and when he turns to Cas, shrugging on his jacket, Cas is struggling with one of his gloves with a dark frown.

Dean grins at the stupid way Cas' hat flops out from his ears, which Cas notices and asks, irritably, "What?"

"Nothing." He turns away to leaf through clothes for his gloves. "You're a fierce warrior, Cas."

Cas is scowling at him when Dean straightens, which Dean finds even more hilarious, and he reaches over to flatten Cas' hat to the top of his head. Cas ducks away from him moodily, aware he's being made fun of, and Dean's still grinning on his way out the door, and the smile hurts, like his face is one giant bruise.

Snow crowds in through the open front door, a little higher than knee-length, and Dean gives a groan-laugh and attempts to step out into it, Cas' hands shadowing his shoulder-blades as though he's afraid he'll fall. Some of the packed snow gives under his weight after the first step, sending more crumbling in through the doorway. "Shit. No wonder Sammy couldn't make it out here."

"It's going to be considerably difficult to find firewood in all of this," Cas says, and Dean wants to say he doesn't really give a fuck about firewood.

Cas follows after him, meticulously placing his steps inside where Dean's deep footprints have made tracks, and Dean calls over his shoulder, "You good? Hey, shut the door."

Cas does so, with effort, and follows after Dean up the driveway to where the snow thins into a reasonable ankle-depth.

Dean has to catch his breath when they reach the top of the path, partially because he's getting to be an old fucker and gets winded with much more frequency, partially because the view of the mountains is fucking incredible.

"God," he says, and is embarrassed at the note of reverence in his voice. "That's amazing."

"It is," Cas murmurs, pausing beside him.

Dean's breath, thin with the altitude, clouds out of him in quick breaths as he takes it in, the pine trees dusted for miles without end, the way the mountains seem to smooth out into an unbroken wool blanket way off to the horizon. 

"I love how quiet snow is, y'know?" Dean says out loud. His voice doesn't echo. "It's like the whole world gets quiet."

"Snow absorbs sound," Cas says.

"Thanks for that, Bill Nye." Dean heads off down the path again, trying to focus on looking for pieces of wood beneath the layers of snow, but he keeps getting caught up in the mountain view, the way everything seems to go on for miles and miles. Like it's just him and Cas and the rest of the world, like everything else has been shaken out through a sieve.

Maybe Sam was right. Maybe they need this.

Cas jogs to catch up as the path narrows, his gloved hand brushing against Dean's as though an accident, and Dean willfully ignores it. The throb of blood in his face tingles when he turns to look at Cas, who has this serene expression on his face, like there's nowhere else on the fucking planet Earth that he'd rather be than with Dean on a cold-as-balls mountain.

Dean laughs, surprising both of them with the sound.

Cas turns to look at him as they walk, his cheeks already pink with the cold and windburn. "What?"

"Nothing," Dean says. "Nothing."

The path breaks off into unchartered territory, where trees protrude haphazardly from the snow, some branches curved in arches with the weight of ice. The snow is much deeper and more powdery when Dean turns from the main road, heading toward a patch of thicker woods.

"Dean," Cas says in a strained, hoarse voice from behind him. "Maybe we should stay on the path."

"There won't be any wood there," Dean disagrees, carefully bending his knees for leverage as the ground beneath him curves into a gentle downward slope. Cas sighs and follows after him, trailing closer to a ledge that drops off about twenty feet down. "Trust me, Cas. I'm a firewood guru."

"One of your many talents," Cas replies, with definite sarcasm.

Dean briefly hides a grin, focusing on not losing his balance in the thick snow. "Aww, Cas. You're always so self-affirming. I really appreciate--"

There's a loud, startled yelp and a sudden crash, and when Dean clumsily whirls around, Cas is gone, a broken gap in the snow in its place. The ledge had been uneven, Dean realizes dizzily, Cas hadn't known about the ledge.

"Cas!" Dean scrambles toward the gaping space in the snow and stares down the steep drop, but sees nothing except for a thick, undisturbed expanse of snow, like Cas had been swallowed whole by the mountain. 

Dean edges forward, testing the give of the ledge with his boot before he finds the shallowest slope to the bottom and follows it as fast as he can without face-planting. His heart is drumming loudly in his ears, his hands shaking as he half-stumbles over to the pile of snow at the base of the drop where Cas had vanished.

"Cas," he says, wondering if there'll be a lot of blood in the snow, if Cas had cracked his head on a rock, "Cas." He starts digging into the pile of snow, pawing through it desperately with his gloves, and his heart gives this strange lurch when Cas' head surfaces from the snow like a gopher, his hat askew.

He looks at Dean dazedly, his eyes a shock of blue against the snow. "Dean?"

"God," Dean says, his voice shaking, "you are the worst," and without thinking about it, he grabs Cas' jaw and kisses him on the mouth.

Cas gives this soft, startled noise at the contact, a warm thrum that Dean feels more than hears, and his mouth is cold from the snow and he tastes like mountain air. Cas hesitantly parts his lips, and he gives a soft lean forward before Dean pulls back. They stare at one another in mutual shock, both breathing heavily. 

Cas' eyes drop to Dean's lips. His mouth is startlingly pink. His dark eyelashes are dusted with fine grains of snow. "We should've stayed on the path."

"Shut up, Cas," Dean says, and pulls him halfway out of the snow to kiss him again.

---

They don't speak about it on the way back to the cabin. Cas is quiet, and Dean's quiet, churning over what happened and wondering why he's not more freaked out about it. He should be freaked out about it, right?

Okay, maybe he's a little freaked out about it. He's kind of freaked out by how he's not more freaked out.

Cas is silent on the walk back. His expression is closed and thoughtful, a bundle of collected wood tucked under his left arm. Dean's itching to say something to break the quiet, but if Cas isn't talking about it, then neither is he.

By the time they're down the driveway and back inside, Cas is shivering, the melted snow causing his layers of clothes to cling to him wetly. His hair is sopping too, more clumps of snow melting at the contact with the cabin heat.

"I'll start a fire," Dean says, taking the bundle of wood from Cas. "You should take those layers off before you die, or something."

Cas nods, his teeth clicking together as he unpeels his jacket from the sweatshirt he's sporting underneath.

Dean piles the wood into the fireplace and locates the lighter. It takes a few tries for the flame to catch, as the wood's still a little bit wet from the snow, but he does it and turns and Cas is shucking his wet jeans from his legs, clad only in a damp shirt and boxers, and Dean's mouth seems to go dry like he's chewing on desert sand. Cas tugs the shirt from his head, using it to roughly towel his wet hair before he tosses it to dry over the couch, and he and Dean lock eyes and Dean's just frozen there like a fucking idiot.

After an excruciating moment, Dean points at the fire as a suggestion, but only manages to say, "Fire."

Cas looks at him as though he's a toddler and nods kindly. 

Dean recovers. Kind of. "You should warm up. Um."

Cas pads over to him, his bare toes curling into the carpet, and he gracefully folds himself into a cross-legged position, looking up at Dean expectantly.

"I'll make hot chocolate," Dean says, and turns to the kitchen as Cas nods.

Dean's jittering with nerves all the way to the kitchen, vibrating with it, and this is new, he thinks, as he digs out the chocolate powder from the cabinet. Cas doesn't make him nervous. Cas is his friend. Angelic, occasionally murderous friend, but a friend, no less. Friends don't make Dean nervous--or at least, they shouldn't.

Then again, Dean thinks as he watches the green numbers tick down on the microwave, you don't kiss friends stupid in the snow after near-death experiences.

You don't ogle the way wet underwear clings to your friends' asses.

Okay, Dean concedes, grudgingly as the microwave dings. Not-friend then.

Dean stirs chocolate powder with warm milk, watching the way it clumps and splinters on the surface, and is thinking that he and Cas seem to perpetually exist in the realm of in-between. It's not a tangible state but it's an edge that Dean always feels around Cas, caught in a current between tension and affection, frustration and fondness, the occasional seething anger and the equally occasional tender contentment. Cas is in-between angel and human, Dean is in-between human and demon, and he wonders how long they've been toeing that line of in-between friend and not. Friend and….

They probably don't have to talk about it. Dean has the comfort in his relationship with Cas that Cas finds not talking about things as equally okay as he does.

Dean walks back into the living room balancing two mugs of hot chocolate, trying to keep the scalding liquid from sloshing over the brim, and Cas looks up sleepily at his approach. His hair has already dried into dark, damp curls, soft-looking behind his ears, against his forehead.

Dean sits carefully and hands him a mug. "Careful. It's hot."

"They don't call it lukewarm chocolate," Cas quips, bringing the mug to his mouth to softly breathe on the surface, and Dean rolls his eyes.

For a long time, they just sit and watch the crackling of the flames, the occasional pop against the wood, and Dean's watching Cas out of the corner of his eye, the way the firelight inks his features in long, distorted patterns.

Cas, sensing his gaze, looks at him with the brim of the mug resting against his lower lip.

"Are we going to talk about what happened?" Cas asks, blowing and taking a sip.

Dean shifts his shoulders and shrugs, looking back into the fire. "Wasn't planning on it."

Cas sets his mug down, staring at Dean directly. "You kissed me."

"You kissed me back," Dean says, petulant.

Cas stares at him with his mouth drawn, unimpressed.

"What do you want me to say, Cas?" Dean says, shrugging, not meeting Cas' eyes. "Moment of weakness."

Cas hums in his throat, a low, gravelly sound. "I wouldn't say typical moments of weakness impel someone to put their mouth on someone else's."

"So you're saying you didn't want it?" Dean snaps, suddenly and excruciatingly self-conscious. His face is burning under Cas' heavy gaze, hotter with the warmth of the fire. "Fine. I get that."

"I didn't say that," Cas says quietly, running the flat of his thumb along the rim of his mug.

"What are you saying then?" Dean is, rationally, not that angry. The Mark throbs like a pulse on his arm, a white-hot point of pain, driving him to red fury, and he clenches his hand into a slow fist. The Mark pounds harder.

"Dean," Cas murmurs, inching forward, and he gently lays his hand along Dean's forearm. Dean breathes out slowly, painstakingly, as a touch of Cas' grace soothes the Mark, tempers the bright pain into a dull ache.

"You shouldn't," Dean says thickly, closing his eyes. His hand is still clenched so tight that he feels his knuckles creak.

Cas is much closer to him now, his eyes gentle, encouraging. "Shouldn't what?"

Dean means to say something along the lines of wasting grace, or something, but he says instead, "You shouldn't look at me like that. Just quit it."

"Look at you like what?"

Dean closes his eyes. He can feel the soft push-pull of Cas' breath, steady as a tide, close to him.

"Dean," Cas says in a low, fond hum, his thumb skimming along Dean's arm. "You are everything, do you know that?"

Dean exhales, shakily. "Shut up, Cas."

One of Cas' hands gently cradles his head and Dean just goes with it, just leans into it as Cas' lips brush softly against one of his closed eyelids, then the other, and he pauses, waiting for permission, and Dean, eyes still shut, nods.

Cas tastes like hot chocolate, his lips sweet and a bit sticky, and Dean runs his tongue along the well of Cas' lower lip for a better taste. Cas hums into it contentedly, and without breaking contact, he repositions himself onto his knees so that Dean leans back, keeps moving back until his shoulders are pressed flat into the carpet and Cas stretches out on top of him, nestled between the space of his thighs. They kiss until Dean loses track of time, as if nothing else matters; it's slow and sweet and lazy, like they've been practicing this for years, and eventually Cas is grinding into him, slow rolls of his hips against Dean's, and Dean can feel Cas' dick poking into his hip and his mouth is dry but he's, strangely, not afraid. His hands slowly map the ridges of Cas' ribs, smooth along the planes of his shoulders, as Cas' breathing deepens in his mouth until he's panting, ragged and harsh into the space between Dean's jaw and shoulder. 

He whines when Dean's teeth find his earlobe, and Dean knows he's not supposed to feel protective of someone who's billions of years old but he does anyway. He thinks of Cas alone and rain-soaked and homeless on the streets and his hands pull Cas closer to him, like it'll make sure that he never leaves.

"Dean," Cas breathes, pressing his hips down, "I'm going to--" and Dean murmurs, "I wanna see you," and that's how Cas comes, wordlessly, with a soft whimper against Dean's cheek.

---

Dean wakes up the next morning on the couch with Cas on top of him, and he blinks a moment into the morning light striping through the windows onto the light shag carpet. Last night comes back to him in a warm rush, Cas maneuvering him onto the couch and stripping off his jeans and boxers so he could suck him off with all the intent and terrifying focus of celestial warriordom, and slow heat itches in Dean's cheeks. He stares down at the crown of Cas' dark hair feeling hot all over, because there's no way in hell he's ever going to be able to unsee any of last night and he's….strangely okay with that.

He's coping, mostly.

His arms are curled loosely around Cas' bare shoulder-blades and the Mark is sticking to Cas' back with sweat. Cas had kept his boxers but Dean's are missing, cast somewhere around the room, and they're both shirtless, although Dean doesn't remember when Cas had yanked off his shirt. He kind of wants to laugh, and laugh hysterically, because holy shit, him and Cas. That would probably never not be weird, but it's not like, he thinks as Cas shifts on top of him, they're actually going to get to keep this.

The thought hurts like a bitch, like someone's started carving notches into Dean's ribs, like it's hard and painful to breathe. He buries his face in Cas' hair and breathes in slow and deep, matching his rhythmic breaths with Cas'.

His phone buzzes with a text, where it's halfway protruding from his jeans pocket, in a crumpled heap on the floor. Careful not to dislodge Cas, he reaches out one groping hand and flips it right-side up, so he can squint blearily. It's a text from Sam.

ETA 1 hr. U 2 go Brokeback Mountain yet?

Dean scowls at his phone but can't think of a reply adequate or bitchy enough, so he plants his phone face-down and gives a slight squirm under Cas' weight, who mumbles quietly at the disturbance and repositions the arm that's dangling off the couch to align loosely along Dean's side.

Dean can feel the steady pound of his heart, thudding against his chest like a drumbeat against Cas' skin.

"Cas," Dean murmurs into his hair. He taps his fingers along Cas' spine, before his hand drifts uncertainly to cup the blade of his shoulder. "Hey."

Cas stirs, and his change in breathing pattern lets Dean knows he's awake but unwilling to move.

"We've gotta get up," he says. His nose is still pressed into the soft down of Cas' hair. "Sam's gonna be here soon."

"So?" Cas says quietly, shifting so that his head is tucked more comfortably between the underside of Dean's jaw and his collarbone.

"Well, I don't know about you, but I'd rather keep this on the down-low until further notice. You know?"

Cas nods reluctantly.

They remain unmoving for a few more moments. The world is a seamless bubble of quiet, both inside the cabin and out. There's the soft drip of melting snow tapping on the windowpane. 

"I'll make coffee," Cas mumbles, pushing himself up from Dean and stretching over him like a cat, or like the downward-dog position Dean sees Sam do during his stupid yoga.

"Yeah," Dean says, watching the roll of Cas' shoulders in the white sunlight from the windows. "Alright."

Cas is already drifting away from him, ruffling his hair, his body angled toward the kitchen, but Dean grabs his hand.

Cas looks at him in surprise.

"Do you want to go out and get more firewood?" Dean asks. His heartbeat is pounding at the speed of a jackhammer in his ears and he's not sure why. "After you make coffee."

Cas hesitates, then nods. He slides his palm into Dean's, and grips on tight.