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Pride Cometh Before the Fall

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“You going to see the fireworks tonight, Cas?” Dean didn’t look up from the drafting table as he carefully inked the lines Cas had passed him. He knew without looking, that Cas was hard at work, brow furrowed, eyes squinting adorably down at the pages as he drew.

“Hmmm?” Cas said absently.

“Fireworks, man,” Dean said with a small laugh, setting his pen down and looking up at his best friend. Cas’s dark hair – always messy to begin with – was even worse than usual now. The current page set must be a difficult one if Cas was resorting to running his hands through his hair so much. But it would look awesome , Dean was sure, just like they always did when Cas worked on a project. Which just made Dean even more excited to see what the next pages would hold.

Not that Benny wasn’t any good at what he drew, but there was just something extra in Cas’s work that always seemed to resonate with Dean in a way he simply couldn’t pinpoint. Jo called it a ‘queer ache’ and Dean would laugh.

“God, Jo, half the people on this team qualify as queer. And trust me, I’m not aching, if you know what I mean.” The words, no matter how often he said them, never failed to produce the same result.

“Gross, Dean!” Jo would cringe and glare sternly at him, but couldn’t help but laugh right back, balling up scrap paper and tossing it at him. “Besides, I was referencing L.M. Montgomery, you philistine!”

“Whoever that is,” Dean would shrug back.

Dean shook himself back to the present. Daydreaming when he was trying to get Cas’s attention was counterproductive. He debated taking a leaf out of Jo’s book and throwing crumpled pieces of paper at Cas, but Dean didn’t want to mess him up.

Sighing, he went back to inking. Cas was too far in the zone for Dean to compete. As usual.

They worked like that for hours. Today though, it was just Cas and Dean in the studio, so it was quiet. Dean didn’t mind that. With Cas, it was comfortable. Although…

He stood and walked over to the computer, pulling up the playlist Cas and Dean had created together years ago. They’d been fine tuning it ever since to fit both of their musical tastes. And if a few of the songs that Cas snuck in were actually songs Dean would never admit to liking, no one else had to know.

He pressed play and then went out into the break room, passing by the other rooms. The place was small, just big enough for their creative team. This had been a dream of theirs since high school. Him, Cas and Jo. They’d picked up others along the way, and now they had a couple of different comics going out of this small studio, a couple of teams established for each one.

Almost everyone was off for the Easter holidays though, but Dean and Cas had fallen behind on their project when everyone in their apartment had gotten disgustingly sick. It hadn’t affected Sam’s work, because Sam was the legal advisor of the group, but Dean and Cas had a deadline to meet in two days, or Donna wouldn’t have enough time to color the pages.

When he reached the break room, he was surprised to see Sam there, papers laid out on the table as he sipped coffee. Sam nodded at the coffee machine without looking up at Dean.

“It’s fresh, and I already set up your mugs. What do you guys want for lunch?” Sam finally looked up at his brother.

Dean shrugged and went straight for the coffee. “I dunno, man. Not sure my stomach is settled enough for much. And Cas hasn’t moved in ages. Can’t even get his attention.” Dean didn’t pout. He didn’t. His lips drew down, sure, but it was just a frown of concentration. That’s all it was.

Sam snorted and muttered under his breath with a roll of his eyes.

“What? I couldn’t hear that, Sammy,” Dean said absently, rubbing at his own eyes.

“I said you don’t have to get his attention, Dean. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t wavered in years now.”

Dean turned to eye his brother with confusion, a little suspicion mixed in because hey – this was Sam, and Sam was not above pranking Dean when he thought Dean deserved it. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe that you should grow some balls or something?” Sam looked Dean directly in the eyes and couldn’t decide if his brother was just that obtuse or in complete denial.

“You know what, you’re in some kinda mood and I’m way too tired to deal with it, Samantha, so I’m just gonna bring Cas his coffee and get back to work. Order whatever for lunch,” Dean said with a dismissing wave as he walked out of the room. He paused in the doorway. “Nothing spicy or greasy though. I really don’t think I can handle it right now.”

Walking back through the empty building, no matter how small, always reminded Dean of the early days, when they weren’t much at all, just a couple of college students with a lot more gumption than sense. Thank God for Bobby and Ellen. Dean wasn’t sure their comic studio would have ever gotten off the ground without his adopted parents being a stabilizing force in their lives.

The loan they’d floated Cas, Dean and Jo hadn’t hurt either.

Today, Bobby and Ellen were holding a barbeque at their house, with fireworks planned well into the night. It was an odd tradition for an Easter celebration (and a challenge when Easter fell on earlier, chillier nights). No one knew how it started, but it was one they all looked forward to every year. The rest of the comic crew would also be there, as well as other friends and family. But Cas had been the last to recover from whatever proto-virus had struck down him, Sam, and Dean —  and had been uncertain whether he’d have enough energy to go after a half days’ worth of work. Which, now that Dean thought about it, looking up at the clock in their room, they should start wrapping up soon.

Cas didn’t look like he’d moved since Dean had left. He walked over and placed Cas’s bee mug on the small, sturdy table beside him — well out of elbow shot reach, and in no danger of spilling over the pages.

Dean touched his shoulder gently, trying once again to get Cas’s attention but not wanting to startle him. “Coffee, Cas.Take a break, okay?”

Cas straightened up and stretched, Dean dropping his hand reluctantly. Humming, Cas turned and beamed at Dean. “Thank you, Dean.”

“Nah,” Dean quirked a smile and rubbed the back of his neck, “Thank Sammy. He made the coffee. Wants to know what we want for lunch.”

Cas grimaced, reaching for his mug. “I don’t think I can.”

“We could send Sam out for soup?” Dean suggested. “Maybe some crackers?”

“Mmm…yes, I think I could manage that. That’s a wonderful suggestion, Dean. Thank you for always looking out for me.” Cas smiled again, his eyes crinkling at the corners. They stared at each other for several long moments before one of them blinked and looked away, the other quickly turning, both of them clearing their throats.

Sam stood in the doorway and sighed, rubbing at his head and walking away.



“It’s just…why can’t they see what’s right under their noses? I just don’t understand it,” Sam complained. He took a swig of his beer and looked around Bobby and Ellen’s back yard at the gathered party. Dean and Cas hadn’t made it yet, and Sam was taking full advantage of that fact. “Wait, tell me I’m not imagining this.” He looked around at his friends and family desperately.

“Oh, hell no!” Jo cried. “Those dorks have been pining for each other since high school. I got no idea what their hang up is.”

Benny shrugged, “Don’t look at me, brotha. I thought they were already a couple when we first met. Imagine mah surprise when I learned they weren’t.”

Charlie nodded, “Agreed. And when I finally realized they weren’t together, I thought maybe it was ‘cause Dean was in the closet, or something. So I decided not to push. You don’t force someone outta the closet before they’re ready.” She nodded sagely and her girlfriend nodded approvingly.

“Awww, Dean’s just a big ol’ teddy bear. He’s just so soft and cuddly and tender, he’s afraid he’ll break if he makes a move on Cas and Cas turns him down. That’s all,” Garth said.

“Hey, if Dean-o’s too afraid to try, then I know what we can do!” Ash yelled out. “If they ever get their asses here, we should loosen ‘em up some. I got some great shit with me, get ‘em relaxed enough to talk, if ya know what I mean.” Ash waggled his eyebrows.

“Ewww…no, that reeks too much of non-consensual. I ain’t putting my stamp of approval on that,” Jody broke in.

“Dude – dudette – I ain’t talkin’ let them have sex, man. I don’t think anyone here wants to see that. I mean, just enough to loosen their tongues. Get ‘em talkin’ some,” Ash clarified. “Make ‘em mellow.”

Andy, Aaron and Gabriel edged closer to Ash. “You uh, got enough of that to share?” Andy asked. Ash grinned and nodded and the four of them broke off from the party.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t see that,” Ellen sighed.

Sam looked around at the remaining folks. “So, we’re all in agreement here? I’m not imagining anything, right?” Various choruses of agreement rang out from around the yard. “All right, so Ash’s suggestion aside…what do we do about it?”

“Lock ‘em in a closet?” Jo suggested.

“Truth or Dare!” Charlie squeaked excitedly.

“Write anonymous letters,” Eileen finally piped in.

Bobby snorted from the grill. He turned with an eye-roll, “Ya could just ask ‘em about it.”

Sam groaned. “Dean would never admit it!”

“Well, then Truth or Dare certainly wouldn’t work, now would it?” Bobby retorted gruffly.

“Hmm…I think the Bobster is right,” Charlie agreed solemnly. Bobby’s eyebrows disappeared into his hat and he mouthed, ‘Bobster?’ with astonishment written clearly on his bearded face. “We’re gonna have to think about this really hard.”

Jo suddenly clapped her hands together and started chortling. “Oh! Oh ho ho ho…. Oh, I’ve got an idea. Eileen, I’m going to need your help.”

Eileen turned to face Jo. The two of them were writers in the studio and Jo whipped out a notebook. She started outlining whatever her idea was but didn’t bother sharing with the class, shooing everyone else away if they got too close. Eileen read over what Jo had written down and got excited, snatching away the pen and making additions and changes to whatever plan Jo had come up with.


Jo and Eileen spent the next week huddled together. It wasn’t an unusual sight, and Sam would normally not have thought much about it. The two writers had to collaborate all the time to keep the projects going. But he knew in his gut this had to do with Dean and Cas and the discussion at Bobby’s party. Which Dean and Cas had never showed up to.

All hopes at arriving home to find the two of them having figured out their nonsense had been completely dashed when he got there. Cas simply hadn’t felt well and Dean didn’t want to leave him alone and both had ended up falling asleep on the couch watching Eureka.

With a resigned sigh, Sam had turned off the tv and woken them up just enough to get them to their respective beds and then crashed himself.

After a week of hammering out whatever details the girls needed for their plan, Eileen and Jo called an impromptu meeting at the studio. It was a closed meeting, only involving certain members of the studio: Dean and Cas, of course, being two out of three founders as well as the two main artists; Donna, the colorist who most often worked with the Cas/Dean team; Charlie and Gabriel, because their brains would be needed for promo work. And Sam, of course, because he’d been heavily involved since the beginning.

It looked like the precursor to any other meeting they’d had when they wanted to discuss a project and at first, Sam had no clue there was anything else going on.

“So, what’s this meeting all about, Jojo?” Dean asked, whirling around in his seat.

“Well, it was my idea initially but uh…Eileen was the one who really fine tuned it, so I’m gonna let her talk, okay?” Jo grinned and turned to Eileen. “Over to you, El.”

“Thank you,” Eileen said, signing as she spoke. Most of those gathered had taken the time to learn sign language when she became a part of their team and it was something she’d been very appreciative of. “As you know, Pride month is only half a month away and I thought it might be a nice idea if we could make a specialty comic to celebrate it.”

“Wait, a brand-new project? We’re kinda stretched thin right now,” Dean noted.

“It won’t be that kind of project. I was thinking, instead of a monthly comic, this could be a yearly one. That way, going forward, we’ll have most of a year to plan and work on it. I admit, it will be a time crunch to get it together in time for this year, but we could aim for the end of the month. That will give us one and a half months to play with.”

Dean nodded thoughtfully, Cas sitting beside him listening intently. Jo and Charlie watched them, biting their lips.

Donna slowly raised her hand to get everyone’s attention. “Now that sounds like a mighty fine idea, but I’m feeling more lost right now than a needle in a haystack. Can y’all explain sumthin’ for me? I thought this studio was already very LGBTQ friendly and forward thinking? Dean and Cas here fill a niche with their comics, what with Queer superheroes an’ all. What all’s gonna make this one any different or more special than what we’ve already got goin’?”

“I’m glad you asked that,” Jo beamed. Eileen nodded.

“Well, we’re all ears,” Dean said, bringing his spinning chair to a halt and crossing his arms over his chest.

“Right. Donna’s right. We’re already on the LGBTQ radar with the work we put out, but the thing is – all those characters, their sexuality and identity and all, it’s just part of the character. It’s background information. Mr. Hero has a boyfriend. It’s just part of the story. We don’t blow it up or make a big deal out of it. We make it part of normal life. And that’s good. The queer community deserves to feel normal. But Jo and I were thinking we could take it a step further. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a comic about kids and adults from diverse backgrounds learning who they are, coming to terms with what that means and coming out to their friends and family? Have different stories from different viewpoints, different experiences. It would be informational.”

“That’s…not a bad idea,” Dean mused. “I know I struggled with admitting I was Bi for the longest time. If it hadn’t been for the support of some awesome friends and family, I don’t know where I would be.”

“Agreed. This could make a difference in someone’s life. I know accidentally running across some of the less discussed sexualities via online literature helped me immensely in figuring out what was wrong with me,” Cas said quietly.

“Oh Cas! There’s nothing wrong with you, hon!” Charlie lunged at Castiel and wrapped him up in a hug.

“Thank you, Charlie. And I know that, now, but…” Cas returned the hug. Dean cleared his throat and patted Cas on the shoulder in support. Cas beamed at him.

Finally, Charlie pulled away and returned to her seat as the rest of the team turned back to face Jo and Eileen.

“I think it’s a good idea. But are we going to have enough time to pull it off for this year’s Pride? I don’t want a half assed piece of work going out there,” Dean asked.

“Well, me and Eileen, we already got a script ready to go.  And we were figuring, for a first issue, we could keep it relatively short, with a promise of more to come next year. And then with the whole year to work on it, we can really beef up the next one.”

“So like, this one’s a teaser?” Donna asked.

“Yup!” Jo replied. “We’re just gonna put one story in this one. But for next year, we’ll scout out some people who are willing to share their experiences and use them as part of the book. Those will be our true-life stories. And then I was thinking, we can put backstories for some of our heroes and heroines – things that don’t fit into the normal vibe of their own comic. People might find it helpful to see that their favorite heroic character struggled with the same things they are.”

“Okay, I’m voting yes on this. I’m willing to do the extra work. Who else is in?” Dean looked around the room, taking in every nod. “Beautiful. Let’s see the script.”

“Check your emails. I sent you all a copy. Castiel, yours has extra notes on it, of course.” Eileen noted.

Castiel nodded. “Of course, thank you, Eileen. I can’t wait to start working on this.”

“Well then, I say we break for lunch. Looks like we’ve got some extra work to do, so let’s get ourselves appropriately energized for it.” Dean clapped his hands together in excitement, and the powwow broke apart.

Sam watched the dispersal with some confusion. This had to be the plan, yet Sam had to admit, he couldn’t see how they were going to accomplish anything with this idea. He’d just have to be patient and see how it played out.


It would be tough work getting the comic pulled together and sent out to the presses before June was over, no matter how short it was. Cas got started on it right away.

First thing was first. After his initial read through of the script at the studio, he printed out a copy of it to take home and start making notes. Something about it niggled at him, felt familiar, but he couldn’t quite place his finger on it.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a fairly fantastical setting. While it was modern day America, featuring a single man who was in the closet, something at least a part of the intended audience would relate too, it had a brush of the supernatural in the form of a fallen angel who was rescued by the man.

Together, the angel learns how to be human and the man learns how to truly be himself, coming out to friends and family, before they both realize they’ve fallen in love – with each other.

It was simple, but effective.

And so damn familiar.

Cas spent the next couple of days dragging the script and a brand-new sketchbook with him everywhere he went. Re-reading it, taking notes, planning out different possible approaches - all while keeping the writer's notes and thoughts in mind.

Eileen and Jo — or maybe just Eileen, Cas was never sure how much the two collaborated or didn’t collaborate – had some very specific things they wanted to see visually: how the man and the angel would look, a few scenery details, but otherwise, left the layouts and composition to him.

He really enjoyed the artistic freedom, the trust the writers – friends or not — had given him in order to bring such a story to life. Cas greatly appreciated that since the story the girls had created seemed to resonate deep inside him and he truly wanted to create something special. Not that he didn’t try to do that with everything he made but this time…

There was just something about this story that needed special attention, demanded his greatest effort.

After creating pages of thumbnails and scrapping some layouts in preference for others, he started officially laying down the pencils. He couldn’t wait for Dean to ink them and really bring them to life.

Cas mused as he drew, about how well he and Dean worked together. He’d tried working with other inkers before but they never seemed to understand what Cas was going for the way Dean did. It always felt as if Dean put extra care into his work that other inkers, even Jody, did not.

It truly was as if he and Dean shared a special bond.

In a way, Cas supposed that was true. They’d been best friends forever now. They’d shared their hopes and dreams with each other since they were children. If anyone knew how he ticked, it was Dean Winchester, and Cas liked to think the reverse was also true.

The pencil moved gracefully in his hand, the lead flowing freely across the page, images blooming seamlessly from one line to the next. He was in the zone as he created panel after panel, page after page.

Which was probably why it didn’t click right away. Not until Dean came by to remind Cas to come up for air and he paused, laying his pencil down. Cas flipped through the oversized comic sheets with a pleased, accomplished hum – he’d finished perhaps 80 percent of it already (the story was really short) — and started looking at the whole forest instead of the individual trees.

What he saw made Cas gasp.

No wonder the story had felt so familiar.

How had he not noticed this? He ran his fingers gently down one of the pages, almost reverently. What would Dean think about this? Would he notice? Or would he, like Cas, get so lost in the work that he didn’t see what it was?

Should Cas point it out?

His stomach churned as he thought back on their relationship, on their interactions. There was so much to sift through, so many memories. If Cas wasn’t misreading anything, it was entirely possible that this wasn’t one sided. That the profound bond Cas felt between himself and Dean meant something more. But if he brought it up and he was wrong, Cas wasn’t sure he could handle the disappointment.

In the end, Cas decided to finish the comic pages and pass them to Dean and wait for a reaction, see what Dean thought, if he saw it.


Dean finished the last page of their flag comic with a carefully planned flourish and set it down with a grin. He couldn’t wait to see what Cas had come up with for their special project. By now, he should have something ready for Dean to start to work on. Might actually have all of it, depending on how complicated it was. Cas had been working on the pages nonstop for days.

He picked up his finished inks and brought them to the copy room, scanning the pages in and sending them off to Donna, then brought them back to his and Cas’s studio room and carefully filed them away. He spotted the new project on his drafting table and he made his way to it almost giddily.

Eagerly taking his seat, Dean counted the pages. There were only nine of them. Much shorter than he’d expected, but doable. Definitely doable by the deadline. Dean arranged his table, putting the other pages aside safely and focusing on the first page. His heart fluttered at holding such precious things in his hands. Cas was a genius with a pencil. It was always a joy to see what he’d done this time.

While Dean had technically read the script, other than noting that it looked great – as usual – and that it seemed to cause an ache in his chest when he read it, he hadn’t thought much about it.

Till he started inking Cas’s pages.

That’s when his heart stopped.

He’d missed it on the first page. He started to suspect by the second. By the third, he’d stopped inking entirely and had them all laid out in front of him, studying it, reading each line. He didn’t notice Cas surreptitiously glancing over from his own drafting table. To be honest, Cas was supposed to be working on the next issue of their main comic, and Dean knew that once he started a project, he’d be lost in it for a while. So he didn’t even consider that Cas might be waiting to see his reaction to his pages.

Dean blinked, reading the pages through, again and again. They were the same words Eileen and Jo had sent in the emails, but with the art, they took on a whole new meaning. His chest felt tight as he realized that perhaps his own feelings for Cas hadn’t stayed locked up as tight as he had thought they were.

Obviously, Jo and Eileen had known, if they’d written this in such a way that Cas had been able to illustrate it so on point. And if…if Cas saw it too, then maybe years of repressing himself, his feelings, had been not only pointless, but wasted time.

Dean’s hands shook as he shuffled the pages again. There could be no inking now, not while he felt so unnerved, so…hopeful.

Then again, Cas hadn’t actually said anything, had he? He was just illustrating someone else’s words.

Dean flipped to the last page again and stared. It was a splash page, beautifully done, as only Cas could, one final image. The angel – in a trenchcoat that flapped behind him, all too reminiscent of the one that Cas adored, one that Dean had gifted him one year – and the human wrapped in embrace, kissing. Feathers fell around them, the angel choosing humanity, choosing love.

Making the final fall.

And the human catching him.

Dean wasn’t sure how long he sat staring at the page in front of him, didn’t hear Cas calling his name till a hand fell on his shoulder and he looked up into concerned blue eyes.

“Dean, are you all right? You’ve been staring at that page for almost ten minutes,” Cas asked. He swallowed, trepidation entering his eyes, his gravelly voice dropping to an almost whisper. “Is there…something wrong with it?”

“What? God no, Cas. The pages are beautiful, as usual. I think —“ Dean looked back down at the last page, the last sketch, his finger twitching to stroke the image – “I think it’s your best work yet.”

“You mean that?” Cas asked. Dean looked up with a small smile.

“Yeah, I do.”

They stared at each other for long moments, Dean staring up at Cas from where he remained seated. Cas hovering uncertainly above him. The silence stretched.

“Oh for the love of God! Will you two just kiss already?” Sam yelled in exasperation from the open doorway.

Startled, Cas jumped back and tripped over his own feet, his arms wind milling. He was falling, like the angel in the comic – and Dean caught him, leaping out of his chair with outstretched arms.

The world stopped and, too lost in each other to notice the cheering, Dean and Cas finally did. They leant forward, Dean bending his head while Cas clutched at Dean’s arms, their lips meeting. It was Heaven on Earth and Dean sighed into it.

Slowly, they sank to the floor, still kissing, thrills shooting through them. Eventually, Dean drew away and moved his hands up to cup Cas’s face. “How long?”

“It feels like forever,” Cas said.

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Dean whispered.

“I was afraid to. What if you didn’t feel the same? Dean, your friendship means everything to me, and if you didn’t return my affection, I could have lost you. Everything would have become awkward. It would never be the same between us again. I couldn’t bear the thought.” Cas paused. “Why didn’t you?”

“I didn’t think…you never showed a sign that you thought of me this way. I thought I didn’t stand a chance,” Dean answered.

“Oh Dean…” Cas breathed, his hand reaching up to stroke over Dean’s cheek. Dean closed his eyes and leaned into it. “I can’t believe how close we’ve been, all this time, and neither of us realized the truth.”

“God, I know it. I feel like we’re a couple of dumbasses,” Dean snorted.

“I prefer emotionally stunted – less dumb, less ass,” Cas said with a wry grin.

“Well, maybe a little ass, eventually…” Dean smirked, his eyes still boring into Cas’s.

There was groaning from the doorway and Cas and Dean were startled back to reality, turning to face the audience they’d forgotten. Sam, they expected. Everyone else, not so much.

“Why are you all standing there? Don’t you know a private moment when you see one?” Dean demanded.

“One, this is a public building. Two, we’ve been waiting for you idiots to figure this out for years now. Three, if they were private moments, then you two should stop eye fucking each other with other people around every chance you get. Seriously, it’s been nauseating watching you two. And infuriating seeing how clueless you were,” Jo gritted out with a stretched grin.

Dean’s eyes narrowed at Jo and Eileen. “Wait, did you plan this?”

Eileen rolled her eyes and spoke, her hands moving in unison with her words. “Are you deaf? We were sick of watching you two dance around each other. It was killing us. So yes, we planned this. You’re welcome.”

Turning, Eileen led the group away to leave Dean and Cas in peace. Benny gave two thumbs up on his way out. Sam was the last to leave.

“Just…whatever you do guys, do not do it in the studio. Please. And warn me if I need to make myself scarce at home, okay?”

“Yeah, whatever, bitch,” Dean waved him off and Sam glared.

“Jerk,” he muttered, but a grin still tugged at his lips. He disappeared, finally leaving Dean and Cas alone.

They stared at the empty doorway in disbelief for a few moments, but when they were certain their friends were long gone, Dean and Cas turned back to each other.

“You wanna go home?” Dean asked. “I think we’ve got a lot to talk about and I know that I, for one, don’t think I can concentrate well enough right now to do these pages the justice they deserve.”

“You always do them justice, Dean,” Cas looked at him with faith and pride. Dean laughed in embarrassment , looking down and rubbing at the back of his neck. Cas slid the hand on Dean’s cheek down to his chin and gently raised it up. “No, Dean, you do. You have been and always will be an inspiration to me, and I’m glad to know you, glad to work with you, and all around glad to have you in my life.”

“Man, that is so sappy but…I gotta say, between you, me and the art, I feel the same way,” Dean said, eyes never leaving Cas’s face.

Cas grinned happily, “Then let’s go home, Dean.”

“Let’s,” Dean agreed.

And in the breakroom were over a dozen people  — friends, coworkers and family, the line of distinction between them all blurred till they practically meant the same thing – who were all congratulating themselves on a job well done.

If they only knew what they had opened themselves up for. Unresolved sexual tension and mutual pining was one thing. Dean and Cas not being able to keep their hands off each other for more than two seconds at a time – for reasons both innocent and dirty – was something completely different.

They didn’t know it, but they were all doomed.