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Crossroads State

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5:30 in the morning always finds Castiel shutting off his alarm clock and standing half asleep in his kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil. Between 5:32 and 5:33, he pours the (almost) boiling water over the metal ball of loose tea he filled the night before that sits waiting in a mug (this morning it's Darjeeling and World's Greatest Teacher). By 5:38 he's dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and sneakers and back in the kitchen blowing on his tea, and at 5:40 he's drinking it at the desk in the living room, looking over his email and the traffic and weather reports on his laptop. He likes to know what's going to be waiting for him (today it's several parents letting him know that their children will be absent, which is to be expected the last few days of school when all the final exams are over). At 5:55 his mug is in the sink and he's stretching on the kitchen floor.

At 6:00 he jogs down his front steps and out onto the sidewalk. It's Tuesday so he waves to the garbagemen and to Missouri, the nurse three houses down who's just getting off shift. As he runs he lets his mind wander wherever it needs to, to his lesson plans for the day or his grocery list or, in this case, what he should get his sister for her birthday. The scenery is so familiar that he barely has to keep his eyes open-- he knows exactly when he has to feint to the right just a little at the corner of Pine Street to avoid a fire hydrant, and where to be careful a few blocks down on Prospect because the roots of an old tree have torn up the sidewalk, where he needs to cross to avoid a house with children who are forever leaving an obstacle course of toys and pieces of chalk. He doesn't pay little enough attention that he doesn't see there's a new hazard in the form of a man unhitching an old black car from the back of a U-Haul, sticking out of the driveway belonging to the house that's had a 'sold' sign for two months, far enough that it blocks the way, but it's nearly a close call and he has to slow down, and the guy sees him, says, "Hey," and his smile manages to be both sheepish and charming at the same time.

Castiel would rather keep running because he'd just been getting to a good pace just shy of burning muscles, but he doesn't want to be rude. "Hello," he says. "You should pull in further or park on the street; the local police are fairly zealous with their ticketing practices."

"I was planning on it, man, just need to get her unhooked. You live near here? I'm Dean," he says, and wipes his hand on his jeans before extending it to shake.

Castiel realizes too late that his own hand is sweaty, like the rest of him. "My name is Castiel. And yes, I live a few blocks over."

"Guess I'll be seeing you around, then," Dean says, and the smile this time is all charm.

Castiel inclines his head in agreement and runs on.

Sometimes this sort of break from the usual will put him off for the whole day. It's not as bad as the time he witnessed a car accident or the time Missouri slipped on ice in her driveway and had to go to back to her workplace as a patient, but he finds he can't get his mind back to thinking about Anna's birthday. Still, he's back home at 6:30 as always, drinking a tall glass of water and a shorter glass of juice, stretching again at 6:35 and in the shower at 6:45 while another cup of tea steeps in his travel mug. By seven he's buttoned into a shirt and tie with his laptop and papers gathered into his bag, which is leather but too old and misshapen to really qualify as any kind of briefcase anymore. He carries a suit jacket with him but it's already pushing 80 degrees so he won't put it on until he's inside the school's arctic air conditioning.

At 7:30 he's eating a cup of yogurt in the teachers' lounge and finishing up the last of his grading for the year. There is absolutely no way Ruby Watts will be able to graduate next week, he's dismayed to find. Even a foot-high stack of last-minute extra credit can't erase all her unexcused absences. The girl is undoubtedly bright, but she's a troublemaker. Castiel sighs in frustration.

"Bad morning?" Brother Michael asks when he makes his usual 7:45 entrance, glancing back over his shoulder as he pulls a loaf of bread with his name on it out of the fridge. He is one of several monks who teach at Saint Benedict's, but he's the only one of them who speaks to Castiel outside of meetings and interactions necessary to work. They are very nearly friends, or anyway the closest Castiel has to one amongst the rest of the staff. Brother Michael is, as the students put it, "cool." In the ancient tradition he brews beer at home, and he started an extracurricular program to teach the students organic farming. When Castiel came here three years ago, he'd had something of a crush, but it luckily faded with familiarity.

"Not especially," Castiel says. "I'm just concerned about Ruby Watts."

"She's known for months she wouldn't be able to graduate if she missed any more school. There's nothing any of us can do at this point but accept it." Michael waves a slice of bread in question and Castiel nods.

"I'm worried more for what will happen to her when she doesn't. Her stepmother is... unpleasant."

"That's putting it mildly."

At 7:50 Michael presents him with a piece of toast dripping with butter and apricot preserves, and at 7:55 Castiel detours to the bathroom to clean away the stickiness from his hands and lips and brush his teeth. At 8:00 he's in his classroom and starting up his laptop on the desk, and between then and 8:15 the students straggle in. First period is a senior class of Religious Education. Half of them are barely awake and don't care anymore, and the other half are rowdy and excited. He knows better by now than to actually attempt teaching anything--even the school doesn't tempt fate this time of year with trying to get them into chapel before the year-end convocation--and so he puts on a DVD of Jesus Christ Superstar and lets them sleep or talk or sign yearbooks or interrupt his exam grading with pointless questions.

When the bell rings at 9:20, some of them wish him well and he wishes them luck and other pleasantries, feeling awkward, but he means it. Ruby doesn't show up.

"Have a nice life, sir," says Fergus Crowley, the class comedian.

"I'll do my best," Castiel says to the empty room. He's unnecessarily mulling that over when his tenth-grade history class comes in. They're easier to deal with, more obvious, not on the cusp of anything like the other grades are, just wanting the homework slog to stop and be off for the summer, the fact not yet sunk in with most of them that they're going to have to start thinking seriously about college. The junior R.E. class at 10:25 are already full of the excitement of getting to be seniors, and the freshmen after lunch are just relieved they've made it through the year. Brother Michael joins him for chess during his planning period and someone's left a CD on his desk that turns out to be a concept album about David Koresh, most likely a history junior because they've just been over that. It isn't bad for how ridiculous the idea is and Michael ribs him gently and says he should take up guitar and use it as a teaching tool.

"Did any of your students tell you to have a nice life?" Castiel asks as he takes a bishop, his forehead a bit sore from thinking.

"Not that I remember. It's good advice, though. Check."

At 3:00 when the five people who actually show up for study hall (and Indiana Jones and the cookies he'd promised for whomever stuck out the whole day) have left, all the books and supplies that live here during the year go into a box that seems strangely small in the back seat of his car, where it stays until he's wandered the mall for two hours looking for Anna's present. When he comes out, having finally given up and just buying her favorite perfume, there's a shining black Chevy with out-of-state plates parked next to him and he tries not to wonder whose it is.


"Creative, bro," says Gabriel when Anna opens the perfume during her birthday dinner.

"Stuff it, Gabe," Anna says, and kisses Castiel on the cheek.

"You couldn't have topped my present anyway, so it's just as well you didn't try." Gabriel waves at the waiter with a big smile and points at his glass, which still has the last third of a White Russian in it.

"If you're going to be a total butthead about it I'll just take Cas to Vegas instead."

Gabriel pouts dramatically but it breaks into laughter when Castiel says, "Please don't," which really isn't supposed to be funny.

He loves his siblings, because they're family, but if they weren't, he's got no doubt he would never have met them, let alone be having dinner together. Anna's headstrong and artistic and has always gone her own way, and so has Gabriel, who loves pranks and jokes and anything he deems fun but somehow still manages to be competent in a courtroom.

Castiel was the one who always tried to follow what he thought their father wanted, Yale and theology and even went so far as to follow it with a New Testament PhD as his father had, even though he was far more interested in mysticism. It never ended up mattering that through his research he'd found that only roughly five percent of the things Christ supposedly said could be backed with historical evidence and that he'd become an instant center of controversy in his field, because his father hadn't acknowledged the invitation to his dissertation defense or his graduation. After that no respectable theology program would offer him anything that even thought about dancing with tenure, just a semester or two as a visiting lecturer, a temporary curiosity to stir the pot a bit. St. Benedict's probably would have been better off not taking him either, but he went to college with Joshua, the chair of the school trustees, who's spent enough time in academia to know you can publish and perish, and hired him out of some combination of pity, decency, and a defiant gesture to the headmaster, Zachariah. Castiel had nearly been too proud to accept, but he's glad he did, even if it's not where he wants to spend the rest of his life.

"No sad faces on my birthday!" Anna waggles a drunken finger.

"Oh, go easy on little Cassie," Gabriel says. His mouth is full of cake and whipped cream and it's barely intelligible. "He's just sent a new crop of indoctrinated ducklings off into the real world."

"One of them told me to have a nice life."

"And you should!" Anna crows, and punctuates it by knocking back the rest of her drink.

"You are long overdue for some bedroom action, little brother. Just because you work with monks and nuns doesn't mean you have to live like one."

"I'm not interested in casual sex," Castiel says, and as luck would have it, he says it loudly just as one of those collective lulls in conversation happens, so everyone in the restaurant hears it.

"Well more damn power to you!" Anna says even louder, raising her empty glass, before Castiel can get too far in contemplating strategies for physically sinking through the floor. He says 'bless you' without words and she gives him a sloppy smile that tells him she understands.


The first day out of school is always a bit strange, something that throws the curve and has to be adjusted for. The late night for Anna's birthday and resulting hangover are as helpful as they are additionally disorienting. Castiel sleeps until seven and vaults out of bed in a confused panic before he remembers there's nowhere to be. He's not doing summer school this year because he swore he'd work on his book, possibly visit some libraries overseas that have texts they won't let out or subject to photocopying. He could go back to sleep if he wanted to, but he's been shocked awake so he goes downstairs, feeling grimy and bleary and like his head's full of chainsaws. There's still the tea but he drinks three glasses of water first and dumps out the Darjeeling in favor of strong-brewed Assam with milk, and there's no day to prepare for so he drinks it sitting on the porch and staring out into the street. Running is actually the last thing he feels like doing, but he knows he always feels better after than before so he does it anyway.

He's a hundred feet down the sidewalk and grimacing through a leg cramp when he realizes he forgot to stretch, so he sits down and does it where he is. Missouri nearly runs over him when she comes home, and she threatens to whack him once she learns he's okay and just exceedingly stupid today. Her eyes are tired and her tone is fierce but she doesn't so much whack him as pat him and she smiles in the end. He gets up and runs on and tells himself he'll just keep going until he feels normal, and he does a fine job of dodging the fire hydrant and tree roots and toy minefield as always. The U-Haul at Dean's house is gone and so is the realtor's sign. Even all the way up the driveway under the carport, he can see the blue of the Kansas license plate on the black Chevy, same as at the mall. He doesn't stop, just slows a little to look.

Then there's a voice that makes no sense: "BONES! NO!" He doesn't have time to piece together what it might mean, because something heavy knocks against his legs and he loses his balance, and then he's on his back with the wind knocked out of him and a weight on his chest and something warm and slimy on his face and there's a "Goddammit!" shouted closer.

Castiel pries his eyes open just in time to see a massive golden retriever being pulled off him, and then there's Dean. "Jesus, man, I'm sorry, he just ripped the leash right out of my-- you okay?"

"I think so," Castiel says, and he'd hate how breathless he sounds if he didn't have a good excuse. He still hates it a little anyway. The sidewalk's gritty against his skin and Dean's hand is warm and rough and solid as he reaches out to meet it and lets himself be pulled up.

"This dog is a total asshole. He's actually my brother's and I don't even--"

Castiel's right knee is throbbing and when he tests his weight on it his vision threatens to white out. He doesn't realize that the cracked cry sounding in his ears is his own voice until Dean's swearing again and catching him around the waist, or that the 'shit, okay, c'mon,' is Dean until he's moving, or rather being moved with Dean supporting most of his weight. He hears a door creak and slam and finds himself sinking into a couch.

"Hang on," Dean says, "I'll get you something."

And that's how Castiel finds himself lying on Dean Winchester's couch with a bag of frozen peas pressed to his knee. The Winchester part isn't something he learns until an hour later, but he does learn it.

Once the cold's numbed the pain, he can look at Dean, who's holding the peas in place and explaining again that it's his brother's dog and that he's never been able to make it mind.. "I thought if I took him for a run he'd calm down, not go all hell-hound."

"Mythologically, hell-hounds are more interested in tearing-apart than in licking."

Dean laughs. "Guess we're lucky there. You need some water or anything? Whiskey?"

"I think it's a little early for whiskey. Also, I'm already hung over."

"Dude, what are you doing out running? That's some serious masochism."

"I thought it might make me feel better. I don't often drink to excess."

"Big party or drowning sorrows?" Dean frowns before Castiel can answer. "Uh, sorry, I don't mean to pry."

"You aren't. It was my sister's birthday and my brother cannot be made to believe a celebration is possible without large quantities of sugar and alcohol."

"Sounds like my kind of party." Dean switches the hand he's holding the peas with and flexes the other. It must be cold.

"There's no need for you to hold those," Castiel says. "I can reach."

"Don't worry about it. It's my fault you're hurt. Least I can do is not to give you frozen hands on top of it."

"Technically it was Bones's fault." Castiel knows that taking Dean's hand to warm it would be overly familiar but the urge to do it, he finds, is there nonetheless.

"Nobody but Sammy can really get him to do crap, and him not even much, but he's usually not that bad. Just being cooped up in motels and a truck for days, I guess."

"Change can be unsettling for animals." And for humans, some of them. "Sammy is your brother?"

Dean laughs. "Yeah, but don't let him hear you call him that if you ever meet him. It's Sam to everyone who didn't change his diapers."

Castiel learns that Sam is in college at Stanford, pre-law, and will be spending most of the summer with Dean once he finishes classes. He learns that Dean is a mechanic and moved here from Lawrence to take over the garage business of an old family friend who wants to retire. Dean doesn't mention any family but Sam and Castiel doesn't ask, because he would prefer not to bring up his own parents. He learns that Dean loves pie and Led Zeppelin and that Dean looks humorously, passionately scandalized when Castiel admits that he only vaguely knows a couple of songs.

"The Ocean? Black Dog? When the Levee Breaks? Ramblin' On? Seriously? Oh man, you are missing out. You have to come back when I get the stereo set up."

Castiel has heard a thousand of these polite invitations, 'we should get a drink sometime,' and similar, vague pleasantries that almost never follow through, and this could easily be another. Still, he says, "I would like that," because he would, and because it's the correct thing to do, even if he knows he'll be disappointed.

Dean insists on driving him home, and on helping him down the steps and into the car (a 1967 Chevy Impala, Dean tells him proudly, along with several other specifications that might as well be in another language for all Castiel understands them) even though he's barely limping. Dean's arm is still around Castiel's waist when they reach his door and Castiel realizes the flaw in the plan. "I, ah. I hide the key when I go out running."

"Cas, that is so not smart. Anyone could see where you keep it."

"It's a safe neighborhood and I don't have much worth stealing. If someone wants that badly to rob me of my twenty-year-old television and five-year-old laptop, I'd prefer they not break the door." Only Anna has ever called him Cas (Gabriel prefers Cassieby way of nicknames, unfortunately) and it makes him feel strangely warm.

"Get one of those dorky lanyard things if you're afraid of losing it, or you know they make running shorts with zipper pockets." Dean lets go of him and bends over to lift the edge of the doormat and produce the key to prove his point. "Promise me you won't anymore, okay?"

Castiel doesn't even think about saying no. It doesn't occur to him to invite Dean in until the Impala's roaring away up the street.


Castiel can't run for three days and it makes him feel restless and itchy.

On the first day, he samples handcrafted ale in Michael's garden and deflects the gentle prodding at discovering what's got him so out of sorts. He does not mention Dean and tries not to think about him either, because he would cautiously like to think he's made a friend, or has begun to, but he can't say so without sounding ridiculous and would hate to be wrong.

He prices plane tickets to Israel and Germany against his savings and can't make a decision. He catalogs the new additions to his bookshelves, which he normally finds calming but currently finds tedious. He scrubs the bathroom grout and makes a moderately successful quiche with the leeks Michael sent him home with and writes a scathing letter in response to a scholarly article that he knows the journal's editors will publish prominently to stir a little excitement when they see his name. He feels a twinge of guilt at it, but the author, a Hebrew Bible scholar at the University of Chicago that Castiel has met in passing a few times, has done sloppy research and is patently wrong.

On the second day, he tries to ignore the twinge in his knee as he stretches but he can't even make it down the steps in the end. He frowns into his tea and answers emails and types Led Zeppelin into a YouTube search but never clicks the button. He limps his way around the grocery store and does laundry and smiles at drunken photo texts from Anna and Gabriel in Las Vegas and goes over his book notes and outline and is sorely tempted to put it through the paper shredder. Instead he muddles through uploading the photo of Gabriel and Anna with an Elvis impersonator and a pair of just-married strangers to a mail-order service and orders three prints.

On the third day, he decides he's being ridiculous and forces himself into respectable clothes and into his car and into the IU Bloomington library. He waits the three hours for the books and journals he wants to be pulled out of storage and spends the day with dust up his nose and ink on his hands and has an awkward conversation with an M.Div student who's realized who he is from the request slips. But it's a much better day than the others-- he feels he's at least made some progress and his knee barely hurts at all, and maybe he's finally beginning to catch up with himself.

Then he comes home to find a piece of paper stuck to his door. He's confused at first because he assumes it's someone who's tried to deliver a package and he isn't expecting anything that won't fit in the mailbox, but it turns out to be a note written on the back of a receipt and taped to the glass with a mutilated orange $15.99 price tag.

Came to see how your knee was doing but you weren't home so I guess you're OK? Stereo's set up now anytime you want to come by for that Zep education.

It's written with a pen that wasn't cooperating very well, some of the words gone back over and some of them only readable from the impressions in the paper, and Dean writes in all-capitals as though he's not used to it. Castiel blushes bright red even though he knows there's no one watching. What he wants to do is walk down the street and take Dean up on the invitation, but he stands in the kitchen staring at the note, picturing it turning out to be an inconvenient time and strained words on the doorstep. The receipt on the other side is from Harvelle's Roadhouse for a bacon cheeseburger and three beers. Castiel knows the place, but he's never had the inclination to go inside. It's on the very edge of town where it gives way to open fields and there are always motorcycles out front and he's always assumed it's rough, with pool tables and low light and smoke and men you shouldn't get on the wrong side of. He wouldn't have pictured Dean there, but then again, he doesn't really know Dean.

It's already dark out because he stayed in the library until the security guards came through announcing it was closing, and he tells himself 9:30 is too late to show up on a stranger's doorstep. He doesn't think about what he's doing when he puts the note, price tag and all, into the desk drawer that holds postcards from Gabriel's travels, Anna's college graduation announcement, Gabriel's wedding invitation, birthday cards and ticket stubs and Christmas cards and all the little here-and-there bits that get collected and want to be remembered.

He's watching the microwave heat up a slice of his mediocre quiche and telling himself he'll eat and read a bit and go to bed early because he suspects he'll be able to run tomorrow, if not vigorously, and at first he stares at the microwave in consternation because he thinks the knocking sound is coming from it, but the timer goes off and there it is again.

Castiel goes to the front door and peers out the window and there's Dean, all hard shadows under the porch light and holding a box in his hands. "Hello, Dean," he says across the threshold.

"Hey Cas. I hope it's not too late or anything but I was coming back from helping a friend out and I saw your light on so, uh." He holds the box out. "Apology pie."

"If any apologies were necessary, you've certainly made them already."

"Well, thanks for that, man. But you can't turn down pie anyway, right?"

Castiel has never been overly fond of desserts, but he already knows how Dean feels about pie and doesn't like to be a disappointment. "No. Would you like to come in?"

"I totally would, but I hate to get your house all greasy."

Castiel was too busy noticing the way Dean's freckles stood out in the harsh lighting to pay too much attention to the rest of him, but there are black streaks up his forearms and on his t-shirt and jeans, though his hands are clean. "I think if we stay in the kitchen you can't do too much damage."

Dean smiles and follows him in. "Man, something smells good in here. Were you cooking?"

"Reheating leftovers. It smells better than it tastes. Despite my best efforts to learn, I'm still not much of a cook." He decides not to mention that he hasn't actually eaten said leftovers yet. Pie for dinner once in his life won't kill him.

"I suck too, unless it's breakfast or involves a grill. Ellen's threatening to teach me to make pie so I stop bogarting all of hers, but why mess up a good thing, right?"

"Ellen?" Castiel asks, trying to keep a note of disappointment out of his voice and spending more time than he needs to with his back turned finding plates. He really shouldn't be disappointed; everything about Dean screams straight and any hopes to the contrary would be delusional.

"Harvelle. She runs the Roadhouse up on route 46. That's where I was coming from, putting a new starter in her truck. Looks like a dive but it's still the best damn pie in town."

"You must have eaten a lot of pie in the last few days to draw that conclusion." And made friends very quickly.

"Nah, I used to come here in the summers sometimes. Worked for Ellen and Bobby some."

"And evaluated the local pie offerings." Castiel begins to regret making such a stupid joke but Dean's grinning when he turns around with two slices of apple pie on plates, so maybe it wasn't that bad. "Would you like something to drink?"

"Love a beer if you got-- oh, wait, you said you don't drink, sorry."

"I said I don't drink much. I also have a friend who likes to test his brewing experiments on me."

Dean's eyeing the handwritten label on Michael's vanilla porter suspiciously. "Are we gonna go blind?"

"It's not moonshine, Dean. It's perfectly safe."

Dean shrugs like that's good enough for him and takes a drink. "Oh, damn. Can your friend be my friend? This beer and pie are a match made in fucking heaven."

"He will be pleased to hear that."

"Seriously, I want to shake this guy's hand. Maybe marry him."

"I could arrange the handshake. The marriage would be problematic given the legal status of same-sex unions and the rules of his order."

Dean laughs like it's the funniest thing he's ever heard.

Castiel is more disappointed than he should be when the plates and glasses are empty and Dean's thanking him and saying he has to work early. "First official week as the new head honcho. It's kinda been hell."

Castiel does something he rarely does, because he so often finds it met with vague agreement that's really a hidden refusal. "If you find you need respite from perdition, I don't think I can eat all of this pie by myself before it goes bad."

Dean doesn't refuse. He grins and says, "See you after work tomorrow, then. I'll even shower."

Castiel rinses the dishes with a smile on his face and forgets to take the quiche out of the microwave or portion out tea for the morning.


Dean's car is already gone when Castiel runs past his house at 6:10 a.m. He has no idea what time the garage closes or what time 'after work' really is, but he's careful to leave the library early, with enough time to stop by Michael's to collect some more beer. He tells Michael about what Dean said, without actually mentioning Dean by name (and leaving out the profanity) and Michael is happy and also curious. There's no reason not to tell him everything, really, but something jealous in him dodges the questions, as though he'd like to keep Dean to himself.

"I understand," Michael says. "You don't want to jinx it, do you? You've always been superstitious."

"I sincerely doubt there is anything to 'jinx.'"

"Well, you know where to find me if you need me." Michael doesn't look like he believes Castiel for a second.

It's only 5:30 when Castiel gets home, which could mean he's got anything from a few minutes to a few hours to wait, and he finds anything he can to keep himself occupied and not actually be waiting. Despite Dean's apparent enthusiasm, there's always 'something came up,' either as an excuse or the truth or both, and he doesn't want to set himself up for any more disappointment than he already has, so he does his best to do whatever he would do if he weren't possibly expecting someone.

Anna calls while he's boiling pasta, and her tales of mild debauchery from Vegas are a good distraction until she happens to complain that her car is making a clunking noise whenever she turns a corner. He does not say that he knows a mechanic he can ask about it, because know is an uncertain term.

"You should probably have that looked at," is what he says.

"I know," she says. "I'm taking it in on Monday. I'm just pissed this decided to happen right after I've blown a huge wad of cash andrent's due."

"Anna, if you need help--"

"I don't."

Anna hates 'help.' She didn't speak to Castiel or Gabriel for a month after they paid off her hospital bills without telling her because she'd refused to accept it when they'd offered. He's still not sure she's actually forgiven them, but they don't talk about it. She likes to pretend that month of her life never happened, and Castiel wishes too that it could just be erased, as much for her sake as his own personal guilt that it ever came to that.

She pretends this strained interlude in the conversation didn't happen either, changes the subject back to Vegas and meeting an exotic dancer who was doing it to pay for her master's degree and liked Gabriel a lot, not sparing the details about just how much and claiming she can actually hear Castiel's face turning red.

Castiel goes through research while he waits for his lasagna to bake and manages to get deep enough into it that he's surprised when the timer goes off. He's more surprised at the knock on the door, enough that he nearly drops the pan he's holding, because he's been telling himself all evening that it was never going to come.

Dean's standing in the doorway, obviously freshly showered, hair still wet and not a speck of grease on him even under his fingernails. Castiel is suddenly very conscious of his own rumpled shirt and half-undone tie and the fact that he didn't bother to take off his oven mitts to answer the door. If Dean notices he doesn't make any indication of it, just smiles and returns Castiel's greeting and comes inside. He's got a stack of records under one arm.

"I saw you had a turntable in the living room," Dean says with a shrug and a smile. "What smells so awesome?"

"My latest attempt at lasagna. You're welcome to some if you haven't eaten, but I can't make any promises for its quality."

"I was either gonna see if you wanted to get a pizza or I'd just eat pie for dinner, but that sounds way better."

"It needs some time to cool. I haven't used the record player recently but it may still work if you'd like to play one of those."

Castiel doesn't mind Led Zeppelin, and though he doesn't form the passionate attachment to it that Dean has, he's intrigued by the apocalyptic imagery. Dean stops the record to make Castiel look up the original Memphis Minnie version of 'When the Levee Breaks' and they end up talking about Robert Johnson selling his soul at a crossroads, a legend Castiel knows well because of an elective seminar class called The Devil and the Delta Blues that he did T.A. work for in graduate school. 

Dean looks more impressed at that than he does at his lasagna, which Castiel probably should have specified was vegetable lasagna, but Dean digs in without complaint and looks surprised.

"Cas, man, I have to say, I actually hate vegetables but this is really good."

"Then maybe you don't hate vegetables."

"Maybe not, I dunno. I'd have a hard time hating anything with this much cheese."

Dean has a tendency to talk with his mouth full and completely ignores his knife in favor of stabbing too-large bites with his fork, and Castiel finds it worryingly endearing.

"How do you know all that stuff about the bible and everything?"

Castiel realizes that Dean's never asked what he does for a living and that he's never volunteered it. "I did my PhD in New Testament studies."

"Holy shit. I mean, uh, crap. Uh."

Castiel can't help laughing. "I believe 'holy shit' covers it very well. Due to that belief I have a certain degree of notoriety in my field."

"So, what, you're like the black sheep of the God-studying family?"

"That's perhaps an oversimplification, but true in essence. No faculty will accept me as anything other than a temporary curiosity, so I've been teaching high school for the last three years."

"Dude, you must have nerves of steel. I never finished high school but I gave a bunch of teachers a big fucking headache before I dropped out."

"The students can be trying, yes. But it's rewarding in a way I wouldn't have expected."

"You go all Dead Poets' Society on them?"

"I don't think my teaching methods resemble those of Robin Williams' character in the movie, no. But I do my best to motivate those who are receptive to it. Why did you drop out, if that's not too personal?"

"It's not. I just sucked at it. Math homework and essays weren't exactly the biggest thing I had to worry about. I was actually pretty pissed when I took the GED because I could have passed it without suffering through three years of that bullshit. The only thing I ever liked was auto shop and I didn't even really need that 'cause I'd been working on the Impala since before I had to shave." Dean shakes his head and takes a long drink of his beer. "You don't want to hear this crap. How about that pie?"

Castiel actually rather does want to hear that crap, but he can tell Dean's done talking about it for now. They eat pie and listen to Houses of the Holy with Dean interjecting trivia and pieces of its history and explaining why 'D'yer Maker' is supposed to be pronounced like Jamaica and not dire maker, and Dean laughs for a long time when Castiel admits that the only reason he knows it is from hearing it on repeat in a college dorm room while a joint got passed around.

The conversation works its way back to Dean's work and a man this afternoon who came in panicking because his Check Engine light was on, which turned out to be because he hadn't tightened his gas cap enough. "I should have charged him twenty bucks for the diagnostic, but I felt bad for the poor bastard," Dean says, laughing. "Anyhow, it's good business. He'll be back when he needs something for real 'cause now he knows I won't jerk him around."

"Do a lot of mechanics do that? Jerk people around?" Castiel asks, concerned for Anna.

"Oh man, you have no idea. There's a lot of assholes out there who just want to make a buck off people who haven't done their homework. And don't ever, ever get work done at a dealership if it's not under warranty because they will take your fucking firstborn."

He can't remember how old Anna's car is exactly. It's new enough that she's still making payments on it but he's never owned a new car in his life and has no idea what a warranty covers or how long it lasts. "What about a clunking sound when you turn corners? Is that usually covered?"

"Dude, your car's what, a '95? Nothing's covered unless there's a factory recall. Sounds like you've got a busted CV boot. You need a whole new axle."

"My car is fine. My sister happened to mention that hers was making that sound."

"If the dealership won't do it for nothing, have her bring it to me. Friends and family don't pay labor."

"But she's neither."

"We're friends. She's your family. Same difference."

He doesn't think about Dean's smile or freckles or eyelashes or the way that a few drinks have him talking louder and closer. He'll get over this crush the same way he got over the one on Michael, with time and familiarity and the reality of the impossibility of anything beyond we're friends.


"You could have warned me!" Anna says over the phone by way of greeting.

"Warned you about what?"

"That the mechanic you sent me to was a four-alarm hottie? I thought he'd be some old beardy grandpa. I would have at least made a damn effort instead of showing up in sweatpants and no makeup! How do you know that guy, anyway?"

"Dean? He lives in my neighborhood."

"Oh my god, I need to hang out at your house more. He was amazing. The guy at Honda said it would cost five hundred bucks and take two days, but Dean charged me seventy-five and had it done by lunch. I didn't even have to use a credit card and the receptionist gave me cake. Is he married or gay or anything, do you know?"

"I'm fairly certain he isn't married, but I don't know about the rest."

"I am so getting an oil change next week."

"I thought you'd just gotten one."

"He doesn't need to know that. How well do you know him? Any pointers?"

"He likes Led Zeppelin," Castiel says weakly. Because Dean doesn't belong to him, and Anna deserves to have something she wants if she can have it.



"I think my sister may be interested in dating you," Castiel says.

It's Sunday morning and Castiel had been pleasantly surprised while running to find Dean out doing the same with Bones, who's much better behaved with more exercise. They stopped when they came back around to Dean's house and Castiel was about to say goodbye, but discarded his intentions of running another mile when Dean invited him in for breakfast.

Dean's just taken a sip of his coffee and he coughs violently as if he's choking on it. "What?"

"Anna. She said that you're a 'four-alarm hottie' and intends to get an unnecessary oil change next week."

"Uh, no offense to your sister, man, but she's...kind of not my type."

"She did tell me she would make more effort with her appearance next time. She believed that a 'beardy grandpa' would be fixing her car."

"Cas, please never use air quotes again."

"She is a very intelligent woman and objectively speaking, very beautiful."

"Yeah, I saw that when I met her. Don't worry, I'll let her down gently if she actually starts hitting on me."

While he's disappointed for Anna, he's also selfishly relieved. "I didn't believe you would intentionally hurt her feelings," he says. His appetite for the bacon and eggs on his plate is much stronger than it was before this conversation began. "This is very good bacon."

The strained look Dean's been wearing is wiped away by a grin. "Told you I was awesome at breakfast," he says around a mouthful of toast.


"I'm going to die alone and unloved and devoured by wild Alsatians," Anna declares to the depths of her wine glass Monday night.

"You've been reading Bridget Jones again, haven't you?" Gabriel says. "Buck up, little Annie. Who needs hot mechanics? He probably smells and gets engine grease all over everything. Right, Cassie?" This last is with a pointed and slightly threatening look, or as threatening a look as it's possible for Gabriel to give.

Gabriel sent Castiel a text message reading emergency family meeting my place 7 bring ice cream and this is the result. He's certain Dean's rejection of his sister was nothing but polite and he hadn't expected it would come as such a blow, but Anna can have unpredictable reactions. And while it's true that Dean does sometimes smell very strongly after a long day working in a hot garage, he's never found it unpleasant. Something to the contrary, really. But this is not, he knows, what Gabriel wants him to say to raise Anna's spirits.

"Boys are smelly?" Anna retorts before Castiel can form an answer that will be neither untruthful nor detrimental. "That's your big comforting line?"

"Well, we are," Gabriel says.

"But I like smelly. Maybe I should go gay. I could go gay."

"Nonsense," Gabriel says. "You'll go to bed and in the morning I'll make you hangover waffles and then you'll go find a nice smelly man to be very happy with."

Gabriel is always better with words in a crisis, but when Anna spills her wine and begins to cry and has to be bodily carried to the guest room, it's Castiel who's useful, to take her upstairs and let her sob herself to unconsciousness. Gabriel puts a glass of water on the bedside table and kisses her forehead and leads Castiel downstairs.

They don't have to say what they're both thinking, what they're both worrying about, whether tonight's episode is a portent of more and worse or is isolated because she's been doing so well for so long. They drink a glass of whiskey in complete silence because they both know how the conversation will go. They don't speak until Castiel calls a cab because he's well past able to drive, and Gabriel hands him a paper towel and says, "You've got snot on your shoulder." That Gabriel will look after Anna and will call him in the morning stays unspoken.

Castiel's cab driver is mercifully not chatty beyond asking for a destination and whether Castiel minds the radio. He gets a nice tip for that.

Castiel is in no way prepared for finding Dean on his porch in the midst of writing a note. It must not be as late as it feels.

"Hey, man, good timing! I was just--" Dean's smile falls away. "Cas, you okay?"

"I've had a somewhat trying evening and I'm a bit drunk." His key refuses to fit in the lock.

"Here," Dean says, and his hand is warm and rough where it lays over Castiel's for a moment as he takes the key and opens the door. His eyes close when another warm hand's on his back guiding him inside. It would be absolutely nothing to let himself sway to one side and have Dean catch him, but he braces himself on the door jamb instead. "I can go if you want," Dean says.

"I doubt I'll be very good company and I think I may be sick very soon."

"I'm not being responsible for you passing out and pullin' a Hendrix, so I guess you're stuck with me. Go see the porcelain god, I'll be down here if you need me."

When his stomach is empty and he can taste nothing but toothpaste and mouthwash, Castiel's mind is clearer but his mood is no better. If anything, it's worse-- on top of his concern for Anna there's now annoyance and embarrassment at Dean witnessing him in this state. He means to appear downstairs just long enough to assure Dean he can safely be left alone, but Dean's sitting at the kitchen island with a glass of water and a plate of toast waiting for him and a small concerned smile that leaves him torn between shame and gratitude.

"Feel better?" Dean asks and pushes the water toward him.


"You'll thank me in the morning if you can get some of that toast down now, trust me."

"I'll say thank you now since I doubt I will see you in the morning," Castiel says once he's successfully swallowed a bite.

"Seriously, dude, no hangover running this time. Just lay around clutching your head and hating the universe and eat the greasiest breakfast you can find."

"Lie," Castiel says, a reflex.


"Lie around, not lay around."

"Oh, man, you know your grammar sucks when the drunk guy's correcting you." Dean laughs and shakes his head and refills the water glass, and he knows without being told to use the pitcher in the refrigerator and not the tap.

"I'm sorry. It's habit."

"No worries. If you're safe to fly solo I can get out of your hair anytime."

He's not sure if that means Dean would like to leave or if he thinks Castiel would like him to, but maybe it's best. "I will be fine on my own. Thank you, Dean."



Castiel must be dreaming because though there's a vicious pounding in his head and the sun is too bright, standing next to his bed is-- "Dean?" It comes out garbled and half-intelligible.

"Hey." Dean's smile is strange.

When Castiel forces himself to sit up, he sees there's a glass of water, two pills, and a plate of food on his bedside table. He scrubs a hand over his eyes.

"So I kinda stole your keys last night, 'cause you staggered up here without locking the door, and I remembered when I went looking for that bread that you had absolutely nothing for a decent post-drunk breakfast. I have to be at work like, ten minutes ago, but voila, one Winchester hangover special."

"I... ah. Thank you."

Castiel eats the eggs and sausage in a bewildered daze. The pills turn out to be Tylenol, which he doesn't even have any of in the house. And he does feel better, less in the half-dreaming haze and more human, especially when it starts to sink in that Dean did this for no reason except kindness. Locking the door was for his safety, the same as Dean insisting on staying last night was, but he could have simply returned the keys without doing anything else.

It leaves him with a warm feeling that stays even when he's stepping out of the shower and the air conditioning raises goose bumps on his skin. He knows there is no reason to infer any kind of romantic overture in Dean's gesture, but he can't help feeling good that Dean in some way cares. While he washes the plate he wonders if he could return it with something else on it, if he could learn to make pie. But he doubts any effort of his could stand up to Dean's standards. Still, something to thank him, he should find something.

Gabriel calls and tells him Anna's fine ('for now' unspoken) and asks him to meet them for lunch. He isn't hungry but he agrees. It's a long walk downtown, but it's not too hot today and cloudy and he needs to move, so he takes it, suppressing the urge to run even though he's not dressed for it and isn't physically equal to it.

Gabriel honks at him from his own car in paused traffic in front of the diner, calls out the window at him to get a table while they park. The place is busy and there are a few people waiting on the benches by the door. Castiel takes a number from the hostess and waits. He listens vaguely to the college student and her parents waiting next to him arguing about whether or not to put her bicycle in storage for the summer. A man in a suit is talking on his cell phone and telling someone on the other end to cancel his four o'clock. And a boy in the booth nearest the door exclaims, "Dean, you're such a dumbass!"

Castiel's eyes clap straight onto them and no, it's not a coincidence. Dean's back is to him and he's only visible in part profile, but it's him, with a child and a woman (who must be the boy's mother, because at the 'dumbass,' she says, "Benjamin!"). Dean and Benjamin are laughing but Castiel can't hear anything but the noise around him and the blood in his ears and barely manages to duck behind a pillar in time for the boy to get up so Dean can slide out of the booth. He doesn't turn around, heading for the bathroom at the back, but he says something to the woman and squeezes her shoulder and she smiles up at him. He knows, somewhere in the back of his mind, that they could be friends, relatives, any number of things, and that even if they're not, even if it's what it looks like, he has no place to be upset by it. He nearly hits an arriving couple with the door when he pushes his way out, stammers out an apology and pushes his numbered slip of paper into the confused man's hand.

He only gets a moment to compose himself before Gabriel and Anna come across the street. "There's a very long wait," he tells them. "We should go somewhere else."

Anna takes it at face value, still looking pale and a bit shaken from last night's ordeal, and suggests the Italian place around the corner. Gabriel gives him a look that tells him he's going to have to explain later, but he can tell the truth without telling it: Dean was there. And whatever his own feelings are, it wouldn't have been good for Anna to see him.

This is what he tells Gabriel while Anna's in the bathroom and he's pushing salad around his plate without eating it. "He was there with a woman and a child. I thought it might not be good for Anna."

"I dunno," Gabriel says. "Maybe it would. If he's already taken at least she'd know it wasn't about her."

"I wasn't aware he was dating anyone or I would have told her." And it would have been very simple for Dean to say so instead of the vague 'not my type' that could have meant anything.

Gabriel shrugs. "Not like you know the guy that well either."

"No," Castiel says. "I suppose I don't."



Castiel doesn't see Dean the rest of the week and doesn't try to. If he's honest with himself, he's trying not to. He runs at the same time he would if he had to be at school, the same routine. He spends long hours in libraries and is at home very little.

He even accepts a professor's request for a research consultation half a day's drive away in Chicago. The man's name is Balthazar and they've cited each other's work before, never in agreement, met in passing at conferences. He was the author of the article that Castiel wrote the letter about and has surely seen it by now. He is sarcastic and charming and is very blunt that the dinner invitation he makes for that evening is not for professional reasons.

Castiel is equally blunt: "I'm not in the habit of having one-night stands."

"I asked you for dinner, not a shag in the broom cupboard."

Castiel accepts. Balthazar likes to make him laugh and make him blush and he has a good time. It isn't until Balthazar's driving him back to his hotel and swats violently at the radio when Celine Dion comes on and the next station is playing the end of 'Black Dog' that Castiel realizes he hasn't thought about Dean the entire evening.

He doesn't think about Dean either when Balthazar kisses him goodnight, but it's more of an effort. Instead he thinks that it's nice to be kissed, nice to be wanted. He thinks that he likes Balthazar and could like him more. When Balthazar asks if he'll come back next weekend, Castiel says yes.


He sees Dean next on Monday evening, just after dark, when Castiel has finally conceded that he can no longer avoid the chore of mowing his lawn. He doesn't enjoy it, but he can't see the sense in paying someone else to do what he can do himself. Dean's standing at the end of the walk holding a six-pack of beer and Castiel is happier to see him than he thought he would be. He's missed Dean, he realizes, in a way that's more than the vague longing that sits in his chest even when Dean is around.

"Peace offering?" Dean says, holding the beer up when Castiel cuts off the mower.

"I was unaware we were at war."

Dean's laugh is sheepish. "I kinda thought you might be pissed at me for the whole breaking and entering thing. 20/20 hindsight it was a little creepy of me."

"Not at all, Dean. It was very kind. I apologize that I haven't thanked you properly."

"No need, man. I'm just glad you're not mad." They sit down on the steps together and Dean opens two bottles and hands him one. "When I didn't see you around at all I thought you might be."

Hurt, confused, yes, because of the woman, but Dean's done nothing wrong. If anything, Castiel has. "I'm sorry if I gave that impression. I've been quite busy this week. It's... it's good to see you." 

"Yeah." Dean grins. "I've been busting my ass too. I kept dragging my feet on getting a room ready for Sammy and he's going to be here on Friday so I've been all apeshit Martha Stewart."

"That sounds unpleasant."

"Eh. It sucks in a way, especially the part where I had to go shopping for curtains, and I probably didn't need to refinish the floor, but I want it to be nice for him, you know? We moved around a lot when we were kids and there wasn't much curtain shopping. Or curtains period a lot of the time."

Castiel can see the meaning between the lines: Dean wants to give his brother somewhere that's home. "I'm sure he'll appreciate it," he says instead of asking questions about why they never had a permanent one.

"Hope so. Hey, you eat yet?"

"No, I was going to finish this first." He gestures at the lawn with vague distaste.

"I could go get a pizza or something while you finish up, if you want."

"That would be very nice."

"Cool." Dean slaps him lightly on the shoulder and stands up. "I'll even get a couple of vegetables on it."

Dean returns just as Castiel's finished putting the mower away, and they eat the pizza sitting on the porch. They don't talk about anything important; Dean shares stories from his work, strange customers and the overexcited part-time receptionist who is obsessed with some television show Castiel's never heard of.

"It's about these two brothers who hunt demons and ghosts and stuff, and there's this guy who's some kind of angel and she can't shut up about how there's this epic big gay love between the angel and one of the brothers. It's disturbing."

"You're disturbed by... gay love?"

Castiel isn't sure he wants to know the answer but Dean is quick to make himself clear. "No, no, not like that. It's disturbing how into it she is. It's not just that show, it's like the whole world. She thinks Doctor Sexy is banging the hospital's lawyer and Kirk and Spock are totally doing it and don't even get me started on the weird shit she thinks about Harry Potter."

"I'm unfamiliar with the rest of the material, but it would be easy argument that Kirk and Spock have a romantic friendship."

"A who-what now?"

"As far back as history goes, there have been instances of men who loved each other a great deal, with or without a sexual element. Jonathan and David, for example, or Achilles and Patroclus. Before homosexuality became taboo these relationships were declared openly, even celebrated."

"Huh. So...bromance."

Castiel knows the term thanks to his students. "Perhaps an oversimplification, but accurate enough."

"Sometimes I forget you're a frickin' genius with a million degrees." Dean laughs and knocks his shoulder against Castiel's.

"My IQ is not genius level, and I only have--"

"Shut up and take the compliment, Captain Literal."

Before Dean leaves, he invites Castiel to a barbecue at his house to welcome Sam. Castiel nearly accepts but remembers he's already promised to see Balthazar the same day, and feels guilt on both accounts, especially when he doesn't explain who he's seeing and why, only that he went this weekend for a research consultation and will be going again the next. Not a lie, but not the truth.

Dean is disappointed, but doesn't appear to be overly so. "Well, he'll be here all summer. He actually is a genius. You'll like him. Probably epic nerd bromance material," Dean says with a wink.

He feels happy after he's said goodnight to Dean. He feels happy too when he sees his cell phone blinking a message and there's a text from Balthazar. He turns the 'bromance' discussion over in his mind and thinks that maybe he doesn't have to feel guilty for being happy at both.


Castiel sees Dean every morning or evening for the rest of the week, sometimes both. Things get added to his grocery list that he doesn't usually buy: coffee, bacon, sausage. Dean cooks in Castiel's kitchen and knows where everything is kept. Castiel brings vegetables from Michael's garden and introduces Dean to ratatouille.

He talks to Balthazar several times, at first under the thinly veiled excuse of Balthazar checking a reference but without excuses every time after. They talk about a lot of things, some that Castiel doesn't talk about to most people, about his father because of course Balthazar knows his work and that they're related. He learns that he knows Balthazar's father's work too, but wouldn't have known they're related because Balthazar changed his surname after he left England. Their histories are strangely similar, except that Castiel was searching for approval when Balthazar wanted as much distance as possible, to make his own way and not ride the coattails of a great Cambridge scholar. That's not all they talk about; there's Balthazar and the obscure British comedies he likes, Castiel and his attempts at learning to cook well. Once they speak of the time they kissed and Balthazar's voice fills him with heat when he admits he would have 'rather liked to have that shag in the broom cupboard.'

"Don't get a hotel," Balthazar says late Thursday night. Castiel agrees.

Dean is buzzing with excitement about Sam's arrival Friday morning. He runs so hard that Castiel and even Bones have to struggle to keep up. He's sweat-drenched and smiling over his coffee and Castiel thinks he's beautiful.

"Have fun in Chicago," Dean says as Castiel's leaving.

"Have fun with Sam."

They look at each other for a moment, a strange tense impasse, and then Dean steps forward and hugs him. It's brief, a bit awkward in that it ends with Dean slapping him hard on the back as if to make up for doing it and walking out of the room with a gruff, "See you later," leaving Castiel to make his own way to the front door, but it's good.


Balthazar's home is much like his office, every surface available filled with things. Some is the accumulation of work, papers and books piled on tables in ordered chaos, but most is just a large volume of possessions, collections. There are large collections of DVDs and records; Balthazar likes Film Noir and Hitchcock, Iggy Pop and Suzi Quatro. He is indifferent to Led Zeppelin but owns all of their albums. Spaces on the shelves in front of the books hold old cameras. Most of them don't work, he says, and he's always meaning to fix them, but he slings his arm around Castiel's shoulders and points one at them and presents him with a blurry Polaroid that Balthazar laughs at and declares 'bloody awful.' He has several guitars and an antique revolver and a dozen pairs of cowboy boots. There's a full bar in the living room and all but a few bottles are covered in dust. There's a hat Cary Grant wore in North By Northwest that sits on top of a suit of armor.

"Do you ever wear it?" Castiel asks.

"The armor? No, chafes like a bastard."

"The hat."

Balthazar puts it on and kisses him. He wears it to dinner, which is at an Ethiopian restaurant where they sit on the floor and use bread instead of silverware. They see a silent film with a live piano player and go to a bar that serves 'artisan' cocktails.

The bartender knows Balthazar and greets him with, "Hey, Dr. T! Nice hat!"

"Thank you, Luc. I stole it from Cary Grant."

"Cool. Who's your friend?"

"Off-limits, devil child, so stop leering. Cas, this is Luc, my brilliant protégé and bane of my existence. Horrible brat, this is Dr. Milton. Yes, as in the. Now go make us two of those bacon-chocolate bourbon things with the ridiculous ice cubes."

Though Castiel isn't entirely sure whether he's supposed to be amused or not, he can't help but be.

"Rather ruins the romance, doesn't he?" Balthazar says with a smirk.

"You seem to like him."

"Oh, he's my favorite student and he knows it. I should have lied and said your name was John Smith. Now I've introduced him to his idol, he'll be insufferable for weeks."

Castiel blinks. "Idol?"

"You know, it's bloody adorable the way you tilt your head to one side when you're trying to work something out. But at the risk of overinflating your ego, yes, to him you're James Dean and Einstein all in one package. Doesn't agree with a damn thing you've ever said, of course, but he does love how you say it and he wants to be just like you when he grows up. Should thank him, really, since he was the one who suggested you for that consult last week."

"I'm not sure I understand." Castiel catches his head tilting to one side and stops it, and Balthazar laughs. "I've made myself virtually unemployable."

"What can I say, boy loves a fuck-you attitude."

"I never set out to... fuck anyone. They were simply wrong."

"Precisely. It's all well and good to stand on the shoulders of giants, but once in a while they need a good boot to the knackers. Also," and Balthazar leans in close to his ear, "don't use the word 'fuck' again or I'll do something that shouldn't be done in public."

They don't stay for a second drink.


"Don't answer it," Balthazar mumbles into Castiel's shoulder, and tries to keep him from reaching for his ringing phone.

Castiel is tempted not to, but Gabriel's name is on the screen. "It's my brother. There might be something wrong."

"Fine, fine. Spoilsport."


"Oops, did I wake you, Cassie?"

"Yes, you did. Is anything wrong?"

"My lack of anyone to eat pancakes with is very wrong. Anna's gone off on some hippie cleansing retreat and I'm all alone."

"I told you I was going to Chicago."

"In my blind grief I completely forgot."

"Dire emergency?" Balthazar whispers. Castiel shakes his head. "Then get off the bloody phone."

Apparently Balthazar didn't speak quietly enough. "Oh my god, are you in bed with someone?" Gabriel's voice is deafening.

"Yes," Castiel sighs.

"You dog! Who is he? I know you can hear me, mystery Chicago lover, so be good to my baby brother or they'll never find your body!"

"I'll speak to you later, Gabriel," Castiel says, and hangs up the phone.

"Charming man," Balthazar says with a laugh. "At least that saves us from the awkward closet-or-not discussion. Now can I trouble you for a bit of a grope before I make you breakfast?"


Castiel means to stay one night, but he doesn't leave until Monday morning. He barely has the energy to drive. Every time they left Balthazar's house, every next thing he had planned was engineered to be more impressive than the last. It was more activity than he was used to, and by Sunday he found himself hoping they would stay in, but didn't mention it when they didn't. He did finally manage to say that he hoped Balthazar wouldn't expect anything like blind dining or guerrilla cinema when he came to visit Castiel and the 'darling, I'll be perfectly happy to darn your socks while you correct my Ugaritic translations in between fielding death threats from your siblings' seemed like a promising response.

Balthazar won't be coming for two weeks, and at the moment, Castiel thinks he might like to spend both of them asleep. He only makes it as far as the sofa, where he stays asleep until it's dark out and he wakes up starving to his phone ringing as well as someone at the door. The door is Dean; the phone is Balthazar. He can't process which to deal with first and falls off the sofa, which Dean can see from outside, apparently, because Castiel can hear him laughing.

All he can really do is let Dean in as he answers the phone and motion for him to wait.

"I don't think it's all that hilarious that I'm ringing you," Balthazar says.

"It isn't. I had to answer the door and the phone at the same time and I fell off the sofa, and now Dean is laughing at me."

"How many bloody siblings have you got? Is he going to threaten to murder me as well?"

"Dean isn't my brother, he's my friend."

"I won't keep you if you've got company, then. Only wanted to check you hadn't fallen in a ditch or died of longing."

"No, I fell asleep. I'll call you later."

"I'll likely be out, but feel free to leave me a filthy message." Balthazar makes a loud kissing noise before he hangs up.

Castiel knows his face is still red when he joins Dean in the kitchen, but it can't be helped.

"I would say sorry for waking you up, but I guess there's reasonable doubt whether it was me, the phone, or the floor."

"I was already awake when I fell."

"Sorry, I shouldn't laugh. So I guess Chicago was fun if you're having to sleep it off."

"Yes, I had a good time, but it was tiring. Is Sam settling in well?"

Dean snorts. "Little bitch has himself a date tonight. Already. I'm supposed to be the hot Winchester."

"As I've never seen your brother I couldn't make a judgement."

"I mean, I think he looks like a human moose-sasquatch hybrid, but he's my little brother. He's welcome to her, though. Even if she was my type, barely-legal's a little young for me." As Dean's been talking, he's been rummaging through the refrigerator, inspecting packages, frowning at them, and putting them back. "Dude, you have bacon, yogurt, and radishes, and that's it."

"I didn't go shopping before I left. Would you like to order something?"

"There's still a shitload of party food at my house if you don't mind a walk. I can grill you pretty much anything in existence."

"I don't mind. I should go and change, though."

Dean shrugs. "You look fine. Nobody but me's going to see you. I'll be surprised if Sammy even comes home tonight. Though he's a giant girl and might not even kiss till the third date, so who knows. But, uh, since when do you like the Dead Kennedys?"

Castiel looks down at the t-shirt he's wearing, which is old and faded and belongs to Balthazar. It occurs to him that he's going to have to tell Dean about Balthazar, which is an awkward prospect for several reasons. "This isn't mine. I stayed in Chicago longer than I expected to."

Dean raises an eyebrow and doesn't comment, but Castiel thinks he's probably inferred the truth. He finally smiles and says, "C'mon, it's gonna take the grill a few minutes to heat up."

There have been a few changes in Dean's house over the weekend. The mantelpiece in the living room now holds framed photographs, as do some of the walls, and the last stacks of boxes are gone.

"Sam finished my unpacking," Dean says. "This is him." He taps the glass on a photo of himself and Sam on either side of an older bearded man. "He's a little better looking in person, but not much."

"Is that your father?" He's not sure he should ask, because Dean never mentions his father, and he knows he's right when he sees Dean's jaw tighten.

"Nah, that's Bobby. Guy I took over the garage from. Family, but not by blood. C'mon, meat won't cook itself."

Castiel lingers behind him for a moment when a sun-faded wedding portrait catches his eye, of a pretty blonde woman and a dark-haired man, smiling at each other and, Castiel thinks, possibly trying not to laugh. He knows how much can change between one day of joy and promise and a life. And he can't help wondering, but he won't ask.




Sam hates Con. law. Hates. It's dense and dry and picky and other than knowing his future clients' rights, he's never going to need it beyond knowing where to check a statute, which he's known since the twelfth grade. That's all the more reason to knock out as much of the reading as he can over the summer so he can breeze through it and get more out of his other courses, but it makes him itch to do absolutely anything else and hurts his brain. So much so that when the couch starts ringing, he thinks for a moment that he might be starting to hallucinate.

He digs into the cushions and grimaces as he first gets a fistful of crumbs and loose change (and how Dean managed to get this amount of crap stuck in a brand new couch in such a short period of time is a mystery for the ages but also a universal truth of Dean Winchester), but finally he comes up with an unfamiliar cell phone, still ringing and blinking 'Balthazar' on the screen. He snorts at the idea of getting a phone call from one of the Magi, but he figures someone must have left it here, so he answers it.

"Um, hello? Is this your phone?"

There's a British man on the other end. "No, it belongs to Castiel, who I assume has mislaid it. Inhumanly blue eyes, perpetual sex hair, adorably appalling dress sense, perhaps you know him?"

"I think he's a friend of my brother's," Sam says. Dean's mentioned him at least a dozen times, mostly going on about how much Sam's going to like him."I found the phone in the couch."

"Oh, dear, we can't leave him alone for a moment. Well, see he gets it back, will you? Ta."

The line goes dead.

"That wasn't weird at all," Sam says to the empty living room. He could probably just give the phone to Dean to return, but he thinks he remembers Dean saying that Castiel lives in the neighborhood, and anything's better than Con. law, so he flips through the contacts (Anna Milton, Balthazar Thornhill, Bro. Michael, Dean Winchester, EMERGENCY CONTACT Gabriel Milton) and punches the one that says 'home number.'

Three rings later a gravelly voice is saying, "Hello?"

"Um, hi, is this Castiel?"

"This is he."

"Hey, this is Sam Winchester, Dean's brother? I think you left your phone here."

"Oh. Hello, Sam. Thank you, I had been looking for it."

"It was in the couch."

"Ah. I should have realized. If it wouldn't inconvenience you, I'd like to come and get it."

"Yeah, no problem. I'm not doing anything."

"Thank you. I will see you shortly."

"Also not weird at all," Sam says to another dead line.

Five minutes later, Bones jumps up from where he's been napping on the rug and starts barking even before the doorbell rings. Sam's not sure what he should really be expecting, but Balthazar's description of very blue eyes and sex-hair turns out to be pretty accurate. Sam can't really see what's wrong with his fashion sense, but whatever. Castiel steps inside the house after a moment of hesitation on the doorstep, and Sam flails a bit for a second because it looks like Bones is going to jump on him, but then he says sternly, "Bones, down." Sam's about to say that's not going to work and is poised to grab the dog by his collar, but Bones stops short and sits, just panting up at Castiel and wagging his tail. "Good boy," Castiel says, and pets his head. Then he straightens up to extend his hand to Sam like he hasn't just performed a minor miracle. "It's nice to finally meet you, Sam."

"Uh, yeah, you too," Sam says, shaking dumbly, still half staring at his dog who's for once not pretty much violating a guest. "Dean's told me a lot about you."

When Castiel smiles, it changes his whole face, from grave and a little on the unsettling side to... well, nice. "He has likewise about you. I won't take up too much of your time."

"Oh, yeah, here's your phone."

"Thank you."

"There's a guy named Balthazar you probably want to call back. Him calling was the reason I found it."

"Ah. I hope he didn't say anything...untoward."

Sam bites his lip, still stuck on the sex hair comment. "No, he just told me whose phone it was. Hey, do you want a beer or something? Dean's been going on about how I should meet you, and you're here, so..."

"I don't wish to impose."

"No way, you're saving me from Con. law. Besides, the fact that you can make Bones actually do what he's told deserves at least a beer."

For all his weirdly formal speech patterns and slight tendency to stare and stand a little too close, Castiel is actually pretty cool, especially once he's a beer and a half down and loosens up a little. Which is weird, because usually the people Dean thinks are cool and the people Sam thinks are cool don't overlap a lot. Then again, Dean never actually said he was cool, technically. 'Awesome guy' and 'you'll probably wanna marry him and have genius nerd babies' but 'cool' was never actually said. That puts the terminology question to rest, but the fact remains that Castiel is nothing like any friend of Dean's Sam has ever met or heard of. A girlfriend or two, yeah, if you stretch the definition to include what tends to happen between Dean and women (and men, possibly, though Sam's only ever known about one, courtesy of the most visually scarring example of bad timing in history, and they don't talk about it but it stands to reason), but presented with the general profile of a guy Dean spends what sounds like most of his free time with, Castiel isn't what Sam would have pictured. Because they've gone from Castiel's brother's time in law school to Sam's aspirations to the ACLU to theology, which Castiel knows so much about that it makes Sam look like an idiot. Not that Castiel makes him feel like one at all. His students must love him.

By the time Dean bangs through the front door and shouts, "Honey, I'm home!" Sam's pretty sure he's learned more in the last half hour than in the entire semester of his History of Western Religion freshman colloquium. And for all the surprise in his face and voice when he comes into the kitchen and blinks a couple of times and says, "Cas, hey," Dean is clearly pleased to see him, more pleased than he usually is to see just about anyone.

Sam almost wishes he didn't have another date tonight, especially once Castiel says he'll stay for dinner, because there's something about this he wants to figure out.



It's 4th of July weekend, which is incidentally also the reason Balthazar isn't coming until next weekend ('I am still English'). Castiel does not closely examine his relief that he won't have to explain Balthazar as a guest at Dean's barbecue, to which he's been invited ever since he said he would miss Sam's welcome party.

"You're coming tomorrow, right?" Sam asks when they've run into each other at the IU library for the third day in a row, and are drinking tea together from the coffee cart in the lobby for the second day in a row.


"Wow, don't sound so happy about it."

"I tend to be ill at ease at parties." He hasn't particularly wanted to tell Dean this.

"Don't worry about it. It's not like a party party. Mostly just family eating too much and blowing stuff up."

"I'd been under the impression you and Dean didn't have other family here."

"Not people we're related to. But they're family. They're all really nice people. Well, Bobby's a grouch and Ellen can be kind of scary, but they're awesome. If it makes you feel any better, I'm kinda freaking too. This girl I've gone on a couple dates with might come."

"Introducing a significant other to your family can be nervewracking." Gabriel's all but threatened him with torture if he doesn't get to meet Balthazar soon.

"I don't even know if she is that. We've only gone out a couple of times. And she might not even show."

"But you like her, so you hope your family will."

"Yeah. I do. It's been kind of, I don't know, intense? So it's weird right now. She wanted me to come shoot bottle rockets off the top of this warehouse with her but I said I had this thing, and I didn't want to just blow her off, so I invited her."

It sounds very awkward, but Castiel knows that isn't what Sam would like to hear. "I'm sure it will be fine."


Castiel spends the evening making the potato salad he volunteered in a moment of hubris to take to the party, with an amusing but unhelpful running commentary from Balthazar on the phone as he boils eggs and chops potatoes and tries to make sense of conflicting recipes' quantities of mustard and relish and whether or not to use mayonnaise.

"Just put an arse-load of bacon in and no one will care if the rest of it's rubbish. What are you wearing?"

"To the party?"

"No, you ridiculous thing, right now."

"Oh. A white shirt and--"

"Never mind about the trousers. Any chance you've done that thing where you've undone your tie but not taken it off?"

"I didn't wear a tie today."

"Loosened a few buttons, then? Rolled up your sleeves?"

"Yes, I have."

"Good," Balthazar says, and the tone to his voice is familiar, the way it's lower and more breathed than spoken.

"Are you--"

"Stark bollock naked in my bedroom, cock in hand and thinking about what you look like when all your proper starts to come off? Just possibly. Keep talking."

Castiel's body is reacting to the image and the hitch in Balthazar's breathing and he's having a very hard time concentrating on the boiled egg he's peeling. "What should I say?"

"Oh, god, you're gorgeously hopeless, aren't you? Read me the bloody cookbook if you like but I'd rather you got a hand down those perfectly pressed trousers of yours and told me all about it."

"You want to have phone sex."

Balthazar laughs the entire time Castiel's walking to his bedroom, because it seems wrong to do this sort of thing in the kitchen, not to mention unsanitary since there's food cooking, and all that aside, there's the risk of Dean or someone else coming to the door and seeing.

"I'm in my bedroom now and I'm undoing my belt," Castiel says. Balthazar tells him to touch himself and he does, but he doesn't find he can make himself say much, so there's just breathing over the phone line and the occasional word or two from Balthazar, and it feels good, very good, but when it's over he feels a bit cold and strange. He's never found masturbation a terribly interesting prospect; as a teenager, it was a dirty and forbidden guilt-laced thing, and as an adult, it's never been comparable to having a partner, even as few as he's had, and has always left him feeling lonelier than ignoring the urge.

Balthazar, though, tells him he's 'brilliant' as he cleans himself up with tissues and makes sure to wash his hands very thoroughly before going back to the kitchen, where the potatoes are boiling over.


"Oh, man, you put bacon in it?" Dean's smiling widely and stabbing a fork into the bowl before Castiel can warn him that it might not be very good, but then he makes a borderline obscene noise and says with his mouth full, "Damn. You are my new god of potato salad. I'm ruined for everyone else."

Castiel is pleased, but not so pleased that he doesn't stop Dean digging the fork back in for another bite. "You have to leave some for your guests."

"They don't have to know it ever existed." Dean half-heartedly fights against Castiel's hand gripping his wrist, laughing, until the fork clatters to the floor and they're suddenly standing entirely too close with Dean's hand pinned to the counter.

Castiel can't help the spike of desire or the guilt that follows it. He steps back. "I'm glad you like it," he says. "Balthazar suggested the bacon."

"Balthazar? You actually know someone named Balthazar?"

"His father is a biblical scholar, like mine."

Dean just laughs. "I always wondered how you ended up with Castiel."

"I came to discover it was after the angel Cassiel, a bastardization or possibly a mistransliteratation of the name in an unsubstantiated secondary source. Balthazar was one of the Magi."


"You would like Balthazar, I think." That isn't strictly true; he's not sure at all what Dean will think of him. And Castiel needs to spend some time examining why he's so reluctant to tell Dean outright the nature of the relationship, because it should be good news. It is good news. Holding it back because of whatever unrequited feelings he had or has for Dean is dishonest to everyone, unfair. That Balthazar is a man is not at issue; he and Dean have never discussed sexuality, not seriously, but he knows, in the same part of him that still has faith in God even after years of punching holes in scripture, that Dean is not capable of ignorant and fearful bigotry. Still, the part of him that doubts, the part of him that wants to prod at weak evidence until it gives, suspects it will change something. But he's taken it this far now, so he tries to smile. "At least, I hope you will."

Dean pauses with the beer he's drinking halfway to his mouth, which was already open, but opens further as he looks at Castiel for a long strange moment where Castiel wishes he could read anything at all in that expression. Then Dean unfreezes and takes a drink, his eyes closing for a moment. When he opens them again, Castiel still can't tell what he's seeing. "I dunno," Dean says, "how much does he actually like the Dead Kennedys?"

It's almost, almost Dean's usual smirk, so there's some kind of acceptance, which is enough, and Castiel breathes out a laugh, relieved, and grateful that he hasn't had to explain any further. "I'm not sure. He's never mentioned them. I know he likes Iggy Pop."

"Like Stooges Iggy Pop or like leather pants and peanut butter Iggy Pop?"

"I...have no idea."

"Man, Cas, one of these days I'm just handcuffing you to a record player for like a week."

"Kinky," says Sam, who's just stepped through the doorway carrying a watermelon.

Castiel blushes. Dean calls Sam a bitch and pretends to punch him in the face. Castiel hopes that means everything's going to be fine.


The party isn't the anxious and awkward thing Castiel was picturing. He's glad he offered to come early to help because it means not walking into a house full of strangers, gradual introductions as one or two people arrive instead of an assembled group all at once. Bobby is gruff but warm, calls Sam and Dean either 'eejit' or 'son.' Jo and Ellen seem not to be currently speaking to each other, but they are perfectly happy to talk to anyone else. At first Castiel thinks Pamela must be the girl Sam mentioned from the way she flirts with him, but then she does the same with Dean and even, to much amusement from the Winchesters, with Castiel. She does not flirt with Ash, who has an inexplicable haircut and a degree from MIT (and a thereby inexplicable job tending bar at the Roadhouse), but he flirts with her. It's a surprise when Missouri from down Castiel's street arrives with a pie, but a bigger surprise to learn that she's known Sam and Dean since they were children.

"I used to keep them sometimes when they were little," she tells him. "Little hellions, I mean. I used to have to whack Dean with a damn spoon to keep him out of my pies."

Castiel looks across the back yard at Dean, who's already got a mouthful of a slice he's eating off a red, white, and blue paper plate, and smiles. "Some things don't change."

Missouri looks at Dean (who sees her and points at the pie and gives her a thumbs up) and then back at Castiel and says, "Oh, honey. You've got it bad, don't you?"

"I... what?"

"For Dean. I may not be a pretty young thing anymore, but I'm not blind yet." 

It still takes him a moment to catch her meaning, and she waits patiently with a nonplussed look until he does. He knows he's turning red. "I don't-- I-- Dean and I are friends. And I'm...involved with someone."

She doesn't look like she takes that as particularly good counter-evidence, but she pats him on the shoulder and says something about going to find Bobby.

"Cas!" Dean calls from next to the grill. "Come be my wingman!"

He thinks he hears a knowing 'mm-hmm' from Missouri as he passes by her and goes to help Dean with the ribs.

"Jo's been giving me the third degree about you," Dean says quietly during the delicate maneuver of keeping the ribs from disintegrating on their way to the platter. "I hope it's okay I said you were taken."

"Of course. I hope that wasn't awkward for you."

"With Jo? Nah. When somebody's seen you make an ass of yourself as many times as she has, not much is awkward. I just wasn't sure how serious your...thing with, uh, Balthazar is."

"I'm not sure myself. It's very new."


"But I'm not generally interested in women, romantically, so I would be unavailable to her in any case."

"Gotcha." Dean hasn't looked at him; he's been studiously spreading barbecue sauce on the meat, and Castiel's assistance isn't needed anymore.

"Dean, is--" He hates to think it, but he's not sure what else to think. "Is this bothering you?"

Dean's head snaps up and he drops the basting brush. "No. No way. I'll kick your ass if you even think that."

"I'm glad. I would be very unhappy to lose your friendship." He would be more than unhappy; it would leave a wide empty space in his life that he's not sure he'd know how to fill. Knowing Dean has disrupted Castiel's predictable status quo left and right, but it's been almost too easy to form new habits around his presence.

Dean laughs and looks down and scratches at the back of his head. "Damn, Cas, get a little more chick-flick, why don't you?"

"It's the truth."

"Yeah. I mean, uh, me too."

He knows it wasn't easy for Dean to say even that much.


Castiel can't remember the last time he set off fireworks; probably college. Even though Sam did mention 'blowing stuff up,' he assumed it was an exaggeration. Now, with Dean and Sam bringing cardboard boxes and brown paper bags out of the garage and Ash going to his truck for even more, he sees how wrong he was. Against the darkening sky, someone to the west sends up a modest but attractive display of cascading blues and reds that whistles and pops, and Dean points a finger at it and says, "Okay, dude, it's on," as though his unwitting rival can hear him.

"Dean's serious about fireworks," Jo says behind him.

"I'm learning that." Castiel can't help smiling fondly.

"Another thing to learn, if you like having eyes and hair and everything, you're better off as far from Ash as you can get."

"Why is that?"

"You ever seen that scar on Dean's ass?"

Castiel's not sure what to think of the fact that Jo believes he might have, or the fact that she apparently has. "No."

"It was, oh, five years ago? Dean came through town and we lit some stuff off in the Roadhouse parking lot, and Ash was drinking and running his mouth and forgot to call fire in the hole, and I don't know what the hell exactly happened, but something fell over or went sideways 'cause he'd chained about six cherry bombs together and the next thing anybody knows, Dean's howling like a little girl and running back and forth clutching his butt and his pants are actually on fire, like some damn cartoon." She demonstrates, spins in circles slapping at her backside and shouting, "My ass! You blew up my ass!"

"I see you, Joanna Beth!" Dean shouts over. "You better watch your own ass!" The threat carries more amusement than malice.

Jo flips her middle finger in Dean's direction. "And then Sam, he's like, 'Dean! Dean! Oh my god, Dean, stop drop and roll!' And we all just lost it. I think Ash actually wet his pants."

"Just goes to prove I wouldn't piss on this jackass if he was on fire!" Ash shouts, slapping Dean on the back.

Castiel finds he's having a hard time stopping laughing once he's started, until someone, actually two someones, come around the side of the house. It's the woman and the boy from the diner, and he hears a happy, "Hey, you made it!" from Dean, watches Dean kiss the woman on the cheek and bend down to give the boy a high five.

He doesn't feel like laughing anymore, but he knows they've done nothing wrong and it would be unfair to treat them otherwise. He hangs back and busies himself getting another beer, not wanting to interrupt or intrude, but Dean brings them to him. Lisa and Ben. Lisa shakes his hand with a warm smile and Ben looks at Castiel's hand like it's an alien creature when he tries to repeat the gesture.

"Ben, shake hands," Lisa prompts with a long-suffering apologetic glance at Castiel. He gets another one from Dean when Ben immediately starts asking to see the fireworks and if he can light something and pulls Dean away.

Which leaves Castiel alone with Lisa. "Sorry about my kid," she says. "I apparently failed to teach him any manners."

"I'm not very good with children," Castiel says. "I probably should have given him a high five."

Lisa laughs. She's pretty, prettier than she was across a room. "I thought Dean said you were a teacher."

He's pleasantly surprised to hear Dean's talked about him at all, but that makes it all the more confusing that Dean's never mentioned Lisa. "I teach high school. They are very different from younger children."

"I apologize in advance for whatever you end up dealing with from him in three years."

"Are you Catholic?"

Lisa looks perplexed. "Well, um, technically, in a really lapsed way."

"I'm sorry. I assumed that since Dean mentioned my profession to you, he might have mentioned where I teach. Unless you're planning to enroll Ben at St. Benedict's, there's no need to apologize for his future transgressions as my student."

"Oh, jeez, Catholic school? No offense, but I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy thanks to Sister Agnes and her ruler."

"I experienced a similar brand of discipline during my own education, but St. Benedict's did away with corporal punishment over a decade ago." It's not worth mentioning that Zachariah's been subtly lobbying the board and the PTA in hopes of having the practice reinstated.

Lisa laughs again and reaches into the cooler for a beer, which she opens and knocks against Castiel's. "Catholic school survivors," she says by way of a toast. 

It would be wrong to begrudge Dean whatever happiness he might find with her, and beyond that, he likes her. She's a lovely woman, and her son clearly adores Dean, hangs on his every word as Dean helps him strike a lighter and they jump backwards together and watch a little cardboard tank spin and shoot sparks. Lisa's shoulders stay tense until it's done. "Dean won't let him get hurt," Castiel says.

"I know."

Even as Castiel knows Dean won't let him come to harm any more than he would Ben, he still looks at Dean dubiously when he finds a roman candle pressed into his hand and Dean's thumb poised on his Zippo. Dean's got another roman candle in his other hand and after a challenging grin and a 'c'mon,' they touch their fuses to the flame together. Castiel suppresses the urge to throw it like it's an ignited stick of dynamite, but he still holds it at arm's length against the very real possibility that the whole thing could explode in his face. It doesn't, even though the cardboard gets hot in the palm of his hand and jerks with minute recoils as the explosives shoot up into the sky and break into starbursts and he smiles at Dean under the flashing explosions.

Dean counters the unknown neighbor's display with increasingly elaborate sequences of mortars and rockets and things with names like Big Momma and Black Eagle. Ben and Sam write their names in the sky with sparklers. A think dusting of gunpowder grit rains down on everyone and the sky is full of smoke and sulfur as the guests begin to drift back home. Castiel makes a point of not paying attention to how much time passes between when Dean walks Lisa and Ben out and when he returns.

Castiel stays after everyone else (besides Ash, who is unconscious on the sofa) has left, partly to help clear up the mess but also in hopes of spending a few minutes with Dean, but he ends up by himself in the back yard because Sam and Dean are arguing in the kitchen, or seem to be. He hears a 'god, you're being a dick,' and a 'dude, screw you,' among other words he can't make out, not in the usual tone they use to jokingly insult each other, and decides it's best to stay outside and collect all of the stray bottles and cans into the recycling bin.

Bones has been gated in the laundry room most of the night so he wouldn't get into the food or be injured by the fireworks, so now he's running around the back yard after Castiel, and it's because Bones bolts toward the fence barking that he knows someone's here. He follows in case it's someone who forgot something, or a very late guest who shouldn't be jumped on, but he does it cautiously in case it's not.

"Holy shit, call off Cujo!" says a voice in the shadows that's familiar but that Castiel can't immediately place. "I'm just here for the fireworks."

Castiel makes Bones sit and prepares himself for the awkward task of telling some stranger that she's unfortunately missed the party.

"I brought some Jack," says the newcomer. She's fumbling with the latch on the gate and has an open half-empty bottle swinging from her other hand. "Where's everybody--" Her eyes go wide when she sees Castiel. "Oh god. I am so at the wrong house."

Castiel very much hopes she is. "Miss Watts?"

"Uh, hey Dr. Milton, what's up? I didn't know you lived over here." Her speech is slurred. "I screwed up the address, you know anybody named Winchester on this street?"

The sinking feeling in Castiel's stomach is only compounded by the sound of the back door and Sam saying, "Cas, everything okay out-- Ruby! Hey!" He looks thrilled to see her as he's walking over.

Ruby's mouth drops open for a second as she looks between Sam and Castiel. Then she laughs and quietly singsongs, "Awkward."

What happens when students graduate (or don't, in this case) and begin showing up at social occasions isn't in the teachers' handbook. Even though it's a small town, Castiel's never met a student, current or former, for any longer than a few minutes at a store or gas station or restaurant. It probably helps that he doesn't generally go to bars, and even if he did, the set of seniors he taught his first year here are only just barely old enough to drink now. The worst that's ever happened is catching a couple of sophomores smoking last year and debating whether to tell their parents (he didn't, but he made it clear that he would if he ever saw it again). Until now, that is, and now he has no idea what to do. So he says stiffly, "It was nice to meet you," and retreats into the house as quickly as he can without running.

Dean's sitting at the kitchen table picking the label off his beer bottle. He looks up when Castiel closes the door and his smile doesn't reach his eyes. "Hey." And even though he looks more like the question should be asked of him, he says, "You okay?"

"I'm not sure. The girl Sam has been seeing, it seems, is a former student of mine. She's..." He doesn't know if he should tell Dean the rest of it, or even part of the rest of it. "It was a strange encounter."

"She finally showed?"


"Huh. I guess that'd be pretty weird."

"Dean..." He has to stop and consider, weigh whatever trouble it will cause for Sam against how much Dean will want to know. Ruby may not deserve to be judged before Dean's even met her. Technically, she's an adult and he is no longer her teacher. Not that any action he's ever taken through the school has gotten through to her or her mother. But he thinks of Gabriel and of Anna and how he would feel if the situations were reversed and Dean didn't tell him there was cause for concern. But what can he even say? That she has a troubled home life, that she's bright but wouldn't apply herself, that she's drinking illegally? He suspects all of that has been true of Dean himself. So there's nothing to say, for now. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Domestic dispute with Sammy, but no biggie, we're cool." He lifts one of his feet from the chair they're propped up on and kicks lightly at the side of Castiel's knee. "You know you don't have to stay for clean-up duty. I was just planning to let it all fester till tomorrow." He yawns and pinches at the bridge of his nose.

"I don't mind. Are you going to have a hangover tomorrow?"

"If it means you're bringing me breakfast, I'm going to have the worst one in history."

Castiel's about to say that he'll make Dean breakfast with or without a hangover, but Sam comes in with one arm around Ruby and the other holding the whiskey bottle, just long enough to make a brief introduction and announce that they're going to Waffle House.

"You better be walking there!" Dean calls after them.

"Okay, dad," Sam shouts back just before the screen door slams out front.

"Man, I hate when he says that." Dean slides his beer across the table towards Castiel. "I'm beat. You want the rest of this?"

"Not really."

"Yeah, it's kinda warm and nasty." Dean takes another drink of it anyway. "You have an okay time? I know the full-on family experience can be kinda intense."

"I did. Everyone seems very nice."

"Okay, now I know you're bullshitting me. The only people who seem nice are Sam and Lisa. Maybe Jo on a really good day."

"I do like Lisa. You're very good with Ben."

Dean huffs a small laugh and smiles towards the living room. "He's a good kid. First time I met him I actually thought he might be mine, 'cause Lisa and me had a thing way way back, but turns out he's just that cool."

"You and Lisa aren't...?"

"What? No, man, ancient history. We tried for a minute but I'm kinda not cut out for that."

"Oh," Castiel says. "I misunderstood."

"I would've told you about that. With words, even, 'cause I doubt her shirts would fit me."

The guilt he feels in trying to remind himself that Dean not being with Lisa shouldn't and doesn't change anything amplifies. "I'm sorry I didn't--"

Dean waves his hand and drains his beer with a grimace. "No big deal, seriously. I'm shitfaced and exhausted and not funny, just ignore me."

"I'll let you get to bed, then."

"You okay to get home? You can crash here if you need to."

"I'll be fine. It's not far."

"Yeah, I guess it isn't. Hey, do me a favor and write 'balls' on Ash's forehead on your way out?"

Castiel laughs and shakes his head, both in relief at the tension slackening back to equilibrium and in amusement. "Goodnight, Dean."


Castiel forgot to plug in his phone when he got home, so when he turns it on in the morning, it lights up with a message from Balthazar: enjoy patriotic pyromania & mind yr important bits near explosives, have dirty dreams x

Castiel smiles at it, but doesn't reply because the message was sent at three in the morning and Balthazar is likely still asleep. Instead he sends one to Dean offering the breakfast he promised. The reply he gets-- be cold by time i got there. all parts still intact i hope-- confuses him at first, until he realizes he didn't send anything to Dean at all and that it's Balthazar replying.

To: Balthazar
Yes, I am fine. I'm sorry if I woke you. My message was intended for a friend who lives nearby.

Castiel's not sure why he doesn't mention Dean's name.

From: Balthazar
tell me friend is horribly unattractive or ill be viciously jealous

To: Balthazar
There is no need to be jealous.

Although Balthazar could find good cause to be jealous if he knew the extent of Castiel's confused knot of feelings toward Dean, and it's dishonest in a way not to admit them, feelings that will never be acted on don't matter. He adds I would not be unfaithful, but erases that part before he sends the message.

From: Balthazar
silly bugger i was joking. go have yr breakfast im going back to the dream of you + chocolate sauce xxx

Castiel blushes. 

To: Balthazar
Sleep well.

He sends Dean the message about breakfast again, successfully this time. When he's made and drunk a cup of tea and there's still no reply, he decides Dean must still be sleeping as well and goes for a run. There's no sign of life at Dean's house when he passes by, and even Ash's truck is still out front.

He's just out of the shower and stepping into a pair of very old jeans that he's surprised still fit (he's been promising Anna for months that he would go through the boxes in his attic in search of family photo albums that no one seems to be able to find anywhere else, ones that he doesn't particularly want to see and isn't sure Anna should either, but he's been putting it off for too long and Gabriel doesn't agree with it being a bad idea) when he hears someone knocking on the door. He goes far enough down the stairs to see that it's Dean.

"Dude. I didn't even know you owned jeans," Dean says, surprise clear on his face when Castiel opens the door.

"I don't wear them often. I need to go through some things in the attic today. Have you had breakfast?"

"Nope. That's what I came for."

"You don't seem to have a hangover."

"Worst ever. I might even die." Dean smiles brightly and gives him a shove in the direction of the stairs. "Go put on a shirt, Naked Chef. I'll get the bacon going."

"Try not to expire while I'm gone."

Dean's laughter is a warm thing that follows him to his bedroom, and so is the space where Dean's hand was on his shoulder.



Dean dreams that Cas is an angel with wings made of fireworks and lightning that rain soundless sparks and take over the whole sky. He wakes up momentarily confused about why an angel is texting him to invite him to breakfast, but then he gets his head back into the real world and remembers it's just his weird nerdy new best friend and the dream was probably a combination of too much food and beer and Cas holding a roman candle and smiling like Dean had just shown him the secret of fire, or atomic bombs.

He jerks off in the shower like he always does and studiously ignores any blue eyes that want to worm their way into his mind, like he always (for the past two months, anyway) does. He kicks a drooling hungover Ash off the couch and frowns at Sam's empty bedroom. Ruby seems okay, definitely hot, at least in that tortured-artist way Sam tends to go for, but showing up shitfaced after the party was already over didn't win her any points with him, and Cas was weird about her. But Cas is weird about a lot of things.

If he thinks about it, it doesn't really make a lot of sense that they're friends. Cas has more in common with Sam than he does with Dean, the big genius brain and all the education, eating broccoli on purpose, liking Paul Simon for fuck's sake. He was almost afraid when Sam and Cas started having tea parties at the library or whatever and lending each other books that Cas would realize he's been hanging out with the wrong brother, but it hasn't happened.

When he first met Cas, his dick said 'go get 'em, tiger,' but you can't exactly have a one-night stand at eight in the morning with someone your idiot dog-in-law has just maimed, and then he had to go and actually like the guy. And by the time he halfway figured out what the hell exactly to do with that and nearly fucking kissed him goodbye, Cas came back from Chicago in his new boyfriend's t-shirt. Just Dean's luck.

It's probably just as well, because he would have fucked everything up spectacularly and he really, really hates the idea of a Cas-less existence. That doesn't stop his mouth from going dry when Cas answers the door shirtless and barefoot with wet hair, and it doesn't make it not kind of suck that he can't lick away a stray drop of water that's running down Cas's neck, but he can deal with it. Knowing Cas is off-limits makes it a lot easier, not that Dean's going to be BFFs with Balthazar anytime soon, but they've got what they've got and what they've got is good. He eventually got over wanting Lisa (or the idea of Lisa) and he'll get over this too.

So they do this weirdly domestic breakfast thing and make each other laugh and Dean helps Cas haul some boxes down from the attic, which is hot and dusty and a complete bitch to get in and out of and Cas ends up with cobwebs in his hair that Dean picks away without even thinking about it. Cas gives him a funny look and Dean says 'cobwebs' and Cas says a hilariously solemn thank-you.

"You want help or anything?" Dean asks, because Cas is staring at the boxes like they might all explode.

"No, thank you, Dean. I can manage."

That sounds like his cue to go, but he's damn curious about what's in the boxes. They've got a bunch of crossed out writing on them from being re-used, 'kitchen' and 'living room' and 'office' and 'Gabe's stuff' in different handwritings, but the current labels only say 'Box 1' and so on. "'Cause I don't mind. All I'm doing today is a buttload of dishes and that can so wait."

"No." Cas says it sharply and it stings.

It also kind of pisses Dean off a little, maybe more at the fact that Cas's tone actually hurts his feelings than the tone itself, so he's an ass right back. "Damn, sorry I asked," he snaps. "I'll see you later." He dusts off his knees and leaves the house without looking back.

The whole thing puts him in a shitty mood the rest of the day. It doesn't help that Sam, who came home while he was out, sleeps until four in the afternoon and doesn't help with a damn bit of the remaining party clean-up and is just a damn joy to be around when he finally does get up, eyes all bloodshot and acting like Dean's the one being a dick.

Which, okay, maybe he is, but so is Sam, who asks him what crawled up his ass and died and they yell at each other and it ends when Sam gets a phone call and is perfectly pleasant and happy to talk to whoever's on the other end, and then right back to bitch mode when he hangs up and says he's going out.

"Another all-night bender with Ruby?" And yeah, that's a dick thing to say, not to mention hypocritical because Dean has not even an inch of room to talk about all-night benders or questionable choices of people to have them with.

"We're going to the movies, not that it's any of your business."

After the door slams behind Sam, Dean throws a plate at the wall and feels so much like murdering something by the time he's swept up all the broken pieces that he almost does the same thing to his phone when it starts ringing with Cas's name on the screen, but he answers it.

Cas doesn't even say hello, just a quiet, "Dean, I'd like to apologize for this morning."

And all the fight kind of goes out of him, along with a rough sigh. "Don't worry about it. I was being an ass."

"In response to my...assing."

Dean finds himself laughing and wanting to...something. Hug the shit out of the guy and pick daisies and say let's never fight again. Or something. "It's okay, seriously." He's trying to figure out a way to ask if he can come over without sounding tooth-rottingly girly or admit that if he stays here, he'll probably just drink a lot and break more stuff or sit there watching the clock till Sam comes back, but then Cas saves his ass and just invites him. He grabs a random bunch of beers and half a pie and tries not to run there.

Cas has changed his shirt but he's still got the jeans on, and the shoes he put on to climb into the attic are sitting by the coffee table with socks stuffed into them. His hair is more of a mess even than it usually is and his eyes are a little puffy so Dean thinks he's maybe been asleep. There's some godawful folk music coming out of the stereo at a low volume but then the anonymous whiny dude finishes whining and Gram Parsons comes on.

"Hey," Dean says.

Cas cuts off the stereo just before it gets to the line about 'I've got the sun to see your blue eyes' and maybe that's just as well because Dean's not really prepared for cinematic soundtrack moments that are pretty much the universe just fucking with him. "Thank you for coming."

"It's okay, man. I'm good if you are. We don't have to hug and cry or anything."

Cas smiles and takes the Miller Lite box that doesn't actually contain any Miller Lite and hands Dean two bottles back. He takes the rest to the kitchen and comes back with two forks. Dean doesn't ask about the pile of what looks like photo albums that Cas moves off the couch so they can sit down, but when they've had a few bites of pie straight out of the tin, he waves his hand at them and says, "These were what I needed out of the attic. My sister wants them."

"Anna?" Dean asks with a pang of guilt. He still feels pretty bad for how disappointed she looked when he told her he'd already checked her car over when he replaced the axle and it didn't need anything else, and was pretty much totally impersonal and polite. He's never talked about it with Cas.

"Yes. They're family photos. I wasn't certain how I would react to seeing them."

Dean can be a dumbass sometimes, by all accounts, but he can read between the lines there. "I didn't exactly grow up with a white picket fence either, so believe me, I get it."

Cas opens one of the albums and Dean almost laughs because there's literally a white picket fence behind three children dolled up in their Sunday best and squinting into the sun, a little girl in a big fluffy dress between two boys holding her hands, one taller and wearing a shit-eating grin, and a smaller boy looking deadly serious that Dean knows is Cas even before he's told. The girl is Anna, of course, and shit-eater is Gabriel. Almost all the pictures are like that, posed and formal, like nobody ever thought to snap a few shots at a birthday party or on Christmas morning. Some of them have an imposing man, always in a suit, who Cas says is his father. "My mother died just after Anna was born. I don't remember her."

The swallow of beer Dean's just taken goes down painfully. "I was four. There was a fire. I don't remember a lot."

And that's how it goes, trading a fact for a fact while Cas turns pages. Cas's father being a hardass about school and Dean's moving them around whenever there was a better job to chase or he'd grifted one too many people. Cas getting bullied at school and Dean being the one doing the bullying. Gabriel getting kicked out of the house for various offenses until he finally just left, Dean making sure Sam got lunches and dinners and school supplies while Dad disappeared for days at a time. Shitty holidays on both sides, Anna always guilty about the mother she never knew and Sam putting some mythical nonexistent John-and-Mary on a pedestal. Gabriel working three jobs in law school and taking Anna in when she ran away, Dean hustling pool to pay rent, fishing trips with Bobby.

There's a gap in the pictures between Cas as a gawky teenager and the next album that starts with Gabriel's law school graduation and bachelor party and wedding. First bachelor party, Cas specifies as he flips away the page with a stripper licking Gabriel's ear, but only the one wedding. These pictures are different, more real, just random moments instead of posed portraits. Anna in front of a weird sculpture with a blue ribbon and a big smile, Cas and some guy in front of the Eiffel Tower. And Cas not smiling at all as he holds up his PhD for the camera while Anna and Gabriel beam on either side of him. His father didn't show up for the ceremony, he says, or his dissertation defense. Sam's high school graduation had a similar absence.

Dean is drunk by the time the last back cover closes, which means Cas is even more drunk. He slings an arm around Cas's shoulders and says, "Man, we got issues."

Cas laughs, muffled against Dean's shirt. Whatever he says before he falls asleep or passes out is too mumbled for Dean to make out. Kissing the top of Cas's head just seems like the thing to do, and he doesn't try to stay awake.

When he does wake up, he's alone on the couch and covered with an afghan that looks like somebody's grandma made it in the 70s, all zigzags of brown and green and itchy yarn that's too warm for July even in air conditioning, and it's getting light outside. Something in his chest feels like it's been scrubbed out with steel wool, but not in a bad way. So much for not hugging and crying, he thinks when he runs back over the night. Well, he didn't cry. Probably. There's a wet spot under his face on the sofa cushion but he's pretty sure it's drool. Hopefully that didn't happen until after Cas got up; hopefully the morning wood didn't either. Hopefully he didn't say anything stupid that he's not remembering.

There's a glass of water on the coffee table that looks like it's been there for a while, air bubbles collected against the sides. There's a note, too, stuck to the edge of the coaster (a fucking coaster), Cas's weirdly historical-looking handwriting completely out of place on the yellow post-it.

I did not want to wake you. I sent a message to Sam so he would know where you were. Please help yourself to anything you may need.

That it's like a tiny little square letter makes him smile. Cas probably writes letters, probably with a fountain pen or something, wax seals and the whole nine. He could see it, he thinks as he sticks the note in his back pocket.

The water doesn't do anything for the nasty taste in his mouth, and the closet-sized downstairs bathroom is okay for taking a piss, but the medicine cabinet has nothing in it besides a first-aid kit. He's never had any reason to be in the upstairs bathroom, and it's actually nothing like he expects. Going into rooms in people's houses when they don't expect them to be seen is a little like reading their diary. And while it's exactly as clean as he thought it would be, it's also surprisingly huge, old black and white tile and a clawfoot tub with the shower curtain hardware suspended from the ceiling. The magazine basket contains a bunch of stuff with long German titles and articles in several languages, and a half-finished New York Times crossword from last week.

He really tries not to snoop too much, but there's no cabinet behind the mirror so he has to open a couple of drawers in the vanity before he finds the toothpaste he's looking for, and one's got an unopened box of condoms in between the extra razor blades and the band-aids. He shuts that one quickly.

It's been a pretty long time since he's used toothpaste and his finger instead of a real toothbrush, and it's never before not been followed by a walk of hell-yeah-I-just-got-laid (because there is no such thing as a walk of shame in Dean's book, except for that one time in Baltimore that he does not talk about, ever). It's been years, actually, since there was anything he wanted to stick around for long enough not to just go deal with his morning breath at home.

Cas is asleep with the door open, one bare leg flung out over the covers and his boxer briefs riding up to show the pale edge of a farmer's tan from running. He's sprawled over the bed like he's used to having it to himself and he's wearing that fucking Dead Kennedys t-shirt, and okay, it's creepy as hell to just keep standing here.

It's already 6:30 and he should really be at the garage by 7 for the pre-work oil change early birds, but Mondays on holiday weekends never have much going on early anywhere he's ever worked, so although he should just give Cas a poke and say thanks and bye, Dean shakes his shoulder gently and waits to be sleepily blinked at and says, "Hey. You want breakfast?"

He's pretty sure he fucks up the tea, because there's like eight hundred kinds in the cabinet and absolutely none of it is just a damn normal teabag, but Cas doesn't complain, just smiles at him over the top of the 'world's greatest teacher' mug that Dean thought it would be funny to use.

And if this were the morning after anything else he'd stuck around for, they'd be making out in front of the stove, but this is just Cas with a mean case of bedhead and wearing his damn boyfriend's t-shirt, and it occurs to Dean to feel a sense of vague injustice (well, fairly specific injustice), but he can't really because it just is what it is and Cas isn't looking at him like anything weird's gone down and is so careful spreading scrambled eggs on each bite of toast like the integrity of the fabric of the whole universe might hang on it, and fuck it, whatever it is, he'll take it.



It's pouring down rain and already dark when Balthazar roars up in a red vintage Mustang convertible that Castiel is fairly certain he didn't own two weeks ago. "Won it off a horseman in a poker game," Balthazar says with a wink. He's in a surprisingly good mood, given that he's been calling repeatedly for the last three hours, very creatively cursing his GPS, Google Maps, Castiel's lack of familiarity with state highways, and the entire state of Indiana. "Think he said his name was Jim LaGuerre."

"Very funny."

"Comic bloody genius." He drops his bag by the front door and grabs Castiel by the hips, cold hands sliding up the back of his shirt and hair damp where Castiel's fingers slide into it as they kiss. "Hello," he says when they break apart. "Miss me horribly?"

Castiel knows it's a joke, and he has missed Balthazar. "I'm glad you're here."

"Good enough. Why don't we get me out of these wet clothes?"

Balthazar approaches sex the same way he approaches most things, as though there's an audience, and he doesn't seem to mind that there could literally be an audience at any moment when he's straddling Castiel's lap on the couch and pulling both their shirts off. Castiel points out that someone could see and Balthazar says, "So? An eyeful serves them right if they're watching."

It's likely that there will be no one who might see, since the only person who ever arrives unannounced is Dean, who he's already told about Balthazar's visit, but he still feels uncomfortably exposed. "I'd rather we went upstairs."

Balthazar pouts theatrically but in the end he climbs off and pulls Castiel along with him. It's not all theatrics; he laughs when he trips getting out of his wet jeans, and in between his graphic running commentary he's also sweet and teasing and watches Castiel's face intently as he comes and whispers encouragement that's only meant for him to hear. He's also happy to collapse on top of Castiel and have his hair stroked until they can't ignore the need for a shower.

Then he commandeers Castiel's bathrobe and says, "Meet me downstairs. I've got something for you."

Something is a bottle of champagne (already cold, so he must have bought it on the way) and a stapled stack of papers with a grey DRAFT in the background of the text. "Academic Programs Committee recommendations for the creation of an endowed chair in historical New Testament studies?" Castiel reads out.

"Your triumphant return to a well-appointed ivory tower." Balthazar touches his glass against Castiel's and smiles. "You'll have to stick out another year or so in that hormonal purgatory you work in while the dead white guys work out the red tape and go through the motions of a search, but it's practically got your name on it already."

"They...want me?"

"There's a slight possibility someone hypothetically mentioned a name or two, one of which was yours."


"You can fall on your knees thanking me later. My refractory period isn't what it used to be."

It's not that he's given up searching for something he's not grossly overqualified for. He hasn't. He applied for a similar position at Emory just last year, and his lecture was the best attended of all the candidates, but in the end it went to someone who Yale hadn't paid not to teach, as all the others before and it did and as this one likely will too. "I am...grateful, of course. But they'll never take me."

"Oh, but they will. The faculty's such a bastard mess that they've had to call in a professional mediator and the dean is tearing his hair out. There's a comfortable majority that would go with you just to say fuck off to the four doddering stiffs who think it's still 1975. Raph Novak won't even turn up to a meeting if he knows I'll be there. We've given up hope he'll actually retire, but he should be dropping dead amongst a pile of Patrologia Graeca any minute now. It's a bloody civil war and you're just the man to lead the charge. Believe me, they want you. It's not an immediate imperative but don't be surprised when they start to court you in a few months."

Castiel considers it: respect and students he doesn't have to police for smoking in the bathroom. A real chance at tenure. No standardized tests to pander to and no Zachariah breathing down his neck. A position he could grow into and time for research that doesn't feel stolen. And Balthazar would be minutes away rather than hours, but he knows that shouldn't have any bearing on it. There's no telling where they'll be by the time all the papers are signed and the funds are in place.

"If it's me you're worried about, I'm brilliant at amicable breakups," Balthazar says. "Not that I'm suggesting any species of one now, but I like to be realistic and I'm sure you're weighing all your futures." And Castiel can't deny that. "Even the endgame doesn't hold me spending my twilight years making you waffles and buying prom dresses for our adopted Chinese orphan daughter, I promise you've got nothing to fear."

Castiel stopped assuming he would grow up to have children when he was fifteen and wanted nothing more than for his youth minister to notice him as anything more than a child himself, which never did happen, and he knows now that it could never have.

"I'm making a massive hash of selling you on this, aren't I?"

"No," Castiel says quickly. "It's simply perplexing."

"Well, be perplexed, then, for now. Or don't think about it till you're forced to. Either way, drink your bloody champagne because it's very good and you're hurting my soul."

Castiel drinks, and Balthazar deftly changes the subject. But he can't help thinking that if he moved to Chicago, he'd be very far away from Dean. Exchange a few emails before it died off into Christmas cards and then to nothing. He's drifted away from friends before, and if he thinks about it and lists them all he regrets the loss, but he can't help thinking that the non-routine of surprise visits and impromptu meals would be more difficult than most to work back out of his life.


"I must hate myself."

"It's only lunch."

"With your brother who wants to kill me. Wouldn't you rather drink wine in a boat?"

"That sounds dangerous."

"No more than murderous siblings. Bet you a tenner your sister threatens my balls if I wrong you."

"If this is an exercise in masochism for anyone, it's me. Gabriel's unlikely to kill you even if you do 'wrong' me in some way in the future, and he will entertain you with anecdotes calculated to embarrass me."

"I'm sure I'll find them adorable."

Castiel doesn't particularly relish the idea of these two worlds colliding, but giving in to Gabriel is easier than trying to put him off, and he and Balthazar can't simply exist in a vacuum whenever they're together. People can't be kept in orderly compartments labeled family, work, friend, lover, no matter how much simpler that might make it. He nearly invited Dean today too, but in the end decided it might be too much at once.

"Damn," Gabriel says when he sets eyes on Balthazar. "I thought you'd be younger."

"Funny, that. I thought you'd be taller," Balthazar fires back with a smirk before Castiel can think of a response.

"Boys, please put your penises away." Anna rolls her eyes and brings their right hands together. "Hello, pleased to meet you, Balthazar. And jolly good to meet you, Gabriel," she mimicks for each of them in turn.

"I don't sound like that!" they both say at once, and that's the ice broken.

He hasn't seen much of Anna these past few weeks, and has worried that her claims that she's busy have been untrue and part of some withdrawal, but she looks and sounds happy. Castiel sees paint under her fingernails when she picks up her menu, and he asks her what she's been up to escape Gabriel's retelling of the incident at Gabriel's wedding where Kali's elderly aunt insisted Castiel join in the Electric Slide and proceeded to shamelessly grope him.

"Well, I handed out business cards like candy in Vegas and spent the next week getting photo texts of people's parts, but then this guy who owns a club in Indianapolis actually called me and I've suddenly got this huge commission on my hands. I mean, it's a completely weird job because it's a gay club and so there's all these guys walking around half-naked all the time, and it's called Heaven so I'm painting all these like, sexy angels. And everyone wants to model. Figures the one time I've got a dozen men with washboard abs begging to take their clothes off for me they'd all be gay."

"Oh, I've been there," Balthazar says, now finished laughing at Castiel getting molested by old ladies. "Nice place, but I wish they wouldn't make it rain seventy million bastard feathers every time a show starts. Completely ruins your drink."

Castiel's never liked clubs or the culture of meaningless sex that seems to go with them, and he isn't really sure how he feels about the fact that Balthazar goes places like that, but it's not really his place to judge. No one notices his discomfort but Gabriel, who raises an eyebrow, but Castiel shrugs it off.

"And I get so knotted up standing on a ladder all day that I've started taking yoga, and my instructor is amazing. Better than therapy, I swear."

"Is there very flexible love on the horizon?" Gabriel says, oblivious to their middle-aged waitress's ill-hidden look of shock as he bends a breadstick suggestively. Balthazar's laughing into his drink.

"You bunch of pervs!" Anna exclaims and throws a napkin at Gabriel's head. "My instructor's name is Lisa and no, I did not make good on my drunken threat to go gay."

Castiel would like to sink through the floor, but he's glad they're all getting along.


Balthazar won't let go of his questionable scheme to spend an afternoon drinking in a boat, so Sunday finds them selecting picnic food in Trader Joe's. Castiel half-hopes the plan may be off when they're confronted by a blocked-off wine section, because it's Sunday, but Balthazar just says, "Bastard Indiana. All right, plan B. What about that monk of yours? Does he make wine? There must and shall be wine, said Withnail."

"I don't understand that reference. And Brother Michael only makes beer."

"Withnail and I? Really? I'll pirate it off the internet when we're pissed and sunburnt and can't move tonight."

"I'd much rather buy a copy legally."

Balthazar smiles and shakes his head. "Of course you would." He kisses Castiel on the cheek. "What time do they let the bars open round here? It'll cost a fortune and one of us will have to drink a bit of each one, but there's a nice loophole that lets you leave with a bottle or five. Oi, you," he says to a passing employee. "What time do the bars open?"

"If you guys need to buy wine, the wineries are allowed to sell on Sundays. The closest one's out by the lake."

"Deus ex machina!" Balthazar exclaims. "You are a saint--" he glances at the young man's name tag-- "Adam." He takes the shopping basket out of Castiel's hands. "Would you write down some directions for my gorgeous partner in crime here? Excellent. I'll meet you at the car."

Adam has to find someone else to get reliable directions that aren't based on vague landmarks like trees and where gas stations used to be, and by the time Castiel reaches the car, Balthazar's got the hood up and is talking to someone. At first he's afraid there's some problem, but then he hears a familiar voice saying, "Damn, that's nice work. Remind me never to play poker against you."


And yes, it's him. "Cas! Hey! What're you doing here?"

That's when it sets in that Dean's got no idea who he's been talking to. "I-- well, this is--"

"We're going to get drunk on a boat," Balthazar says. "The oft-celebrated Dean Winchester, I presume."

"Uh, yeah. Hey. You're...Balthazar?"

"So it would seem."

The moments following their handshake are tense. Possibly not for Balthazar, who doesn't seem bothered at all and is just looking Dean over as though he might be about to assign a grade, but Dean's shifting his weight around and clearing his throat and Castiel is resisting an urge to bodily place both of them at opposite ends of the parking lot.

"Well, have fun," Dean says finally, and then quietly to Castiel once Balthazar's stepped away to shut the hood, "Just so you know, I'll be pissed if you drown." Castiel promises not to and Dean laughs. "Seriously, have fun, man. Gimme a call when you're free." When Balthazar's gone home, he means.

"I will."

"At least he didn't threaten to kill me," Balthazar says when Castiel slides into the passenger seat and watches Dean's back disappear into the store.

"He did say he would be pissed if I were to drown."

"As would I, come to that. But I think you'd have to try very hard."

It's a nice afternoon. They guide the rented rowboat out to the middle of the lake and lounge with their legs tangling in the middle and pass sandwiches and wine back and forth. Balthazar quotes dirty poetry and nearly does drown them several times when he unbalances the boat in the pursuit of kissing, and makes a rare mention of his undergraduate days when he competed on the rowing crew at Oxford, "more or less to spite my father. And no points for guessing I liked the 'cox' jokes."

Castiel has no good stories to tell in return, only a hazily remembered rebellious first year that nearly cost him his scholarship, all the years after that a blur of feverish work and study.

"Bad job Yale wouldn't give me enough money when I defected, or I'd have been there when you were," Balthazar says. They removed their shoes and socks some time ago and he's now trying to work each of his toes in between each of Castiel's with tipsy determination. "We could've had a series of scandalous T.A.-undergrad trysts during my office hours."

"But then we might not be here now."

"No, I suppose we might not."

"I like you like this," Castiel says as soon as he thinks it, his tongue loosened by alcohol.

"What, pushing fifty and off my face on shockingly terrible wine? I was much prettier in my doomed youth and could hold my drink a damn sight better."

"No. Or-- Castiel frowns-- "I do, but that's not what I meant. I meant that you're just yourself now." He's not putting on a show, doesn't seem to be playing a character.

Balthazar laughs quietly. "Who else would I be?"

"I meant--"

"I know what you meant. Fact you don't mind me turning out to be a bit of a sad old bastard probably means you're miles too good for me. You're only ever exactly yourself."

"I don't know how to be anything else."

They row back to shore slowly as the sun sets. Castiel's had much less to drink than Balthazar, but neither of them are fit to drive immediately. As soon as Balthazar's feet touch land, it's like a switch flips and he's pressing Castiel up against the car and teasing and joking and saying they should steal a speedboat or go skinny dipping or crash the nearby college kids' campfire. Castiel is still entertained, still aroused, but it's like the man he caught a glimpse of on the lake has been shoved down into a cage. He could work at that, he knows he could, but he should want to learn to accept it, understand it, not eradicate it.


Monday morning begins with Balthazar having an afternoon meeting to get to and a rushed kiss goodbye, and as soon as the Mustang's taillights are out of sight, Castiel finds himself desperate to run. He's disappointed when he doesn't meet Dean and Bones, but it's an odd time and Dean's probably already at work. He runs until his lungs are burning and his thighs feel like jelly after he gets out of the shower.

He should feel satisfied, content, rested. He doesn't. He accepts an invitation to participate in a panel at Leuven and books the plane tickets to go there before he can reconsider. He should send a message to Balthazar about it in case he's planning to go or would like to; he doesn't.

He goes to the library not for the comfortable order of the place and the chase of losing himself in research, but because he knows he'll be annoyed if they send back his microfilm before he's done with it and in hopes of encountering Sam as a distraction from the pervading itch that seems to lie somewhere towards the back of his soul.

Castiel is later than usual. Sam is even later than that, and looks like he's slept in a hedge. His eyes are bloodshot and he smells like a bar, and when Jess, the curly haired blonde woman who works at the coffee cart in the afternoons sees him and smiles and starts getting his usual tea ready, he stops her and orders coffee with a double shot of espresso. It's puzzle enough to make a good distraction, but it's not much of a puzzle. "I was out with Ruby," Sam says when Castiel asks him what he's been doing. Castiel can guess the rest given Ruby's state at the party. He can also guess that Sam doesn't want to talk about it, could have guessed as much even if Sam hadn't gone on to add, after a long drink of his coffee, "So Dean said he met your boyfriend."

Castiel tenses. "Yes, briefly."

"Who I've never even heard of. Way to make a guy feel liked, Cas." Sam's joking, he knows, but due to the hangover and also the fact that Sam isn't entirely joking, he delivers it flatly with a belated twitch of a smile.

"It was never pertinent information. I didn't keep it from you intentionally. You've spoken to Balthazar yourself."

"Sorry, that came out wrong. I'm not exactly all here." Sam takes another gulp of coffee as if to illustrate. "I just meant, I know you're technically Dean's friend, but you're mine too, so you can tell me stuff. Even not-pertinent stuff. Even impertinent stuff." Sam laughs at his own joke and Castiel smiles.

"Of course we're friends, Sam."

"I know Dean's not exactly awesome at stuff with feelings involved, so y'know. I'm here if there's anything like that you need to talk about."

He's not sure exactly what Sam's fishing for, but there's something. "If there's something you'd like to know, you're more than welcome to ask me."

"I just meant like, generally." Castiel has been lied to about enough homework assignments and late essays and 'dentist appointments' to know a backpedal when he sees one. Not always-- he's known some very skilled liars, but Sam is not currently earning that distinction.

It's uncomfortable, because Castiel would like to make a reciprocal offer, but he would have his own ulterior motive. Knowing what he does of Ruby, and especially given Sam's state today, he's concerned. Still, missing one part of one afternoon of studying that no one's requiring of him doesn't mean Sam is in some danger, so it's not Castiel's place to interfere. "As your friend, then, I'll pass on some advice that was given to me-- you're unlikely to accomplish anything useful today. You should go home and nurse your hangover."

Sam laughs. "Sounds like Dean advice."

"You know your brother well."

"Too well sometimes. Hey, have you eaten? 'Cause I'm starving all of a sudden, and speaking of knowing Dean, he always has so much crap to do on Mondays that he forgets to eat, and some pertinent information for you is that I can't slack without an enabler." Sam grins, and he looks more like himself, enough to make Castiel think his concern was misplaced.

"You're suggesting I slack with you?"

"You'd be the only thing keeping me from busting out my laptop and logging into Westlaw in the middle of the diner. Plus Dean won't be pissy and eating the entire fridge when he gets home. So it's win-win for me, but I'll buy you a sandwich."

It's an easy decision to go, even if Castiel doesn't reveal that he wasn't going to accomplish anything either. Sam orders a bacon cheeseburger to go at the end of the meal, for Dean, and Castiel adds on a slice of peach pie without thinking, which makes Sam laugh.

"I guess I'm not the only one who knows him too well," Sam says. "And I don't guess you're going to let me take credit for not forgetting the pie."

It's only then that it occurs to Castiel that Sam means him to come along to deliver Dean's lunch.

Dean's made the garage sound like a world of grease and chaos (with cake, according to Anna), which in a way it is-- it's attached to a salvage yard that holds a labyrinthine array of vehicles in various states of disrepair and disassembly surrounded by a tall barbed-wire fence, but the reception area is more like someone's home than a business. The waiting area is well-worn couches and chairs, not an awkward too-close-for-comfort row of hard seats in sight, and there's a table to the side with a coffee pot and box of donuts. He recognizes Becky from Dean's stories by virtue of the fact that she unglues her eyes from a TV playing Buffy to greet Sam enthusiastically.

Sam seems put off by her attention, which Castiel understands when Sam introduces him and says they're bringing Dean lunch. "Oh my god, that is so sweet! I'm so glad you came by! Dean talks about you all the time and your sister is so nice--"

"Just smile and keep walking," Sam says under his breath.

The radio from the other half of the shop bleeds into the TV's dialogue because there's only a half door between the reception area and the repair bays, which Sam leads him into with Becky still talking behind them. "I don't want to be rude," Castiel says, "shouldn't we--"

"Believe me, no. Becky's really nice but she doesn't have an off button."

Castiel nearly trips over a man who unexpectedly rolls out from under a station wagon because his eyes are already on Dean, who's working under the hood of the next car over, engrossed in the engine and singing to himself. The blue work shirt with his name stitched on that Castiel has seen him in a handful of times is hanging off the sedan's rearview mirror and he's just wearing a grease-streaked white t-shirt with large wet circles of sweat under his arms, which Castiel should find distasteful, but doesn't.

"You go," Sam says. "He'll be way less bitchy at you for interrupting."

Dean's surprised and nearly hits his head on the underside of the hood, but he's not 'bitchy' when that passes; he looks happy to see Castiel even before he's told there's food. There's a smudge of black across his cheekbone but his teeth are as white as ever when he smiles.

"I hope you don't mind the interruption," Castiel says.

"Dude, are you kidding? Even if I didn't like you, I can smell those fries. Gimme like two minutes to finish this."

Castiel watches with patient curiosity as Dean maneuvers tools around in the arcane mass of car guts. It reminds him of watching his childhood piano teacher demonstrate something, of Anna drawing a picture, of Brother Michael translating pressure and temperature on a batch of beer into knowing when it's ready; of someone who knows and loves their craft. If there was any question in his mind as to why Dean became a mechanic, the answer is obvious now.

"You're very skilled," Castiel says once the hood's slammed shut and Dean's scrubbing his hands in a grime-splattered metal sink with something that smells like oranges and gasoline.

"Well, yeah," Dean says with a grin over his shoulder. "Bobby didn't ask me to run this place just 'cause I'm so pretty. That was nothing, though, just some spark plugs and a hose clamp. Dude could have done that in his driveway for twenty bucks."

"Not all of us have the necessary expertise."

"Lucky for me and my mortgage. C'mon, break room's through here." Dean leads him through a frosted glass door that reads 'employees only' in chipping black paint. Beyond it is a small kitchen with a table, another battered couch (which Sam is currently asleep on, despite the fact that he's far too tall to lie on it comfortably), and a row of lockers. There's a TV and stereo on a ledge amongst a pile of tapes and CDs, and the walls are covered in old ads and license plates and apparently whatever else anyone has seen fit to stick onto them at any point.

Dean strips off his t-shirt and wipes his face with it, then throws it into a hamper with a handwritten sign that says 'if you don't want it bleached, wash it at home' and a smaller subscript of 'no underwear!!!!' underlined three times. Castiel can't help but look at the strong lines of Dean's back as he rummages through a locker. "So, good weekend with Balthazar?" Dean asks. His tone sounds neutral, casual, and the volume of his voice makes no concession to the sleeping Sam, who doesn't stir.

"Yes, it was nice. I hope you weren't put off by the surprise introduction."

"Nah, he seems like a good guy." Dean pulls a fresh t-shirt over his head halfway through turning around, and Castiel catches a glimpse of a tattoo over his heart before it's covered by a faded AC/DC logo, but not enough to tell what it is.

The fridge that Dean pulls a can of Coke out of has a sign too, a long list of rules. Some are fairly normal, if quirky, like 'label your food or it's public property,' and 'no booze during business hours' and 'wash your own damn dishes' and 'the bathroom air freshener is there for a REASON.' It's been added to over time, in different handwritings, with notes and amendments written in, so there's also 'no porn during business hours ever,' and 'don't talk to Chuck if he's writing' and 'Becky's name is not Babe' and 'Dean's music veto is absolute.'

"You having dirty weekends is bad for me, man," Dean says, and Castiel redirects his attention. "I let Jo get me drunk and shark me out of like a hundred bucks at ping-pong."

"It wasn't a dirty weekend," Castiel says, more sharply than he means to.

"Cas, I was kidding," Dean says. Does he look hurt? Castiel doesn't know what the brief flinch was.

"I'm sorry."

"You okay?" He does know concern when he sees it, the way Dean's eyebrows raise and his mouth turns down.

"Yes, I'm fine. I've felt...strange today." Which is when it occurs to him that he doesn't anymore, that the restless thing that's been prodding at him all day evaporated about the time he laid eyes on Dean.

"Maybe you should take a page out of Sammy's book," Dean says, barely intelligible around a mouthful of burger, and points to his brother on the couch with a fry.

"Won't we wake him, talking like this?"

"Nah. Kid sleeps like the dead anyhow, and I guess that Ruby chick's M.O. is ride hard and put away wet-- and oh my god, I didn't need the mental image I just gave myself." He shudders.

"He did seem somewhat the worse for wear when I encountered him." This, again, would be a good time to speak up about his misgivings on the subject of Ruby, but he'd be subjecting Dean to what could easily be needless worry.

"So not helping, Cas."

"I believe the accepted remedy is to show you a picture of kittens, according to my students, but I don't have access to one at the moment."

Dean laughs loudly and chokes on his drink and Sam mutters 'not the clowns' in his sleep, which makes him laugh more. That's when Dean pops open the second take-out box and sees the pie. "Oh, man, I love you."

"Sam hoped I would let him take credit for remembering the pie, but the food was his idea," Castiel says over the blush rising in his cheeks and the blood throbbing in his ears. It's just an expression, one he should want to hear from Balthazar, not Dean, who's making a borderline obscene noise around his plastic fork.

"This is awesome," Dean says, again with his mouth full. "Ellen never does peach. You had any?" When Castiel shakes his head, Dean says, "You've gotta try it," and holds out a sloppy forkful toward him.

Castiel tries to take the fork, but his hand traps Dean's and they're caught together as he eats the bite off the fork and his lips close over Dean's index finder as well as the pie. Dean's eyes widen and Castiel disentangles his fingers and sits back. "It's very good," he says after he's chewed and swallowed.

"Hell yeah it is." Dean grins and he's back to normal as he shovels more into his mouth. Some filling drops onto that same finger and he licks it off without hesitation. "So hey," Dean says, apparently oblivious to Castiel's internal reaction, which means he's at least managed to keep all of it guiltily internal, "I'm probably not getting out of here before eight, but you wanna drink some beer or something later?"

"I'd like that," Castiel says.

He drives a groggy Sam home and stays long enough to let Bones run around the back yard for a few minutes once it's clear that Sam isn't coming back downstairs, probably asleep again. Lingering for a better look at the family pictures in the living room feels like spying, but he does it anyway, and finds a small one half-hidden on the mantelpiece behind Sam's high school graduation portrait. It's not framed, just leaned up against the wall, and its corners are creased with age. It's of Dean and what could only be his father, sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck smiling with rifles and cans of beer in their hands. Dean's impossibly young, maybe seventeen, but his smile is unmistakeable. The back offers nothing to place the snapshot in context of what little Castiel knows about Dean's childhood and his father, because even in the midst of Dean's drunken confessions his father was more of an absence than a presence, just 'John & Dean '95' in unfamiliar handwriting. Castiel's careful to put it back exactly where he found it. Bones gives him an accusing 'wuff' on his way out.

Balthazar's full of plans for Leuven as soon as Castiel tells him-- where to eat, where to drink, when to make a side-trip to Amsterdam-- and it's easy to get caught up in his enthusiasm. The conference is weeks away yet, though, and he's reluctant to plan everything now around the assumption that their relationship will be intact then. Castiel doesn't have the best track record for holding someone's interest past a few dates, and Balthazar's whims are something of a wildcard. It's not mistrust, just uncertainty.

"Assuming you can still stand the sight of me by then," Balthazar says, and it's just his casual teasing sarcasm, but Castiel thinks it might have the same things he's thinking behind it. It also occurs to him, once they've hung up, that he doesn't particularly want to visit a red light district or drink magic mushroom shakes.

It's so much on his mind when Dean arrives later, straight from work and still a little sweaty, that he finds himself asking, a propos of nothing, "Have you ever taken mushrooms?"

It's badly timed and Dean nearly chokes on his beer. "No," he part-coughs, part-laughs. "Way to be random." Castiel apologizes and explains about the conference and Balthazar's plans, and Dean doesn't so much look at him as the beer label he's picking at when he shrugs. "I mean, it's awesome that you're doing the big-deal academic thing, but maybe doing it tripping isn't the best idea."

"It would be after the conference, but I'm not sure I want to at all."

"So...don't? This isn't high level brain work here, it's like third-grade 'just say no' shit."

Castiel knows all of that, of course. "I'm just not sure if we're going to prove compatible in the long run."

"I'm the last guy you wanna go to for love advice or whatever, but there's nothing wrong with having a good time even if there's not a ride into the sunset at the end of it." Dean's shredded the label and is balling up little bits of paper between his fingers. "And if he dumps you over some shroom shakes, then dude's kind of a dick." He finally looks up. "You're awesome, Cas. Just 'cause one guy's idea of a good time isn't the same as yours doesn't count against that."

"Thank you," Castiel says. Swallowing is an effort and so is holding Dean's gaze.

Dean looks away first, downs the rest of his beer and clears his throat. "So, uh, Chinese?"

Moo shu and fried wontons and sitting on the living room floor despite the fact that he doesn't care if Dean gets grease stains on the couch, Dean making him laugh with stories about an upsetting clown that put on anti-drug education programs at one of his schools (and possibly left Sam with some lasting trauma), hearing the same side of one record four times because neither of them feel like getting up to change it, that's more like Castiel's idea of a good time.

"Would I be a dick, then?" Castiel asks, when Dean's finally changed the record and gotten them more drinks and sat back down closer than he was before, close enough that their knees are touching. "If I ended things with Balthazar over a psychotropic milkshake?"

"I mean... I guess if that's all it is and you're just like, your space shakes suck, it's over, that'd be kind of a dick move, but I'm kinda getting that there's more to it."

"There is, of course. I don't know."

"I can't tell you what to do, man. Even if I thought I could I'd probably be wrong. I guess figure out if it's worth fighting for. Sorry. I kinda suck at this stuff. Sammy says I'm emotionally retarded."

Castiel thinks better of saying that Sam implied as much to him. "I don't think you are. You've said nothing I haven't thought myself but was reluctant to admit."

"Hey, I did say I'd be pissed if you drowned. Goes for rivers too."


"De Nile." Dean grins.

"That is a terrible joke."

"You're laughing."

He is, warm with food and alcohol and Dean's body heat next to him, and there's a moment where they stop laughing and they're almost too close, where it would be nothing at all to lean that last bit forward, natural as breathing. He could count Dean's freckles from this distance, can see every little fleck of brown and grey in the green of his eyes, but he can't read anything in Dean's expression when he says, rough and quiet, "I should get going."

Castiel nods. Dean squeezes his shoulder as he gets up, maybe as some acknowledgement that something did just happen, or maybe not. Castiel belatedly remembers once Dean's out the door that he mentioned going to a convention in Indianapolis to make some contacts among classic car restorers, so he won't even know the extent of the damage for several days. Thursday seems years away.


If not for the events of the previous night, Castiel might be inclined to expect a call from Dean, just to say hello and perhaps tell him humorous stories of the people he's met so far on his trip. As it is, he doesn't expect one, but finds himself hoping for it anyway until long past when Dean would think it's too late to call. Still, he can't sleep, running over and over last night in his mind the same as he's been all day, and still, when the phone finally does ring, he feels a little spark of hope, then disappointment, then fear when he sees who's actually calling.

In Castiel's experience, there's very little good to be found on the other end of a two a.m. phone call. At best, it's Gabriel in the midst of a party unwantedly sharing his good time. At worst, it's a father with a stroke or a sister suffering a psychotic break. His blood never doesn't run cold when no one in possession of all their faculties would be calling if there weren't something wrong.


"Sam? What's wrong? Are you all right? Is Dean--"

"Dean's fine. I assume. But I need help. I'm-- your brother's a lawyer, right?"

Oh, dear god. No one's dead, at least, apparently, but that's not much comfort. "What happened? No, wait. Don't tell me. Don't say anything to anyone." He remembers this much from overhearing Gabriel talking to clients. "Have you said anything?"

"I know better than that."

"But not better than to do whatever it is you-- never mind." Castiel tries to remember how to breathe. "Just don't say anything until we get there."

"Thank you. I'm sorry, I didn't know who else to call."

Gabriel is not happy about being gotten out of bed, and even less happy to have to brush his teeth and put on a suit, and he complains through all of it and the whole way to the police station about having his dream about licking whipped cream off Beyoncé interrupted, but he never refuses and gets ready with practiced efficiency, griping around his electric razor en route. He doesn't even ask for details until Castiel's parked the car.

"I told him not to tell me anything."

"Nice job. What do you know?"

"I suspect whatever's happened is due to the influence of his girlfriend."

"Femme fatale, I can work with that."

"Her name is Ruby Watts. She was a student of mine and was always troubled."

"Did you go giving her the benefit of the doubt instead of warning him off?"

"I didn't think it was any of my business. I hoped he might be a good influence on her."

"You have the people skills of an eggplant, Cassie. What about Winchester Jr? Clean record?"

"As far as I know. He's a pre-law major at Stanford."

"He'll be a crappy lawyer. I was representing myself out of drunk tanks by the end of my first semester."

The thing about Gabriel is that while he might be prone to overindulgence, pranks, and saying ridiculous things, he's very good at his job and his quirky charisma goes a long way toward that. He marches into the precinct and works the room like a red carpet, and as soon as he's led to the detective in charge of holding Sam, he's all hard-edged business. Castiel knows the fact that there's a detective involved isn't a particularly good sign, but Gabriel doesn't flinch.

It's an interminable wait once Gabriel disappears into the interview room. Castiel can't make the vending machine give him tea even though there's a button for it, and there are a couple of prostitutes arguing loudly as they wait to be booked. The young receptionist takes pity on his discomfort after a while and separates the shouting women with a threat of further charges, then brings him a cup of tea. It's just a bag of Lipton, but his thanks is sincere. She keeps smiling at him over her computer screen, and he tries to respond politely without appearing flirtatious. He doesn't feel much like smiling.

Gabriel is smiling when he comes out, though Sam behind him isn't. "Charges dropped," Gabriel says airily once they're outside. "Turns out they liked Clyde and his Bonnie for a string of robberies, so once they'd spent seven thousand years clearing alibis with credit card transactions and Ally McBeal here agreed to buy a new door for the nice old couple they busted in on, your boy's home free and I've got a new clerical buttmonkey for the rest of the summer."

"Hey!" Sam says.

"I woke up a county prosecutor for you, kiddo, who also happens to be my ex-wife. Your job title's whatever I say it is."

"What about Ruby?" Castiel asks. Sam scowls.

"Outlook not as rosy," Gabriel says. "I did what I could, but what I could wasn't much given she's not exactly squeaky clean on the priors. Pretty impressive for only being eighteen six months, actually, but thank the baby Jesus for sealed juvvie records. I got it down to simple possession for the pretty blue meth in her pocket and Kali's going to recommend court-monitored drug counseling and probation." Castiel wishes he were more surprised. "Is this little pow-wow over now? I'd really like to get back to the creamy-dreamy Miss Knowles, if it's all the same to you."

The drive to Gabriel's house is silent except for the thanks at the end, and the drive to Castiel's is equally so. Sam doesn't have to be asked not to walk home, just follows Castiel inside and sits mute at the kitchen island while Castiel brews tea.

"What happened, Sam?"

"I was stupid."

"Unsurprisingly, I gathered that on my own. What exactly? You owe me that much."

"I know," Sam sighs, looking down at his hands. "We were kind of drunk. Ruby maybe more than me. And we were walking around and she said this one house was abandoned and supposed to be haunted and we should see if we can see a ghost. It looked all crappy with weeds and stuff in the yard-- I swear I never would have let us break in if I thought anyone lived there, but Ruby had the address wrong or something and suddenly this old lady's screaming bloody murder and her husband's coming after us with a golf club, and Ruby's just laughing and trying to run but I guess they had an alarm because that's when the cops showed up. You know the rest."

It's some consolation at least to know it's just been a reckless whim gone horribly wrong. "And the drugs?"

"I didn't even know she had that stuff. She said she had a surprise for later, but I thought it was, uh. Y'know. Sexual." Sam turns red and Castiel does too.

"I see. I hope you realize how lucky you've been." 

"I do. Believe me, I do. I owe you and Gabriel big and I know it."

"Tonight could have cost you your whole future."

"I know, Cas, okay? I fucked up. Just... can you not tell Dean?"

Sam has no way of knowing, of course, that Dean might not even want to speak to Castiel when he returns, but even if he did, it's no less galling a request. "I'm not going to lie to him."

"No, no, I didn't mean-- I mean let me tell him. He's going to hit the ceiling but he should hear it from me."

Castiel can concede that much; he wouldn't want to be the one bearing this news in any case. "You'll need to do it promptly. I'm ill-equipped for deception even by omission." Especially with Dean, especially now that he almost certainly knows how Castiel feels about him.

"I will. I promise. I'm sorry in advance for whatever mood he's in when he storms out of the house and comes over here."

"He may not."

Sam misunderstands that Castiel isn't talking about Dean's reaction to the news so much as where that reaction will send him. "Are you kidding? Talk about fucking up my whole future, I wouldn't even have a future to fuck up if it weren't for him, and believe me, he knows it. He's going to rip me a new one and then rip the new one a new one. We never talk about it, but he's been sacrificing stuff for me his whole life. Even when Dad was alive, it was Dean who took care of me, y'know?"

Castiel did, to a certain extent, just on inference, but Dean never laid it out plainly like this. Of course he wouldn't have. It settles like a lead weight. "Then why, knowing what it means to him, and knowing what it means to you, would you do something so--"

"Stupid?" Sam makes a face. "It was stupid. But we were never normal kids, not really. And then I'm at college and people are smoking weed and going to Cabo on spring break and taking laundry home to their mothers and I just wanted to be normal for a minute, I guess. College kids are supposed to do stupid crap and come back in the fall with something to say that isn't 'I busted my ass on next year's homework all summer' and Ruby was... she thought I was cool, I guess, interesting. I don't know. Did I mention the part with the stupid?"

It's faulty logic, but Castiel understands it. He made the same mistakes and they never made him more normal or more interesting or feel like he was living any more life than before. "I spent my first year of college stoned off my ass and the next three making up for it."

"Seriously? You?"

"I'm fairly certain it did the opposite of making me interesting, or normal." Dean would call this very after-school special. Castiel can practically hear him saying it. "If you actually find recreational drug use and reckless behavior fulfilling and entertaining, there's nothing wrong in it if no one gets hurt, but if not and you're just pleasing someone else, it's a waste."

Around dawn, long after Sam's gone home and nearly as long spent failing to sleep, the thought catches Castiel that listening to his own advice might be worth something.



Thursday comes. Castiel's gone through all the usual motions: tea, run, work, although on significantly less sleep than he's used to and a lack of concentration that is not entirely due to fatigue, and the phone becomes the bane of his existence. He receives messages from Anna, Sam, and Balthazar, all wanting to be called with varying degrees of urgency. Between Anna's 'ASAP' and the fact that it's Anna, he calls her first.

"Chill, everything's fine," she says when he greets her by asking if anything's wrong. "I just need to know how many people to put on my guest list."

"Your guest list?"

"For my big gay painting! There's going to be a big theme night next weekend to unveil it. Like an art opening but with more go-go boys. Which I know isn't exactly your scene, before you say anything, but please?"

Castiel sighs. "Of course I'll come. I hope I won't be expected to dance."

"You don't have to do anything but be there. So, yes?"


"Yay! Gabe already said he'd come. Are you bringing Balthazar?"

"I don't think he'll be able to make it," Castiel says, as neutrally as he can.

"I'll leave you a plus-one anyway, just in case. You should talk to Gabe, he's booking a swanky suite somewhere. Oh, and news of the weird, I ran into Dean the hottie mechanic of all people."

"Oh." It hadn't occurred to him that there would be any chance of Dean and Anna crossing paths, despite them spending time in the same city. "I'm sorry. Are you--"

"I'm fine. It was pretty weird but it got not-weird. We had a couple of drinks. Not in a date way. Actually, we mostly talked about you."


"Nothing embarrassing, I swear. That's Gabe's department. But you should ask him about it."


"No, stupid, Dean."


"Just trust me, okay?"

If Dean's talking about him, that at least means there's a chance Dean will talk to him. But he can't imagine what Dean could have said to Anna.

The next call is to Sam, which he tells himself is because Sam's message read more urgent than Balthazar's, not because he's putting off an uncomfortable conversation.

"I'm kinda freaking out," Sam whispers.

"Why are you whispering?"

"Because I'm hiding in a supply closet. Gabriel said he'd take my phone away if he saw me using it again."

"Sam, Gabriel had no obligation to help you in the first place, and certainly no obligation to allow you to discharge the debt for the door that I know he paid for you in a way that looks good on your resumé. I would think the least you could do is--"

"No, I mean, I know. It's not that. I kept checking to see if you'd called back and he said he'd bury it in jell-o if I didn't calm down."

Castiel laughs in spite of his annoyance at Sam's ungrateful disobedience. "That's not an idle threat, I hope you know."

"Yeah, I kinda got that after he actually made me pick out all the blue M&Ms by hand when I wouldn't stop saying thank you. He's actually really great to work for if you leave out the weird sugar fetish. But Cas, Dean's coming home tonight."

"I know. You're just going to have to face it. I know Dean better than to think he won't be angry, but if you explain it to him the way you explained it to me, I believe he will forgive you. You made a mistake. A bad one, but it turned out far better than it could have."

"I know he'll forgive me. It's not like I've never screwed anything up. But I can't stand thinking how he's going to look at me."

"Consequences, Sam. I'm sorry I don't have anything more sympathetic to offer, but this is of your own making and you have to take responsibility."

"I know," Sam sighs. "That's really pretty much what I needed to hear. Just so you know, he likes whiskey when he's mad, but don't let him have too much."

"I'll take that under advisement, but I'm not sure--"

"Shit!" There's a rustling and the line goes dead.

It's two o'clock, which is when Balthazar's afternoon seminar starts. Delaying the call has bought him more time that he's now not sure he wants. It's not that he wants Balthazar out of his life, that he won't miss him, but now that he's made his decision, he wants the matter concluded. He would like very much to somehow skip forwards in time to when they've already spoken, to have it in the past. His distaste for confrontation has only earned him two more hours to wait out in limbo.

Castiel leaves the house meaning to go to the library, but he finds himself in a liquor store staring up and down the selection of whiskey until an employee notices his indecision, hears far too many details, and eventually hands him a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue and wishes him luck.

At the library, the Divinity student who always seems to be there during his visits has seen his name on the updated panel list for Leuven and laments that she can't get funding to attend. Jess at the coffee cart asks after Sam and forces a free muffin on him. Castiel lies without lying, simply telling her that Sam's gotten a job in a law office for the rest of the summer and will likely be spending less time here. He's fairly certain she looks disappointed even as she expresses happiness on Sam's behalf. He talks to Jess for some time; this is one of three jobs she works, along with a work-study lab assistant position for her advisor in the biology department and occasional extra hours on a grant-based experimental study. She has a cat with a bad habit of coughing up hairballs when she's about to be late and confesses a guilty love for vapid teen movies. Castiel walks away thinking she'd be a far better match for Sam than Ruby, but he's no matchmaker.

Balthazar doesn't greet him with a tease or any terms of endearment, just, "Have you got a moment?"

Castiel would be relieved at not having his resolve weakened by Balthazar's usual easy affection, but it also means there's something else wrong, so he falters on the opening he's rehearsed in his head a thousand times and says, "Yes. Is something the matter?"

"Trust you to know right off." Balthazar's laugh is the one he uses when something isn't funny. "There's really no easy way to say this, but I'm a complete bastard and I've gone and slept with Luc."

That sends everything Castiel was going to say straight out the window. "I see."

"I really am dreadfully fucking sorry. I hope you believe that."

"I believe you."

"And the thing is, well, he and I-- it's not that you aren't lovely, but--"

"You would rather be with him."

"Sounds bloody awful when you put it that way."

It would be very easy to say goodbye and let it end here, because whether he has any right to feel it or not, it stings. But allowing Balthazar to think all the fault lies with him would be cowardly. In his own way, Castiel's not been faithful either. "But it's the truth. I think we both knew there wasn't a long future for us."

"Wouldn't have minded it, really. But you're miles too good for me."

"Balthazar, I'm not. Before you made your confession I was going to make one of my own." He takes a deep breath. "I'm in love with Dean." He'd half thought saying it out loud for the first time might change it somehow, make it more real, but it feels just the same as before he said it.

Balthazar lets out that laugh again. "We're a fucking pair, aren't we? I did wonder."

"I'm sorry. I mistakenly convinced myself that my feelings could be kept within the confines of 'bromance.'"

"Of what?"

"Bromance. It's a term that--"

"I know what it means." Balthazar's laugh is real this time. "Christ, I'm going to miss you."

"I see no reason we can't remain on amicable terms. I'd like it if we could." But it won't be the same even if they manage to, and Castiel knows that's what Balthazar means.

"Make a go of it, anyway. Sort yourself out with Dean first, as I can't promise I won't flirt and you don't want him all threatened and murderous."

"I'm not sure there's a chance of having anything to sort out."

"Never know if you don't try, will you? I know not trying, take it from someone who's spent the last three years wanting to bum his star student. Moment he'd defended, my resolve crumbled." That he's happy Balthazar won't be in danger of repercussions since Luc is no longer a student, and not more hurt that Balthazar's heart was never in it in the first place, tells Castiel everything else he needs to know. "And look, bloody awkward time to mention it, but if that job turns out to be something you want when the time comes, I'll do whatever I can. You fucking deserve it."

"Thank you."

When they say goodbye, Castiel knows it's final for the time being.


Castiel has lied to himself about one thing or another his whole life. That there was nothing to the way he started to look at boys when the other boys started to look at girls. That he didn't care what his father thought of him, that he wasn't trying to smoke away the truth of how much he did care. That he could win his father's approval, love, if he could do just this one thing right, in a long series of one things. That he wasn't still a little bit crushed that it never worked, that if he could have made it in time, his father's dying words might have been a little bit of what he was looking for. That last one, he holds onto loosely in the back of his mind, just for comfort.

And however he's lied to himself about Dean, he's never been quite able to deny what he hopes for. He's been able to push it far enough away to be genuinely happy with their friendship, for it to be enough--more than enough and a thing he's lucky to have--but that's never stopped him from hoping, just a low flame in the background that sparks occasionally. It flared to blinding in that moment when they might, might have been about to kiss, and it hasn't quite gone back down since.

Now he might be just a little bit on fire. It's not denial now that makes him refuse to let it overtake him; it's pragmatism. Dean could have realized what that moment was and not wanted it. Whatever Sam says, Castiel may not now be his choice for a sympathetic ear. And if he is, if Dean does come, if Castiel can even screw up the courage to ask for what he wants, the timing would be at best selfish while Dean is angry and vulnerable, and possibly grateful to him for helping Sam.

And then there's Anna's cryptic statement about asking Dean the details of their unexpected encounter. He can't help puzzling over it, but there's no way of guessing what it could be; the only thing that comes to mind is that Dean may have decided he'd like to date Anna after all, and that does get a generous douse of denial, though logic would dictate it shouldn't. The only past relationship Dean's ever spoken of is his 'thing' with Lisa a number of years ago, so it would stand to reason that a woman would be his likely choice of partner. One-person exceptions to heterosexuality don't happen in the real world, as far as Castiel knows, whatever possible near-kisses might have to say about it. But spoken facts alone aren't the whole of reality, and Dean's never assigned himself a specific label in Castiel's hearing, so the hope stays.

The hope that Dean will come here is more immediate, and Castiel tries not to let that consume him either, because if he does he'll just stare into space waiting. For a while he sits with the papers from Balthazar about the job and a glass of Johnnie Walker at his elbow that he's not drinking, but he's not so much making any sense of the words as staring at them. He will have to make sense of them eventually, think seriously about what he wants and what he should do, but for now he pushes them aside and takes down his sauce-splattered copy of How to Cook Everything and starts reading about pie crust. It's certainly more complicated than unrolling a storebought one, but it doesn't seem overly so. When he chooses the wrong video tutorial online and watches a young woman becoming increasingly intoxicated for comedic effect, even her pie crust comes out somewhat recognizable despite her carelessness in following the instructions. Castiel ate pie perhaps twice a year before he met Dean. He takes a small sip of his whiskey and pulls a stick of butter out of the refrigerator.

It's a good enough distraction even if it's still, at its core, about Dean, because Castiel isn't experienced enough at cooking of any kind, let alone baking, to be able to concentrate on anything but following the recipe. Not overworking the dough and not letting it get too warm and making sure it there's enough flour on the counter to keep it from sticking.

Castiel's back door is awkward to get to because the fence cuts it off completely from the front half of the property and there's no gate. No one, therefore, ever comes to it unless they're already in the back yard, which is rare on its own, so hearing a knock sound from the darkened back porch is enough to make him jump out of his skin and reach for the nearest thing that might serve as a weapon.

"Cas?" The shout's muffled through the door but no less recognizable for it. Castiel relaxes from the imminent threat reaction, but tenses in a different way as he unbolts the door and opens it. Dean's standing there, shoulders hunched and his hands in his pockets, face drawn into unhappy angles that are more dramatic in the shadows. Though his expression spares a moment of confusion to eye the rolling pin that Castiel's still brandishing like a club. "I come at a bad time?"

"No, of course not." Castiel lets his arm drop, feeling ridiculous, and steps aside for Dean to come in. "I was afraid you might be a burglar."

"Since when do burglars knock?"

"I suppose they don't. But there's no way into the back yard without climbing the fence."

"Explains why I couldn't find the gate. Sorry, man. I was kinda wandering around for a while and I ended up in the alley."

"It's all right. It's good to see you, Dean."

"You too." Dean's lips catch up in a smile that doesn't stay.

"There's whiskey if you'd like some."

"The guy known from here on out as My Idiot Brother warned you, huh?"

"He knew you would be angry and thought you might come here." Across the island, Castiel feels a bit like a bartender when he takes down a glass and pours what looks like a decent amount as Dean sinks onto a stool. He's forgotten to dust the flour off his hands and has to wipe it off the outside of the glass.

"Damn straight I'm fuckin' angry." Dean knocks back half the whiskey in one go. There's a smudge of blue on the back of his left hand that looks like the remains of some kind of stamp, but Castiel can't tell what it is.

"I hope you understand my decision to let Sam explain what happened himself."

"Oh, yeah. Dude, I'm not pissed at you. Totally opposite. Who knows what would've happened if you and your brother hadn't been there to bail his dumb ass out." Dean drains his glass and pours another. "Which, seriously, thank you. That's like not even repayable. I know he wasn't going to actually die or anything, but you guys did save his life."

"There's nothing to repay. I would have done the same for any friend." Those words are chosen carefully, because he would have done the same had Sam been a complete stranger, because he's someone Dean cares about.

"Still. I should send Gabriel a fruit basket or something."

"If it would ease your unnecessary sense of obligation to thank him with a gift, he'd likely prefer Godiva."

Dean snorts into his glass. "I'm trying to thank him, not get in his pants."

"I doubt he'd arrive at that conclusion. He just prefers sweets to... well, most things."

"I can get behind that. Speaking of which, that looks a damn lot like pie crust."

"Whether it will taste that way remains to be seen." Castiel realizes he should get the dough into the refrigerator, since he discovered halfway through the endeavor that he doesn't actually have anything to serve as pie filling. He starts to wrap up the dough, and suddenly Dean's close and warm behind him, reaching under his arm to pinch off a bit of dough. "Dean, that's not going to taste very--"

"Doesn't taste good now but it will later. I used to do this to Missouri's when I was a kid, so I know when it tastes right."

He can feel the heat of Dean's breath on the back of his neck and smell the whiskey and he tears the plastic wrap with more violence than he means to. The roll fumbles out of the box and bounces across the counter. Dean goes after it and leaves a cold void at his back. He has to remind himself that this isn't supposed to be about what he wants. "Are you and Sam going to be all right?"

"Yeah," Dean says. He's leaning back against the counter and at another time Castiel might tell him not to rest his boot on the cabinet door but that doesn't seem very important now. "We've had bigger fights. I'm kinda pissed at myself as much as I'm pissed at him."

"Sam's mistake is not your fault."

"He was saying all this crap about wanting to feel like a normal college student, which, I mean, is crap because can you even imagine that kid at a frat party or something? But he wouldn't think he needs to do that if he hadn't had a screwed-up childhood, which is my fault. If I could've--"

"That's bullshit, Dean." Castiel didn't swear on purpose; he just felt that strongly, but it has the added effect of shutting Dean up. "From what little you've told me, all the fault for your and Sam's unstable upbringing lies with your father, and by your account and Sam's as well, you've only ever worked to remedy that. Besides which, Sam is an adult. You have a right to be angry, but not at yourself."

"Maybe." Dean sighs. "I just want him to have a damn life, you know? Even I thought hey, way to go Sammy, rockin' the debauchery with your hot girlfriend."

"Some fault there is mine as well. I knew Ruby's background and said nothing. She's a very smart girl who's had a hard time and made some unfortunate choices, and I allowed myself to believe that Sam might be good for her, rather than the complete opposite."

"If I'm not allowed to blame me, you're not allowed to blame you, okay?" Dean picks up Castiel's barely-touched glass from the island and refills his own. "You know me, man, I probably wouldn't have listened even if you'd warned me. Let's just move the hell on." He pushes Castiel's drink into his hand and touches their glasses together, and their eyes meet as they drink.

In the living room with Dean rifling through records, Castiel realizes just how many of the ones that are here belong to Dean. Dean doesn't choose one of his own, though; technically it doesn't belong to Castiel either, but he hasn't spoken to its owner in years. He remembers Mark grinning behind hungover sunglasses and paying a quarter for it at a yard sale in New Haven, but he's played it enough in the intervening years that there's nothing much attached to it anymore.

"I wouldn't think you'd like Gram Parsons," Castiel says.

"Are you kidding? Dude was awesome. His friends stole his damn dead body from an airport. Beats the hell outta your Simon and Garfunkel shit anyway. There's three men in cowboy hats I actually respect, not including Clint Eastwood, and he's one of 'em."

'Return of the Grievous Angel' fills the room and Dean's close next to him on the sofa and they don't talk until the song's over, when Castiel starts to feel the silence and asks how things went in Indianapolis.

Dean scratches the back of his left hand, where the smudged ink is, and says, "Yeah, it was good. I met some cool guys who I think can help me out with parts if I can start pulling in some restoration jobs."

"Anna mentioned she saw you. I hope that wasn't awkward."

"Nah. There was a definite oh-shit moment when I saw her, but she was really cool. She showed me her painting, which seriously mad skills."

With that information and the way the light's hitting Dean's left hand, it looks more like a pair of wings on either side of a capital 'H.' It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Dean went to Heaven on his own, but it's just as likely that the stamp is from Anna taking him there specially. "I've agreed to go to see it unveiled."

Dean laughs, and he's close enough that Castiel can feel it. "Don't sound so happy for her."

"I'm not particularly sanguine toward the so-called club scene."

"It's an okay place. It was like five in the afternoon when I was there so it was pretty empty, but it didn't seem skeevy. And believe me, I know skeevy. Other than some old queen hitting on me, it was nice."

There's a lot to interpret there. Castiel's never heard 'old queen' thrown out so casually except from people who apply it to themselves or who are close to those who do. "Did Anna take you there?"

"No." Dean's looking off toward the side of the room.

"Oh." Castiel's never been to Heaven, but he's been to places like it. The thought of Dean grinding against strangers' sweaty bodies on a dance floor, of him finding some anonymous back-room tryst, it makes his chest hurt. He can live with Dean not wanting to be with him, but Dean deserves better than that. Still, Dean said it was early and there weren't many people there. He'll be perfectly content never to be told how long Dean stayed, or what he was looking for when he went there in the first place.

They've sat in a lot of silences together, mostly the kind that are comfortable and come on because there's nothing that happens to need saying. This isn't like that. He's too aware of even the smallest movements Dean makes next to him, the warm point where their knees are touching, the line of Dean's throat as he tips his head back to drain the last drops out of his glass, of the things he's trying not to ask, and of whatever Dean isn't saying.

"Hey, Cas?" Dean says after a while. "You, um, wanna watch a movie or something? I don't really feel like going home."

"Because of Sam?"

"Yeah. It's not like I'm so pissed I can't stand his face or anything, but he's going to be looking at me all puppy-eyes wondering if he's forgiven yet."

"You'll have to see him eventually."

"I know. I just want to not deal with it for a minute. I mean, if you weren't busy."

"You're welcome as long as you'd like."

"Thanks." The smile Dean gives him is open, relieved. "You pick something, I'll go make some popcorn."

Castiel doesn't own many DVDs and can barely remember between one use and the next how to make the player and the television interact correctly. Most of his collection is things he uses in his classes-- Jesus Christ SuperstarIndiana Jones movies, Schindler's List-- and has seen a thousand times. He's got Withnail and I and North By Northwest, both still in their cellophane because he and Balthazar had never gotten around to watching them, and those seem like inappropriate choices. He doubts Dean will be interested in Amélie or Gosford Park, but he takes those along with Raiders of the Lost Ark and Dogma into the kitchen to present to Dean as choices and see if he needs help finding the popcorn, because Castiel hasn't heard the microwave going.

Dean's found the popcorn. He's also found the proposal for the New Testament position that Castiel left lying on the island. Dean looks up sharply, expression unreadable. "I wasn't, uh. I had to move your laptop and--"

"It's all right. It's not a secret." That isn't really true, of course. He's purposely not told Dean because he can't think how to phrase that kind of announcement without asking for something.

"News to me."

"The resources won't exist to begin a search before next spring, and I've yet to decide whether I'll apply."

"But you're thinking about it."

"I would be doing myself a disservice not to consider the opportunity. I never meant to teach high school for the rest of my life, Dean. You know that."

"Yeah. I guess it must be pretty serious business with Balthazar, huh? If you're thinking of moving up there."

"He gave me that proposal because he believes I would be a good fit for the position. Our...relationship will have no bearing on my decision, since--" it would be dishonest not to mention it now-- "since we are no longer a couple."

"Oh. Shit. I'm sorry. When did that--"

"This afternoon."

"What the hell, man? You were just gonna let me be emo into my scotch all night and not bother to mention that? How big a dick do you think I am?"

"That's not it at all. Bathazar and I parted amicably by mutual agreement." Not quite, but close enough. "It's unfortunate but I'm not in pain. We weren't in love. It was a piece of news I could tell you at any time. I thought your problems with Sam should take precedence for now."

"Man." Dean scrubs a hand over his face. "So he didn't dump you over shroom shakes and I don't need to kick his ass?"

"No. And I'd strongly prefer if you didn't."

"So that he'll help you get that job?"

"I doubt doing him some sort of violence would change his intentions. He believes I'm just what the faculty needs."

"What's the matter with IU or something? It's down the damn street."

"They and numerous other institutions have offered me visiting professorships on several occasions, but those are temporary and would have me uprooting myself once the year is out. The Chicago position is a tenure-track endowed chair. I've only been at St. Benedict's as long as I have because I went to college with the head of the board of trustees. You don't have the frame of reference to understand the risk involved for any faculty taking me on, but my scholarship is extremely controversial. Even Chicago would be a gamble, in terms of having the tenure approved, but the chair they're setting up is a guaranteed three-year appointment."

"So what do you do in three years if they tell you to take a hike?"

"That's something I would have to consider."

"Not that you should listen to the asshole with no frame of reference, but that doesn't sound like any more of a sure thing than the one-year offers."

"I'm aware. It's why I've decided nothing thus far."

"I mean, a year at IU could work out too, right? The tenure and everything? And you wouldn't have to move, and if the trustee guy's your friend, he'd probably give you back your old job if it didn't, right?"

Dean doesn't want him to leave, Castiel realizes. Dean's saying without saying that he doesn't want him to leave. Dean can give complicated lines to read between, but these aren't. "It's a possibility. A distant one, but possible. I don't want to leave, but I'm not a high school teacher."

"Look, I'm doing a shitty job of it, but I'm trying to say I'd miss you, dumbass." On that, Dean turns away and throws the popcorn into the microwave.

Castiel's heart feels like it's somewhere in the middle of his esophagus. He'd like to say that if Dean asked him to stay, he would. That he'd let everything else go and spend the rest of his life at the front of a high school classroom. But all he says is, "I'd miss you too," quietly, having to swallow around it.

Dean turns back to face him and the first kernels pop like gunshots in the silence. It would take three steps to cross the space between them, but Castiel stays where he is as the runout groove pops static from the turntable in the living room.

Dean picks Raiders of the Lost Ark and falls asleep against Castiel's shoulder half an hour in. He knows he should go up to bed, but after he summons the presence of mind to send a message to Sam that Dean's probably staying here for the night, he just pulls the afghan from the back of the sofa down over them and closes his eyes.

He wakes up with it still dark out and Dean snoring lightly into the side of his neck, the DVD menu playing the same thirty seconds of music over and over. His left hand is trapped behind Dean's back and has lost all feeling. His right has a mind of its own and wants to stroke through Dean's hair. He makes it stop when Dean stirs and mutters something unintelligible.

The last time this happened, Castiel panicked somewhat and left Dean alone. This time, he revels selfishly. Dean wakes up when Castiel can't help pressing his lips to the spot where Dean's hairline meets his forehead, a guilty stolen thing.

Dean just blinks up at him and says, "Hey." He doesn't jerk away, doesn't act as if this is anything but completely normal.

"It's very late," Castiel says.


"Sam knows you're here. If you'd like to sleep in the guest room--"

"'m good here."

It's an Herculean effort for Castiel to get up, to kneel down and unlace Dean's boots and lift his feet up onto the couch. An even bigger one not to lie back down next to him. He doesn't think Dean hears him say goodnight.



Waking up and having it hit you that everything's kind of fucked up isn't a great feeling. Sam nearly ruined his life because it turns out that every damn thing Dean's done for that kid wasn't quite enough. Cas is not-in-love with Balthazar and not-with Balthazar but might move to Chicago anyway. And Dean went to a damn gay bar thinking he might be able to get the Cas Thing out of his system somehow (some fucking how) and ended up spilling his guts to Cas's sister instead.

If you look at it like Sam would look at it, Sam screwed up like any 21-year-old might but came off so damn lucky that he scored a job that'll look great on his resumé, Castiel's no longer dating an eccentric British genius with a cool car that's not as cool as the Impala anyway and might not move to Chicago, and Dean didn't end up doing something/one he'd probably regret and found someone willing to listen to him bitch like a damn teenage girl.

But Dean isn't Sam (except for the teenage-girl bitching but that's a totally isolated incident), so everything's kind of fucked up. Even if Cas is technically available now, even if he bought nice-ass whiskey just because he thought Dean might come drink it, even if he was about to make pie from fucking scratch, even if he let Dean take over his evening and fall asleep on his shoulder and covered him in a blanket and almost definitely took his boots off, and a lot of other even-ifs about Why Cas is Awesome, Dean missed the world's easiest window to say, 'Oh, PS, also into dudes,' which is a damn useful thing to be able to say if you're into a specific dude, especially one who accidentally thought your ex-ancient-history-weekend-fling was your girlfriend. He's never been great at the coming-out thing, partly because who he fucks is nobody's damn business, and partly because who he fucks doesn't usually stick around long enough for it to be business, and partly because, okay, he doesn't usually want to deal with the bullshit that comes with it. But he doesn't usually have a best friend who also happens to make his heart and guts go all stupid quite aside from whatever's happening in his pants. But even if all the even-ifs, Cas has been Balthazar-free for what, eighteen hours? That's firmly in red-alert friendship-ruining rebound territory. And that he's actually worried about the friendship-ruining part is firmly in frilly lacy hearts-and-flowers cheeseball territory.

Also, he's going to have to deal with Sam. Like without yelling. There will probably be touching moments where Dean will have to admit he's pissed at himself and a little pissed at Dad, and Sam will be all teary and gigantic and tell him it's not his fault and that he's sorry. It's not that Dean doesn't feel these things; he just sucks at talking about them and Sam always wants to talk about them way longer than Dean can exactly stand.

So yeah, stuff's fucked up. He's going to have to have a big man-pain extravaganza with his brother and count down some unknown acceptable mourning period while he tries to grow the balls to make some kind of damn declaration to Cas, meanwhile keeping Anna sworn to secrecy and not completely losing his shit if Cas does decide to have some kind of rebound thing, because obviously they're all in the ninth grade. Awesome.

Dean hears the stairs creaking and snaps his eyes shut because he doesn't want to look like he was lying there having philosophical thoughts. Dean's good at pretending to be asleep-- useful skill in motel rooms when you don't want to look like you were waiting up and/or watching late-night Cinemax. He'd lie there keeping his breathing carefully even, listening to his dad clatter around until he heard the sounds of another bed or the sofa settling and the pink glow outside his eyelids went black.

He doesn't open his eyes until there's a gentle touch to his shoulder and a quiet, "Dean?"

Cas isn't dressed, still in loose grey cotton pajama pants and a t-shirt with some faded writing on it that looks like it might be Hebrew. He's also got ridiculous bed-hair and is all stubbly and Dean can't help smiling. "Hey."

"I wasn't sure if you needed to go to work today. It's nearly seven."

"Nah. I might go in later just to make sure they haven't burned the place down, but no one's expecting me till Monday. Might as well get up, though."

"I assume you would have been notified in the event of a fire," Cas says with a glint of amusement. "I'll make you some coffee."

Dean takes his time getting up because of the way the stupid pajamas cling to Cas's ass. He's lost a sock somewhere during the night so he just pulls the other one off and sneaks upstairs for a piss. Cas is pouring coffee out of his godawfully trendy-looking French press (brought here by Gabriel, Dean learned the first time he gave it a suspicious glance, because Cas doesn't even drink coffee, just makes it for Dean) by the time Dean gets back down and setting it in front of him with an apologetic, "There's not much for breakfast," because left to his own devices he'd eat organic yogurt and barley flakes or something. "We could go out."

"Yeah, sure," Dean says. They've never gone actually out for anything. It's always been take-out or cooking. It never struck Dean as weird that they haven't, but now it sort of does. "I'm kinda disgusting, though."

That's how Dean ends up being handed a new toothbrush out of a five-pack in the upstairs bathroom and wearing a worn-soft old Yale t-shirt that's only almost too tight. He doesn't know what to do with the toothbrush after he uses it, and he maybe feels a little bit stupidly warm when he finally decides to just drop it into the holder behind Cas's. Dean concedes to walking to breakfast because he knows Cas would be running if he weren't here (or running with him on the days Dean can get off his ass early enough to pose as a respectable dog owner) and it's nice and shady and not too hot yet on the way to a crunchy-looking cafe near the university that Dean didn't even know was there, but for all their local organic mumbo-jumbo and weird decorations (there is actual honest-to-god macramé), they've still got bacon and sausage on the menu.

The waitress knows Cas by name (well, by 'Dr. Milton,' since as it turns out she was a student of his who's in college now) and asks if he'd like 'the usual,' which looks like a huge bowl of fruit but has granola of all things underneath, and which he looks perfectly pleased to be eating. He still steals a piece of Dean's bacon, though, and Dean doesn't even try to stop him. He's lucky Sam isn't here to see that because he'd be saying dumb crap about how it must be love. Or at least thinking it. Not that Dean is, because he doesn't need his brain screwing with him any more than it already is.

Cas drinks enough fruity-smelling herbal tea that he has to use the bathroom before they leave, and that's when the waitress comes back asking, "Together or separate?"

"Uh, together," Dean says, and thrusts his credit card at her even though he has cash because he hasn't actually seen the bill yet and would like her to be as far away as possible while his face finishes turning red for no good reason because that word doesn't mean anything, not really. It's not like they're on a date. Cas just thanks him like it's no big deal when he comes back. It is no big deal. It's no different from going out for a burger with Sam.

Neither is getting several pounds of strawberries from a bizarrely attractive monk, which is what they do after a slow walk back to Cas's house. Monks shouldn't be hot. It's probably in the bible. He figured Brother Michael had to be nice, what with all the beer and produce he's forever giving Cas, but Dean was picturing the dude more like a portly Friar Tuck type. He doesn't even wear burlap or have the weird baldy haircut going on. But it would be stupid for Dean to be jealous, even if he and Cas laugh about school stuff that Dean's got no clue about and Michael isn't exempt from the less-than-usual personal space that Cas tends to allow people. The phrase 'living like a monk' exists for a reason, so it would be dumb.

"I never met a monk before," Dean says on the drive back from the cornfieldy outskirts of town with strawberries pungent in the back seat and something folky on the stereo because hey, driver picks the music and shotgun shuts his cakehole, and Dean's no hypocrite. Mostly. Even if said driver drives a totally sensible and slightly-ancient Toyota and drives it like a damn grandma. At least it's a manual transmission, and the Virgin Mary air freshener is a nice touch ('gift from a student,' Cas says with a smirk). "I totally thought he'd be all old and wacky. And maybe, uh, harder on the eyes."

"Michael is one of the youngest teachers we have, and the object of a fair number of unfortunate crushes. There are older monks on the staff, but I wouldn't describe them as wacky."

"They make beer and grow strawberries too?"

"No, they're more what you might have expected. Though somewhat ironically, Michael is closer to traditional, in the medieval sense."

Dean's given into the temptation and twisted around to grab a strawberry, so all he says is, "Hm," around it. And then, "Dude! Red light!" because Cas isn't paying attention.

Cas slams on the brakes and manages to stop short of the intersection. "My apologies." He reaches back for a strawberry of his own and damn, that's distracting. It actually shouldn't be legal, the way his lips slide up over the fat part as he bites in, or the way he licks the juice off his fingertips after. "Oh," he says, not in a way that could have anything to do with the strawberry. "What does this light mean?" He's pointing at the dash and frowning.

Dean cranes over to look. "Maintenance required? That's nothing, they set those to come on after a certain number of miles. You never had that come on?"

"No, I get it serviced every three months. It must have happened sooner because I've been driving more."

Right, all the trips to Chicago. "It's no big deal. I'll check her over for you this weekend."

"You don't have to--"

"Dude. I will be seriously insulted if you don't tell your old mechanic it's time for you to see other people." Okay, that's pushing it a little. At least he has the sense to stop before he gets to the lube jokes.

"Thank you, Dean. I can pay you, of course."

"These strawberries are going in a pie, right?"

"With any luck, yes."

"Then I'm paid."

It's lucky that they have about ten thousand pounds of strawberries, because it turns out neither one of them has the first idea of how to make strawberries into the awesome stuff in the middle of a strawberry pie, and there's scorched sugar and almost a fire and they eat about a pound between them that never even make it onto the stove and the red stains are probably never going to come out of Cas's borrowed Yale t-shirt. He lets Dean crank the stereo loud enough to rattle the windowpanes and they break into Michael's latest batch of ale and are half-drunk at two in the afternoon waiting for a slightly misshapen pie to cool and Dean hasn't laughed this much in years, and god, he is so, so screwed.

To: Anna
they broke up yesterday. how long  = long enough??




Castiel sees more of Dean over the next week even than he's used to. On Saturday, as promised, Dean not only checks over his car, but tries to show him how to change his own oil. Even with Dean guiding his hands underneath the car (or perhaps due to, with their fingers slipping over each other in the grease), he doesn't think he's retained enough to attempt it on his own. The strawberry pie wasn't spectacular to begin with, and is even less so a day later, but Dean eats it like it is and says there's no such thing as bad pie. Sam's expression when he comes and eats a piece on Sunday would beg to differ, but Dean elbows him and they seem to have smoothed things over. On Monday, Gabriel's won a big case with Sam's help squinting over statutes and precedents and wants to celebrate, and for a while it looks like Gabriel might not survive the night because he keeps ruffling Sam's hair and calling Dean 'Dean-o' and generally being very Gabriel, but then they run into Jess from the library in the middle of a local bar's karaoke night that Gabriel's forced them all into and Sam's powers of speech seem to abandon him.

"You know her?" Dean shouts in Castiel's ear over a college student's drunken rendition of 'Friends in Low Places.'

"Her name is Jess and she has a cat," Castiel shouts back. He's had a little too much to drink. "She studies biology. I think she likes Sam."

"Good going, Captain Obvious!" Castiel can hear perfectly fine without Dean wrapping an arm around his shoulders to pull him closer, but he doesn't mind.

Sam's mumbling his way through 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light' on the stage with Jess when Dean proclaims he can't take anymore with his lips against Castiel's ear.

"I don't really like bars," Castiel says during a slow and stumbling walk home He has to concentrate very hard on putting one foot in front of the other, even though it's easier to think about Dean's arm around him holding him upright. "I am going to feel terrible tomorrow."

"You 'n me both, man. Difference is I gotta run a respectable business."

Strawberry pie is apparently much better if eaten directly out of the tin while drunk with someone you would like to kiss. Dean says it's delicious, half-intelligible with his mouth full, and that doesn't actually make Castiel not want to kiss him, but he has enough sense left not to.

On Tuesday they feel terrible.

From: Dean Winchester
going 2 kill ur broom.

damn autocorrect. bro.

Castiel laughs loudly in the middle of the library despite how much it hurts his head.

"I guess you've recovered," Jess says, having just walked in for her shift, carrying her apron and looking tired.

"Not really. How are you?"

"I feel like crap," she says, but she smiles. "Pretty good, though, considering. Any guy who still wants to see you again after he's seen you do sloshed karaoke to 'Stand By Your Man' and nearly catch the ceiling on fire trying to make mac and cheese at two in the morning is worth a raging hangover."

By Tuesday night, Dean is happily drinking a beer on Castiel's front porch, though Castiel himself still can't stand the thought of alcohol. On Wednesday night, Castiel makes his first trip inside Harvelle's Roadhouse and Jo greets him like an old friend.

On Thursday, Sam's out with Jess and Castiel is eating pizza in Dean's kitchen. Dean fiddles with a bottlecap and says, "Hey, uh, what are you doing tomorrow night?"

That's a little strange, just because they've never really planned anything on purpose; they tend to gravitate into something incidental or habitual that draws itself out. That's one of the things Castiel likes most about spending time with Dean, the fact that there's no need for some set activity and that the point of it is the company. "I'm going to Indianapolis for the unveiling of Anna's painting."

"Oh, right. I forgot."

"If you'd like to come, I'm allowed a guest. Gabriel's booked a large hotel suite."

"That wouldn't be weird?"

"It's going to be extremely weird, Dean. There will be men wearing nothing but angel wings and underwear, and apparently rains of feathers falling from the ceiling, and I'll probably be very uncomfortable. Anna will be fairly occupied and there's no telling what Gabriel will get up to. I've quite frankly got no interest in going, but I've promised Anna and I would like to support her."

"I meant wouldn't me being there be weird, but I guess not."

The potential for 'weird' isn't lost on Castiel, the idea of being in that place with Dean. "I've already expressed my refusal to dance."

Dean laughs, picks at his beer label, which Castiel knows by now as a sort of nervous habit. "Good, 'cause no way am I doing that. I dance like shit and I hate it even when there's not random dudes humping me-- are you blushing 'cause I said humping?"

"No." He is, but more from the picture it's put in his mind. "You shouldn't feel obligated to‑‑"

"Obligated, my ass. Road trip. And if it totally sucks, I can help you escape."

"Thank you. What was it you wanted to do? I'm sure we could some other day."

"Oh, uh, nothing really. This new Mexican place-- El... something-Mexican-- just opened downtown and you know me and cheese. Unless it's seriously bad, it'll still be there when we get back."

That's when Sam comes home, without Jess, and Dean teases him about the sappy grin on his face. "What'd you guys do, hold hands and read poetry?"

"Shove it," Sam says. "Just because a normal dinner date might as well be a trip to the moon for you doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it. Back me up here, Cas."

Castiel doesn't get a chance to frame a diplomatic answer because Dean grumbles, "Yeah, whatever. I gotta take a leak."

"Okay," Sam says, drawing it out slowly and staring after Dean. "Sorry, that doesn't usually hit a nerve. I guess we're less okay than I thought. He got pissed earlier 'cause I got a letter from Ruby, even though she's doing this wilderness rehab thing in Arizona and I won't exactly be seeing her anytime soon."

"I'm sure you'll be fine, given time." It's more platitude than anything else, since Castiel isn't sure what that exchange has to do with Sam's recklessness with Ruby, unless it's that Sam's seeing Jess now and apparently behaving completely maturely.

And Sam seems to have the same thought. "I dunno, maybe he thinks I should still be atoning or something and not having any fun. Which I guess would be fair, but it's not like he's going to actually say that. It's not like I'm having some meaningless rebound thing. I really like Jess, I think."

"Then Dean will be happy for you." He thinks of how long and how much work it took not to act as though Anna might break at any moment, not to fear it constantly. Even now, it isn't gone and may not ever be. He doesn't tell Sam this; it's a different situation, and it doesn't seem helpful. But putting the two side by side in his own mind makes him understand a little better how Sam and Dean must feel. When Dean comes back, both he and Sam act as though nothing happened, but there's a tension in the room that wasn't there before, so he says goodnight in case they need to speak privately.


Dean's an hour late on Friday, and Castiel feels guilty because it didn't even occur to him to consider that Dean would need to take leave from work at short notice. Dean didn't present it as an issue when he was invited, but Castiel still wishes he'd been more considerate. But it's only an hour to Indianapolis, and even with the delay they're still leaving well in advance, so their mutual apologies end up at cross-purposes.

Other than the day he hurt his knee, which seems like it was years ago, Castiel has never been in Dean's car. He's seen it, heard it spoken of reverently and affectionately, but being in it when he's not confused and in pain is something else entirely. Dean looks at home behind the wheel in a way he doesn;t even in his own house and can find all the buttons on the cassette player without taking his eyes off the road. It smells of leather and exhaust and of Dean, and of history, because when Castiel notices without comment that there's something rattling in one of the air vents, Dean sees where he's looking and tells him it's a Lego he put there as a child.

Dean sings along off-key to Kansas ('rule number one: driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole') and pulls over to refuel at a gas-station-cum-tourist-trap proclaiming to house 'Dinosaurland, the Original Jurassic Park.' Castiel politely doesn't comment on the fact that filling the tank only requires eight dollars' worth of gas and laughs when Dean shimmies up the back of an unnaturally green fiberglass Brontosaurus. They're asked to leave by a sullen young man in a uniform polo who points at faded plywood cutout of a cartoonish Tyrannosaurus Rex holding out its stumpy arm to indicate maximum (child-sized) height for climbing on the sculptures, but not before Dean persuades Castiel to climb up with him and throws his phone to a passing child to take their picture.

"We look ridiculous," Castiel says when Dean shows him the photo in the car. Castiel in particular, who seems to be clinging to Dean for dear life. He doesn't remember doing that.

"We look awesome." Dean's smile is so big that Castiel doesn't argue anymore.

Dean doesn't even bother with an excuse for the next stop they make, because the Amish family selling baked goods by the roadside is the excuse. They don't seem to have any expectation of their customers wanting to eat their pie immediately, but Dean comes up with some packages of plastic cutlery from the glove compartment and they lean against the hood with the pie between them, digging out bites of tart cherry and crust from a couple of crude slices. There are packets of salt and pepper in with the forks and knives, and using the napkin makes Castiel sneeze and Dean laugh.

Castiel can read French and German, several kinds of Greek if he has the right lexicon, enough Latin and Hebrew to get by. He's also becoming increasingly proficient in the garbled dialect of English known as Dean-with-his-mouth-full, and has no trouble understanding that what Dean's saying is, "Sometime we're gonna have to go on a real road trip."

"This isn't a real one?"

Dean swallows and says clearly, "Too short."

"I think you're doing a fine job of extending the journey."

"Nah, you're supposed to get lost and not know where you're stopping. I took Sammy to the Grand Canyon when he graduated high school and we were gone like, three weeks. It was awesome. I mean, I didn't have a real job and a mortgage and shit back then, but." He stuffs more pie in his mouth and doesn't finish the sentence.

"Real jobs tend to have the benefit of paid vacations."

"I guess. I should probably figure out how that works. Becky and our accountant guy do all the money stuff, I just sign it."

Castiel has never taken a vacation that didn't come with an itinerary, with reservations and advance planning, usually scheduled around appointments with texts or manuscripts too rare and fragile to be allowed out of closely guarded rooms, but at the very least knowing where he'll be spending the night. Even flight delays make him anxious. But the idea of a few weeks some summer wandering with Dean somehow doesn't, except in thinking about a future that has no guarantee of existing. "I've always wanted to see Niagara Falls."

"Yeah? Go over in a barrel and shit?"

"I think I'd be content to admire it from a safe distance."

Dean laughs in a way that seems to take over his whole body, a natural wonder on its own. "Okay, safe distance it is. You and me, next summer. If you're not, y'know, all super-important professor by then." He's still smiling now, but it's not so wonderful anymore.

"Dean, even in the event that I apply for the position, am chosen for it, and accept the offer, it would not begin before next fall at the earliest." It's not the promise he wants to make, that he would make if Dean asked for it, but it's the one he can make today without damaging anything. "And even in the astronomically unlikely event that I'm offered guaranteed tenure tomorrow, I'd still be entitled to a vacation."

"Deal," Dean says. He clears his throat and lends a lot of concentration to smoothing the plastic wrap back over the rest of the pie. "How come the Amish can use plastic wrap?"

Castiel knows that for the purposeful deflection that it is and explains to the best of his knowledge as they get back on the road-- he doesn't need to hear again that Dean would miss him to believe it.

They don't stop again until they're in the loading zone of the Conrad Indianapolis and Dean all but threatens the valet attendant's life if the Impala comes back from the parking garage tomorrow with so much as a scratch, and, "Don't think I don't know the mileage, buddy!" He's agitated in the elevator on the way up to the suite, muttering about not knowing what's wrong with staying someplace where you can park right outside the door.

Castiel touches his shoulder, lightly at first, and firmer when he doesn't flinch. "I'm sure it will be fine. It's their job to look after the guests' cars and they're probably used to requests for special care."

Dean relaxes, but only fractionally. "Yeah, but this isn't some CEO's dick-substitute Maserati. I put her back together from the bare frame after she got wrecked, every goddamn bolt. Hell, I hardly even let Sam drive her, never mind some random dude with shoulder tassel thingies."

"Epaulettes," Castiel supplies, and realizes he hasn't moved his hand, and that Dean's leaning back into it.

"They're douchey, whatever they are."

"If you're going to worry, you can get it back and park it somewhere else."

"Nah, it's done now." Castiel's hand drops as Dean steps forward out of the elevator. "Won't really make any difference if she's not where I can see her. Your brother can sue or something if they fuck anything up, right?"

"Most likely, but try not to worry."

Whatever Dean was about to say is overtaken by, "Holy crap," when the door to the suite opens.

That itself is overtaken by Gabriel exclaiming, "Boys!" and waving a champagne bottle. There's someone else in the room, and it isn't Anna.

"Strictly business, before he gives you any ideas," Kali says. She rolls her eyes and gives Castiel a kiss on the cheek. "If you don't count the ass-kissing."

"Kali's running for D.A," Gabriel explains. "And her ass is still delicious."

"Don't make me have you disbarred."

"Will it get me out of alimony?"

"Where are your manners, Gabe, or weren't you going to introduce me to your pet problem-child's brother?"

Whether it's the way she referred to Sam, or something else, Dean doesn't appear impressed with Kali. He shakes hands and smiles, but not genuinely, and doesn't flirt with her. Castiel certainly won't complain about the lack of flirting, but it's unusual for Dean not to do it. So the fact that he looks relieved to see her leave along with Gabriel, who announces they're off to dinner, it's a little strange.

"I guess we should get some dinner too, huh?" Dean opens the door to one of the bedrooms, winces at whatever he sees, and shuts it again. The other is untouched, just two neatly made beds with mints on the pillows. "Unless you got something you need to get back at Gabe for and you wanna just raid the mini-bar." He flashes a grin and starts rummaging through his overnight bag.

"Gabriel will likely raid it himself." Castiel isn't overly hungry after the pie, but he's seen the amount of food Dean can eat. "I'm not very familiar with the city. Is there somewhere you know of?"

"Yeah, few good places, nothing special." Dean's voice is muffled inside the t-shirt he's pulling off over his head.

Castiel realizes too late that he really shouldn't be staring, and Dean catches him. "I'm sorry," he says, and he can feel the color rising in his cheeks. "I was looking at your--" He makes an awkward gesture at his own chest to indicate the tattoo over Dean's heart. It's the partial truth.

"Oh, yeah, I forgot you hadn't seen it." Dean turns to face him fully and give him a better look, permission.

"What is it? It reminds me of a pagan symbol." He locks his hands together behind his back because he's tempted to reach out and see if the inked skin feels any different. 

"Dunno. My mom had this necklace she wore all the time, and this was on it."

"Oh." Before, he was thinking of the warmth he could feel from Dean's skin, as close together as they're standing, but now it seems wrong, as though Dean's mother's presence has come into the room. He steps away and turns his back to change his own shirt.

Dean jokes that people will think they're 'one of those lame match-y couples' when he sees they're both now in white button-downs, and although Castiel doesn't think they will because Dean's is open farther at the collar and his sleeves make it five minutes before Dean rolls them up, he gets a little bit stuck on 'couple.' Dean doesn't seem to have meant anything by it, though, or even noticed he's said it.

"Anna told me wearing white was encouraged in keeping with the theme, so I doubt anyone will take it amiss."

"Damn, if you'd told me sooner, I could've brought my Elvis jumpsuit."

"You have an--"

"No, Jesus!" Dean laughs. "C'mon, I'm in the mood for a hunka hunka burnin' steak."

"Dean, that was terrible."

"And yet again, you're laughing."

Steak was just part of the joke; Dean's choice for dinner is an Italian place that looks like something out of a movie, with red checkered tablecloths and candles in Chianti bottles. There's also a sizeable crowd in waiting both in the chairs by the door and outside, because the whole of the dining area is roughly the size of Castiel's living room.

"Dean, I don't think we're going to have time to eat here. This is quite a long line."

"It's cool, we have a reservation," Dean says with a wink.

"We do?"


Castiel doesn't get very far into an elaborate and ridiculous fantasy where Dean secretly planned a romantic dinner before the harassed-looking young hostess is blowing a lock of blonde hair out of her face and saying, "I'm sorry, I don't have a Winchester here."

"Maybe it's under Dean? I don't remember, I made it like, a month ago." Castiel knows there's no reservation at all now, and he also knows that Dean's turning on the flirtatious charm as high as it goes. "See, it's my friend here's birthday and I wanted to make sure we could come here."

"I don't have a Dean here either." Dean leans forward against the wooden podium and the woman swallows visibly. "Um, could you have put it under some other name?"

For a moment he thinks Dean's eyes wander down to her chest, but then Dean smacks himself in the forehead. "Oh, man, what an idiot! I bet I put it under your name, Cas, since it's your present and everything. You got one for Novak? 7:15? I know we're kinda late, but my wife just left me and everything's been really crazy. You know how it is."

"Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry! I'll get that ready for you right away."

And in five minutes, they're seated at a tiny checkered table flanked by potted plants and photographs of Naples. "Stop gaping," Dean mutters out of the side of his mouth as the hostess sets down menus and glasses of water in front of them, and then to her: "Thank you, um-- sorry, sweetheart, I didn't catch your name."

"Heather. Your server will be here in a minute, but if you need anything, I'm here till ten."

"Did you just flirt your way into stealing someone else's reservation?" Castiel says as quietly as he can once Heather is gone. "What happens when the real Novak party arrives?"

Dean just grins. "Relax, it was crossed out. They're either already here or they cancelled, not my fault Heather didn't know. The carbonara here is bitchin'. You can thank me later. Oh, and just look happy when they bring you birthday cake."

"I don't think you should have led there on that way." It's possible, of course, that Dean wasn't leading her on and will return later, and though that thought is another blow to his already diminished appetite, he doesn't think Dean would abandon their plans. He also didn't think Dean would resort to this level of subterfuge for the sake of a dinner, though.

"I didn't. She's wearing an engagement ring. Big-ass one for a waitress, too. Even if I showed up out back at ten down on one knee singing O Sole Mio, she wouldn't actually bite. Win-win. Perfect crime." Dean looks pleased with himself.

"We could have gone somewhere else."

"I wanted to go here. I just figured you'd like it."

"I'm sure I will. But Dean--"

"Damn, Cas, if you're gonna go all moral outrage, we can leave."

"I'm sorry." Castiel wishes now that he hadn't said anything, because Dean's somewhere between insulted and petulant. "I'm happy to stay."

Dean's smile is back as he slides the wine list over. "Good. Pick something, birthday boy. I don't know crap about wine."

"You do remember it isn't really my birthday?"

"Shhh, you'll blow our cover. Besides, now when I totally forget in, uh--"


"--I won't look like a complete dick 'cause I already did something."

"Let's just say we're celebrating early."

Castiel should still feel guilty about the ruse, but he's enjoying himself too much. The food is excellent, though Dean barely touches his wine and can't quite mask his distaste every time he takes a sip. Castiel finally slides Dean's glass over to his own side of the table and asks the server to bring him a beer. "So much for me pretending to be classy," Dean says with a sheepish grin.

"At times there's a point to doing something you don't like for the sake of appearances, but this isn't one of them." You're only ever exactly yourself, Castiel abruptly remembers Balthazar saying. He could hope Dean would like to impress him, but that Dean would think he needs to be anything but exactly himself to do that only saddens him. "I hope I've never caused you to think you should."

Dean swallows too much at once and it makes his eyes water and thickens his voice. "Hey, no, nothing like that. I just figured, fancy celebration thing-- it was dumb."

"Perhaps slightly, though I suppose I can appreciate the thought."

"Since we're not doin' class, does that mean I should tell the waiter you need a birthday song?"

"Absolutely not."

Dean laughs loudly enough to turn heads. "Ah, man, your face. I wouldn't have, I swear. I hate that shit. Sam used to do it to screw with me, tell them it was my birthday even when it wasn't. You ever heard the Biggerson's birthday song?"


"Lemme tell you, it sucks pretty bad the first time, but the next six are fucking murder. There is no pie in the world worth that."

"Not even Ellen's?"

"Maybe Ellen's. Maybe."

Castiel does get an unsolicited sparkler candle in his 'birthday' tiramisu, but there's no embarrassing fanfare and Dean licks the cream off the bottom of it. He also eats most of the tiramisu, because Castiel is too full, once he's finished his own cannolis in a nearly obscene manner. Castiel's forgotten all about Heather until they're walking out the door, but by some stroke of luck, she's just turned her back to lead a couple to their table and doesn't spoil the moment of Dean scooping up an entire handful of after-dinner mints and saying, "What? Dude, they're free," and being exactly himself.


When the cab driver hears where they're going, he fixes them with a stern look in the rearview mirror and says, "Sure. Just keep it G-rated back there. Anything I gotta clean off the upholstery's fifty bucks extra on account of the lost fares in between."

Dean's cheeks go a little bit pink, but he doesn't correct the driver beyond, "No worries, dude."

Castiel's also blushing, as well as shifting uncomfortably and wondering if there's a way to sit without being physically on the seat. "You... do clean it, don't you? When something... happens?"

That gets both Dean and the driver laughing. "You think I wanna drive around with that crap? Anyhow, there's health codes. Wet-vac and Lysol."

"That must be hell on the leather," Dean says, running an assessing hand over the space of seat between them.

"You're tellin' me. Ain't enough Armor-All in the world for that. New Year's eve, I just put down plastic."

"There's this stuff you can get called Liquid Leather, which I know sounds like weird bondage crap, but it's awesome. That and a little bit of sandpaper can do magic."

"Yeah? You into cars?"

Most of the rest of the conversation is too far over Castiel's head for him to follow very well, because it turns out that the driver (Tommy) has a classic Mustang he's been slowly restoring in his spare time, but it's nice to watch anyway, Dean animated and sharing his knowledge, sure of himself and his skills without joking anything away. There's also nothing of what Castiel sees in some teachers, himself included at times of great strain and frustration, the implicit you idiot at the end of every sentence. Dean's not showing off or condescending, and it probably helps that Tommy has a certain amount of expertise, but it was the same kind of patient instruction when he showed Castiel how to unscrew his oil drainplug. Dean no more has a right to say that he's just a mechanic (as he has a couple of times when their conversations have taken a more academic turn than usual) than Michael would have to say he's just a monk, and Castiel thinks the same sense of calling is present.

"Sorry about the schmoozing back there," Dean says when they're on the curb across the street from Heaven and Tommy's told them to have fun and driven away with his fare, tip, and Dean's business card.

"Not at all. It was interesting, and vastly preferable to the discussion of bodily fluids."

"Oh, man, I thought you were gonna get out and ride on the roof."

"I contemplated it."

"Well, don't sit on any soft surfaces in there, then." Dean nods at the club. "They probably don't get a chance to clean between customers."

"Thank you for the advice."

Dean laughs at Castiel's frown. "I'm messing with you, Cas. It didn't seem gross at all."

"I'm sure Anna wouldn't have agreed to do any work there if it were, but certain things are to be expected."

"Hell, then don't ride the bus or sleep on a hotel bed."

"And thank you again."

"I'm sorry. It's too easy." Dean grins and knocks against his shoulder. "So, uh, while we're sober, wingman rules?"

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Y'know. Like you said I should help you escape if it gets bad, but what's bad and what's 'get the hell outta here and stop cockblocking me, I'm getting my freak on'?"

Castiel wishes he still didn't understand Dean's meaning, but three years with high school students leaves one ignorant of very little. "I have no intention of 'getting my freak on.' Nor equally my swerve, nor turning on my swag."

Dean doubles over laughing. "You can't just say that shit, Cas."

"I thought it best to cover all the terminology."

Dean catches his sarcasm, which few people do-- he's been told his sarcasm doesn't look or sound very much different than when he's serious-- and grins. "Yeah, I bet." It takes him a moment to get the amusement out of his system. "So, nothing? 'Cause it's cool if you wanna-- whatever, seriously. I know how the rebound thing rolls."

Castiel blinks and tries to piece together Dean's meaning, its ramifications. What it means that it's perfectly fine with him if Castiel would like to have meaningless sex to, apparently, help him get over Balthazar. He's never had meaningless sex in his life. Even at the worst and lowest points, it always meant something, if not exactly what it perhaps should have. "I don't... roll that way."

"I didn't mean you should or anything," Dean says quickly. "Just in case you were thinking about it."

"I wasn't."

"Gotcha." They still haven't stepped off the curb to cross the street, and they're just outside the reach of Heaven's blue-lit sign, only closed stores' shadows illuminated by a harsh buzzing streetlight. A moth files close enough to the light nearest them that it casts a horror-movie-sized shadow, flickering them back and forth through dark and bright. "Me neither, just so you know." It's the closest thing to 'yes, I am interested in sex with men' he's ever heard from Dean, and Castiel's heart matches the moth's projected wingbeats. "Me and Sammy used to have this code word," Dean says after a few moments of thick silence. "If we needed to get out of something but there were other people around or whatever, we'd say 'funkytown,' and we'd know it was time for a rescue mission. Bad dates and sketchy parties and stuff."


"Yeah. So if it's not obvious or you're afraid you'll look like an asshole, just say that and I'll get you outta there."

"All right." He's skeptical that he would be able to work it into a sentence, but he doubts he'll find himself in a situation where 'I think I'd like to leave now' wouldn't work just as well; Anna knows he wouldn't be coming here if not for her, and her feelings won't be hurt if he doesn't stay very long past the presentation of the painting. "What about you?" He knows there's a chance he might not like the answer, but it's fair to ask, and he'd rather hear it now.

"What about me?"

"I wouldn't want to make you leave if you're having a good time." He leaves with someone else unsaid.

What looks like a flash of surprise on Dean's face turns to something angrier in the shadows. "How big a dick do you think I am? I'm gonna just ditch you to hook up with some random... whoever?"

"You seemed to think I might."

"That's not the same. You're just going to a thing. I'm s'posed to be moral support or whatever, watch your back."

He knows he should take it as a compliment that Dean cares enough to want to look out for him, but a lifetime of various people thinking that because he's skinny and awkward and quiet, he needs to be led around by the hand and protected has made such sentiments tend to rub him the wrong way. "It's not a battlefield, Dean. I can take care of myself."

"I know that, man. Sorry." Dean shuffles a little closer to nudge Castiel into looking at him as his mouth curls into a rueful grin. "Any chance if I made a Pat Benatar joke right now it'd make you un-bitchface?"

"Pat Benatar?"

"Love is a Battlefield?"

That does startle a laugh out of him, both at Dean's unapologetically horrendous sense of comedy and in surprise at the choice of words. "Once more unto the breach, then," he says.

"Okay, that?" Dean's grinning and pointing his finger. "Way worse than mine."

"As you're so fond of pointing out, you're laughing."



Heaven is not much like what Castiel's limited experience led him to imagine. It's still early for the club crowd, so the absence of a heaving mass of bodies is a welcome relief, though a temporary one. Maybe it's only the absence of too many people that makes it seem different; other clubs he remembers as innavigable dark labyrinths where he could hardly keep his bearings even as far as where the walls were, so Heaven could be exactly the same as all of them, but right now he can see the bones of the place in a way that's reassuring. The lighting is dim but not too dark, and the music hasn't yet had to be forced up to deafening levels to be heard over a hundred conversations. Everything is chrome and white and somewhat ridiculously reminds him of the 'Beauty School Dropout' scene in Grease (last year's spring musical) where an angel appears to Frenchie.

Dean snickers when he voices this thought and says, "Congratulations, you just made us both ten percent gayer."

Castiel doesn't get a chance to respond or to deliberate the meaning of the statement because Anna's leaning over a balcony railing and waving at them. A bouncer at the bottom of the stairs inspects the white plastic wristbands they were given at the door and waves them up. Anna hugs Castiel in greeting and then again when he tells her she looks beautiful, because she does. She's wearing a long white dress and although the circle of silver wire tinsel on top of her head that's probably meant to stand in for a halo is a little silly, it suits her. It wouldn't matter if she were in her most paint-splattered clothes without her hair combed, though, because what he really means is that she looks happy. There's a little pang of jealousy when he sees Dean notice it too, when Anna kisses him on the cheek, but he's not sure if it's because Dean might think she's his 'type' after all or because they seem to have become such good friends over just the course of a few drinks more than a week ago.

"I'm so glad you guys are here. Gabe's already completely potted and I had to stop him from hitting on one of the drag queens."

"She had nice legs, no-fun Annie. And it was legal counsel. She needs a good divorce lawyer. Or her non-drag persona does. Or something. I wasn't too clear on the details, but I recommended someone local. Hello, Cassie. You're looking... schoolteacher-y."

Castiel just shakes his head, but Dean says, "Well, you look like Colonel Sanders. Or Colonel Tom Parker."

Which, minus the black ribbon tie, is true-- Gabriel apparently found time after dinner to return to the hotel and change into a white three-piece suit. "I'm obviously the Devil," he says.

"Like I said, Colonel Tom," Dean says, and Gabriel laughs, though Castiel doesn't understand the reference.

"I like you. Come, boys, pull up an inflatable thingy and sit down carefully. I already popped one by accident and got the stinkeye from Secret-Service down there."

The VIP area (which is where they are, and Anna threatens Gabriel's manhood if he makes another 'VIP-ness' joke, which makes Dean laugh) is filled with inflatable sofas and pillows that are probably supposed to put one in mind of clouds, but creak disconcertingly when sat on. The white formica end tables are the only things that aren't filled with air, and along with a couple of buckets of champagne on ice, have a few scattered dishes on them. Some contain snacks and candy, and the one nearest Castiel is filled with earplugs. Dean reaches into one without looking and comes up with a condom.

"Big plans for the night?" Gabriel says. Anna smacks him on the arm and Dean throws the condom at him. "Ooh, banana."

"There beer up here?" Dean grumbles, and shoves his way to his feet. "Anybody need anything? Cas?" Castiel shakes his head and Dean's gone before he can say anything else.

"Gabe, why are you such a shit?" Anna says as soon as he's gone.

"What? What'd I do?"

Anna makes a sound best approximated as 'ugh' and gets up. "Never mind. They're droping the curtain in twenty minutes, so I have to go backstage. Just so you know, this isn't a private party up here, so if anyone else comes up, behave." The last is mostly directed at Gabriel.

Gabriel makes a rude gesture at her back and pours Castiel some champagne. "Wanna clue me in on what that little shitfit was all about, bro?"

"She must think you embarrassed Dean."

"Please. He can handle a little sex joke. Or, oh, is it the gay bar thing? Should I have said 'no homo'? I mean, I figured since he'sin one, he couldn't mind too much."

"It was crass."

"So you're not acting all pissy now because I might've scared him away with thoughts of big bad gay sex?"


"Do I need to remind you that your baffling attraction to closet cases always ends in tears?"

"Gabriel, you've had too much to drink." No, Castiel doesn't need reminding, even if it isn't so much a case of 'always' as 'once,' years ago, when he thought secrecy wouldn't bother him because it didn't seem so different from choosing not to share personal matters with just anyone. But it was also lying and sneaking and being jerked away from in public. As far as he knows, Mark is married and running his father's paper business, and, he hopes, happy. But he doesn't think Dean is the same way. Mark would have vocally protested at the cab driver's insinuation, not laughed it off. But Mark would have flirted with a hostess and made up a story to explain why he was out for a nice dinner with another man.

"Oh, I haven't had nearly enough. I was full of shit when I said strictly business re: Kali. We had a nice pre-dinner divorce screw and then talked campaign strategy over Kobe steaks. My treat, of course. Bright side, she's going to give me back the dog. Apparently the little bitch still misses me. Hasn't stopped peeing on the carpet ever since I moved out. Millie, I mean, not Kali."

Castiel's head hurts. Dean's still not back but a glance over the railings indicates there's now quite a wait at the bar. There's most likely some expedited VIP method for ordering drinks, but he doubts Dean bothered to find out. He's actually relieved when a stranger comes up the stairs, even if it's a stranger wearing nothing but a pair of small red shorts and plastic devil horns.

"Well, hail Satan!" Gabriel says, and Castiel fights the urge to smother him with an inflatable pillow.

The man's name is Jeffrey and his stepfather owns the club, a fact that at least forces Gabriel to stop acting like... well, a dick, for Anna's sake. Castiel feels a little guilty for making presuppositions based on the ridiculous costume, and also feel slightly that fate might be laughing in his face somewhere, because Jeffrey is home for the summer from the University of Chicago, where he's working on a doctorate in Jewish Studies. Meaning, of course, that he's had Balthazar's Hebrew Bible course and that he's heard of Castiel. Meaning that when Dean finally returns with his beer, it's to a theological discussion. To Dean's credit, although he looks confused before the introductions are made, he just shrugs, points at Jeffrey, and says, "See, Gabe, that's how you dress like the devil."

"If you wanted to see me in booty shorts, you could have just asked."

"Thank you, I'm never getting it up again for the rest of my life."

"Those poor bastards in Narnia," Gabriel says.

Dean blinks. "Okay, I have no idea what you just said, but I'm going to go ahead and assume that was some kind of nerd insult, so screw you too. I think they're about to start the thing. Should we go down?"

Jeffrey goes with them and helps push them through to the front of the stage. Anna's painting takes up the entire wall behind it and is covered with a ceiling-high white curtain printed with a 'coming soon' and advertising tonight's event. Down here, it's louder, and Castiel wishes he'd taken some of the earplugs. You have to shout at close proximity to be heard, which Jeffrey does.

"So Anna's your sister, right? She's really cool! She wanted me to model but my dad said hell no. But she's like everyone's new favorite hag."

"She's very talented," Castiel shouts back.

Dean's leaning over from his other side to say something too, but there's a strobe flash and thousands of white feathers rain down from the ceiling. The crowd cheers and jostles and Jeffrey uses Castiel's shoulders to brace himself for jumping up and down along with them. A drag queen takes the stage, wearing wings and a halo and yards upon yards of white crinoline, and performs to a Eurythmics song that even Castiel knows. He would be happy just watching, but Jeffrey won't let go of him, keeps pulling at his arms and insisting that he dance.

Castiel shakes his head, shouts, "I can't dance," but that doesn't do anything.

"Come on, sure you can!"

"I don't like dancing."

"Don't be boring," Jeffrey says, still pulling at him as though he can make him dance by force, with very little apparent anymore of the earnest scholar he just discussed Source Q with.

Castiel looks over at Dean, who's got a feather stuck in his hair, which would be amusing if he didn't look so angry. "I really don't--"

"Hey!" Dean shoves his way between them. "He said he didn't wanna dance, asshole."

"All right. Jesus." Jeffrey shrugs out of Dean's grasp. "My fucking bad." He disappears into the crowd behind them.

"I could have handled that," Castiel says to Dean, whose hand is still on his arm.

"Oh, yeah, you were handling it great."

"Without angering the owner's son."

"You weren't doing a great job of that either. Dude was getting douchier by the second." Dean's talking so close to his ear that his lips keep touching it and making Castiel forget he's supposed to be annoyed at being treated like some kind of damsel in distress.

He reaches up and picks the feather out of Dean's hair, shows it to him silently by way of explanation. Dean smiles and squeezes his arm before he lets go, and at the end of the song the drag queen leans over the edge of the stage to deposit her halo onto Castiel's head.

Anna's art is unveiled with the proper amount of fanfare, a drumroll before the curtain drops and an explosive cheer when it does. The employees who modeled for the painting parade across the stage wearing the wings they're depicted having and are introduced, and when Anna herself takes a bow at their encouragement, the applause is deafening and Castiel smiles until his face hurts. When the stage lights go out, he turns around to face Dean, meaning to ask him if he'd like to leave or at least get out of the crowd, but then there's an explosion of music and light and he can't be heard, and Dean's staring at him like he's never seen him before.

"What's the matter?" Castiel says, voice mute even to his own ears.

He sees Dean shake his head and mouth 'nothing' and they cut a slow path through the crowd until they find Anna upstairs, toasting with Gabriel and a few of her models. "I'm very proud of you," he tells her.

"You and me both," she says, and then whispers, "Good luck," in his ear when he hugs her.


"Just good luck."


It's not far to the hotel, so they walk. Dean's quiet, so Castiel is too, occupied with his own thoughts. What Anna could have meant by 'good luck,' what was behind the strange look Dean gave him before they left the dance floor, whether he really could have gotten away from Jeffrey politely on his own, of the past and playing a part in a lie and whether Gabriel could be right. He doesn't even notice Dean's stopped walking until he hears, "Hey, earth to Major Tom," from a few steps behind him. Dean's standing in front of a drugstore, its automatic doors swishing indecisively open and shut behind him. "I'm gonna grab some beer, okay?"

Castiel nods and follows him in. The strange look he gets from the cashier makes more sense when he catches sight of himself passing by the mirror on the cosmetics counter, the silver halo still sitting cockeyed on top of his head with his hair askew around it. He doesn't take it off, just straightens it, because even if it's admittedly ridiculous, he won't give a judgemental stranger the power to dictate what he wears on his head. Dean seems to have forgotten it's even there. "Not much selection. Newcastle okay? I know you don't like the cheap stuff."

"Whatever you prefer. I doubt I'll drink much of it."

"No? I figured we could exploit the premium cable, find a movie or something. Unless you're tired."

"That sounds nice. I just shouldn't drink much more if I don't want an unpleasant journey tomorrow."

"Lightweight," Dean says with a grin, but pulls the Newcastle out of the cooler anyway. 

Back out on the sidewalk, they're quiet again, but it doesn't seem to weigh so much, even if all of Castiel's questions are still there.

"You know," Dean says after they've been waiting a few moments at a busy intersection for the light to change, "I've technically got nowhere to be tomorrow, if you don't wanna go straight home."

"I don't think we could make it to Niagara Falls and back by Monday."

"Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. I meant somewhere else, maybe." He shifts the beer from one arm to the other and cuts his eyes over without turning his head.

"I have no obligations. Where would you like to go?"

"I figured pick a direction and wing it."

Castiel only packed enough for one night, and didn't expect to be gone long enough to ask anyone to bring in the mail or the newspaper, and Leuven's in less than a month so he should be using every spare moment preparing for the panel. There won't be the certainty of reservations and they may have to sleep on the side of the road for all he knows, but he'll be with Dean, so the prospect doesn't incite the kind of panic it perhaps should and he says yes, and thinks Dean's smile at his agreement far outweighs any minor concerns about discomfort and uncertainty.

The moment they're inside the hotel suite, Dean strips off his dress shirt and throws it onto a chair like it's wronged him. By the time Castiel has his shoes off and has finished using the bathroom, Dean's lounging on the bed he's claimed in the well-worn jeans he had on this afternoon and Castiel's old Yale t-shirt.

"Figured if I brought it I'd actually remember to give it back," Dean says, more to the channels he's flipping through on the TV screen than to Castiel. The beer's on the table between the two beds and the remainder of the Amish pie is next to Dean, along with two forks he's found somewhere. Castiel isn't hungry, but sharing the pie is a good enough excuse to sit on this bed and not the other. Dean passes him a beer, already open. "You still have that thing on your head," he says. He reaches out and flicks the edge of the halo.

"I keep forgetting it's there." He lifts it off and settles it on Dean's head, which sends Dean comically half-crosseyed trying to look up at it.

"I'm not really halo material. I'm more the horn type-- and wow, that came out wrong." Dean falls onto his back, laughing up at the ceiling, and because the shirt's just a little bit too small, it slides up to expose a line of skin between hem and waistband that's impossible not to look at. He's not quick enough to look away from the space where it was when Dean sits up, leaving the halo behind on the pillow. "Cas?" Dean waves a hand in front of his face, and on something between impulse and instinct, Castiel reaches out and catches it, and then his fingers are all tangled up with Dean's and they're both looking down at them like it's a scientific curiosity.

He should just let go and apologize and ask what's on TV, but then the inaction stretches on past the point where he can. He's imagined this a dozen different ways, but because those were fantasies, he only imagined what he wanted falling into his arms, not what comes before or after. Most of the time it's been Dean walking up and kissing him like it's something he does every day, after Castiel's laughed at one of his bad jokes, or when they're sweaty and out of breath and have just raced each other the last fifty yards to one of their front doors, or midsentence for no reason or because there's pie or bacon or it's Tuesday, or just to say hello. He's never really planned how they'd get there, because fantasies can be controlled, are exempt from weighing out words to say and considering implications, from blood pounding in his ears and from two joined hands resting on a crisp pillowcase like a time bomb that's just had its fuse tripped.

One of his fingers is against a callus above the ring Dean always wears on his right hand, probably rubbed into place by tools and engine parts and work pinching the metal against his skin, because the only time he's seen Dean without it is when he removes it briefly to clean the grease from underneath it. He forces his eyes up and sees that Dean's still looking down, his eyelashes dark against his cheeks. "Dean." It comes out as barely a whisper, but it makes Dean's gaze meet with his. Their faces are close but their bodies curve outward from each other down the bed around the pie and the remote control, and it reminds Castiel of the week he had to spend teaching Sister Rachel's math class when she had the flu and copied meaningless graphs out of her notes onto the board of lines that could never intersect. Then Dean's thumb strokes across the inside of his wrist and someone's breathing hitches, and that's enough.

Castiel's spent enough time studying the bow of Dean's upper lip that it feels nearly familiar against his, like a map he's memorized, even down to the taste of beer and a few stray sugary crumbs. It's soft when he catches it gently between his teeth and when he traces it with his tongue, and Dean's mouth is sweet and hot and he's breathing rough and halting through his nose, one hand digging fingertips into the base of Castiel's scalp and the other still clasped tight where it started. And it's better than anything his imagination could have supplied because it's real, it's Dean, and he doesn't think his heart was designed to beat this fast.

He feels something like a raw nerve all over when, inevitably, they part. Castiel is torn between disbelief and wonder and also worry, because this is real. The first thing Dean says, when they've caught their breath in the space of an openmouthed searching stare, is, "You're not drunk, right?"

That's easy to translate: Dean wants to know this is real too, which is a relief and a thrill and Castiel can't stop his smile. "I'm not." He knows Dean isn't without having to ask.

"Good," Dean says, rough like he sometimes clears his throat around, hand rubbing at the back of Castiel's neck. Castiel's eyes close on reflex but then it's gone and the bed's shifting; they snap back open to see Dean turning back from setting the pie on the bedside table. With the space freed, they gravitate into it; they're not lines anymore, nothing a formula can be applied to, just arms and legs and hands and lips, breath and skin. It's like he's been starving for months for everything he's held back and just had it all set out in front of him and he wants to take all of it, learn the taste of freckles and cheekbones and smiles, memorize the particular rasp of stubble against his neck and jaw and fingers, how everything of his fits into everything of Dean's, to be closer, if there's even such a thing as close enough. In practice it translates frantic and clinging--clumsy, really, but Dean laughs hot against his ear or neck or chest when an elbow or a knee goes wrong or a belt or buttons won't cooperate, pushes when Castiel pulls and pulls when Castiel pushes, lets him take and gives back.

Dean's jeans are caught at his knees and Castiel's only one leg out of his pants and there are still too many places he wants to touch even with their erections pressed tight into skin and friction betwen them. Dean's grip on Castiel's hips is bruising but his voice is soft whenever they're not kissing and he looks up at Castiel and says 'yeah' and 'yes' and 'goddamn, Cas' and then 'oh, fuck' and stutters up into the sweat-slick heat between their bodies, and if Castiel could think clearly enough, he could find something poetic in setting each other over this edge together, but all he can think or say is, "Dean," and, "Dean," and, "Dean."

Sometimes Castiel has found an embarrassment in the humanity of going from need and want and ecstasy to being simply sticky and beginning to develop leg cramps. There could be one here; they know each other so well in some ways, but not like this. Castiel's nearly expecting it when Dean groans and struggles the rest of the way out of his jeans, when Dean's underwear are sacrificed to the cause of cleaning away the mess without having to move and Castiel flinches slightly at the touch of the cotton on his oversensitized skin. "Sorry," Dean murmurs around a kiss to his shoulder. There's a lot that's strange, new, a lot hanging yet to be said between them, but it's not that unsettled discomfort of having possibly bared too much-- it just means Castiel's pulse isn't slowing down.

Dean maneuvers the covers over them and it's easy to slot in against his side, and maybe the notches at the top of his spine were made for Dean's fingers to fit between. "So that was awesome," Dean says.

"Yes," Castiel says. The sharp curve of Dean's collarbone is next to his lips, so he presses a kiss there. "So is this."

Dean's bare toes flex ticklishly against Castiel's ankle. "Yeah, it is."

"You sound surprised."

"I don't usually do the, uh, cuddling thing. 'specially not with guys."

"Oh." That's a lot at once, in a way that stings a little, stokes something possessive on the one hand and something fearful on the other.

"Hey." Dean doesn't let him shift away, pulls his arms tighter and locks Castiel's leg between his. "I said usually. That's just why the surprise. And I guess fair warning if I suck at it."

"At cuddling? You're doing very well so far."

"Gee, thanks, professor."

"Dean, that's disturbing."

"Okay, no hot-for-teacher jokes, gotcha. But seriously, how are half your classes not failing because they can't stop staring at your ass?"

Dean's wired to deflect into humor when there's something serious to say; Castiel knows this, has been patient with it and even found it endearing, but he can't go forward on inferences and implications, not from here, not very far. "Dean."

Dean sighs. "I mean...that, yeah, but I mean... all this." He lifts one hand off Castiel's hip to wave it back and forth between them. "Hell, I already suck right out of the gate. I was gonna do this whole dinner date goodnight kiss thing and try to get it right, but then we came here and I pissed you off conning other people's reservations and nearly punched out Jeffrey Hot-Pants for being all over you and jumped straight into bed anyway. Gold star for the caveman."

"The Mexican restaurant was going to be--"


Castiel thinks about how that might have gone, of Dean being too polite, nervous, playing a part he thinks he should be playing, like he did with the wine. Then he thinks of climbing dinosaurs and Dean grinning around a mouthful of pie and all the mornings and nights in kitchens and living rooms with records playing and no one second-guessing whether they should be making an off-color joke or should have worn a different shirt, whether their hair is combed or whether they're in a terrible mood. There's no contest. "I don't need that, Dean. I don't need to be...courted, I suppose, or won over. You've already done that. I already know you."

Dean answers that with a kiss rather than words, one that's deep and slow and is lines Castiel doesn't mind reading between, enough for agreement and understanding and for now, to mark a place for Dean to fill in.


By the time they're dressed in the morning, Castiel's learned some things. How the shape of his name in Dean's mouth feels as well as looks, and how it even looks a little different now. That Dean snores, just a little, and how gentle his hands can be. That he doesn't feel ridiculous saying words like cock when it's Dean asking him to say them. That for all Dean's purportedly unaccustomed to cuddling, he seems to like it, and that he likes all the parts of Castiel that he himself has always found strange and bony-- his hips, his wrists, his shoulders.

That eating pie naked in bed is a thing worth doing, and that even if Dean will never tend toward sentimental statements, he'll say things like, "Post wake-up sex pie? This is fuckin' heaven," with such visceral contentment that it feels like poetry.

That Dean walks around naked as comfortably as he does in clothes, and that Castiel's going to have to get used to hearing things like, "Damn, I shoulda thought about having to take these with me before I got come all over them." (Castiel silently offers him the plastic laundry bag from the closet to put the soiled underwear in, which for some reason makes Dean laugh.)

And that while there's a lot to worry about, whether they'll work like this, how they'll work like this, whether all the things they already were will work the same way, there's one concern Castiel needn't have had, which Castiel learns when Anna knocks on the door and asks if they're decent, and Dean shouts back, "Naked!" without hesitation.

"Congratulations," Anna says. "We're going to breakfast and Gabe's buying. Should we wait?"

"Be there in five." Dean misinterprets Castiel's expression and says, "Oh, shit. Should I have not-- I didn't even think about it."

"No, Dean, you've done nothing wrong. I would have told them, if they hadn't guessed first. Although Gabriel may threaten you."

"He'd be a shitty brother if he didn't. Only reason I don't with Sammy's that chicks kinda tend to take it the wrong way if I say screwing him over equals pain and suffering. Ruby's damn lucky I don't hit girls." Dean's been bent down lacing up his boots; he looks up now, but not quite at Castiel. "Cas, you know I wasn't talking out my ass before, right? Like I might seriously suck at this, and not in the fun way."

Castiel knows what he means, of course, but he doesn't think it's too selfish to want Dean to say it outright, to need that bit of assurance that comes from getting him to force out whatever he can manage. "I'd be better able to answer your concerns if I knew your definition of 'this.'"

Dean laughs, but not with amusement. "Damn, make it sound like a business meeting, why don't you?"

"I'm sorry. I have shortcomings of my own when it comes to speaking frankly, but I think we should."

"No, yeah, you're right. I just, I mean, this, this us thing. 'Cause I've wanted it for fucking ever and it's not like if I do something stupid like I always do, there's just some dude I never talk to again. I fuck up and I lose my best friend."

He wishes they could talk about this without Dean looking strained and apologetic, and he hopes there's a someday when they'll be able to. He sits down on the edge of the bed and waits until Dean relaxes into having arms around him. "That would pain me more than I have the words to express. It's inevitable that we'll argue. One or the other of us may say something hurtful. I have as many flaws as you do. But if you want this 'us' thing as much as I do, that shouldn't stop us from trying."

Dean lets out a loud breath and says, "Okay." He turns his head to press his lips to Castiel's temple and says, "Okay," and then they're kissing and then Anna calls out at the door again and Dean pulls back smiling and shouts, "One second!" and after at least thirty more of being clutched so tight it's hard to breathe, they tear themselves away and Dean says, hand over the doorknob, "Okay, let's do this."



Dean's never understood why cheap hotels give you stuff for free (or just don't bother) but nice ones make you pay for it. They must figure that if you can afford their rooms, you can afford ten bucks extra for internet and twenty for parking and a buch of tips to random people for shit you could do yourself and fifteen for the breakfast buffet. But whatever, it's all on Gabriel's tab. Dean would normally feel a little bad about it and at least offer to pay his own way, but A, Gabriel makes lawyer money, B, doesn't seem to care, and C, is kind of a pain in the ass. 

A hungover pain in the ass, no less, and playing it up for all it's worth, wearing douchey sunglasses indoors and trying to drink his Bloody Mary through the celery stick. Dean tries to remember that he should be nice to the guy who not only saved his brother's ass but is also related to his best-friend-slash-brand-new... what, boyfriend? That's a crappy word; Dean's always thought it sounds like sixth grade and 'do you like me?' with yes-no-maybe checkboxes, but 'lover' is kind of smarmy and 'partner' sounds like either business ventures or moving vans, and that's scary.

Except it's kind of not that scary. Even when Cas is interrogating the waiter about the tea selection in a way that Dean would find annoying as hell if it were anyone else, it's not that scary. It's a little scary that it's not scary after not even 24 hours of something there's not even a word for yet. A something that might already be doomed if Chicago stays on the table. Dean doesn't want to think that far ahead right now.

"I've defended a couple of pretty shady characters, you know," Gabriel says with his eyebrows raising over his douchey indoor sunglasses when Cas has gotten up to get fruit salad, of all things, and left Dean to the tender mercies of the sibling torture panel. Anna's being cool, at least, since she was already half-accidentally in the loop about all Dean's borderline-teenage-emo-poetry feelings, but there's no telling how much she has or hasn't filled Gabriel in. And Gabriel is still a pain in the ass. "They were innocent, of course. On those charges, anyway. They were very grateful."

"You can save the shovel speech, dude. I get it."

"Shovels, huh? Creative. I like it." Gabriel grins in a way that's hopefully creepy on purpose and not just creepy, and Dean realizes too late that he's not only just quoted Becky, but quoted Becky quoting fucking Buffy. Luckily no one else notices.

"Be nice," Anna says.

"I can't be nice. My stomach's full of hell-beasts and my head's been invaded by half of Sea World, and yesterday I banged my ex-wife and possibly someone in a bathroom."

Dean winces. "Overshare."

Cas comes back with two bowls of fruit salad and sets one between Dean and his half-finished bacon. Dean's about to register an official 'dude, what the hell?' because there's moving-van scary and then there's eat-your-tofu-dear scary, but then he sees that his doesn't have any cantaloupe or honeydew, that it's actually just a bowl of strawberries. So he means it when he smiles and says thanks.

"You know what'd go great with that?" Gabriel says. "A banana."

Which is oh, hilarious. Dean's not incredibly proud of getting so bent out of shape about the condom incident, but Gabriel had hit a little too close to the truth. A couple of truths. The I-am-a-total-teenage-girl-over-Cas truth and the actually-I-hope-I-need-that truth. He's almost never been in the position of having to outright say 'yeah, sometimes I like to fuck guys,' not even around other people who also like to fuck guys because they're there in hopes of fucking guys and it's just kind of a given. He was even spared having to have that conversation with Sam because of some seriously bad timing on Sam's part a few years ago and they've never actually discussed it. Anna only got it because Dean was caught off-guard and what else would he be doing in a gay bar, and because she's smart as hell.

"So this person of pointedly unmentioned gender you've got a thing for who's with someone else, their name wouldn't happen to start with a C and end with an 'astiel,' would it?"

"What? Where'd you even get that--"

"Dean, come on. I don't really know you, but I know my brother pretty damn well. He tries not to talk about you to me because I guess he thinks it's awkward to remind me of the hot guy that shot me down and I might go crazy again or something, but he has to try pretty hard to stay off the subject. And Gabe has like, zero filter. If I didn't know he was dating Balthazar, I'd think he was dating you."

"I'm not gonna do anything about it."

"Up to you. But I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that letting Donny there blow you in the bathroom isn't going to help."

Anna's miming stabbing Gabriel in the head with her fork and Cas is blushing down at his fruit salad. Cas's hand is warm when Dean catches it under the table and so is the smile he turns his head to give Dean. Dean thinks he probably deserves cement overshoes from some acquitted criminal if he screws it up, because that's still kind of what he wants to do to Balthazar, even though his loss is Dean's gain and Cas hasn't seemed upset about it.

"So, what?" he mutters at Anna when they're left alone for a few minutes down in the lobby while Cas goes back upstairs to help Gabriel look for his phone charger and she's prodded him with a 'so?' that he can't pretend is about anything else. It doesn't mean he wants to talk about it. "We're good, okay?"

"Told you."

"Yeah, yeah." Dean can't help smiling a little.

"Just make him happy."

"Do my best."

It's funny how easy it is to get used to driving with one hand on Cas's knee, to pass him the old shoebox full of tapes and let him pick something (it turns out they agree on the Allman Brothers, at least), to make stops for things like bookstores and poky little local history museums, to talk more about himself and his life than he maybe ever has to anyone, even if it's just in the form of old stories from other roads. They're headed due west because it's as good a random direction as any, and when the sun starts to set, they don't drive into it, but they do stop to watch it, sitting on the Imapla's hood close and quiet.

"Hey, Cas?" Dean starts without knowing how to finish. The last pinks and purples are fading into the flat of the horizon and Dean's thinking that the next place with a diner and a motel should be where they stop for the night, maybe find a bar and teach Cas how to shoot pool, but that's not the stuff he needs to say. He needs to say 'I'm scared shitless' and 'I'm going to do my damnedest not to fuck this up 'cause it's really important' and 'I'd go anywhere with you' and 'don't move to Chicago' and a hundred promises that Cas deserves to have made, but he can't drag it out of himself. He says, "This is--" and "I'm, uh--" and feels like an asshole.

There's this space behind Dean's ear that it took Cas about two seconds to learn makes him weak in the knees, and that's where Cas's lips are pressed when he slides even closer (and Dean doesn't even spare a thought for what the rivets on his jeans might be doing to the paint) and says, "Later," and stays there until the stars start to come out and says, "This makes me very happy," in a warm whisper.

"Good," Dean says, and he has to swallow because his throat's all locked up. "Me too."



Castiel is terrible at pool, to a frustrating degree, and it's not easy to concentrate on advice and corrections to his posture with Dean leaning over his back and touching more than he needs to. He knows it's deliberate even before Dean aims the eight ball straight into a pocket and says, "Oops, guess I lose," and then, closer, "let's get out of here before I do something that gets these farmers wanting to kick both our asses," which is pressing Castiel up against the back of their motel room door as soon as it's closed behind them. Dean's every bit as breathtaking against the outdated red-white-and-blue backdrop of this room at the Crossroads Inn with its badly wired flickering lamps as he was sprawled on luxury sheets under soft lighting, as he was in the pink of the sunset, as he's always been in kitchens or on sofas or covered in engine grease. And for all it starts out near-frantic urgent edged with careless teeth, it slows, hushes; they've got all the time in the world and they take it, and when one of the lamps gives out with a flashbulb pop, Dean kisses between Castiel's shoulder blades and whispers about dreaming of lightning and angel wings and fireworks.

They cover the miles back home quietly, slowly, another room and another sunset and a goodbye that isn't one at all. The miles from there aren't driven over blacktop-- they're run over memorized sidewalks and tripped barefoot between rooms and place to place within the space where their lives meet that keeps stretching a little bigger. Sometimes forward, the times when Dean finds words for what he knows he could make Castiel understand just by showing, simply because he knows it's important. Sometimes backward, because they both still have years of things they've always kept to themselves and a thing guarded closely can become like a secret. Sometimes just wider to the sides when a family dinner is suddenly a full house or the first time Bobby talks to Castiel about anything that isn't a direct necessity.

Sometimes forward-backward-forward circles that tinder their way to explosive, when Dean sees Castiel talking to Balthazar at the airport and his smile turns to glaring, which is not mistrust but jealousy coupled with the specter of an uncertain future that Dean doesn't want to hold him back from but doesn't want to lose him to, and which somehow he still thinks he doesn't measure up against. Castiel shouts so much that Dean is speechless for a full minute, but they both make themselves understood in the end.

Dean fits into spaces that Castiel never knew were empty, and into new ones he carves out and claims, but he won't ask for Castiel's promise not to leave. Whether it's for Dean or himself or for them or for some of all three, for what they have a chance at ifsomeone asks for it, Castiel loses no sleep over his decision once he's made it.





"What the hell do you want to buy a coat now for? It's still like a hundred degrees out."

"Unseasonably. The weather is unpredictable and I'd like to have it if I need it."

"Yeah, yeah, climate change apocalypse. How about this one, Al Gore?"


"What? What's wrong with it?"

"I'm not wearing a leather jacket."

"What's wrong with leather jackets?"

"Nothing at all, on you. I think this is more what I'm looking for."


"I know it's not particularly bad-ass, but--"

"Dude, Cas, that's like a park-bench flasher coat."

"I'm sure it will be obvious that I'm wearing clothes underneath. What do you think?"

"Holy shit."

"Do you object to it that much?"

"No, I take it all back. Less flasher, more John Constantine. It's kinda hot, actually. So maybe you shouldn't get it. Might distract the kids."

"I doubt that will be cause for concern."


It was bound to happen sooner or later. Castiel rarely sees Zachariah even during the year, except at staff meetings and the occasional uncomfortable parent conference, but it's a small town with a finite number of restaurants and El Torrero has become very popular since it opened. He honestly dislikes speaking to Zachariah any more than absolutely necessary; the man makes him squirm, and for some reason him being here feels, irrationally, like some kind of invasion. Trying to ignore his presence across the restaurant has the opposite effect, enough that Castiel bumps into someone's chair and doesn't notice their party is smaller than expected until they're sitting down.

"Shouldn't we have a table for three?"

"Unless you need one for Constantine, no. Thought I told you, Jess managed to get out of work after all so I doubt we'll be seeing Sammy before he comes to load his car and pick up the dog."

"Oh, I must have forgotten."

"'s weird," Dean says around a mouthful of salsa. "Now that Sam doesn't have to live in the dorms, I think I'm actually gonna miss the big slobbery bastard."


"Bones, dumbass," Dean laughs. "But remind me to tell Sam you called him a slobbery bastard."

"I misunderstood." Zachariah is handing the black folder with the check back to the waitress with the kind of smile he wears at school board meetings when tuition's being raised.

"Hey." Dean reaches across the table to touch the back of Castiel's hand. "You here?"

"Of course. I'm sorry."

"I was actually kinda thinking, I might--"

"Well, fancy seeing you here, Dr. Milton! I hope I'm not interrupting anything." Somehow in the few moments that Castiel wasn't looking at Zachariah, he's made his way over and is now looming over the end of the table, his wife lingering a few paces behind him. Castiel tenses and Dean pulls his hand back.

"Hello, Mr. Adler. How are you?"

"Oh, just fine. I won't keep you and your friend from your dinner, but I wanted to come and wish you luck." Castiel doesn't dare look at Dean, and his prayers that Zachariah will stop talking after a clenched word of thanks go unanswered. "I'm only sorry I didn't hear about it until after the fact or I could have written a letter for you. I'm sure they would have been very interested in what I'd have to say."

"It was all very rushed and I felt Joshua's recommendation would be sufficient."

"Ah, good old Joshua." Zachariah smiles and claps his hands together once. "Well, again, best of luck. I know you must be eager to find a position that suits your, ah, lifestyle." He twitches a partial sneer at Dean and walks away.

Castiel closes his eyes and opens them to see Dean somewhere between disbelief and anger. "What the hell was that, Cas?"

"That," Castiel sighs, "was the headmaster of St. Benedict's. We don't get along well."

"And the other stuff? Good luck, position, lifestyle?"

"I wasn't planning to tell you unless they make an official offer. There's an unofficial one, but it still has to be approved by the--"

"So, what, just 'surprise! I'm outta--'"

"It's not Chicago. It's here. In the history department at IU."’

"Seriously? Wait, do you even do history? And how come the other one was gonna take a year but this one took like five minutes?"

"Seriously. I'm well qualified for ancient history, and the specifics of academic budgets and hiring practices would interest you even less than they interest me."

"But you're staying. Here."

"With you. Yes."

"Cas, don't do that for me."

"It's not a sacrifice. I'm doing it to make myself happy too."

Dean's never been one for public displays any more than Castiel, but he leans across the table for a kiss that either no one or everyone sees, quick and nearly chaste and sweet with oversugared cheap margaritas. "The only reason I'm not dragging you home right now is 'cause we already ordered and I'm really hungry," he says, and the rough timbre of his voice says as much as anything.

"We have time."



It's 5:30 and the shrill bleat of the alarm clock is predictably cut off by the sound of it hitting the floor and Dean grumbling something unintelligible that experience indicates is profanity. Castiel tries to sit up, but he's pinned down by Dean's knee locking across his hips. "Nope," Dean says, eyes still closed, lips warm and jaw rough against Castiel's neck.

Castiel laughs lightly and lets himself sink back into the pillows for a few minutes, stroking his fingers through Dean's hair with his mind at an impasse between concentrating on the warmth of arousal spreading through him or on the long list of everything he needs to accomplish today. Dean apparently only managed to hit the snooze button because the alarm clock gives an anemic series of chirps from the floor that taper out like a dying bird. "Dean, I need to get up."

"Mmm, feels to me like you already are."

"That's terrible," Castiel says, but he's smiling, and he doesn't resist being rolled over and pulled on top of Dean.

"You love it." Dean breaths the words in a wet kiss-whisper against Castiel's ear and rolls his hips up lazily, chases away timetables and room numbers and enrollment limits and office hours.

"I love you," Castiel says without meaning to. And no, he's never said it, but Dean would have to be blind and deaf not to know, not to see it and hear it in everything. 

Dean stills, turns his head from where he's been gently biting at the cords of Castiel's neck and looks up. It's still dark, so Dean's shadowed in the shapes of tree branches and curtains from a dimming streetlight outside and the sky just beginning to turn pale, but their eyes can still meet. "You mean that?" Dean asks, drawing a thumb across Castiel's bottom lip, and it nearly hurts to hear genuine uncertainty behind sleep-gruff bravado.

"Absolutely," Castiel says. He kisses the tip of Dean's thumb, then his lips, softly.

Even as dark as it is, Dean's smile is bright enough that it's easy to see. "That's-- damn." Dean pulls him down and kisses him, for once without joking morning-breath apologies to prompt Castiel into saying he doesn't mind, and they hold on tight to each other until another squawk from the alarm clock makes them break apart laughing.

"I think you broke it," Castiel says.

Dean smiles against his mouth. "My bad," he says without a hint of apology. "What time do you actually have to leave?"

"My first class is at nine."

"'Cause I meant this to be quick so you could go do whatever, but--" Dean gives his hips a very deliberate twist and Castiel's eyes flutter closed-- "I really, really want you to-- am I still allowed to say 'fuck me' now that we're in love and all?"

Castiel knows better than to believe that Dean thinks the words brought the feelings into being, knows he's saying it that way to make a reciprocal statement without having to make one, and it wouldn't really have mattered if Dean said nothing at all. Still, he can't help teasing, and musters as serious a tone as he can. "No, Dean. You have to frame it in terms of throbbing manhood and special secret places."

Dean blinks at him once and then dissolves into laughter. "You fucker!"

"I believe that was your suggestion."

Dean stops laughing once he's sucking two of Castiel's fingers into his mouth, once Castiel's nudging his thighs apart. He's slow, careful, both because he can count on one hand the times Dean's asked for this, and because the shattered vulnerability when Dean's finally coaxed to relaxing and is writhing against his hand and saying, "Now, yeah, c'mon," is a beautiful sight. So is Dean looking up at him and Dean tight around him and kissing at a strained angle and speaking nonsense and clutching at him and no, Dean didn't have to say anything at all.

The alarm clock has given up all signs of life by the time Castiel is in the kitchen making coffee and tea, but the microwave says it's 6:58. Dean comes down in yesterday's jeans and yet another old t-shirt of Castiel's he'll be claiming as his own, hair still damp from the shower and smelling of Castiel's shampoo. He wraps his arms around Castiel's waist from behind, kisses his bare shoulder and tickles his fingers into the line of hair below Castiel's navel. "Hope you didn't have anything too important to do."

"Not really. I meant to go for a run." Dean rarely comes with him now that Sam doesn't have to live in a dorm and has taken Bones back to Stanford with him; he says he feels weird just running for no reason.

"I think you got your exercise."

"Do you want breakfast before you go?"

"I wish. I gotta run home first 'cause my dumb ass left the shop keys there and I gave everyone else a four-day Labor Day weekend. Which given how Chuck and Becky were looking at each other by the time they left Bobby's yesterday, they're gonna need the recovery time. Ugh." Dean shudders theatrically. "But hey, what're you doing for lunch?"

"I didn't have any plans. My afternoon class doesn't start until three."

"Okay, meet me downtown at like 1:30? There's a...thing."

"A thing?"

"I got an appointment. You should be there."

"Dean? Are you sick?"

"Dude, no, nothing like that. It's a good appointment. Just trust me."

"I do."

And Dean looks happy, excited, but Castiel knows he'll get no more information. He gives Castiel a lingering kiss and nearly drops the travel mug of coffee Castiel's just handed him. "Have a good first day, Professor," he says. "I love you too, by the way."

The sappy smile manages to leave Castiel's face at 8:35 when he exits his new office and it finally sinks in, as he crosses the quad, that he's about to have to engage a room containing twelve adults who are interested enough in history to take an elective seminar. Who will probably argue with him and bring up points from unassigned sources and who he won't have to correct about gum-chewing or the state of their uniforms. He doesn't know whether to dance in the middle of the hallway or cry.

What he thinks is a heart attack at 8:45 is actually a rapid succession of text messages vibrating in the breast pocket of his jacket, because there's little to no service in his basement office and everything's suddenly coming in at once.

From: Sam
Good luck today!! PS tell my stupid brother to call me.

From: Jo
gl 2day drinks on the house 2nite :)

From: Gabriel
Knock em dead prof

From: Anna
shut up, you'll be awesome. <3

From: Michael
I'm sure I don't need to wish you luck, but I hope it's with you anyway.

From: Balthazar
good luck w yr new bigger kiddies. xxx luc has 1st solo lecture this am, shitting self vicariously send booze

From: Dean
breathe. youll rock. tell them the thing about the guy & the bees its awesome.

From: Dean

At 8:50, Castiel's smiling again when the first student comes in and presents his first administrative difficulty. "Mr. Crowley? You're not registered for this class."

Crowley grins and takes a seat in the front row. "I will be, sir. Someone's bound to drop."

"I thought you were going to Kenyon."

"Change of plan. Turns out the old man didn't quite have the funds, so it's a few more years round here."

"I'm sorry it didn't work out, Crowley."

"I can be Miss Ohio some other year. Thing or two up my sleeve. But for now it's good old Dr. Milton and some heresy."

"In case you wondered, Crowley," Castiel says when another couple of students wander in at 8:55, "I am having a very nice life."

At 9:03 he resigns himself to having Crowley smirking at him from the front row for the rest of the semester, because Meg Masters isn't there to answer when he calls her name. By 9:30 everyone's introduced themselves and Castiel's said, "Welcome to Heresy and Orthodoxy in Medieval Europe," and he's taken Dean's advice and begun with the account of Leutard of Vertus receiving divine revelation through a swarm of bees that entered his body through his genitals and caused him to jump down a well.

At 10:50 he's arguing with a student about the assigned reading because Clare of Assisi and Margery Kempe are relegated to footnotes in the syllabus. She objects on feminist grounds and he's forced to end the conversation rather harshly and tell her that the scope of the course is not confined to female mystics, but she'd be welcome to explore them in her papers.

At 11:05 his office phone rings and the headache that's been developing dissipates when it's Dean asking, "How'd it go?" and Castiel gets to recount all of it.

At 12:00, his first office hours begin with a student from a class that won't meet until tomorrow, worried about the writing prerequisites, and the headache threatens to return because the student's real concern is assuring himself of satisfying a requirement with a class he can get an A in before the add/drop period ends.

At 1:20, Castiel is circling downtown looking for a parking space and wishing he'd taken the bus. He finally parks on a side street in front of someone's house and walks a few blocks. Dean's already in the diner sipping at a milkshake, the other half of which is in a glass in front of the seat that Castiel slides into.

"I already ordered," Dean says. "Hope you felt like a BLT."

"That's fine. I take it we're pressed for time."

"Appointment's at two. I was afraid they'd get backed up with orders."

Castiel leaves his car where it is at 1:45 and gets into the front seat of Dean's Impala. Dean keeps glancing over at him but not saying anything until they're pulling onto South Walnut Street and parking in front of a sign with a pawprint logo that says City of Bloomington Animal Shelter. Dean's hands are tight on the steering wheel and he's looking straight ahead.


"You remember like, three weeks ago when you bought the sexy Constantine coat and we ran into your asshole headmaster?"

"Former headmaster, yes."

"I was about to say something about this but then he showed up and I kinda forgot about it and you were busy every time I had to go. But, uh, there's this dog."


"Yeah. They make you do a bunch of visits and stuff before you can take 'em home, and this is the last one. I figured since you'd be kinda stuck with him too, I mean, at least however long you're stuck with me, we might wanna make sure you like him."

"I plan to be 'stuck' with you for the forseeable future, so it might be prudent."

Dean kisses him and keeps doing it even when the woman parked next to them comes out with her new dog, some large-breed mutt that keeps barking at them as she tries to coax it into the backseat of her car.

Castiel's tie is crooked through the whole of his afternoon lecture, but he doesn't notice it until he goes to the bathroom afterwards and sees himself smiling in the mirror. At 6:50 he's walking through the aisles of Petco with Dean, who's holding his hand whenever he doesn't need both to keep an overexcited German Shepherd named Misha from chewing everything in reach. At 7:35 he's eating a burger at the Roadhouse, which is welcoming its first-ever canine patron, and still thinking he's having a very nice life.