It starts, as things often do with the Winchesters, because Dean is bored.
They’ve been cooped up in the bunker for weeks, no hunts, barely any visitors besides Charlie and Kevin who show up every once in a while, and nothing to distract him from the tense air filling the bunker and crushing him from every direction. Sam is mostly back to normal, finally recovered from the trials after a hell of a lot of bed-rest and a timely spell from the Men of Letters’ archives, but pissy since Dean has him under house arrest until he's sure Sam's back in shipshape. And Cas—Cas had eventually found his way back to the bunker after the angels fell, pitifully, awfully human and full of guilt so plain you could read it in the hunch of his shoulders and the lines around his eyes.
Weeks pass with Cas wandering listlessly from room to room, radiating self-hate and downing gallons of coffee just to stay awake, and Sam grumpily locking himself in the library or the archives or his bedroom day after day and only emerging to scrounge up something to eat every few hours. So yeah, Dean is bored: he hates research and no one's talking and Dean's practically coming out of his skin with the need to do something about his brother and Cas' foul moods.
So the next time he's out on a supply run, Dean adds a bag of Oreos and a tube of minty toothpaste to the shopping cart he’s pushing up and down the aisles. He spends way more time than is probably necessary making sure the toothpaste is white and not that sparkly green shit, earning himself a few skeptical looks and trying to look like he has intense tooth-cleaning needs and not that he’s got some weird-ass toothpaste obsession. But by the time he makes it out to the checkout counter he’s friggin’ pumped, and he even manages to exchange some harmless flirting with the matronly woman minding the register, shooting her a wink as he heads out the door with his purchases.
It's been a while since Dean played a prank on his brother; he’d lost a year in Purgatory and then there was the thing with the trials and the angels falling and basically their lives just being low-level shitty pretty much always, even when they weren’t dealing with the Next Big Apocalypse. But he still knows how to execute a good prank with finesse, so he waits until his brother retreats back to the dungeon and Cas shuffles out with a third mug of coffee before he breaks open the bag of Oreos and the toothpaste.
He scrapes out all the icing on a few of the cookies, (and yeah, he might eat it himself, so what; no sense wasting good icing) replacing it with thick, white toothpaste he'd selected carefully for the task and smoothing it out painstakingly with a butter knife before replacing the tops. Afterwards, he sets them out on a plate and tucks away the evidence, stowing the rest of the toothpaste at the back of the bathroom cupboard where no one will notice its sudden appearance.
And then he plans it carefully so that when Sam next resurfaces, shuffling through the room with some giant book in hand and an empty coffee cup in the other, Dean has his legs kicked up on the table in the library. He's munching away on Oreos, carefully selecting from the few on his side of the plate that are toothpaste-less, and he’s got Vikings playing on his laptop—just the kind of show that would catch Sam’s interest.
Sam pauses for a moment, watching over Dean’s shoulder, before he pulls out a chair and sits down beside his brother. "Oreos, Dean, really? You're thirty-five."
"My Oreos," Dean growls, and it's only years of being a big brother and fucking around with Sam that keeps him from crowing in victory when Sam's giant hand darts out with a speed that you wouldn't expect from such a giant dude (except if you were Dean and you've been hunting with said giant dude since before he was giant) and bites off about half of it in one go.
Of course, he doesn't show any of that restraint when Sam makes a face like he's been poisoned and spits the thing out into his hand with a sound like "EUUUGGGGHHHHH" and turns a glare on his older brother that could melt the icecaps.
Dean shoves himself out of his chair, dodging Sam's clutching hand and laughing until he wheezes, supporting himself with hands braced against his thighs from a safe place halfway across the room. "Sammy, you should see your face, man," he manages to get out and Sam glares harder before turning a mournful grimace down towards the remnants of the toothpaste cookie in his hand.
"What's going on?"
Dean turns to find Cas standing in the doorway, clad in a wrinkled button-up shirt and boxers with nerdy athletic socks pulled up to his knees, squinting between the two brothers with that look on his face that says Humanity is fucking weird.
Dean grins and holds out the plate. "Hey Cas, want a cookie?"
Cas opens his mouth to reply and takes a step into the room, his hand coming up partway as though to accept but Sam—the spoilsport—stops him.
"NO stop! Cas, man, you don't want these cookies." He picks up the plate and sweeps the rest of Dean's genius prank into the nearby trashcan.
Dean rolls his eyes. "You're killing my buzz," he tells his brother, who shakes his head and gives a long-suffering sigh.
Cas's brow furrows as he stares between the two of them. "I have no idea what just happened here," he finally says matter-of-factly, and then turns on his heel and leaves the room.
The Winchesters stare at the space vacated by their newly ex-angel and then Dean chuckles, and behind him, his brother huffs a begrudging laugh.
Mentally, Dean gives himself a high-five, grinning as he settles back into his chair beside Sam and skips back to rewatch the scene they just missed. Mission accomplished.
Things are easier in the bunker after that. Sam hangs out in the library more, bringing boxes of files and dusty old books up to read them where Dean can actually converse with him. Sometimes he lifts his head to tell Dean some obscure fact that is actually kinda interesting, but Dean makes bored faces in Sam's direction as he listens anyway because he has a reputation to maintain, thank you very much. Cas is still pretty mopey and Dean doesn't really know how to make that better, considering the guy's dealing with the responsibility of all his brothers and sisters getting kicked out of Heaven along with the loss of his powers, but he manages to convince Cas to hang out with them a little bit more and ease off on the coffee before he has a heart attack which counts as a win in Dean’s book.
And Sam stops nagging Dean about cases, which was a relief at first but in hindsight, probably should've been a red flag.
A couple weeks later Dean heads into town again, thinking to pick up some more movies or seasons of TV shows to keep them all busy. It’s a gorgeous sunny day, blue sky stretching out around him as the Impala rumbles down the road. He hits the highway and really opens her up, letting his baby stretch her legs and grinning like a kid as the air rushes in the open window, ruffling the gelled spikes of his hair.
It's not until he hits highway speeds that he hears it over the rush of wind and Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ blaring out of the speakers. It's a sound—like a screeching wail, growing louder the more he picks up speed—and the second he hears it he slams on the brakes and jerks the wheel over to the side, throwing himself out of the car and popping the hood to check her over. He's never heard anything like it before but it sounds like his baby's about to spontaneously combust in a ball of fire and exploding metal and he anxiously checks every part of her engine before he manages to convince himself he's imagining things and get back in the car.
He eases back up to speed, slower this time, but his stomach churns when he hears it again, a god-awful scream like a pissed-off banshee coming from his car. He listens a little longer, trying to figure out what it could be but then he stops the car again, waiting until the coast is clear before yanking out his shotgun and a tube of salt though he's not sure exactly what he's going to do with it. He inspects under her hood again, checking for signs of possession and it's just when he's thinking with growing horror that he's going to have to burn his baby to the ground when he finds it.
A harmonica. Taped to the inside of the Impala's grill, concealed along the top with shiny foil tape and tucked inside cleverly enough that he hadn't noticed it at first.
He rips the thing off—carefully, because he doesn't want to fuck up her paint or scratch the chrome—and hurls it overhand into the woods. It pings off a tree and falls the ground with a faint thump and Dean glares after it long after it’s disappeared among the deadfall, hands shaking with anger and lingering adrenaline.
“Fucking Sam,” he grumbles to himself, throwing himself back into the driver’s seat. Toothpaste cookies or not, you don't mess with a man's wheels. He pulls a graceless three-point u-turn in the middle of the highway (because the Impala is a masterpiece of automotive technology but she’s not exactly maneuverable) and races back to the bunker.
He slams her into park and races in the door, past a confused Cas who is sitting at the table closest to the entrance watching what looks like a documentary on fish on Dean's laptop, and finds Sam waiting for him in the library, a shit-eating grin stretching across his mouth and his goddamn dimples out in full-force. He makes to shove him but Sam just dances away behind a table, laughing so hard that he has to clutch the back of a chair to stay upright.
"What’s wrong Dean? Forget something?" he wheezes, leaning against the chair and laughing helplessly.
Dean points a finger at his brother. "This means war, I hope you know that."
Sam stops laughing, his mouth getting stuck half-open in his derision. "What the hell? You started it man!"
"I fed you toothpaste cookies which you didn’t even swallow. You messed with my car."
"Those cookies were disgusting," Sam retorts. "And your car is fine. I made sure not to wreck the paint." His smile returns, a wistful expression passing over his face. "I wish I could've been there when you heard it, oh man."
Dean throws a disbelieving look over his shoulder at Cas who is watching the exchange with his usual expression of grumpy confusion. "Cas, back me up here.”
Cas' mouth opens and closes once and he squints harder like he does when he's working something out. "Dean's car is very important to him, Sam," he says finally, and Dean makes a triumphant noise and waves a demonstrative hand in Cas' direction, giving Sam his best I told you so face. But then Cas turns to Dean and continues, "But given that you fed Sam toothpaste which sounds extremely unpleasant, and since there was no damage to your car, I think you might be overreacting."
"Whose side are you on?" Dean grumbles as Sam crows his victory. Dean points a threatening finger at his brother. "This isn't over!"
Sam extends his arms out to his side, grinning, and jerks his chin up in challenge. "Bring it," Sam says and Dean narrows his eyes and stomps back out to the car.
Dean tucks himself back into the driver's seat, giving the dashboard a consolatory pat. “Don’t worry baby. We’ll get him back.”
Dean mentally adds hair dye to his shopping list.
He gets a damn good laugh the next day when Sam storms into the library wearing nothing but plaid boxers and carrying a towel streaked with lines of green hair dye, his head significantly more mossy-looking than when he'd disappeared into the bathroom for a shower about twenty minutes ago. He looks like a fucking troll doll and Dean has to leave the room, he's laughing so hard. When he comes back, Sam is gone, presumably to wash his hair a few more times—with Dean’s shampoo since his own is ruined by the dye Dean poured into it after his trip to the store yesterday—and hope it comes out, and Cas looks kind of exasperatedly amused, smiling fondly up at Dean in a way that warms Dean's chest from the inside out.
The dye sticks, no matter how many times Sam washes his hair, and Dean bursts out laughing everytime he sees him until Sam finally steals the Impala keys and slinks away into town—with his hair tucked up under a beanie because god forbid he be seen like that—to find some dye to dye it back to its regular color. It comes out a little darker than usual but it's better than green so Sam seems to be okay with it.
And he gets Dean back when Dean slumps tiredly back to his bedroom after a long night of watching Star Wars with his brother and Cas and Charlie who'd stopped by for a visit. He flings his door open only to be scared out of his wits by the blast of an air horn as the door crashes against where Sam had duct-taped the horn to the wall. When his heart rate has slowed down Dean chases Sam around the library thinking to give him a first rate, Dean Winchester noogie, but Sam runs, like, every day now and he's a fast motherfucker and he gets away, leaving Dean to glare at Charlie who's laughing into her hand and Cas, who looks supremely disapproving.
"I don't understand the purpose of this exercise," Castiel says grumpily and Charlie pats him consolingly on the shoulder.
"Humans do a lot of dumb stuff, Cas," she says. " You better get used to it; you're one of us now."
Cas looks positively horrified at the prospect.
"It's fun," Dean says when he's caught his breath. "Lightens the mood."
"If you say so," Cas says dubiously, and excuses himself to go to bed.
It’s really quite an accomplishment that Cas manages to stay out of the crossfire of Dean and Sam’s ongoing prank war for as long as he does, given the close quarters that they’re living in. He observes their antics with an expression of mixed exasperation, confusion and amusement, which quite frankly is a pleasant change from the listless depression that Dean hates seeing because he doesn’t have the first clue how to fix it.
Cas isn’t talking but it’s gotta suck, being graceless and stuck here with the Winchesters, and Dean knows that the guy is dealing with a metric fuckton of guilt on top of all that. When he first showed up, bedraggled and wet and nursing a motherfucker of a head cold, he’d explained what happened in Heaven, how it was his grace that Metatron used to kick all the angels out of the house. And hey, Dean knows about guilt, okay? He’s the one who broke the first seal and kick-started the Apocalypse, and if he thinks about it hard enough, he can probably find a way to blame all the rest of their fuck-ups on himself too.
But being an expert on fucking shit up doesn’t help him figure out how to deal with the aftermath, so he just kind of keeps an eye on Cas and hopes that watching Dean and Sam mess with each other is enough of a distraction from all the shit he knows is weighing Cas down right about now.
Of course, it’s only a matter of time before Castiel loses his place in the bleachers and gets sucked right into the game.
It’s a lazy morning and Dean’s at a table sipping coffee, wearing one of those soft bathrobes he’s claimed for his own and feeling comfortingly domestic as he clicks through news articles, not actively looking for a case, but just idly checking out what’s going on in the world. He’s starting to get restless cooped up here in the bunker and even he has to admit that his protests are getting a little thin. Sam is out running this morning like he does every day and looking like the trials never even happened, and yesterday Cas had come to him with a determined expression on his face asking for a firearms lesson. The back and forth pranks are keeping them occupied and entertained for now but sooner or later the guilt they’re all feeling at letting the world go on without them is going to take over and they’ll have to rejoin the real world, and it’s about time they started preparing for that possibility.
It’s time to start looking for a case.
He’s scrolling through an article about a string of livestock mutilations outside of Lafayette, Indiana when he hears a commotion coming from the bathroom, Cas’ gruff voice raised in a shout and the scuffling of his shoes on the tile followed by a loud crash. Dean throws himself out of his chair and runs down the hallway to the bathroom where he can hear Cas grumbling to himself in something that is definitely not English and Dean doesn’t have to understand the language to know that he’s cursing up a storm.
Dean stops himself with a hand on the doorknob and makes himself knock. “Cas, you okay?”
The shuffling and cursing stops. There’s a sound of running water and then a minute later the door is yanked open from the inside revealing a half-dressed Castiel, barefoot in a t-shirt and boxer shorts. Dean stares, his mouth gaping open before he forces himself to look away, his eyes landing on a pair of discarded sweatpants—too big and borrowed from Sam, by the look of them—balled up in a pile on the floor. When he looks back up, Cas’ eyes are narrowed in an expression that looks particularly smitey and Dean swallows and fights the urge to step back before he remembers that the poor bastard won’t be doing any smiting anytime soon.
Cas points wordlessly behind him at the toilet and Dean opens his mouth to tell him that no matter what he saw on whatever crap he’s been watching on TV, guys don’t show each other what they did in the bathroom—but then he sees it, stretched shiny and transparent and—ew—wet, across the basin of the toilet.
Plastic wrap. Over the toilet bowl.
It takes a minute of staring and gaping with his mouth open for Dean’s brain to put two and two together and then a guffaw of incredulous laughter bursts from his mouth. And once he starts he can’t seem to stop until he’s snorting and gasping for air, clutching his stomach with one hand and bracing the other on the door frame to keep himself upright. Castiel watches, staring down his nose and looking supremely unimpressed, until Dean recovers enough to catch his breath.
“I assume by your reaction that this is not your doing?” Cas asks when Dean’s laughter has subsided to helpless little chuckles.
Dean shakes his head, rubbing a hand across his stomach which hurts with how hard he’d been laughing. “I wish,” he says fervently, then flicks a look up at Cas. “I mean—sorry you were the victim, man, but that’s a classic. Damn. I didn’t know Sammy had it in him.”
“There’s urine on my pants,” Cas says mournfully and that just sets Dean off again, and he laughs until Cas rolls his eyes and shuts the door in Dean’s face.
He rejoins Dean in the library after a shower, dressed in clean clothes and with Sam’s laptop tucked under his arm, studiously ignoring Dean and focused with single-minded intensity as he taps away at the keys. Dean sends a few immature pee-jokes Cas’ way, chuckling to himself intermittently. But the best is when Sam reappears, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, his hair dark with sweat from his run, and finds out that it was Cas who bore the brunt of his prank.
A look of complete and utter horror spreads across his face as he stares down at Cas who stares impassively up at him. “Oh my god, Cas, I’m so sorry! I never would’ve—oh my god.” Sam’s eyes are big as saucers and if possible Cas’ calm is even scarier than his smitey-face as he looks up at Sam from his seat.
“That’s all right, Sam,” he says placidly, his voice cold like a friggin’ iceberg and Dean chuckles gleefully.
“Oh, you’re in for it now, Sammy,” he says. Cas ignores him, turning his gaze back to the computer screen, but Sam shoots him a good ol’ fashioned Brother Glare™ which only makes Dean laugh even harder.
The bunker fills with a new kind of tension as Sam waits anxiously for Cas' retaliation to the unfortunate—and in Dean's opinion, hilarious—toilet prank. He's careful every time he steps into a room, opening doors carefully before he steps through them, suspiciously checking every food item he finds to make sure it's as advertised. Cas waits so long to make his move that Sam is jumping at every little sound, which is pretty damn funny to see in a guy as big as Sam is, not to mention a trained killer of all things supernatural.
The wait goes on so long that Dean starts to wonder if Cas is even going to bother retaliating or if he's decided he's above this human nonsense, and Sam starts asking about hunts again, spending hours poring over news articles and pitching various things in Dean's direction and hoping he'll finally go for something, and Dean's starting to cave. Sam looks good, running every day and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as ever. Cas is ready for a hunt too, spending a couple hours every day down at the shooting range perfecting his aim with a firearm after an eventful lesson where Dean had been pressed up behind Cas, their bodies aligned as he adjusted Cas' stance.
It had been a struggle to step back, to stop himself from tugging the weapon out of Cas' hands and pressing him up against the barrier, pinning him there with his hips and kissing the crap out of him, but somehow he'd managed. He's not supposed to be thinking stuff like that, not supposed to be trying to seduce the guy who only recently joined the ranks of humanity.
It isn't exactly easy though. He's used to Cas showing up, looking up at the sound of wings or turning around to find Cas a few inches too far into his personal space to be exactly comfortable, and then having him wing off on his angelic business (whatever the hell that happens to be at the time) after he's done his thing. But now, Cas is around 24/7; he's there when Dean wakes up, he's there when Dean goes to sleep, looking unfairly hot in the Winchester uniform of t-shirts and jeans and open button-downs that he'd adopted since being here.
So life in the bunker continues as usual, just with Dean clinging to his tenuous hold on his resolution not to out himself and burden Cas with even more stuff he doesn't need to worry about, and Sam looking over his shoulder at every turn waiting for Cas' retaliation, and all three of them looking for a suitable first hunt back after their little hiatus.
Dean had spent the afternoon in his bedroom actually looking for hunts, and he thinks he's found one that'll be a good first hunt back. It looks like vamp signs, exsanguinated bodies dropping left and right, but not so frequent as to be a very big nest. It’s nothing the three of them can't handle, and while Cas needs a little more practice at the range before Dean thinks he’ll be up to speed with a gun, he's never worried about the ex-angel’s skill with a blade. He’s a touch slower than he used to be without the mojo powering him up, but he still hits like a (slightly smaller) Mack Truck and manages to take down first Sam and then Dean in a humiliatingly short amount of time when they spar. And that totally doesn’t turn Dean on, no fucking way.
So Dean’s sitting on his bed, paused midway through clicking through a set of news articles about the suspicious deaths, totally not imagining Cas pinning him with his chest up against the wall and arm twisted up behind his back while Cas rubs one out against his ass, when the man himself walks into the room. Without knocking no less—the bastard might not be able to teleport anymore but he still hasn’t grasped the concept of warning people of his arrival. Dean tries his best not to look like he’d been fantasizing about his best friend and shifts the laptop in his lap to hide the partial he’s sporting, which has naturally taken an unwelcome interest in the sudden appearance of the object of its affections.
“Hey Cas, what’s the word?”
Cas pauses just inside the doorway, cocking his head curiously. His brow furrows adorably as he stares at Dean and then moves forward without answering, perching on the opposite side of the bed somewhere near Dean’s knees.
“What are you doing?” he asks, even though Dean asked a question first but whatever.
“Finding us a hunt.” Dean turns the laptop around on his lap so it’s facing Cas, tapping the screen with one finger. “Looks like we got some vamps suckin’ people dry in New Mexico. It could be a good one for our first case back on the job.”
Cas peers down at the laptop, dropping one hand to tip the screen so he can see it better. The tip of his index finger brushes against Dean’s pinkie as he does so and Dean has to ignore the flutter of excitement that pulses through him like he’s some giddy virgin. Cas’ frown deepens as he scans the laptop screen and he gives a little nod before pulling back abruptly, his hands settling loosely in his lap.
“It does look like it could be vampires,” he says. “When will we leave?”
Dean shrugs, flipping the laptop closed and shoving it into the empty space beside him on the bed. “Dunno. Soon I guess, before those fangy fuckers take out too many more people. I’ll talk to Sam, see if he’s good to go tomorrow.”
Cas nods again. “All right.” He hesitates, frowning down at his hands like they’ve pissed him off and Dean feels a curl of unease roll through him. He knows that face; that’s the I deserve to be in Purgatory face he got a glimpse of a few times after Cas got out, the same I don’t deserve to be saved expression he’s seen in the mirror enough times to know that there’s something really shitty going on behind Cas’ baby blues.
“What’s eating you, buddy?” he asks, and Cas looks up at him, alarmed, before Dean backtracks hurriedly. “Whoa, take it easy; it’s an expression. I mean—what’s going on man? Talk to me.”
The silence stretches on as Cas stares across the small space between them, wide blue eyes staring through Dean’s face and focused somewhere else. Dean waits impatiently, uncomfortable under Cas’ x-ray gaze, and he’s about to do something—poke him maybe, or wave a hand in front of his face—when Cas finally speaks.
“Sam and I have been looking for ways to get my grace back.”
Dean swallows hard around the lump in his throat that sure as hell wasn’t there a minute ago. Because yeah, he’d noticed that Sam and Cas have been spending a lot of time together, talking quietly over books or poring through boxes of files (and he’s not fucking jealous about it, shut up). And maybe if he’d given it more than a second’s thought he’d have drawn the logical conclusion, that they were trying to figure out a way out of Cas’ predicament, which is to say, that he was stuck on earth with his crummy humanity with the crummy Winchesters and no escape plan unless he wants to wind up on the street. And of course Cas wants out of this predicament as soon as possible, because who the hell would want to hang out here in this dingy bunker with Dean and his brother when you could be an angel flying around and hanging out in Paradise?
And yeah, maybe Dean had been thinking that it was kinda nice, having Cas around all the time, even though it was getting harder and harder to keep his hands to himself. But of course that’s just Dean; it’s not like Cas would want to stick around like a sitting duck without his mojo, and it doesn’t really matter what Dean wants because this is Cas and if Cas wants his grace back then they’re damn well gonna try.
“Good,” Dean manages to get out and he thinks he managed to make it convincing until Cas narrows his eyes at him. He tries again, a bit more successfully. “That’s good, Cas. Any luck so far?”
Cas stares at him suspiciously a moment longer before shaking his head. “Sam has Kevin working on the tablet in case it’s somewhere in there and we’ll keep looking through the Men of Letters’ archives, but,” he shrugs one shoulder sadly, a crappy human gesture that makes Dean want to kiss the melancholy right out of him, “so far nothing.”
“Hey,” Dean says, and he lifts his hand from where it’s lying on the bedspread, letting it fall on Cas’ shoulder. “We’ll figure something out, okay? If that’s what you want, we’ll work it out.” He ducks his head a little to catch Cas’ eye and gives him a little crooked grin. “We always do.”
Cas looks up at him and his lips curve into a smile—it’s a watery, sort of sad one, but a smile nonetheless. But then it’s gone again, swallowed up by a frown, a tiny crease between Cas’ eyebrows that Dean wishes he could smooth away gently with the pad of his thumb.
“In the meantime, whaddaya say we gank us a couple a vamps?” Dean says squeezing the meat of Cas’ shoulder under his palm because that’s the kind of touch they’re allowed to exchange. As an afterthought, he adds, “And hey, we can stop and get you some clothes and stuff on the way back if you want, so you don’t have to keep wearing our hand-me-downs.”
“All right,” Cas replies, looking down at the too-large shirt he’s wearing—one of Dean’s—as if seeing it for the first time. He’s quiet for a minute and then he looks up, his big sad eyes meeting Dean’s and it’s like Cas shoved a hand into Dean’s chest and squeezed his fingers tight around the muscle of Dean’s heart with how hard the expression hits him.
“I’m terrible at pranking,” Cas says and it seems like it’s out of place with their current discussion but it’s not, because it sounds like what he’s really saying is I’m terrible at being human. This time Dean can’t stop himself, his hand shifting from Cas’ shoulder to push through the thick, dark hair at the crown of Cas’ head. Cas stills under his touch but the look on his face isn’t frozen or shocked or scared—it’s desperately lonely and sad. So Dean just keeps right on combing his fingers through Cas’ hair as if it’s just for Cas and he’s not starving for that touch himself.
“You’ll get the hang of it, Cas,” he says softly. “You’re just new. And hey, I’ll help you, all right? I know a lot about uh. Staging pranks.” Cas nods and Dean’s hand slips down out of Cas’ hair, trailing greedily over the back of his’ neck until Dean pulls it reluctantly away. “I got a good one we can use on Sam; he’s not gonna know what hit him. Okay?”
And then there’s a moment where Cas is just watching him, his eyes wide and sincere and there’s something in their depths that Dean really doesn’t want to look at too hard because it’s doing funny things to his stomach. “Okay,” Cas replies and then he swallows visibly and Dean has to tear his eyes away before his impulse control crumbles away into nothing. He shoves himself off the bed and takes his laptop with him, beckoning for Cas to follow him so they can go talk to Sam about the vamp signs.
It’s pretty awesome to finally be back in the game, stepping out of the Impala in their fed suits and getting the skinny from the local cops, interviewing some of the witnesses and next of kin. They wind up at a bar, discreetly slipping cash to some of the bikers playing pool in exchange for information on the trio of two women and a man who have been spending many evenings there—sometimes together, sometimes individually, but always leaving with some pretty young thing in tow.
They get lucky when one of the dudes grunts and jerks his head in the direction of the open door as a slim, good-looking woman slips inside, tossing her hair over her shoulder and making her way to the bar. They watch under the pretense of a game of darts (that Cas wins by a landslide) while the vamp hits on a pretty girl in a flowery dress under a leather jacket perched alone at the bar. The vamp is a master of seduction—under different circumstances Dean might be impressed—and they only have to wait forty minutes before she’s slipping an arm around the girl’s waist and guiding her back out the door into the night.
Then there’s the familiar rush of tracking the vamp back to the nest where the rest of the bloodsuckers are hiding, of signalling to Sam and whispering to Cas, of his fingers tightening around the handle of his machete. There’s the pounding of his heart as he kicks down the door and takes off the head of one of the vamps, the thrilling satisfaction of watching Sam take off the head of the one who’s bent over the girl from the bar, about to bite. And then Cas ninjas in behind the last one and hits it with an open palm to the chest before he decapitates it with a mechanical ease that is totally not hot.
It’s over almost before it began, and after they take the girl home, they wind up celebrating with beers at the pub they’d followed the vamp out of. They play another game of darts which Cas wins again, and then one of pool which goes to Sam, and Dean’s not even mad. It’s just so fucking great to see Sam and Cas smiling, to be back on the job with his best friend and his brother at his side. Dean gets the added entertainment of watching a waitress try to hit on a clueless Cas, who kind of just squints up at her and wonders aloud afterwards why she kept asking him so many inane questions. He laughs into his beer and wonders before he can stop himself what would happen if it was him hitting on Cas rather than some random waitress.
Dean spends the night on the pullout couch in their motel room with Sam and Cas taking up the two queens—because Sam, the bastard, had somehow found time to teach Cas rock paper scissors and clue him in that Dean always throws scissors—staring at the ceiling and willing his brain to shut the fuck up about Cas and the fact that he’s asleep about three feet away in nothing but boxers and a t-shirt.
A few days later, Cas finds him in the kitchen, making himself a sandwich. He props himself against the counter while Dean finishes making it, watching with single-minded intensity as Dean assembles all the pieces like this is some life lesson he can’t afford to miss out on. He reminds Dean of his promise to help get Sam back for his plastic wrap on the toilet prank, and Dean glances over his shoulder surreptitiously before explaining his plan, silently transferring half the sandwich to a separate plate and shoving it in Cas’ direction.
It takes a little sneaking to put their plan in action, waiting for Sam to abandon his post in the library and leave his laptop unattended. Cas distracts him by cornering him in the hallway with one of the dusty old books he’s taken to reading at night and starting a long, involved conversation about the implications of some spell the Men of Letters had documented. Dean listens around the corner and waits until Sam is suitably engrossed before sneaking back to the library and setting himself up in front of Sam’s laptop, shoving the thumbstick into the USB port and drumming his fingers on the table as he waits excitedly for it to connect.
When Sam comes back a few minutes later with Cas trailing behind, Dean’s slumped into the chair across from Sam’s spot, which means he has front row seats to the expression of horror on his brother’s face when he sees the Blue Screen of Death waiting for him and goes full-on flappy hands. It only takes him a few minutes to figure out that Dean installed a fancy-ass screensaver and by then Dean has pretty much fallen out of his seat laughing and even Cas is chuckling where he’s leaned up against one of the bookshelves, arms crossed over his chest.
“I—you—” Sam is speechless with fury, his angry flush making him look like the Jolly Green Giant’s even bigger red cousin.
“That’s what you get for messing with the big boys, Sammy,” Dean manages between gasps of laughter.
“And for getting urine on my pants,” Cas adds smugly.
Sam’s mouth opens and closes like a goldfish for a solid minute before he fixes them both with a furious glare, tucks his closed laptop protectively under his arm and storms out of the room, mumbling something about going for a run so he doesn’t go on a homicidal rampage.
Dean chuckles and offers Cas a high five that Cas just eyes suspiciously until Dean lets his hand drop and rolls his eyes.
They take a trip to Hartington, Nebraska to deal with a coven of witches a couple weeks later, making it out of there with only a couple minor bruises and scratches and successfully avoiding any bodily fluid spewage in the process. This time it’s a couple of dudes messing around with a Grimoire one of them found in his grandpa’s attic, doing spells to get themselves promotions and raises and attention from women and somehow not noticing they were pledging their services to a demon in the process. The demon shows up while they’re midway through trying to talk some sense into the two idiots, just to complicate things, but after a scuffle which involves the near-destruction of the living room they’re standing in, the three of them manage to rattle off an exorcism and save the would-be witch from possession and all their asses from a messy death by demon. Frankly, that small timer was nothing for the Winchesters and the angel Castiel, but it gets the blood pumping anyway, and it’s with a trio of grins that the three of them head back to the bunker.
And on the way back, Sam manages to get Dean back for the Blue Screen of Death by spreading paint across his windshield wipers while he’s pumping gas so that when he flicks them on to ward off the rain falling in fat, heavy drops somewhere between Columbus and Grand Island, a wide streak of pink, purple and blue paint spreads across his windshield in their wake.
He manages to get his baby over to the side of the road and get the windshield cleared off, but not before his brother gets a good laugh at the yelp of horror Dean makes (along with a punch in the arm for his trouble.) Cas just kind of huffs an exasperated breath from the backseat and grumbles something about pranks and road safety and humanity being a complete enigma.
Dean—naturally—takes the opportunity the next time Sam takes off for a run to plan his next prank team-up with Cas, because Sam is one up on him right now and that just can’t stand.
He finds Cas in his bedroom, sitting on his bed with—surprise, surprise—a big ol’ book in his hands. “Jesus, does anyone do anything besides read around here? I'm all for reading but seriously? Bunch of nerds.” He shuts the door behind him in case Sam gets back early from his run while they’re still plotting, sighs dramatically and crosses to the side of the bed. Cas just pointedly ignores the comment and very deliberately turns his page.
“So I was thinkin’,” Dean continues, “since we worked so well together last time, we should gang up on Sam again to get him back for this round.”
Cas finally looks up from his book, squinting in Dean’s direction. “But he hasn’t done anything retaliatory to me yet. Maybe he’s decided to leave me out of it.” He sounds a little too hopeful and Dean’s shaking his head and grinning by the time Cas is finished.
“Sorry, man, I know my brother, and it’s comin’. We messed with his laptop; there’s no way you’re getting off without some payback. C’mon, it’ll be fun,” he wheedles and when Cas’ lips press together and he looks away to hide his smile, Dean knows he’s won.
Cas sighs, resigned. “All right. What do you want to do?”
Cas doesn’t think the old Nair in the shampoo is a good one (despite being a fuckin’ classic, but whatever) and he makes a good point that Sam is already on the alert after the hair dye incident. They settle on taking the bolts out of Sam’s chair because hell, just the mental image of Sam sprawling out on his ass from that incredible height has Dean chuckling and even Cas manages to crack a smile.
And then the laughter dies away he’s just kind of staring down at Cas and Cas is staring up at him. Dean is suddenly aware that they are alone in Cas’ bedroom with the door shut, and he needs to get out of there ASAP because the temptation to push him down on the bed and climb on top of him is ridiculously strong. Dean taps his fingers one last time on Cas’ bedside table and shoots him a smirk before forcing himself to go, repressing a shiver as the weight of Cas’ gaze follows him all the way to the door.
But then he reaches down to turn the doorknob, and it doesn’t budge.
“What the—” Dean tries again, jiggling the handle, even giving it a solid yank before pulling back to glare sullenly at the knob.
“Door’s stuck,” Dean grumbles. He braces one foot against the wall and curls both hands around the knob, putting his whole body into it as he pulls. The door doesn’t open but his sweaty palm does slip off the handle to smack him right in his own face.
“Dean stop.” Cas steps up beside him and shoves him unceremoniously out of the way, bending to eye the doorknob with the kind of smitey intensity that probably would’ve melted the damn thing open if he still had his mojo. He turns the knob himself, jiggles it a little as he inspects it before straightening up. “It’s backwards,” he announces matter-of-factly.
Dean pauses in rubbing his sore forehead to blink stupidly at him. “Backwards?”
Cas nods solemnly, pointing silently to the keyhole which—damn he’s right—should definitely be on the other side of the door.
“How the hell—” Dean stops himself, sucking in a breath as realization hits him. “Sammy.”
Cas’ eyes narrow dangerously and Dean already has his cell phone out of his pocket, pressing and holding speed dial 2 until it dials Sam’s number. It rings and rings and then goes to voicemail, and Dean rolls his eyes in Cas’ direction as he waits while Sam's recorded voice rattles off his greeting.
“Sam,” Dean growls, after the beep sounds in his ear, “you are dead meat. Get your freakishly-tall ass back here and let us out of Cas’ room so I can kick your ass.” He hangs up as viciously as possible, though it loses something when there’s no receiver to slam down into the cradle. Sometimes modern technology is a pain in his pretty behind.
“I don’t think threatening to ‘kick his ass’ is likely to encourage him to let us out,” Cas comments.
“Shut up,” Dean grumbles, slumping over to Cas’ bed and throwing himself onto it, stretching out on his back and slinging an arm over his eyes. “Man, I told you Sam would get you back for the computer thing.” He waits, but when the bed doesn’t dip under Cas’ weight, he pries his arm away from his face and turns his head to glance towards the door, where Cas is still standing stiffly, his arms dangling at his side.
“Well, you just gonna stand there until Sam gets back? It might be a while.” He pats the bed next to him. “Take a load off.”
Cas huffs a breath and crosses to the right side of the bed, sliding into the empty space beside Dean to lean up against the headboard. His hip brushes against Dean’s shoulder, the small point of contact starting a slow burn under Dean’s skin. He expects Cas to move away but he doesn’t and Dean has to swallow against the sudden dryness in his throat. It’s quiet, too quiet with Cas sitting so close, and he looks away to try and distract himself from the heat of Cas’ leg through his pants only to find himself staring at a blank, empty wall. In fact, he realizes as he glances around, all the walls are empty, the entire room stark and bland and soulless.
“You know you can decorate your room, right?” He turns his head in time to see Cas look down at him, his brow creasing in confusion.
Dean waves a hand in the air above his head, indicating the room at large. “Yeah, you know. Put up posters on the wall. Get an area rug and some throw pillows."
“Why would I want—”
“Not the point, Cas!” Dean rolls his eyes and shoves himself to a sitting position. “I just mean, you can make it yours. It doesn’t even look like you’ve moved in.”
He thinks of Sam’s room, just as blank and unpopulated as this one, and his stomach turns. Not that he should be surprised; Sam was never going to be happy in a place like this—he’s always wanted a life outside of hunting. Almost had it too, if not for Dean dragging him back in to look for Dad, breaking out of Purgatory right when Sam was out and just starting to get happy for the second time. And now here it is, proof positive that Cas isn’t settling in either. His room is as empty as Sam’s and as soon as they work out how to get his grace back he’s going right back up to heaven to keep on with his angel business.
Cas looks around the room at the blank white walls and then stops just short of looking back down at Dean, a muscle jumping in his jaw. “I keep hoping we’ll find a way to restore my grace, though it is looking less and less likely the more books we read. I’m not sure how much use I’ll be to you if we don’t find a way and I don’t want to be a burden on you and Sam. Even if we do find a way to restore my grace—the angels fell because of me, Dean. The longer I am here, the more dangerous it is for you and Sam. The other angels will come looking for me sooner or later to exact their revenge upon me, and it is no less than I deserve. I shouldn’t even have been here this long.”
Dean pushes himself to a sitting position, shifting so he’s facing Cas. Like this, they’re so close, only an inch between their shoulders and a few scant more between their faces. Cas’ eyes are huge and sad and so, so blue and Dean just wants to wipe that expression away, his chest clenching as he stares across at Cas.
“Cas,” he says, “those other angels… fuck ‘em. It sucks that they got kicked out of Heaven but that’s not on you, okay?” Cas looks away and Dean ducks his head to catch Cas’ gaze. “Okay? That wasn’t your fault. You trusted the wrong person but that was all Metatron all right? You never had anything but the best intentions.
“As for you being here? I don’t care if you’re wanted by every single angel in Heaven. You’re family, man. You’re welcome here as long as you want to be. We—” Dean chokes on the word, revises it without really even meaning to— “I want you here, man.”
Cas swallows hard, his eyes boring into Dean’s, something like hope chasing out some of the sadness. And Dean’s hands are moving without his permission, both of them coming up to cradle Cas’ face between them, thumbs resting on the hinge of his jaw and fingers curling around to slip into the short hair at the back of his head. It’s like the last time, when Dean hadn’t been able to stop himself from brushing his fingers through Cas’ hair, except somehow more. And there’s no fucking way that this touch can be construed as a casual touch between friends, can’t just be comfort, especially not with the hunger ripping through Dean along with a powerful need to just touch and hold and finally have Cas in a way that he’s been wanting for fucking years.
“Dean—” the name is ripped from Cas’ mouth like a gasp and his eyes widen with shock and a desperate longing that echoes Dean’s. And Dean can’t hold back his answering moan of “Cas” and then he’s dragging him forward, leaning in, closing the distance until their lips—finally, finally—meet.
Cas freezes under the touch, his body going still in a way that only Cas can, and Dean kisses him once, twice, waiting for some kind of response, anything to tell him that this is okay. When he doesn’t get it his stomach plummets, a sick feeling rushing in to fill its place. He goes to pull away, apologies on his lips and shame thundering into his throat like bile, but that’s when Cas moves, chasing his mouth and fisting a hand in the fabric of his Dean’s t-shirt and bringing their lips back together. The sound that bursts from Dean’s lips into Cas’ mouth is relief and joy and desperate need, and his fingers curl into the hair at the back of Cas’ head as he kisses back.
Dean shifts on the bed so the angle is better and Cas does the same, the hand not fisted at the front of Dean’s t-shirt coming up to grip his shoulder in a bruising, grounding grip. This is real, this is really happening, and Dean can’t make the numbers add up in his head, all the things that finally led to this, but it’s happening, it’s goddamn happening. He’s smiling into Cas’ mouth and he huffs an incredulous, joyous laugh because he’s gonna owe Sammy so hard for accidentally getting him locked in a room with Cas.
Cas pulls back when he’s laughing too hard for the shape of his mouth to be a kiss anymore and he smiles, soft and warm and so damn affectionate that Dean’s heart lurches in his chest. “What?”
Dean shakes his head. “Nothing, Cas. I’m just happy.” Cas’s smile softens and somehow widens and Dean rolls his eyes to hide his flush and pulls him back in tight, kissing him again.
Somehow they end out stretched out on the bed—maybe he pulled Cas down with him or maybe it was the other way around but somehow they’re here, fitted together in all the places they can touch. His hands are still cupped around Cas’ face and Cas’ are at the small of his back, hips slotted together and one of Dean’s ankles insinuated between both of Cas’. Cas finds his way under Dean’s clothes, his hand slipping greedily under the hem of Dean’s t-shirt and the palm slipping over Dean’s waist pulls a hungry noise from Dean’s mouth. After that it’s a desperate hurried scramble to get each other naked, hands tugging at t-shirts and hastily working buttons and zippers until there’s nothing left between them.
The skim of Cas’ hands over Dean’s naked skin is good, the hot press of his chest to Dean’s is even better. And when their hips push together and Dean feels the hard line of Cas’ erection bump against his own, it’s so fucking great that Dean can’t even breathe.
Still, he makes himself stop, the reality of it crashing over him—because as far as he knows Cas still hasn’t done this, hasn’t even kissed anyone aside from that thing with Meg that was more like an argument than a kiss. And the sick feeling swells in his stomach again because only a few minutes ago Cas was broken open and vulnerable and he doesn’t want this if Cas is going to regret it later.
So he makes himself stop, braces his hands on Cas’ chest—which is a problem in itself because holy fucking shit, Cas’ chest—to keep him from chasing after Dean’s lips when he leans away, forcefully stilling the desperate roll of his hips. When he opens his eyes Cas is watching him, looking somewhere between confused and adorably put out.
“Why did you stop?” It’s half a whine and Dean chuckles breathlessly, leaning in to place a kiss on the hollow of Cas’ throat.
“Just wanna make sure you’re, like… sure about this,” he says. “I want you so bad, Cas, but we don’t have to do it. I don’t want you to feel obligated and we can stop if you need to. So are you? Sure about this?”
Cas glares at him and with his kiss-swollen lips and the dark swell of his pupils and his hair totally fucking wrecked it’s so adorable that Dean has to huff a laugh into his skin. “Dean. There are many things I am not sure of: what is to be done about Metatron, if I will ever get my grace back.” He frowns. “Why pranks are supposedly funny.” Dean laughs.
Cas’ eyes soften as he stares at Dean and his lips turn up in a small smile that transforms his face, makes Dean’s heart stutter in his chest. “This—” Cas says, then pauses to correct himself, pressing a hand to Dean’s chest— “you are not one of them.”
Dean swallows and nods jerkily, something huge and terrifying and wonderful breaking free inside him. His shaky “okay” is spoken against Cas’ smiling lips, and the next one is swallowed up by Cas’ open-mouthed kiss, and then they’re done talking.
It’s no surprise, given how long Dean’s wanted this, that it takes next to no time to go from tentative and gentle to desperate and hungry. Cas’ body is lean and tight like a coiled spring, responsive under Dean’s hands and he gives back as good as he gets, his hands and mouth moving over as much of Dean as he can reach. Dean’s determined to go slow, to not push too hard or too fast, so it’s Cas that pushes his knee between Dean’s and rocks their hips together. His fingers are everywhere—calloused like Dean’s now like they never were when he had his grace, toughened in the places where they curl around the grip of the gun he’s been practicing with or the handle of a knife—combing through Dean’s hair and tugging, tracing down the taut line of his neck to thumb over his nipples. But when he begs “Dean, I need—” like he’s dying, it’s Dean that reaches down between them, gathering them both into one fist and giving them something to fuck into.
Dean watches Cas fall apart, his eyes greedy on the curve of Cas’ hip and the roll of his muscles under tan skin. His lips part around needy sounds as his hips buck against Dean’s, his hair an absolute fucking wreck where Dean ran his fingers through it. And when he comes, his eyes flicker open, that bright blue showing under dark, heavy lashes as he gasps his release, Dean’s name falling from his lips.
“So beautiful, Cas,” Dean says and kisses him, and Cas cups his hands around Dean’s face and kisses him deeper, reverently, and that’s what tips Dean over the edge, coming hot and wet over his own hand.
He’s reluctant to move, to get out of bed with Cas, so he reaches over the side of the bed and gropes blindly until he finds his t-shirt, using it to wipe them both clean. He pitches it into a corner of the room to be dealt with later and turns back to face Cas, curling an arm around his neck and leaning in to kiss his forehead. Cas presses in close, hands slipping back around Dean’s waist and Dean realizes with a jolt that he is disgustingly fucking happy.
So happy, that he forgets why he was there in the first place, or that they’ve now been locked behind Cas’ door for nearly an hour, more than long enough for Sam to check his messages and get back to the bunker from his run.
The only warning they get is the sound of quick footsteps in the hall and the snick of the lock and then Sam is there, throwing open the door. His hair is plastered to his head and his t-shirt is dark with sweat from his run, and for one second before he processes what he’s seeing he grins triumphantly, no doubt ready to rub his prank in their faces, two for the price of one. But then his brain catches up to his eyes and the smile stretching his face morphs quickly to an expression of complete and utter horror as he gets an eyeful of his brother’s naked ass where he’s stretched out next to an equally naked ex-angel.
Cas and Dean don’t even have time to scramble to cover themselves up and just lie there frozen, until Sam turns a really lovely shade of green-tinged red and claps a giant hand to his eyes.
“Oh god!” he shouts, horrified. “Oh god—sorry—” he bangs his knee on the doorframe— “fuck, sorry!” He finally manages to stumble back into the hallway and limps off as fast as his legs can carry him.
Cas and Dean stare after him, speechless for a moment until an involuntary chuckle bursts from Dean’s lips. And once he starts he can’t stop, and it only gets worse when Cas scowls disapprovingly at him through the flush on his cheeks.
“Hey Cas,” Dean says when his laughter slows. “Do you know what just happened?”
“I assume you mean aside from your brother seeing us naked after we had sex?” Dean just smirks back at him and Cas sighs. “No, Dean, what just happened?”
Cas is warm against his side and Dean is practically giddy with it, with finally having this. And sure, maybe that’s not how he would have chosen for his brother to find out and they still have to deal with reversing Metatron’s spell and getting Cas his grace back. Their lives are still low-level shit but they’re back to hunting and Sam’s pretty much recovered and Cas is here and with him, and that’s pretty damn awesome.
Dean grins broadly and bumps his shoulder against his best friend’s. “Cas,” he says conspiratorially, “we just won the prank war.”
Cas just rolls his eyes in a familiar expression of exasperated affection, and Dean laughs—a giddy, incredulously happy sound—and leans in to kiss him.
(After things have calmed down and he’s finally able to meet their eyes without flushing red as a twelve-foot-tall stop sign, Sam gets them back by filling the shower head with green Jolly Ranchers. When Cas and Dean emerge together, scowling and speechless and covered in congealing green goo, Sam smirks and declares himself the winner of the prank war.)