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There was an ache that Castiel couldn’t place. Well, he could place it physically. It seemed to rest just beneath his ribcage. It was the cause of the ache that Castiel was having trouble pinpointing. Humanity was much more complicated than Castiel had imagined.

Dean had taught him how to shave when his beard had grown in. There had been a lot of other bathroom-related activities that Castiel had had to learn, too, and he was thankful for the mutual trust he and Dean had built over the years, even if it had been tested recently. He found every last one of his newly required bathroom tasks disgusting. Especially flossing.

Sam had taught him how to do laundry. They were all certain they would eventually find a laundry room in the Men of Letters’ expansive bunker, but they hadn’t yet. Sam had been nice enough not to laugh when Castiel stood fascinated by the swirling clothes spinning in the laundromat’s machines. He wasn’t sure he’d ever been in a laundromat before, and it was slightly hypnotizing. Sam insisted it wasn’t hypnotic so much as boring.

Kevin was teaching Castiel to do math longhand, since numbers didn’t come to him so easily anymore. He didn’t just know things anymore. Or maybe he still did, but he was finding it all very difficult to retrieve with the added fog of humanity in his head. The amplified intensity of emotion was stunning.

Dean thought that longhand math was a stupid thing to learn, considering Cas had a calculator on his phone, but Cas still didn’t like using his phone and found the certainty and reliability of mathematical equations comforting.

Today, Charlie was trying to teach Castiel how to play something called "Skyrim" on something she called a "PS3", but… no. Just no. She said it was fun, but Castiel found the only thing he was good at in the game was dying, and the ache in his chest was distracting now.

He handed the controller back to her and sighed, and she paused the game. "What’s up?" she said.

"I don’t know," he replied.

"Hand cramp? Eye strain?" She said, taking over his game.

"I don’t know," he said, irritation rising in his voice.

"Look, it’ll take a while for you to get it, but you will. I mean, if you could rebel against God, help stop the apocalypse, wage war in heaven, and survive purgatory, you can certainly--"

She stopped when she met his gaze and her eyes widened. It took a moment before he realized it was because he was glaring at her. When had that happened?

"I mean… I just meant that you--"

"Hey, Cas!" Dean called from another room, and Charlie seemed relieved.

Castiel dropped his gaze from her, wondered if he should apologize, then got up without another word. He headed down the hall to find Dean in his room, obviously waiting for him. "Go easy on her, man, she’s just trying to help," Dean said.

"I didn’t realize I was going hard on her."

Dean huffed. "Yeah. Sounds about right."

"Trying to help with what?" Castiel asked.

Dean gave Castiel an appraising look. "What’s going on with you?"

Castiel’s brow furrowed. He really wasn’t sure. That ache was starting to get under his skin. He pressed his hand to his chest. "I’ve consumed enough water and food, but there is still an empty feeling."

Dean’s eyebrows raised slowly. "An empty feeling," he repeated.

"Should I consume more?"

"Dude, you ate 5 eggs and three pieces of toast this morning, and nearly finished an entire pizza on your own last night," Dean replied, looking half-amused and half-concerned.

"Yes. That was uncomfortable," Castiel conceded.

"And you still felt empty," Dean said. It wasn’t a question. "That’s not hunger, man."

"What is it?" Castiel replied, rubbing absently at his chest. Dean was half-smiling. He shook his head and looked away. Castiel wondered why Dean didn’t seem to want to answer his question, but after a moment, a yawn overtook him, and he reached up to rub at his eyes.

"You should sleep," Dean said. "You look like shit."

Castiel’s brow furrowed. "I slept 2 hours last night."

"And the night before?"

Castiel thought for a moment. He was pretty sure he hadn't slept at all the night before last. He was also pretty sure he shouldn't say that. He wasn’t any good at sleeping, though it was starting to catch up on him. He felt like he was missing out on something when he slept, and lately he’d found he missed the long nights of watching over Dean as he slept. "I'm not certain."

Dean huffed a laugh, looked Castiel up and down, and then just laughed outright. "You’re a terrible liar. Have I ever told you that?" He gripped Castiel’s shoulder and Castiel felt a little jolt shoot through him. Not many people touched him. He supposed he didn’t particularly give off a warm and fuzzy vibe, but that never stopped Dean, it seemed, and he found himself craving the contact more now that he was human.

Dean started to walk him to his own bedroom. "Next thing to teach you," Dean said, "is moderation."

~*~

Charlie called the recent ravenous hunger "emotional eating" the next day when Castiel finished off four bowls of cereal. Castiel had made the mistake of explaining the empty feeling to her when she'd given him a strange look on his third bowl. Perhaps he was sharing as penance for glaring her into silence the day before, he thought, but now she was looking at him like one would look at a lost puppy, and Castiel had yet to figure out why.

"Emotional eating? He's not a friggin' girl," Dean countered, and Castiel heard Sam stifle a laugh.

"It’s not only girls that--"

"Sammy?" Dean said, interrupting Charlie. "When was the last time you ate because you were butthurt?"

"Ah, let me see…" Sam pretended to think about it. "Never."

Charlie let out a short, high-pitched, ‘ha!’ It was a laugh that sounded like she couldn’t have stopped it if she had tried. "As if Sam isn’t the very model of the addictive personality!"

Dean and Sam immediately spoke over each other: "No more comics," Sam said, while, "You’re cut off from the comic books," passed Dean’s lips. Dean was scowling. Sam’s expression was earnest, and then he dropped his gaze to his plate of eggs, looking caught.

Charlie’s lips pulled to the side into an expression that was usually accompanied by a ’yeesh’, and she looked at Castiel. She must have been expecting some sort of solidarity, because when Cas only stared at her, she sighed, looked back at Dean and said, "Look, I’m just saying that stereotyping eating disorders as only something girls get is very harmful to men."

"He doesn't have an eating disorder. He's just a little off right now. He's figuring it out," Dean snapped.

"Figuring what out?" Cas asked, but while Dean glanced up at him, Charlie continued talking.

"I’m not saying he has an eating disorder, but…" Charlie shrugged and shoved the soggy remains of her cereal in her mouth.

Dean’s gaze had lingered, but he looked away again. "He’s fine," Dean said. "He’ll figure it out."

"He’s just--" Sam started, but Castiel interrupted.

"I'm in the room," he reminded them. His cheeks were warm and he cleared his throat.

"They used to do that to me too," Kevin said, and everyone looked up at his sudden entrance to the dining room. He sat down next to Castiel and grabbed the cereal box. "When I wasn’t sleeping, when I would lock myself in the house boat's closet. At least they're not calling you 'the kid'." The room was suddenly uncomfortably quiet, outside of Kevin’s words. "You’ll get used to it."

Castiel’s frown was so deep it hurt now. "I don’t want to get used to it." He turned to see Kevin watching him intently. His lips were pressed together in thought, but after a long pause, he nodded, then held out the cereal box to Castiel.

Castiel eyed it, then looked at Kevin. "Thank you," he said, and pushed his bowl over for Kevin to fill again.

~*~

"Absolutely not," Dean said, his eyes narrowed at Sam.

"Dean, it might do him some good to get back out there," Sam countered.

They were doing it again, talking as though Castiel wasn’t in the room, and it was beginning to get to Castiel. The brothers had caught a case a few hours away, and they were arguing over whether or not to allow Cas to come with them this time. As usual, since the fall of the Angels, Dean seemed adamant that Castiel stay behind at the bunker with Kevin. And now also Charlie.

Come to think of it, Castiel was fairly certain Charlie was only at the bunker to keep Castiel company. She was hunting regularly now, mostly doing research and ‘behind the scenes’ stuff, but didn’t live with them full time, and Castiel wasn’t sure if she’d heard what had happened to him and invited herself over or if Dean or Sam invited her. Kevin was clearly trying to keep Cas occupied as well, but he was often so busy deciphering Angelic code and studying the books in the Bunker’s expansive library that he wasn’t always available.

The trouble with Charlie, though, was that Castiel didn’t particularly feel strongly about her one way or the other, and whenever she seemed about to grow on him, she had a tendency to cram her foot deeply into her mouth and put whatever progress they were making to a halt.

"He’s-- We’re talking Heaven’s Most Wanted, Sam," Dean snapped, and Castiel’s attention was brought back to the conversation. He looked up at Dean, who was standing in front of rows and rows of books in the bunker library. "And the Demons aren’t too pleased to be dealing with his dick brothers either," Dean added.

"I want to go," Castiel said, and both the brothers turned to look at him as though they’d just now noticed he was in the room.

Sam gestured at Cas as if to say ’see?’, but Dean shook his head. "Out of the question."

"I have to face the mess that I’ve made, Dean," Castiel argued. "I have to make it right."

Dean huffed a laugh. "Because the last time you did that it worked out so well."

A flash of anger shot through Castiel at those words and he shot up out of his seat to his feet, sending the chair he was in flying back. "I’m going," he growled. "I will not be kept locked up in this place while you two clean up my messes, and I will not be locked up for my own safety. I don’t deserve to be protected, and I certainly don’t deserve to be treated like a child!"

"You act like a child!" Dean shouted, and before Castiel could stop himself, he had crossed the short gap between himself and Dean, grabbed Dean by the front of his shirt, and slammed him into the stacks.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Sam shouted, rushing up to them and planting a hand on Castiel’s shoulder.

It didn’t deter Cas, though. Inches from Dean’s face, he hissed, "Either I go with you, or I go on my own," and then he vanished.

Except that he didn’t.

In his anger, he’d forgotten that he would have to walk away from this. He couldn’t just say his piece and be gone. He could feel Dean’s breath against his lips, and he tried in vain to ignore it. Fortunately, Dean seemed a little stunned, and was just staring at Castiel, wide-eyed. Castiel let go of Dean and straightened up, his eyes narrowed. "When do we leave?"

"An hour," Sam said, but Cas didn’t look at him. His attention was on Dean, whose brow was starting to furrow. Cas thought he’d better leave now before Dean had the opportunity to speak again.

"I’ll meet you at the car," he said, and turned and walked away. As he did, he realized that he would have to master the art of the angry storm off now that he couldn’t just disappear. Vanishing was so decisive. You could say what you wanted and get away clean without dealing with the messy aftermath.

The ache in Castiel’s chest tugged at him again, and he rubbed at it. Should I slam the door? he thought, but opted not to as he left the room.

~*~

Castiel was glad that he was relegated to the back seat for once. It meant he didn’t have to interact much. Sam ran down the case for him--Angels and Demons had converged upon a small town and seemed to be battling it out over control of it and the humans who lived there--and then the rest of the trip, Castiel propped his feet up and let his head fall against the back driver’s side window.

It was sad the way his brothers and sisters were behaving, as though they should now have dominion over this earth and the "hairless apes" that lived here. Ages ago, their Father was filled with wrath. He would send his children to smite the wicked on earth, and sometimes smite the pure just to prove a point. Naomi had reminded Castiel of times when even he had innocent blood on his hands. But that had been a long time ago, before God had decided to allow his human children to make their own mistakes and clean up their own messes, and before Castiel had realized he was capable of thinking for himself. There was no reason the Angels should not be willing to share the Earth, outside of being too prideful.

Castiel wasn’t sure when he’d fallen asleep, but he woke when Sam shook him, and sat up slowly, wincing at a crick in his neck. They were in a hotel parking lot.

"You snore," Dean complained, then got out of the car without letting Castiel respond. Castiel rubbed a hand over his face, then followed Sam out of the car and into a dingy room with two beds and a couch. "Dibs on a bed," Dean said, tossing his bag on one.

And without thinking, Cas said, "Bed." He glanced at Sam, whose eyebrows were raised. "You never fit on them very well anyways." Too often, when watching over Dean, Castiel had found himself momentarily distracted by the way Sam’s feet tended to hang off the end of the bed.

Sam’s lips pulled to the side in a wry smile. He must have still be feeling sympathetic to Cas, though, because after a moment he shrugged and gestured for Cas to take the other bed, while Dean watched in disbelief.

Sam tossed his own bag on the couch, but even though it was already early evening, they weren't ready to settle down yet. There was a bar a few miles from the hotel where people went in and never came back out, or if they did, they came back not themselves. It was a sure bet this was where one of the two warring factions were camping out, and Dean thought it was probably best to hit each group separately.

They got back in the car and headed to the bar, slowing to a stop about a block away. Dean huffed and gestured at a beat up car just down the road. "Oh no," Sam said, but he looked amused.

"‘Oh no’?" Castiel repeated, and reached for his Angel sword when someone got out of the car and immediately started toward the Impala. It took about two seconds for Castiel to let his guard down, though, as the man shouting, "Hey, amigos!" at them, while walking toward the car with open arms, was clearly not a threat.

"Garth," Dean said, then got out of the car. Sam and Castiel followed him.

Garth? That kid could be 15 years old, Castiel thought, though when Garth got closer Castiel could see he was at least a decade off by the lines around his eyes. Castiel watched in utter disbelief as Garth gave both of the brothers unusually warm embraces. Garth then looked at Castiel, first inquisitively, then with some hint of recognition.

"Castiel, right?"

Castiel nodded. "Yes."

"Well, come here, bro!" Garth exclaimed, and wrapped his arms around Castiel, though Castiel found himself frozen in his place. He gave Dean a pleading look over Garth’s shoulder, but Dean only stifled a laugh. "I’ve heard so much about you and never met you," Garth said. He gripped Castiel’s shoulders, then went, "ooh!", and squeezed the tops of Cas’ arms a few times.

If Castiel knew Garth by more than just hearing of him, his smile might have been infectious, considering both the Winchesters were grinning ear to ear. As it was, Castiel only felt awkward.

And then suddenly Garth turned back to the brothers. "Okay, what we’ve got is a--"

"We know," Dean said. "Folks go in, come out with black eyes."

"Right," Garth said. "I figure there’s about ten of them all together, but I saw a group of about 5 leave not too long ago."

"Wait, did they see you?" Sam asked.

Garth thought for a moment, then shrugged and said, "Nah. Don’t think so."

Sam and Dean looked less than assured by that, but Castiel was checking his things. Holy water in flasks in each pocket, an Angel sword up his sleeve, and a shotgun filled with salt rounds slung over his shoulder. Sam had the only Demon knife, but Castiel could do some damage if he needed to. He ran his fingers over the gun’s strap, feeling awkward wearing it.

He followed as the other men started heading for the bar. It had been so long since he’d fought, and he’d never fought without his powers. He was barely listening to Sam, Dean, and Garth talk as they walked, but when they stopped just outside the bar, in an alley down the side, he heard his name.

"Castiel, you’re with me," Garth said, then grinned at Sam. "About time I had an Angel on my shoulder." The comment hit so hard it felt like Castiel had been kicked in the chest. Garth apparently hadn’t heard that Castiel was powerless now.

"No, he’s with me," Dean said, "You take Sammy and go around the back."

Garth’s shoulders dropped, but he agreed, and Dean grabbed Cas’ arm and pulled him around the front of the building. He couldn’t have been more grateful for Dean to have dragged him away from that.

"You okay, man?"

"I’m fine," Castiel said.

"You sure? You seem a little…" Dean made a vague gesture in the air. "Out of sorts."

"Yes. I’m okay," Castiel said, not about to say anything different after he’d fought to come here. Dean clearly didn’t believe him, but he nodded anyway, and they smashed through the front door of the bar.

It looked quiet at first, but before they even saw the first Demon, Dean and Castiel were flung across the room without effort by a spell. Their backs hit the wall, pain sparking up Castiel’s spine, and then they slumped to the ground. Lifting their heads, they got a look at their attackers: Angels. Three of them.

"Oh, great! These douchbags," Dean said.

They must’ve gotten wind of the Winchesters and Castiel being in town and taken over the bar. Crashing sounds could now be heard in the back of the bar, a sure sign that Sam and Garth had run into trouble too. When they came smashing through the 'employees only' door, they were followed by three other Angels. One of them looked over at Dean and Castiel on the ground and grinned, her eyes flashing black.

Okay, not Angels. Castiel felt a pang that he could no longer see their true faces, but then Sam kicked one of them in the back of the knee and dropped him to the floor. He drove the knife deep into the Demon's chest, and as its body crackled with electricity, all hell broke loose.

Castiel barely had time to think as he rose to his feet and blocked the first blow one of his sisters threw at him. "You have some nerve, Castiel, showing your face here!" she shrieked, slamming him into the wall, fake wood paneling cracking under the force. She was far too interested in yelling at him to see the Angel sword slide into Castiel's hand from his sleeve. "You ruined us," she hissed, inches from his face.

"I'm sorry," he said, and stabbed her through the chest.

From then it was a blur of fists flying, gun blasts, and holy water thrown. Castiel's shoulder hurt from the recoil of the shotgun, but he tried to ignore it when he saw Garth get knocked unconscious by one of the Demons. Out of breath, he fired at the Demon who lunged at Garth's limp body, and she rounded on him. He could see in his peripheral vision that the other Demon had Sam and Dean both occupied, and the two remaining Angels were both heading towards him. He quickly flipped the Angel sword in his hand, then flung it at the closest of the Angels.

Castiel knew how to throw knives and swords with precision. He had gotten an unfortunate amount of practice in that area during the war in heaven, and the Angel sword pierced its target, dropping the second of the three Angels. The problem with throwing knives, though, was that once they were out of his hand, he only had his fists to fight with now. Or guns, but Castiel hadn't grown used to guns yet. The kickback threw his aim off and his shoulder was screaming in protest already.

Even still, he fired at the Demon again as he backed away. When the kickback sent his tiring body off balance, it was no surprise when a she snatched the shotgun from his hands and brought it crashing down on his face.

Castiel felt his nose break, really felt it. He wasn't a stranger to brutality, and he'd certainly been in pain before, but before he was human the pain was like background noise. Now it was a sickeningly brilliant, blinding sensation. He staggered backwards and fell. It was strange, but he'd never felt so alive and so vulnerable at the same time.

He blinked as blood trickled into his eyes and mouth, then pressed himself up to a sitting position, just in time to see one of his sisters slam her foot into his ribs. He felt those snap as well, vaguely aware that she was screaming something at him, and as much as he knew he had to fight, the pain was so intense that he curled in on himself and raised his arms to try to block more blows.

The Demon's foot was en route to his face when Castiel saw Sam and Dean grab his two assailants from behind. So he let go, slumping to the ground. He was vaguely aware of the crackling noise of a Demon dying and the ensuing scuffle with the Angel, and then he blacked out.

 

When he woke, it was to a white room, on a hard bed, and he briefly wondered if he’d been taken back to the sanitarium because his mind wasn’t running at full speed suddenly. He closed his eyes tightly, bringing his hand up to rub at the bridge of his nose.

"Gotta hand it to you, Cas. I never thought I'd see the day when Angels and Demons would unite en masse for the same cause, just to kick some flabby ex-Angel’s ass."

Castiel sucked in a breath and turned to look at Dean. As he did, he realized he was dizzy. "Am I drugged?"

"Be thankful you are," Dean said. "Four broken ribs and a bruised lung, courtesy of God’s mafia, plus a broken nose and a shiner the likes of which I’ve never seen. You were mumbling something about your shoulder too, and you almost lost some teeth, but Sammy grabbed that Demon before she could do it. I’ll tell ya, if those two were still alive, they’d have some awesome bragging rights." He sounded amused, but Castiel was stuck on something Dean said earlier.

"Flabby?" he asked, and when Dean didn’t answer, Castiel sighed. "This body. It deteriorates so fast."

Dean laughed. Castiel tried to glare, but the effort replaced the comfortable numbness with pain, so he stopped. "Someone didn’t want me to leave the bunker," he said.

"And you've been eating us out of house and home," Dean added, smirking.

"Where are Sam and Garth?" Castiel asked.

"Garth called in a favor. He, Sam, and a couple of Garth’s hunter buddies are taking care of the rest of the Angels and Demons around here."

"And you?"

"I’m here with you," Dean said. His gaze was steady on Castiel’s, and full of strength and compassion. And something else Castiel couldn’t place.

Castiel closed his eyes and rested his head back on the bed. He was pretty sure even that would hurt if he wasn't on pain medication. He wasn't sure how Dean was managing to seem like he felt okay, considering he didn't look so great himself. He had a fat lip, and his jaw was bruised.

Castiel wished he could press his fingers to Dean’s forehead and heal him. Dean had given Castiel everything, he knew, and now he could offer nothing in return. His chest suddenly ached so badly that Castiel wondered if he’d had his sternum broken.

"I don't know what I'm doing," Castiel admitted.

After a pause, Dean said, "That's not anything new."

Oddly Castiel found it difficult to be annoyed. It was true. He tried so hard, and always failed. He even failed at being his own species. "What do I do?" he asked, still not opening his eyes. His throat felt tight and his eyes burned. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see the way Dean must be looking at him, but he knew there was no one else he would ever ask that question to.

"You do what most humans who are worth a damn do. You pick up the pieces, no matter how shattered they are, and you keep going."

"How?" Castiel asked.

There was another pause. Castiel was trying to get the knot out of his throat, and he still wasn’t able to open his eyes. Finally Dean said, "However you can. There is no magic formula to dealing with loss, Cas. You laugh, you cry, you break shit… You just do it and get through."

"Of those options, I only know how to… 'break shit'," he said. He was good at that one.

~*~

Dean didn't let Castiel go back out on that hunt, despite the fact that the hospital let Cas out the following morning. Castiel was inclined to be irritated by that, but he was still in quite a bit of pain (he’d decided it wasn’t a good idea to be drugged with the threat of imminent danger) and he was certain the other Angels in town knew he was there by now and wanted nothing more than to finish the job of offing him.

When the job was done, they said goodbye to Garth, who was surprisingly fine and embraced them all warmly, and headed back to the bunker. Castiel spent the entire day's drive back alternately wondering how Garth could get knocked out cold and come away without a scratch and how he was going to "pick up the pieces", as Dean told him to. He knew he couldn't hide in the bunker, or stand by as the Winchesters battled to save this world once again on their own, but he knew he had a target on him.

It certainly wasn't the first time he'd been targeted, but it was the first time without his full strength. He needed to get better with a gun, he thought, and work on his human stamina. It was amazing how easily one could become winded without the Grace of God working within them.

But for now, he needed to heal, and when he walked into the bunker to hear cello music wafting through the building, his heart swelled. It was easy to forget how much he loved music because it was a luxury he had rarely had time to enjoy since raising Dean from Hell so many years ago. When he had stayed in the retirement home with Fred Jones for a week, listening to "Ode to Joy" and whatever other symphonies the other man had in his head, it was a much needed vacation. The memory of the vacation now seemed greyed out in Castiel's mind, with the weight of knowing it wasn't long after that he'd had to kill Samandiriel. And not long after that that Meg had died, and he'd caused all of his brothers and sisters to fall.

Castiel sucked in a deep breath and turned the corner into what had become the "living room" of the bunker. Kevin was sitting behind a cello, immersed in the music until he looked up at the sound of the other men entering. For a split second, he looked like he was excited to show Castiel and the Winchesters his new toy, but the expression fell almost immediately.

"What the hell happened?" he asked, rising to his feet.

Dean waved a hand at him to sit back down, but Kevin didn't oblige. "Angels, mostly," he said. Castiel collapsed into a soft chair, groaning, and Dean appraised the cello. "Where'd you find that?"

"There's a lot of this place we haven't uncovered yet. They had a music room," Kevin answered absently. "Are you okay?" he asked, watching Castiel.

"He'll be fine," Dean said, but Castiel looked up to find Kevin still looking at him.

He held Kevin's gaze for a moment, then lifted a hand in what he hoped looked like a casual, Dean-like gesture of dismissal. "I'll be fine," he said, parroting Dean, though he wasn't sure he believed it. Still, Castiel got the impression after years of knowing the Winchesters that "picking up the pieces" meant faking being okay for a while.

Kevin looked about as convinced as Castiel felt, but Cas let his gaze on Kevin soften. "Keep playing," he said, and Kevin finally sat back down. He didn't start playing again right away, though, so Sam took Kevin's hesitance as an opportunity to fill Kevin in on what had happened over the weekend, thankfully leaving out the part where Castiel was nearly beaten into oblivion.

Dean had disappeared somewhere, and Castiel closed his eyes, half-listening to the conversation until it petered out. A lingering silence sent him halfway to dreamland, and that was when the music started again. Castiel opened his eyes to see that Sam had left the room too. It was just him and Kevin, whose eyes were closed as he masterfully pulled his bow over the cello's strings.

It was a thing of beauty. Castiel had known Kevin was a genius academically, but he’d never seen the artistry Kevin possessed. Kevin glanced up, and Castiel knew by the smile that crossed Kevin’s face that the appreciation he felt must have shown on his own.

When Kevin closed his eyes again, Castiel did too, letting the music guide him to pleasant dreams.

Of course the dreams didn’t stay pleasant. They never did these days, and some time later, Castiel awoke with a start to find Kevin hunched over a table studying an oversized book. He seemed to notice Castiel’s abrupt waking, and glanced over. "Sleep well?"

"Yes," Castiel said automatically, sitting up with a groan.

Kevin pressed his lips together and looked back at what he was working on. "You don’t have to lie to me," he said. Castiel felt caught, and when he didn’t say anything, Kevin continued. "When I became a prophet, my life as I knew it imploded. I had to leave behind everything I knew and become this… other thing." He scratched his temple and sighed, but didn’t look back at Castiel.

"I hated it. I was angry. I had no choice in the matter, and that made it worse. I just wanted to be me, even with all the regular panic attacks that entailed." Finally, he turned and gave Castiel an even look. "I felt like there was an emptiness in me that I couldn’t fill. A place where my life used to be that was ripped out of me." He paused. "And I was scared."

Castiel understood what Kevin was trying to say, and suddenly why Kevin seemed so interested in helping him, but it didn’t necessarily make him feel any better. "You gained power."

Kevin leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "You sure about that? I lost my mom, my girlfriend, my home, plans for my future, and the ability to make even one decision without worrying how it was going to affect the rest of the world."

Castiel sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying not to flinch at the pain it shot across his face. "I’m sorry," he said, unsure why.

"You and the Angels haven’t exactly been copacetic for a while now, Castiel," Kevin said. "Maybe you’re the one who gained something."

A funny little jolt went through Cas at those words. He’d never even stopped to consider that side of it before. For the first time, Castiel realized that while he was still responsible for cleaning up his mess, his decisions didn’t have to bear the weight of an entire species’ survival or demise anymore. He had rebelled for free will, and he’d been snatched back into the din of things that "had to be" in the blink of an eye after the fall of Lucifer. Now he was truly free of that.

~*~

The following days were mellow. Without a pressing case or Castiel’s ability to heal them, Dean and Sam didn’t seem too hurried to get back out on the road. Castiel was glad for that, considering he’d taken the most damage in the last fight. So they watched TV, listened to Kevin play his newly acquired cello, and rested. The bunker was much quieter without Charlie, it seemed. She had left for something she called a "con" with a costume slung over her shoulder that looked suspiciously like a Wendigo.

Eventually, though, it came time to push through the pain. The ache in Castiel’s chest had subsided a bit when he’d gone out on that last hunt, but convalescing for days on end was making it worse again. Castiel found himself with a full pie in his lap and a fork before he remembered that it wasn’t hunger.

He wandered into Dean’s room, pie still in hand. "Dean," he said.

Dean glanced up from his laptop, then immediately frowned. "What are you doing with my pie?"

"I was bringing it to you," Castiel said, without even thinking. Sometimes it was so easy to fall back into lies, though he could tell by Dean’s expression that this one hadn’t been successful either.

"The whole thing?" Dean asked.

Castiel sighed and let his shoulders slump. "I need to get better at shooting."

Dean’s eyebrows lifted, but he got up after a moment and grabbed his gun. He took the pie out of Castiel’s hands as he walked out his room and made a stop to the kitchen to drop it off. "I’ll be back for you, beautiful," he told it as he left it in the fridge, and they headed down to the shooting range.

He showed Castiel how to clean the gun before anything else. Watching Dean disassemble the piece and clean each part reverently reminded Castiel of Kevin with his cello, but then Dean was Demonstrating loading and cocking the gun, and directing Castiel to stand, the target about ten feet from him.

Dean placed the gun in Cas’ hand, then cupped Castiel’s free hand around the hand grip. Castiel suddenly felt very aware of how close they were as Dean moved behind him and directed his arms up to point the gun at the target.

"Soft elbows," Dean said. "Breathe. Don’t focus too much on the front sight, but the target, and you’ll learn how to line it up." His arm was running the length of Castiel’s, his hand curling lightly under Cas’. "Now fire."

Castiel pulled the trigger, and the gun kicked back enough to just miss smacking him in the forehead. And he completely missed the target.

Dean huffed a laugh and Castiel felt it on his neck. "Okay, elbows not quite that soft," he said. Castiel nodded, feeling suddenly too warm to be embarrassed by his poor performance.

Maybe you’re the one who gained something, he remembered Kevin saying, and let his body sink back a little against Dean’s, feeling the warmth of Dean’s chest against his back. Dean tensed, but didn’t pull away. Then a moment later, Castiel felt Dean lean in more.

"I haven’t seen you take a beating like that since purgatory, man," Dean said, his voice suddenly full of feeling. "I’m not about to see it again just because you can’t fire a gun."

He started to guide Castiel’s hands back into position, but Castiel let impulse take over, and turned in Dean’s arms. He pressed his lips to Dean's, and brought his hands up to Dean’s face. Dean was tense again, but after a moment Castiel realized he still had a gun in his hand. Dean leaned back enough to take the gun from Cas and put it on a table near them, without taking his eyes off Cas. Then his lips were on Castiel’s, his tongue dipping into his mouth.

Dean’s hands gripped Castiel’s hips, and his mouth traveled over a stubbly jaw. Thrills were shooting up and down Castiel’s spine, both thrills of excitement and thrills of fear. It wasn’t until he’d started this that he’d remembered that he had no idea what he was doing in this situation any more than he did in the rest of his new life.

Dean must’ve sensed a hesitation in Castiel’s body, and he pulled away to look at him. "You want this," he said, and Castiel couldn’t tell if it was a question or a statement.

"Yes," Cas replied, breathlessly. "I just didn’t expect you…" Dean pressed Castiel against the table, and Cas could feel how much Dean wanted him. "I’ve never done th--"

"I know," Dean said, and Castiel remembered that night when Dean had tried to get him laid, and how he’d run that girl off crying.

"I’m not sure I--"

"Stop talking," Dean said, and kissed him again. Castiel buried his fingers in Dean’s hair, and Dean’s fingers slid down Castiel’s chest to the top of his pants, which he unbuttoned quickly and pushed down.

Castiel thought this was all happening very quickly, but then remembered that the door to the range wasn’t even closed, let alone locked. "Door," he managed to groan, but Dean replied with a simple "shh" before ducking down and closing his mouth around Castiel’s cock.

Castiel moaned, unable to control it, then bit his lips when Dean’s hand tightened on his thigh. He’d never felt anything like this before, the wet heat sliding up and down his shaft. He gripped the edge of the table, feeling both like he might fall off, but also that if he didn’t he might start vocalizing his pleasure again.

It was coiling tight at the base of his spine, his entire body tensing with need, and then Dean looked up at him. When his green eyes locked onto Castiel’s, Castiel’s cock disappearing in between those lips, Castiel lost control. He body spasmed when he came, and he bit his lip so hard he tasted blood trying not to cry out at the waves of pleasure overtaking him.

Before Cas could even catch his breath, Dean was standing, leaning down over him and kissing him. He could taste himself on Dean’s lips, earthy and rich. He wondered what Dean tasted like, but then Dean was pulling Castiel’s pants back up. When Castiel instinctively reached for Dean’s pants, Dean covered Cas’ hand with his own and stopping him.

"What about you?" Castiel panted.

Dean shook his head and kissed Cas again. "This isn’t really the best place for anything that’ll take too long," he murmured. "I want to deflower you right." When he pulled back to look at Cas, his smile was crooked.

"Oral sex--"

"Doesn’t count. Everyone knows that," Dean said, and leaned in for another kiss.

~*~

The following week was strange. Castiel did his best to act normal when he was around other people with Dean. Then at some point every day, they would go to the range, where Dean would give Castiel some sort of shooting lesson that was always periodically interrupted by kissing and touching. Dean always stopped short of more, though, and Castiel wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Either Dean was having second thoughts, or he really did want to focus more on the shooting. Castiel’s aim was getting better. They’d moved up from the handgun to the shotgun, and there was still no shortage of contact as Dean showed Castiel how to hold the gun and how to sight.

Castiel was finding the waiting for Dean to "deflower" him frustrating, though. And in his frustration and pent up desire, his hesitations and worries about sex were waning. When he kissed Dean and Dean then turned him back around to face his target, he let out an annoyed sigh.

Dean dropped his head to Castiel’s shoulder. "I meant it when I said I didn’t want to see you in the hospital again."

"Chances are you won’t be able to prevent it," Cas replied, lifting the gun and firing, hitting the shoulder of the black paper silhouette.

"Yeah, well, I’m going to try." Dean sighed, then lifted his head and kissed the back of Castiel’s neck. Castiel stilled and lowered the gun. "I’ve never done this with another dude, Cas," Dean admitted.

"Neither have I," Castiel said. Then it hit him what Dean meant. He opened his mouth, then shut it, then put the gun down and turned to face Dean. "But the other night..."

Dean shrugged, looking a little uncomfortable suddenly. "Adrenaline," he said. "And I know what I like in a blow job, so I did that." Castiel thought back, trying to remember exactly what Dean had done so he could try to mimic it later, but the memory was a blur of pleasure now. "And I don’t know that I would really like..."

Dean trailed off, gesturing vaguely below Castiel’s waist, and Castiel’s attention was brought back to Dean at those words. "You don’t know that you would really like having sex with me?" he asked, frowning.

"No," Dean said immediately. "I want that. But I… you know." He made another vague gesture.

"I don’t know," Castiel said, his frown deepening.

Dean shifted on his feet and pressed his lips together, then finally blurted out, "Well, obviously you’re bottoming, and unlike a blow job, I don't know what feels good that way."

Castiel’s frown turned confused. "Bottoming?" He wondered if he needed to watch more porn, but Dean hadn’t liked it when he did before.

"I’m pitching. You’re catching," Dean said, but that didn’t clear it up.

"Is that a metaphor?"

"Yes. Yes it is," Dean said, rubbing a hand down his face. He clasped his hand over Cas’ shoulder. "I would be the one... penetrating you," he said, then shook his head. "God, that is so un-sexy."

Castiel tilted his head, watching Dean for a moment. He’d never considered the actual logistics of sex with another man before now, but what Dean was suggesting actually sounded exciting. He’d learned very quickly when Dean’s lips closed around his cock that exploring his newly heightened senses was going to be something he’d greatly enjoy.

"I trust you," he said, and Dean looked up, almost seeming surprised by the words, so Castiel leaned in and kissed him to prove his point.

He felt Dean moan more than he heard it, a deep rumble in his chest, and Dean slid his arms around Castiel, deepening the kiss. Castiel was sure for a moment that he could hear his own heart thumping in his chest, pounding with desire, but then Dean abruptly pulled away and Castiel realized it was someone coming down the stairs toward them at a light jog.

They both quickly tried to straighten themselves up, but they were still flushed by the time they heard Sam’s voice. "Hey, guys, Charlie caught us a--" The sentence cut off the moment Sam was through the doorway. He stopped a few feet in, his eyebrows raised, eyes darting between Dean and Castiel. "--case," he finally finished. "Everything okay?"

"Fine," Castiel said, then picked up the shotgun again, feeling like his body was refusing to act natural.

"We’ll be up in a bit," Dean said, and when Sam hesitated, Dean gave him a look that seemed to do the trick. Sam left, and Dean looked back at Castiel. "Case."

Castiel nodded awkwardly. "Yes."

~*~

The case Charlie had found was in Arkansas, and the drive there was more than a little tense. Castiel had the distinct feeling that Sam knew what he and Dean had been doing, but he wasn't going to say anything. Dean seemed to sense what Sam had sensed and was keeping his mouth shut as well. And Castiel figured if neither of them were talking, he certainly wasn't going to be the one to break the silence.

When they arrived at the motel, Sam claimed the second bed before Castiel could open his mouth, and they got right to business in what turned out to be a fairly straightforward case involving Ghouls. School children had been going missing nearby, and these Ghouls weren't exactly covering their tracks very well. It didn't take long to discover which teachers had been acting strangely lately and find out where they lived.

When the three of them raided a home not far from their hotel, they found the bodies of two of the elementary school's teachers and the principal in the garage. They also ran into the Ghoul replicas of them.

"Sloppy work, boys," Dean had told them, and the fight had ensued.

Sam managed to lop one of their heads off fairly early, but that only seemed to enrage the other two. One went to avenge his fallen brother, leaping at Sam with all his might. In the tussle, they were too close for Castiel to safely fire at the Ghoul, so he looked to Dean. The other Ghoul hadn't gotten to Dean yet. The long golden ponytail of the human it was replicating was swaying as he ran at Dean. Castiel raised his gun and fired. He missed, but it seemed to spook the Ghoul, who turned and lifted the garage door to run.

Dean and Cas both ran after him. When the Ghoul got the garage door all the way up, he turned, his bright blue eyes fixed on Dean, and then Castiel watched as if it was in slow motion as the Ghoul slammed the garage door down over Dean's head when he was just close enough.

Dean crumpled to the floor, and Castiel felt himself yell something, but everything was suddenly a blur of motion and sound. He dropped to the ground at Dean's side, and raised his gun for one last shot at the retreating Ghoul. He hit its shoulder, but it didn't seem to do any damage as the Ghoul disappeared into the night.

"Dean," Cas panted. "Dean!" He cupped his hand around Dean's jaw and turned Dean's face to his own. Dean was limp, eyes closed. Castiel quickly felt for a pulse, and when he found one he thought his heart would burst. Dean was going to be okay. He had to be okay. Castiel scooped Dean's upper body up against his chest and held him tight.

He heard a crash behind him a few moments later, the the sound of someone running toward him. His face twisted in rage, and he swiveled his body just enough to raise his gun and look back, without letting go of Dean. When he saw it was Sam, he lowered the gun.

"Help me get him up," Cas said.

Sam's expression was strange, like confusion mixed with urgency, but he didn't hesitate to get Dean's legs and help carry him to the Impala.

 

The next day at the hospital, Castiel couldn’t stop staring at Dean. His face was bruised, but calm. Of course, Dean hadn’t woken up since taking that blow to the head the day before.

"Cas!" Sam said, and Castiel jerked his attention to Sam, who seemed to have been calling his name for some time. "You have to eat." He tossed a bag of fast food at Castiel, which landed in his lap, though Castiel made no effort to grab it. The heat radiated against his thighs.

For the first time since he’d lost his Grace, Cas didn’t want to eat to ease the ache in his chest. What he wanted was for Dean to wake up. He wanted to press his fingertips to Dean’s forehead and watch the bruises melt away, see Dean open his eyes as if nothing had happened. But Castiel had already tried this.

When Sam had left to get food--Castiel assumed that was the only reason for leaving, but he hadn’t been paying attention to Sam--Castiel had touched Dean’s head and prayed. He couldn't remember the last time he’d prayed. He didn’t even know who he was praying to anymore, but he found himself begging the heavens for even an ounce of Grace to find its way to Dean right now.

As usual, his prayer went unanswered. It had reminded Cas why he’d stopped praying to begin with.

"How long has it been?" he asked, his voice too quiet.

"You have to stop counting the hours," Sam said. "It’ll make us both crazy."

Castiel lowered his head and stared at his hands. He was surprised to find he’d picked at his cuticles until a few of them bled. He’d never even noticed it happening.

"Charlie’s on her way," Sam said.

Castiel thought he nodded at that, but he wasn’t sure his body was even doing what he told it at this point. In fact, a moment later, he found himself shoving a french fry into his mouth, though he didn’t remember opening the bag of food. Every bite he swallowed felt like a lump in his throat, though, and he stopped after only a few.

"Those other two Ghouls aren’t going to gank themselves," Sam said.

Castiel blinked, then looked over at Sam. He had the distinct feeling that Sam had been talking for longer than he'd been listening. He shook his head. "I’m not leaving Dean," he said.

"Cas--" Sam started to protest, but Castiel interrupted sterny.

"He didn’t leave me."

"Yeah. I had Garth when you got hurt. It’s just you and me right now, and Dean wouldn’t want those Ghouls to go free just because you didn’t want to leave him."

Castiel pressed his lips together and looked back at Dean. Sam was right. If Dean woke up--when Dean woke up--Castiel didn’t want to have to tell him that the Ghouls got away. He sighed and nodded. "When Charlie gets here." If he was going to have to leave, he was going to make sure Dean wasn’t alone.

 

It took a couple of hours for Charlie to arrive, during which time Castiel had gone from sitting and staring at Dean to standing and staring at Dean. Dean had moved a few times, and Castiel had stationed himself right by Dean’s bedside in case Dean opened his eyes.

"Hey, guys," she said, ducking into the room and going over to greet Sam. When Castiel looked over at her, she returned his gaze, giving him that same look like she did at the breakfast table the morning he’d told her about the ache, like he was a lost puppy.

"Thanks, Charlie," Sam said, hugging her when she stood up on her toes and held her arms out to him.

"Of course," she said, then looked back at Castiel. She watched him for a moment, then walked over and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?"

"I’m fine," he said. "Thank you for coming."

She nodded, and Castiel saw Sam heading toward the door. "I’ll be in the car, Cas."

Castiel nodded absently, then looked back at Dean. He really didn’t want to leave.

"I’ll call if anything changes," Charlie said, and Castiel drew in a fortifying breath and nodded again. He had to go. And as he steeled himself to leave, he decided that he was going to make the Ghoul who did this to Dean pay.

When they tracked the Ghouls down again, their numbers were greater. Castiel shuddered to think how many more people had died to make their numbers grow while they were at the hospital. The Ghouls must have panicked.

If it were any other day, Castiel would have said they should get backup, but not now. Not after what had happened.

He spotted the Ghoul with the long golden ponytail and bright blue eyes almost immediately, but had to fight through the fray to get to him. He took a few fists to the face, and one to the gut, but his adrenaline must've been surging because he barely felt them. He lopped off head after head, then got slammed into a wall, where he barely managed to escape being stabbed by his own knife.

He saw the head of the Ghoul who had him pinned slide off a moment later as Sam's blade sliced through the neck from behind, then Sam was being dragged to the ground. When Cas went to follow, to back Sam up like Sam had just done for him, the Ghoul with the bright blue eyes jumped in front of him.

"You," Castiel growled, then buried his sword in the Ghoul's stomach. He knew it wouldn't kill him; Ghouls needed their head removed or trauma to the brain, but there was something satisfying about the way it screamed in pain. Castiel drove it deeper, then twisted the blade, making it scream louder. It staggered back, but it wasn't long before it recovered. The animalistic gaze returned and it was looking at Castiel like he was lunch, regardless of the sword lodged in his gut.

When it lunged at him, Castiel raised his gun and fired without thinking, then felt a wave of shock wash over him when the bullet hit. It blasted through the abomination's skull, right between the eyes, and the Ghoul fell to the ground.

Then it was suddenly quiet. Castiel glanced up at Sam, who was looking just as stunned as Castiel felt. But the shock didn't last long for Cas, and it quickly became relief, triumph, and a small sense of closure. He'd killed the Ghoul that put Dean in the hospital. He walked closer and stood over its body, pulling his sword from it and wiping the blade on the Ghoul's clothes.

"Wow, Cas," Sam said, sounding breathless. When Cas looked back up at him, Sam's expression was strange. "Well, I know what motivates you to aim straight now." He paused, his eyebrows drawing together in an expression that looked half-pained and half-confused. "What the hell is going on with you and my brother?" he asked.

Castiel only looked back down at the Ghoul. This wasn't his conversation to have. It was Dean's conversation to have with Sam. "We need to go back to the hospital," he said, and headed for the car without looking back.

~*~

Sam seemed restless by the time they got back to the hospital. He peeked his head in the room, saw Dean laying there, got an update that there were no updates from Charlie, then wandered off, seeming to need to pace the halls.

Castiel was glad for the break from Sam, as it meant no more questions he couldn’t answer for now. It also meant that Castiel had time to evaluate how he’d behaved when they’re taken the Ghouls down. He was sure he hadn’t behaved so ruthlessly since his days of fighting the war in heaven. It was as though his fighting had a purpose again, only instead of saving heaven and the world, it was protecting Dean.

He sat in the chair closest to Dean, noticing Charlie tuck a graphic novel into her backpack. She was trying to be discreet, but Castiel recognized the man in the beige raincoat on the cover as himself, and it pulled him from his introspection.

"I thought Sam and Dean told you to stop reading those," he said.

Charlie looked sheepish. "They are really good," she admitted. She looked a little embarrassed. "Besides, it keeps me up to date with you guys when I’m not around. Er, sort of up to date. They’re never released exactly on time with the real world, but still."

Castiel’s brow furrowed. Chuck was dead, and Castiel was fairly certain that Kevin hadn’t taken over for Carver Edlund. "They’re new?" he asked.

She seemed to understand what he meant. She’d heard of Chuck from the Winchesters not long after she’d discovered the Supernatural series of books. "Oh...turns out Carver had a little Tupac in him."

"Tupac?" Castiel repeated.

"He was a rapper." When Castiel looked confused, Charlie said, "A musician. See, he’s been dead for 17 years, but he still occasionally puts out new music. I think Carver Edlund--er, Chuck--must’ve seen way far ahead just before he died, written it out, and now someone else has control over when the comics are published."

"What’s a Tupac?" Castiel asked, confused.

"Nevermind," Charlie said.

Castiel frowned, and looked back at Dean. He was finding it hard to ‘nevermind’, though, and then Charlie said, "So you and Dean, huh?

"What about me and Dean?" Castiel asked, but he could feel warmth rising in his face.

"You know," she said.

"‘You know’?"

She sighed as if what she was saying should be obvious. "You hooked up."

"Hooked up?"

"You know…" she repeated, with more emphasis, as though that would clear it up.

"I don’t know, Charlie," Castiel said.

"You’re together. You’ve… had sex, right? I mean, it’s in the boo--"

"No," Castiel interrupted. "I mean… no."

"Oh my God, you totally have," she said, grinning.

"No. We’ve only--"

"Oral sex totally counts. I don't care what Dean says."

Castiel blinked at her for a moment, feeling suddenly a little stunned. And exposed. "Those are some detailed prophecies."

Charlie shrugged. "The Bible was pretty graphic for its time." She looked at him for a long moment, then her smile softened, "Sam will come around. He's not used to thinking about his brother that way, but he's not homophobic. He likes me, and I don't think it's in that creepy male fantasy way."

Castiel couldn't help but think to himself that Charlie was... well, unique. She could just talk about anything, things that might make most people blush, without a hint of shame. Of course, sometimes she pretended to have some decorum and delivered her mouthfuls in false whispers.

"I'm not gay," Castiel said.

"Oh, you're bi?" she said, suddenly grinning again.

"Your human ideas of gender are a construct. Gender is certainly not binary."

Charlie's mouth fell open. "You're pansexual. Wow, I have never met a pansexual in real life, and I have met a lot of queers. You people are like unicorns."

Castiel stared at her, not having any idea what to say to that, or what she meant for that matter. Fortunately, a sound across the room caught his attention. Dean groaned. Castiel shot up from his seat and crossed the room to find Dean blinking his eyes open. "Cas," Dean breathed.

Castiel sucked in a breath, overwhelmed. He pressed a hand to Dean’s cheek, and Dean leaned into it. "I’m here," he murmured.

"What happ’d?" Dean mumbled.

"Shh," Castiel said. He could feel Charlie at his side. He glanced over, and she tore her gaze from Dean.

"I’ll get Sam," she said, then disappeared.

As soon as she was gone, Castiel brushed a hand over Dean's hair, careful to avoid the bruised parts of Dean’s scalp.

"Oh, those friggin’ Ghouls," Dean said, suddenly remembering. "Di’you get ‘em?"

Castiel nodded. "Yes."

"Good." Dean smiled faintly, and Castiel knew it had to hurt, but seeing that smile made Castiel feel as though a weight had been lifted off him. He stroked gently at Dean’s hair, then realized he should probably be alerting the doctor.

"I’ll go find your nurse," he said, but when he went to move, Dean grabbed his sleeve and made a noise of protest.

"Sam’ll get him. C’mere." He tugged Castiel’s sleeve, and Cas felt himself smile for the first time since Dean had been hurt. He did as Dean wanted and leaned in for a gentle kiss, more than happy to oblige, and even though he could taste stale blood from the cuts on Dean’s lip, it was the best kiss they’d shared so far, because Dean was going to be okay.

~*~

The doctor held Dean at the hospital for another day for observation, but the mood lightened considerably. As Dean’s medication slowly wore off, he was more coherent, and even cracked the occasional joke.

At some point during the hospital stay, Castiel assumed that Dean must’ve actually talked to Sam about what was going on because Sam’s demeanor changed. He didn’t seem so tense and confused, and when Dean reached for Castiel’s hand the morning before he was released, Sam seemed indifferent to the way Castiel laced his fingers with Dean’s. Charlie, of course, was beaming at the sight.

By the time Dean was home and had regained mobility, it was only Kevin that seemed shocked. When Dean kissed Castiel good morning at the breakfast table one day. Kevin’s mouth dropped open, and he stared at Dean.

"Something wrong?" Dean mumbled, still not quite awake yet.

Kevin closed his mouth, and cleared his throat. "No. Just… no."

"Good."

Castiel hid a smile behind his coffee mug. He supposed this was much harder on Dean than it was on him. After all, it was no secret to anyone that Castiel had never been in a relationship before, so it shouldn’t have been a shock that he was with another man, but Dean had a reputation as a ladies man. Castiel wondered if that was why he was being so outwardly affectionate. Maybe it was to prove that this was real, in case anyone questioned it.

Though it was also entirely possible that it was because he was still on pain medication and had almost just died.

Regardless, it made Castiel happy for the first time that he could remember, or at least he assumed the feeling was happiness. Funny, he thought, he couldn’t remember ever having felt true happiness before as an Angel. There was always something grander pressing on him, something bigger than himself to worry about. Castiel was starting to think maybe Kevin had been right about gaining something by losing his Grace.

Castiel spent the rest of the week diligently looking after Dean. Making sure he was fed and not in too much pain. Dean complained that Castiel was hovering over him, in spite of no longer having wings, but Castiel got the impression when they were alone that he appreciated it. Cas wondered when the last time was that someone actually took care of Dean.

At the end of the week, Sam pulled Castiel aside after he’d washed up the dishes after dinner. He looked serious, but when they got into the library where it was private, his expression turned mildly apologetic.

"I put holy water in your coffee at the hospital," he blurted out, as soon as they’d shut the door behind them. The statement was so unexpected that Castiel didn’t know what to say. Is that what caused Sam’s change in demeanor at the hospital? Had Dean really talked to Sam, or had testing Castiel for potential Demon possesion been all Sam needed to know?

He opened his mouth to respond, but then closed it again. It hadn’t occurred to him yet that he could easily be possessed now that he was human, and suddenly Sam’s discomfort with finding out he and Dean were together made more sense. Sam hadn't been sure that Castiel was still Castiel, and worried Dean was in danger.

When Castiel opened his mouth again, Sam held up a hand to stop him. "I also switched out all the silverwave to real silver. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you, I just… I’ve never seen Dean like this before, and I needed to be sure it wasn’t some spell or something, and that you hadn’t been compromised."

"I understand," Castiel managed to say. And he did, but he was still reeling from the realization that he was easily compromised now. This fragile human body of his was an easy target.

"I’m okay with you and Dean being together, Cas. I am. I trust you like a brother, and I thought Dean felt the same way, but obviously he felt more." Sam suddenly laughed. "When you said you shared a special bond, this wasn’t what I expected."

"Nor I," Cas admitted.

"There’s just one more thing you have to do for me, though," Sam said. "So that I can feel comfortable with this."

Castiel frowned, thinking that it wasn’t really his job to make anyone comfortable with a relationship that didn’t involve them. "What’s that?"

Sam pulled his shirt collar to the side to reveal his anti-possession tattoo. "You’ve got to get marked."

Castiel was about to protest, but then he remembered Lisa and Ben and he felt like he’d been kicked in the chest. What happened to Lisa had ultimately been his fault, and it had hurt Dean so deeply that Castiel wanted to push the memory far, far out of his mind so he didn’t have to think of how much damage he’d once caused the the man he was now with. The man that had forgiven him.

The man who never deserved to be hurt that way again.

Instead of pushing the thought away, Castiel used it to steel himself and nodded. "Okay," he said. "Let’s go."

Sam blinked at him, obviously expecting some protest. "Now?"

"Yes, now," Castiel said. Not only was he not about to let Dean get hurt again, if he could help it, but he wasn’t going to leave himself vulnerable either.

Sam huffed a disbelieving laugh, then shook his head. "Okay, man, we’ll go now," he said, and they headed for the car.

When they got to the small tattoo parlor, Sam showed the artist his tattoo. The artist worked up a sketch, then Castiel was in the chair. They’d learned from Mrs. Tran that placing the tattoo anywhere easily accessible, like a wrist, wasn’t a good idea, so Castiel picked his upper arm. He thought absently that it would mirror the faded scar on Dean’s shoulder where Castiel had gripped him to raise him from hell, searing his handprint onto Dean’s flesh. That seemed fitting, now that he thought about it. He had marked Dean from the moment they met, and now Castiel was marking himself for Dean.

"Matching tattoos, huh?" The artist said, turning on the tattoo gun. The humming filled the room. "How long have you two been together?" he asked.

"I’m dating his brother. Well, dating isn’t exactly the word," Castiel said, and the artist gave him a confused look, then looked at Sam. "There’s no three-way inscestuous thing going on, I assure you," Castiel added, and Sam jumped in.

"It’s, ah, a family thing. The tattoo," he said.

The artist stared at them a little longer, then huffed a laugh and shook his head. Next thing Castiel knew was a searing pain running over his shoulder. The buzzing of the tattoo gun filled the room, and Castiel felt like he was being sliced with a razor. He closed his eyes, determined not to react too much, and wondered why on earth people would ever do this for fun.

~*~

The following day, Garth called to check up on Dean. He had a case for them that was about a two day drive, but he knew Dean was still a little unsteady. He told Sam to bring Cas, and he would meet up with them along the way. Castiel agreed to go, holding a sigh, then headed to Dean’s room to tell him.

Of course, Dean immediately started to pack a bag.

"Dean, you need to rest," Castiel insisted. He wished he still had the power to telekinetically send the bag in Dean’s hands across the room.

"I’m fine," Dean said, stuffing a shirt into the bag.

Castiel crossed the room and put his hand on the bag to stop Dean. "Mostly. You’re mostly fine," he corrected. "But you still need to rest."

"I need to get back out there."

Castiel was almost amused. It didn’t feel like too long ago that Dean was insisting that Castiel stay home. "I’ve improved quite a bit, and Garth will be there."

"Oh, Garth. That’s a relief," Dean said, dripping sarcasm, but he tossed the bag on his bed anyway.

"It’s only for a short period of time," Castiel said, relieved that Dean seemed to be giving in already. That was proof enough that he was still tired. "I can’t risk having to see you like that again."

"Chances are you won’t be able to prevent it," Dean said, and Castiel remembered saying those exact words not long ago.

"I’m going to try," Castiel said, and Dean’s lips quirked up in a strange smile.

He reached out and grabbed Castiel’s shirt, then pulled him close for a kiss. It was slow and lingering, and one of Dean’s hands slid into Castiel’s hair. Castiel’s body started to tingle with want at the touch, so he slid his arms around Dean and pulled him close.

"I heard what you did to that Ghoul," Dean whispered. Castiel lowered his head, still feeling oddly ashamed of how his emotions had gotten the better of him, but Dean only kissed his forehead. "Sounded like you really had something to fight for." He tucked his fingers under Castiel’s chin and lifted his face so that they were eye to eye. "I plan to take credit for that shot, though." Dean smirked.

"You’re welcome to," Castiel said, and then Dean’s mouth was on his again, more hungry this time. "Door," Castiel said between kisses. Dean made a noise of acknowledgement, then started moving toward the door, taking Castiel with him, still kissing.

"I think we’ve come too close to losing each other lately," Dean said, walking them back to the bed. "And if we really have no control over it, we should make every potential last night together worth it."

Castiel knew what that meant, and the thrill shot straight to his cock, but he also knew he was expected to leave soon. "I have to pack," he murmured, but he had a feeling he wasn’t being very convincing because he fingers were tugging at Dean’s shirt. Dean lifted his arms and let Castiel pull it off.

"Garth can wait. Friggin’ Demons and Angels can wait too, for all I care." He pulled Castiel’s shirt off, and took a long look at Castiel’s body. Then his eyes fell on the fresh tattoo on Castiel’s shoulder. Castiel hadn’t really mentioned it, and he wasn’t sure why. He supposed he was afraid it would remind Dean of what happened to Lisa.

"It was Sam’s idea," Castiel said, and Dean ran his fingers over it.

"It’s sexy," Dean said, then met Castiel’s gaze. "You’re sexy."

That was far from the reaction that Castiel was expecting, but he was thankful for it. He was also fairly sure that he'd never been called sexy before in his entire life. He didn't have much time to consider it, though, since Dean was pulling him down onto the bed. He let Dean roll them so that Dean was on top, and then Dean was kissing, licking, and sucking at his skin.

Castiel ran his hands over every part of Dean he could reach as Dean slid down his body, over his back and shoulders, and then he gasped as Dean bit gently at his nipple. Dean hummed an amused noise, then scraped his teeth over the sensitive skin. Castiel couldn't help but groan and squirm.

"Gotta love a virgin," Dean murmured, but before Castiel could respond, Dean had moved to the other nipple and was biting harder. Castiel closed a fist in Dean's hair without thinking, keeping him working his tongue over the abused flesh. Each swipe of his tongue sending waves of pleasure over him.

His cock was aching now, so he pulled Dean up, kissing him hungrily, then kissed down his jaw and neck. He was trying to remember how Dean had done it to him, but half of his mind was too distracted by pleasure to remember much of anything, so he found himself just doing what felt good as his fingers fumbled at the top of Dean's pants.

Fortunately, Dean seemed to be enjoying the feel of Castiel's lips on his shoulder, so Castiel scraped his teeth against his skin and was rewarded with a little sigh of pleasure. Dean let Castiel get his pants undone, and pushed them down, then in a much more practiced gesture than Castiel's clumsy tactic, got Castiel's pants off as well.

"Cas!"

Both of them froze at the sound of Sam's voice outside.

"Cas, we have to get going," Sam said through the door.

Cas was out of breath, but managed to call out in a strangled voice, "I'm coming."

"Not yet you're not," Dean breathed, waggling his eyebrows at him. "He’ll be out when I’m done with him," Dean said more loudly.

There was a long pause on the other side of the door, then Sam said something muffled that sounded suspiciously like, "I don’t even want to know." Castiel and Dean waited a moment, but when nothing else was heard, Castiel pulled Dean down for another kiss, and Dean thrust against his thigh, making him moan into Dean’s mouth.

His fingers traced down Dean’s side, then slid up his cock. It was amazing that this was happening. He curled his fingers around Dean and started to stroke, trying to imagine what Dean tasted like. He had a feeling Dean wanted more than his mouth, though, so when he felt the wetness of pre-come against his fingertips, he lifted them to his mouth and licked it off.

It was slightly sweet and spicy, and for some reason, the sight of Castiel tasting Dean seemed to excite Dean more than anything else so far. He let out a shaky breath, his eyes glued to Castiel’s lips. "Think there might be a little vixen in you after all," he murmured

"I wanted to taste you," Castiel said. "But I want…"

"What?" Dean breathed, giving Castiel little teasing kisses now that were as exciting as they were frustrating.

"I want you to penetrate me," he said, and Dean sighed, dropping his head to Castiel’s shoulder.

"Yeah, that vixen routine didn’t last long," he said.

For a moment, Castiel worried that he’d ruined it, remembering too late that Dean had called that expression "un-sexy", but then Dean sat up and reached for his nightstand. Castiel couldn't help but admire the lines of Dean’s body as he moved, and then Dean was settling between his legs with a small bottle of lube.

"Ready?" Dean murmured.

"Yes," Castiel replied, thinking he’d been ready for quite some time.

Dean opened the bottle and squeezed a small amount of lube on his finger, then pressed it against Castiel’s entrance. Castiel felt his cock pulse with need, and then the slow burn of Dean’s finger entering him. It hurt just slightly, but it was also one of the most amazing things he’d ever felt. It was partly physical, the way Dean’s fingers seemed to hit something inside him that sent sparks of pleasure through him, but it was also emotional pleasure too.

Castiel couldn’t remember the last time he’d ever made himself so vulnerable to someone. In fact, he was sure he never had, and knowing that he trusted Dean--that he could trust Dean--so completely was liberating and erotic in a way he hadn’t imagined it could be.

Dean inserted another finger, causing Castiel to arch off the bed with a choked noise. Dean stilled his hand immediately. "Okay?"

"Yes," Castiel said, breathless.

Dean nodded, watching Castiel intently, seeming to be watching for signs of discomfort, though he was clearly enjoying watching Castiel squirm too. He lowered his head and took Castiel’s cock into his mouth, working his fingers in and out slowly as he sucked until the tension melted from Castiel’s body.

Castiel couldn’t stop the sounds of pleasure coming out of him by the time Dean pulled his fingers out and prepared himself, then Dean was moving up Castiel’s body and pressing the head of his cock against Castiel’s entrance. He met Castiel’s eyes, a silent request for consent, and Castiel nodded.

Dean pressed inside, and Castiel couldn’t help but arch and moan again. He could feel the sweat beading on his forehead, and see stars against the inside of his eyelids. It was a little painful, but wonderful, and Dean was still until Castiel started relaxing again. He slid his hand down to grip Dean’s ass and urged him to move.

Castiel ran his nails against Dean’s back, while Dean gripped Castiel’s hair, gently pulling his head back so he could nip and suck on his Adam’s apple. It wasn’t long before they were moving together, Dean thrusting while Castiel shifted his hips to meet Dean’s thrusts. It felt so natural all of a sudden, so right to be with Dean like this.

Dean’s hand circled Castiel’s cock and he began to stroke in time with his thrusts. When Castiel’s pleasure started to spiral out of control, he lost rhythm with Dean. Dean made a noise that might have been a chuckle, but it was warm and wanting. Castiel let go and spilled out over Dean’s hand, gasping Dean’s name.

He could feel himself clenching around Dean as he came, and Dean groaned and started thrusting harder until he came too. He groaned against Castiel’s neck, his thrusts slowing to a stop before he settled comfortably against Cas.

They laid there panting for a few moments before Dean pulled out and rolled over to the side of Castiel. Castiel watched him for a moment. Dean’s skin was glistening, eyes closed, his expression serene. He was beautiful.

"If I can do that, I can fight," Dean said, then turned to look at Cas with a lopsided smile.

Castiel sighed. "Dean--"

"I’m kidding, Cas." Dean reached out and touched Castiel’s face. "We need to work on irony next." He rolled close enough to kiss Castiel again. "Go," he murmured. "Go gank some Demons. Send me a postcard."

 

Cas packed quickly, and found Sam leaning against the hood of the Impala. "I was about to come get you, whether I saw things I didn’t want to see or not."

"That would have been inconsiderate. You would have interrupted my first time," Castiel said, tossing his bag into the backseat.

Sam dropped his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Gotta work on that brain-to-mouth filter, Cas."

Castiel tilted his head at Sam. It was funny how the Winchesters both seemed to think Cas had so many things to work on: moderation, irony, and whatever Sam just said. "Meaning?"

"Meaning you don’t just say whatever you’re thinking. You’ve got to…" Sam waved his hand in a vague gesture of dismissal. "You know what? Nevermind. You wouldn’t be you if you stopped saying uncomfortable things."

Castiel watched as Sam got in the car, then he followed suit. It was weird being in the front seat, but nice too, and he settled in comfortably as Sam pulled out onto the road and eventually onto the highway.

It was at least an hour later when Sam spoke again. "You’ve got to stop smiling like that, man, it’s creeping me out. I’m glad you had a good first time and all, but I don’t need to think about that."

Castiel hadn’t realized he’d been smiling, though he had been lost in thought. Now that Sam pointed it out, he could feel the slight curl of his lips. "It’s not that," he said.

"Then what is it?" Sam asked.

It was everything, Castiel thought. The last few months had been a rollercoaster, but he finally felt like his life was settling into place, and even though he still had to be a fighter, the burden of it had been lifted considerably. He had moments now--wonderful moments--where he didn’t have to think about the fighting at all.

He shook his head, unable to express all that he felt, and gave Sam the simplified version. "I think I might like being human after all."