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Sometimes I Feel Like a Monster

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The wind felt like a cool caress over his wings as he soared over the woods below. In the darkness between the trees, sparks of fire showed where humans were cooking their dinners outside their tents in the crisp autumn evening. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash that was more than a spark, and he banked quickly to investigate. His heart began to pound and the wind took his breath away as he shifted into a dive, hoping against hope that he could get there in time, that this time, he wouldn’t be too late.

A blaring noise sounded, startlingly close, and Dean lashed out with a wing to swat it away.

His alarm clock flew off the bedside table and started playing some annoying song from the ‘80s.

Dean scrubbed a hand over his face, not at all surprised to find that he was sweating. That always seemed to happen with these dreams. He groaned. At least he’d woken up with hands and not claws. Not that it’d ever actually happened, but he was always half-afraid it would.

Your fault. Too slow. Too weak. Too late. Your fault.

“Time to make the donuts,” he muttered as he levered himself out of bed, shoving the remnants of the nightmare, if not out of his mind, then at least back into the darkest corners of it.

After splashing some water on his face and brushing his teeth, Dean ambled downstairs, ready to start his day, glad as usual for the super-short “commute.” First things first, he started a pot of coffee and prepped a dozen more filters so they’d be ready to go. He might not serve freshly-ground frou-frou coffee like some places, but he prided himself on always having a hot cup o' joe ready for his customers, and they seemed happy enough.

While the first pot brewed, he went over to get the grill heating up. Not that there was anyone around at this hour, considering he didn’t even open until five am, but he still shot a quick glance out the window before he turned on the gas jets and bent to blow a quick flame over them. It might be true that nobody would care, like Sam always insisted, but he knew there were plenty who had no use for dragons, blaming them for one calamity or another. He couldn’t blame them, but he didn’t need to be losing business over it. Or moving. Again.

The rest of the morning melted into the same routine as any other day as he chopped potatoes for home fries and onions to go with them, finished off the first pot of coffee himself before starting another. Finally, he unlocked the door for his earliest regulars and switched on the sign, smiling to himself as it flickered to life letting everyone know that Dean’s Diner was open for business.

Sheriff Jody Mills was the first to arrive, as usual. Two over easy and a side of bacon, and she’d be ready to get the day shift going at the sheriff’s office. Once he had the bacon sizzling on the grill, Dean quirked an eyebrow at her, and she held up four fingers. He nodded and set up four Styrofoam cups in a take-out tray, waiting to be filled when she was ready to leave. There must be a meeting or something today, considering she usually only got two or three.

His next customer was always a toss-up, either Carmen on her way to the hospital or Garth who was just up at ass o’clock in the morning for no apparent reason. Today, though, when the bell over the door rang and Dean looked up to see who it was, it was neither. Instead, it was some stranger who looked like he needed nothing so much as an entire pot of coffee. His black hair looked like if its owner had done anything to it this morning, it involved either an egg beater or a light socket, and his eyes were barely slitted open.

Dean had a cup of coffee ready when the man slid into a seat at the counter two seats down from Jody. That earned him a grunt, which was probably about all this guy was capable of.

“Morning, dude,” Dean said. “Menu’s on the wall. Lemme know what you want when you find your words.”

The stranger made a snorting sound at that, but picked up the coffee and took a long sip without adding cream or sugar to it. Dean shrugged and went back to the grill to pull Jody’s breakfast off it just as the toast popped up.

“Thanks,” she said as he set it in front of her. “Gonna be a busy one today.”

“Yeah? I figured, what with the extra coffee. What’s up?” Dean asked.

“County commissioner’s paying us a visit,” she replied. “Should be interesting.”

“Excuse me,” the stranger interrupted, “but what do you mean by ‘pigs in blankets’?”

Dean exchanged an incredulous look with Jody before stepping closer to the guy and answering. “That’s sausages wrapped in little pancakes.”

“How is that different than pancakes with sausage?”

“Kids seem to think it’s more fun that way.” Lisa’s boy, Ben, used to love pigs in blankets. Really, that’s the only reason Dean had it on the menu. Not that they ever came in anymore since Lisa had decided Dean’s baggage was too much to deal with.

“I see,” the stranger said in a tone that suggested he didn’t see at all. “I think I will just have scrambled eggs and toast.”

“White, wheat, or rye?” Dean asked.

The stranger considered this for longer than Dean thought was necessary before replying, “Rye, I think.”

The bell over the door rang, and this time it was both Carmen and Garth, so Dean got their orders started along with the new guy’s. He just about had all three ready to serve when the bell rang again. A glance over his shoulder revealed that this time it was Gabriel.

“Check’s in the mail,” Dean called out, even though his rent wasn’t due for another week. He plated the three meals and brought them to the stranger, Carmen, and Garth.

“Dean-o, I’m crushed!” Gabriel exclaimed, clutching a hand to his chest dramatically. “Do you really think that’s the only reason I’d be here?”

“Only reason you’ve come by before,” Dean muttered as he turned back to the prep area and set another pot of coffee brewing.

“I heard that!” Gabriel shook his head. “But you’ve got a point. Anyway, I’m here to see my baby bro, here.”

Dean watched as his landlord dropped onto the stool next to the messy-haired stranger.

“It’s too early for you, Gabriel,” the stranger mumbled into his coffee.

“Now, is that any way to greet the best big brother in the world, Cassie?”

Dean’s eyebrows reached for his hairline as he set a coffee down in front of Gabriel and moved the cream and sugar closer to him. They’d both be empty by the time Gabe left, Dean was sure, which is why he’d only filled the cup halfway.

“Please don’t call me that, Gabriel. And while I’m grateful for the opportunity you’ve presented to me, I maintain that it is still too early to deal with you.”

“Fine, Castiel, then I guess you won’t be needing your keys.” True to Dean’s expectations, Gabe started dumping unholy amounts of sugar into his coffee followed by about half the creamer.

On the one hand, Dean wasn’t sure he should be hearing this. On the other, the diner was too small to avoid overhearing conversations unless it was so busy they all became white noise. Also, if his landlord was here to give this guy Cass-teel, his brother apparently, a set of keys, then who could blame Dean for being curious?

The look that Cas-whatever gave Gabe could make trees wither and die, but Gabe seemed immune.

“If you would like me to get the shop ready to open by next week, then I imagine you’ll want me to have those keys. Or would you prefer I picked the locks?”

Shop? Well, now, that was interesting.

Gabe pouted and dug around in his pockets, finally producing a set of keys. “Fine, you’re no fun. This here is for the front door of the store. This one’s for the back door. And this one’s for the apartment.”

“Thank you. I’ll start getting it set up as soon as I’m done eating.”

“Attaboy.” Gabe slugged back the remainder of his coffee-flavored sugar-cream. “A’ight, I got stuff to do, and anyway, the breakfast crowd’ll be showing up soon. Never let it be said that I don’t make room for the paying customers.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Thanks for that, Gabe.”

The only answer to that was the bell ringing as Gabriel opened it to leave. Dean exchanged another look with Jody, who was almost done with her breakfast. He filled the to-go cups for her and tucked a bunch of creamer-cups and sugar packets into the space between them.

“Thanks, Dean,” she said as she got up, setting her money down next to her plate. It was too much, as usual, but it’d get Charlie off to a good start on her tips when she arrived at six. Dean rang out the bill and put the change in a milkshake can .

“So,” Dean said to Cas-whatever-oh-hell-just-call-him-Cas, “sounds like we’re going to be neighbors?”

The guy looked up. His eyes were actually open now, and were a startling shade of blue. “I suppose so, at least in terms of our businesses.”

“I live upstairs too,” Dean said with a shrug. “It’s convenient. So you taking the nail salon next door or the consignment shop at the end?”

“The one on the end,” Cas replied. “It won’t be a consignment shop, though.”

Dean waited a beat. When no more information was forthcoming, he asked, “So is it a big secret, then?”

“What? Oh, no. It’ll be a psychic shop. You know, Tarot cards, that sort of thing. Probably a few books and things for sale too, once I get the paperwork for that done, but mostly readings.”

Dean made a conscious effort not to catch his breath at that. If the guy could see what Dean was, then clearly it wasn’t bothering him. Still, it was kind of unnerving to know there’d be a psychic living and working here. There wasn’t a chance to say anything more, though, as the next batch of regulars was arriving, and Dean was busy cooking and serving right up until Charlie arrived. The bell drew Dean’s attention, and as she came in, he saw Cas just leaving.

“What am I ringing the new guy out for?” she asked as she cleared his spot at the counter.

“Uh, eggs, toast, coffee,” Dean replied as he plated a short stack with a side of bacon.

“And?” she asked.

“And nothing. Why?”

She held up a twenty, and Dean shook his head. Was he just following Jody’s lead, or had he thought he’d left a ten?

“Y’know what, I’m betting he’ll be back for lunch. Why don’t you set the change aside somewhere and we can ask him then.”

Charlie shrugged and did. She took the change and wrapped it in a slip of paper, then stuck it next to her tip can. After a second’s thought, she put it under the tip can, presumably so the bills wouldn’t blow around every time someone walked by.

Dean shook his head and finished plating the order for table five. Now that Charlie was in to deal with the customers, he mostly stayed by the grill, which kept his back to the seating area most of the time. He didn’t give psychic Cas-whatever another thought until it was time to close and the guy hadn’t been back.

“So much for coming back for lunch,” Charlie said as she counted up her tips and organized them so she could sell her ones and coins back to Dean for larger bills. “Think he’ll be back tomorrow?”

“I dunno.” Dean shrugged. “Leave it for now. If he doesn’t come back, it’s yours.”

Charlie shrugged and finished up-changing her tips. “Whatevs. Anyway, I gotta run. Bus’ll be coming soon. Can’t be late to class.”

“What’re you still doing here then?” Dean asked.

She laughed and headed out to catch the bus.

Once he’d finished cleaning the grill and closing the diner up, Dean decided he’d go check on the new guy. Nobody ever seemed to stay long in that store on the end, and while nothing bad ever seemed to happen to them, it did sort of feel like the thing was cursed. That was the only reason he was going. Plus it was just neighborly, right? Nothing at all to do with wanting to see those eyes again.

At the last second, he pulled together a quick turkey sandwich for the guy. Who knew how he took it, but lettuce, tomato, and mayo was a pretty safe bet. If he’d already had lunch, great, Dean would eat it. But if he hadn’t, well, then it was just neighborly to make sure he had something.

He might as well not have bothered, though. Not only wasn’t Cas in the store, there was no sign he’d even been in there yet today, to go by the completely undisturbed coat of dust all over everything. Maybe he’d gone to pick up whatever he was going to move in? But why wouldn’t he have brought that stuff with him, knowing he was coming to meet Gabe for the key? Also, why did Dean care?

He didn’t. Of course, it’d be nice to have another business in the building besides the diner and the antique shop. Foot traffic was always good for business, although Dean kind of thought that the sort of people who would be going to a store to have their cards read might be looking for something fancier than Dean’s basic home cooking, no matter how awesome it was.

With a shrug, Dean took a bite of the sandwich and headed upstairs to take a shower. Wasn’t any of his business anyway.

~*~

The good thing about owning a diner that closed at two in the afternoon was that then you had the rest of the day to yourself. The bad thing about it was that nobody else was around. Dean supposed he could check under the hood of his Impala, but he knew it didn’t need anything. He sometimes wondered about opening back up for dinner, but then that left him feeling like he had no life at all, and there just wasn’t enough dinner business in this little town. Breakfast and lunch were just about enough to cover the spread with a bit left over to help Sam out with his living expenses at Stanford.

Of course, Sam told him he didn’t need to, but Dean saw how stressed Charlie got juggling work and school, and she was just taking a couple of courses at the community college in the next town over. Sam was a full-time law student who might have a full ride for his tuition, fees, and dorm, but that still left things like books and food, and he didn’t need to be working some stupid job to pay for that stuff.

This schedule had worked out great while he’d been dating Lisa, because it meant he could pick Ben up from school so she didn’t have to send him to some after-school program. Thing was, they’d been broken up for more than a month, and Dean still hadn’t figured out what to do with his afternoons. Once in a while Bobby needed a hand at the salvage yard, but things had been slow there lately. The bar down the street was vaguely tempting, but the afternoon crowd was mostly old men telling each other the same stories over, and over, and over, and there wasn’t enough whiskey in the world to make that interesting.

So it was really just sheer boredom that had Dean wandering back downstairs to see what, if anything, was going on with the new guy’s shop. He could just peek in the window at the dust and then take a walk down to the river. With that plan finally in mind, he grabbed his fishing pole and tackle box. It wasn’t like he had any bait, but he could go the long way and buy some.

The more he thought about it, the better a plan it seemed to be, so Dean was almost disappointed when he looked in the window of the new guy’s soon-to-be psychic shop and saw that he was in there. The guy had his back to the window and was wrestling with something that turned out to be a table. With a sigh, Dean knocked on the door, startling the guy so that he almost fell.

“Shit,” Dean muttered as he grabbed the doorknob and tried it, surprised when it turned easily and let him open the door. “Hey, dude, sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You di … well, I suppose you did,” Cas replied as he gave the table leg another tug. “I wasn’t expecting company.”

“Need a hand with that?” Dean asked.

Cas sighed. “It really should be quite easy, but I think this table has been in storage so long that it has rusted.”

Dean set his equipment down and stepped closer to take a look. Sure enough, the hinges that allowed the table legs to fold in had rusted. “We could probably force it between us, but it’d go better with some WD-40. You got any?”

“I presume that is some type of oil?” Cas asked.

“So that’ll be a no, then,” Dean said. “Yeah, it’s oil. That and duct tape are the two things you should always have. You can seriously fix most things at least temporarily with one or the other of those.”

“Does the hardware store carry it?”

“Yeah, but I’ve got some in my car. Gimme a sec.” Dean went out the back door to the parking lot and let himself into the Impala’s trunk. It had just about everything he figured he might ever need in there, and that definitely included WD-40. He grabbed the can and shut the trunk before heading back inside. After a second’s thought, he handed the can to Cas who looked at it like it might bite him. “It’s pretty easy, dude. Just squirt some into the hinge and it should loosen things right up.”

Looking doubtful, Cas did as Dean said.

“Now I’ll just give this leg a pull and see how far we get.” Dean felt like he was teaching Sam about fixing things all over again. Of course, that had been a few years ago, and this guy looked at least a couple of years older than Dean. How had he made it this long without picking this stuff up? The table leg moved about an inch further than it had been able to before. “Try a little more, Cas.”

Cas looked up at him. Oh, right. They hadn’t really done the name thing.

“Sorry. I didn’t quite catch what Gabe called you, just the first part.”

“It’s okay. I like it better than Cassie, anyway.”

Dean chuckled at that. “Good to know. I’m Dean, by the way.”

“I gathered that the ‘o’ wasn’t officially part of your name.”

“Yeah, no, it’s not. Anyway, want to give this a little more oil and see if that works?”

Cas did, and between them they managed to get that leg to straighten completely, followed by the other three.

“So, you haven’t done this in a while, then?” Dean asked as they flipped the table over and Cas pulled out what looked like an oversized silk scarf to throw over it.

“You could say that.” Cas looked uncomfortable at the question.

“Right, so, if you’re all set, I’ll just get going then.” Dean scratched his head, suddenly feeling awkward, though he wasn’t entirely sure why.

“Oh! Yes, you looked like you were going fishing.”

“That was the plan, yeah.” Dean wasn’t sure he really felt like it anymore, but it wasn’t like he had anything else to do. “Unless you’ve got anything else you need a hand with?”

“No, I should be fine now, thank you.” Cas smiled, but it looked forced, and Dean couldn’t help but wonder what that was about.

“Okay. See you around then,” Dean said as he picked up his pole and tackle.

“Yes, I’ll see you.” Cas turned back to one of the other boxes he had piled in a corner and started rummaging around in it.

Dean made it all the way to the river by the time he remembered he’d never bothered to get any bait.

Chapter Text

The air was crisp and clear. Exhilarating. A bat flew towards him, then darted away. Dean snorted. Why bother with flying rats when he had a much better – not to mention cooked dinner waiting for him back home? He drooled a little at the thought of the burgers his mom had promised earlier, and he was pretty sure he’d seen her pulling out some flour and stuff, which usually meant pie. Drooling even more, he banked a wide turn to head back.

As he got closer to the town, he could tell something was wrong. Red and blue flashing lights were clustered near his street. Dean picked up speed, and as he got closer, the smell of smoke reached him on the wind.

Sitting bolt upright, Dean gasped for breath before running to the bathroom to hurl.

Once he was done, he rinsed his mouth and splashed his face before finally looking in the mirror. He looked … well he looked like he’d woken up at three in the fucking morning from the worst fucking nightmare he’d had in a long fucking time.

Fuck.

He did, at least, look human. Barely, but still. At least he had that. These dreams were getting worse every time. Closer and closer. One of these times, he was going to wake up changed, and he didn’t think he could deal with that.

Your fault. Too slow. Too weak. Too late. Your fault. Monster!

With a sigh, he decided there was no point in trying to get any more sleep. Maybe he’d just head downstairs and get a few things started early. He hadn’t made pie in a while.

~*~

It was much later in the morning when Cas showed up the next day. He didn’t look any more awake than he had the day before, so Dean gave Charlie a nod to get the guy a coffee. Cas looked confused at first but accepted the coffee and ordered what turned Dean was willing to bet would to be the same thing he’d ordered yesterday. At least he was wearing a different t-shirt. Yesterday had been AC/DC, and today was Led Zeppelin. The guy had good taste in music, at least. And food, since he kept coming back.

“Did you know Data over there’s psychic?” Charlie asked as she slapped the order slip on Dean’s workspace. “Just what this town needs to liven it up!”

Dean rolled his eyes. Then he picked up the slip and smirked. He hadn’t needed to be psychic to (almost) know what it would say.

“Don’t you roll your eyes at me, handmaiden!” she said with a wink.

“Hey, here I’m the boss, your highness,” Dean retorted with a smirk. “And these are ready to go, so make it so.”

Charlie wrinkled her nose at him and stuck out her tongue but grabbed the two plates for table three and went to deliver them.

Since Cas was at the counter, and Charlie was busy cleaning off table four when his order was done, Dean just delivered it himself.

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas said seriously.

“No problem. And hey, you way overpaid yesterday, so I’ll just take this out of that, ‘kay?”

“Did I?” Cas squinted thoughtfully. “That would explain why I was short at the grocery store later.”

So, he had meant to leave a ten rather than a twenty.

“Thank you for your honesty,” Cas went on to say. “Many would have simply kept the difference.”

“Well, you’d know if they did, right?” Dean teased.

Cas looked confused again.

“Because of the psychic thing?” Dean continued.

“Oh! I’m not a mind-reader,” Cas replied. “I’m merely skilled at cartomancy.”

“Ooookay …”

“Reading cards,” Cas offered. “Tarot, mostly, though I do use a couple of oracle decks, depending on the person I’m reading for and what questions they have.”

“Of course. Yeah. Well, enjoy your breakfast, anyway.”

Cas nodded and turned his attention to his toast. He fiddled with the jelly caddy for a minute before asking, “Do you have any jelly?”

Dean just looked at him for a second before saying, “Yeeeah, in the caddy there.”

“No,” Cas said, “these are all jams. Well, and marmalade, which is even more unsettling than jam.”

Unsettling?

“Uh, sure.” Dean opened the little refrigerator under the counter, pulled out a handful of grape jellies, and set them down next to Cas. “Knock yourself out.”

“Why would I … oh, I see. Thank you, Dean.”

“No problem, dude.” Dean went back over to the grill and set to scraping it down and getting ready to switch it over for lunchtime. Data. Yeah, that does sound about right.

The next time he looked over in Cas’ direction, he and Charlie were deep in conversation about something, his cherry pie sitting half-eaten in front of him. (Dessert with breakfast? Definitely another point in this guy’s favor. Wait, why was he giving the guy points anyway?) As if she could tell she was being watched, Charlie looked up at Dean, and the look in her eyes said she was up to something that was potentially brilliant but definitely scary.

“Dean, c’mere a sec,” she said, confirming his fears.

With a sigh, he set down the grill scraper, checked the temperature to make sure it would be hot enough for burgers, and went over to join them. “What’s up?”

“I was just telling Cas about the idea I had for his shop,” Charlie said.

When did she have time to be getting ideas for his shop? If she’s going to be getting ideas, shouldn’t it be for here? Wait, that might not be a good thing either.

“And?” Dean asked.

“It is true that customarily, a new business will have some sort of event to mark its opening,” Cas said. “I hadn’t thought that would work for this sort of a business, but Charlie had an interesting suggestion.”

“So is anybody going to tell me this suggestion, or am I supposed to guess?”

Charlie punched Dean in the arm, and he pretended it hurt. “If you’d wait a minute, I’d tell you. I was just thinking about how sometimes people have psychic parties or have a reader work at a party or something. I mean, maybe that’s mostly Halloween, but nothing says it has to be. So, what if Castiel here had an opening party, and maybe let people have a five minute sample reading for free, so they get the basic idea, and can either pay for a longer reading or book an appointment to come back for one? And we could cater it!”

And there was the scary part.

“It would be difficult to estimate the necessary quantities of food,” Cas said. “But I imagine we could reach some agreement as to what I should order and how much I should pay you.”

“I mean, I don’t usually do catering,” Dean said. “I can provide food, sure. Like you said, we could figure that part out. But that’s about all I’d be able to do. Nothing fancy.”

“No, that’s perfect!” Charlie said. “Nice and homey and neighborly is the way to go.”

“It does seem that many townspeople are fond of the food you cook, Dean,” Cas said. “I am growing to like this idea. Though I do not think I would feel comfortable doing sample readings that were shorter than fifteen minutes.”

“Plus I’ll invite friends from school and from LARP, and at least some of them’ll come,” Charlie continued. “Get some out-of-towners to check it out and talk it up.”

It seemed that, as usual, Charlie was going to have her way. At least it didn’t sound too terrifying.

“How does Friday night sound?” she asked. “I know it’s only two days away, but it sounds like you have the place mostly set up anyway.”

Dean and Cas exchanged a look. Clearly Cas had also figured out that the only thing to be done at this point was to go along with whatever Charlie suggested, as he nodded uncertainly.

“Perfect!” Charlie clapped her hands together and rubbed them briskly.

“Is this all a ploy for us to set up your first date with Jo?” Dean asked.

“Curses, foiled again,” Charlie retorted with a roll of her eyes. “I mean, it’d be awesome, don’t get me wrong, but I have some other ideas for an actual date.”

Dean just shook his head and turned to go back to the grill. “Just lemme know what I gotta do.”

“Oh, we will!” Charlie replied at the same time Cas said, “Perhaps we could speak later?”

Dean just nodded and waved at Charlie to go get table three settled.

~*~

Dean wasn’t sure what a psychic shop was supposed to look like. He had a vague idea about bead curtains and lots of dark velvet.

This wasn’t that.

Well, it wasn’t much of anything yet, but to go by what Cas had brought in to set up, not to mention the sunny yellow color he had painted the walls, that wasn’t the look he was going for. The bookcases looked like they’d be at home in any living room, even if they were loaded with books on everything from Tarot reading to something called “kitchen witchery.” The chairs in the waiting area were clearly rescues, but comfy-looking. And this was the area Cas was planning on using for the food.

“I was thinking we could use the reception desk,” Cas said. “Just throw a tablecloth over it or something.”

“Do you even have a receptionist who needs a desk?” Dean asked, earning himself a glare. “Just saying. Anyway, yeah, that should work. Do you have a tablecloth that’ll fit?”

Cas tapped his fingers against his lips as he thought before answering, “I think so. I’ll have to check the storage unit.”

Dean nodded, then looked over at the “reading area,” which was clearly still a work in progress. The table Dean had helped set up stood there with its silky covering, and two folding chairs were set up on either side of it in the far corner of the main space. Two large folding dividers were leaning against the wall near them. Now they looked more like he’d have expected: black with yellow stars all over them. “What’re you planning for over there? I mean, besides the partitions you’ve got there?”

“I haven’t quite figured that out yet,” Cas said. “The partitions make it a little too dark if I square them off together. They also don’t give quite enough privacy if Charlie’s really bringing a bunch of people. They were intended mainly so that the person I’m reading for wouldn’t feel like they were on display to anyone walking by out front.”

Dean nodded. He didn’t really have any suggestions to offer, though, and he said as much.

“That’s okay,” Cas said. “I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I have some ideas. Just got to find the right balance between practicality and atmosphere.”

“Atmosphere,” Dean said.

“I’ve found that people are more relaxed when things conform to their expectations and assumptions,” Cas said with a shrug.

“Which is why you decided to paint the place yellow?” Dean asked.

Cas laughed. “I have some more wall decorations in the storage unit. It’ll make more sense when you see them, I think.”

“Whatever you say, dude,” Dean said. “Your business. Literally.”

Cas rolled his eyes at the pun that even Dean had to admit was pretty lame.

This was … nice. Just hanging out like this. Sure, it was business for both of them, but it didn’t really feel like it. Just two friends hanging out, and if one of them happened to be drop-dead gorgeous, well, Dean wasn’t about to complain.

He gave himself a shake. That was a really dangerous road to go down. Lisa had been right to get as far away from him as she could, and she didn’t even know the half of it. Friends? Fine. More? Yeah, no.

“So what’re you thinking for food?” Dean asked. “I know you like the burgers, but it’d be hard to keep them hot in here without drying them out.”

“True,” Cas acknowledged, leaning against the desk. “What about sandwiches? Maybe some ham and some tuna or something? I wonder if anyone will be vegetarian.”

“College kids? Good chance of it,” Dean said. “I’ll chop up some veggies and make some dip. That should cover them.”

“While I’m glad that Charlie is inviting her friends,” Cas said, “I do hope that at least a few other people will come by.”

“You posted at the library and the VFW?” Dean asked. “And the bars down the street?”

Cas nodded.

“Then I think you’re good,” Dean said. “Those are the main hangouts. Other than the diner, I mean, and I know you’ve got a flyer up in there too. That tends to be a real early bird crowd, though. You know Mrs. Roberts, up on your floor? She won’t go anywhere after five, even right here. But I’ll bet she’ll want to check the place out, at least.”

“Indeed,” Cas replied. “Perhaps I should consider a daytime version in another couple of weeks.”

Dean smiled. “Yeah, I think that sounds like a really good idea. And not just because I’m hoping you’ll have me cater it again.”

“Sure, sure,” Cas said with a chuckle. “I know you’re just in it for the incredible money-making potential.”

Dean shrugged. “Well, it’s to my benefit if all the businesses here do well … and then send me their hungry customers.”

Cas’ smile faltered as he pushed up off the desk. “Of course. Anyway, I think we’re all set for now. I should head over to the storage unit and see if I can put my hands on the rest of the things I need.”

“Sure.” Dean frowned in confusion and headed for the door. “See you later.”

Cas waved him off, and as Dean walked around to the stairs that led up to the apartments, he wondered what the hell just happened.

Chapter Text

The party was a bigger success than Dean would’ve imagined. Sure, he knew Charlie would get some of her college friends to come, but he hadn’t counted on quite how wide her influence apparently was. He wouldn’t have thought her computer buddies would be so into this psychic stuff, but clearly they were, and Cas was eating it up. He’d have thought the Moondoor crew would be a likelier bunch, but maybe she was waiting until the next gathering to get them out here. Dean wouldn’t past her to have a multi-part plan.

Or at least, that was how it appeared. Every few minutes, one of the kids would come out of the curtained-off reading area Cas had created, all excited to talk about what they’d been told about their future. A minute or so later, Cas would come out, check the sign-in sheet, and call in the next person. Once in a while, they must buy more time, because some stayed as long as half an hour. Charlie had the rest of them playing some board games in the waiting area, which kept the place lively and even attracted a couple of random passers-by who came in to see what it was all about. The college kids were nice enough (or possibly just having so much fun with the board games) that they let the randoms have their free demo readings right away rather than having to wait their turn.

Jody had even popped in, though she didn’t stick around since she was on duty. She did take a card, though, which surprised Dean. He didn’t think this would be her type of thing, but maybe it was. She’d surprised him by enjoying chick flicks, after all.

The sandwiches Dean had made were a hit, as were the little pies. He had to hand it to Charlie, she’d been right about keeping it to things people could eat single-handed. Maybe some of them would turn into customers for him someday too.

Around nine o’clock, Cas finally took a break. He came over to the table Dean was manning and grabbed a bottled water. Dean was surprised he hadn’t gone for a soda, but when he saw how quickly Cas chugged the water, he got it. The guy probably didn’t want to work up a huge belch in front of this batch of current-and-potential-future customers.

“Want something to eat with that?” Dean asked. “I mean, they’re not burgers, but these sandwiches seem to be going over okay.”

“No, thank you,” Cas replied as he replaced the cap on the water bottle. “Food is very grounding, and while I’ll need that after I’m done, it would be a detriment to further readings. And I believe I have at least another three.”

Dean frowned and looked over at the kids playing board games. There was Charlie, of course, with Jo snuggled up beside her (where she’d been ever since she finished her reading and walked right over to Charlie and kissed her so thoroughly the other kids started wolf whistling and telling them to get a room). Next to them were the mullet-head named Ash and Kevin, who Charlie had introduced as “the first Asian-American president of the United States.” A brunette named Krissy and a shaggy-haired kid named Aidan completed the group, and they were the only two Dean hadn’t seen go in for readings yet.

“Dude, I think you miscounted,” Dean said. “There’s only two kids left. Did you forget to cross someone off, maybe?”

“Hmm?” Cas looked over at the kids and startled a bit. “I didn’t realize that Joanna was the ‘Jo’ you have been teasing Charlie about. I had assumed you were referring to a boy.”

“For Charlie? Yeah, that’s not gonna happen,” Dean replied with a snort. Then he really took in the look of surprise on Cas’ face and asked, “That’s not going to be a problem, is it?”

“What? No, of course not,” Cas said. “I was merely reflecting on the fact that I still fall into the trap of making assumptions, even when I should know better.”

Dean felt some of the tension go out of his shoulders at that. He’d become as protective of Charlie over the past couple of years as he was of Sam, and if there were any other reasons he was relieved to discover Cas wasn’t a homophobic asshole, well, he wasn’t’ going to look at them too closely.

“Such as the assumption I had made that you would want a reading, even though you did not put your name on the list,” Cas continued.

Now it was Dean’s turn to be startled. “Me? What? No. I mean … I guess it’s just not my thing, you know?”

“Oh, I see.” Cas actually looked disappointed not to be doing yet more work for free, which made no sense at all. It wasn’t a good look on him.

“I mean, well, and you’ve been going solid for just about two hours,” Dean added. “Wouldn’t want to wear you out.”

Cas merely raised an eyebrow at that before shrugging and picking up the clipboard and calling out, “Aidan?”

Krissy shoved Aidan’s shoulder, and he clambered out of his chair and over to the curtain area, glancing over his shoulder just long enough for her to mouth “Go!” at him.

Dean chuckled as Cas ushered the kid into the reading space. Then he frowned at himself. He supposed he’d be pretty disappointed if he was planning on cooking a special dinner for someone, only to have them say it “wasn’t their thing.” Of course, he wouldn’t be planning a dinner for some dude who just happened to live and work in the same building. The problem was, it wasn’t his thing. Not only did he really not want to know what some deck of cards had to say about his future, if there was anything at all to them, he really didn’t want to know what they’d say about him.

Also, it probably wasn’t entirely true that he didn’t want to wear Cas out. But he wasn’t thinking about that. At all. Really.

Instead of not-thinking about that, Dean busied himself tidying up the serving area, though there really wasn’t much to do other than wipe up a few crumbs here and there. The kids had actually been pretty good about tossing their paper plates and whatnot. Next thing he knew, Charlie was at his elbow.

“So?” she asked.

“Soooo?” Dean asked in return.

“So, what’re you going to ask Mr. Dreamy for your reading?” She quirked an eyebrow at him.

Dean frowned at her. “Since when do you call any guy dreamy?”

“What? I’m gay, not blind!” Charlie replied. “Also, no changing the subject.”

“I wasn’t really planning on getting a reading,” Dean said with a shrug.

“But I might be losing my hearing,” she said, “because I could swear I just heard you say you weren’t planning on getting a reading from the guy you’ve been ogling since he got here. In the nice, dark reading space with the candlelight and everything.”

“I haven’t been …”

“You watch him walking out the door, every time he leaves, for way longer than I’ve ever seen you watch anyone walk away,” she said, “including Lisa.”

Dean rolled his eyes and went back to fiddling with the napkins. “Whatever, Charlie.”

“Also, he spends a lot of his time looking at you, too.”

There were absolutely no butterflies swarming around Dean’s stomach at that, because he wasn’t twelve. Also, he didn’t care. And Charlie was completely wrong.

“Now, you listen to me, handmaiden. Ah-ah-ah! We’re not at work right now, so you are not the boss of me.”

“We’re also not in Moondoor,” Dean pointed out.

“Stop changing the subject. As I was saying, you are going to go in there and get a reading from Dreamy McDreamerson. If you have half a clue, you’ll ask him when you’ll meet somebody. But you’re you, so maybe ask how the diner’s going to do the next few months or something.”

“Charlie, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, I think, but I really don’t …”

“Lalalalalalalala …” Charlie sang as she grabbed the clipboard and scribbled Dean’s name on it.

When Aidan opened the curtain and bolted back over to Krissy, Cas followed shortly after and picked up the clipboard. He looked surprised at what he saw, then turned to Dean and raised a challenging eyebrow.

Never let it be said that Dean Winchester backed down from a challenge.

Once he was inside the reading space, Cas gestured at one of the two folding chairs they had set up earlier. Charlie was right. It was dark in here, though the tea lights and strands of fairy lights kept it from being too dark. Cas had done a good job rigging it up, Dean thought, considering he hadn’t been sure how he was going to make it work just a couple of days ago.

“As I said, atmosphere,” Cas noted with a chuckle. “Dean, I know Charlie’s handwriting from the order slips. You do not have to have a reading if you don’t want to.”

“Nah, it’s cool,” Dean said in spite of himself. “I mean, like I said, it’s been a busy couple of hours, so if you’d rather not …”

“I didn’t say that.”

Dean’s breath caught at that and he couldn’t really say why. With an effort, he asked, “So how does this work?”

After a pause, Cas gestured to the decks of cards off to the side and said, “First, you choose a deck and shuffle it while thinking about your question.”

Dean looked at them. Weren’t they all the same? He shook his head and grabbed the one in the middle, shuffling the cards quickly. What did Charlie say his question should be? Business. Right. That was about as far as possible from any of the stuff he didn’t want Cas to see. That’d work. Wouldn’t it?

He set the cards down and Cas reached over to spread them across the table with a practiced sweep of his hand.

“Now choose three,” Cas said.

How was he supposed to choose? This was stupid. It couldn’t be more random, could it? Dean picked one from the left, one from somewhere in the middle, and one from the right, and Cas swept the rest of the deck back together.

“Can I look at them?” Dean asked.

Cas smiled. “It’s not poker, Dean. And if it were, that’s your hand. However, to make it easier for me, may I ask you to just turn them over where they are?”

Dean shrugged. He didn’t see why it mattered, but whatever. Once he turned the first card, however, he froze. The picture looked like a castle turret in flames. As if that wasn’t bad enough, wrapped around it was a dragon.

“Don’t be alarmed,” Cas said. “Yes, the Tower card does relate to major changes, sometimes negative ones, but it is in the position of your past. So whatever it is, it has already happened.”

No shit, Dean thought as he stared at the card, sternly reminding himself to breathe.

Your fault. Too slow. Too weak. Too late. Your fault. Monster!

“Whatever it was,” Cas continued, “it completely changed the course of your life, and I can see that it is a deeply unpleasant memory.”

“No shit,” Dean repeated, out loud this time. He felt glued to his seat but at the same time wanted nothing more than to get up and storm out. He couldn’t take his eyes off the damned card until Cas rested a hand on his far too lightly to justify the jolt of electricity that sent up Dean’s arm. Dean’s eyes snapped up to meet his.

“We do not have to continue if you do not wish to,” Cas said softly.

Dean took a deep breath. Running would be as bad as a confession. “No, you’re right. It’s … past.”

Well, part of it was. What the hell would the other cards say? Wasn’t this supposed to be about his business?

“Did you want to turn over the other two cards, then?” Cas asked.

Dean closed his eyes and turned the other two cards over. Then opened his eyes and his breath caught again.

More fucking dragons?

“Well, yes,” Cas said. “You chose the Dragon Tarot.”

“Of course I did,” Dean muttered. “Wait, you said you couldn’t read minds!”

Cas tilted his head like a confused bird. “Dean, you asked that question out loud.”

“Of course I did,” Dean repeated with a sigh.

Cas waited another moment, then looked back down at the cards, a frown creasing his brow.

“What, Dean asked, “more bad stuff?”

“The nine of swords has many possible interpretations,” Cas replied. “Reversed, and in conjunction with the previous card, it would seem to suggest that you hold yourself responsible for the event here.” He tapped a finger on the Tower card.

Dean narrowed his eyes at him.

“It also suggests that you are incorrect in this assessment, but the belief is holding you back in some way.”

Sure, if nightmares fucking up my sleep count. Not really causing problems with the business though, so what the hell?

“The Justice card, then, advises that taking a more objective look at this event will help you find the balance you need in order to move forward in whatever area your question related to.”

“Wait, I didn’t tell you the question even?” Dean asked.

“Most people volunteer it at some point, but I find it is often easier to read without that knowledge,” Cas replied. “Often, what people think they want to ask, and what they actually need to ask, are two very different things.”

A chill ran down Dean’s spine. He knew this was a fucking bad idea. First he picks the fucking Dragon Tarot, then it tries to tell his life story without his permission. He felt as if he’d been stripped naked, and not in the happy fun way.

“I can see that this was the case for you.” Cas rested a hand on one of Dean’s again, and it was as electrifying as before. “I won’t pry. It’s clear this is not something you were planning or prepared to talk about. But if, at some point, you do wish to speak about this, well, you know where I live.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed. “That’s the point, though, right? Give people just enough so they’ve got more questions, so they come back?”

“What? No, that’s not …”

“You know what, never mind. It’s not like I didn’t know that was the whole reason for this little ‘opening party.’” Dean shook his head.

He hadn’t thought Cas was the kind of guy to dredge up this kind of crap just to get a customer. Even if he was, it was damned stupid to pull this on someone he had to share a building with. Sure, it looked like Dean chose those cards, but Cas probably set it up to make sure those were the ones he grabbed. Which meant he fucking knew, and so, what? Blackmail?

“Dean, that’s not what I meant,” Cas protested.

“Like I said, never mind,” Dean repeated as he got up. “See you around, Cas.”

When he opened the curtain and stepped through, Dean was surprised to see that the others had all left. He shook his head. Charlie and her wild ideas, probably thought she was leaving them alone for some evening of grand romance. Gotta love Charlie and her chick-flicks.

Fifteen minutes ago, part of Dean actually might’ve agreed that idea didn’t totally suck.

Dean made short work of packing up the few remaining sandwiches and sodas. He could hear Cas doing whatever passed for organizing in the reading area. It wasn’t like he had to pack the stuff up and take it anywhere.

He hadn’t come out by the time Dean was done, which was just as well. Dean grabbed the beach cooler he’d used to transport it all and let himself out, walked past the antique shop and empty nail salon, and let himself into the diner. He all but threw the sandwiches and sodas in the refrigerator and locked the place back up. The cooler and plates and stuff could wait until morning.

He stomped upstairs and into his apartment. Seriously, how dare that son of a bitch?

Dean grabbed the bottle of whiskey from on top of his fridge and didn’t even bother grabbing a glass, just took a huge swig.

How did he know, though? Or is he really a mind-reader after all?

It didn’t matter, did it? Dean would just have to wait for the other shoe to drop. What was Cas going to want in exchange for keeping his mouth shut? Another gulp of whiskey washed that question away and replaced it with what the hell Charlie was thinking trying to set him up, anyway?

He spends a lot of his time looking at you, too, Dean thought in Charlie’s voice. Yeah, because that’s what you do when you’re sizing up a mark.

Another gulp.

He was going to have a hell of a hangover tomorrow, but he didn’t even care. The only way he was going to sleep tonight, and maybe not have horrifying dreams, was large quantities of alcohol. That, he could do.

Chapter Text

He wasn’t flying, though he’d been dreaming about it a second ago. Why was he awake?

He smelled smoke.

Scared, Dean scrambled out of bed to find his parents, speeding up when he heard his Mommy scream. Again.

Daddy came running out of Sammy’s room and shoved the baby at Dean saying, “Take your brother outside as fast as you can! Don’t look back! Now, Dean, go!”

He could feel the heat behind him as the fire chased him out, more fire than he’d ever felt.

Daddy ran outside a few minutes later, carrying Mommy like Dean had been carrying Sammy. Mommy was bigger, though, so Daddy couldn’t go very far, just set her down on the grass. Dean started to run to them.

“No, Dean, stay there!” Daddy yelled. Dean could see that his arms were green and scaled. He knew that was so he wouldn’t get burned. Knew he was half-changed too, though Sammy was too young. Mommy didn’t have any of her scales on, though.

And then Dean saw the blood, just as the flashing lights and sirens came.

And he woke up.

Smelling smoke.

At first, he thought it was just left over from the dream, and his stomach churned. He hadn’t dreamt it like that in years. He was always older. Always alone. Always too late. That, at least, never changed, he thought wryly.

Your fault. Too slow. Too weak. Too late. Your fault. Monster!

Then he heard the shrill alarm going off.

“Shit.”

Dean jumped up from the couch where he’d passed out, suddenly way more sober than he thought should be possible. He ran out of his apartment and along the porch that led to all the others on this floor, pounding on the few doors that were closed until the people came out. He didn’t have to look to know that his skin was starting to shift to scales, but he couldn’t care about that right now.

When he reached the stairs, he looked upstairs. Had everyone up there heard the alarm? It sounded like it was coming from one of the businesses downstairs. Dean swallowed the pang of fear for the diner that thought prompted and ran up to the third floor to make sure everyone was out of there, too.

Most of the doors were already open, showing that their occupants had fled already. Most, but not all. Cas’ door was still closed. Dean pounded on it and yelled.

Nothing.

With a grunt that was closer to a snarl, Dean charged the door, and it crashed open.

“Cas!” he yelled.

Nothing.

Smoke was working its way up here, but it didn’t affect Dean’s vision as he searched the small apartment.

No Cas.

Fuck.

The candles.

Dean ran to the porch railing and looked down. Sure enough, Cas’ shop was the one on fire, and he wasn’t in the crowd on the sidewalk.

Without a thought, Dean leaped over the railing, changing as he fell so that his wings caught just enough updraft to soften his landing.

Someone behind him screamed. Dean ignored it.

The glass door to the shop stood less of a chance against him than the wooden one upstairs had. Flames licked at his scales. He ignored them, focusing on finding where in the hell Cas was. What was he even doing here still?

The reading area was completely engulfed. Dean ripped the curtain partition apart, his heart hammering in his chest.

No Cas.

Sirens blared out front. Dean ignored those too as he looked around frantically, eyes finally settling on the door to the office. In two steps he was there, yanking it open, and there was Cas, head pillowed on his arms in the middle of a bunch of paperwork. Dean shook him.

Nothing.

Dean grabbed him, careful that his claws didn’t tear Cas’ fragile human skin, and hauled him into his arms.

Back in the main shop, the flames had spread from the reading area, blocking the route to the front door. That wasn’t too much of a concern for Dean, but was no good for Cas. He turned and brought him out the back door to the parking lot. He knelt to lay Cas down on the pavement and changed so he could speak.

“Back here!” he yelled. “He needs oxygen!”

Actually, was he even breathing? Dean leaned closer to listen, resting a hand on his chest. Was it moving?

Cas coughed just as the paramedics ran up and shooed Dean away.

A blanket was thrown over his shoulders, and Dean realized that, of course, he’d torn the shit out of his clothes when he changed, and even with a roaring fire at his back on a summer evening, he was freezing.

Someone was trying to pull his face towards them, but he couldn’t take his eyes off where they were working on Cas. He realized they’d been trying to say something to him.

“What?” he snapped.

“I need to check you over, sir,” the paramedic said. “You look pretty tore up, and I think you may need your eyes flushed. Probably got soot in ‘em.”

Dean raised a hand to his face, surprised to find it wet. “My eyes are fine.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” she said. “Please come over this way and I’ll check you out.”

“Is he going to be okay?” Dean wasn’t willing to budge until he knew that.

“Let them do their jobs, sir, and let me do mine,” she said, firmly tugging him towards the ambulance.

Another cough told Dean that at least Cas was still breathing, so he reluctantly let himself be led away and examined.

“Dean! Are you okay?” Jody came running over to the ambulance.

“Fine,” he lied through the oxygen mask the paramedic insisted he needed, even though he thought she should save it for Cas or someone else. He looked past Jody at his neighbors that had been herded away from the building. He was going to have to leave here. They’d seen what he was, and Sam could think whatever he wanted. People didn’t want to live in the same building with a fucking dragon. Half of them probably thought he’d started the fire. He wouldn’t blame them.

“I hear we have you to thank for getting the new guy out,” Jody said.

Dean looked up. “You heard that, huh?”

“Yup.”

He looked back down at the ground. “What else did you hear?”

“Nothing that a little panic and adrenaline wouldn’t explain,” she replied.

Dean’s eyes snapped back up to hers, almost against his will.

“I’ve got people telling me you’re everything from Spider-Man to, well, whatever else they can come up with,” she said.

“Please,” he said with a forced laugh, “I’m definitely Batman. Much cooler.”

“Duly noted,” Jody said with a soft smile. “Just, be careful about this running into burning buildings thing. Even Batman isn’t fireproof.”

Dean let out a slow breath. “No. He’s not.”

“I gotta get back to crowd control,” Jody said. “You good?”

Across the parking lot, Cas was being helped to stand.

Dean nodded, thinking maybe it wasn’t a complete lie this time.

Chapter Text

Fortunately, the firefighters got the blaze under control before it did too much damage to Cas’ psychic shop, never mind spreading to any other part of the building. It was still a couple of days before everybody could move back in, though, while they determined the cause and made sure there was no risk of it happening again.

That left Dean staying with Jody. He could’ve stayed with Bobby. Hell, he’d offered as soon as he’d heard. But Jody had offered first, and for some reason, that felt like the right move. Not that he was about to reopen the conversation they’d had the night of the fire, but there was something to be said for staying with someone who at least sort of knew his biggest secret and clearly didn’t care.

He assumed Cas was staying with his brother, but he hadn’t seen him since the night of the fire.

Boredom didn’t suit Dean at all, nor did feeling like a leech, so he found himself checking first Jody’s car and then the rest of the sheriff’s department vehicles, most of which needed at least an oil change. It was almost enough to keep his mind off what a mess it was going to be getting the diner back up and running whenever he was cleared to go back, not to mention the dent this was going to put in his finances.

Almost.

“Are you going to stay under that pickup all night, Dean?” Jody asked. “Because I’m heading home for dinner.”

Dean slid the creeper out from under the pickup and sat up. “Dinner sounds good. Nobody’s going to need this till tomorrow anyway, right?”

“Probably not even then,” Jody said. “C’mon. But you are totally taking a shower before you’re getting anywhere near my table.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said with grin as he followed her into the office and back out to the front parking lot. That grin faltered when he saw who had just pulled in with Charlie in that yellow abomination she called a car.

“Hey, Charlie,” he said. “Cas.”

“Hey, Dean,” Charlie replied. “I was just driving Cas … oh, screw it. Just talk, already, ok?”

“You couldn’t just call?” Dean asked.

“I have been trying to do that all day,” Cas replied.

With a frown, Dean pulled out his phone, which was doing an impressive impersonation of a brick. “Guess I need to charge it.”

“So, not to interrupt, but I’ve still got to get dinner on. You good for a ride, Dean?” Jody asked.

“I’ve got him,” Charlie answered.

“Do I have anything to say about this?” Dean asked.

“No,” Charlie said.

“You can come with me, Dean,” Jody said, “but it looks like the guy you ran into a burning building for might have a thing or two to say that you might, I don’t know, want to hear?”

Dean went to run his fingers through his hair but caught himself when he remembered how covered in grease he still was and rubbed his hand against his jeans instead.

“Meanwhile,” Charlie said, getting out of the car, “I am going to go find an elsewhere to be.”

“Coffee’s old,” he warned.

She stuck her tongue out at him.

Dean sighed. He saw that Jody was still waiting on an answer from him, and he waved her off.

That left Cas to deal with, and he had gotten out of the car but hadn’t stepped any closer. His hair was as mussed as usual, and he looked like he hadn’t slept since Friday. Considering it was his actual business that had gone up in smoke, Dean could understand that, even though he’d actually had the best sleep of his life since he’d been at Jody’s. Cas looked so worn out, Dean kind of wanted to just pull him into a hug, which was not happening any time soon.

“So,” Cas started.

“Look, dude, I’m sorry,” Dean said. “I’m sorry for the shit I said the other night. It just … I don’t talk about that stuff. Ever. So I kind of freaked out. I know you weren’t trying to scam me or some shit.”

Cas looked at him sharply. “I … thank you, Dean. Did you think that was what I wished to speak about?”

Dean shrugged.

“I merely wanted to thank you for saving my life. The doctor at the emergency room said I had inhaled quite a bit of smoke, and that if I’d breathed much more of it, I wouldn’t be here. So … thank you.”

Dean tried not to squirm. “You’re welcome. I mean, I just did what anyone else would.”

“Perhaps, but not what just anyone else could,” Cas responded.

Dean tensed.

“No one else knew I was in there,” Cas continued, “but even if they did, they would have been burned or suffered similar smoke inhalation if they came in to find me.”

“Cas …”

“I told you that I’m not a mind-reader, and that’s true,” Cas went on. “But I’m very good at reading people, Dean, not just cards, and I can put two and two together.”

Dean snapped his jaw shut.

“Your secret is safe with me,” Cas said. “Even if I didn’t owe you my life, it would be.”

Dean exhaled. “Thanks, dude.”

He still wasn’t convinced it was safe to try and go back to normal, but that made two people who knew and didn’t seem fazed by what he was.

Cas gave him a little smile.

“Uh, so, is that it?” Dean asked.

“No.” Cas drew himself up as if steeling himself. “I can’t ever repay you for saving me, so please don’t think I’m trying to trivialize that by saying that I would very much like to take you to dinner tomorrow.”

Dean blinked at him once. Twice. “Cas, are you … asking me on a date?”

“Yes,” Cas replied. “I have always been aware of how fragile and short life is, but it can be easy to ignore that. Easier.” He took a breath. “In the short time I’ve known you, I’ve enjoyed our time together, and I would like to get to know you better. And I would prefer not to wait for a tomorrow that may not come.”

Dean found himself nodding and taking a step closer but holding himself in check. “Yeah, that … I’d like that.”

“I’d also like to kiss you,” Cas said.

In answer, Dean closed the distance between them and took Cas’ face in his hands, crushing their lips together. For a second, Cas was startled into stillness, but then he got with the program. Dean was just starting to pour everything he’d felt when he realized Cas was still in the burning shop into it, when he heard

“Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra! Woot!”

Dean pulled back. “Charlie, your timing leaves something to be desired.”

“I am never late,” Charlie retorted. “Neither am I early. I arrive precisely when I mean to.”

“That sounds like a very convoluted way to say you were waiting for the most inconvenient time possible,” Cas said.

Dean huffed a laugh. “Did you seriously not recognize that line?”

“Line?” Cas frowned. “I don’t understand that reference.”

“Let’s make that dinner and a movie or three,” Dean said. “And no, Charlie, you’re not invited.”

“I’d try to use access to my director’s cut set as leverage, but a, you have the same set and b, I can already tell you’re not going to spend much time actually watching the movie, so, yeah, wasn’t planning on crashing your marathon date.” She opened the driver’s door. “All right, bitches. I still gotta shuttle the two of you to Gabe’s and Jody’s and then catch my D and D game, so let’s get this Portkey on the road.”

Dean laughed and climbed into the back seat after Cas. “All right, your majesty. Let’s hit the road.”

It was crazy. They still didn’t know whether they could move back into their building or what they’d do if they couldn’t. There were about a million things Dean should be worrying about right now. Instead, he felt like some puzzle piece had just slotted into place as they pulled out of the sheriff’s parking lot and drove towards whatever was coming next.