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Faerie Strange Circumstances

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Damn his leg. Damn reapers, too. Reapers were meant to ferry the dead to the other side, they shouldn’t be allowed to break legs.

But one did, and so Dean was now saddled with what felt like - pun or no pun - a dead weight. It may as well have been a goddamn wooden peg leg for how heavy it was to lug around. Dean took no comfort at all in knowing one half of his body would most likely be stronger than the other by the time he got his cast off.

He stomped the gas pedal harder and gritted his teeth, as if giving himself a jaw ache would distract from the awkwardness of having a gigantic lump of plaster resting in the footwell of his baby.

Frickin’ useless.

The drizzle had been coming down in a steady mist for about eight hours now, and Dean had been awake at dawn that morning to hear the first flush of it against Bobby’s tin roof. Now, not too long after midday, the surrounding world was nothing but grey, wide open fuzziness across the fields that spread either side of the road. Dean’s car roared like the monster she was, cutting straight through the dull shimmers in the road and tossing up water in a constant spout from the wheels.

Thumbing at his left temple, Dean huffed into the dank air of the car cabin. It smelled like blood in here, he hated that.

On a straight road, Dean had been known to watch the view rather than what he where he was aiming the wheels. He’d never hit anything that he didn’t mean to hit, a record he intended to keep, but that was not to say he resisted the pull when his eyes started to wander.

Given that amongst washes of grey, and the hazy shadows of distant trees and farm shacks, there wasn’t all that much to see, when he did see something bright green at the side of the road, his eyes tracked it, interested.

It was just a box. Dean drove past.

He hadn’t seen the box on the way out to the local medical clinic, but he’d been distracted by the fact his leg was bleeding and almost had a bone jutting out of a place where he did not want a bone to be jutting out.

Damn Sammy, too, for that matter. It was only mild concussion, Sam should’ve been perfectly safe to drive.

Or not. Whatever. Dean was a big boy, he could transport his own broken leg around. Sammy was resting up at Bobby’s place, and there wasn’t a safer place in the world to wait out injury, as far as Dean was concerned.

Dean drove on, watching his windscreen wipers do their thing. He got halfway back to Bobby’s place before he wondered why his eyes still had a flicker of green in them, like he’d looked at a light for too long. The more he blinked, the more he saw the box.

In the mottled grey of his mind’s eye, he visualised it, quite clearly. It was just a box, about the size and shape of the cardboard holder for a six-pack of beer.

He had enough hunter instinct to know when things weren’t normal, and he wasn’t about to blame the weird visuals on the Advil he’d taken. Mild concern plugged itself into his brain, because when he thought of boxes at the side of the road, he thought of abandoned kittens. Someone had probably put the box there.

Disgruntled, Dean tapped a finger on the wheel. “Dammit,” he muttered to himself.

Then, to his car, he said, “People leave kittens and stuff around here all the time, right? Or puppies?” He snorted. “Assholes. Seriously, there’s an adoption shelter five miles from here.”

He gnawed at the back of his lip, driving on autopilot.

He went two more minutes before he called it a bust and turned his baby around. “Not a word to anyone,” he said, stroking the wheel as he demonstrated a perfect three-point-turn. The empty road gave him no audience, but that was fine for him. He didn’t need anyone’s judgement on any broken-leg-related decisions he made today.

The drive back to the box seemed faster than it had been heading away, since his mind was occupied with clearer thoughts now. He was of two minds. Kittens would be nice, but also a hassle, and possibly heartbreaking if they had to be put down. But if there were no kittens, that would definitely be noted on Dean’s list of things he would consistently pretend he wasn’t disappointed about.

If anyone were to ask, he was doing this solely because chicks dug guys who rescued animals in need.

He pulled up at the side of the road, left wheels perfectly aligned with the border between ditch and road. He hauled his plaster-bound left leg out of the car first, grunting as it clumped onto the dirt road with a splash. “Ah, crap,” he huffed, realising he would now have to live with that muddy foot for a month or more. And his bare toes were getting cold already.

Forgoing the crutches (Dean was not that incapable), he hobbled around the hood of his car, hands on the cool, wet metal for support. Drizzle clung to his face, making him feel sticky.

With his bad leg on the road and his good leg in the ditch, Dean reached out, fingers long and grasping. He screwed up his face, stretching... stretching―

The slippery mud under his boot slid out from under him, and he yelped as he somehow managed to do the splits to keep himself upright. Arms flailing, he panted until he had a good balance... and then he grabbed what he’d come for, both hands around the flimsy wet cardboard.

The box yelled at him. Dean dropped the box.

Okay, so there was definitely something inside there. Not a kitten, though, because kittens did not...

Wait, what?

“Who are you calling ‘assbutt’... assbutt?” Dean said, his upper lip drawing higher in his slow onset of surprise.

The box shifted in the grass, and a small, pale face peeked out from one side.

Definitely not a kitten.

“The hell?” Dean clumped both feet firmly back up onto the road, one hand on his upper thighs to rub at the ache there. “Uh, you need some help there, little guy?”

The face was no more than an inch in size, and had a tousled head of black hair sitting damp above it. Shoulders edged out, a bare arm reaching to touch the wet blades of grass that surrounded the box. Dean had to squint to see the creature, but could definitely discern that it was humanoid in appearance.

“Huh. I microwaved one of you guys before,” he said, conversationally.

“What are you?” the small man said, raising what looked like a flattened sewing needle. His voice was miniature, projected about the same as a kitten’s mewl might. Adult male, undoubtedly.

“Uhh, human?” Dean said, standing with a hands on a hips, leaning his thigh against his car so he wouldn’t fall over. “Name’s Dean. Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but you know you’re butt-naked, right?”

The little dude seemed stunned for a moment, then looked down at himself, still with his weapon raised. He turned his face back to Dean. “Wh― Yes, I know.”

“All right,” Dean said, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. What was he meant to do now? The tiny man hadn’t attempted to kill him or make a deal yet, so Dean wasn’t sure if he was supposed to exterminate him or not. Last time he’d encountered fairy-like creatures, they abducted him, along with a good number of other first-born sons. (Dean’s job got weird, sometimes.)

“Are― Are you going to kill me?” the small voice called.

Dean shrugged off a coating of rain that rested on the shoulders of his leather jacket. He peered down at the mess of grass and mud, and at the fearful face that looked back at him. The grass came up to the guy’s hips, and there was dirt smeared on his naked skin.

Dean didn’t have a routine set of questions for this. “That depends. Have you ever killed a person?” he tried.

The tiny man’s needle wavered. “I have slain countless fae brethren, but not without fair reason. If you come any closer, I will slay you too!”

Dean blinked. The threat rested somewhere between adorable and unsettlingly plausible. “Humans, I mean. Have you ever killed humans?”

The guy’s sword sank by about an inch, which was a significant amount for his scale. “You are the first human I have encountered. I entered the wrong realm by mistake, and I... found myself here. Everything is very...” he searched for a word, “very big.”

Dean raised his eyebrows. “You’re taking it pretty well.”

“You have not yet tried to eat me,” the man reasoned. “I’ve been in this realm for no more than a day, the sky is still bright.”

Dean squinted up at the grey, glowing mass that was the sky. “It’s usually better than this. There’s a sun in there somewhere.” He looked back to the man, wondering how long this conversation would take, because his leg was getting wet and he wanted some hot chocolate.

The man’s needle wobbled some more, and Dean only realised then that he wasn’t meaning to lower his defence, but his arms were shaking from the cold, and he was probably exhausted from dodging cars or cats or whatever else lurked around here with a taste for fairy flesh.

Okay, Dean felt kinda bad for the guy. Fairies weren’t known in Dean’s books for their kind or generous hearts, but this one seemed somewhat harmless. Dean’s instinct as a hunter was to kill what wasn’t human and move on, but sometimes it wasn’t that simple. The stories about nice fairies had to come from somewhere, right? Anyway, as far as Dean could tell, all the fairy guy wanted was to get back where he was supposed to be.

Dean gulped. “Um. I don’t usually do this, okay - ever... but how would you feel about... hot chocolate? Maybe with marshmallows. I think Sammy’s got some mini ones stashed away somewhere, they’d be a perfect size for you.” He offered a hopeful smile.

The little man squinted, and Dean actually saw his eyes narrow, even from where he stood, more than six feet above him. “I don’t know what that is,” the guy said.

“It’s warm and sweet and it tastes good,” Dean said, folding his arms. “Either you come with me or stay here. I’m gonna get in the car now, because I’m freezing my ass off out here and I’m not willing to pay for another damn cast once this one soaks through.”

He backed away from the ditch, pausing before entering the road; an rattly old truck passed by, leaving a puff of oily air once it was gone. Dean pulled open the driver’s side door to his beloved 1967 Chevrolet Impala, wincing as his cast drooled water when he lifted it into the car.

He left the door open, just sitting for a moment. He shut his eyes, listening to the rain. It cast a hush over the roof, and trickled off in drips beside the door.

Dean was having a weird day. He was at the ‘just roll with it’ stage by now, and took it as a sign that his day was gonna get weirder when the fairy landed on his car’s dashboard. Dean’s eyes snapped open, and he saw a whole lot of naked skin and a set of greenish-bluish-pink butterfly wings raised behind the fairy’s shoulders that Dean hadn’t noticed before.

“I accept your offer of ‘hot choc’lut’,” the fairy said.

The wings then tucked behind the fairy’s back, and were hidden from sight. He was very naked. Dean found himself looking at the needle tucked into a thin cord, which was slung around those tiny hips with their V-cut of muscle, and below that, there was... his...

Penis.

That was officially the smallest penis in existence, Dean would bet everything he had on it. It was beyond cute - it was downright precious.

“Dean,” the fairy said, in an unimpressed, low voice. Dean’s eye flicked back up to meet the little guy’s. “I do not think that even in this realm, you are being appropriate.”

Dean’s mouth opened and shut like a guppy for a moment. “Wh... Well, no. I guess not.” He blanked his expression. “Sorry.”

The fairy inhaled a deep breath, drawing his finely-sculpted shoulders back. “Journey on to the hot choc’lut.”

“Is that an order?” Dean grinned, turning the ignition key. “You’re giving me orders, really?”

“I am a warrior,” the fairy said, blinking as Dean reached to pull his door closed. His tiny body flinched at the thunderclap that the door made, but beyond reaching for the handle of his sword-needle, he didn’t freak out. “I - I’m a warrior, and I give orders!”

Dean smirked, still caught up on how very small this man was. He couldn’t be much taller than, say, eight inches? Seven? Smaller than a Barbie doll but bigger than an average man’s dick, that was for sure.

“All right then, little man, outta my eyeline. I’m taking us to Bobby’s house. He’s a nice guy, but be warned, he might blast you with flyspray if you flutter too much.” Turning the car around, Dean kept watch over the fairy while they made the return trip down the road. The fairy’s back was turned to Dean, which Dean knew - as a warrior himself - meant that the fairy trusted him, to some extent.

“My name is not ‘little man’,” the fairy said, after a while.

“Hm?” Dean glanced across the car dashboard, seeing that the fairy had plonked himself down above the tape player, arms hooked around his knees.

“My name is Castiel,” the fairy said, solemnly.

“Castiel,” Dean repeated. “Nice. I mean, kinda cutesy, but nice.”

Castiel huffed. “Do not call me ‘cute’.”

Dean grinned. “Why, what’re you gonna do?”

“Sever the tendons in your ankles, remove the bones from your fingers, and replace your reproductive organs with―”

“Whoa!” Dean blurted. “Okay, okay, wow, I’ve got it. Geez, you’re a nasty son-of-a-bitch.”

“I am the son of Casyrím, daughter of Casinytr. There is nobody named Bitch in my family.”

“‘Daughter of’?”

Castiel looked across at Dean, blinking serenely. “Do you not have mothers here?”

“What? Yeah. Yeah, we do, we just usually say ‘son of’. Everything’s kinda father-related.”

“We have no males,” Castiel said. “In Robek - that’s my home realm - we mate, and then the males are offered to the sky as blessing for our plentiful food and successful warfare.”

Dean looked at him. Castiel realised Dean hadn’t gathered the specifics of that, and added, “That means they die.”

Dean whistled under his breath. “Damn, that’s cold-hearted.” He flipped the windscreen wipers to flap faster, because the rain gushed another heavy wave over the road, and Dean could barely see ten feet in front of him. “So, uh, why are you still alive? If you don’t mind me asking?”

Castiel tucked his arms tighter around his bare legs. It was a minute movement, but it didn’t escape Dean’s notice. He sensed Castiel’s discomfort.

“Sorry if that’s a bad question, man. Just,” Dean shook his head, “I don’t exactly get to talk to a fairy all that often. Second time ever, actually. Last time they tried to - uh, violate me.” He gulped unsteadily, gripping the steering wheel tighter. The memory of what he saw, what he felt, all still made him feel queasy.

“I’m... sorry that happened to you.” Castiel paused, then said, “No, it’s not a bad question. But firstly, I am not a ‘fairy’. I am fae. You’re human, I’m fae, or ‘a fae’. Humans, faeries. Human realm, faerie realm.”

“Getting specific about spelling already, awesome,” Dean muttered, mostly to himself.

“Secondly,” Castiel said sharply, clearly mildly irked by Dean, “I―”

He stopped there, and Dean waited, but heard nothing else. Only a few seconds passed before he took the turning that led into Bobby Singer’s Salvage Yard, where either side of the path was bordered by heaps of old cars, some of which ought to have toppled but still refused after all these years.

The grit under the wheels crunched more and more gradually until, at last, Dean shut the engine off, parked ten feet from the front porch of Bobby’s house.

“Home sweet home, I guess,” Dean said, gesturing at the imposing shadow of the house. It loomed grey through the rain, but to Dean it still looked welcoming. “You coming in?”

Now standing up, Castiel stared out of the windscreen, a hand raised to touch the glass. He pulled his hand away and looked at his hand, like he was surprised it wasn’t wet. Surely he would have figured out the purpose of glass on the drive, but Dean wasn’t holding the slowness against him. He had been thrown into a monumentally large universe here, that had to be disorienting.

Dean popped open the door, shoving his good boot out first, then holding out a hand towards the little fae. “C’mon, I’ll carry you up. Don’t think those wings of yours are waterproof.”

Castiel shuffled said wings at his back. “They’re used to smaller raindrops.”

Dean smiled and moved the offering hand closer, palm up. “I won’t squish you, promise.”

Castiel looked incredulously at the hand, then at Dean. “I thought you said you microwaved a fae, once. Microwavance does not sound like a pleasant experience.”

Dean’s face fell. “W- Well, yeah, but she hit me.”

Castiel’s fist curled on the handle of his sword.

Dean sighed. “Fine, midget. Fly up. See if I care if you catch cold.”

He backed out of the car, leaving the door open as he leaned against the hood; he clutched his left boot in his hand, since he couldn’t wear it over the cast. He was clammy all over, damp from the rain, and the unfamiliar weight on his bum leg was starting to annoy him.

He rolled his eyes as he saw the naked figure fluttering decisively out of the car. Castiel’s wings moved like a butterfly’s - perhaps stronger and more powerful, but flimsy nonetheless. Dean shut the car door and put the keys into his pocket, following the hovering speck of colour through the rain.

As he reached the steps of the porch and trotted up them, Dean smiled, seeing Castiel perched with his legs dangling over the windowsill of the nearest window, panting, dripping onto the dry porch.

“Serves you right,” Dean tutted. “Should’ve let me carry you.”

“I am a warrior, I do not get ‘carried’,” Castiel said, as if within those words rested his entire worth as a person. Dean put his hand on the front door, supposing that might actually be true.

“Well then,” Dean said, pushing the door open, “fly on in, warrior, and I’ll see what I can do about that hot chocolate.”

Dean again waited for Castiel to fly inside, and closed the door behind him. Castiel’s wings moved heavily, quite obviously in a severe state of exhaustion. Dean was willing to bet it wouldn’t be long before Cas was out for the count, especially if he kept insisting on flying everywhere.

The entrance hallway was panelled with dark wood, and in the gloom from the grey sky and no lights inside, Castiel glowed a tiny bit.

“Awesome,” Dean murmured, following the curious light. “You’re radioactive or something.”

“I am sun-powered, actually,” Castiel stated. Dean wondered how much of Dean’s lingo he actually understood, or if he was just - heh heh - winging it.

“So you sacrifice your dudebros to the sky in exchange for being a fae-shaped glowstick, is that it?”

Castiel scoffed, wings a blur as they eased him slowly around the corner, taking him to the edge of Bobby’s desk. He collapsed there, falling to all fours. Dean saw his butt.

Castiel took a moment to gather enough air to speak, and finally said, “What use are old males, Dean? Our lights are no longer bright, because we pass on our power. We get old and cannot fight, and we have already reproduced. In ‘sacrifice’, as you call it, we exchange life and body for what we need.”

“Which is more life and body, yeah,” Dean sighed. He trundled over to the couch, tossed his jacket off, threw his unused boot down, then plonked himself into the cushions, gazing across the shadowy room to where Castiel now knelt. “I get it. It’s society. All societies have something someone hates.”

He smiled forlornly at the floorboards, hand on his outstretched cast. He wriggled his uncovered toes.

“What do you hate?” Castiel asked.

Dean glanced up, smile fixed on his face. “You want a list?”

“Would you be happy to provide a list?”

Dean sighed, closing his eyes. “Not right now, ‘kay, buddy? I don’t feel like dwelling on the specifics.”

“Where is your Bobby?”

Dean smirked. He glanced up at the ceiling, listening for the thump of a footstep. He heard it, then nodded at Castiel. “There he is.”

“How many dwell in this nest?”

Dean laughed. “Nest? Yeah, right.” He shook his head. “Uh. Well, people pass in and out all the time, so a couple dozen, I’d say. But right now, there’s me and my brother Sammy, and old Bobby Singer, whose house this is. And Charlie, our resident hacker. We had Ash, but he went into hiding after the incident with the― Ah... Actually, you don’t wanna know.”

Dean hadn’t been there for that, but apparently there was a digital realm of fairies. Fae. Whatever they were. Parallel universes were so hard to keep track of, sometimes.

“I see,” Castiel said.

It didn’t take a genius to know that Cas was bullshitting his way through his interaction with Dean. His patience and resilience made Dean smile.

“I guess you want that hot chocolate now,” Dean sighed, pushing himself to his feet, flapping an arm until he regained his balance. He realised he’d left his crutches in the car, but he couldn’t care less about those. He could do it by himself, dammit.

He hobbled into the kitchen, ran the tap, and washed his hands and face until he no longer felt like he’d rolled in dirty water. He made up a single mug of hot chocolate, and once it was steaming hot and perfectly stirred, he scooped out one fae-sized portion into a measuring spoon that was usually used for adding salt to cooking. He was annoyed when he couldn’t locate the marshmallows, but then sheepishly remembered he’d eaten them himself last week.

He carried the mug back into Bobby’s study, the spoon held over the mug so it didn’t get cold too quickly. He almost dropped the mug when he realised he shouldn’t have left Cas alone.

“Bobby! Bobby, no! Stop!”

Bobby straightened up from where he stood beside the desk, his usually gruff expression turned sharp and intent as he glanced over to Dean. From his fingers dangled Castiel, struggling, held by the tips of his wings.

Dean hurriedly put the mug down on the desk, involuntarily making “Shh-shh-shh” sounds at Cas, taking him in his hands and soothing him, like he would with a baby.

“The hell is it?” Bobby grunted, glaring at Castiel.

Castiel cowered in Dean’s cupped palms, miniature hands curled around Dean’s thumb, head down. His wings were shivering.

“It’s - he. It’s a he. He’s Cas. Castiel,” Dean said, realising his heart was pounding in protective fear for the tiny life in his hands. His fingers stroked the fae’s spine, so careful with the delicate skin and the gossamer wings. The wings were so soft against his fingers, almost like plastic sandwich wrap stretched out thin; they were warm where Dean made contact with them.

“He’s not dangerous,” Dean assured Bobby, letting Castiel kneel up in his hand.

“Tell that to the needle he pointed at me when I got in here,” Bobby muttered. “Where the heck did ya find this thing?”

“Side of the road, cold and wet, in a gross little box,” Dean shrugged. “I think he’s just lost.”

The fae cast Bobby a wary glance, arms folded around himself as a barrier. His weight was considerable - maybe as much as a couple of cans of soda, but more dense, a decidedly alive quality to the weight.

Dean watched Castiel take a breath to speak directly to Bobby. “I am from a peaceful tribe of fae, and I mean you no harm. I was sent on a mission to― A mission,” he corrected, overriding his previous sentence. “I lost my way when I exited my dimension. My apologies for intruding, but I need a place to rest and... recuperate. I’m very tired.” He sighed on the last words, head drooping. “I just want to go home.”

Bobby looked like his heart melted a bit, and Dean tried to hide his smirk, seeing that.

“Do whatever you need to,” Bobby huffed, turning away towards the renewed embers in the fireplace, “but if you try anything that looks suspiciously like world domination, be warned that I got a vat of chloroform, and I like to toast the things that piss me off.”

Dean considered Castiel’s earlier threats regarding the ways he would disable Dean, and figured that comparing Castiel and Bobby, the two of them weren’t all that different.

Castiel glanced at Dean tentatively, and whispered, head turned away from Bobby so he couldn’t hear, “I’ve never seen an old man before...”

The corner of Dean’s mouth pulled into a smirk.

“So,” he said, putting the fae down on the desk. Castiel crawled off his hand on all fours, wings dragging. “Hot chocolate. It’s freaking amazing, I swear. Here, try it.” He gave Castiel the miniature spoon, smiling when those tiny, tiny hands took it from his fingertips. Castiel sat cross-legged, sniffed at the contents, then slurped at it.

Dean grinned as he saw Castiel’s wings flare up, mighty and strong, before they flopped back down. Castiel looked up at Dean, and smiled for the first time. Dean pursed his lips, not needing the little guy to say a word.

He sat down at the desk, giving Bobby a wave when he shuffled off with a pile of papers in his hands. Now Bobby was gone, Dean put his feet up on the desk.

Oh, dammit. He couldn’t even get his dud leg off the ground. He harrumphed, and leaned forward over the desk instead, weight on his elbows as he sipped his hot chocolate.

Castiel slurped until his spoon was empty. Then he hummed a happy note and fell backwards, cooing under his breath.

If it wouldn’t lose him his Achilles’ tendons and his finger bones, Dean wouldn’t have hesitated to call the fae cute. He was so cute that Dean just wanted to nuzzle him all over, maybe drape him over his shoulder and have him sleep there.

Dean didn’t know what the hell he was doing, letting something or someone who was technically a complete stranger into their hunter base, but there was something special about Castiel that indicated he definitely wasn’t enemy material. He’d called his home tribe a peaceful one, and while Dean could easily doubt that, since they had warriors and unorthodox (but most likely effective) war tactics, he still felt like it was all the truth.

But it didn’t matter. They could open up a faerie portal or something, and just shove him back where he was meant to be. Simple. And then there was no moral dilemma about where the little guy was meant to sleep, or poop, or what he was meant to eat, or - for god’s sake - what he was going to wear. His weenie may have been eenie-weenie, but it was still strange to see it sway when Castiel moved.

Dean figured Cas must’ve dropped through the portal naked, like a Terminator. Hell knew where he’d picked up the tiny sword, though.

Finishing his drink, Dean sank back in his chair, eyes on the totally relaxed fae lying on the desk. His eyes were closed, and he breathed slowly.

“You gonna go to sleep?” Dean asked, smiling.

Castiel murmured indistinctly.

Dean took a breath and stood up, stretching his achy shoulders. “I’d better go check on Sam. You okay to hang around here?”

Castiel cracked open an eye. “You’re leaving me?”

Dean scoffed. “I thought you were a warrior, Cas. Big and tough, you know. Or― Teeny and tough. You survived all day without me. I’ll be upstairs.”

He gave a quick smile, then limped off towards the stairs, cast hitting the floorboards with a heavy thump each time. There would be no hands-on hunting for quite some time, he thought to himself. He wasn’t sure if he was happy about that or not.

He turned around when he heard a small, distant shout of “Wait!”

Castiel was buzzing after him, drooping and sagging as he flew, unable to fly without losing his rhythm. Dean held out a hand for him to fly to, and chuckled when Castiel used his palm as a landing pad. Again, he landed on all fours, and collapsed face-first as he got there.

“Boy, you really are pooped, aren’t you,” Dean muttered. “C’mere, ride on my shoulder.” He put the warm, naked body beside his ear, and felt a funny burst of satisfaction when he felt hands grasping at his plaid overshirt. “There, does that work?”

Castiel huffed. “Do not tell my mother.”

Dean laughed, careful not to shake his shoulder too much. “Deal.”

He took his passenger up the stairs, then to the first guest bedroom. He knocked on the door, calling, “Sammy? It’s me. I brought a friend.”

“Door’s open!”

Dean entered, smiling as he saw his brother sitting up in bed. “Hey, you. How’s the head?”

“Better. How’s the leg?”

Dean glanced at the cast. “Eh. It’s already gross and muddy, no thanks to you.” He said the last part to Castiel, and Castiel punched Dean in the neck in retaliation. Dean inhaled sharply, drawing away from the pain, but Cas was still there, hunched on his shoulder.

Dean grumbled, fingers lifting to rub at the sore part of his neck. That was probably going to bruise. He sighed at his brother, who was looking at him in confusion. “This is Cas,” Dean said, gesturing a thumb at the fae. “He’s a warrior.”

“You brought home a faerie?” Sam said incredulously, and Dean felt bitter that Sam had somehow managed to pronounce the official spelling, despite it sounding exactly the same as ‘fairy’.

“This one seemed unconfrontational,” Dean said, smiling at the skin-coloured blur that he couldn’t quite see in his peripheral vision. “I mean, he threatened to kill me, but he just wanted some cocoa.”

Sam smiled. “Cute.”

Castiel leapt off Dean’s shoulder immediately, launching himself at Sam with his sword drawn― Dean’s arm shot out in reflex and removed the faerie from the air. Castiel struggled in his hand, but Dean was gentle, yet firm. “No,” Dean scolded. “Do not hurt my brother.”

“What’s that?” Castiel asked, shoving Dean’s finger off him with a last, hefty push. He sat in Dean’s hand, staring curiously up at him. “What is a ‘brother’?”

Dean almost laughed. “What, you don’t have siblings in Rohan, or whatever your place was called?”

“Robek,” Castiel corrected. “And... no? I don’t think so?”

“Huh.”

Sam shifted in the bed, and Dean went forward cautiously, fingers attempting to remove the needle from Castiel’s belt. Castiel grabbed it before Dean could take it, however, and Dean gave up, letting him keep the weapon.

Sam leaned forward. Dean pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed, so the dim light from the window was behind him rather than in his eyes. Sam smiled at Castiel, tentative but friendly. He answered Castiel’s question, since Dean hadn’t yet. “A brother,” he said, “is male child from the same mother as someone else.”

Dean inhaled, now getting why Cas hadn’t heard the word. “Oh,” he breathed, taking in Castiel’s look of concern. “Yeah, Cas, your kind only has one kid before you off the father, right? You probably mate for life or something. So you don’t get siblings. Do you not have twins?”

Castiel was overwhelmed, it was obvious by the way he started shivering, his eyes going wide, his mouth agape. Dean raised him and looked at him at eye level, trying his best not to look at his nipples or the darker skin between his legs. “You okay, buddy?”

Castiel whimpered and rolled over on Dean’s hand, arms splaying out.

Dean shot Sam a concerned expression, but Sam only shrugged.

Swallowing, Dean lifted a finger and rubbed at Cas’ tummy to try and tickle some life back into him. Castiel flinched, like he wanted to laugh, but let out a hard breath instead.

When Dean removed his finger, Castel groaned and set one of his hands over his face. “Ohhhh... I’ve failed...”

“Failed what?” Dean asked. “...Your mission? What was your mission?”

Castiel sobbed quietly, and set both hands into his hair, which Dean could feel was still slightly damp. “I was sent out... I was sent to find a... someone. And I needed to find them, because I’m... I’m getting too old. I’m thirty-five, I should have found someone years ago.”

Dean pressed his lips together. “Someone - like a mate?”

Castiel put both hands over his face now. His reply came out muffled, shamed. “Yes.”

Dean met Sam’s eye, and Sam blinked back. Sam probably had a good understanding of fae culture, since he and Charlie liked to chat about things like that. Charlie had what one might call a history with the fairy realms. Dean sometimes got the impression that she had a lover in every one of them. Sam, however, didn’t offer any clues to what Castiel was moping about.

“And you’re upset because...?” Dean left the question open-ended, hoping Castiel would fill in the blanks.

Castiel pushed himself upright, his buttocks pressed into the dip of Dean’s palm. He looked at Dean steadily, and sighed. “I need a mate, because I will not be able to honour the sky if I do not breed. I must breed, do you understand?”

Dean nodded slowly. It sounded messed up and petty to him, but he wasn’t from that realm. Cas’ concerns, for him, were perfectly valid beliefs. “So you were thrown out of your realm because you didn’t have a lady friend?”

Castiel lowered his eyes and sighed again. He had nice cheekbones, Dean thought. “I left of my own volition. In all my life I’ve never found a female I wanted to have as my mate, and I supposed I might find someone in another parallel realm. But... for want of a better story, I took the wrong turning.”

“And you fell into this hellhole,” Dean muttered. “Well, welcome to planet Earth. Population: seven billion humans, not including the additional sentient monstrosities that like to eat us. We pretend we’re top of the food chain, but ninety-nine-point-nine percent of us are in the dark. Barely anyone even knows fairies exist, not for real.”

Castiel looked thoroughly defeated. “I miss my mother.”

Dean smiled sadly, catching Sam’s eye, then turning his gaze back to Cas. “Yeah. Us too.”

“Where is your mother?”

Dean looked away. “Uh. Dead. She died when Sammy here was six months old.”

Castiel looked across at Sam. “Oh... I’m so... sorry...” He sounded legitimately broken up about it.

Sam offered the fae a soft smile. “It’s okay. I don’t remember her. Dean, though...” Sam gestured at Dean, and Dean recoiled slightly, wishing Sam hadn’t pushed the conversation his way. “Dean was four years old when she died. He remembers her.”

Dean clenched his teeth, doing his best to prevent his lip from wobbling. Castiel looked at him with such tenderness in his gaze, it made Dean ache deeply.

“Change subject,” Dean said, looking away, swallowing. “First thing,” he turned fresh eyes on Castiel, forcing a smile, “we need to get you something to wear. I can literally feel your balls squishing about on my hand.”

The feeling did intrigue Dean, but the oddness of it was still a viable reason to clothe the tiny fae.

“Think he’d fit Barbie clothes?” Dean asked Sam, smirking wildly. “I think Jody has some somewhere. Or maybe Charlie does.”

Sam scoffed. “Surprised you don’t have some yourself.”

Dean pretended he didn’t hear that. “Uh, the― Um― The other thing is, we also we need to find you somewhere to sleep.”

Castiel yawned, as if on cue.

Dean smiled down at his little handful, aware that he was quickly becoming dangerously enamoured by this sweet creature. “I’ll call Jody, see what she’s got.” He glanced up to Sam. “You gonna be okay by yourself? Need a magazine?”

Sam held up a book. “I’m set.” He was grinning at Dean, and his eyes fell to Cas. “You go have fun with your new toy.”

Castiel and Dean glared at Sam at the same time. “He’s not a toy,” Dean said, as Castiel affirmed the same statement about himself.

Sam grinned some more.

Rolling his eyes, Dean stood up and transported his heavy leg to the door, with Castiel still perched in his hand. Before he even got there, Castiel took off, and made the effort to fly around the corner without Dean’s aid.

Dean waved at Sam and half-closed the door, then followed Castiel down the hallway.

“You’re such a slowpoke,” Dean muttered, limping behind the faerie. Cas was chugging along, but seemed to have about as much power as an electric toothbrush. Then again, Dean wasn’t exactly going very fast either.

“I’m... huff... going... huff... as fast... huff―”

“Yeah-yeah-yeah, you’re going as fast as you can,” Dean finished for him. They reached the top of the stairs, and Castiel collapsed onto the top of the bannister, draping himself over the polished wood.

Dean grinned, having an idea. He shucked his overshirt off, folding it, then grabbed Cas’ body with gentle fingers.

“What are you doing―? Oh.”

Dean put Castiel down on top of the shirt, and Castiel held tight. As Dean gave the folded shirt a soft push, he began to laugh, hearing the “Aaaaa―!” that faded as Castiel zoomed down the bannister. Dean saw him fall off at the knob at the bottom. He’d be fine, his mass was too minor to have him hit the ground hard enough to break anything.

Dean grunted and thumped his way down the staircase, wistfully imagining himself installing a stair lift.

Once at the bottom, he held onto the bannister and stooped to pluck his overshirt from the floor. Castiel didn’t tumble out, but clung to the fabric as Dean lifted him. Dangling him at eye-height, Dean grinned. “Fun?”

Castiel looked exhilarated. “Yes.”

Dean smiled, because he’d just noticed that Castiel had blue eyes. Blue like a summer sky - the darker part, the endless hollows of space at the steeple of the world. Except really, really small, because Cas was no bigger than Dean’s hand.

“You can let me down now,” Castiel said, looking at the ground.

“Want me to carry you?”

Castiel considered that for a good few seconds. When he didn’t answer right away, Dean saved him the trouble of deciding and put him on his right shoulder, tossing the overshirt over his left, fingers hooked into the collar.

Castiel touched his hands to Dean’s neck and held onto him as he walked back to the study.

Dean put his shirt on the couch beside his damp leather jacket, and then went for the nearest phone. With a quick glance at Cas, he dialled Jody’s number from memory, and held the receiver to his left ear.

“What are you doing?” Castiel asked.

“Making a phone call,” Dean said. “I talk into this thing and Jody hears me at the other end. She has one of these too.”

“Oh.”

It rang for a while, but finally Jody answered. “Sioux Falls Sheriff’s office, private line.

“Hey Jody, it’s Dean.”

Aw, hey, sweetie! How are you?

“I’m good! Great, actually, I have a broken leg and a fairy.”

Uhhh. That sounds... awesome?

“‘Awesome’ about covers it, yeah. So, I was just wondering, you know you have a niece, who you said was growing up too quick and all?”

Yeah?

“Does she - or did she - have any old clothes or Barbie-type stuff that would fit a size... oh, I dunno, negative eighty?”

Jody was quiet for a bit. “You are talking about a literal fairy, right?

Dean clicked a grin. “Yep. About the size of a beer bottle, stark naked, and pretty clingy.”

Castiel blew air in Dean’s ear. Dean yelped and dropped the phone onto the desk, but tutted and scrambled to retrieve it when Cas hovered away from him, arms folded. “I am not clingy.”

With the phone back to Dean’s ear and the desk behind him to steady his wobbly legs, he sighed. “Sorry, Jody. He’s touchy.”

“I am not touchy!”

Um,” Jody said, “When do you need the clothes by?

Dean shrugged. “ASAP. Any time you’re free.”

Jody hummed and ruffled some papers at the other end of the phone line, then exhaled. “I can get there in about half an hour maybe, if I pop out now.

“That would be amazing. God, thank you so much. Sorry about this.”

Pff, don’t apologise, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to skip out on paperwork all day. I’ll be there soon. And I’ll bring beer.

Dean grinned at Cas as he floated. “You’re awesome, Jody.”

Jody made a smug sound. “I try.

“See you soon.”

See ya, Dean.

The call clicked quiet and Dean hung up, still smiling. To Cas, he explained, “She’s Sheriff around here. That’s like... the local queen, or something.”

Castiel’s eyes widened, and the pattern of his flapping wings stuttered. He dropped a foot in the air, and Dean ducked forward to catch him in a hand, even though Cas was already righting himself.

Cas looked up at Dean with a look in his eyes that seemed almost afraid. “But I’m not ready to meet a queen...”

Dean grinned, falling into the couch and stretching out his legs. Cas hopped onto his lap and sat down, the soles of both his feet resting on Dean’s inner thigh. With his hands tucked between his own thighs, Castiel sighed, shoulders deflating.

“She’s not so bad,” Dean murmured, stroking Castiel’s back with a thumb. “You’ll like her. Hopefully there’ll be something in her niece's toy closet that’ll fit you.”

Castiel nodded slowly, dark eyebrows knitted together in lingering concern. “I’m the size of a toy to you.”

Dean smiled. “You kind of are. Sorry about that.”

Castiel’s head sank lower, chin to his chest. “It’s not your fault.”

“No, it’s not.” Dean’s soothing thumb stopped rubbing, and he tucked a couple of fingers around Cas’ waist instead. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not scary for you. Look, it’s okay if you’re freaked out. You don’t need to be a warrior right now - you don’t have any enemies here, nobody’s going to let you get hurt. Just... take a load off, okay?”

Castiel lifted his eyes, peering morosely back at Dean. “I could say the same to you.”

Dean frowned. “Huh?”

“You’re a warrior too, aren’t you?”

Dean swallowed. “In a way, yeah.”

“You’ve been injured, Dean. You’re useless to your clan, but you don’t need to pretend you’re fine.” His eyes moved low once more, then he turned his face away from Dean. “You’re safe here. Let someone care for you.”

Dean was somehow eased by that. “You’re too smart for your own good, Cas.”

Castiel smiled, humming a deep laugh. His eyes crinkled at the sides. “Why do you keep calling me by my family name?”

“Oh,” Dean said. “‘Cas’ is your surname?”

Castiel didn’t understand the words, but nodded after a bit. “It’s the motto of my bloodline. We’re guides and companions...” he sighed, “which is why it’s so strange that I’m still alone after so long. I don’t have anyone to guide or be a companion to. The second part of my name, ‘tiel’... that is the part that defines me as a warrior. All males are ‘tiel’.”

“So what happens when a single bloodline has more than one male in it? Sons and grandfathers?”

“I am Castiel the ninety-fifth,” Castiel said. “My bloodline is one of the ancient families. Our name is carved into the dirt beneath the realm.”

“That classic, huh?” Dean grinned. “Well, can’t say it doesn’t have a ring to it, at least.”

Castiel squinted. Dean shook his head, breaking away Castiel’s confusion about his alien phrases. “So what do you want me to call you?” Dean asked, prodding Cas gently with his knuckle.

“I like ‘Cas’,” Castiel said. “Like you said, I’m not a warrior here.”

Dean nodded. “Okay. Cas.” He smiled, and Cas smiled too.

They sat for quite a while, chatting aimlessly. Cas’ realm seemed pretty interesting to Dean. His clan’s enemies were the other tribes of fae, and they usually fought over rights to the land and sky. Hearing that, Dean mentioned that battles over religion was the kind of thing that apparently spanned all universes.

Dean talked about his life spent hunting monsters, and found he had the opportunity to spice it up a bit, make himself look like a hero. But he didn’t. Hunting wasn’t like that for him. It was bloody and ugly, and it left scars deeper than any of the river ridges that twined through the lush landscapes of Robek. He told Cas how much hunting hurt, and how much it ruined people.

But Dean also told Cas about his family, about the fact that hunting kept them together, and kept them strong.

Cas said that was how it was for his tribe, too. But he had a longing distance in his gaze as he said it, and Dean could tell the little fae had always felt disconnected from his people.

“You’re kinda different to all the other Castiels that came before you, though,” Dean said, brushing a finger through Castiel’s unruly black hair. “You think so too, don’t you?”

Castiel put a hand on Dean’s finger, making him stop stroking. “I do. I’m meant to share myself with others, teach them, fight for them, find a mate and pass on my legacy, but I can’t do it. I can’t love the people around me the way I’m meant to.”

“What way are you meant to?”

Castiel blushed ever so slightly, pushing Dean’s finger away completely as he gulped. “I am the only male of adult age in my tribe. There are younger kin, young adults, as well as those who have only recently aged beyond dependence on their mothers. But there are no men I could call friends. You are―”

He sucked in a breath there, and left his sentence unfinished. He looked down and away.

“I’m what, Cas?” Dean prompted.

Castiel’s lips moved unsurely. “You’re the first man I could perhaps call a - friend. I apologise, that was presumptuous.”

Dean chuckled, knocking Cas back against his thigh with an easy shove of his fingers. “Presume all you want. I’m cool being that, if you want.”

Castiel sat up, and looked at Dean hopefully. He smiled, which made Dean feel kinda awesome. “Friend,” Castiel said.

Dean pursed his lips. “Friend.”

Castiel took in a happy breath, ready to speak, but the happiness faded upon the first words; “I have never felt the will or inclination to take a mate.”

“So - it’s not just that nobody’s interested―”

“Oh, there are those who are interested,” Castiel said harshly, shaking his head. “My mother and the other women offer me to any fae whose eye turns my way. Sometimes I feel like I’m nothing but a gem to be traded or sold into another tribe. A union between tribes would bring some level of peace - preventing bloodshed, but despite that, I... I can’t.”

“You sweet on some other chick, or...?”

Castiel’s inner cogs whirred to translate Dean’s words, but only seconds later, he shook his head. “There is nobody. I don’t feel any desire for those fae.”

“You’ve never been kissed?”

Castiel leaned over his knees and set his face in his hands. “Never.”

Dean’s immediate thought was to offer a kiss himself, but stilled his tongue before he spoke. That would be a seriously weird thing to say aloud, and he wasn’t about to show himself up like that, no way.

Instead, he swallowed, and petted Cas’ wings again, just once. “Do you actually intend to go back home with some other faerie lady just so she can have your baby?”

Castiel spoke into his hands as they still cupped his face, “You don’t understand, Dean. I don’t want to breed.”

Dean figured he was missing something. “But kissing is nice. So is the stuff after that. You know, the baby-making thing? You breed like that, right?”

Castiel inhaled, dropped his hands with a slap to his thighs, and looked annoyedly up at Dean. “You sound like my mother. She keeps saying I just haven’t found the right woman, or I just haven’t felt the feeling yet so I don’t know what it’s like. She tells me I don’t know what I’m missing. But it’s not that, Dean.”

“Then what is it?”

“I...” Castiel’s voice cracked, and Dean was startled to see tears shimmering in Castiel’s eyes. “It’s a lot of things. I’m not like everyone else. I don’t want it. And I - I... Dean... I don’t want to die.”

Dean let out a soft breath. “Oh. Right. You breed, and then you get offered to the sky... and you die.”

Castiel sniffled and put his hands over his face. Dean saw his tiny shoulders quake with emotion.

“You didn’t just go on a quest to get a girl, did you,” Dean summarised, curling a hand around Castiel like a shield. Cas leaned into the touch, weeping soundlessly. “You ran away.”

“I lied... I lied to everyone,” Castiel sobbed, turning to bury his face in Dean’s hand. “I swore an oath when I came of age, and I broke it. With me gone from the realm, my bloodline is ended - I’ve betrayed my whole family, generations of loved ones, because I’m nothing but a coward.”

“Shh, shh,” Dean hushed, leaning over the arm of the couch to grab a Kleenex tissue. He stuffed it against Castiel’s body, and Castiel grabbed it, using it to dry his tears. “Cas, don’t worry, okay? Self-preservation isn’t something to be ashamed of. Honestly, if I was in your place? I’d have done the same thing.”

“But I have to go back, Dean,” Castiel whispered, clutching the tissue so it wrinkled between his hands. “I cannot stay away forever, they’ll think I perished.”

“You could let them think you’re dead,” Dean shrugged.

“No!” Castiel blared, tossing the tissue at Dean. It flopped over harmlessly, one corner of it damp. “My mother is waiting, I have friends waiting! Anael, Rachel, Hael! They expect me to return!” He stared at Dean with such a distraught expression that Dean sighed in heartfelt empathy.

“So what happens when you go back without a girl?”

Castiel drew himself together, shrugging. “I will have failed my mission. They will all be severely disappointed with me, and they will try again and again to get me to mate, but I never will.”

“How long do fae live?”

Castiel huffed a humourless laugh. “Women? Eighty years, usually. Men, I have no idea. All of us are offered to the sky before we are forty.”

Dean pulled an awkward smile. “Well, you still got five years on you, right?”

Castiel glared at him. Dean grinned at the force of the glare, and reached a hand to pet Cas on impulse, scuffing at his mop of dark hair. Castiel shoved him away, holding back a laugh.

Dean felt more than a little smug, having removed all trace of misery from Cas’ face.

At that moment, the front door to Bobby’s house opened and shut, and Dean glanced up, looking into the dark hallway opposite from the couch.

“It’s me,” Charlie’s voice called.

Dean grinned. “Hey, we’re in here,” he replied, then looked down at Castiel, who was standing up on Dean’s knee, wings lifted in interest. His shapely buttocks were bared to Dean, but Dean only had a single second to look at them before Charlie entered the study, tugging a scarf off her shoulders and tossing it to the desk.

“Heya,” Charlie said, taking off her coat and laying it over the scarf. “Weather is gross, man. I like sunshine, and this ain’t it.”

Dean smiled, quietly anticipating the moment she would turn around and see Cas. Cas turned his face to check with Dean, and Dean nodded reassuringly. Cas turned back to Charlie.

“Uh... O Queen, I... I humbly... beg forgiveness for my lack of clothing...”

Dean snorted, grabbing the discarded Kleenex. “Here, buddy, put this on. Use it as a skirt or something.”

Castiel frowned and turned to Dean. Dean chuckled. “This isn’t Jody, this is Charlie. Hacker, not queen. But she likes to dream.”

Castiel let out a breath of relief. “Oh, thank goodness. That was embarrassing.”

Dean grinned heartily as he watched Castiel tie the tissue around his waist like a towel.

Charlie stood before Dean’s cast leg, looking down into his lap. “That. Is the cutest. Damn. Thing. I have ever seen in my life.”

Castiel only bristled in annoyance, but made no move to attack Charlie. “Careful,” Dean said anyway, “He doesn’t like the word ‘cute’.”

“Aw,” Charlie said, bending down and offering a hand to Castiel. “Hey, little guy.”

Castiel dragged his wings up as big as they could be, which in total was about the size of a regular A4 piece of paper. Still, Dean thought he appeared majestic, even as he saw him from behind: chin raised, one hand on the hilt of his sword. “My name is Castiel, my lady,” Castiel said, shaking Charlie’s finger in greeting.

Dean scowled. “How come she gets a big heroic greeting, and all I got was a whole bunch of made-up insults?”

Castiel turned halfway back to look Dean in the eye. “She is a woman. She deserves respect.”

Charlie was understandably delighted. “High-five, little man.” She raised a flat hand to Castiel’s face. Cas worked out what she was after right away, and swatted her palm with his own. Charlie beamed and straightened up. “This is officially the coolest thing that’s happened all day, I’ll tell you that.”

“We’re waiting on Jody for some Barbie clothes,” Dean said, resisting the urge to grab Cas in order to noogie him. His hands felt empty. “I’m laid out for a good few weeks, so I figured I might as well get to know the guy.”

Castiel turned fully, looking straight at Dean. His wings had drooped and tucked up behind his back. “Dean, I am not staying for that long. The moment I find out a way to get back home, I will leave.”

Dean felt something plummet in his chest. “Wait... Why?”

“I must return to Robek, we already discussed this.”

“Well, yeah, but... why so soon? Why not stay a while, learn about the human realm a bit, huh? You’ve already boldly gone where no fae has gone before, so what’s the big rush? Stick around.”

Castiel tensed his well-defined jaw. “I am not staying.”

Dean blinked rapidly, and had to glance away. “Well, fine then,” he huffed. “Leave if you gotta. Whatever, it’s not like I’d miss you. I’ve only known you, what, two hours?”

“...I would miss you, Dean.”

Dean found his his gaze drawing back to Castiel. The fae was standing on top of his thigh and seemed thoroughly disheartened, his puppy-eyes round and wide, glistening the same way Sammy’s did.

Dean gulped. “Yeah,” he managed, softness on the word. Cas’ expression changed, and it showed how much he understood what Dean meant: he’d miss him like hell. They had something between them that sparked alight at the moment they’d met. Dean had never shared anything as easy as this with anyone else, save Charlie.

Charlie stood by in silence, watching the exchange. She smiled at Dean in total understanding when he looked up. Dean pulled in a deep breath, feeling the air hit the bottom of his lungs.

Castiel looked over at Charlie, then at Dean, then back to Charlie. Then he looked at Dean once more, and rested his gaze on his face. “Are the two of you mated?”

Dean glanced at the fae, and took a double-take at the words. “What?”

“You and Hacker Charlie. Are you a mated couple?”

Dean scoffed, mouth open. His eyes darted to Charlie, only to see her with her hand over her mouth, eyes squinched with delight at how astoundingly adorable it was that Cas had made that assumption.

“No!” Dean said to Cas. “No, we’re not. She’s like my sister!”

Castiel’s expression blanked. “‘Sister’?”

“Sister. Like a brother but a girl. She’s not related to me by blood, but she’s the closest damn thing to it.”

Charlie made a breathy noise of appreciation, and Dean flicked his eyes up to meet hers. He smiled back at her, then turned his glare on Cas again.

“...Apologies. My mistake,” Castiel said, rather awkwardly. He sat down on Dean’s left thigh, crossing his legs and putting his hands on his knees. “Are either of you are mated to someone else?”

Dean grinned. “It doesn’t really work like that in the human realm. It’s a culture thing, I guess. But no, neither of us mate for life. Me, I like to mess around with chicks every so often, but usually it’s no more than one-time flings, y’know?”

Castiel looked horrified for a brief moment, but schooled his face into something neutral. “I see. Culture. Yes.”

“I mean―” Dean paused, blinking as Charlie caught his eye. He exhaled a nervous breath and licked his lips, gaze now set on the floor. “I haven’t really... done that, though. In a while.” He fiddled with the top edge of his cast, feeling the grid of plaster under his thumb. “Sex with girls, I mean.”

Castiel appeared interested.

Dean shrugged, looking anywhere but at Charlie as she perched at Bobby’s desk. “Not that I don’t want to, I’m just, uh, more focused on the hunting, and stuff? Yeah.” He forced a smile, willing to stand by that argument. Hopefully neither Cas nor Charlie would see through his lie.

Castiel turned to Charlie. “What about you?”

Charlie grinned. “Oh, me? I ‘mate’, sure, but not like Dean. My lady friends tend to come from other realms, which is a problem commute.” She shrugged. “Understatement, really.”

“I don’t understand,” Castiel said. “Fae? Your mate...s - are fae?”

“What can I say? I have a thing for girls with wings.” She winked, but at Dean, not at Castiel.

Castiel looked at Dean with an acute frown on his face. He appeared lost.

“What don’t you get, Cas?” Dean asked.

Castiel opened then shut his mouth. “Girls?”

“Women.”

“I know that, but...” He looked across the study at Charlie. “You choose other women as mates?”

Charlie grinned hugely. “I didn’t choose anything. Baby, I was boo-orn this way,” she sang. Dean snorted. He was going to have that song stuck in his head for the rest of the day, he was sure of it.

Castiel still looked perplexed. He looked at Dean for another explanation.

Dean cocked a grin. “What’s got your wires crossed in there, buddy?”

“How does she... that is, if it’s not inappropriate for me to ask...” Cas looked at Charlie, “how do you breed?”

Charlie leaned back on her hands, crossing her boots at the ankle. “I don’t.”

Castiel sat up straighter. “You don’t breed?!”

“Nope. It’s all for fun.”

Castiel again turned his wide eyes on Dean. Dean thought it was priceless how very hung up on this fact Cas was. Maybe he’d never met a gay faerie before, maybe that didn’t happen.

“You have not fathered any humans,” Castiel questioned.

“Uh, no,” Dean said, before shrugging. “As far as I know.”

Castiel looked utterly stunned. “Do human males take other males as non-breeding mates as well?”

Dean grinned. “Yeah. Funnily enough, there are people in human realm who don’t like that kind of behaviour much. And you know what those people call those guys?”

“What?”

Dean smirked. “Fairies.”

Castiel’s face fell, and his expression immediately became clouded with fury. Dean’s heart leapt, realising Cas was about to spontaneously combust or something, so he settled a hand over Castiel’s head, cupping him down. “Shh, Cas, don’t get mad. It’s used as an insult here, but that doesn’t mean it actually has anything to do with the faerie realm, okay? We’re not out to get you.”

Castiel harrumphed, still looking pissed as hell. Dean couldn’t help but smirk flatly at that, because he despised that word himself, too. He’d been called it a lot when he was younger, and because of that, among other reasons, he’d long thought being gay was a bad thing - but only when it was him. Other people could do what they liked and he didn’t care, but he wasn’t allowed.

But he was Dean Winchester, and his life pretty much comprised of a list of rules made to be broken. He was finally getting to the point where he could comfortably nudge at his own boundaries, and was starting to realise, hey, he might actually kind of like Person A’s ass as well as Person B’s ass, even if Person B’s ass was a bit more muscular than what Dean was used to lusting after.

Now he’d been handed a literal fairy, and that sure hadn’t thrown a wrench of any kind into Dean’s budding curiosity. He knew it was the top-shelf kind of crazy to be checking out someone who was the size of the bottle of soda he’d drunk at lunch, but that didn’t stop him doing it. Cas was hot. And naked. And he didn’t seem to have that much of a problem with Dean’s hands touching his naked skin.

Dean was bumped away from his thoughts when a knock sounded from the front door. Charlie pushed herself off the desk to go and answer it, and Castiel spent the following seconds flapping his tired wings, shooting Dean the most unsettled of glances.

“What’s up, buddy?”

“This is the queen?”

Dean grinned, thinking Jody was gonna love that. “Yep. Don’t worry, she’s a friend of ours. You don’t need to go above and beyond to impress her, just... be yourself.”

Castiel fidgeted with the Kleenex around his waist.

Dean would have stood up to welcome Sheriff Mills as she entered the study, but his leg cast and the faerie on his knee made that option no more than a vague afterthought.

“Hey there, Dean,” Jody said, returning at Dean’s enthusiastic wave. She glanced to his knee, and her teeth showed in a warm, crinkly grin. “Well, would you look at that. Ain’t you the cutest thing?”

Castiel’s wings flapped once, and Dean watched him fall to his knees, kneeling prostrate on Dean’s denim jeans, head down.

“D- Did I scare him?” Jody asked, glancing to Dean, then Charlie.

Charlie giggled. “Aww, no, he’d just throwing himself at your feet. You’re Queen, did you know?”

“I’m Queen?”

Charlie patted Jody firmly on the back. “Yup. Queen of Sioux Falls Police Department.”

Jody stood up straighter.

Dean touched Castiel’s back, prompting him to sit up. His wings shifted slowly, shimmering green and pink and blue, all at once. Dean couldn’t actually see his glow, since Cas was probably out of sun juice, but he could see that Cas was trying as hard as he could to glow for Jody’s sake.

“Damn. Umm, anyway,” Jody beamed, putting down a pack of beer and a paper bag on the desk where Charlie had left her coat. “Couple’a Barbie dolls, a few odds and ends, one Ken doll, and a t-shirt that came off a teddy bear that already went to the Salvation Army. There’s a belt off my old Lara Croft figurine in there too, he might find that useful. Not sure if it really buckles, though. you might have to tape it.”

“Awesome,” Dean said, craning upward in his seat to see the bag properly. “Thank you, so much.” He eyed the fae on his knee and saw that he had sat up, but was hunched over, legs splayed to the side. He’d used the last of his energy trying to glow, and now he looked like he might pass out.

Jody dragged her eyes away from the same sight. “Beer’s all yours. I’ll leave you lot to it, I have crimes to catalogue.” She groaned at the end of her sentence, putting her hand over her eyes. “I hate paperwork.”

Charlie punched her reassuringly on the shoulder. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”

“Hmph.” Jody pulled Charlie in for a very brief hug, then saluted Dean from the door with two fingers. “Take care of that leg of yours, Dean. And - hey, faerie man?”

Castiel looked up.

Jody saluted him too. “Look after Dean.”

Castiel inhaled and managed to sit bolt upright. “I shall, O Queen.”

Jody looked overjoyed at hearing such a tiny yet deep voice. Even Dean felt like grinning.

Once Charlie saw Jody out the door and returned to the study, Dean attempted to force himself to his feet, grunting and grumbling under his breath. He and Castiel had each simultaneously assumed Cas would start flying when Dean tipped him off his lap, but both were mistaken.

Castiel fell with a flump onto the floorboards, Kleenex ripped and one wing caught under him, limbs awry.

“Cas!” Dean cried, reaching hand for him - but he couldn’t bend, not with the cast.

Charlie swooped down and saved the fae, gasping as she lifted his body to hold him beside her heart, careful hands around his middle.

Dean took him from Charlie immediately, feeling possessive of him. “Cas...”

Castiel croaked, turning his head and blinking his eyes open slowly. He looked very upset.

“Sorry, man,” Dean said quietly.

“My body is failing,” Castiel whispered.

“No it’s not, you’re just tired,” Dean said, edging past Charlie and limping to the desk where the bag of clothes was. “Once you have a nap, you’ll be all perked up, I guarantee it.”

“Should we put a bed together?” Charlie asked, tailing Dean. “Maybe a shoebox, I have one somewhere.”

“Uh, okay - yeah,” Dean thought, turning the desk lamp on so he could look at Castiel properly in the light. The lamp cast a yellow haze and brown shadows across the gloomy room, cancelling out the daylight that had barely been present to begin with. “Yeah, and maybe a few pairs of my boxers as bedding, unless you find some clean rags somewhere.”

Charlie nodded dutifully, pulling away from the desk. “Has he eaten?”

Dean glanced at the near-unconscious fae. “Nothing substantial.”

“You make him something, I’ll sort out the bed. And for god’s sake...” Charlie gestured with a flapping hand at the fae, “give the poor guy a bath. He looks like something shat on him.”

Dean pulled a face, conceding that she had a point. Mud stained Castiel’s feet, and left odd smears here and there on his bare skin. He plonked Castiel on the desk’s leather top just as Charlie left the room, heading upstairs.

“I’ll get you some water to wash in,” Dean mumbled, turning to the kitchen.

“Wait,” Castiel called. Dean looked back, seeing Castiel hang his head, eyes on Dean, then on the desk.

“What, what’s up?”

“I need to... um.”

Dean narrowed his eyes, attempting to translate that. “A hint would be nice.”

“I need to go outside for a minute,” Castiel said quietly.

Dean slowly realised what he meant. “We have a bathroom for that, if you want. But, uh, might be a bit big for you.”

“I - I can go outside,” Castiel said, head down.

Dean smiled to himself, picking Castiel up and carrying him to the window behind the couch. With a knee on the cushion, he opened the window one-handed and let Castiel stand on the sill. “Be back in five minutes or I’ll come looking for you, all right?”

“Okay.” Castiel glanced back with a slightly ashamed look in his eye, before he hopped out the window and buzzed straight downwards into the weedy flowerbed below. Dean pursed his lips, figuring Cas wouldn’t actually need to go further away than that.

While awaiting Cas’ return, Dean got a cooking pot from the kitchen cupboard, about ten inches across. As he waited for the hot water to run in the sink, he left the pot on the side and went to get some soap from the downstairs bathroom. With the soft, squishy remains of something that used to be a rounded bar in hand, Dean filled the saucepan with nearly-hot water, then carried it carefully back to the study, putting it on the desk.

He sat down on the couch and waited for Castiel to finish doing his business, which didn’t take long at all. The fae crawled back in through the window, gasping and exhausted, face strained with the effort it took to lift himself only three feet from the ground.

“God, c’mere,” Dean said kindly, pulling Castiel into his hand and shutting out the grey, rainy draft from the window.

He took Cas to the desk. “Here you go, buddy.” He gave Castiel the soap, which clung to both his hands as he took it, wearing a bewildered expression. “This is soap. You rub it on you and you get clean.”

“I know what soap is,” Castiel harrumphed.

Dean raised his hands in surrender, smiling at how grumpy Cas looked. Shaking his head, he swept his hand down again to pick up the fae, since his legs were wobbling and he wasn’t moving any closer to the saucepan. Castiel pushed Dean’s fingers away, but then paused, put down the soap, and took off his corded belt with his sword, slipping it over his head and setting it down. When he had the soap in hand again, Dean picked him up.

Castiel let himself be dunked into the pan, and he flopped forwards as soon as Dean retracted his hand. Cas took a moment to splash about a bit. Dean couldn’t help but grin, seeing the way the fae’s soft wings floated over the water, then dragged under the surface when Castiel did a happy belly roll.

“You’re quite the swimmer,” Dean smirked, pulling Bobby’s desk chair around so he could sit on the open side, further from the now too-hot fireplace.

Castiel flared out his wings, pushing himself from one side of the pan to the other like a squid might. With a hearty gasp for air, he stood up on the base of the pan, stretching his arms out to make ripples in the water’s surface with his fingers. He had a big smile on his face.

Dean was sitting with his cheek in his hand, and he watched the little guy pick up the soap from where it was floating. Realising he probably shouldn’t be looking, Dean turned his attention to the paper bag on the desk.

He tipped its contents out in front of him, surveying the clothy colours and small stitches. Two long-haired Barbie dolls lay stiff and straight across each other, and a single Ken doll rested a few inches away.

“Gettin’ lucky with your chicks there, I hope,” Dean murmured, poking the Ken doll on the shoulder. The toy was wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt with flowers on it, which Dean immediately decided Castiel would not be wearing anytime soon.

“Are you talking to the...?” Castiel poked his head over the side of the pan, saw the toys, and stopped his sentence there.

Dean picked up a Barbie doll and showed Cas. “Kinda creepy, right?”

Castiel nodded slowly, taking a step back. “It’s taller than I am.”

Dean shrugged, tugging the velcro undone at the back of the doll’s clothing. She was wearing a poodle-skirted dress, and Dean flirted with the idea of putting Cas in it just to see how it looked.

“Only little girls play with this stuff,” Dean mentioned distractedly, removing the dress and sliding it off completely. The Barbie was left nude, pale plastic skin edged by movable joints.

Dean turned her over, huffing a small laugh as he saw the distinct lack of nipples on her bosom. His eye drew down her figure, seeing the ridiculously slim waist that led to a pelvis that might have been more suited to a cat than a person. Her crotch was particularly void of features, and Dean flipped her over to see that her rear was the same. He pursed his lips.

Castiel was watching Dean carefully, the splashing noises quiet for now. Dean glanced at him, then set the Barbie down. “They’re weird,” he said, flicking dismissive fingers.

Castiel said nothing.

Dean piled the clothes as Castiel bathed, setting the largest items onto the desk. The teddy bear’s faded red t-shirt seemed a likely candidate for Castiel to wear, since it wasn’t overlarge, but would still give him some moving room. Dean would cut wing holes in it as soon as Cas was dry enough to measure.

Above the t-shirt he stacked both Barbies’ dresses, an overshirt, a pair of army pants, a pair of shorts, and a much smaller (too small) t-shirt. He lined up the tiny plastic shoes, pink stilettos the size of his thumbnails, a Lara Croft utility belt that might do up properly, and also a hat.

He left the Ken doll until last, with the excuse that the Hawaiian shirt was too ugly to handle. But he grasped the doll, feeling how his plastic waist was thicker than the Barbies’. With one hand he undid the small buttons, almost without effort.

Ken had no nipples either, but a wide chest, and well-defined pectoral muscles. Dean ran his fingers over the doll’s chest, feeling the chill of the plastic and their very fake shape.

Leaving the colourful shirt on Ken’s shoulders, Dean’s fingers trailed to the toy’s waistband. He only hesitated a moment before undoing the velcro that held the white pants closed.

As far as impressive went, Dean had to admit that Castiel’s junk was more so than this. Ken just had a bulge. No definition, nothing. Dean ran his finger over the rise, trying not to admit that the weird feeling in his chest was disappointment. He kinda wanted to fiddle with something, but Ken’s privates were all smooth and boring.

With a soft sigh, Dean took Ken’s clothes off completely, setting the doll on the desk next to the naked Barbies. He flattened out the Hawaiian shirt and the white pants, then put them on the pile of other clothes. Cas could pick what he wanted when he was done washing up.

Dean peered over to the saucepan to check on Cas, only to see him with his elbows folded on the rim of the pan, chin on his arms, blue eyes peering up at Dean with innocent curiosity in his expression.

Dean’s face either rushed with or drained of blood, but he couldn’t be sure which; all he knew was his head suddenly got very loud and he felt nervous. “What,” he murmured, under his breath.

Castiel’s gaze fell to the naked dolls, then returned to look at Dean, lips parted so he could speak. “The male interests you more than the females.”

Dean’s face definitely ran hot with a blush this time. “Wh―” he breathed. “No they don’t. I mean, he doesn’t. It doesn’t. What?”

Castiel blinked slyly, a small smile showing on the corner of his mouth. He looked away, then plopped back into his bath, ducking his head down to wash his hair.

Dean took a moment to gather his thoughts and calm his fluttery heart, swallowing a good three times before running his hand over his face.

It was one thing to spend years nursing a fierce crush on his favourite male TV character, but another to actually be aware he enjoyed men in general, as theoretical partners or sex objects, sometimes both. It felt like a big leap to take, for Dean.

But Cas had stated it aloud, as a simple observation, and the words had only affected Dean because he already knew they were true. There was really no going back. Dean leaned back in his chair, heaving a soft breath to settle the inner twangs that came along with self-revelation.

He liked girls, and always had. But... yeah. Guys, men - they were interesting to him. He wanted to kiss them and touch them and play with their bits, which was pretty much the same way he’d felt about girls when he was sixteen years old. If Dean was perfectly honest, it was scary to think about. Even werewolves didn’t scare him this much.

Dean gulped. “Yeah,” he said.

Castiel looked up.

Dean smiled tightly, lowering his head, shrugging slightly. “Yeah,” he said again, almost meeting Castiel’s eyes. “Yeah, I think I might. Or, I do. It does. They do. Whatever.”

He looked away, hiding his twitchy smile. Damn, it felt good to get that off his chest. Well, so long as Castiel got what he meant...

“I see,” Castiel said, quietly.

Dean glanced back, watching a small smile rise on Castiel’s lips. Dean smiled back, warm inside.

Dean muttered that he was going to get Cas a towel, and slowly dragged himself out of the study. He plodded up the stairs, mind on what he’d told Cas.

Somehow, Cas had elevated his stature in Dean’s life to the first person he’d ever told about his secret. Maybe it was because of the fae’s cluelessness on the subject, and he lacked the prejudices surrounding such an admission. Or maybe it was because Dean had come to trust him. Where that feeling came from, Dean couldn’t even be sure. But it was good.

Dean grabbed a face cloth from the airing cupboard in the upstairs hall, and almost bumped into Charlie when he closed the cupboard door again. Charlie grinned, holding up a covered shoebox with a door cut in the side.

“Made a tiny bedroom,” she chirped, lifting the box lid to show Dean the inside. It had sawdust on the base, and what was essentially a bird nest made out of Dean’s underwear in the far corner.

“Oh, nice,” Dean said, taking the box. “Thanks.”

“I figured if he had to, you know, go, then it would be easier if there was something we could clean up with newspaper or a plastic baggie.”

Dean closed his gaping mouth. “He’s not a baby - or a puppy. You know that, right?”

“...But he’s so small.”

Dean’s nostrils flared without him really noticing.

Charlie shook her head and nudged him back towards the stairwell. “Go do what you gotta, Dean. Let me know what he needs so he can get home, and I’ll do my research.”

“‘kay,” Dean murmured, taking the face towel and the box under one arm as he lumped himself back down the stairs.

He sighed as he trudged into the study again, setting the shoebox on the desk. “Hey, Cas, how’re you doing?”

Castiel was soaping up his wings, which made Dean smile. “I am almost clean,” Castiel said.

“Towel for you when you’re done,” Dean said, laying the small towel over the edge of the pot so it was within easy reach.

In the meantime, Dean tossed the sawdust into the crackling fire and shook his boxers free of the clingy remains. With a sigh, he folded all three pairs together neatly so they made a mattress, and put them back into the box, leaving the lid off.

Then he went to make some food, which, once he found the smoked chicken, didn’t take too long at all. He made one sandwich, complete with a layer of fresh green lettuce and a single slice of tomato, so it didn’t count as unhealthy. He set it on the desk, but didn’t touch it just yet.

Castiel took his time, but finally, he waved an arm to Dean, silently asking to be lifted out of the saucepan, since he was too fatigued to do it himself. Dean’s fingers almost slipped on Cas’ wet skin, but he snatched up the towel and wrapped it around the little body, grinning at the cooing, satisfied sound Castiel made at the towel material.

Chuckling to himself, Dean lay Cas back against his palm with his other hand on Castiel’s outstretched belly, the towel keeping them from making direct contact. Dean rubbed at Castiel with that one gentle hand, delighted to hear the fae start to laugh, legs flailing and straightening with convulsions as Dean made his whole body vibrate. His eyes were shut tight, a huge, huge grin showing his minuscule white teeth, his head hanging upside down off the side of Dean’s palm.

“St-sto-ho-hopp,” Castiel gasped, flapping an arm, still laughing.

Dean stopped rubbing, glad to see that Cas was mostly dry now, as well as giggling.

Helping Castiel sit up in his hand, Dean lifted two fingers to dry Castiel’s hair with the corner of the towel. Castiel hunched forward, letting Dean work his magic, being careful with his wings.

Castiel sighed when Dean pulled away. His little legs swayed off the edge of his perch, heels butting into Dean’s hand from underneath. Cas smiled at Dean with a tender, friendly look in his eye, which sent shivers of happiness and satiation like a lightning strike to Dean’s core.

Strangely enough, the feeling wasn’t even a surprise to him. He liked being looked at that way.

“Let’s sort your clothes out real quick, then I’ll let you get to bed,” Dean said, helping Castiel down to the desktop, one finger hovering around for Castiel to cling to. Dean first reached for the army pants and the red teddy bear t-shirt, but Castiel had already gone for the blue flowered overshirt.

“Dude,” Dean said, wanting to snatch it away. “No.”

Castiel held the shirt up against his chest, looking up at Dean with a very convincing expression that reminded Dean of Sam when he was younger. “It would fit me...”

“Just ‘cause it fits doesn’t mean it’ll look good,” Dean stated, plucking the shirt out of Castiel’s hands. But it didn’t come, and Castiel held fast to it. Dean pulled harder. Castiel pulled back, actually managing to drag Dean’s grip a few inches closer.

Dean scoffed at the fae. “Seriously?”

Castiel tugged the shirt so hard that Dean let go. “I like it.”

Dean wrinkled his nose, but held his tongue. He didn’t bother to hide the fact he was watching Castiel dress himself, arms slipping into the sleeves that came to his elbows, velcro that did up more than an inch from his body. The shirt came to mid-thigh, and had it not been for the unfortunate pattern on the shirt, might have actually looked kinda attractive.

That is, attractive... if Cas was a full-sized human. He wasn’t, and therefore Dean probably shouldn’t have been thinking about pulling up the shirt and running a finger between Cas’ legs.

God, that was awkward.

Dean shifted in his seat, pressing his thighs together as he cleared his throat. “Yeah, whatever. Keep it.”

“I can’t use my wings like this, though,” Castiel said, flapping them to demonstrate the way they hit the back of the shirt and did nothing remotely useful, trapped.

“I’ll cut holes in it for you,” Dean said, resigning himself to actually doing that, as opposed to cutting the shirt in half and leaving it that way. “Turn around, let me measure. Actually, hang on―” he turned away, squinting at the study, “I think Bobby has a proper repair kit somewhere.”

He spent all of two minutes looking for it, before locating it under the couch. He smacked himself in the head, because dammit, he already knew it was there. “This one is the one we use when we need to stitch each other up,” he explained, putting the latched box on the desk, watching Castiel walk forwards, curious.

“Each other?”

“Battle wounds.”

“Oh, yes. I see.”

“There’s a mirror...” Dean muttered, rummaging in the box until he pulled out a hand mirror, something he’d seen women use in old movies, that he and Sam used to see their own wounds over their shoulders. Dean rested its round edge on the desk, holding it vertical and steady so Castiel could see himself in the shirt.

“You see, now?” Dean said, flicking his fingers at the ridiculously over-decorated vision of Castiel in his reflection. “You see how gross that thing is?”

Castiel seemed bewitched by his own image, taking two smooth and cautious steps towards the plated silver. He stretched his fingers out, lips parted...

Dean frowned. That was the same way he’d behaved when he’d seen glass in the car. “What’s up? You never seen a mirror before?”

Castiel shook himself out of his spell, turning swift eyes up to Dean. “Hum? Wh―? Oh! Oh, that. No.” He looked down and away, and Dean blinked a few times before lowering the mirror flat to the desk, reflective side down.

“Okay, uh...” Dean battled his odd thoughts, then licked his lips and cleared his throat. “We should take measurements for you, so I know how to alter the clothes... Wanna do that?”

Wordlessly, Castiel took his shirt off, handing it to Dean.

Dean smirked, running his eyes down Cas’ naked form again. He sat, pulling a tape measure from the open kit. “Turn around, let’s see those wings of yours.”

Castiel stood with his back to Dean, arms folded. His wings trembled as Dean set the tape measure against him, finding that the base of his two wings were each three and a half inches down his back. They flicked once in surprise as Dean touched them, wanting to feel their texture again. They were incredibly smooth, not really comparable to many things he’d felt before. Again, plastic kitchen wrap seemed the closest, but they were certainly stronger than that.

Castiel turned his gaze over his shoulder, meeting Dean’s eye. “What’s it like, not to fly?”

Dean fingered the smooth join between Castiel’s naked shoulder blades and shimmering wings, thinking about his answer. “I don’t like flying. Scares me, you know? People - human people, they make these... airplanes, which are like huge cars, that fly.”

“Cars are what we travelled to this house in,” Castiel guessed. Dean nodded.

“I’d rather keep my feet on the ground.”

Castiel considered that, shifting his wings a bit. Dean surreptitiously dragged a finger down the centre of his spine, smirking when Castiel arched at the touch. Dean felt dirty for it, but Cas hadn’t yet pulled away.

“So, how tall are you, exactly,” Dean wondered, stretching out the first few inches of measuring tape, holding it at Castiel’s head. “Stand straight...”

Castiel took a breath and held himself upright, shoulders back. Dean tilted his head to read the figures on the tape, then let it sag to the desk. “Seven inches exactly. Sweet.”

Castiel turned around, one eye closed as he yawned. “Hm.”

Dean offered a finger, smiling when Castiel took it with both hands, just holding on to one another. Dean swayed his finger back and forth, making Castiel chuckle.

“I’ll, uh, fix up your ugly shirt while you nap,” Dean said. “You... really don’t mind being naked, do you?”

Castiel slowly let his gaze rise to Dean’s, the beginnings of a pink blush on his cheeks. “I don’t mind at all.”

“Yeah, thought so.” He retracted his finger from Castiel, going for the sandwich he’d prepared. “Here, you hungry?”

Castiel took a scrap of smoked chicken from Dean, then let him squish it between two chunks of bread before he took a bite.

Dean watched carefully, waiting until Castiel had chewed and swallowed before he asked, “Good?”

Castiel nodded, then sat down cross-legged.

They ate in silence, Dean happy to observe Castiel, Castiel happy to stare back at Dean while they both had their mouths full.

Dean was really, really enjoying Cas’ company. It was almost astounding to realise quite how much.

When Castiel was full, he squeaked, closed his eyes, and flapped his wings quickly a few times, which was literally the cutest thing Dean had ever seen in his entire life. Smiling, he sank his chin into a hand, gazing down at the tiny man with something akin to reverence fluttering inside him. God, he wanted to keep Cas forever.

A sinking feeling began to rotate in his gut, painfully aware that Cas wouldn’t be around for much longer.

He held off on asking Cas how to get him home, because... well, he didn’t want him to go. Without Cas, Dean’s next few weeks would be empty and lonely - and beyond that, who knew? Chances were, the emptiness would only go on forever. That’s what Dean’s life was like.

Dean’s lack of recent sexual activity wasn’t solely because he was starting to show an interest in men and wasn’t yet confident enough in that knowledge to indulge himself. The other reason was that every time he messed around with a girl, either Dean or the girl was gone by morning. He couldn’t take that any more. It went beyond feeling lonely, it felt like he was being used. Every personable encounter he ever had ended with a goodbye. Adiós.

If he could keep Cas around as long as possible, maybe the fae would see sense. Going home, by all rights, was a death sentence for him. Staying with Dean was... it was better, right?

Dean swallowed the last bite of his sandwich, eyeing Castiel where he lay snoozing on the desk, naked as anything.

“I think it’s bedtime for you, buddy.” Dean gave a slow smile, resting his fingers on Castiel’s warm stomach. Castiel hummed.

With a gentle touch, Dean scooped up the fragile body and lifted him into the shoebox. “Make yourself at home. Charlie cut you a door if you need to get out. Sorry if the bed is a bit... ummm. Yeah. Sorry.” He tipped Castiel onto the makeshift mattress, and picked up the box lid so Castiel could have some darkness and privacy. “I’m gonna close this up now, that all right?”

Castiel crawled under the top layer of Dean’s folded underwear. “Mm-hm.”

“‘Night, Cas.”

“Goodnight, Dean,” Castiel said, quite sweetly.

With a massive smile, Dean lowered the lid over the box. Cas had to trust Dean immensely to let him trap him like that, and Dean was in awe of how responsible he felt now.

He sat back, leaving the box untouched. He heard a scratch and a rustle from inside, then silence.

Over the rest of the day, Dean tidied the kitchen, read a car magazine cover-to-cover, did a newspaper crossword, looked up porn on his laptop for fifteen minutes before giving up, then made dinner.

He cut wing holes in the back of the stupid floral shirt from the neckline downwards, then stitched them up like he would for button-edges, so they wouldn’t fray. Then he stole some miniature buttons from the Barbies’ dresses, and sewed one at the top of each split, so Cas could keep the flaps closed. With that done, Dean tidied the kitchen again, because he’d made a mess making dinner and nobody was around to eat yet anyway.

When he looked at the clock, he saw it was only five in the afternoon. The sun was going down behind the clouds, and the smell of woodsmoke was slowly filling the study, since the open fireplace was simmering low. Dean restocked it, but left the task of fetching more wood from outside to someone else, since his leg cast granted him a free pass to stay inside in the warm and dry.

Bored of the stillness in the house, he took a nap on the couch.

...Only to wake up in the middle of the night to discover that someone had draped a blanket over him, closed the drapes at his side, and set a glass of water on the floor beside the couch.

Holy mackerel, he was more tired than he thought he’d been.

He slouched into the kitchen, and pulled some leftover food from the fridge. Everything he’d made had been packaged up neatly by someone else, labelled in Charlie’s handwriting. Dean smiled, putting it into the microwave, then ducking into the bathroom for a minute.

He ate his food at the tiny kitchen table, and gradually came to the realisation that he could probably do with another eight hours’ sleep. He brushed his teeth, washed his face, then slunk back to the couch.

He didn’t have a real bed here, since Sammy got the good one due to his concussion, and none of the other guest bedrooms were made up - they wouldn’t be unless there were more hunters coming through. The couch was decent enough.

He flopped back under the blanket and snuggled up, letting out a long, long sigh.

Not two dark and quiet minutes passed before he heard a faint buzzing sound. He cracked open an eye, and saw a hovering bauble of light approaching him.

“Cas?” Dean croaked, voice thick from disuse. The glow came closer, and used Dean’s thigh as a landing pad. Cas was as bright as a seven-inch lightbulb, but even through the painful flashes in the back of Dean’s head, he could still see that Cas’ wings were not glowing, only his skin was. Tiny footsteps made their way up Dean’s chest, too lightweight to hurt or tickle.

Castiel bent down, crawling on his hands and knees, easing himself under Dean’s hand where it rested on his chest.

Castiel didn’t make eye contact, but turned his head to the side, cheek to Dean’s t-shirt. Dean felt Cas take in a deep breath, then let it out - and with the sigh went the light. The glow faded, and faded, and Dean realised that meant Castiel had fallen asleep.

He was curled up under Dean’s hand.

Dean felt so much affection for the little guy right then, his smile made him warm all over. He shut his eyes, thinking about how nice it was to be appreciated so dearly.

He fell back asleep, still basking in the warmth.

⁎*⁎*❉*⁎*⁎

Dean woke up in a state of panic and bemusement, because the first thing he realised, before he was even fully conscious, was that his hand was empty. He sat bolt upright, gasping, “Cas?”

He looked about himself, at the sunlight-painted couch, at the floorboards, across to the kitchen―

“Oh, heya, Dean,” Charlie said, licking something off the back of her hand as she carried a tray of food into the study. “We made you breakfast.”

Dean blinked blearily. “We?”

Castiel fluttered upward out of the kitchen, taking a swan dive at the moment he reached the ceiling. He swooped low to the floor, then perched quite gracefully on Dean’s crooked denimed knee. “Good morning, Dean,” the fae greeted, a cheerful smile on his stubbled face and that awful shirt covering his torso. He wasn’t wearing his sword, or pants.

“Ngh,” Dean grunted, nudging a thumb at his eyes to remove the grit from the corners. He felt groggy and exhausted, which had not been how he felt before getting some sleep. That was somewhat unfair, he thought.

“I cooked you a bacon,” Castiel said, sitting on Dean’s knee and smiling up at him. “And Charlie made sausages.”

Dean’s mouth curved into a smile he couldn’t help. “I oughta wake up like this every day, waited on hand-and-foot.”

Castiel tilted his head in a bird-like manner, but didn’t reply.

With a sluggish grunt, Dean pushed himself off the couch, giving Castiel a moment to fly away. He zipped around like a startled bird, wings fluttering so fast that Dean couldn’t even see them. He moved a bit like a ballet dancer at corners and turnings, legs held perfectly straight, body poised in flawless curves as he used his limbs to steer.

Dean watched Cas show off for a full minute, mouth agape.

When Charlie reminded him that his food was getting cold, Dean made the effort to go and wash himself up before plonking himself down and digging in.

Castiel sat on the rim of a vase of freshly-picked flowers on the kitchen table, swinging his legs.

Dean eyed the flowers, then Charlie as she sat opposite him. Swallowing his mouthful, Dean gestured at the bright decorations. “Where did these come from?”

Castiel’s legs stopped swinging.

Charlie’s lip quirked into a careful smile. “We picked them.”

“We, as in, you and Cas?”

Castiel sat up straighter, well-balanced on the edge of the vase. “Yes.”

Dean pursed his lips, admiring the willowy twigs heaving with blossoms and the colourful sprigs of plants he didn’t recognise. He hadn’t even realised any flowers were around at this time of year, given that summer was well and truly over.

“Nice,” he said.

Castiel began to swing his legs again, eyes on Dean.

“So,” Dean said with his mouth full, “Wha’s the plan fur t’day?”

Charlie glanced at Castiel. “Well, I think Castiel wanted a way to get... home, right Cas?”

Castiel looked at Charlie for some time before answering, eyes slowly turning to Dean again. “Yes. There might be something in your books and your ‘in-ter-net’ that could provide some clues.”

Dean smacked his lips, pretending to be interested, when in actual fact his stomach was tearing itself apart, nothing to do with how good the food was. He didn’t want Cas to go. He didn’t.

“Sure,” he managed, eyes locking to his half-empty plate. “We have some books on the fairy realms and portals and stuff.”

Castiel was quiet, and Charlie was quiet, so Dean was quiet too.

When he’d finished eating, he washed up his own plate, needing something to do that didn’t involve looking at Charlie or Cas, who were both so keen on taking away from him the one thing he’d actually cared about in months.

Castiel did something for him. Made him feel emotions he needed to feel, things he’d missed. Companionship, connection. A need to protect, a drive to please. He had those things in Charlie and Sam, too, but they were both big.

Cas was... small. He wasn’t weak, but he needed care, and Dean needed that. He needed to fuss over something or someone that wasn’t himself, because he himself was broken. No matter the other things he finally got around to admitting to himself, he would never be willing to admit he was out for the count. He’d get back up again, and even if getting up entailed nothing more than making sandwiches the size of a button, he’d do it.

Head down, Dean limped into the study, still hearing the mutterings of Charlie and Cas sharing a conversation.

Dean allowed himself to feel irate now that nobody’s eyes were on him. He kicked the couch with his broken leg, then folded over in exquisite pain, dealing with it in silence. It made him feel better, somehow, just having a way to vent.

He straightened up and forced his face blank when Charlie came in, Cas on her shoulder. Dean watched them with a forlorn, mildly jealous feeling in his chest. He had nothing against Charlie and Cas having things to bond over, but Dean missed that tiny weight on his shoulder, or in his hand.

He told himself to be patient. If Cas was even still around by nightfall, Dean would bet anything that the fae would opt to sleeping over Dean’s steady heartbeat again. He smiled at the memory, the softness of Castiel’s skin under his fingers, the slow, almost imperceptible breaths that lifted and sank in his touch.

Charlie pulled out a few books, tossing them to Dean. He caught one in each hand, then flopped onto the couch, pulling his cast up so it could lay flat, then shoving a hand at the drapes so he had some sunlight to work with. It was still raining outside, but yellow sun splattered the dusty yard outside, grey sky darker than ever before. Dean peered across the distant landscape, wondering if a storm was coming in. There was probably a rainbow over the house, but he couldn’t be bothered going to check.

Dean sighed heavily and opened the first book without checking the title.

This was his least favourite part of hunting; the sitting. The sitting and the reading. The sitting and the reading and the sighing and the finger-tapping and the utter, utter boredom. He liked to read, he did! But not when the only reading material was about the same shit he did every day, opening portals, doing rituals, carving lines into arms to draw out pools of blood. He read for adventure and an escape, not for this.

He knew full-well that if he ever did chance upon something in this book that would lead him to getting Cas back home, that was it for Dean. He’d be sad if that happened.

That was all it came down to, really. Sad. He would be upset. Not least because Cas might never come back, but because he would be dead.

Dean felt preemptive grief, and he stopped reading. He skipped pages and skimmed pages, but only pretended to read for the sake of not looking like an asshole to his company. He didn’t think Cas nor Charlie would see his plight the same way. Cas had a mission, and a religion, and if that meant heading home to die, that was what was going to be done.

After a couple of particularly maddening hours, Sam sloped into the room, pulled out a chair, and started to read too. He made written notes, but Dean didn’t bother to ask what they were about. Charlie tapped away on her laptop, and on the desk at her side, Castiel pored over a book for a great length of time, turning the huge pages with the utmost care.

Dean watched him for a while, divided between affection and bitterness.

Charlie went and microwaved them some lunch, which they ate in silence.

This was shaping up to be one of the most frustratingly wasted days of Dean’s entire life. He felt like a kid again, trapped inside for detention while the other kids got recess. If his time with Cas was short, it felt like pure torture to just sit and watch the fae turn pages.

Every time Castiel lifted a page, his floral shirt rose up, and Dean saw a flash of the bareness underneath. Something about that made him ache and feel such a curious, unplaceable desire.

Eventually, Dean cracked. In a whisper, he caught Castiel’s attention. “Hey. Hey, Cas...”

Castiel looked up from where he’d been standing, hands on his hips, peering down at the book in front of him.

Dean crooked a finger, smirking as he beckoned Castiel to him.

Castiel glanced at Charlie, who looked between the two of them, then shrugged.

Castiel took off, flapping his little wings until he crested the height of an arch, then descended towards Dean, landing in a heavy crouch on the page Dean had been staring at for half an hour. Dean smiled, very glad to see those blue eyes and the unshaven bristles on Castiel’s diamond-cut jawline.

“Did you want something, Dean?”

Dean pursed his lips, shrugging a shoulder. “How were you doing over there?”

Castiel sighed, looking away dramatically. “Not very well. There is not much information regarding the faerie realms here. Charlie knows most of it, but she―” Castiel’s eyelashes flickered, gaze cast to Charlie, “she doesn’t know how to return me to Robek.”

“How did you get here?”

Castiel swallowed. “I... It’s complicated.”

“Well, so is making souffle, but so long as you explain it nice and simple, we’ll get there.”

Castiel didn’t even bother looking perplexed. He sat on Dean’s open book and sighed. “A spell was done by my people, first to an iconic monument in my tribe’s village, then to an object: one of my possessions, which I had to wear for the portal to work.” He gestured vaguely towards the desk, then met Dean’s eye. “My sword and belt. Those were the only things that exited my home realm, along with any living part of me. Hence my nudity,” he said, stroking a hand down one bare leg, ruffling the unbelievably fine hair that Dean could only just see.

“And then what?” Dean prompted. He was aware of Sam listening in, but Charlie was still typing, either listening simultaneously, or already aware of what Castiel was saying.

“Then,” Castiel went on, “I went up to the monument. It was a vertical plane of glass, with water constantly flowing over its surface - very beautiful. Since I was wearing my enchanted sword, I simply walked straight through, and it swallowed me up like there was no glass behind it at all.

“That was all it took; I entered another realm. But it was... so dark there. Something in the darkness shed my clothes, I felt huge hands... pulling at me. I’d been given instructions, directions... the number of steps, the number of turnings to take, but these hands, they―” Castiel grasped his shirt, wrenching it forward in demonstration, “took me off course. I lost my way, I lost my footing, I fell... I fell or I was spun around, I don’t think there was a difference.

“And then I felt a door before me. It wasn’t a door, but it was a... an opening. In darkness, so dark there was nothing there, you understand. I wanted to escape the dark, because it was―” Castiel’s face shook, eyes looking at nothing as a faulted smile appeared on his face. “It made me afraid. I’ve never been afraid of the dark, nor of blindness, but I couldn’t help but feel that the whole world was looking at me, enjoying my confusion. On instinct, I moved forward into the door - and I found myself drowning.”

“What like... water?”

Castiel nodded. “Yes. I swam up in a lake, spent such a long time making it to the edge, only to find that the world was wrong, it was too big. Insects were half my size, and I was a mere mouthful to predators. I thanked the sky and my ancestors for the daylight... If it had been dark still, I know I would have perished within moments of arriving here.”

“Amen to that,” Dean huffed, curling a hand around Castiel’s hunched back. “Glad you made it.”

Castiel smiled brightly. “I am, too.”

Still beaming at his friendly fae, Dean hummed a long note. “So you’re, uh, stuck here until we find a way to duplicate the spell, I guess. Magic something so it turns into a portal door?”

Castiel nodded his head thoughtfully. “There is a chance it would still work, the same portal I entered through. But I don’t want to swim.”

Dean pulled a sideways smile. “Prefer to keep your feet on the ground, right? Metaphorically, that is. You with the wings, and all.”

Castiel flapped said wings, turning his face to see them over his shoulder. “I’m not afraid of flying like you are.”

“No, I guess not,” Dean said, then promptly ran out of things to say.

Dean was dimly aware of Sam ruffling pages, and Charlie typing harder than before, as well as Bobby pottering around upstairs and taking phone calls, but nothing really took away from the fact that he and Castiel spent the following twenty minutes playing with each other.

Dean would poke at Castiel’s tummy, and Castiel would bat him away, but then chase Dean’s fingers to hold onto them. Dean would lift him right off his lap, his book long-ago discarded, since he was decidedly done with that activity. Castiel dangled from his grip, grinning madly. Dean blew warm air under his horrible shirt, making Castiel curl up his legs, chuckling. Dean hoped it felt as good for Cas as he imagined it was.

He tickled him too, neither of them making any effort to dissuade Dean’s fingers from tickling parts of Castiel’s body that weren’t straight-up belly. His legs flailed, his arms flapped about, and he laughed, even when Dean’s pinkie poked between his legs and rubbed at his thighs.

Dean let Castiel gasp for breath as he lay on Dean’s clasped legs, just waiting until he could dive back in with more mostly-innocent touches. Dean wasn’t sure if Cas took the same thing from the contact as Dean did, but in their present company, Dean didn’t feel comfortable asking.

When the tickles turned to raspberries blown on Castiel’s tummy, the tiny laughs became hearty guffaws. Dean’s face was kicked and punched by those small limbs, but he didn’t mind at all. The fae’s shirt had fallen open, and Dean was happy just to puff hot air onto Cas’ skin, soaring with total delight at the reaction he had. His wings flapped arrhythmically, his body glowing on and off whenever Dean made him yelp particularly loudly. For such a small dude, he sure could throw his voice.

Once or twice in those moments, he tried kissing instead of blowing raspberries. They were sweet little kisses, quick and clicky like the ones Charlie used to beckon random cats nearer to her. Dean wasn’t sure if Castiel even noticed the difference - and if he did, he laughed anyway.

It all ended when Dean heard the irritated sound of his brother’s voice, cutting through the flutters of Castiel’s wings. “Dean.

Dean licked his lips, laughter fading as he saw the flat expression on Sam’s face. “What,” Dean said, defensively. Castiel had stopped giggling.

“We’re trying to find him a solution, you could at least help.”

Dean immediately felt like a well had been carved into him, filling with the tears he was never going to let his brother see. It wasn’t Sam’s fault, he didn’t know how Dean felt about Cas, about this whole situation. Dean sneered at Sam, knowing a hateful shade had passed through his eyes. He was angry Sam for a single, fleeting moment, for taking away how wonderful those minutes had been: light and fluttery, filled only with Cas and wings and the taste of mottled sunshine on the dusty couch.

But Dean knew Sam was right. Dean was only being selfish, wanting to keep this feeling, this person, this happy, naked creature who held on to Dean’s thumb and looked up at him with twinkling blue eyes.

All those songs that said people didn’t know what they had until it was gone, those weren’t even relevant right now. Dean knew perfectly well what he’d be losing.

Dean put Castiel down on the back of the couch, stood up on his painful, throbbing legs, and hobbled to the open side of the wall that led to the hallway.

“Where are you going?” Sam said, his voice on the edge of berating.

“Nowhere,” Dean snapped back, shooting Sam a death glare. “Somewhere else.”

He couldn’t deal with this.

He limped his way to the front door, wrenching it open and striding out into the cold porch. He slammed the door behind him, then bent forward, one hand on his plastered thigh and one pressing over his face.

This was happening too quickly. Not more than thirty hours previously, he and Sam had been headed out on a hunt. They’d returned triumphant, as was generally normal for them, but Dean lost a basic function that he knew made him a failure. Without two working legs he was crippled, and people in the hunting world had no use for cripples.

Well, there was always research. But that was what Bobby did. That was what Charlie did. Dean wasn’t one of them, he wasn’t the sitter, he was the doer, and Cas was the only thing making being stuck at home bearable.

People left him eventually. That kind of loneliness was a broken record, spinning in his record-player heart. He didn’t want it to happen again, and he couldn’t deal with how it felt.

Taking a breath, he made his way off the porch and down the clumpy steps that led him onto the puddled driveway. The air tasted murky and humid, close to his skin. He made it to his car, popping open the door, having left it unlocked - but he paused, however, looking at the driver’s seat.

He wanted to drive. Driving made him feel better. But running away did not. He was Dean Winchester; he ran to things, not away. Hell, he’d even driven into the middle of an apocalypse once or twice, and he still counted those as some of his proudest moments.

If he drove out now, all he would be running away from were his feelings. And those would travel with him; they weren’t going anywhere. He didn’t need a drive to clear his head, or to work out what he was feeling. He knew. He knew perfectly well that what he felt for Cas was laughable, and ridiculous on so many levels, but it wasn’t funny any more. Maybe it never had been.

Dean snatched his crutches out of the car instead, slipping his arms through the stiff plastic loops at the top. He was weak and broken, but Cas told him yesterday he didn’t need to pretend he was fine. He wasn’t fine. He couldn’t fucking walk.

He slammed the car door, at a loss for where to go or what to do now. His mind had gone blank, hearing the distant crunch of gravel.

A vehicle was approaching.

Dean took a few experimental paces outward from his car, testing how to balance his weight on his arms and his one good leg, keeping his cast off the sodden ground. He listened for the nearing car, and stood up straighter when he realised it was Jody’s patrol SUV, racing for the house.

It swerved and the 4-wheel-drive swung on its wheels, leaving a nasty semi-circle gash in Bobby’s gravel. Dean barely spared a thought for what the old man might say, before Jody was out of her car and heading straight for Dean, her expression clearly saying she meant business.

“Trouble?” Dean asked, already knowing the answer.

“Inside, now, I need you on this.”

Dean hesitated for only a moment; there were things more important than hurt feelings. He followed at Jody’s heel, crutches sweeping alongside and ahead of his body like a gorilla’s arms. He praised his previous self for doing so many pushups, else his arms would be aching like hell already. The porch stairs were particularly difficult.

Jody held the door open for him and helped him inside, then ushered him back to the living room.

“Listen up, people, we have a situation,” she called, clapping her hands. Her short-cropped hair swung around her ears as she looked about, searching the room. “Where’s Bobby?”

“On my way down,” Bobby’s voice came from above, presumably having heard the car come up the driveway. Dean heard the hurried footsteps of Bobby heading for the stairwell.

Jody waited until he was halfway down the stairs and properly in earshot before she began talking. “All right, we’ve got ourselves something invisible. That’s fact one. Fact two, whatever it is is about yay high,” she held her hand at just above waist-height, “weighs at least two-fifty, bleeds black.

“Fact three, it’s killed someone, dead-centre of town. A mom; she was a dance teacher, ripped to shreds right in front of her class of six-year-olds.

“Four, we blocked the thing in, it’s somewhere in that gigantic dance hall, but we have no idea where, and I’m not willing to send anyone in to act as bait.” Jody flexed her hands, grasping at air towards her rapt audience. “You see the issue?”

Dean nodded, low, perching himself on the arm of the couch. Now armed with his sword, Castiel flitted to Dean’s shoulder and sat down, saying nothing.

Charlie looked up from her handheld tablet, nodding as she raised her hand like she was in school. “Gotcha. Hellhound.”

“That’s my thought too,” Sam agreed. He stood up from his seat, running a hand over his mouth. “Okay, uh... Invisible. Kinda fast.” His eyes shot to Dean. “You’re staying.”

Dean laughed. “I’m not staying.”

Sam set his jaw, giving Dean a fierce, stinging look. He turned back to Jody, who seemed understandably exasperated and slightly panicked.

Sam shook his head. “In all likelihood, the thing only showed up for that one woman. Unless anyone else gets in its way, all we have to do is corner it and put it down.”

“Doesn’t it, um, go back to its master, or something?” Jody asked, gaze switching between Sam and Bobby.

Charlie tapped at her tablet, but shook her head. “No idea.”

“They usually vanish,” Dean said, shrugging the shoulder Castiel wasn’t on. “Take what they came for and then they’re gone. But if there’s a hellhound in town, likely there’s a demon too. I could try summoning it, tell it to call its mutt off.”

Sam was shaking his head. “Dean, stop. Stop this, you’re not coming with us.”

“Well I’m not gonna hang around here with my thumbs up my ass, am I?” Dean scoffed, raising his arms to his side. “If anything, I’m driving.”

Sam’s words caught in his mouth, and he turned away, sighing. “Fine. Everyone who’s coming with, get your stuff and meet us out front. Charlie, we need goofer dust, couple sacks of salt, devil’s shoestring―”

“Running low on shoestring,” Charlie passed back, pulling on her coat, then tossing her foot up on the edge of the desk to do up the laces. “And anyway, that’s to keep the thing out, it’s already in.”

Jody nodded, pointing at Charlie. “The room it’s in is about forty square foot, mirrors on two whole sides, big polished floor. My own team is only eight people total, so if we’re going to do a real sweep down to get it in one place, we need all of you.” She looked pointedly at Dean, then her eyes drifted unsurely to Castiel. “Maybe leave the fairy.”

Castiel stood up on Dean’s shoulder, drawing his sword. “I am willing to die for your army, O Queen.”

“Yeah, that’s a problem,” Jody said, calmly. “If a single one of you comes out of this any worse for wear, that’s on me. I’m not having it. Either you survive or you stay put.”

Dean heard Castiel take a hasty breath. “I admire your―”

“Save it,” Jody cut over Castiel’s speech. “In or out, soldier?”

Castiel sheathed his sword. “In.”

Dean grinned, proud of the guy. He got to his feet, aligning his crutches to make his way past the harried forces of Sam Winchester, Bobby Singer, and Charlie Bradbury. His clan, so to speak.

He tracked down and donned his overshirt, leather jacket, checked he had his car keys, and made it to the front door within a minute. Jody waited there, wafting a hand to get her reinforcements to file out. Dean went ahead to the car, able to hear Castiel flying steadily a foot behind him.

Charlie climbed into the back seat while Dean crammed himself and his leg cast into the drivers’ seat. Sam came around and joined him at the front, duffel bag slung over his lap. Dean revved his baby’s engine as he watched Jody and Bobby slam the doors of the SUV ahead, then swing around and take the lead.

Dean’s car kicked up gravel as he floored the gas, racing to catch up with Jody. They turned into the main road and headed into town, hurtling down the sun-dappled road, metal edges flashing clear in the dense air of the cold afternoon.

“Hellhounds,” Dean said to his shoulder, where Castiel was sitting, “belong to demons, usually. They’re imagined like big dogs, but god knows what they really look like. People here, they make deals with the demons, and their mutts tear them down and drag them to Hell when their deal is up.”

“After ten years, you said,” Castiel recalled from the previous day’s conversations.

Dean nodded. “We’re gonna take the thing down, teach that demon a lesson.”

“Won’t the demon retaliate?”

Dean shrugged, nudging Castiel against his ear. “If we can kill an invisible dog, one demon won’t be too much trouble.”

“I hope so,” Castiel said, hands resting on Dean’s neck and shirt collar.

They drove onward, making every turning that Jody made. Her patrol car’s lights flashed constantly, and once or twice she bumped on the siren, and the wail made cars turn off the road so her troupe of hunters could pass.

They parked up on the sidewalk beside a wide and flat freestanding building, made of red brick. There were other police cars around, all empty.

Jody exited her car and marched ahead, a gun ready in her hand and Bobby at her heel. She gestured to Charlie and Sam, who followed her.

Sam turned around once, meeting Dean’s eye. “Stay with the car.”

Dean huffed, watching all four of them head for the open glass doors without so much as a look back. He was still struggling to get his crutches out of his car.

“Hurry, Dean, they’ve gone inside without us,” Castiel urged, fluttering back and forth between the front doors and Dean.

“Ah!” Dean growled, giving up on the crutches, getting out and slamming the door shut. “Forget it, I’m walking.”

“Dean...”

Dean limped, one hand on his aching leg, one held out like a spread wing, flailing as he walked. The sidewalk shot sparks of pain up his whole body every time the base of the cast hit down, but he struggled his way to the door, and held it open so Castiel could enter first.

Castiel flew inside, concerned eyes on Dean. “Are you... sure―”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Dean snapped, hobbling, hunched over. They’d entered the nice establishment, a warm corridor with a red couch for waiting at the side. Dean fell into it, pushed himself up, and walked on. To his left was an abandoned receptionist’s office, and once he passed that, the walls either side of him were pinned with reminders and papers for parents and dancers. His eyes lingered on the clip art of ballerinas, tall arms rising in stylised curves, dresses pink and fancy.

Castiel’s wings vibrated in the air like a hummingbird’s, swooping and dipping as he tried to let Dean keep up. Dean was panting, exhausted already, using the wall for support.

He had no idea where Sam or Jody or any of them had gone. This was not how a hunt was supposed to work - they were meant to look out for each other, not take off and leave the cripple to fend for himself.

Then again, Dean was meant to stay in the car. If they needed to make a fast getaway, he would still be inside. And he had the car keys. Sam knew how to hotwire a car, but that was not to say that Dean was happy to let him do that to his baby.

Dean was about to suggest, pitifully, that he and Castiel turn around and head back to the car, when he heard a long, extended thump.

Then came the distant sound of screaming.

Dean let out a breath, eyes wide as he dragged his leg along faster. The pain ricocheted up through his hip, he knew it was going to get worse if he kept walking like this...

He fell into a heavy fire door, shoving it open. Windows lined the entire left side of the hallway ahead, white daylight pouring across the two doors on the right, far away from each other. With a huff of exertion, Dean cast his eye back to Castiel, who nodded and flew through, turning to wait for Dean.

Dean grunted and pushed forward, hearing a man’s yell of fear. It was closer than before.

It’s there, it’s there! It’s gonna get me!

A gunshot thudded through the building, and Dean tried so hard to pick up the pace, but he was sweating now, his hands were shaking. He should’ve taken painkillers. God, he could have sworn he felt the broken bone shifting inside him.

“Hurry, Dean, hurry,” Castiel said, his wings as agitated as his voice.

“I’m going - hff - as fast as - hh―”

“As fast as you can, I know,” Castiel said. He flew a foot lower and swept under Dean’s hand, lifting it with all his strength. “Come on, Dean, they need you!”

Two more gunshots - they were loud, sounding a quake under Dean’s feet. His bare toes even felt it, grazing the carpet as he rushed towards the fight.

He made it to the door that all the yells were coming from, pushed it open―

Jody and her policemen and women sat at the sides of the bright dance hall, panting and chuckling softly. Bobby stood in the middle of the hall, one gun set at his hip. Sam and Charlie stood beside him, shoulders slumped in relief.

Dean didn’t see a hellhound anywhere, but he did see an awful lot of black gunk on the polished wood, which he knew was blood. The dance teacher’s dead body was surrounded by her own red blood, closer to the mirrors on the far side of the hall.

Dean made eye contact with Castiel, and fell back against the closed door. Dean almost felt disappointment instead of relief. He wasn’t stupid, he wouldn’t throw himself into a fight he couldn’t win, but he’d wanted to be a part of this.

And he’d held Castiel back too, which just made him feel straight-up guilty. Damn his leg. Damn yesterday’s mistakes.

There wasn’t a great deal to say. Jody’s guys and gals packed up their things, some limping, some laughing and offering support. Nobody seemed too badly hurt, and Sam looked positively chirpy. He patted Jody on the back, then turned to help Charlie grab the bags of salt they hadn’t used.

“So that was pretty anticlimactic, huh?” Dean quipped in Jody’s direction, only to get raised eyebrows and a smirk in return.

“I’ll take anticlimactic over fatalities, kid,” Jody smiled, clearly pleased. She cuffed Dean around the head, then pointed a finger gun at Castiel. “You two did good, getting here all by yourself.”

Castiel stood on Dean’s shoulder, hand cupped around the back of his ear for balance. He didn’t reply. Dean got the impression he took offence to what Jody said, but was biting his tongue purely out of respect for her.

When the hall was nearly empty, and all that remained was Jody’s echoing voice as she left, suggesting to Bobby ways they could clear the room of dog meat, Dean sighed. He looked at the pools of black blood, and the mess where the blood ended and was smeared. He assumed that was where the dead hellhound lay.

“There is no need to feel ashamed,” Castiel said, quietly, stroking Dean’s ear. “You tried your hardest.”

“What if they hadn’t won, huh? What if it was Sammy in here getting slaughtered alone, and I hadn’t got here fast enough?”

Castiel buzzed up off his shoulder, hovering in front of Dean’s face instead. The daylight from the high windows shone through his wings, making them appear spectacularly coloured, like painted dragonfly membranes. His gaze was intense, yet soft, as he told Dean, “Everything has gone well, Dean. Not every success needs to be your success; your clan saved themselves before you were in any position to rescue them.” He shook his head, then concluded, quietly, “You can’t save everyone, my friend.”

Castiel surely didn’t know how deeply those words hit Dean. Whether he was reassured or hurt was unclear, but he felt a massive wave of emotion like a tide on his shores, buried under layers and layers of stormy clouds.

Dean lowered his eyes and turned away, nodding.

“What now, Dean?”

“Let’s just go. Everyone else is probably cracking the beer, might as well join them.”

Castiel breezed ahead to the door and waited for Dean, perched bare-footed on the handle. Dean paused as he opened the door, his heavy cast on the border between carpet and pinewood floor. He looked back at the hall, unsure if he’d heard a noise.

“Dean?”

Dean glanced up at his hovering fae. “You think maybe we should wait with the bodies ‘til they come back and grab them?”

“Would you like to wait?”

Dean shook his head. He clumped into the hallway and started back the way he’d come, now following the distant sound of celebration rather than screaming.

He felt severely abandoned, and if he didn’t have Cas with him, he’d be so pissed at Sam and Charlie he’d be throwing punches when he caught up with them. But Castiel’s ease and gently buzzing wings calmed him. Dean looked to his fae for comfort, and when Cas smiled, Dean gave a smile in return.

They passed another hall, and Dean halted at the door, peering inside through the safety glass. It seemed much like the first hall, but this one was filled with shadows.

With a glance to Castiel, Dean pushed open the door and went inside.

“Why are we going in here?”

“Just curious,” Dean said, limping in.

There was no black blood across this floor, but instead there were five, six, seven items around the room, all about the size of a grand piano, each draped over with a white cloth. The daylight in here was far less direct, the windows’ luminescence already stolen by the first hall. It smelled like dust in here, and months of staleness.

Dean took a deep breath, standing in the centre of the room with a smile on his face. This place was peaceful, and he could easily imagine the tinkling notes of casual piano practice, a gentle echo throughout the tall room. Even basked in drab shadows, Dean felt bright and whole.

He spun on his good leg, pretending not to feel the weight of the other. Arms raised, he turned, wishing for grace and poise, things he usually only had while hunting. There had to be a part of him that could dance...

“Dean...?”

Dean blinked open his eyes, smiling at Castiel, who fritzed from point to point a few feet from Dean. Dean shrugged, lowering his arms. “Ballet. This kind of dancing, it’s called ballet.”

He felt somewhat regretful that Castiel had no frame of reference but Dean’s clumsy inching around the floor, but Dean was trying, and he was passionate about things he loved... like this. Some loves he’d never told anyone about, kept to himself. He yearned for beauty in his life, and ballet was the epitome of beauty for him.

He couldn’t jump or pirouette, but he swept his arms low and high, dragging in a breath with his eyes closed, letting something beautiful fill him up.

If Sam was here, Dean wouldn’t mind him seeing this, which was a realisation that evoked a strong sense of pride in Dean. Even if Sam laughed the first time, it wouldn’t be funny the second time. He would know that Dean liked things, enjoyed things, like ballet and ineffable bonds with tiny male faeries.

Dean laughed happily as he spun around again, fingertips touched by Castiel’s hands as he linked with him, letting Dean twirl him in a circle. He stopped using his wings and simply let Dean help him fly, both of them beaming in delight.

Dean had had some odd moments in his life, but some were more memorable than others, like now. The swirling, breathy joy he felt, dancing, this was good. This was perfect.

Everything stopped when he heard a growl.

His back straightened, gaze darting to all edges of the room. “Cas, what was that?” Dean whispered, deathly quiet. None of the draped sheets moved, nothing stirred. The long mirrors along the right and far walls showed nothing but Dean and his Hawaiian-shirted faerie.

Castiel landed on Dean’s shoulder, holding his breath and keeping his wings still so there was total silence.

The silence went on, uninterrupted.

Dean thought maybe he’d imagined the first disruption, but his instinct said otherwise. The hellhound was dead in the other room, so it was something else.

There was something in here with them.

Dean gestured to Castiel, pointing to one side of the room. Castiel took off, flying cautiously, a foot above head-height. Dean crept along the right side of the room, closer to the mirror. His eyes kept careful watch on everything in sight, the soft shadows of the sheeted shapes, the dark corners, the closed door behind him.

No sound came again, nothing like the growl he’d heard, but he was so sure...

They spent a silent minute patrolling the room. Dean’s heartbeat was caught in his throat. Fight-or-flight didn’t apply here; he had no intention of running away from this and calling for backup, not until he was sure what they were dealing with. He didn’t want to be the boy who cried wolf - or hellhound, for that matter.

Besides, Cas was with him.

Something shifted, and a gust of air went puff.

Dean drew his gun from his holster, aiming it towards the soft sound. There was nothing there, only one of the sheet-covered shapes.

His gun was loaded with salt rounds, but they wouldn’t kill a hellhound, just annoy it, maybe injure it. It ought to be enough.

He held his breath, inching forward. His eyes darted to Castiel, who had heard it too. The fae approached just as gingerly, wings batting in irregular beats, perhaps out of nervousness.

When Dean was less than four feet from where the noise had been, he turned the gun directly on the lumpen sheet. It had corners, and didn’t look like something living - but Dean had never seen a hellhound, so for all he knew, there was a creature under there.

He stretched out an arm, his fingers brave and steady. He felt unguarded, but he was still moving forward, limping silently, reaching...

He grabbed the sheet and wrenched it off; it twisted and sank to the ground with a huge wave of dust. It was only a rack of costumes, swinging on their hangers where the movement had unsettled them.

Another unmistakable growl sounded, but it wasn’t from the rack. Dean panted, swinging the aim of his pistol from the rack to the space around it. Where was the monster?

A foot to the right, it growled, loudly.

Dean took an instinctive step backwards, shoulder firm as he kept his gun raised, loading it. A heavy footstep touched down to the floor in front of him, then another. The hellhound was advancing on him, close, so close―

Dean backed up, a cold panic breaking over him - he couldn’t run, he was no better than a sitting duck. One more step, and he felt the creature looming, breath on his gun hand. Dean gasped and fired his gun in reaction. BANG!

Black froth spat over his hand, freckling his face with blood. The growl turned to a rugged bark, the massive body of the creature shifting, startled by its injury. Black blood drooled down its side, showing up the bulk of its invisible shape. It was twice Dean’s size, easily. It advanced again with a fearsome jerk, knocking Dean over.

Dean was winded the moment he hit the ground, his leg causing him excruciating pain. The cast was cracking before his very eyes, squashed beneath a mighty paw. Dean yelled out in fear and pain, his hand limp around the gun.

A light swept down in front of him, fast and shimmering. It was Cas, fluttering madly in the creature’s unseen face.

While the monster was distracted, Dean gasped for air, gritting his teeth as he tried his best to drag himself out from under the weight.

Something moved, something heavy. Swift as anything, Castiel was punched away from Dean and the hellhound. His tiny body dimmed of all light, shot across the room and straight into the mirror. Dean watched with wide eyes as Castiel did not hit the mirror, but fell through it. The silver surface rippled like water, distorting the reflection of Dean’s collapsed body, then returned to normal. Cas was gone.

Dean turned his eyes back to the monster before him. It was dripping blood, leaving a continuous trail of it from one leg. Dean could almost see the edge of a clawed paw―

No. No, that wasn’t a paw, that was a hand. It had fingers.

The creature was advancing on Dean again. He scrambled back on his hands, unable to do anything to push himself to his feet. His leg was scalding hot with pain, maybe bleeding under his cast. He could barely breathe, but every breath he took was bittered by the scent of sulphurous blood, drowning the smell of polished pine and dust.

He didn’t have much space to retreat, the mirror was only feet behind him. Wherever Cas had gone, Dean doubted he could go too. Unless someone heard that one gunshot and came to rescue him, he was going to die.

All his life, he hadn’t considered that he would never see the face of his killer. All he saw now was a line of black, dripping warm onto his shirt. Breath on his face, so rancid it stung. Heat. And a growl.

He closed his eyes, praying Sam would be okay without him.

“―Yaaaaaaah!”

Dean opened his eyes, stunned to see a light as bright as the sun descend over his head. Slashes appeared in thin air, pouring blood. An eyeball slit open and fell from its socket, a gush of black poured over Dean’s body, accompanied by an animalistic yelp of pain. Castiel flew under the creature’s middle, and Dean watched a splurge of tar-black guts fall from its stomach over his legs, drowning his leg cast. He was frozen, aghast and relieved like never before.

Castiel whizzed under again, moments before the monster collapsed, and he slit all four of its ankles, finding them by the splashes of black that coated its slimy fur.

Dean fell into a state of astonishment as what felt like four feet of pure muscle crumpled at his feet like a sandbag, blood spilling in a wave from its side.

Castiel walked over its spinal ridge, completely naked, sheathing his sword in his belt. The monster deflated, its last breath wheezing out as a whimper.

Dean blinked. Castiel wiped black blood from his cheek, a wide grin on his face.

Dean’s smile rose with a tremble, and he lifted a hand to beckon Castiel closer, but before he could so much as twitch his fingers, Castiel flew up to his face. Dean didn’t even hesitate before kissing him, head tilted, eyes closed, both hands cupped around the fae’s wings. Castiel let Dean hold him, tiny hands on each side of Dean’s mouth. Dean felt Cas’ sigh against his lips.

They pulled away, beaming at each other. Dean looked upon Castiel’s mucky skin as he cupped him in his palms, chuckling in disbelief. “You... you are something, else, Cas.”

Castiel let out a breath that shook him.

Dean grunted as agony bolted through his body, and he hunched over his unbelievably painful leg. He panted, gripping his blood-soaked jeans with both hands, trying to control the overwhelming hurt. “Wh... Where did you go?” Dean asked, struggling to speak now. “You went... through the mirror―”

The door to the dance hall burst open, Sam and Charlie running inside with guns held aloft. Jody entered behind them, a machete in hand.

Dean just looked at them and smiled.

The next few minutes passed in a blur of pain and blood for Dean. Sam helped him to his feet, babbling with apologies for leaving them alone, having thought the danger was over, having not realised that Dean hadn’t kept up. Dean smacked his brother around the head, meaning to offer some sharp words in retaliation, but found that the pain of his leg made it too difficult. His face drained cold and his vision swam, and at that point he realised he was going to lose consciousness very soon.

He vaguely heard Charlie say she would take Castiel home while Dean went to get medical attention, but Dean was no longer in any state to answer questions or offer argument to anything.

Senses dulled to nothing.

Pain took over, but after a moment, that faded too.

⁎*⁎*❉*⁎*⁎

He awoke staring at blankness, white tinted with blue. He blinked, and blinked and blinked, before realising that he was not blind, but was looking up at a ceiling.

“Ahh, there we are,” said a reassuring, friendly voice. Jody.

Dean blinked harder than ever, turning his face to the side. Jody was there, smiling peacefully. She held a book, and behind her was a hospital bed. Dean realised where he was, and he sighed.

“Nuhhhgh?” he asked, before frowning. He gulped, trying to break the mugginess that made his mouth feel heavy.

“Here, sit up and drink this,” Jody said, cupping the back of Dean’s head with a soft hand. She helped him elevate his head and shoulders, and put a plastic cup of water to his lips. He drank gratefully, swallowing the coldness and feeling the itch in his throat leave him.

He sighed as he lay back down. “Whah?” he managed.

Jody chuckled. “You passed out. You’re at Sioux Falls General Hospital. Doctors have reset your leg, and they’re not very happy about the amount of mud and hellhound guts on the old cast. This time, buddy, you’re leavin’ here with a plastic bag over your foot.”

“Mh,” Dean grunted, trying to be agreeable. Someone had drugged him, and he took a guess to say it was morphine, but he might be wrong. He felt really groggy.

He took a few minutes to recover and fully catalogue all his senses, at which point he asked the question he was desperate to ask: “Where’s Sam ‘n Cas?”

“Sam’s helping Bobby dump the hellhounds’ bodies. Took ‘em to Bobby’s place on the back of one of my lieutenant's trucks.” She shrugged and checked her wristwatch. “Guess he’d be burning them in the yard right about now. Your fairy guy went in your car with Charlie, so you’ll be going home in my truck.”

Dean frowned, pushing himself up to sitting. He didn’t have any dripfeed wires in his arms, so maybe the painkiller had only been injected. His head was slowly clearing.

“How long ‘til I can get outta here?”

Jody put down her book on the table beside Dean’s bed. “Take a nap first, then we’ll see. Lie down, all right? You’ve had a big day.”

Dean wanted to complain, but Jody only had to prod his shoulder and he flumped back into the surprisingly cushy pillow. He blinked a few more times at the white ceiling, before he embraced the blankness, and let it overtake.

⁎*⁎*❉*⁎*⁎

It was nearing sunset when Dean finally got to go home. Jody helped him into the passenger seat of her SUV, and was especially careful with his cast. Since his crutches were in his own car, she was happy to help him walk.

Once Jody hit the main road, she drove at a decent speed, which gave Dean time to watch the scenery of Sioux pass him by. Grubby fields and rain-washed workyards spread either side of the road, and Dean’s eye skipped from one thing to another, his mind slow and sleepy.

They were only driving for ten minutes before he spoke, however.

“I think Cas lied to me,” he said.

Jody glanced over, and even though Dean was looking out the window, he knew she was concerned on his behalf. “Why do you say that?”

“We spent all of today looking for a way to get him back home, back to his faerie realm. But he told me that the portal only lets his sword and belt and living flesh through, so when he―” Dean gulped. “He bounced through the mirror, right, he got pushed in, and he shows back up, totally naked this time. Not that I’m complaining about losing that god-ugly shirt, but he went through a portal, then came back to save me.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

Dean sighed, setting a hand over his eyes, thumbing at his temple. “He told us all that he was stuck here, stuck in the human realm. But he’s not. He can go in and out as he pleases.”

“Maybe he didn’t know.”

“Wouldn’t it be a nice thought to check?” Dean snapped, gesturing openly at the road before them. “I didn’t have to waste so many hours of my life reading books full of crap I don’t need to know. I could’ve spent that time with―” He took in a breath, looking at Jody’s gentle face from the side as she watched where she was driving. “I could’ve spent it with him.”

Jody almost smiled.

Dean shook his head and turned his gaze back out of the window, watching the watery orange sun fall below the trees on the horizon, leaving a mess of grey and purple behind. “It’s not so weird. Me and him. Charlie’s pretty much dated fairies before, right?”

Jody was quiet for a long while, and Dean didn’t interrupt, waiting for her to push past judgement and get to acceptance. He knew Jody well enough to know it wouldn’t take long at all.

Not more than a minute later, Jody sighed. “Doesn’t it bother you - that he’s so small?”

“He’s cute,” Dean shrugged, a brief smile on his lips. He saw his own reflection in the window, and he turned his eyes away, looking towards Jody instead. “If the species thing isn’t a problem, and us both being guys isn’t a problem, then him being seven inches tall is―”

“A very small problem,” Jody smiled.

Dean snorted, ducking his head. “Teeny, tiny problem.”

Jody chortled, her grin showing her teeth.

Their smiles faded after a while, and Jody sighed slowly. “I hope you and him work it out okay, I honestly do. Relationships are nothing but sticky.” She shrugged, turning her car around a corner, and Dean noted with surprise that it was the entrance to Bobby’s scrapyard. “But I guess that’s the hunting life for ya. Take what you can get.”

“It’s not like that, he’s not my only port in a storm,” Dean said quietly, just as Jody parked the car and cut the engine, leaving the vehicle to turn hollow with sudden silence. “I don’t even know if he’s... into me, the same way. But I think I’m good.” He pursed his lips, nodding a few times. “Yeah.” He started to smile again, and popped open the door, looking back once at Jody. “I think I wanna keep him, either way. I like having him around. There’s something... special about him, y’know?”

Jody offered a smile, but the conversation ended there. She hopped down on to the driveway and walked around to help Dean to the front door. The initial cover of night reigned, moths dancing in the beam of the porch light as Dean and Jody’s movement tapped it on.

Dean could smell the bonfire and the taint of evaporating monster flesh, but already knew he would be staying inside rather than watching the flames. He was tired.

Jody helped him hobble through the darkened house, taking him to the study. Dean could see the flickers of firelight through the window over the couch, and he stood alone for a moment as Jody went to the kitchen. Smoke trailed up into the sky, red sparks and black curls against dark blue, a few stars pinpricked here and there.

Sam’s silhouette was unmistakable, warming his hands on the fire, and Bobby’s stout figure stood beside him, prodding the mostly-invisible carcasses with a stick.

Jody came back and handed Dean a bottle of beer, cracking one for herself as she too stood and watched.

Charlie wasn’t outside, and Dean wondered where she and Castiel were. It only took a minute before Charlie entered the study and answered Dean’s unspoken question.

“Dean?” Charlie said softly.

Dean turned, a hand on Jody’s shoulder to steady his weak legs. “Hey.”

Dean saw the crumpled tissue in Charlie’s hand, and the single track of a tear as the distant firelight turned it orange. “...Charlie, what...?”

Charlie smiled, then sniffed and turned her face down. “Cas left.”

Dean’s eyes widened, confusion and shock churning in him all at once. He shook his head. “What?”

Charlie stepped forward, sniffing again and wiping a hand under her damp eye. “He, um... He had to go back home. To his realm. The portal was open, so he went.”

Dean breathed out a laugh, shaking his head again. “No, he would’ve... he would’ve said goodbye?”

Charlie swallowed hard, and passed both Jody and Dean as she went to the kitchen. Dean shot a panicked look at Jody before leaving her side to limp after Charlie. He almost bumped into her as he entered the kitchen, as she had paused at the breakfast table.

She held up something small in her hand. Dean squinted at it, then plucked it between two fingers and held it close to his eyes. “This is a flower,” he realised. It was miniature, the size of a thumbtack.

Charlie pointed at the table, and Dean looked to see the vase that had been full of flowers that morning was now empty, but the same space was littered with similarly tiny blooms. Catching her breath, Charlie explained, “Those were from Robek. Cas and I, we― We went in together, early this morning, before you woke up. Just to test that he could get back.

“I held onto him like an anchor here, and he went through the hand mirror. My hand went in, then most of my arm... then he tapped on my hand and I pulled him back. And he was holding flowers.”

Dean’s mouth hung open, lost for words.

“We found a spell to make the flowers bigger, but,” Charlie gestured at the vase, “it’s only temporary.

“But the portal, it lets through living flesh, or things that used to be living,” Charlie went on, breaking eye contact with Dean to look at Jody instead, who joined Dean at his side. “And after what happened at the dance hall today, Cas realised... those weren’t hellhounds. He told me. Those were the things with hands that live inside the portal, that grabbed him and pushed him and sent him off track.”

Dean swallowed his hurt, needing to know, “Why’d he leave?”

Charlie pulled out a chair at the kitchen table and sat down. Jody pulled out a chair too and helped Dean sit, then she sat on the last chair on his left, closest to the wall. Dean put his beer down and didn’t touch it.

“The reason he left,” Charlie said, “is because the hand-creatures are coming through the open portal, one by one. There’s another realm in the dark, he said - a bypass, with a gate that doesn’t latch right. He only knows how to close it from the other side, and he... he had to go. He’s going home to close the portal―”

“And seal himself on the other side,” Dean breathed. He frowned deeply, bowing his head and setting his hands over his face. “Oh, no.”

He felt Jody’s hand on his arm, a steady grip.

“He’s trying to save us,” Charlie said, voice no more than a whisper. “He doesn’t want those things to kill any more people.”

Dean admired that as equally as he hated it. Castiel was so much like him. He would have done the same, even if he and his first kiss would be forever locked apart.

This was how the hunting life was. Always the adiós.

And sometimes... he didn’t even get that.

⁎*⁎*❉*⁎*⁎

Castiel stumbled into sunlight, shielding his eyes with a hand. He was naked again, and his belt was chafing his hip. The feeling of warm sun on his back and shoulders did nothing to make him feel better.

He was home, but he was not overjoyed. He was not pleased to feel grass under his feet, or to see his village not too far away, chimney smoke rising from the carved treehouse spires. Even though everything here was scaled to his size, this place seemed too small compared to the world he’d been in for the last two days. He started walking, dread becoming an ache in his bones.

Being a warrior was his heritage, it was his purpose. He was a leader, and he was going to lead this time - the same way as he had always led before. He would shut the door to the other realms, and save the humans from what he’d done. He should never have left Robek. A warrior shouldn’t run from his fights.

He’d come to learn that some fights were not of sword, but of heart. He was fighting a battle even now, walking away from the monument, away from Dean.

He walked until he reached the border of his village, and he entered, passing under the cover of leafy trees, hearing whispers through their twined trunks, the plants conjuring rumours about him already. Dappled sunlight felt like a chill on his bare skin.

The first fae who saw him were only children, and they gasped and flew away, shouting out an alarm to the others. His nakedness wasn’t a shock, but his presence was. Every fae here knew him, they knew his mission.

And, coming back alone, they already knew he had returned a failure.

Being welcomed back was not a spectacular event for Castiel. He had never expected to be presented with the cloak of golden leaves that the tribe’s heros got to wear, but nor did he expect to be refused clothing entirely. He saw sneering faces and hushed judgements passed behind hands while dozens of eyes stole his way, but he did not see one smile of welcome.

Friends did not approach. His mother met his eye and then lowered her gaze.

The tribe’s queen, Naomi, beckoned him closer, but had a look of complete disdain on her face as he went up to her. He stood upon the floating platform under the shade of rushing trees, watching the crowd gather around. Shimmering dust cascaded like glitter around the clearing, but it did not make him shine. It didn’t feel right to glow.

Castiel looked down at his feet. His soles were set flat to the plain wood of the platform he stood on, and there was dirt on them from having walked here. His wings had been heavy in the human realm, and even though they were weightless here, he still felt their weight, regrets and loss pulling him down. He wondered if he would ever want to fly again.

Naomi touched his chin, and he looked up into her face; the light behind her head showed her halo.

“Castiel,” she said, her voice sombre with concern, “Why are you not using your wings?”

Castiel swallowed, hand clutching the hilt of his sword. “I entered the human realm.”

A gasp of shock went up from the crowd. From the corner of his eye, Castiel even saw his mother set a hand over her mouth.

Naomi was no longer touching Castiel, hovering some distance away. She was afraid of what he’d said, and he couldn’t even bring himself to feel anything deeper than mild embarrassment.

He was ashamed of where he’d been, too. If it had been his choice, he never would have gone. But it was those creatures, they forced him...

And yet, he did not regret his travels.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” Naomi asked, her gown drifting beautifully, shining with her glow.

Castiel nodded. “I found my mate.”

Naomi looked nervous now, and she hovered a little closer, turning her head. Voice quiet enough that only Castiel heard, she asked, “...A fae?”

Castiel smiled. “No. A human.”

There was no mistaking the disgust on Naomi’s face. Castiel smiled wider, turning down his face out of respect, not wanting her to see how defiant he felt.

“And he is male, too,” Castiel said. He looked up at Naomi, then turned to the crowd. He addressed them all, every woman and child who stared at him, wide-eyed and curious: “My mate is a human male.”

He took empowerment from the horror on his clan’s faces. Grinning, he set his gaze back on Naomi. But then his smile fell.

He swallowed hard, and said the most important thing of all: “We must close the portal immediately.”

Naomi’s face clouded with confusion, and Castiel explained.

With every word, Naomi’s expression grew darker.

At last, she replied, “We cannot do that.”

“Cannot?”

She shook her head. “After you left, we sent more fae through the portal. Others wanted adventure, others of us wanted mates who were not from enemy tribes. If we close it, they will all be trapped on the other side.”

“If we don’t close it, humans will die. There might even be creatures entering other realms, killing other fae!”

Naomi laughed softly. “Humans dying? That’s not a problem.”

Castiel’s body rushed aflame with anger; “Yes!” he shouted, “Yes, it is a problem! Humans are people, they have warriors and queens―”

“But they do not have respect!” Naomi interrupted. “Faerie history is overshadowed by loss, Castiel. We meet with humans and they kill us. They already took our powers from us - don’t you miss being able to create from nothing, to control creatures, to do magic of all kinds? They took that away! They are thieves!”

“Not all of them! Dean saved me, he fed me, he clothed me and gave me shelter―”

“And he also taught you disrespect!” Naomi bellowed, her wings massive and enshrouding as she burst them outward, furious. Castiel did not waver, despite his terror. “How dare you speak to a queen that way?! How dare you not bow! How dare you fail.”

“I found what I went to find,” Castiel said, quite calmly. “If the portal will be closed with me still apart from him, then so be it. If I must be offered to the sky without having continued my bloodline, then so be it. I do not think I failed. I went on a different mission, I meant to escape this realm’s rituals - but as it turns out, I completed the task you set me. I found a mate, whom I have come to love dearly.”

Naomi calmed slightly, her wings fluttering at a more controlled speed. “We shall not give in to your demands, Castiel. The portal will remain open until all fae have returned.”

“And then―”

“Then we will send out more. This realm is no longer our limit. We have countless universes to enter and explore; faerie realms are branched with more leaves than any tree here. We have forever, and we can go anywhere.”

“No,” Castiel said quietly. He knew he was going to be overruled no matter what, but he still pleaded, “No, we have to help the humans! There are so many hands in the darkness, they’re reaching out! They kill, Naomi. They kill people!”

Naomi looked at Castiel the way she would look at a stain on her robe. “Maybe they have good reason. If I were to guess, the humans don’t address their leaders by ‘Queen’.”

Castiel’s eyes darted to the two young warriors who stepped up and took hold of his bare biceps. “Wh―? They address all allies by name―!”

“You have lost a great deal on your quest, Castiel. You may think you returned a success, but you have returned unworthy of your previous place in this tribe. You are no longer a warrior. Repulsive as it is, you’ve become... human.”

“I’m not...?! I’m not!”

Naomi gestured to Castiel’s bare feet, then to his limp wings, which he was not even using to escape the grip that the warriors had on him. He couldn’t even bring himself to fight any more.

Naomi was right. He was empty now, and so much of that feeling had to do with the loss of Dean. His human.

Exhausted by everything, he let himself be barred shut into a holding cell beneath the village, hidden from the beautiful sunshine. It was cold under the ground, and he was still naked.

Too ruined even to weep, he curled up against the wall and stared at the muddy cell, his mind becoming darker and darker until he slept.

⁎*⁎*❉*⁎*⁎

“Castiel... Castiel!”

Castiel inhaled and sat upright, unfolding his arms. He had been shivering, even throughout his slumber. He heard a noise― His name, hissed through the darkness, echoing faintly.

“Who’s there?” he called back, leaning forward over his bent knees.

Ahh, you abysmal thing, you don’t even recognise your own mother? Your journey changed you, boy.”

Castiel was a moment away from laughing. He pushed himself to his feet off the muddy ground, then rushed forward, following the quiet sound of clanking metal. He curled his hand around the first prison bar that he touched, barely able to see it in front of him.

He smelled his mother’s aura, gilded rabbit plants and dewdrops. He smiled. “You’ve come to see me.”

Castiel was so very glad to know she hadn’t forsaken him completely, despite being aware of his dalliances with Dean, with humanity. He could almost see the silver in her hair, lit by the moonlight inching through the trapdoor at the end of the underground tunnel.

Casyrím hummed amusement, slow and warm. “I’ve come to pass on a message.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Your sky offering is tomorrow morning at dawn. It’s only past midnight now; you have a few hours.”

Castiel’s heart plummeted to his feet, and he retracted his hand from the prison bar, not taking any comfort from the touch his mother had given his fingers. “You’re going to let them offer me?”

“That is the way, is it not?” Casyrím smiled, her age edging her words with crackles. “All males are for the sky. All women are for the soil. Birth and death and re-giving. The sky has hungered for you since the day you were born, Castiel. Your glow is the most beautiful.”

Castiel couldn’t pull away from the warm hand that caressed his stubbled jaw, even though he wanted to. He didn’t like the words he was hearing.

“I don’t want to die,” he said, quietly. He retreated at last, turning back to the space in his cell and pacing to the far side, where no light touched him and his mother would not see the tears in his eyes.

“Death is a part of life.”

“Love is also a part of life,” Castiel countered. “You always told me that, you always told me I had yet to find a mate, someone to share with and guide, as every man and woman in our bloodline has done. Would the sky still want me if I haven’t yet fulfilled my promise? I led Dean into battle today, but all I have given him is a kiss. He deserves a guide, mother. A companion. I found the love you told me about! It’s not for a woman, nor any fae brethren. But I found it. I don’t think it was meant to be the way it is, but... it is.”

Casyrím was quiet.

Castiel leaned against the earthen wall, slipping down until he sat upon the ground. “He is the only being in existence I could ever feel this for.”

After a long, long silence, Castiel heard the shift of his mother’s robes. Her voice was soft and considerate as she said, “That is how I felt about your father.”

There was another extended absence of words. Castiel could only think about the fact that he never knew his father, the same way Sam never knew his and Dean’s mother.

“Do you know that... I still miss him?” Casyrím said eventually. “I still love him. And I... I wish...”

“You wish he never left,” Castiel finished. “You never wanted the sky to take him.”

Casyrím sighed. “We all feel it. Every woman here. We don’t talk about it, it’s something we all deal with and pretend we don’t feel. But every one of us fell in love. We lay with our mate and we loved them, we only fell deeper when they aided us and doted on us as we carried their child, until we came to term. And then they held our hands as we brought life into the world; our babies, our babies―”

A trembling, gasping sob echoed in the cell, and Castiel hid his face in his hands, hurt by the sound of his mother’s upset. She was still grieving, thirty-five years later. He knew that even if he himself lived a hundred years, a thousand, he would still weep at the thought of having lost Dean.

“And then,” Casyrím pulled in a steadying breath, “th-they were gifted to the sky, their worth spent. That is our way.”

“Humans have brothers and sisters,” Castiel said, fingers curled at his head, face turned down. “The mothers give birth to more than one baby, sometimes years apart. Usually with the same father. They don’t mate for life, but... some do. Some choose temporary mates, but sometimes they find one they love, and they... they keep them...”

Castiel had so badly wanted to be kept. He leaned back and rested his head on the wall, eyes prickling with tears.

The sound of clanking metal came again, and Castiel became curious. “What are you doing?”

“I am letting you out of your cell,” Casyrím said, firmly.

Castiel stood up in one swift movement, striding to the bars. He saw a flash of light in his mother’s eyes, and then the light expanded, coursing under Casyrím’s skin, until she was glowing with lilac, pulsating brightly. Her eyes were the most intense white that Castiel had ever seen, and he could not look away.

“Why?” he breathed.

“Because I do not want to lose the only other family I have,” Casyrím said, shaking her head ever so slightly. By her light, Castiel saw in his peripheral vision that her hands worked on the lock of the cell, holding a key. “I don’t mind losing you to the portal, but to lose the two greatest loves of my life to the sky would be too much. I can’t live under a sun that reminds me of nothing but loss. I don’t ever want you to feel that way. There is no joy in light for me, Castiel. But there is joy in love. I want you to love the light, I want you to be with who you love.”

“I love Dean,” Castiel whispered, eyes breaking from his mother’s to look down and see the gate swinging open. “I will love Dean.”

“You will,” Casyrím nodded. She took Castiel in her arms and embraced him, smiling against his bare shoulder as his arms encircled her and pressed her body to his chest. He breathed in her scent, knowing it would be impossible to forget.

She pulled away after a long moment. “I will lead you back to the monument, and I will close the portal for you. You’ll be stuck on the other side.”

“The others will be stuck, too, wherever they are.”

Casyrím took a brave breath in. “Let us hope that they are in realms they like.”

Castiel nodded, and let his mother take his hand and lead him out of the tunnel.

“But first things first, Castiel,” he heard her laugh, “you may have grown up big and strong, but there is no doubt that you very dearly need some clothes.”

⁎*⁎*❉*⁎*⁎

Charlie stretched her legs out in the bath, sighing as the hot water sloshed comfortably around her. The lights were bright in here, and despite it being two o’clock in the morning, she could still hear someone else traipsing around the house. It was probably Dean - he hadn’t done anything except mourn since Cas left, more than nine hours ago.

Closing her eyes and resting the back of her head against the end of the bath, Charlie sighed, slowly. She let go of all the heaviness that the day had brought her. She wished that Dean would find a way to let go too.

She was only graced with a few minutes of peace before she heard a faint sound... glublublub...

Frowning deeply, opening her eyes to see the ceiling, Charlie then turned her gaze downward.

Then she shrieked, curling her legs up and pulling herself as far away from the gaping chasm of nothingness that had appeared beneath her feet. The water rushed out of the bath in five seconds flat, and she was left naked and damp, scrambling to stay as far away from the howling, sucking black hole as possible without moving an inch.

All of a sudden, with a ghastly belch, the hole closed, leaving no trace of it ever having been there... except a small and darkly-coloured humanoid creature.

Charlie’s eyes opened wide, realising what had happened but not quite believing it. “Cas...”

Castiel pulled back into a kneeling position, groaning and clutching his wet hair. He was wearing dark brown leather all over, a bit like snake skin. His sword was at his belt, and he looked around himself in confusion.

Charlie bit her lip, stretching an arm out over the bath to reach her towel. Once she’d tugged it down to cover herself, she relaxed a bit. “What the heck are you doing back here?” she asked under her breath, heart racing with leftover adrenaline. She grinned, incredibly pleased to see him.

Castiel shook his head and sprayed a fine mist of water around himself, then looked up at Charlie as she stepped out of the bath, towel around herself. “I’m... It worked?!”

“Welcome back,” Charlie shrugged. “How’s the weather in Robek?”

Castiel looked down at the now-empty bath, then up again. “Wet, I’d imagine.”

Charlie laughed, offering a hand for Castiel to fly to. Cas flung himself into the air, wings buzzing slowly until they dried, and then he went forward, perching on Charlie’s bare shoulder. Charlie chuckled, resting her head on his tiny body in an affectionate gesture. Castiel laughed and shoved her off, then flew away and let her get dressed.

Charlie had gotten so attached to Cas in such a short amount of time, and somehow, just having him back erased the sadness she’d felt before. It was like he’d never left, and everything fell into place for her.

“What brought you back?” she asked, unable to take her eyes off the tiny fae. He looked quite formal in his leather armour, but Charlie had to admit, it suited him well. It looked tough, but still had aesthetic flair. “How come you’re not sky-riding, or whatever it is you were supposed to do?”

Castiel perched on the bar of soap beside the sink, but slipped; he stood on the porcelain instead. “My mother,” he said. “She helped me return... and then she locked the portal behind me.” He swallowed hard, his posture weakening slightly. “I - I’m going to miss her. So much...”

Charlie paused with her towel wrapped around the damp ends of her hair. She looked at Castiel, an ache of sympathy growing inside her at his words. “Oh, man, I’m so sorry. But she did a great thing, right? For the entire human realm. And for you.”

Castiel smiled, sad, but with an underlying pride. “She has always been great.”

Charlie tossed her towel back onto its hook, watching Castiel carefully. “You’re stuck here now, aren’t you,” she said, not really needing him to reply, since she already knew. Closing a portal to the faerie realm was always final, unless there was a key. Going by the way the hole in the bath had looked, that wasn’t something that a bit of metal in a door would be able to keep shut. The chasm was sealed indefinitely.

Castiel sat down at the edge of the sink, boots dangling into the basin. “My mother hoped - well, I told her - that if I was sealed on this side, I could be with Dean.”

“That’s the plan,” Charlie said cheerfully.

Castiel shook his head. “I’m not delusional,” he said, obvious sadness in his quiet voice. “He might try out what it means to mate with me, but he doesn’t mate for life. I’ll be happy to be his mate for as long as he’ll have me, but after then, I won’t be able to guide him. I suppose I’ll go free... perhaps build a nest somewhere and live peacefully. My mother didn’t need to know about that, I didn’t tell her that was what I expected would happen.”

Charlie crouched down beside the sink so she was at eye level with the sullen fae. “Cas... That’s not what’s going to happen, okay?” She offered her most earnest smile, reaching a hand towards Castiel. He took hold of one of her fingers, and she pulled, standing up, bringing the fae with her until he was cupped in her hands, looking up at her.

His wings were drooping, and he looked completely heartbroken. Charlie felt sorrow at the sight; just this morning, Castiel had been as bright as the sun itself, and now he looked like he’d been kicked to the gutter.

“Trust me,” Charlie said, voice almost at a whisper, “Dean’s over the temporary bliss part of his life. He wants something - solid. He doesn’t have to say it to me outright, either; I know. I know how he feels about you. When you left without saying goodbye... you broke his heart, Cas.”

Castiel covered his face in shame, head low. “I had no other choice...”

“There were a thousand ways you could have said goodbye,” Charlie told him. “You could have said something to me before you walked through that stupid mirror. You could’ve written a note! You could’ve―”

Charlie took a fast breath, realising she had to calm herself before she shouted at poor Cas. Letting that breath free again, she shook her head. “That doesn’t matter now. The point is, Dean was hurt so bad he couldn’t eat. I know he was starving, I know he needed to eat, he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. But he didn’t even...” Charlie trailed off, still feeling a mulling shock from having seen Dean turn his food away, then leave the table to plop into the couch and hide under a blanket. “That’s heartbreak, Cas. Dean loves food, okay. When Dean turns down the second greatest love of his life, you know he’s just lost the first.”

Castiel looked up, his blue eyes swimming with tears that were surely too small to even fall. Charlie wanted nothing more than to bundle him up in her hands and cuddle him until he was smiling again, but it wouldn’t work like that. Cas needed explanations, not cuddles. Having heard what Charlie had said, though, Castiel took a while to process exactly what she’d implied.

He finally found words, and he parted his lips to speak; “He missed me.”

“More than you realise,” Charlie nodded. She hadn’t seen Dean that upset since he thought Sam died, a few years ago. Castiel’s loss, however temporary it had turned out, had hit Dean unbelievably hard.

Castiel managed a wobbly smile, then curled up like a kitten in Charlie’s hands. Charlie found herself smiling too, full of care and something she suspected might be motherly or sisterly love. She’d be overjoyed to be sister-in-law to Cas one day. Hell, she’d be overjoyed just to see Dean and Cas lock eyes one more time.

“Hey,” she wondered aloud, “What say you and I surprise Dean?”

Castiel’s head perked up. “Can I see him right now?” He looked like he’d been desperate to ask that question but had held back until now.

Charlie hummed in thought. “Maybe in a few minutes... We’ve got some magic to work first, I think!” Castiel looked confused, but Charlie just swept him higher and planted a welcome kiss on his tiny head. “That settles it. We’re going to give him a biiig treat.”

⁎*⁎*❉*⁎*⁎

Dean thumped down the stairs, not caring if he woke anyone up. He didn’t care what time it was, or how empty his stomach was, or how close to passing out he was. He couldn’t sleep, and he didn’t want to.

Passing out wasn’t the same as sleep, and he’d welcome the loss of consciousness if it happened. He’d fantasised enough today about faking another injury, just because he wanted someone to fuss over him. He wanted someone to check his temperature and hand him magazines and ruffle his hair as they passed by.

Charlie had made him dinner, but it wasn’t the same. Even Sam had sat down and made the effort to say “Dean, I’m your brother. If you ever need to talk, I’m right here,” but that only seemed like stating the obvious to Dean, and he didn’t need to talk, he needed his fae back.

For someone so small, and who had been in Dean’s life for such a brief amount of time, Castiel had made a bigger impression on Dean’s heart than anyone or anything before. He was loved just as much as everyone else who lived in this house with Dean.

Dean reached the bottom of the stairs and turned down the hallway, ignoring the terrible ache that came from lugging his straining leg around. The new cast was even heavier than the first, because of the metal pins in his leg to fix the new fractures that the portal-hellhound had given him.

There was a light on in the study, and he limped towards it, wondering if Sam was still awake, or even Bobby. Charlie was in the bath, he’d heard the water running.

Turning the corner, Dean was astounded to see not only Bobby, half-asleep at his desk with the fire going behind him - but also Sam, perched on the arm of the couch, and Charlie, who jerked to stand straight as she noticed him enter the room. She looked spooked, with something hidden behind her back. She was in pyjamas, and Dean only then noticed that Sam was, too. Bobby apparently slept in the same thing he wore usually, but with a bathrobe over the top.

“What’s going on?” Dean mumbled, tired eyes trying their best to take in the scene. There was something he was missing here, he knew it. “Isn’t it, like, the middle of the night?”

Bobby grunted, shooting Dean a look that could only be interpreted as sarcastic.

Dean’s gaze skipped to Sam, who appeared as if he was about to burst into song. Dean snorted at him. “What’re you so happy about, huh?” he groused, not enjoying the sight of happiness. He himself felt too much like riverbed sludge to appreciate the sight of a smile.

“We have something for you,” Charlie said slowly, fidgeting on her feet.

“What is it?” Dean said, cautiously. He edged forward, cast and foot moving onto the rug in the centre of the study. “You hiding somethin’...?”

Charlie bit down on her lip, then slowly raised one hand. Dean squinted, seeing that she was holding a glass vial of what looked much like water-diluted goofer dust.

“Huh?”

Charlie grinned. “This is an enlargement spell. I tested it this morning on the flowers - it’s temporary, but it works safely on living specimens, so I―”

“Your boobs look the same,” Dean huffed, not caring if he sounded rude at all. “And if I’m honest, Charlie, I’m not even that bothered about my size, y’know? It’s not like I’m getting any.” He sneered at his brother when Sam’s expression turned somewhat disgruntled.

“Not that,” Charlie said, shaking her head and making her red hair toss across her shoulders. Her eyes darted to the kitchen, from which direction came a quiet sound of oofh! Charlie looked back to Dean, her eyes shining. “It’s for Cas. He’ll turn back in a few hours, but in the meantime...”

Dean’s face didn’t exactly smile, but it didn’t exactly scowl, either. He may have flinched, perhaps. The sound of Cas’ name brought joy and loss as a one-two punch, and the emotional wound was still too fresh to touch. Cas left without saying goodbye, and as far as Dean knew, the guy was dead now.

Dean was not about to cry, he wasn’t.

But then his fatigue and weepy sadness broke away, as the actual words Charlie had said registered to him. He frowned. “Wait, what?”

Dean saw a movement from the kitchen door, and he glanced over―

A slip of near-tan skin showed itself at the opening to the next room. Dean’s eyes widened and his heart probably stopped as he realised what and who he was looking at.

Shy, but not ashamed - completely naked - Castiel stalked into the study, his wings held aloft, shimmering with excited sparkles. His eyes were set on Dean, gorgeously, impossibly blue, his jaw as perfectly formed as it had always been - but this time, he was more than six foot tall, perhaps only an inch or two shorter than Dean himself.

Dean was staring, unable to believe what he was seeing.

Castiel strode right up into Dean’s personal space, so close that Dean felt his body heat, intense and unexpectedly huge; it was disorienting, to now be feeling Castiel’s warm toothpaste-fresh breath on his cheek, seeing minute details on Castiel’s lips, seeing his eyelashes.

“Hello, Dean,” Castiel said, his voice intoxicatingly deep, a temperate sound that shot straight to places in Dean’s body which hadn’t felt anything that good in months. Cas looked at Dean’s mouth, then back to his eyes, and Dean couldn’t help but feel he was already ravaging him somehow.

Even the sparkling butterfly wings were sexy.

Dean’s lips shook as he voiced his reply, stumbling on his overeager tongue. “H-Hi... Hi Cas.”

Castiel smiled, laughter lines prominent beside his eyes, beside his mouth. He was so beautiful, and Dean was beyond enamoured. Cas had come back to him. Cas came back and he was here and he was touching―

He was touching Dean’s hand. Dean breathed in sharply and looked down, seeing fingers only a shade darker than his own slipping forward to hold his hand. A simple touch like that shouldn’t have rocketed through Dean’s bloodstream like it did, but he had certainly never seen or felt anything as erotic as that before. Dean gripped Castiel’s hand with an assured squeeze. It was a ‘welcome back’ touch for Cas, just as much as it was a ‘take me, I’m yours’ from Dean.

Dean only had to look back up, meeting Castiel’s eye, before something flipped in both of them, and they sighed and fell into each other, mouth against open mouth, Cas’ hand around the back of Dean’s neck, Dean gasping into Castiel’s mouth because everything was suddenly perfect.

He felt so much, all at once. Belonging, safety, reassurance. Beauty, he felt beauty! And grace and poise and all the things he got from dancing when nobody was watching - except this time everyone was watching, and he didn’t care. He didn’t mind that everyone knew now, about his love for men, or for anything - because this was what his love for Cas was going to be like. They were going to hold hands and kiss for hours, and Dean was going to listen to those wings fluttering in happy delight at Castiel’s back.

And people would see that Dean had fallen in love with a fairy.

Faerie?

Whatever.

Cas was his faerie, and damn it, Dean was Cas’ human.

⁎*⁎*❉*⁎*⁎

the end

*⁎*⁎❉⁎*⁎*