In the morning, Dean crawls out of his bed like an old man. Day-afters are always pretty rough -- especially now that thirty-five is in his rearview mirror -- but this one is bone deep. His head is throbbing, and a sharp ache is gnawing at the base of his spine. His shoulders feel like they're carved from stone. He rolls them a few times to get his blood moving. Then he rubs the grit out of his eyes and throws on some cleanish clothes.
The kitchen smells like food, but it turns out to be the Sam Winchester Special: wheat toast and scrambled eggs. The toast is stale from sitting out and the eggs are starting to film. Dean's stomach lurches; he puts the lid back on the pan and grabs a beer from the fridge. He kills the neck of it before shuffling out into the dull, fluorescent hum of the library.
Sam looks up from his laptop as Dean walks in. His hair is shower-damp. His mouth twitches like he's chewing on a comment about Dean drinking his breakfast, but Dean cuts him off by saying, "You're up early."
"Yeah. I, uh." Sam shrugs. "Couldn't sleep."
Dean grunts and pulls out a chair. He thinks he finally laid down around three, but his exhaustion hadn't been a match for the churning in his gut. He'd stared at the ceiling because closing his eyes meant reliving all the horrible expressions Lucifer had twisted onto Cas' face. "What've you got?"
"Nothing," Sam says, shaking his head. "Rowena's in the wind. Crowley isn't answering his phone."
Dean snorts. "Figures. Anything on Amara?"
"Maybe," Sam says. His chair creaks as he leans in and rests his elbow on the table. "I found a news report of a massive flash of light. Last night, about four hundred miles north of that church."
"Outside Mason City. Officials are calling it a power surge, but --"
"But it could've been Amara having another tantrum." Dean sighs and swallows some more beer. Iowa is a long drive from Kansas, and chasing after Amara is pretty much pointless. Even if they find her, they can't really do anything about her. "She's -- forget her. We need to focus on Cas."
"Okay," Sam says slowly. His elbow bumps his empty breakfast plate. "You have any ideas?"
Dean heaves out another sigh. "Not really. Just -- I guess we could try summoning Lucifer again."
"We've got the spell Rowena used. Maybe... I don't know. Maybe we would work it ourselves."
"All right, yeah," Sam mutters, rubbing his forehead. "Let's say that isn't completely crazy. Let's say it won't just blow up in our faces. Then what? That sigil you used to tap into Cas didn't work."
"Yeah, it did. I had him there for a few seconds. He --"
"For a few seconds. And then Lucifer hopped back into the driver's seat. Crowley --"
"Fuck Crowley," Dean snaps. "I know what he said, but I don't -- Cas is in there, all right? I know he is. He heard me. He -- he heard me. And you said he grabbed the wheel for a minute when Lucifer tried to kill you, when I was stuck on that submarine."
"He did, yeah. But that was weeks ago. A lot could've happened since then."
"Sam." Dean rubs his hand over his face. A knot is burning in his throat, so sour and thick he can barely breathe through it. His voice catches as he says, "I ain't leaving him like this. He could get hurt. He could -- we gotta get him back." Dean closes his eyes for a second; it feels like a hand is squeezing everything under his jaw. "I want him back."
Sam hesitates. Then, carefully, he says, "I know you do. I want him back too. I'm not saying we shouldn't try. I just think we should have a plan first. A real plan. Lucifer isn't going to give him up easily. I'm speaking from experience here."
"You did it, though. You fought him off."
"Yeah, I did," Sam says. He sounds as tired as Dean feels. "But he was only in me a couple of days, and he -- he was keeping me pretty close to the surface. He wanted me to see everything he was doing with my body. He wanted me to feel it. He --" Sam cuts off with a quiet sigh. "If he'd had me buried any deeper... I don't know. Things might've turned out different at Stull."
Dean makes myself ask, "What about Gadreel?" Sam's face starts to close off -- the scab on that wound is still pretty thin -- but Dean takes a breath and keeps talking. He has to know. "When he was full-throttle, did you know what was going on?"
Sam shakes his head. "No. Not until Crowley showed up, and even then... I didn't believe him at first."
"Fuck," Dean mutters. He drains his beer. "I know you said Cas chose this, and maybe he did. But that -- if Lucifer can't ice Amara, it doesn't matter. We gotta get him back." Dean sighs and drums his fingers on the table. "We gotta find some way to get inside Cas' head."
"You mean like Crowley? I don't think that's possible. Not for us."
"No. It's -- wait. Maybe it is."
Dean sets the jar on the table with a thunk. It's dusty from rotting on a sub-basement shelf for sixty years; he wipes his gritty fingers on his jeans as he says, "Check this out."
Sam splits a frown between Dean and the jar. "Is that --?"
"Saliene capensis, yeah." Dean turns the jar so that the peeling label is facing Sam. "African dream root."
"You -- are you serious? You want to dream your way past Lucifer and into Cas' head?"
Dean shrugs. "Look, I know it sounds nuts, but --"
"Yeah, it does."
"It's a shot, Sammy. I gotta take it."
Sam sighs under his breath. Then he gets up and grabs a beer from the mini-fridge. As he's popping the cap, he asks, "Do angels even dream?"
Dean shrugs again. "No clue."
"Doesn't he need to be dreaming for this to work?"
"Maybe not." Dean passes Sam the folder he found with the jar. "The Men of Letters were working on a way to use dream root to tap into the subconscious. Like, getting into people's minds."
Sam snorts. "That's not creepy at all."
"Whatever. I ain't looking it in the mouth."
"I gotta try," Dean insists. His chest aches. He clenches his hands into fists so Sam won't see them shake. "He's out there somewhere, with Lucifer and Amara, and I -- he, um." Heat crowds up under Dean's jaw; he clears his throat and rubs the back of his neck. "Sammy, I --"
"Hey, it's all right," Sam says quietly. "If you really think this will work, we'll give it a shot."
"Me," Dean says. He clears his throat again. "I'm going alone. If this goes sideways... someone's gotta be here to fight Amara. We both know that ain't gonna be me."
Sam takes a long pull from his beer. Then he sighs and says, "Yeah, all right."
"Really?" Dean asks, frowning at the cup Sam hands him. The tea is steaming. Bits of black fluff are floating on the sludge-brown surface. "A feather? What about that hair you found in the Continental?"
Sam stares at him. "Are you telling me you'd rather drink hair?"
Dean wrinkles his nose; the tea smells like the bottom of an old shoe. He sets the cup on his nightstand and rubs his sweaty palms on his jeans. "No. I just -- a feather? It's kinda weird."
"Yeah, but his feathers are his. Like, really his. They're a --" Sam waves his hand around " -- a manifestation of his grace, or whatever. I think they're your best chance of actually reaching him."
"Hair worked with Bobby."
"Bobby was human and dreaming," Sam points out. He sits down beside Dean on the bed. "I read those notes you found about using dream root to look at a person's subconscious. Their success was pretty limited."
Dean huffs; he'd stopped skimming them once it looked like the stuff could work on someone who was awake. "How limited?"
"Only one guy really managed it, and he'd spent a couple years in Tibet, learning how to meditate from Buddhist monks."
"Great." Dean sighs and grabs the tea. His hands are shaking again. "Bottoms up."
Sam stops him before he can drink. He says, "Be careful, okay? If you run into something hinky, just wake up. You can always go back."
"Yeah," Dean mutters. "Yeah."
Dean comes to on his bed. He sits up carefully, gritting his teeth against a headrush that makes his skin prickle and his vision swim. He stays seated for a few moments after it passes, leaning his elbows on his knees as he adjusts to the fuzzy, out-of-body feeling dream root always leaves behind. He flexes his hands. Breathes. Swallows to get the sour-earth tang of the tea out of his mouth.
His legs wobble a little when he finally stands, but they slowly find their strength as he walks to his door. He hesitates with his hand on the knob. In that split-second where he'd surfaced over Lucifer, Cas had seemed tired and confused. Dean feels sick just thinking about what could be waiting for him out there -- Cas hurt or beaten or tortured. Cas dying.
Dean doesn't expect to step out into his own hallway. He just stands there for a minute, frowning at the familiar, faded carpet and the dusty brick walls. His first thought is that something went wrong -- that he isn't actually dreaming at all -- but when he squeezes his hands into fists he barely feels his nails digging into his palms. He looks at Sam's door. He pictures it open, and then it is. He imagines it closing, and then it does. It swings shut silently, without the pained hinge-creak Dean hears twenty times a day in real life.
"All right," Dean mutters. "I'm... somewhere. I guess that's something."
He hears noise coming from the kitchen -- a dull, almost mechanical murmur. Dean heads that way with his heart beating in his throat. The floorboards don't whine under his feet. He reaches for the door, but it inches open a foot before he touches it. The light inside the kitchen is brighter than it should be, less sodium-yellow.
Cas is sitting at the table, watching TV. It's a 70's era boob-tube, a rounded screen and a boxy frame and a set of bent rabbit-ears on top. A cup of coffee is waiting at his elbow, gently curling with steam. Whatever he's watching has a laugh-track; he smiles each time the tinny sound peppers the room. Lights flicker across his face, blue and green and yellow and white. He looks good. Tired, but good. Dean just stares at him for a few seconds, unable to breathe.
As he's working up the nerve to say something, he hears his own voice call out from the library, asking, "Cas? You in the kitchen?"
"Yes," Cas says.
The kitchen's other door swings open, and Dean watches as a copy of himself walks in with a pair of WalMart bags in each hand. He sets them down beside the TV and says, "Hey, handsome. You still watching that thing?"
Cas looks up at Dream Dean and smiles. It's wider and brighter than anything Dean has seen in real life. Cas says, "You're back early."
"Wasn't much traffic," Dream Dean says. He bends and kisses the back of Cas' neck, and it feels like a knife between Dean's ribs. He can't. This isn't. Fuck. "You hear anything from Sam?"
"He called earlier," Cas replies. He turns his head and noses at Dream Dean's jaw. "He's on his way back from Sioux Falls now. He should be home tonight."
Dream Dean runs his hand through Cas' hair. "Good." He sits on the stool next to Cas, putting his back against the table. "I wanna check out those desecrated graves in Pulaski."
"I told him that. He said he's fine with heading there in the morning."
"Cool." Dream Dean taps his fingers on his knee for a few seconds. Then he tugs Cas' sleeve and says, "C'mon. I'm starving. Help me whip up some lunch."
"I don't eat."
"Yeah, but you don't cry when you chop onions, either."
Cas sighs indulgently and flips off the TV. He stands, but before Dream Dean can join him, Cas slides into his lap. Dream Dean murmurs something Dean can't hear. Then he cups his hand around the back of Cas' neck and pulls him in for a kiss. This dream-kitchen is almost silent, no humming lights or dripping faucets, so the soft-wet sound of it fills up the room. Cas eases back, and Dream Dean chases his mouth. When he leans in again, his lips miss and catch Cas' chin. Cas laughs under his breath.
Dean turns around and bites his cheek until he wakes up.
When Dean opens his eyes, Sam is standing at the foot of his bed. They stare at each other for a few minutes, Sam sipping a cup of coffee while Dean slowly claws his way back into reality. He feels shaky and worn. A hollow ache is spreading through his chest. The clock on the nightstand is ticking like a bomb.
Eventually, Sam says, "That was quick. I'm guessing it didn't work."
"No, it worked." Dean's voice is rougher than sandpaper. "I, um -- I got in."
Sam's eyes widen. "Yeah? That's -- that's great. Did you talk to him?"
"No. He was, um." Sighing, Dean sits up and rubs his face with both hands. All he can focus on is Cas crawling into his lap. Cas kissing him. "He -- I, uh." His face heats; he can't look Sam in the eye. "I thought I saw Lucifer, so I booked it."
Sam chews on that for a second. Then he asks, "How soon are you going back?"
"Soon," Dean says. He heaves himself to his feet. "I'm gonna hit the shower first."
The plumbing rattles and thunks when Dean turns on the water.
He cranks the heat up until it's almost too much. He closes his eyes and puts his back to the spray and lets it beat at him until it finally starts to run cold.
This time, Dean walks out of his bedroom and into a cemetery.
It's an older place. The rows of graves are slightly crooked, and most of the headstones are sinking into the ground. The grass is ankle-deep in places, wet with dew that doesn't really touch Dean's jeans. The night air is cool, humid with the threat of an oncoming storm. The Impala is parked on a service track about fifty yards away; its chrome glints in the light from the low, nearly-full moon.
A small family vault is lurking at the top of a low rise. It's half-hidden by the sweep of a sagging tree, branches tangled across its roof. A dim light glows inside its open door. An owl hoots overhead as Dean heads toward it. The door feels too exposed, so Dean walks around back. A frosted ventilation window is set into the stone about five feet off the ground; Dean wrenches the pane up another inch so he can see inside.
Cas and Dream Dean are standing back to back in the middle of the vault. Cas is dressed like a hunter, faded jeans and a dark flannel. He's holding a shotgun, and he lifts it with confidence and ease as the ghouls start crawling out of their drawers. He clips the first one right between the eyes. Dream Dean kills a second. A third grabs Dream Dean around the throat and hurls him back against the wall. Dream Dean squeezes a shot off; it hits the ghoul in the shoulder. It doesn't kill her, but it does knock her back a few paces. Cas nails her in the temple as she's finding her feet.
As soon as her body hits the ground, Cas turns toward Dream Dean. Concern clouds his face. Dream Dean grunts and pushes himself to his feet. Wincing, he rolls his shoulder. Cas sets his shotgun on a stone bench. Gently, he touches Dream Dean's arm.
"Let me heal you."
Dean would bristle and shrug away -- he always does when it's just bruises and scrapes -- but his counterpart smiles. He lays his shotgun down beside Cas'. Then he steps into Cas' space and says, "Yeah. Go on."
The way Cas' face lights up makes Dean want to punch himself in the throat. He -- Christ. He turns Cas down because he's a coward. Because having Cas that close to him scares him. Because letting Cas touch him like that, having a piece of Cas inside him -- it's too much, too intimate. Too everything. He'd never considered what it might mean to Cas.
Cas palms the side of Dream Dean's neck. He thumbs the space below Dream Dean's ear. Dream Dean gasps out a noise. Shivers. Once it passes, he wraps his arms around Cas' shoulders. He mouths at Cas' throat and at the corner of Cas' jaw. Then they kiss, soft and easy and slow. Dean stares at them, his hands white-knuckled on the window frame. He can't make himself look away.
A moment later, Dean hears footsteps -- footsteps he recognizes as Sam's. He waits for Dream Dean to pull away from Cas, maybe put some space between them. But he just works a hand into Cas' hair. He keeps kissing Cas like he doesn't know Sam is coming or doesn't care. When Sam finally walks in, he sighs and rolls his eyes like this isn't even the tenth time he's caught them making out in the middle of a hunt. Like it isn't even the hundredth. He nudges one of the ghoul corpses with his foot. Then he clears his throat to get their attention.
Dream Dean eases back and turns toward Sam. Heat flushes his cheeks, but he doesn't duck his head or look away. He just smiles slightly and says, "Hey, Sammy. You get that one that got away?"
"Yeah. Body's already in the trunk." Sam nudges the ghoul again. "Are we schlepping these, or --?"
"I've got it," Cas says.
He cleans the blood spatter off the walls with a wave of his hand. Then he crouches beside one of the ghouls. He taps its shoulder; after shimmering for a second, it disappears. He does the same for the other two. Once they're gone, he stands and wipes his fingers on his jeans. He scoops the shotguns off the bench and hands one to Dream Dean.
"Great," Dream Dean says. "Let's burn these fuckers and go eat. I'm starving."
Sam grabs the hurricane lamp off the floor and heads outside. Dream Dean takes Cas' hand and follows him out.
Dean rolls off his bed and shuffles into the kitchen. He throws two Hot Pockets in the microwave and paces beside the counter while he waits. The ancient linoleum whines under his feet. The lights hum overhead. Everything is loud and bright and normal and real.
When the Hot Pockets are done, Dean wraps them in a paper towel and eats them over the sink. The first one his hot enough to burn his tongue; the second is still frozen in the middle. He chokes them down anyway and chases them with a beer.
He heats up another cup of tea.
Cas is sitting in front of the TV again. He's watching what sounds like a movie, all tense dialogue and swelling, sweeping music. Dream Dean is puttering around behind him, humming to himself as he dries the dishes and puts them in the cupboard. When he's finished, he gathers up the handful of beer bottles littering the counter. They don't clink when he tosses them in the recycling can.
Dean can't see the clock from where he's standing -- he's in the pantry today -- but it feels late. Cas and Dream Dean are both wearing t-shirts and sweats. Dream Dean keeps yawning. Eventually, he walks up behind Cas and rests his hands on Cas' shoulders. He presses a kiss to the top of Cas' head.
"I'm gonna hit the hay," he says, his nose still buried in Cas' hair. "You coming?"
"One minute," Cas says. He reaches up and covers one of Dream Dean's hands with his own. "This is almost over."
The minute stretches out forever. The TV is the only noise in the room; something about the weird, reverse silence makes Dean feel sick. He wants Cas to come home. He wants to punch Dream Dean in the face. Instead, he watches as Dream Dean noses at Cas' ear, as Cas strokes his fingers over the back of Dream Dean's hand. Dean thinks of all the times he's almost touched Cas but chickened out. He pushes his fist against the pantry's tiled wall until pain blooms in his knuckles.
When the movie ends, Cas flips off the TV and stands. He hides a kiss under Dream Dean's jaw. Then he heads for the door. Dream Dean walks out right behind him, his hand skimming the small of his back.
After counting to a hundred, Dean takes a few deep breaths and sneaks down the hall to his bedroom. The door is closed. Dean stares at the light on the wall until it turns itself off. Then he focuses on the door, telling it to open about an inch. It flickers from one position to the other without making any noise. Inside, Dream Dean already has his shirt off. Cas crawls on top of him, kissing him and pushing him back into the pillows. He pins a hand at Dream Dean's hip and works his thigh between Dream Dean's legs. Dream Dean moans quietly and wraps an arm around Cas' waist.
He says, "You're in a mood tonight."
Cas huffs. "Are you complaining?"
"Just surprised. You've been ignoring me for the idiot box all day."
"I'm sorry," Cas says. He kisses Dream Dean's throat. "I don't mean to. Sometimes, I just --" he sighs and waves his hand.
"I know. And it's fine." Dream Dean tugs at Cas' shirt. "C'mon. Get this off."
Cas leans up a little and pulls his shirt over his head. And -- fuck. He's gorgeous. Dean's always known it, but this -- this is making everything inside Dean ache. Cas tosses his shirt on the floor and slides down Dream Dean's body. He palms Dream Dean's dick through his sweats. Then he kisses Dream Dean's hip. His fingers hook in the waist of Dream Dean's sweats.
"Okay," Dean mutters, backing away from the door. He needs to wake up before he completely loses his shit. "Time to go. Time to fucking go."
Dean wakes up dry-mouthed and shaking. His head is pounding. The knot in his throat is so big he feels like he's suffocating from the inside. He clutches at the bedspread with both hands and forces some air into his lungs. He makes himself sit up. Everything in the room tilts sharply to one side.
Sam is standing at the foot of the bed again. Dean rubs his stinging eyes and croaks, "What's up?"
"You all right?"
"Yeah. Just -- you know. Dream root hangover." Dean fumbles for the beer on the nightstand. It's lukewarm and practically empty, but it's enough to wet his mouth. "You look like you got something."
Sam hesitates briefly. Then he says, "Rowena called while you were out. She's willing to open the Cage."
Sam grimaces a little. "If we hide her until Amara's iced."
Dean rubs his eyes again. He's tired of this shit -- making deals with witches and owing demons favors -- but Lucifer isn't something they can deal with on their own. Sighing, he says, "Whatever, yeah. Put a cot in the dungeon and tell her to knock herself out."
"All right," Sam says. He sits on the edge of the bed and leans his elbows on his knees. "What about Cas?"
"You can't get through to him?"
"No. I, uh." Dean chews his lip for a second. Then he admits, "I haven't talked to him."
"Why not? Is it, um. Is he --" Sam's mouth twists. He waves his hand. Dean knows what he's trying not to ask: Is Cas hurt? bleeding? broken? half-dead?
"No. He -- he's here. At the bunker." Dean sighs; his head feels like it's going to explode. "He just sits in the kitchen all day and watches TV."
"That... makes sense, actually."
Dean blinks at him. "How does that make sense?"
"Crowley said --"
"Don't start that shit."
Sam ignores him. "Crowley said Lucifer's hold on him was too strong. If that's the case -- if he's really given up -- it makes sense that he'd make a safe space for himself. A place where he can pretend none of this is happening."
"Yeah," Dean mumbles. He -- fuck. He feels sick again. He needs Cas to come home. "I'm gonna give it another shot."
Cas is watching TV again. It's another sit-com, something with bright voices and a tinny laugh-track. Dream Dean is sitting beside him, reading through a stack of newspapers. His hand is curved around the back of Cas' neck. His thumb keeps brushing into Cas' hair. Dean watches them for a few minutes -- long enough to see that Cas is completely zeroed in on the TV. Then he sneaks around to the library. He grabs one of the lamps off the table and smashes it on the floor.
"What was that?" Cas asks. He doesn't really look up.
Dream Dean squeezes his shoulder. "I'll check it out."
Dean backs away and waits. A beat or two later, Dream Dean walks into the library. He glances around. Then he shrugs and turns back toward the kitchen. Dean shifts the lamp shards so that Dream Dean will step on them. They crunch under his boots because Dean wants them to. When Dream Dean pauses and looks down, Dean grabs his arm and drags him out of the doorway.
They stare at each other for a couple of minutes. The dream-bunker's weird silence presses in around them; the only noise is the canned laughter from Cas' TV. Dream Dean is a perfect copy, down to the last freckle. Looking at him makes Dean's skin crawl. He fists his hands at his sides and breathes through the churning in his gut.
Finally, he clears his throat and says, "You don't belong here."
"You got it backwards, buddy," Dream Dean says. "You don't belong here."
"You ain't even real," Dean points out.
Dream Dean shrugs. "S'pose that depends on how you look at it. You might be the real Dean, but this is Cas' headspace. And he made me, so --" he shrugs again. Then he cocks his head toward the kitchen and adds, "I gotta get back. If I'm gone too long he starts seeing through the matrix, and he doesn't like that."
"No," Dean says. "I came here to bring him back."
"Back where? Like --" Dream Dean hitches his thumb over his shoulder "-- out there?" He snorts out a laugh. "Why the hell would he wanna go back? He's happy in here. He's got a TV that never quits and a copy of you that loves him even when he ain't useful."
Dean blinks. "Useful? I don't care about him being useful."
"Really?" Dream Dean arches an eyebrow. "'Cause he's got about seven year's worth of memories that say otherwise."
That one lands like a right hook to the jaw. Dean grits his teeth and says, "I want him to come home."
"Good luck with that. I'm telling you, he's happy here."
Dean sucks in a breath. And another. Firmly, he tells himself the guy standing in front of him is fake. That he doesn't belong here. That he isn't real. He narrows his eyes. He tightens his fists until his nails dig into his palms and focuses on making Dream Dean disappear.
Dream Dean laughs at him. "That ain't gonna work."
Dean concentrates harder. An ache builds in his chest. His blood starts rushing in his ears. He pictures Dream Dean guttering in and out like a ghost. Pictures Dream Dean flaming out like his bones have been burned. His vision starts to swim. A muscle tics in his jaw.
"Give it up, pal."
"No. No way. I need him." Dean sucks in another breath. Sweat is dripping down his face. "I need him, so you gotta go."
Something in the air snaps. Dream Dean wavers for a second. Then he coughs out a noise and fades away in a curl of smoke and ash. Dean sags against the bookshelf and gulps in air. His legs are shaking. His heart is hammering in his throat.
The lights dim a little. Cas calls out, "Dean?"
"Yeah," Dean says. He wipes his wet face on his sleeve and walks into the kitchen. "I'm right here." After a split-second hesitation, he adds, "Handsome." Something flutters under his ribs as soon as it's out of his mouth.
Cas smiles at him. He says, "I Love Lucy is starting. Sit down and watch it with me."
"Yeah, okay," Dean says, sliding onto the stool. Cas' hand is resting on the table; slowly, Dean takes it and laces their fingers together. "We can watch I Love Lucy. But we gotta talk about something first."
Dean opens his mouth. Closes it. Then he opens it again and says, "Lucifer."
Cas' face shutters. He turns back to the TV. "I don't want to talk about him."
"I know you don't," Dean says quietly. His chest feels hollow. "But it's important. He lied to you about Amara. You gotta fight him. Kick him out."
The lights dim again. The TV starts to flicker; Cas hunches closer to it and adjusts the rabbit-ears.
"Cas, please. Listen to me." Dean squeezes Cas' hand. "I'm the real Dean. The Dean from the real world. And I'm telling you, you gotta come home."
"You're not the real Dean," Cas says, shaking his head. "That's not possible."
"Yeah, I know it sounds wacky. I had to drink some freaky dream hoodoo just to get in here."
"You're not the real Dean," Cas says again. The TV buzzes like an old neon sign. "The real Dean wouldn't be holding my hand."
Dean thinks he might puke. He -- fuck. "I want to. I've always wanted to. I just didn't -- you're an angel, and I'm -- I." He sighs under his breath. "You -- I was scared."
"Scared of what?"
"Of this," Dean says, gesturing between them. His pulse is hammering louder than the TV. "You got no idea what you mean to me."
Anger creases Cas' face. His mouth twists as he says, "Why would I? You never bothered to tell me."
Dean says, "I know. I'm sorry." He cups Cas' face in his hand. "I'm sorry. I just -- I ain't good at this."
"It's fine," Cas says, touching Dean's jaw. "Everything's fine, here."
"Cas, no. Listen. You gotta come back now."
Cas smiles and kisses him.
Cas, please. You gotta fight Lucifer. Kick him out. If you let him stay inside you, you're gonna get killed. Cas. Cas, you gotta come home.
Dean closes his eyes and pushes a hand into Cas' hair.
They watch TV. They hunt. They make breakfast. They play monopoly with Sam and Claire.
They watch TV. They hunt. They go fishing. They make dinner.
They kiss and kiss and kiss and kiss. Cas nips Dean's lips and sucks on Dean's tongue until Dean feels like he could drown in it.
They don't fuck. Dean wants it -- he wants it desperately -- and some nights Cas pushes him into the pillows and whispers filthy things in his ear. But Dean just distracts him with the TV.
He doesn't want to do it here. Not when they're just living in Cas' head. Not when it isn't really them.
"Dean," Cas murmurs, tipping his head back. "You said you'd make coffee."
Dean drags a slow, wet kiss up the side of Cas' neck. "I'm gonna. Just gimme a minute."
Cas huffs. "I've given you about ten. You should --
Dean wakes up shaking and confused. His eyes are gritty and raw. His tongue is too big for his mouth. He feels like he's been hit by a truck. Everything aches. It hurts to breathe. The clock is ticking in his ear.
He coughs a few times. Sam hands him a glass of water. Swallowing it feels like being stabbed in the throat, but Dean makes himself drink all of it. When he's finished, Sam takes the glass and sets it on the nightstand.
Rowena leans over him. Her lilac perfume itches his nose and her hair tickles his neck. Carefully, she brushes her hand across his forehead. Something slow and warm pulses through him. It makes him shiver. The bed creaks as he tries to squirm away from it.
She straightens and looks at Sam. She says, "He'll come 'round. He just needs rest and a hot meal or two."
Sam nods. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," she says. She turns toward the door. "If you need me again, I'll just be in my dungeon."
Once she's gone, Sam sits on the edge of the bed. Dean coughs a few more times. Then he asks, "How long was I out?"
"Christ." Dean rubs his face with both hands. He needs to take a leak. He's sweaty enough for three showers. "Sorry. I wasn't trying to scare you."
Sam heaves out a sigh. The shadows under his eyes are heavy and dark. "Did you get through to Cas?"
"No," Dean admits. He frowns at the wall so he doesn't have to look at Sam. "I tried. But he has this whole life carved out for him in there. And it's -- he was happy. I couldn't -- fuck." He squeezes his eyes shut for a second. "I couldn't do it to him."
Carefully, Sam asks, "He was happy? Or you were happy?" When Dean doesn't say anything -- when he can't make himself say anything -- Sam just huffs under his breath. "Both, I guess. Were you two --"
"Yeah," Dean mumbles. He doesn't want to talk about this. Not when he can still feel Cas' skin under his mouth. "Yeah."
Sam is quiet for a minute. Then he runs his hand through his hair and says, "I get it. It was like a djinn dream."
"Yeah," Dean says again. Shame is a living thing in his gut. "Sorry. I --"
"Don't worry about it," Sam says. He pats Dean's shin and stands. "There's enough dream root left for one more cup of tea. I'm going to drink it and talk to Cas."
"No," Dean says, sitting up. The room only swims a little. "I'll go."
Sam stares at him. "Did you miss the part where you were out for two days? Where Rowena had to work a spell to bring you back?"
"I left him there," Dean snaps. Heat burns under his jaw.
"All right," Sam says. He sounds tired. "You can go. But if you're not back in a half-hour, I'm pouring a bucket of water on your head."
Cas is sitting in front of the TV. The volume is gone, and the picture is mostly static. Dean watches him adjust the rabbit-ears for a minute. He listens to the refrigerator hum. The lights in the kitchen are low. The faucet is dripping: plink-plink-plink.
Dean walks over and sits down beside Cas. The TV goes black. Cas looks at Dean and says, "You came back."
"Yeah, I did."
Cas turns back to the TV and thumps it with his fist. It buzzes. A starburst of gray shoots across the screen. Sighing, Cas says, "You're here about Lucifer."
"You gotta fight him," Dean says. He leans in and palms the side of Cas' neck. "We're all lined up to stuff him back in his box. But you gotta kick him out first."
"What about Amara?"
Dean thumbs the corner of Cas' jaw. "Lucifer can't touch her. He took a shot at her with a Hand of God and it didn't make a scratch."
"A Hand of God?" Cas asks. He tips his head to the side and frowns. "Lucifer was banished. A Hand of God only works for someone in God's favor."
"Yeah," Dean says, shaking his head. "We learned that one the hard way."
The lights dim. Cas looks at Dean again. "Lucifer doesn't need a vessel anymore."
Cas shifts closer to the TV. "I'm sorry, Dean. If Lucifer can't defeat her, I certainly can't."
"What --? You -- I don't care about that." The lights dim again. The walls waver a little. Dean doesn't know if Lucifer's finally caught on, or if Cas' holodeck is starting to break down. Either way, he's running out of time. "I just want you."
"Me," Cas says uncertainly.
"Yeah. You." Dean slides his hand down to the hollow of Cas' throat. "If that's -- if you --"
"Yes. I -- yes."
"All right," Dean says. The walls waver a little more. "I gotta go back. Promise me you're gonna fight him."
Cas says, "Yes," and kisses him.
The flames catch with a hiss. Before Lucifer can say anything smart, Dean slices his palm and slams it on the sigil.
"Castiel, show yourself."
A beat passes. Then another. Then --
Dean says, "Hey, handsome." He reaches across the circle and takes Cas' hand.