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If I Dream

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It was like looking into a smudged mirror of the past: a dark room, a ring of fire, desperate voices bouncing off the walls. Only the roles were wrong. Inside the circle this time stood not Castiel, but Dean Winchester, illuminated by burning holy oil—and it was Castiel, not Dean, who was begging at the outer rim of the flames. Not far behind him was Jack instead of Crowley, and Sam—the only constant.

It had been months since Dean gave his body over to Michael. Almost six. Half a year. Exactly five months, three weeks, six days, eleven hours, thirty-one minutes, and seven seconds, by Castiel’s count. Eight seconds. Nine. Ten. Eleven…each stretching on longer than the last. Staring down Dean—or the body of Dean—across the wall of fire, Castiel made a note to start adding milliseconds if this didn’t work.

Tracking Michael had been the easy part; the archangel was proving to be rather ostentatious with his fashion. Within a day of commandeering Dean Winchester’s body Michael had used one of Dean’s credit cards to make nearly two thousand dollars’ worth of purchases from high-end clothing stores. Why he didn’t just take them Castiel wasn’t certain. Perhaps he’d been living in the apocalypse world too long, or perhaps he was trying to blend in and lie low—disappearing in the middle of Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was sure to draw attention, and Castiel suspected attention was, at least for the moment, the last thing Michael wanted. He’d want to take stock of this new world, do some scouting and planning before he made his power play to control it.

Catching up to Michael had been more difficult. Sam pulled the credit card records as soon as he and Jack were home and healed. That placed Michael in New York City in as little as fourteen hours since he disappeared with Dean, but he never stayed anywhere long. Castiel assumed it was systematic—Michael knew it would take the boys days to get to him in the Impala wherever he was, and by the time they got there, he could have been a thousand other places. Sam dug out an archangel tracking spell that worked via the vessel’s DNA (which, thankfully, there was plenty of around the bunker), but it wasn’t much help: the pendulum that hung over the US map moved just about every six hours, if not more often, and sometimes pointed off at nothing, meaning Michael wasn’t limiting himself to the country. Finally, they managed to rig a new pendulum over the world map in the war room, but it soon became clear that Michael was often not even on the planet. And through all of it, Castiel could feel Dean’s longing—strong and wild at first, like invisible roots reaching out for him in the dark—but growing weaker every day.

They spent that maddening half-year chasing dead-end leads, watching the pendulum swing ceaselessly across the map, stationing the apocalypse world refugees across the country, alerting hunters in every major city, and finally—with Rowena’s help—they caught Michael in a mistake.

After the incident, Rowena had gone off the grid, enjoying her newfound freedom from Lucifer. But in late September, Sam’s phone rang, and Rowena said there was “static” coming off New Orleans in waves, and it hadn’t let up for weeks. The credit card trails had largely gone dead—Michael didn’t need to eat or sleep. Every now and then they’d find a hotel charge, but the pendulum alerted them quickly that Michael hadn’t stayed there long. When Rowena called, Sam pulled up the records again and found a large deposit to rent out an empty warehouse in the New Orleans business district, right beside the water. The map placed Michael somewhere in Northern California, but if he’d paid for the warehouse, Sam figured he’d been making trips back there—probably in the middle of the night, which is why they hadn’t noticed the repeated Louisiana pit stops. When he figured it out, Sam bolted for the library where Castiel was digging through whatever lore he could find on expelling archangels from hosts. It only took three words to get Castiel on his feet: “We got him.”

***

And now they had him, trapped and subdued in a ring of fire. Inside Dean’s body Michael was quiet. Dean’s eyes were closed, his head lolled back, mouth open. If the circumstances were different, Castiel might have thought him only sleeping, he looked so peaceful.

“Dean?” he ventured quietly, stepping toward the flames.

“Cas, careful,” said Sam behind him. He held a gun, and Jack an angel blade, though they all knew neither would do any good.

“I’m alright, Sam,” said Castiel, shuffling one step closer, then another, and finally stopping when he was so close the heat from the flames was painful and stung his grace.

“Dean?” he spoke again, more firmly, then growled, “Dean! Answer me!”

One of Dean’s fingers twitched at his side and slowly his head rolled forward. After a beat his eyes fluttered open. He looked around blearily, blinking through the bright light of the fire, and caught sight of Castiel. “Cas?” he grumbled, voice thick with something like sleep.

“Dean! Are you alright?” asked Castiel, instinctively stepping yet closer to the circle only to cringe back against the heat. “I’m here with Sam and Jack. You have to cast him out. You have to cast out Michael.”

“Cas?” Dean asked again, quietly, and his eyelids began to droop. His chin tipped forward, and despite a chorus of his name and wake up and hold on from the three voices on the other side of the fire, Dean Winchester slipped back into still silence.

And then he smiled, and though it was Dean’s face, it wasn’t Dean.

“Just kidding,” said Dean’s voice, though it wasn’t Dean. Michael rolled his shoulders and folded his arms, grin spreading as he stared down Castiel. “Did you really think that would work on me? Castiel, you’ve lost your touch.”

“Let him go,” Castiel growled, the archangel blade dropping from his sleeve. Michael smirked.

“Spare me the dramatics,” he said and rolled his eyes. “We both know you wouldn’t hurt Dean. Not even to get to me.”

“Is that a risk you’d like to take?” asked Castiel, his eyes dark.

“Oh, Cassie, you don’t know me at all,” said Michael.

“And you don’t know Dean Winchester,” said Castiel, tightening his grip on the blade. “But I do. And I know he’d rather die than be trapped in there with you.”

“Would he, now?” asked Michael, his smile widening. He turned his back to Castiel, pacing around the inside of the circle. “That’s not what it looks like on my end.”

“Then I suggest you look more closely.”

“Would you like to see?” said Michael, turning abruptly and arching a mocking brow at Castiel. “You shouldn’t worry so, little brother. I’m keeping your pet well fed.”

Castiel growled and stepped so close to the flames they nearly singed his coat, only held back by Sam’s voice behind him, calling, “Cas, don’t!”

“Come a little closer,” beckoned Michael. “These flames won’t hold me much longer, and my quarrel’s not with you. Well—unless you keep pestering me about the vessel. You are nothing to me. You’re ants. If I wanted you dead, I’d have squished you all already. Lucky for you, you’re not worth the effort.”

“Shut up,” growled Castiel, though his hand with the blade lowered to his side. His stoic anger faltered.

“Come on, baby bro,” said Michael, sneering. “It’ll ease your mind.” He paused, considering, then shrugged and added, “Or it won’t.”

“Cas, don’t listen to him! It’s a trick! You know it’s a trick,” called Sam, and suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder, pulling him back from the fire. “You know he’s just trying to get under your skin. Don’t let him.”

“Sam,” said Castiel, turning, “I have to. I need—we need to know he’s okay.” He peeled Sam’s hand off his shoulder.

“Then let me,” said Jack, finally speaking up. “We can’t lose you, Cas. Without my powers, I’m—”

“Stop it,” said Cas, shaking his head at Jack. “You’re not useless. I won’t sacrifice you. Or Sam. Michael is my brother, and that makes him my responsibility.”

“C’mon Cas, you don’t have to do this. We’ll figure—” Sam began, but was cut off.

“I’m sorry,” said Castiel, and placed two fingers on Sam’s forehead. He crumpled to the floor in a dead sleep.

“Cas!” yelled Jack, lunging forward, but Castiel threatened him with those fingers as well.

“Watch over Sam,” he commanded. “If something goes wrong, get him out of here.” Jack advanced again, stubborn, and Castiel lowered his chin. “Don’t make me put you under too, Jack. You’re no good to Sam unconscious.”

Jack’s eyes widened and his jaw set, and he backed away to crouch beside Sam and drag him heavily away from the fire. Castiel turned back to Michael.

“No tricks?”

“No tricks,” said Michael, holding out a hand across the slowly dying fire. “Scout’s honor.”

Castiel stepped forward, and Michael’s other hand stretched out, palms pressing to Castiel’s temples.
There was a rush of light and noise, and faintly, Jack’s voice calling out his name, but it turned into an echo that mellowed into silence and dark.

***

Slowly, Castiel’s senses returned, and he found himself—or rather, a projection of himself—in the entryway of the bunker. It felt so real he had flashbacks of his own time holed away in this corner of the mind while he’d been possessed by Lucifer, but this was somehow even more intense, more true. He could smell the scent of coffee wafting lazily in from the kitchen. He walked down the hall and could see Sam—or rather, a projection of Sam—reading in the library. Mary’s voice called to her son from somewhere, and Sam rose to find her, walking straight through Castiel’s non-body and disappearing around the corner.

Castiel stood there a moment longer to get his bearings. He closed his eyes and focused hard on the silence. He’d just made up his mind to check the kitchen for Dean when he heard the faintest sound of music drifting down the hallway from the direction of Dean’s room.

Castiel moved more slowly than he meant to, something twisting in his gut, the sound growing louder with his approach. He stood outside Dean’s room for a moment, listening to the slow, muffled song and staring at the slat of soft light that spilled from beneath the door. Finally, he put his hand out to push it, but it went straight through as if he was a ghost. Castiel steeled himself for what he might find and stepped through Dean’s door.

An invisible band tightened around his stomach and punched the air from his lungs; sent his heart thundering up into his throat.

As if on cue, when Castiel stepped into the room a slow, bluesy drumbeat began. The room was dark, but not completely—a small lamp on the bedside table with a black t-shirt thrown haphazardly over the shade cast a faint yellow haze over the room, mimicking candles. On the dresser, a record player proved to be the source of the sound. Propped against the wall beside it was the record’s sleeve—a barely-recognizable image of a man in a hat leaning over a bar. The music was turned up just a bit too loud, and it made the room feel smoky and secluded.

In the center of the room was Dean—barefoot in jeans and a t-shirt, and he was clinging to another man dressed just the same—another Castiel. A dream Castiel. They were pulled close, chest to chest. Dean had his arm around the dream Cas’s waist, hand on the small of his back, and dream Cas had his hand curled around the back of Dean’s neck. Their foreheads were pressed together, and their other hands were linked and held lazily out to the side. Castiel stared for a solid minute before it occurred to him they were dancing. He watched, unable to even blink, as Dean and dream Cas swayed and rotated slowly, barely moving, eyes closed.

A voice Castiel had heard a million times crooned, If I dream too much at night, somebody please bring me down, and he watched as Dean lowered his forehead to drag the tip of his nose slowly down the side of dream Cas’s. Dream Cas sighed and angled up his chin to catch Dean’s lips in the gentlest kiss, and Castiel shivered. Despite his lack of physical form, his knees felt weak and he reached behind him to steady himself against the door, but found nothing solid, and stumbled backwards. As before, he went straight through it, and suddenly found himself back in the hallway, listening to the muffled song.

He stood there in the dark, staring at the door, breathing as if he’d run a marathon. It felt like he was intruding on something incredibly private, some secret wish that belonged to Dean and not him, but—wasn’t he there too? Or a version of him. And wasn’t this also what he wanted? Castiel straightened his shoulders and stepped slowly back through into the room, where he found Dean and dream Cas still wrapped in their embrace, lips locked, oblivious to everything else in the world.

…I get down on my knees, oh, I pray that love won’t die…

Castiel watched, frozen with bitter joy and strange jealousy as Dean and dream Cas broke the kiss but stayed close to breathe each other’s air; loosed their entwined hands and started using them to explore each other’s bodies. Dream Cas left his hand behind Dean’s neck in place while the other wound its fingers through a beltloop at Dean’s hip, and Dean lifted his free hand to cup dream Cas’s jaw and run his thumb along his cheekbone, other arm still holding his lover close.

…every little bit, every little bit of my love, oh…

Dean lifted his head to press his cheek against dream Cas’s and speak low in his ear. “I’m sorry, Cas,” he said, barely audible above the music.

“What for?” dream Cas answered, just as softly.

Castiel stood by the door, transfixed.

“Waiting so long,” Dean answered. “Being so afraid.”

Dream Cas made a low, content “mmm” sound in his throat, and nuzzled his temple against Dean’s. “Don’t,” he answered. “We’re here now.”

“Yeah,” said Dean. “I love you, Cas,” he added, pulling back to tilt dream Cas’s chin up and look him in the eye.

Dream Cas stared back just as fiercely, and Castiel recognized the look. The tightness in his chest gripped him harder, squeezed until there was pain—and that was familiar too.

“I love you, Dean Winchester,” dream Cas murmured.

Dean sighed and closed his eyes, dipping his head down to bruise his lips against dream Cas’s, and dream Cas moaned low and soft in his throat, rolling his jaw to part Dean’s lips.

…yes I love her, I guess I love her, yes I love her, I’m gonna crawl…

The song faded out and the album ended, filling the room with the soft clicks and static hum of vinyl, but Dean and dream Cas didn’t part. Castiel watched as the couple ceased their dancing and stood still, lost to time and each other. The breathy sounds of kisses mingled with the skipping static, and the very air was like electricity. Dean and dream Cas worked themselves into a slow passion—gently biting and sucking and pulling the breath from each other’s lungs. Dream Cas leaned away and reached for Dean’s hand, backing up towards the bed, blue eyes a cold fire.

Castiel was sure this was where the fantasy would end—things would get too real for Dean and he’d back away, and Castiel would see the mirror of his own hurt and shame played out in front of him. He braced himself for the vicarious pain, already feeling the familiar, pre-existing tendrils of it clawing at his heart, but to his shock they halted: Dean had followed and was crawling on top of dream Cas in his bed.

Castiel’s whole body lit up from the inside as he watched Dean tug his t-shirt over his head, and his heart seized when Dean reached to pull off dream Cas’s shirt as well, then leaned down for another greedy kiss. Dream Cas crooked up one leg to hug his knee into Dean’s side, and moaned as Dean licked into his mouth, the whole display somehow gentle and fiery all at once.

Castiel could feel himself splitting apart on a molecular level. It was too much, watching something this secret, something he craved deep in his bones but knew he could never hope to have out there in the real world. When Dean reached down to fidget with the button of dream Cas’s jeans, Castiel lost his nerve.

“STOP!” he roared, and almost instantly all the sounds of love and static were consumed by a deafening, high-pitched ring. His vision started flaring with a bright blue light around the edges, and soon it obliterated everything—but not before he caught sight of a very startled Dean look up over his bare shoulder and straight into Castiel’s—the real Castiel’s—eyes.

Chapter Text

The first thing Castiel became aware of was the intense heat and the thick smell of smoke; the feeling of hands pressed to either side of his head, fingers digging hard into his hair. His vision came back second, fading from bright white to the orange of a fire, and behind it, Dean—no, not Dean—Michael, smiling like he’d just won the lottery, arms folded across his chest. When he caught Castiel’s eyes, he threw back his head in a cackle. Castiel realized the hands on his head were no longer Michael’s, but his own, and as he slowly lowered them the ringing in his ears died away to let in the sound of Michael’s laughter.

Castiel straightened and set his jaw, and Michael calmed himself, adopting a smug grin.

“Did you have a nice time?” Michael taunted. “What do you think of my—oh, come now, Cassie! There’s no need for tears.”

Castiel sucked in a breath and reached up to touch his cheek. Sure enough, it was wet, and when he pulled down his hand to look at it tears mingled with dark ash on his fingertips, making liquid black.

“What are you doing to him?” Castiel finally growled at Michael, somehow out of breath. “That’s not just angel magic.”

“It’s archangel magic,” said Michael. He shrugged. “And a touch of djinn poison—don’t give me that look. As long as I’m his roommate it won’t hurt Dean. Just keeps him a little quieter for me.”

“You bastard,” said Castiel, crouching for his archangel blade that had fallen to the floor sometime during his trance. “Let him go. Now!” Michael laughed, and Castiel looked past him, trying to reach Dean’s soul. “Dean! Listen to me! You have to push him out—that’s not me with you! It’s—”

“Enough!” yelled Michael, and as he held out a hand the last of the flames died down, leaving a smoldering black circle on the warehouse floor. “He’s enjoying himself. Why can’t you just let him—oh. OH! Oh, this is rich, little brother.”

Castiel didn’t answer. He tightened his grip on his blade.

“You’re in love with him, of course,” said Michael, matter-of-factly. “Everyone knows that. I don’t even know this version of you, and I knew in minutes. Poor Castiel. Fallen so far, and in so many ways. But you didn’t know that he was in love with you too, did you?”

“Shut up,” Castiel growled low, glowering at Michael. He stole a glance behind him, and saw Jack staring wide-eyed, and a now very-much-awake Sam Winchester staring as well. Unlike Jack, though, Sam didn’t look surprised. He looked heartbroken.

So Sam knew, Castiel realized. Then Michael was right. Everyone knew. Maybe they’d always known. Maybe even longer than he had. Shame thick as bile crept bitterly into his throat.

“And just look at you now,” Michael continued, stepping forward out of the circle. “Jealous of a hallucination! What’s more, a hallucination of you!

Castiel cringed away, feinting back with Michael’s steps forward. “Stop it,” he grumbled, but Michael didn’t stop.

“Tell me, Castiel,” he said, still smiling like a wolf. “What was it like to watch him kissing you and not feel a thing?”

“Stop.”

“And how did it feel when you watched them stumble into bed?”

“Stop it, now.”

“And when Dean started taking your—well, your hallucination’s clothes off, what was that like? I bet that hurt something awful, didn’t—”

“STOP!” Castiel roared for the second time, and an unbidden blue light shone out from his eyes and palms, filling the room. The shadow of large, tattered wings sprung from his back. Behind him, though he didn’t see, Jack and Sam hunched down to shield their eyes.

Michael continued to smirk. He folded his arms across his chest. “Oops,” he said, unapologetic. “Did I ruffle your feathers?”

“Enough,” growled Castiel, his light still radiant and large. His shoulders heaved with his breath.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to try harder than that,” said Michael. He no longer wore a smile. “You see, I’m a busy man. Got things to do, and you’re in my way.”

“You lied,” said Castiel, his voice shaking with anger. “You lied to him. To Dean.”

“Cas—” Sam called from behind, his own voice choked in his throat.

Michael sneered. “Of course I did. And Dean was a fool to let his guard down.”

“No,” said Castiel, scowling. “Dean is an honest man. A good man. You don’t know the meaning of the word.”

“And somehow, I don’t care,” said Michael. “But you keep up that pining, Castiel. Dean’s doing just fine without you. Or with fake you. Take your pick. Like I said—I don’t care, and I’ve got things to do.” He lifted his hand to wiggle his fingers, and the smile that twisted Dean’s lips was anything but Dean’s. “Bye now.”

“NO!” yelled Castiel, reaching out to try and snag the front of Michael’s shirt, but he was too late.

With a rush of wind, Michael disappeared, leaving the room in stunned silence. The shadow of Castiel’s wings disappeared as they folded back into the dark, the blue light receding.

Castiel stared, dumbfounded and silent, at the place where Michael had been moments before, his hand still outstretched.

“Cas…” Sam finally broke the silence.

“Sam, don’t,” mumbled Castiel, lowering his arm to his side and balling his hand into a fist.

“Castiel,” Jack began. “Are you—”

“I said DON’T!” yelled Castiel, and he wheeled around to face Jack and Sam, his eyes still lit up with blue fire.

Sam and Jack stood staring slack-jawed at Castiel as his shoulders heaved with rage. His face was coated in a thin layer of ash from standing too close to the fire, and though he was no longer crying, the evidence of tears was in the clean lines carving through the soot on his cheeks. He started to pace around the burnt circle on the floor.

“We need to regroup,” Sam finally said after a few minutes of uncomfortable silence. “Figure out a plan.”

“That was our plan,” grumbled Castiel, still pacing. He crouched to touch the ash left by the circle of fire, rubbing the black between his fingertips.

“Then we make a new plan,” said Sam. He cleared his throat. “Look, man, I know you’re spun out—I am too, but we gotta—”

“Do you not understand what just happened here?” growled Castiel through his teeth. He rose to stalk towards Sam and Jack, leaning into their personal space, and Sam was reminded of a Castiel from years ago, full of righteous fury. “I don’t know if you noticed, but he’s gone, Sam. Michael is gone, and this place was our one lead. Do you think he’ll be back here? Do you think he’ll make the mistake of staying in one place again?”

Sam cringed away and swallowed hard. “I know,” he answered lowly.

“There has to be something,” said Jack. He reached to put a hand on Castiel’s sleeve, and the angel’s shoulders slouched. “There has to be some kind of hope. Dean wouldn’t just give up.”

Castiel shook his head, lifting dirty fingers to pinch at the bridge of his dirty nose. “No, he wouldn’t,” Castiel answered softly. He sighed through his nostrils and stood in silence for a moment, thinking, and then dropped his hand to look between Sam and Jack. “He looked at me,” he said. “Dean did, when I yelled. He saw me.”

“You broke him out of the spell?” asked Sam, perking. “That’s something.”

“It’s not much,” Castiel admitted. “But you’re right. It’s not nothing.”

“It means we can wake him up,” said Jack, a grin cracking his face.

Castiel hazarded a small smile back, but it faltered almost instantly, and he exhaled in frustration. “Yes. But we have to be there for that to happen, and now we’re back to square one.”

“Oh, Feathers,” a high, Scottish trill sounded from somewhere behind them in the dark.

All three men immediately turned and gripped their weapons, suddenly again on high alert. The slow click of heels echoed through the room, and out of the shadows stepped a small, red-haired woman in a long black dress. Rowena smiled and held up a small vial that emanated a bright, silver-blue light.

“It’s not like you to have such little faith.”

***
Sam recovered first. He lowered his gun and sighed. “Rowena? What are you doing here? Where the hell’d you come from? Were you following us?”

“That’s enough with the twenty questions, Samuel,” she answered. “Are you not happy to see me?”

“We could’ve used you the last six months,” Castiel grumbled, stashing his blade in his coat. He reached out to push Jack’s hand gently down as well.

“I’ve my reasons for lying low,” said Rowena. “And anyway, it doesn’t matter how I arrived at your little party, only that I’m here. And I’ve got something you need.”

“What are you doing here?” Sam asked again, exasperated. “And what’s the catch?”

“Catch?” Rowena pressed a hand to her chest, pretending to be taken aback. “After everything I’ve done for you!”

“Rowena…” Cas mumbled, sighing.

“Is it so hard to believe that I’ve grown fond of you boys?” she trilled, and then shrugged when Sam lifted an incredulous brow. “Well, I did mean that. You’re alright for hunters. But if you must know, I’m here to pay my debt. Square things away nice and tidy, as it were.”

“What debt?” asked Sam.

“Did you not kill the devil, lad?” she said. “I’m a free woman thanks to you and your brother. I feel I owe you something for that—and once you’ve got it, we make a deal.”

“Of course,” said Sam, laughing humorlessly. “What is it, Rowena?”

“I’m going to give you this wee bit of Michael’s archangel grace,” she said. “And in return, if you catch wind of my future exploits and you find them unsavory, you boys are going to look the other way, hmm?”

“What do you mean, ‘unsavory?’” asked Castiel, narrowing his eyes.

“We’re not going to let you kill people,” added Sam.

“Goodness, lads!” Rowena chirped. “Do you think I’ve not changed a bit? I’m just asking you to let it slide if you happen to find out a spell was used to—oh, I don’t know. Harmlessly rob a bank.”

“I don’t know if that’s—” Jack began, but Castiel interrupted.

“Wait—how did you get Michael’s grace? When?” he asked, and both Jack and Sam fell quiet to listen.

“Well,” Rowena started. She smoothed her skirt and floated around to a nearby workbench where she sat and daintily crossed her legs, twisting the vial of grace in her fingers. “That’s the story, isn’t it? Don’t forget I’m the one who tipped you off to Michael’s little Cajun country hideaway in the first place. And I’ve not been around, but I’ve been keeping tabs on you boys all the same. Need to know what my favorite angel and the hunters are up to, don’t I?”

“So you followed us?” Sam interjected. “Why?”

“Calm down, Samuel. We’re getting there,” she said. “Yes, I followed you. You’re not exactly subtle in that grumbling machine you call a car.” She paused, and then added flippantly, “And the tracking spell doesn’t hurt. Anyway—after I called you, Sam, I put on a cloaking spell and moseyed over here myself. Knew you’d show up before too long. As for the why, well. When have I not kept an eye on powerful cosmic beings intent on destroying the world?”

Sam glanced over at Jack and Castiel, and Castiel shrugged. “Fair enough,” he said. “How’d you get the grace?”

“Think about where we are, boys,” Rowena said, smiling. “Did you ever ask why Michael made New Orleans his home base?”

“It’s a hub of spiritual energy,” Castiel said in realization. “The veil here is thin—one of the thinnest spots in America. Probably even the world.”

“Cookie for you, Feathers,” said Rowena. “And it’s not just the veil that’s thin.”

“The walls between other worlds,” said Sam.

Rowena winked. “Now you’re getting it, Samuel!”

“So, what?” asked Jack, finally speaking up. “He’s trying to open up another rift? Why? He’s already made it here. Isn’t that what he wanted?”

“He wants his army,” Castiel answered grimly. “He’s trying to bring them back here.”

“Aye,” said Rowena. “He’s been trying to replicate the spell to open the rift. That sort of thing stirs up a lot of noise. Especially in a place like this that’s already so thick with magic.” She cleared her throat. “But without Lucifer or Gabriel, he’s the only archangel left around. No one else’s grace to take, so he’s been trying to do the spell with his own, but it makes him weak. He comes here to hide in the magical static, so to speak, while he siphons off his grace. Just bits at a time so the recovery is short. But he keeps it on his person, so I needed him distracted.”

“Which is why you followed us here,” said Sam. “While he was distracted with us—”

“I used a simple telekinetic spell to lift it from his pocket while he had his fingers in poor Castiel’s noggin,” she confirmed.

“You’re brilliant,” said Jack, eyes and face lit up with an amazed grin. Sam smirked, but Castiel just rolled his eyes.

“Finally, someone who appreciates my talents,” Rowena exclaimed, beaming at Jack. She turned to Sam and pointed at Jack. “I like this one.”

“So what do we do with it? The grace?” asked Sam. “How does it help us?”

“First, we get somewhere warded,” Rowena said, rising. “He’s going to notice it’s missing any minute now, and I do not plan on being here when he does.”

“She’s right,” said Castiel, shrugging. “We should get to a hotel and start warding.”

“Alright,” said Sam, starting for the door. “Come on if you’re coming.”

Chapter Text

“Dean, what’s wrong?” Cas pushed up on his elbows beneath Dean, still a bit out of breath from the hot-and-heavy of moments before.

“I—don’t know,” grumbled Dean, still hovering inches above Cas, but looking back over his shoulder towards the door, brows knit. “Thought I heard something.”

“Look at me,” said Cas, and he reached up to gently grip Dean’s chin and angle his face back towards his, but when he did his own expression darkened. “Dean,” he scooted to a seat, resting against the headboard, and took Dean’s face in both his hands, eyes searching. “Thought you heard what? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” He paused. “Though I suppose that’s not uncommon in your line of work.”

Dean snorted. “Shut up,” he gently teased. He mustered a small smile and sat back on his haunches, straddling Cas’s lap, and cupped his hands over the ones on his cheeks. “I don’t know, man. It was weird. It was you.”

Cas tilted his head and thumbed over Dean’s cheekbones. “Well, that’s impossible,” he said. “I’m right here and pretty pleasantly occupied.”

“Yeah you are,” said Dean, and he smirked. He leaned to nip Cas’s bottom lip with a playful growl, and Cas slid his hands down over Dean’s chest, then wound them around Dean's back to pull him flush.

“And I’d very much like to get back to that,” said Cas. “If you don’t mind.”

“Not a bit,” Dean mouthed against Cas’s lips, and shivered when he felt Cas’s fingers work open the button and zipper of his jeans.

Dean reciprocated clumsily, panting into Cas’s kiss as he fumbled with the button, though his fingers faltered, and he folded into an involuntary groan as Cas slipped a hand beneath his boxers and gripped him hard. For a moment, that was all that mattered. Instinct and desire took over, and within seconds he and Cas were a tangle of quickly-stripping limbs, grinding and groaning against each other in unbound bliss.

In a moment they were both bare, and Cas flipped Dean onto his back. Dean’s hand bunched around the sheet as Cas began mouthing a slow path of kisses down his chest. He dragged his nails along Dean’s sides and stopped to nip at a hipbone, pulling a small moan from Dean’s throat. But the doubt was introduced, and despite the heady pleasure, it nagged at the back of Dean’s brain, threatening to shake him from the moment. It was gnawing on him—not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to notice. “Cas…” he said softly, reaching down to touch his lover’s hair.

Instead of stopping, though, Cas was encouraged. He gripped Dean by the hips and took him into his mouth, and Dean nearly managed to ignore the nag. His back arched and he moaned low in his throat, his hand tightening in Cas’s hair. “Sh—damnit,” he sighed in pleasure, letting Cas go on for a moment before the doubt itching in his brain bit harder. “Mmm—damnit,” he said louder, and then, “Stop. Cas—stop. Please stop?”

Cas lifted his head, grinning darkly, and started, “That close already?” His face fell almost immediately when he looked properly at Dean, though: his eyes closed tight, brows furrowed, jaw set, head leaned back against the headboard. “Dean, what is it?”

“It’s just this—do you ever feel like things are too perfect?”

Cas sat up and scooted to sit next to Dean, pulling the blanket up around their waists. “You mean, does this feel too good to be true?” he asked. Dean nodded, and he answered simply, “Yeah, sometimes.”

“How do you deal with that?”

“I remember what it took to get here,” said Cas. He reached for Dean’s hand, picked it up and held it between both of his own. “What we sacrificed.”

“That’s just it, though,” answered Dean. “Things never work out for us. Not like this.”

“This time they did.”

“Why now?” grumbled Dean. “Why not before we had to lose everyone—and more than once?”

“Why does that matter?”

“Because it matters.”

“It doesn’t,” said Cas softly.

“Why doesn’t it?”

“Will it change anything to wonder?” asked Cas, leaning up. “What good does it do to question? We can’t go back.” He squeezed Dean’s hand and slipped out of bed, scooping up a pair of boxers and stepping into them as he walked towards the record player, still skipping with static.

Dean watched in silence as Cas lifted the needle, slipped the record back into its sleeve and then into a crate with all the others, which he then began flipping through. He pulled one and stared at it for a moment, then set it down, placed his hands on the table on either side of it, and hung his head with a sigh. “Cas?” Dean worried, sitting up and reaching for his own boxers on the corner of the bed.

“Don’t you think—” Cas began, and cut himself off, sighing through his nose. He straightened and picked up the sleeve again, pulling the record from it and settling it on the turntable, though he didn’t start it. He held the needle, and with his back still to Dean, nearly whispered, “After everything we’ve been through, everything we’ve endured, everything we’ve survived, don’t you think we’ve earned this? Don’t you think we deserve something too good to be true?”

“Of course I do,” sighed Dean. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and pulled on his boxers. He ran a hand down his face before adding, “I know we deserve it. It’s just—hard to believe sometimes. And then that weird…” he flailed a hand at the door, “…I dunno, vision thing of you. It shook me up, man.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” said Cas, and he dropped the needle. It started spitting static again as he turned and he smiled at Dean. He reached out a beckoning hand and cocked a brow, and a peppy guitar blared from the speakers. “Except that we were having fun, and now we’re not. I’d like to get back there.”

Dean couldn’t help himself. He snorted and padded over to Cas and took his hand, looping an arm around his waist again. “See? Too good. Can’t possibly be real.”

“Oh, I’m real enough,” said Cas as drums kicked in and vocals began. If you start me up, if you start me up I’ll never stop… “And I’m terrible at dancing.” He took Dean’s other hand and started to shake his hips totally out of rhythm, then sang along with the song, lowly and very off key, “You make a grown man cryyy-yyy...

“Trying to get me out of my head, angel?” said Dean, a grin splitting his face as he was dragged along with Cas’s motions.

“Is it working?”

“It’s not not working.”

“Good,” said Cas, and stilled himself to lean forward and give Dean’s lips a peck. “Good things do happen, Dean.”

“Mmm,” sighed Dean, closing his eyes and leaning into the kiss.

Cas nipped Dean’s lower lip and gave him a playful smile. “Better?”

“Getting there,” said Dean. He smiled back at Cas, and for a brief moment, he was happy to stand still with his angel—to let the sound of classic rock on crackling vinyl and the feel of Cas’s warm hands in his wash him into contentment.

“What are you thinking?” Cas finally asked, tilting his head. “I promised not to read your mind, but when you get like this it’s tempting.”

Dean smirked. “I’m thinking I’m happy,” he said. “I’m savoring it. I’m thinking—”

Dean cut himself off abruptly, and his face contorted into pained confusion again. He was staring over Cas’s shoulder.

“Dean?” Cas asked, giving him a gentle shake.

“I don’t have a record player,” whispered Dean, words stilted.

“What?”

“I don’t have a record player,” Dean repeated. “I don’t use vinyls. We never stayed in one place long enough to—it was always cassette tapes. For the Impala. I use cassettes.”

“You’re not making sense,” Cas worried. He let go of Dean’s shoulder and hand.

Dean shook his head, still staring past Cas at the spinning record. “I don’t use vinyl.”

“I’m going to get Sam.”

“I use cassettes…”

…love the day when we will never stop, never stop, never, never, never, stop…

Chapter Text

Castiel shook his head. “Almost. Like this,” he said to Jack, who held a can of red spray paint. Castiel gripped Jack gently by the wrist, then said softly, “Let me control your arm. Alright, spray.” Jack did, and Castiel swooped their arms together in one fluid motion to paint a particularly tricky sigil on the hotel wall. “Got it?”

“I think so,” said Jack, and Castiel dropped his hand. He smiled. “Thank you, Castiel.”

Castiel returned the smile, beaming with something like fatherhood as he watched Jack replicate the sigil once more, then check a small book of warding sketches and move on to the next. He turned to observe Sam and Rowena finishing up more sigils on the other side of the cheap, cramped room.

“How’s it coming?” he asked.

“Just about finished,” said Sam. And then, “We should turn on a fan or something. Fumes are killing me.”

“I got it!” said Jack, dropping his can of spray paint to hurry to the air conditioning unit on the wall.

“Uhh—okay,” said Sam, blinking at Jack. “Thanks.”

Castiel walked close to Sam and sighed, explaining quietly, “He needs to feel useful. Without his powers…”

“Right,” said Sam, and sighed as well, watching Jack sadly. He cleared his throat and tossed his empty spray paint can into the trash can they’d dragged into the center of the room. “Okay, Rowena,” he said, turning to the witch. “How do we use this grace?”

“First, you ought to think about what exactly grace is,” said Rowena. She mumbled something in Latin, and a comforting warmth fell over the room. “Should about do it,” she said to herself, and then looked to Castiel. “Would you like to do the honors, angel?”

Castiel settled on the edge of the bed. “It’s a difficult concept,” he began. “But it’s easiest to think about it as our version of a soul—though it isn’t quite the same. It’s—well, it’s angel. The essence of who we are—the source of our power, our connection to Heaven. In fact, I learned recently it’s what powers Heaven.”

“So what does that mean?” asked Sam. Jack returned from the air conditioner and took a seat beside Castiel.

“A few things,” said Rowena. “First, he’ll be wanting it back, aye? Sure, he’ll recover, but without this—”

“He’ll need to double the amount he’s using to account for what’s missing,” said Jack, brows lifting. “Which means he’ll extract more at once, which makes him weaker.” Beside him, Castiel let slip the barest grin.

“Exactly, boyo. And he does not want that,” said Rowena. She grinned and strode gracefully over to a little plastic table, bolted to the floor, and lowered herself into one of the chairs. “Secondly,” she continued, lifting the vial of grace from a fold in her gown, “This is like our own little Michael homing pigeon. Just one speck of this in a spell and we’ll know exactly where he is the moment he’s there.” She set the vial on the table. It cast a mesmerizing ring of light around it, and everyone stared.

“Grace always wants to get back to the source,” agreed Castiel. “But that helps us find Michael, not beat him.”

“True,” said Rowena, and her smile grew. “But we haven’t reached the best part.”

“Which is?” said Sam, goading.

“We give Michael’s archangel grace to our dear Castiel,” said Rowena.

“What?” said Jack, angering. “No, that’s—that’s suicide!”

“You can’t seriously think we’d consider that, Rowena,” said Sam, folding his arms. “He’s our best friend and we’ve already lost him too many times.”

“Then I suppose you’re fine with killing Dean with an archangel blade?” said Rowena.

“That’s not—”

“Dean wouldn’t want him to—”

“Then what do you propose—”

Rowena, Sam, and Jack argued, voices overlapping, and all the while Castiel was silent. He rose from the edge of the bed and padded to a window while they continued, oblivious to his movements. After a few moments of staring out into the dark, he cleared his throat and turned to face the bickering trio.

“I’ll do it,” he said.

“How could you possibly—”

“…and I guess you know what’s best for—”

“I’ll do it,” Castiel repeated, louder. When they still didn’t stop, he finally broke down and yelled, “Hey!”

Everything got quiet, and the three of them turned to look at Castiel. “I’ll do it,” he said again.

“Then it’s a last resort,” said Sam, stepping towards Castiel almost protectively. “We’re not sacrificing you, Cas.”

“It’s also our best hope,” argued Castiel. Jack tried to interrupt, but Castiel stopped him. “And this is mydecision.”

Thank you,” said an exasperated Rowena, relaxing back into her chair.

“Cas, Dean wouldn’t want—” Jack tried again.

“Dean doesn’t know what he wants,” said Castiel, darkening. “I was in there, in his head,” he went on. “Dean didn’t even know what was real. He’s not in a position to decide what he does or doesn’t want.”

“And we can’t decide for him,” said Sam, conceding. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t like this, Cas.”

“Why can’t we?” Jack blurted, face contorting in anger. “If he’s in as bad of shape as Cas says he is, can’t we have umm…” he paused, then snapped, looking up. “Power of Attorney?”

“Because he’s—wait,” said Sam, blinking. “How do you know about Power of Attorney?” he asked Jack, bewildered.

“I read one of your old law textbooks I found in the library,” said Jack, matter-of-factly.

“When did you even have time?” asked Sam.

“I don’t sleep much,” said Jack. He shrugged.

Sam shook his head. “Well, whatever, that’s not really how Power of Attorney works. It’s more for—”

“Can we please focus on the topic at hand?” Castiel sighed.

“My, you boys are a trip,” said Rowena, grinning as she listened. Castiel rolled his eyes and turned back to face Sam and Jack.

“Jack,” Castiel started. “We can’t decide what Dean would want because we know what he’d say: that we should just stab him with the archangel blade.”

Sam grunted. “Cas is right, Jack,” he said softly and sadly.

“And we’re not letting him die again,” said Castiel. “It’s not an option. And we’re certainly not going to be the ones to drive the knife.”

Jack was quiet. He looked between Castiel and Sam, and finally asked, “Is that really what he’d say? To just—just kill him to kill Michael?”

“Even I know that, lad,” said Rowena. She twirled a lock of red hair around a finger. “He’s a bit of a martyr.”

Castiel ignored Rowena, and continued, “You haven’t known him as long as we have,” he said. “But we’re going to make sure you get that chance, and you can’t do that if he’s dead.”

Jack stared hard at Castiel, then looked to Sam again. Sam nodded, and Jack sighed in resignation, returning to his seat on the bed. “So we let you sacrifice yourself instead?”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” said Rowena, chiming in again. She leaned forward in her seat. “The archangel grace will buck up Castiel’s own grace. Like your footballers and their steroids. And with Michael still siphoning off his own grace for the spell…”

“We’ll be on more equal footing,” said Castiel.

“So how do we give you a leg up?” asked Sam.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” said Rowena, eyes fluttering. “But that’s where I come in.” The boys looked over, and she went on. “When it ‘goes down,’ as you say, I’ll be there throwing as many spells at Michael as I can—binding, weakening, et cetera—to give Feathers an opening to get Michael while he’s down.”

“It won’t be pretty,” said Sam. He scowled and pushed a hand back through his hair.

“No,” Castiel grimly agreed. “I’ll basically be punching my way into Dean’s mind by putting his body—controlled by Michael—under.” He wrung his hands. “Dean’ll be beat up afterwards. But at least he won’t be dead.”

“He’s strong,” said Jack.

“He is,” said Castiel, and then mirrored Sam’s scowl. “But it all means nothing if we can’t convince him to abandon his dream state and eject Michael.”

“And it still doesn’t actually deal with Michael,” said Sam. “Just gets him out of Dean. He’ll be out there circling for a new vessel.”

“And everyone knows the Winchesters have less trouble stabbing a vessel to death that isn’t one of their own,” Rowena intoned quietly, again twisting the vial of grace in her fingers.

“That’s not true,” protested Jack. “They care!”

“We do,” Sam said, ducking his head in shame. “But she’s not wrong.” He cleared his throat and shuffled.

The room descended into an uncomfortable silence. Jack searched the faces of Sam and Castiel, but Sam wouldn’t look up, though his jaw physically twitched. Rowena was making a show of being unconcerned, examining her fingernails, but she was far too interested—they weren’t painted. There was nothing for her to observe. Castiel finally moved over to Jack and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Yes, we’re selfish. Because we love,” he said. “It’s not an excuse. Just the truth. Now…” He turned to look at Sam and Rowena. “We need a plan.”

Chapter Text

Sam hunched over the coffee maker and watched the pot fill slowly, drop by agonizing drop. He’d been the one to make it and stood there the entire time, and now it was nearly full. He breathed out through his nose and impatiently jerked out the carafe. Drops of still-brewing coffee hissed and sizzled against the hot warming plate without the pot to catch them. He was pouring himself a mug when Cas appeared through the door of the kitchen, looking more haggard than an angel should.

“How is he?” asked Sam. He snagged an empty cup and lifted his brows in question to Cas.

“The same,” said Cas wearily, and slid into a seat at the table. He nodded at Sam, and Sam filled a second mug. “He didn’t sleep at all. He tore his room apart looking for these cassette tapes he’s convinced he’s supposed to have.”

“Great,” said Sam. He brought the cups of coffee over and slid one over to Cas before seating himself as well. Cas dipped his chin in thanks and lifted the mug to his lips, sighing through his nose as he sipped the hot liquid. “That do anything for you?”

“No, not particularly,” admitted Cas. “But it’s a—what you’d call a creature comfort, I think. The caffeine has little effect, but I find the gesture soothing. A remnant of my time as a human, I suppose.”

“Makes sense,” Sam grunted. He rubbed a hand over his face. “What are we supposed to do about him?”

“I don’t know,” said Cas. He wrapped both hands around the hot mug and added, soft and sad, “He won’t touch me, Sam. Or let me touch him.”

Sam balked. “What?”

“He recoils if I try,” said Cas. “He’s not convinced I’m real. He thinks…” Cas sighed and looked toward the ceiling, but closed his eyes, letting his shoulders droop.

“Cas?”

Cas returned his gaze to Sam. “He thinks I’m some kind of ghost. He doesn’t believe that any of this is real,” he said. “Including him.”

Sam was quiet for a few moments. He looked down into his coffee and stared, and finally said softly, “We’ve seen him worse. He’s spiraling, but we’ll pull him back. We always do.”

“I don’t know, Sam. This time feels…different,” said Cas. “I think he believes he’s dead, and this is his Hell—getting everything he wanted only to have it unravel around him.”

“We’ll get him back,” said Sam, insistent. “We’ll figure something out.”

They fell into silence after that, sipping coffee, and avoiding each other’s gaze.

***

Dean hid in the shadow of the hallway and watched the entire interaction. He’d made a show of being preoccupied with digging through a box for his cassettes when Cas left to go to the kitchen, and then followed a few minutes later. Now, listening to them, he regretted it: what if Cas was right, and he was dead? Maybe all Billie’s talk about having work for him was bullshit—some kind of cruel trick to get back at him for all the times he’d cheated death—lull him into complacency with promises of purpose, then rip the carpet out from beneath his feet. He didn’t put it above her to play that kind of game.

But he’d been dead before, and this didn’t feel dead. Dean was pretty sure his Heaven would be better than this, and his Hell would be far worse.

He turned away from watching his brother and his angel in the kitchen to go back to his room, and he wondered if they disappeared entirely when he wasn’t looking. If a tree falls in an empty forest, does it make a sound? If Dean Winchester hallucinates his family, do they exist only when he’s there? He couldn’t know. If he turned around, he was sure they’d still be there because his mind thought they should be, so on the walk back to his room, Dean focused hard on believing Cas should be in there and not the kitchen. If he opened his door and found the angel, he’d have definite confirmation that this was all some kind of messed up dream. If not, well. Square one.
Dean braced himself in front of his door, counted to three, and opened it. The room was still empty, and just as chaotic as he’d left it.

“Damnit,” he sighed to himself and eased the door softly closed behind him. He felt like slamming it shut so hard he broke the hinges, but if that really was Cas and Sam out there and not his imagination, they’d come running, and right now he wanted nothing more than to be alone.

Dean picked his way across the floor, littered in flannels and overturned boxes. He crouched next to the crate of vinyls that definitely weren’t his and started thumbing through them anyway. Hallucination or not, if he had a record player in this world, he was damn well going to enjoy his time with it while he tried to figure this shit out. He pulled out a blue sleeve covered in strange looking people in robes, set it on the turntable, and dropped the tone arm carelessly somewhere in the middle of the record.

…stars are on the inside. I’m not sure that there’s anything left to me… it began. Dean snorted. “Solid choice, Winchester,” he said to himself, and retreated across the room to continue digging through a shelf he’d abandoned to follow Cas. He settled cross-legged before it and started pulling out the books it contained, stacking them off to the side: Slaughterhouse-Five, The Odyssey, Cat’s Cradle, On the Road…all his favorites. Nothing seemed out of place, except…

…I can’t say if we’re ever gonna be free…

Dean turned over his shoulder to rake his gaze over the mess he’d made of his room, then back to the shelf, and back to his room. Nothing was there that didn’t belong—save the record player—but something was missing that should have been there—something bigger than cassette tapes—and he kicked himself for only just now realizing it. He stood and moved quickly through the obstacle course of belongings to his door.

…oh please, don’t let these shakes go on…

“Sam!” Dean yelled as soon as he was in the hallway, striking out for the kitchen. “Hey, Sammy!”

“Hey, what’s wrong?” said Sam, meeting him at the kitchen’s entrance, face knit with concern. Behind him, Cas stood still clutching his coffee cup, wearing the same expression.

“Nothing, just—you seen Dad’s journal? I can’t find it.”

“Uhh—no,” said Sam, and his frown deepened. “Why would it be here?”

“What are you talking about?” said Dean, attempting nonchalance, but panic was tightening his chest. “Why wouldn’t it?”

“Because it’s Dad’s?”

“Okay, and?”

“So…he has it?”

Dean’s heart sank into his stomach, and a chill washed over his body. “What do you mean, he has it?”

“Dean…” said Cas, stepping forward. “Why does this matter now, after everything?”

“What are you talking about, Cas? Sam? Why’re you being so weird?”

“Well, you—” started Sam. He glanced over at Cas, who took the hint, and finished.

“You haven’t spoken to him in months. It was your choice.”

Dean was silent, slack-jawed. Fear rose up in his throat, making his mouth taste bitter and dry.

“When you told him about you and Cas,” rejoined Sam. He arched a brow, and Dean could hear fear entering his voice, too. “He said some awful things… It was really ugly. Do you—do you not remember?”

Dean stayed frozen in his silence, and Sam and Cas looked from him to one another in some silent communication of concern. Cas shook his head at Sam, and Sam opened his mouth as if to speak, but Dean finally found his faculty of speech, and beat him to it.

“Dad’s alive?”

“Dean, of course he is,” said Sam gently. “Unless you know something we don’t—but he texted me a few days ago about a case in Poughkeepsie.”

“What?”

“I didn’t answer,” assured Sam. “I haven’t since you guys had your fight. I’m on your side, and Cas’s. You know that.”

“No—you said he’s where?” said Dean, eyes wide. His heart was thudding madly in his chest, and his ears were starting to ring.

“Poughkeepsie,” repeated Sam. “Why?”

“Sam, I think he’s starting to Poughkeepsie,” said Cas.

“Yeah, I Poughkeepsie,” answered Sam.

Dean began backing slowly into the hallway. He put his hand on his hip and hoped, somehow, he’d find the comfort of his gun, but of course he didn’t—never wore it in the bunker. Sam and Cas kept talking to each other, and when Cas reached out for him, Dean turned on a heel and ran his hardest for his room. He burst through the door and slammed it behind him, locking himself in.

…Did I hear you say that this is victory?…

The song was still playing, though it began to warp and distort as if it was in a tunnel, the sound growing distant as it sped away. …Oh please, don’t let these shakes go on…

The ringing in his ears grew louder, and Dean’s body felt suddenly uncomfortably weightless, like the first drop of a tall rollercoaster, but there was no bottom. He didn’t resettle. …Don’t let these shakes go on…

Before Dean’s eyes, his reality began to peel away. The wall in front of him started to flake like chips of paint, and then dissolve, leaving a vast empty black behind it—and soon, the whole room was an endless expanse of darkness. Before Dean, nothing. Behind, nothing. Above, below, nothing. No door, no hallway, no light, and then even his own body began to disappear in front of him until only his consciousness remained, and the far-off, warbling sound of …don’t let these shakes go on… don’t let these shakes go on… don’t let these shakes go on …. Finally, even that went silent, and all that was left was the panic.

This time, Dean was sure he was dead. This was the Empty, where Cas had been before. Billie wasn’t fibbing—she really did intend to throw him in there after all. Dean’s thoughts began to race for a way out, and he was beginning to pray madly to Cas, Chuck, even Michael—any angel who would listen—when he heard his brother’s voice again, loud and clear as a bell.

“Poughkeepsie!”

The corners of his eyes started filling with a soft brown light, and he became aware of dull, burning ache where his wrists and ankles should be. He felt his chest expand, and it dawned on him that in his dream world, he hadn’t truly felt the sensation of drawing breath.

An uncomfortable tingling started at the base of Dean’s neck and traveled up into his brain. Bright blue light flashed once, and settled like a pool of water in the back of his mind—still present, but subdued.

Out in the real world, trapped on his knees in a ring of fire, hands bound by magic, Dean Winchester opened his eyes.

Chapter Text

A restlessness hung over the hotel room like a heavy cloud, full of nervous static and weight.

Earlier, Sam and Castiel risked leaving the warded room and drove around town until they found somewhere with cars they could steal, but remote enough that nobody would bother them. They found a run-down SUV that Sam hotwired and drove back to the hotel, Castiel following in the Impala. As soon as they returned, Rowena and Jack joined them with cans of spray paint and set about warding the car nearly as heavily as they’d warded the room. It wouldn’t be quite as good, Rowena said, since it wouldn’t be stationary, but it would help. Archangel grace was like a beacon and traveling with a little magic would make it at least marginally less visible while they went from the hotel to the warehouse.

But that was quick work, and a few hours later they were preparing for the move.

“Let’s go over it one more time,” said Sam, fidgeting. “Rowena, you leave the grace here with Cas and Jack while we go to the warehouse.”

“Aye, Samuel,” said Rowena. She rose from where she was seated at the table and strode over to Castiel, passing off the glowing vial. “Don’t break it,” she said, withdrawing it as Castiel reached. He rolled is eyes. “Or lose it,” Rowena added.”

“Really, Rowena…” Castiel sighed, rolling his eyes.

“Don’t be a spoilsport, Feathers,” she trilled, releasing the vial into Castiel’s hand. “Just trying to lighten the mood. You boys are always so dramatic. D’you know what we call you lot?”

“Who’s ‘we?’” asked Jack, unhelpfully.

“I don’t care,” said Sam at the same time, but Rowena wasn’t deterred.

“The Tearful Testosterone Trio,” she said, and retreated to sit on the edge of the bed.

Castiel rolled his eyes again, and said, “Can we please get back to the plan?”

Rowena gave a simpering shrug, and looked to Sam.

“Like I said,” said Sam, working his jaw. “Rowena and I will go on to the warehouse. I’ll make the biggest holy oil trap we can, while Rowena sets up her spellwork.” He turned to the witch, and asked, “You’re sure you have everything?”

“For the thousandth time, yes,” said Rowena.

“Alright,” said Sam. “Good. Cas, you and Jack good on your end?”

“Yes,” Castiel answered. “We give you a ten-minute head start and then I follow in the warded van—”

“Wait—I thought we were both going,” interrupted Jack, stepping towards Castiel and Sam. “You can’t just leave me here.”

“Jack,” Castiel sighed, and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It’s just not a good idea.”

“But I’ve fought with you before,” he protested.

“Not without your powers,” said Sam quietly. He hung his head in guilt.

“So? I can help!”

“Jack, you don’t have enough experience,” said Castiel gently. “And if you’re there, we’ll be worried about protecting you. It’ll distract us from the fight, and that puts everyone at risk.”

“But—”

“I’m sorry,” said Castiel. “But we have a role for you, still.”

“Like what?” said Jack, recoiling. “Man the phone?”

“You’re going to be on the phone with us, yeah,” said Sam. Jack tried to protest, and Sam held up a finger. “But—you’re going to be tracking Michael. We can’t focus on all those spells at once. This is really important, Jack. You up for it?”

Jack was silent for a moment, looking between Castiel and Sam. “I don’t know the spell,” he finally admitted softly.

“Rowena has it written down and everything put together,” assured Castiel. He gave Jack a little nudge over towards Rowena, who patted the bed beside her with a grin. “She’ll walk you through it.”

Jack clamped his lips shut and furrowed his brows but nodded his acquiescence. Castiel squeezed his shoulder affectionately as he walked to join Rowena, and then he turned to Sam. He motioned Sam toward the table on the other side of the room, and the two men walked over and sat to speak in hushed tones.

“I don’t think I should take the grace until we’ve tried to get through to Dean with magic,” said Castiel lowly.

“I hear you, man. I do,” answered Sam. He ran a hand through his hair. “But if it goes south—this is uncharted territory for you. We don’t know how it’s going to affect you. If we go in and that’s our only ace…”

“What if Michael doesn’t show up?” Castiel crossed his arms. “What if he knows this is a trap and waits it out, and then I’ve used up all the grace and we’re back where we started? We run the risk of wasting it. We won’t get another shot like this, Sam.”

“I know,” Sam sighed. “Alright. It’s your call, then. What the hell. It’s about a snowball’s chance either way, right?”

Castiel gave the smallest of smiles. “Right. What the hell.” He turned to look at Jack, and said, “Ready?”

Jack was sitting cross-legged on the bed, the ingredients of the spell spread out methodically before him. Rowena handed him a sheet of paper and set the hotel phone on the bed nearby. “Ready,” he said.

“We’ll get it started then, shall we?” said Rowena, and said to Jack. “Do it in exactly that order, and say it just like we practiced.”

“Got it,” he said, and closed his eyes, almost as if meditating.

“Where’s the map?” asked Sam, looking over the spell.

“Child’s play, Samuel,” trilled Rowena. She crossed the room to gather her bag. “This spell works inside the mind. Jack’ll be able to see what Michael sees, give us his every move down to the inch until the holy oil’s lit.”

“Is that safe?” asked Castiel.

“Magic never truly is, darling,” she said, and pulled up beside Sam. “Shall we?”

Sam nodded tersely. “Yeah, alright. Jack, start it as soon as Cas leaves. Cas, we’ll see you soon.”

Castiel nodded, and Sam walked out with Rowena on his heels. Seconds later, the Impala roared outside, and then the sound grew faint and disappeared. Castiel turned back to Jack.

“You’re certain you’re alright doing this?”

“I can’t do anything else,” grumbled Jack, eyes still shut.

“This is important, Jack.”

“I hate being stuck here.”

“I know you do.”

“It isn’t fair,” he said, and opened his eyes to glare at Castiel.

“I know it isn’t,” sighed Castiel. They dissolved into an uncomfortable silence until Castiel asked, “Is there anything I can do? Anything you need?”

Jack lowered his chin in thought for a moment, staring at nothing, then cracked a small grin. “Dean would ask for a beer,” he said. “Or a bottle of whiskey.”

Castiel smiled back, the first real one he’d managed in months. “He would,” he agreed. “I’ll bring some back if we—when we’re coming back with Dean.”

Jack’s smile faltered. “Do you really think this will work?”

“Yes,” said Castiel softly.

“How?”

“I don’t have a choice,” said Castiel. “If you go into things like this with any doubt, you’re that much more likely to mess up. I have to believe we’re going to get him back or there’s no point trying.”

Jack nodded. “I get it. Like faith.”

Castiel smiled again, just barely. “Right. Like faith.” His stomach stirred in the opposite direction of his smile; faith was something he hadn’t had—not the way he used to—for years. He exhaled and looked over at the hotel clock. “I need to go. You should dial Sam now—start the spell while it’s ringing.”

“Alright,” said Jack. “Be careful, Cas.”

“As careful as I can be,” said Castiel. “You too. If you need to stop the spell—”

“If I need to stop I’ll stop,” assured Jack. He lifted the hotel phone and set it to speaker, and a dialtone filled the room. “Go, Cas. Go get Dean.”

Castiel’s chest filled with a warm pride that countered his tight stomach oddly, and he nodded at Jack. He slipped a hand in his pocket as he walked for the door, gripping the grace in his palm. Behind him, he heard Jack say something low in Latin, heard Sam answer the phone, and though a purple light illuminated the wall, he went out the door without looking back.

***

“He’s coming.”

Jack’s voice sounded far away and watery from the phone in Sam’s pocket. He stopped pouring the holy oil to fish out the phone, and said into it, “Good. How much time do we have?”

“I don’t know,” said Jack’s voice. “Minutes. He’s moving fast. He’s—flying.”

“Okay, thanks, Jack,” said Sam. He looked over to Rowena, who held her hands over a pulsing blue light coming from Castiel’s hands—a ‘magical amplifier’ for the energy signature of Michael’s grace. “It worked, Rowena. It’s showtime.”

“Excellent,” Rowena hushed, and for the first time she sounded anxious. She ceased her murmuring and the blue glow disappeared as Castiel pocketed the vial once more. Rowena backed away into the shadows, barely visible, and dropped to her knees before three spreads of magical ingredients: binding, silencing, protection.

“Are you finished with the oil?” Castiel called over to Sam.

“Am now,” Sam said as he took a few more steps and closed the circle. It took up almost the entire center of the warehouse floor—nearly thirty feet in diameter. “Probability’s on our side with this one.”

“It is,” said Castiel dryly. “I did the math. He has an eighty-nine point seven seven nine percent chance of landing in the circle.”

Sam huffed out a dry laugh. “Great,” and then set down the jug that held the oil. He pulled out a zippo and the phone again, and said, “Status update, Jack?”

Jack’s voice came tensely through the receiver. “Sam, he’s—” and then his voice was drowned out by a dull ringing and the rushing of wind. The whole room shook for a moment, and when it stopped, Michael stood illuminated near the center of the circle.

“You rang?” he said, stepping forward. Michael smirked and wagged a finger. “Gotta hand it to you—that trick with the grace? Didn’t see it coming.” He took another step. “You boys are either brilliant, or completely daft. Or both.”

“Sam!” yelled Castiel, and Sam snapped out of his daze. He flicked on the lighter and dropped it, and in seconds the entire warehouse was lit up with light and uncomfortable heat.

Michael rolled his eyes. “Not this again,” he said. He sunk his hands into the pocket of his trench coat. “We’ve been down this road.”

“Not like this,” growled Castiel.

“Adiuro vos!” Rowena’s voice shouted from somewhere in the darkness, and bright bolts of light shot toward a startled Michael, who dropped heavily to his knees as they wrapped around his ankles and wrists.

Michael chucked darkly. “New tricks,” he said. “We’ll see how long they last.”

“We’ve got a couple more,” said Sam, and behind him Rowena shouted again.

“Somnum angeli abyssi, ad aminam!”

A soft purplish light settled like a haze over the room, and Michael’s face contorted like he was choking. “What—” he coughed, and then his eyes rolled back, and his head hung forward. The archangel was bound and silent.

“Is he under?” asked Castiel, stepping closer to the flames and squinting at the bound body of Dean in the circle.

“Aye, he is,” said Rowena. Beneath her breath, she kept up a slow, rhythmic chant.

“Dean?” said Castiel, and then, “Dean! Dean Winchester!”

Nothing happened. Castiel looked over to Sam, and he shook his head, and joined in. “Dean! It’s me—it’s Sam, and Cas. We’re…” he stopped and stared helplessly, frustrated, at his brother’s possessed body, slumped and trapped.

“Dean!” Castiel yelled again, and he took a breath to shout once more, but faltered when Sam’s voice rang, oddly, through the roar of the flames.

“Dean! Poughkeepsie!”

Castiel blinked at Sam, mouth agape, but Sam waved his hand in a beckoning motion to the angel, repeating, “Poughkeepsie,” and Castiel joined in. Together, they formed a strange Poughkeepsie chorus, and finally, Dean’s head began to lift.

“Is it him?” Sam asked, but then yelled, “Dean?”

Castiel’s heart seized in his chest as he waited for an answer.

Dean’s eyes opened slowly, blinking back against the light of the fire. Sam and Castiel watched as he gained his bearings, and an uncharacteristically open fear twisted his face.

“Dean, it’s us!” Castiel yelled, shuffling as close to the fire as he could.

“…Cas? Castiel?” Dean’s voice croaked out, and he shook his head as if to clear it.

“We’re here,” said Cas, and his heart began to beat again.

“What’s going on? Sam?” said Dean, starting to sound more solid—more like himself.

“Michael,” said Sam. “You let him in. You have to push him out, Dean!”

“I—” said Dean, but his body seized up as if gripped hard by some invisible force. His eyes slipped shut and his head lolled.

“DEAN!” yelled Castiel. He reached out and singed his hand on the flames.

“Cas—now! You have to take it now, before Michael wakes up!” Sam called out.

Castiel watched the slumped figure of Dean for half a second longer, then yelled over to Sam, “Put out the fire!” He pulled the vial of grace from his pocket.

“What?” Sam yelled back.

“I can’t get to him unless you put it out!”

“Make a choice, boys!” called out Rowena. The purple haze in the room warbled a bit as she focused her attention on the third set of spell items, which started glowing yellow. “I’m starting the final spell!”

“Put it out, Sam!” yelled Castiel. He uncorked the vial. “Now!”

Sam pulled out his gun and took aim for one of the sprinklers on the roof of the warehouse. “Go, Cas!” he yelled, and fired. The sound of the gunshot echoed loudly through the warehouse and brought the artificial storm; water started spraying instantly, getting heavier as the system connected to the other spigots. Dean didn’t move, but the light in the room began to dance itself into darkness as the fire was smothered.

Cas opened his mouth and held up the vial. The grace rushed in, hungry for a vessel, and Castiel’s veins felt suddenly like they were filled with fire. The room settled briefly into darkness as he swallowed it down and the firelight died, but not for long.

A blinding blue light flashed out from Castiel’s body like a bomb, illuminating everything. That same light poured from his eyes and mouth—the tips of his fingers. Behind him, the shadow of his wings, though still broken, spread wider than they ever had before.

Chapter Text

At first, the archangel grace rattled in Castiel’s bones, almost as if he was vibrating—like an earthquake or the shockwaves after an explosion, and somewhere in the human part of his consciousness, he was briefly reminded of videos Dean had shown him of nuclear weapon tests in Bikini Atoll. Castiel wondered which component he might be: the warhead or the earth that caved beneath it.

What felt like long, hot minutes of burning from the inside turned out to be only seconds, and soon enough, the grace seemed to recognize Castiel as an angel—even if a lesser one—and it found a reasonably comfortable foothold in his chest. The pain and shaking ceased and the heat cooled to a gentle, but powerful warmth that radiated through every cell of his body. Castiel looked down at his palms, flexing his fingers in wonder at the sheer depth of feeling. He stood, marveling, until Sam’s voice broke him out of his trance.

“Cas? You okay?”

“Yes,” Castiel breathed, snapping quickly into focus—more quickly than usual. “Yes, I’m alright.”

“We don’t have much time,” said Sam. “Michael could be back—”

“Any moment,” Castiel finished for Sam, and stepped over the charred line in the warehouse floor. He kneeled before Dean, who was still slumped forwards oddly on his knees, head hung. “I’m sorry for this, Dean,” he said gently, and closed his eyes as he lifted two fingers to rest against Dean’s temple.

A bright blue light flowed from Castiel’s fingertips into Dean like electricity, and Dean’s body, though unconscious, reacted accordingly: his back went rigid as he straightened against his will, and his head lolled backwards, lips parting, eyes opening to stare blindly at the ceiling. That same blue light swirled in his pupils, and his hands balled into tight fists at his sides.

Castiel focused, and the sounds and smells of the warehouse dissolved around him until there was nothing left but darkness. He felt a brief jolt of panic at the reminder of The Empty but collected himself when, in the distance, he spotted a figure facing away from him: Dean was on his hands and knees, punching down at the unrelenting black.

“Dean!” Castiel called out, and despite the distance, there was no echo. The figure stopped, rose slowly, and turned around.

“Cas?” Dean called back, his voice clear, but far away. “Cas—is that really you? Because so help me, if it’s not, I will gut your whatever-you-are ass.”

“It’s really me,” said Castiel, and he began walking forwards. His footfalls were silent and appeared to land on nothing.

“You’re gonna have to prove it to me,” said Dean. “Something I couldn’t make up in my head to convince me it’s you.”

Castiel kept approaching slowly, though he stopped when, as he grew close, Dean defensively withdrew. “I…” he thought for a moment, and then began, “I can name every song on the Led Zeppelin mix tape you gave me. And that you felt guilty when one of the lyrics bothered me.”

“What line?”

If my wings should fail me Lord, please meet me with another pair,” Castiel answered softly, evenly.

Dean stared in hesitation. Finally, he shook his head. “Nah. Too easy. Fake Cas would know that too. Gimme something else.”

Castiel sighed and took an involuntary step forward. This time Dean didn’t retreat, but his body locked up like he was ready getting to run or throw a punch. Castiel scanned his memory for painful truths he could share—truths that might not make it into a dream world, and he remembered what he’d seen of himself—or a version of himself—and Dean: locked hands and lips, tangled in each other’s bodies, open. He knew what he had to say, and his stomach twisted with the reality of it.

“I told you I loved you and you never said it back.”

Dean wasn’t really Dean—more like a projection of himself, a thought that contained no flesh or blood—but even still his face seemed to pale. He stared at Castiel, expression somehow soft and horrified at the same time. “What?” he finally croaked out, bewildered.

Castiel felt a familiar ache shuttle through his being—perhaps the grace made his projection more real, or perhaps it was because he was the one doing the work of infiltrating Dean’s mind. Whatever it was, he felt every moment of it, intense as ever. But the grace was working on him another way: his patience. His restraint. Castiel wasn’t used to such power, and it was desperate for an outlet. The ache suddenly flared into a barely controllable rage.

“I was dying,” Castiel said, his voice darker than he meant it, his whole body tense. “I was dying from a stab wound from a Knight of Hell, and I told you I loved you, and you never said it back.” He sucked in a breath in an attempt to steady himself, and he became suddenly aware of his physical body again, outside of this interaction of the mind: his wings were begging to unfold. “And then I did die,” he continued, trying to ignore the urge. “I felt my grace burn out of my body—felt my life reduce to nothing. I went to The Empty, and when I got back, when I finally got back, you acted like everything was fine. I thought—”

“Cas—” Dean interrupted, staring wide-eyed at the angel, but Castiel lifted a hand and clenched it, and Dean’s voice disappeared. Had Castiel been more himself, he’d have noted how strange it was that even in Dean’s mind, his powers worked.

“No. You will let me finish this, Dean Winchester,” Castiel roared. Light began to emanate from his eyes. “When I got back, when I saw you standing under that neon cross, the look on your face—I was sure you would say it then. I was so sure. But you didn’t.”

Dean opened his mouth, but Castiel only clenched his fist tighter and his eyes glowed more intensely.

“And then Michael brings me here, and I see—” Castiel cuts himself off, and unintentionally, his wings finally unfurl from his back in a massive, bright blue wave. Dean’s eyes widened, but Castiel didn’t relent. “So now, Dean, if you love me, if you have ever loved me, or felt any care for me at all, you will cast Michael out from your body. Now.

Castiel unclenched his hand and lowered it to his side, releasing Dean’s voice, but power and light pulsed away from his body in ripples of pure, percussive energy.

“Cas, I—” Dean began, and faltered. His mouth opened and closed a few more times, and he hung his head, unable to look at Castiel. Finally, when he did speak, his voice was loud and clear, and full of wrath. “Michael, you son of a bitch, get—”

Dean’s hands went to his throat as his voice seized again. A piercing, high-pitched ring blew through the hallways of his mind, and he fell to his knees, hands pushing against either side of his head. In the warehouse, he didn’t know it, but his physical body was screaming.

To Castiel the ringing wasn’t a tone, but the disembodied voice of Michael, and he was laughing. “This is getting pathetic, Castiel.”

“Let him go,” Castiel growled.

“Why don’t we take this outside, little brother?” said Michael, and the void of Dean’s mind blazed white, obscuring everything.

Castiel was forced violently back out of Dean’s mind, flung backwards to crash into the warehouse floor. Behind him, Sam and Rowena stood, staring, behind a wall of purple light. Rowena’s hands were lifted, her lips moving to keep up the spell, but Sam was still and silent, and looked, for once, terrified. Castiel gathered himself and rose to find Dean’s body, once again controlled by Michael, already standing, blood leaking from his nose and ears.

Michael smiled and shook his head. “Ouch,” he said. “Dean can handle me just fine, but two of us in there? He’s going to feel that tomorrow. What did you think would—” he stopped short and stared at Castiel, suddenly full of rage. His own wings erupted from his back, though they were smaller than they should have been. “You’ve got something that doesn’t belong to you, Castiel,” he growled and took a predatory step forward. “I can see my grace in you, fighting to get home. Give it to me. Now.”

“Or what?” Castiel spat back and narrowed his eyes.

“Or I’ll take it from you!” Michael roared and advanced. He stopped short when Castiel dropped an archangel blade from his sleeve.

“You can try.”

“This old chestnut?” Michael snorted. “Haven’t we been through this? You won’t hurt Dean.”

Faster than he’d moved since before he lost his wings, Castiel pulled up to Michael and pushed the tip of the blade against his throat. “You don’t know me at all.”

“I know you,” Michael said, but faltered as Castiel pushed the blade harder, the point drawing a trickle of blood and light. “You can’t contain it,” he hissed to Castiel. “My grace will burn you alive.”

“And when it does it’s that much less that you’ll have.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“See if I am.”

“You don’t want to die.”

“I’ve done it before.”

Michael stared at Castiel, and Castiel pushed the blade ever so slightly further. From somewhere behind, Sam yelled, “Cas, don’t!” Though his voice sounded thick and watery behind the protection spell.

“Yeah Cas, don’t,” said Michael. He smirked and took a half-step back, but Castiel pressed forward with him, the blade never leaving his throat. “What do you want?” Michael hissed through his teeth, façade cracking.

“I want you to leave Dean,” said Castiel, staring intensely into Michael’s eyes, a blue light reflection of his own. “Or I will end my life and end us both” Castiel backstepped and flipped the blade around, pressing the point to his chest.

“No—Cas, NO!” Sam yelled from behind him, but Castiel was undeterred.

“You’ll never recover from all this missing grace. Not fully,” he said. “And I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are only nine of us left. Soon there will be no angels left for you to feed on, and everything will collapse.”

“You’re bluffing,” Michael said again.

“Try me,” said Castiel, and grunted as he pushed the tip of the blade just barely into his chest. Small spots of blood began to bloom across the white of his dress shirt, and light shone through the fabric.

“I’ll find another vessel!” yelled Michael, taking quick steps backward, panicked. “I’ll find you and take back my grace by force!”

“I’m counting on it,” said Castiel through clenched teeth, still holding the blade to his chest.

Michael finally stopped walking when he hit the edge of what used to be the circle of fire and smiled. “This isn’t over,” he said darkly, and tilted back his head. A stream of blinding light poured from his mouth and shot quickly through the nearest window, disappearing into the dark. Dean’s knees gave out beneath him, and his evacuated body crumpled heavily to the floor.

Castiel pulled the blade from his chest and sealed the wound with his palm as he sprinted for Dean, his wings and all the neon blue fading from view as he hit his knees beside the prone body. “Dean!” he yelled, checking for a pulse. The purple glow disappeared, and Sam was behind him in seconds.

“Is he—” Sam swallowed, lowering himself beside his brother.

“He’s alive,” said Castiel. “But he’s not okay. We need to get him out of here.” Castiel pressed two fingers to Dean’s forehead. “I’ve fixed the superficial things, but—I’m using borrowed grace—grace from the angel who did this to him. I won’t be able to pull him out of this. He’ll have to do it himself. Which is why we have to get him somewhere safe. Now.”

“Rowena!” Sam called over his shoulder. “Get your things. We’re leaving.”

“Thought you’d never ask,” Rowena trilled, though she couldn’t quite hide her anxiety as she shakily gathered her tools, dropping many of them in the haste.

“Help her, Sam,” said Castiel. “I’ll get Dean. Get the car.”

“Right,” said Sam, and bolted over to Rowena. He scooped up what she couldn’t carry and directed her quickly out the door. Moments later, the sound of the Impala’s engine roaring to life echoed into the warehouse, and as Castiel scooped Dean into his arms, headlights shone through the door against the back wall. Castiel held Dean close and ran as hard as he could without unduly jostling the unconscious man. When he got to the car, Sam reached from the driver’s seat to open the door for the angel and his brother.

Castiel slid into the backseat and across the far side so that he was behind Rowena, Dean’s legs spread limply across the seat behind Sam. He wrapped his arms around Dean’s shoulders, angling his body so Dean’s head rested gently against his chest. The whole drive back to the hotel Castiel pressed his lips to Dean’s ear, whispering Enochian words of love and grief.

Chapter Text

“Jack’s not picking up,” said Sam after the phone went to voicemail for the third time. He stepped on the gas and pushed the Impala faster.

In the backseat, Castiel looked up from Dean and caught Sam’s tense gaze in the rearview mirror. “Rowena, if that spell hurt him—”

“Of course it hurt him,” said Rowena. “I made that perfectly clear from the start. How badly it hurt him is entirely up to wee Jack’s constitution, not the spell.”

“Could it have…killed him?” said Sam, quietly, punctuated by a swallow.

“Suppose it could,” said Rowena, then held up her hands when Sam shot her a look. “But it’s not likely! Jack’s body used to hold something like grace. It can hold the spell.”

“If you’re wrong and he’s—” Castiel growled but didn’t finish.

“If he is,” said Rowena, “He chose his time. Nobody forced him.”

“Cas, she’s right,” relented Sam in a low grumble. “And I’m the one who put him up to it so whatever happens in on me. We’re close now anyway.” Silence filled the car as he settled his foot on the pedal even harder, the Impala’s engine roaring and vibrating the floor.

They pulled into the hotel parking lot and stopped with a screech. The sky was beginning to fade from black to a dull, dark blue with the approach of sunrise. Sam nodded at Cas in the back, who still held Dean’s unconscious body, and exited quickly, loping up to the hotel room door. Rowena wasn’t far behind, though she moved with much less haste. Sam had unlocked the room and disappeared inside before Cas had been able to move out of the car.

Carefully, without jostling Dean too much, Castiel extricated an arm from around the sleeping man and squeaked open the car door, nudging it wide with his foot. He glanced up and noticed Rowena, too, had made it into the hotel room, out of sight, though she’d left the door slightly ajar. His heart leapt into his throat, the feeling intensified by the powerful archangel grace. He looked down at Dean and, without really meaning to, used his freed arm to brush some stray strands of hair from Dean’s sweat-slicked, but cold, forehead.

“I’m sorry, Dean,” he whispered. His fingertips still hovered at Dean’s temple. “I’m so sorry.” Castiel leaned down and pressed a brief kiss into Dean’s hair, carried there on the breath of a sigh. When he leaned up, Castiel wound his arm back beneath Dean’s shoulders, moved his other beneath the crook of Dean’s knees, and carefully slid out of the car, bumping the door closed with his hip.

Inside, Sam and Rowena hovered over Jack, who was passed out on the spell-ingredient-strewn bed. He was pale, and a trickle of blood ran from his nose, but he appeared to be breathing. “He’s alright?” asked Castiel as he bumped the hotel door closed and walked to the other bed to gently spread Dean out on its length.

“Aye, he will be,” said Rowena. She’d had her hand on his forehead, which she now removed. “When he wakes he’ll feel like he’s got the worst hangover of his young life, but he will wake up.”

“Good,” said Castiel, sighing. He straightened after he settled Dean and looked from him to the pair beside Jack. He walked over and leaned down to press two fingers to Jack’s forehead. “Might as well use this while I have it,” he said, and closed his eyes. Grace flowed from his fingertips into Jack’s skin, and in response Jack inhaled deeply through his nose and scrunched his brows. A moment later, his eyes were fluttering open.

“Hey, Jack!” said Sam, leaning over the bed with a grin. “You alright buddy?”

“I—hurt,” said Jack with a groan, and he sat up slowly as Castiel took a step back. “And I’m hungry. Really hungry.”

“That makes sense,” said Sam, and his face looked more at ease than it had in months, despite his brother’s state on the other bed. “I’ll go on a run. Cas?” He turned to look at Castiel, then Dean. “How is he?”

“He’ll pull through,” said Castiel, glancing back as well. “He just needs to rest.”

“Okay,” said Sam, nodding once. He opened his mouth to speak again, but a hand flew to the gun at his hip at the sound of a car pulling up to their room, headlights beaming faintly through the curtains.

“Calm down, Samuel,” trilled Rowena, who’d been in the background packing a bag. “It’s only my ride.”

“You’re leaving?” asked Sam.

“Aye, you didn’t think I’d stay here, did you?” Rowena smiled. “Just remember our deal, boys. Au revoir!”

“Alright,” said Sam, and lowered his hand. “Thank you, Rowena. Try to stay out of trouble.”

Rowena wiggled her fingers and stepped outside, and moments later the car was pulling away.

“Well,” said Sam after a beat. “What do you want to eat, Jack?”

“I don’t know,” said Jack, considering. “Nougat. And a cheeseburger, and steak. Oh, and a milkshake, and—”

Castiel smiled and folded his arms comfortably, back to Dean as he watched Jack and Sam.

“Okay,” said Sam. He held up his palms and laughed. “Let me just—Dean!”

Castiel’s face went blank, and he whipped around to find Dean still prone on the bed, but his hand lifted, pinching at the bridge of his nose.

“Yeah,” Dean croaked in answer.

“How are you feeling?” Sam crossed the room in seconds and crouched beside his brother’s bed, Castiel standing beside him.

“Like I drank a fifth of bourbon,” Dean grumbled, eyes still squeezed shut. His voice was rough with sleep. “And then got hit by a bus.” He opened his eyes and tried to sit up but blew out a stream of air instead and sank back down to throw his hand over his face. “And dizzy.”

“I can help with that,” said Castiel softly. Dean tensed when he spoke but didn’t resist when Castiel reached to touch his forehead.

“Thanks,” said Dean. He cleared his throat and moved to sit up again. He pointedly avoided meeting Castiel’s gaze as he settled himself slowly against the headboard.

Sam cleared his throat awkwardly. “I was just going to pick up some food for Jack,” he said. “Want anything?”

Castiel walked back across the room and sat down at the plastic table by the window. Dean watched his back as he retreated, and said to Sam, “Uhh—fries. Chili cheese fries. Whiskey. Beer.”

“Glad you’re feeling better,” said Sam, smirking. He followed Dean’s gaze to Castiel’s back, then cleared his throat again. “Hey, Jack,” he called over to the kid still seated on the other bed. “Why don’t you come with me? We’ll stop wherever looks good to you. More than one place, if you want.”

“Sure, okay,” said Jack. He glanced from Sam, to Dean, then Castiel and back to Sam, picking up on the tension.

“Good,” said Sam, and clapped Dean on the shoulder as he rose from his crouch. “Any chance you want anything, Cas?”

“No, thank you,” said Castiel without turning his head.

“Okay,” said Sam. “C’mon, Jack,” he added, and Jack slid off the bed to follow Sam quickly out the door. It was silent in the room until the Impala’s engine faded into the distance.

“So—uhh,” began Dean, clearing his throat. “Thanks, Cas. For getting me out of there.”

“You don’t ever have to thank me,” said Castiel quietly, not unkindly. “You know that.”

“I do,” said Dean. “But still. I should’ve listened to you, man. I should’ve—”

“You did what you had to do to stop Lucifer,” interrupted Castiel. He finally turned around in his seat to face Dean. “And you did. You killed the Devil, Dean. You won.”

“Yeah,” said Dean, though he sounded unconvinced. “Still.”

The room fell into an uncomfortable silence. Castiel opened his mouth to speak and got out one low syllable before something hot and wild shot through his body, and he shivered hard, doubling over in pain. The archangel grace was pushing against his skin from the inside as if he was a balloon, slowly inflating beyond its capacity. He felt stretched out and thin.

“Cas?” said Dean, sitting up straighter. “Cas—what’s wrong?”

Castiel huffed out a breath and grit his teeth, and slowly the pain receded into a dull thrum, almost like a throbbing bruise deep in his core. “Nothing,” he said, and stood. “How are you feeling?”

“You’re a terrible liar, Cas,” said Dean, scowling. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not a good liar yourself,” snarked Castiel gently. “And anyway. I can always tell when someone’s telling the truth. Remember?” He pointed above his head, and quoted Dean with a small smirk. “Halo, wings, harp?”

“Right,” said Dean with a low chuckle. He shrugged. “Okay, well, I feel like I went ten rounds with a freight train and lost, I’m thirsty, I’m freakin’ starving, and I have a headache that I don’t think aspirin is gonna fix.”

“Here,” said Castiel. He crossed the room quickly and disappeared into the bathroom a moment, then returned with a paper cup full of lukewarm water.

“Thanks, Cas,” said Dean. He took the cup and sipped, then downed the whole thing in seconds flat, gasping for air.

“I’ll get you another,” said Castiel, reaching out for the cup. “You’ve been possessed by an archangel who doesn’t need to eat or drink,” he said as he went once more into the bathroom, his voice dulling around the corner. “Your body is realizing it.” Castiel came back, this time with a second paper cup. He gave one to Dean and set the other on the nightstand, then sat on the edge of the other bed, facing Dean. He watched as Dean quickly gulped down the second cup, then reached for the third and chugged it as well.

Castiel moved to get the empty cups, but Dean reached out and caught his hand, saying, “Don’t, it’s okay—” before he realized himself and quickly released Castiel, dropping his hands to his lap.

“It’s alright, Dean,” said Castiel gently. He settled his hands in his own lap, abandoning the cup. The room fell once again into a thick silence. Castiel didn’t know if it was the grace or something else, but the air in the few feet between himself and Dean churned with something like electricity—like there was an invisible chain between them that refused to break, pulling them together and somehow still keeping them apart.

Finally, Dean broke the silence. “I saw you,” he said, and swallowed. “In my head.”

“I’m sure Michael cooked up all kinds of false realities,” answered Castiel.

“That’s not what I mean,” said Dean. “And you know it. I saw you. The real you. You were there.” He slowly swung his legs over the side of the bed to settle his feet on the floor and face Castiel, though he wouldn’t look him in the eye. He grimaced with the movement.

“I was,” confirmed Castiel softly. His lips pulled down at Dean’s wince, and the foreign grace inside him flared once more, though not as strongly. This time, he managed to conceal the pain and watch Dean instead.

“So you saw—everything?” ventured Dean, still not looking up. The crests of his ears were burning red where they peeked out from his messy hair, which was longer than usual—Michael hadn’t bothered to get it cut.

“Not everything,” said Castiel.

“How much?” asked Dean.

“Enough.”

“And that was you at the end too?” wondered Dean, finally looking up to meet Castiel’s gaze. His face was etched with stress and pain, and fear. “In the dark? That wasn’t a dream?”

“It wasn’t a dream,” answered Castiel, his voice thick and heavy beyond his control.

“Right,” said Dean with a soft, bitter chuckle. His eyes broke from Castiel’s and he lowered his head into a hand. “Yeah, well. You were wrong.”

“I was wrong?” said Castiel. His gut twisted, and for the moment, it had nothing to do with the grace.

“Yes. I mean—no, not technically—I mean—” Dean tumbled over the words, brows knitting. “I know I never said it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t.” Finally, he looked back up to Castiel, and his green eyes were wet and rimmed in red. “I do, Cas.”

Instead of relief, Castiel felt himself grow suddenly, very humanly bitter. He balled a fist around the hotel blanket beneath him and again, the grace flared hot and wild in his chest. “Then why?” he said lowly, voice almost a hiss. “Why couldn’t you just—unless you’re ashamed.”

“Cas…” said Dean softly, guiltily, though he stopped short. When he spoke again, his voice was full of fear. “Cas, what’s wrong with you?”

“What do you mean?” said Castiel, his own voice dark and suddenly full of anger. What kind of stupid question was that, he wondered.

“Your eyes,” said Dean.

Castiel blinked, then stood to look in a mirror hung on the other side of the room. His eyes were glowing blue, but not only that: bright grace was rolling down his cheeks like tears. Castiel didn’t cross the room to the mirror. Instead, he sat back down on the edge of the bed and pressed his fingers to his cheek. The grace swept away at his touch like wisps of smoke, then dissolved into the air.

“What are you not telling me?” demanded Dean. He leaned forward and grimaced at the movement, but reached out to touch Castiel’s other cheek, swiping away the rest of the grace. Dean pulled back to look at the blue light swirling off his fingers, then disappear.

“I’m fine,” insisted Castiel.

“Oh, yeah, ‘cause that’s totally normal,” scoffed Dean.

“Like you, I did what was necessary,” said Castiel tensely. His eyes had stopped leaking for the moment, and he looked at Dean again. “I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t believe you,” said Dean.

“You don’t have to.”

“Good,” said Dean, at a loss. “’Cause I don’t.”

“Good.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

“Okay.”

“Damnit, Dean,” Castiel cracked. This time, he felt the grace burning at the back of his eyes, and he focused hard on keeping it under control. “I saw you. I saw you with that other me. That wasn’t some—that wasn’t forced. Michael was dosing you with Djinn venom. That isn’t what you wanted—what you want?”

“That’s not what I said!”

“Then what, Dean?” said Castiel, rising again to pace across the room. He put his hands on the table and leaned over, sighing. When he spoke again, his voice was calm, soft. Pained. “Then why can’t it—why can’t we be like that?”

“Cas, I don’t…” started Dean, gently. He trailed off into silence.

Castiel blew air out of his nose and his shoulders slumped defeatedly. He turned around to rest against the table and crossed his arms. He met Dean’s gaze and they stared at one another like they had so many times before. Something in Castiel broke at that moment, and the fight left his body in a rumbling wave that vibrated the air. Dean shivered, though Castiel suspected he didn’t know what caused it. Finally, he spoke, and his words were low and tired, and brimming with defeated sadness.

“How many more times must we wound each other, must we lose each other, before we let ourselves feel?”

Dean stared at Castiel in silence, his jaw slack. After many long seconds, he pushed himself stiffly to stand and took a step towards Castiel, a hand reaching out instinctively, and he drew in a breath as if to speak. “Castiel—”

Just as he spoke the room got heavier—they both felt the weight of the intimacy the seldom-used full name carried—and in the same moment, Jack burst through the door, arms laden with paper sacks, and he announced cheerily, “We got burritos, and burgers, and…”

He stopped in his tracks and his face faltered when he saw the way the two men stood—Castiel leaning against the table, Dean halfway across the room, but reaching out. Sam came behind him moments later, holding two drink carriers: one of milkshakes, one of sodas. Sam made eye contact with Dean across the room, and some brotherly link made him understand the situation in a second.

“Hey guys,” he said, trying to defuse the atmosphere. “We hit four different fast food joints. Dean, I got you a milkshake this one place called the ‘apple pie.’ There’s actual pie in it.”

“Awesome,” said Dean, unconvincingly. “Let’s eat.” He broke his gaze away from Castiel and reached down to the alarm clock radio on the nightstand, pushing a button. Immediately, a power ballad rang out: …so far, to change this lonely life. I wanna know what love is, I want you to…

“Oh come on,” Dean growled, slamming the button again. The station changed and Dean glowered again, but left it be. “So, pie milkshake?”

“Yeah,” said Sam with an awkward grin and glance toward Castiel, who moved to sit on the bed Dean had just vacated.

Sam, Dean, and Jack sat at the table and started digging into the food, and Castiel leaned back against the headboard of the bed and listened to the music, focused on keeping his stolen grace tucked away.

…damn the dark, damn the light
and if you don’t love me now
you will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
you would never break the chain…

Chapter Text

They had the hotel until check-out at noon, so after the boys had eaten their fill, Castiel suggested they catch a few hours of sleep before they hit the road for the fifteen-hour drive home. Sam took one for the team and borrowed a roll-away cot from the front desk to give Jack and Dean the beds, and despite his time spent unconscious, Dean was the first to fall asleep, followed closely by Jack. They were both snoring contentedly, dead to the world, before Sam had finished making up his cot. Castiel sat quietly at the table, idly flipping through the pages of a spell book they’d brought along.

Sam glanced over at Dean, then looked over to Castiel and sighed. He abandoned his pillow-fluffing and slipped into the seat opposite Castiel. “Cas,” he started softly. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” said Castiel, stoic. He didn’t even look up from the book.

“No, hey—come on, man. Look at me,” pleaded Sam. Castiel lowered the book and met his gaze, and he continued. “I heard what Michael said about that grace you swallowed. And something’s obviously up with you and Dean—”

“I’m fine, Sam,” repeated Castiel tensely, a bit too loudly. He looked over to Jack and Dean, still sleeping, and lowered his voice. “The grace is, at worst, uncomfortable. I’ll deal with it when we’re back in the safety of the bunker.”

“And Dean?”

“Dean will recover soon.”

“That’s not what I mean,” sighed Sam. He rubbed his hand over his face and leaned back tiredly in the chair. “Cas, look—we heard what Michael said, about what you saw. And it’s not like—it’s not like you two hide it well anyway.”

“Nothing has changed, Sam,” said Castiel. He’d left the spell book open on the table, and now he closed it and slid it to the side. “There’s nothing in here about removing archangel grace without also removing my own,” he continued.

“Come on, man. Don’t change the subject. This is important—”

“Why?” snapped Castiel, his voice acidic even through the whisper. “Why is my shame of such great import to you?”

“Because he’s my brother,” said Sam evenly. “And you’re my family. And anyone who’s paid any attention to you two at all has seen the way you look at each other—and don’t give me the ‘I love you all’ crap. We know you do. But you’ve never looked at me that way.”

“And?”

“And I care about you, and my brother, and if you’re at each other’s throats—look, you said nothing has changed, right We already knew. Well—maybe not Jack. But I did. I’ve known for years, man. The only difference is we heard it out loud.”

“You didn’t see what I saw,” said Castiel softly. “How it felt…”

“I don’t need to,” answered Sam. “But Cas, Dean loves you. We all do, but it’s different with him. You have to know he does.”

Castiel was silent. He began to push up from the table and finally said, “You should get some rest, Sam.”

“He just needs—I don’t know, time…”

“Sam…”

“…or maybe a push, or—”

“I’m finished talking about this, Sam.”

“Okay, it’s just—he isn’t good at this, you know th—”

“Sam,” said Castiel, voice elevating again. He cleared his throat and glanced over to the sleeping bodies once more and was more hushed when he continued. “What Dean wants and what he thinks he wants are his problem. Not yours. I know you’re worried about your brother, but he’ll be alright. And whatever happens between he and I, I’m not going anywhere. Alright? Like you said, we’re family.”

“Even if it’s not the kind of family you want him to be?” said Sam quietly.

“Rest, Sam,” said Castiel. “I’ll keep watch.” He crossed the few feet to the exit and stepped out onto the sidewalk, closing the door behind him.

Sam stood after a few moments and peeked out the curtains to see Castiel sitting on a bench a few feet to the left of the door, hands folded in his lap, staring straight ahead with a set jaw. Sam sighed and pulled the curtain all the way closed to shut out the light. He kicked off his shoes and collapsed face down on the cot, not bothering with the blanket.

On the other side of the room, when Sam’s breathing had evened into soft snoring, Dean opened his eyes to stare at the white popcorn ceiling.

***

Dean must have actually fallen asleep eventually, because a few hours later he woke to the sounds of shuffling and opened his eyes to see Sam and Jack already up and bustling around, packing up the last of their things.

“Hey, you’re up,” said Sam with a little grin. “How you feeling?”

“Little better,” Dean grumbled as he sat, rubbing his eyes. “Where’s Cas?”

“Outside,” said Sam, and his grin faltered.

“What?” asked Dean, accusatory.

Jack walked out of the bathroom, a toothbrush hanging halfway out of his mouth. “Did you guyffs haff uh figh?” he mumbled around the toothbrush, none the wiser.

“No,” said Dean, and Sam rolled his eyes. “It’s nothing, alright? We’re all just tired.”

“Duffun loo lie nuffin,” mumbled Jack, returning to the bathroom, unaware of the face Dean made at his back.

“Whatever,” said Dean as he threw off the covers. “Hurry up in the bathroom!” he yelled as Jack shut the door behind him.

“God, this drive is gonna be so long,” Sam sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

They finally all piled into the car after a brief argument. Sam insisted on driving with Castiel as his halfway point relief, as they were the ones who seemed the most okay. Dean finally conceded unhappily on the condition that he still sat in the front seat.

“I get carsick,” he griped.

“No you don’t,” said Sam simply, slamming the door. Before Dean could make a counter-argument he’d started the car, and Dean slid into the passenger seat in defeat.

The first half of the drive was anything but quiet. Jack asked Castiel a million and one questions about his own Nephilim grace, how they might get it back, and what it would mean if they couldn’t, and what it was like to be a human. Dean likewise answered questions about what he remembered from his time with Michael: killing the Devil, dressing like a “douchebag,” bits and pieces of the travel, that sometimes it felt like being strapped to a star.

By the time the sun was setting eight hours later, Dean and Jack had both gone mostly quiet, opting instead to look out the windows—save for a moment of bickering where Sam turned off the classic rock cassettes to play a podcast and Dean objected until Sam reminded him who picked the music and who shut his cakehole. Castiel offered to change places when they stopped for gas, but Sam declined, saying he was alright, wanted to wear himself out a bit more so he’d be able to sleep tonight. Instead, after more griping from Dean, Castiel finally gave him the front seat to shut him up.

Around midnight with three hours left, Sam finally pulled over to trade places with Castiel. Jack was already sleeping hard in the backseat, as was Dean in the front. Sam joined them easily, crashing out almost as soon as the car was back on the road. The three of them slept while Castiel drove, though Dean stirred when the car stopped, an hour from home, to wait for a passing train. He looked over to the driver’s seat to see Castiel illuminated in the blinking red of the railroad crossing lights with a box in his lap, rifling through cassette tapes.

Maybe it was because he was tired, and it made him feel raw, but without really meaning to, Dean softened and smiled at the image: at some point during the drive, Castiel had removed not only his trench coat, but his suit jacket as well, and rolled up the sleeves of his oversized white button-down shirt. They were folded on the seat between them. Dean never saw the angel like this—comfortable for the sake of comfort, face without the lines of care and tension he usually carried—and it was beautiful.

The train was long and Castiel was so absorbed in searching for a tape he hadn’t noticed Dean’s small shifts. He stopped on one tape that was blank save for a crudely-scribbled label, Aqualung, and intrigued, he singled it out and set the box aside to press that tape into the player. A low, grungy guitar started, and Castiel stared at the train passing as he listened to the music, turned down low to not wake the boys. He seemed to be enjoying it for the moment until a line, …watching as the pretty panties run… came up. “That’s inappropriate,” he muttered quietly to himself, and fast-forwarded the tape.

Dean smiled again and closed his eyes, not sleeping, but content to listen as the tape settled on something gentler with flutes and soft acoustic guitars. The train finally passed and the car once more rumbled down the road. He was nearly asleep again by the time a few songs had played through but was jarred from the easy comfort of the music and the Impala’s vibrations when the tape suddenly stopped, then started again a few moments later at the beginning of the song that had just ended. Dean didn’t think much of it until, minutes later, the song was rewound and replayed a second time, and then a third. He opened his eyes and looked over to Castiel, now bathed in darkness, one hand on the wheel, the other hovering near the tape deck.

He watched Castiel for the length of the song as it played through once more, and grinned when Castiel, yet again, started it over.

Wondering aloud
How we feel today
Last night sipped the sunset
My hand in her hair
We are our own saviours
As we start both our hearts beating life
Into each other

Wondering aloud
Will the years treat us well
As she floats in the kitchen,
I'm tasting the smell
Of toast as the butter runs
Then she comes, spilling crumbs on the bed
And I shake my head

And it's only the giving
That makes you what you are…

Dean listened through one more time, and Castiel rewound it. When it started this time, he asked gently through his smile, “Like that one?”

“Dean,” said Castiel, startled. He removed his hand from the tape deck and placed it on the wheel as he glanced sideways, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t,” said Dean, quietly, and stretched. He shot a look over his shoulder at Sam and Jack, both still sleeping hard.

“I do like this song, yes,” answered Castiel after a moment. “It’s calm. Less abrasive that most of the other music in here.”

“It’s a good one,” agreed Dean with a nod. He still watched Castiel, whose expression, somehow, remained as soft as it had before he knew Dean was awake.

“I like most of your music,” said Castiel, “But sometimes I just want something…I don’t know.”

“A little softer,” Dean finished for him. “Maybe even a little sad.”

“Yes,” said Castiel, and lifted a brow to Dean. “How’d you know?”

Dean smiled. “It’s a pretty human thing. When we’re down we like to listen to stuff that keeps us there,” he said, and then added, “Because we hate ourselves, I guess.” He paused, and his heart thudded, stomach twisted. He looked over at Castiel and asked, gently, “So what’s got you there?”

…that makes you what you are… the song ended, and Castiel didn’t move to repeat it. “We can listen to something else,” he deflected, and moved his finger instead toward the eject button as the next song began.

“Nah,” said Dean, catching Castiel’s hand. He moved it aside before letting go and hitting rewind himself. “Play it again if you like it. But that’s not what I asked. What’s got you down, Cas?”

The song began again and Castiel returned his hand to the wheel, staring straight ahead. “Dean, you already know. Please don’t ask me to wade back into that,” he answered, voice pained, almost a whisper.

“You don’t need to feel shame,” said Dean, shaking his head. “Damnit. I’m sorry, Cas.”

“You don’t need to be sorry,” echoed Castiel. “I’m the one who walked in on something I wasn’t meant to see.”

“Cas…”

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” Castiel continued. “I only wanted to get you out. And we did.”

“I know you didn’t,” said Dean softly. He reached out to touch Castiel’s shoulder but stopped short and rested his arm on the seatback instead. “How did you, by the way? Get me out? Which—I’m grateful for, by the way. But something’s up with you, and I need you to tell me, Cas.”

“I’m alright, Dean.”

“Cas, please,” said Dean, and lifted his arm again to actually squeeze Castiel on the shoulder, who looked over at him briefly before returning his eyes to the road. “I’m not mad. I’m worried.”

Castiel sighed long through his nose. “I know,” he said. “We found some of Michael’s grace. That’s a long story in itself. When we couldn’t get you out by other means we decided to use his grace as leverage. The best way to do that would be to ensure he couldn’t get it back without a fight.”

“So—what?”

“So the only way we could be certain he wouldn’t just steal it back from us was if I took it.”

“What?”

“I swallowed half of Michael’s grace,” said Castiel, glancing over. The song ended again and started on a much more upbeat track, and he didn’t move to change it, but Dean did, turning the tape off entirely and plunging the car into silence.

“So what does that mean?” demanded Dean. “You’re an archangel now?”

“Not exactly,” said Castiel. “I’m stronger, but it won’t last.” He tensed his knuckles around the steering wheel but remained otherwise quiet and calm. “It’s going to burn out. I’m an angel; I wasn’t meant to contain this power.”

“But then you’ll go back to normal?”

Castiel sighed and shook his head. “When it burns out I burn out with it.”

“What, like you die?” said Dean, losing his cool for a moment. Sam stirred, but neither he or Jack woke, and Dean lowered his voice before speaking again. “That’s not gonna happen, Cas. We just got you back. I can’t do that again.”

“It burns me up, and I die,” said Castiel simply. “Or we extract it, and I probably die, or at best become human.”

“No, you’re not hearing me,” Dean growled low. “I mean I can’t lose you again. I won’t.”

“Dean…”

“Did you know this would happen?”

“No.”

“And you just did it anyway?”

“Like you did with saying ‘yes’ to Michael in the first place?” snapped Castiel.

“Listen, I know I’ve failed you—I know I have. I couldn’t save you from the Leviathans. I couldn’t save you from Metatron, or Purgatory, or Lucifer—but sometimes you make it hard to know where to start, man.”

“You haven’t failed me, Dean,” said Castiel tensely. “This was my choice—”

“And Michael was my choice, but you still came for me,” said Dean. “Because that’s what we do, Cas. That’s what family does: we save each other. Or we die trying. You don’t get to give up, because I can’t—” Dean paused and sucked in a breath, then folded. “Because I’m lost without you. I was broken without you.”

Castiel was silent, but his lips parted, and he looked over to Dean, eyes searching. He turned back to watch the road, then looked at Dean again, and Dean looked away. The car dissolved into quiet once more, and a few minutes later, Castiel pulled the car to a stop. “We’re home,” he said softly.

Dean grunted and turned around to shake Sam’s shoulder. “Rise and shine, sleeping beauties,” he said as he smacked Jack’s shoe as well.

“We home?” said Sam as he roused, sniffing in a deep breath.

“Yep,” said Dean. “You and Jack head on in. Me and Cas are gonna make a quick beer run.”

“It’s like, three AM,” grumbled Sam.

“Yes it is,” said Dean, matter-of-factly.

Jack looked from Sam to Dean, and then to Castiel, who encouraged him gently, “Go ahead, Jack. We meant to stop on the way and got distracted. We won’t be long.”

“Whatever,” scoffed Sam sleepily. He slid out of the backseat and Jack followed along. Light spilled into the street as the bunker door swung open, but after a moment they disappeared inside.

“Pull around to the garage,” instructed Dean, reaching to fidget with the tape deck.

“Alright,” said Castiel, confused, but pushed the gas and pulled around to the side entrance in the woods anyway.

When they arrived moments later Dean exited to pull open the hidden garage door. Castiel drove in, and Dean shut it behind them, locking up. Castiel had just put the Impala in park, but hadn’t turned it off, when Dean got back into the car.

“What are you doing, Dean?”

“Shut up,” he said, and hit the play button on the tape deck.

The song Castiel loved began again, and Dean crawled across the seat, shoving Castiel’s coats and the box of tapes into the floor. He took Castiel’s stunned face in both his hands. “I love you, you idiot,” he said, and leaned in to press his lips carefully against Castiel’s.
Castiel froze and his heart stuttered, but Dean held his ground, and it gave Castiel the encouragement he needed. He closed his eyes and angled his body so his back was against the door, and Dean pressed in closer. Castiel weaved his arms around Dean’s middle and finally kissed him back, hard.

“I love you,” Dean whispered against Castiel’s mouth, parting his lips to work Castiel’s own kiss into something open and needy. “I’ve always loved you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

“Stop,” breathed Castiel. He tightened his grip around Dean and slid slowly down, never breaking the kiss, until he was on his back on the seat, Dean’s weight heavy and hot and correct on top of him. Something in his chest broke open, and he slipped a hand into Dean’s hair and tugged. Dean gasped, but Castiel swallowed it with another wide kiss, then another, and another. He could feel the archangel grace pulsing against his skin again, but it only made him more desperate for Dean—his lips, his breath, his warmth—and he licked into Dean’s mouth, pulled him closer, tighter—

Dean groaned low in his throat, but what was a noise of contentment soon turned to one of struggle. “Cas—” he said, but Castiel didn’t relent. Instead, he kissed somehow harder, bruising into Dean’s lips. “Mmphh—” he started again and tried to push back against Castiel as his airway began to close. Suddenly the car went silent and dark: the music and engine ceased, and the headlights flickered off, as well as all the lights in the garage with a muffled pop. Instead of pushing, Dean was pushed back.

“Dean,” growled Castiel. “Go.”

“Cas—what?” Dean answered, out of breath and fumbling in the darkness for his phone, a light.

“Get out of the car,” said Castiel. He opened his eyes wide and they spilled out beams of violent blue light. A high-pitched ringing started to slowly consume the air. Dean threw a hand over his own eyes to shield them, and Castiel sat up to grip him by the shoulders, push him toward the passenger side door. “Get out of the car, Dean!” he repeated. “Now!”

Dean reached blindly behind him to open the door and he tumbled out backwards, only then opening his eyes to squint at Castiel. “Cas?” he yelled over the ringing. “Cas!”

“Run!” Castiel yelled, and then bent forward, clutching his head.

“I’m not gonna leave you!”

“Dean, RUN!” Castiel shouted, and the ringing got louder.

The music suddenly turned back on at full volume, the headlights came on, and all the lights in the garage started blinking and flickering, and a few grew so bright they burst and showered the room with sparks. Castiel shut his eyes tight, but the blue light spilled out of his mouth instead, looking for an exit. Castiel bellowed a pained roar, and the rest of the lights started popping, one by one. Dean, horrified, finally began backing towards the outer wall and the door.

“CAS!” he yelled again. “CA—”

Every sound went silent as a bright blue light, like a shockwave, pulsed away from Castiel’s. It sent Dean flying against the wall and knocked him out cold. The room went dark, save for a throbbing, angry neon blue in the front seat of the car. Castiel was flat on his back, an arm hanging off the seat, tendrils of grace spilling like blood from his chest like an open wound to the heart.

Chapter Text

The first thing Dean became aware of was the ringing in his ears and a throbbing headache. Sam’s voice was next, yelling his name. Then hands on his shoulders, shaking him gently—another voice. Jack. Sam and Jack were here. But not Castiel. Dean blinked his eyes open and found the blurred figure of his brother hovering over him, backlit by what overhead lights remained intact in the garage.

“Dean, hey! Hey, you okay? What happened?” said Sam the moment Dean opened his eyes.

“I—don’t know,” said Dean, groaning as he sat up. He winced and touched the back of his head, finding blood. “Great.”

“Are you alright?” called Jack from across the room, where Sam had instructed him to stay. “It felt like an earthquake…”

“I’m fine,” said Dean, swatting Sam’s hovering hands away. He felt the blood drain from his face, but it wasn’t from sitting up too quickly. “Cas…” he breathed low and tried to stand. When he did he swayed on his feet and Sam caught him, but Dean pushed his brother off and ran, staggering, across the garage to the Impala, where the passenger door still stood open.

“Dean, what the hell happened?” Sam called after him, following.

“I told you I don’t know!” yelled Dean.

He stopped short at the door and his stomach dropped. Castiel was sprawled on his back across the seat, head lolled backwards, mouth open. Blood and grace ran out of his nose and closed eyes in an odd mixture—the grace hovering like smoke, the blood drying and cracking beneath it. His left arm hung limply off the side, knuckles dragging the floor. His left leg, too, hung off the seat, and his right crooked at an odd angle that Dean was sure meant something in it was broken. Dean stood staring, unable to make himself move.

“Is he breathing?” Sam huffed as he pulled up beside Dean, leaning against the door to peer in, but Dean didn’t answer. “Dean!” Sam yelled and shook him by the shoulder. “Snap out of it!”

“I can’t—I can’t tell,” Dean said, and stumbled backwards. “You gotta check. I can’t, I can’t, Sammy, not again, I can’t—”

“It’s okay, Dean,” said Sam, softening. His brother’s eyes were red and wet, and Sam could see the panic, and the memory, in his face. “I got it.” Awkwardly, Sam ducked into the Impala and crawled over Castiel just far enough to press his fingers to his jugular. “He’s got a pulse,” said Sam. “He’s alive, Dean.”

Dean didn’t say anything, but looking over his shoulder, Sam saw the tension leave Dean’s body in a hard shudder as he turned around and ran his hands through his hair.

“Jack!” Sam yelled as he crawled backwards out of the car. “Go to that big bathroom downstairs—the one with the tub—and start filling it with cold water. And ice.” He looked back to Dean. “He’s alive, Dean. But he’s burning up, and I need you to get it together if we’re going to keep him alive. …Dean? You with me?”

Jack nodded and took off inside, and Dean turned around to face Sam, tears streaking his face. “Yeah. Right. Alright,” he said as stoically as he could manage—which wasn’t much. His voice was thick and cracked, and though he stowed his tears with one hard sniff, he was still shaking as he paced quickly around to the driver’s side and opened the door. “You gotta help me carry him, Sammy.”

“I know,” said Sam, more gently than the situation required. “It’s okay, Dean. You get his arms. I’ll catch his legs.”

Dean nodded and hooked his elbows under Castiel’s shoulders and pulled, resting the angel’s head against his chest. Sam, as promised, was at his side in an instant to tuck his arms under Castiel’s knees. Together, they walked him awkwardly across the garage and inside, and started working their way carefully down the hall.

They arrived to find Jack dumping what must have been at least the third or fourth mixing bowl full of ice into the quickly-filling tub. He looked up as they entered, and his face paled. “Is he…?”

“No, he’s alive,” Sam answered, and relief visibly swept over Jack’s face.

“I think we’re good on the water,” said Sam, and Jack turned the handle. “Can you keep bringing ice? And—wait, get his shoes?”

“Of course,” said Jack as he loped over. He tugged off one of Castiel’s shoes and tossed it aside, then the other, and then he looked up at Dean. “Dean…you’re bleeding.”

“It doesn’t matter,” grumbled Dean.

“But it—”

“It doesn’t matter!” Dean repeated, yelling.

Sam stared at him for a moment, then looked over to Jack, who’d shrunk backwards away from Dean’s words. “It’s okay, Jack. Can you bring some bandages with the ice? Do you know where the first aid kit is, in the—”

“Yes,” interrupted Jack. “I know where it is.” He skirted quickly out of the room.

“Let’s lower him in,” said Sam simply, nudging Dean by jostling Castiel’s legs just a bit. Dean nodded started shuffling sideways. When they were on either side of the tub, Sam asked, “Ready?” and when Dean nodded again, he slowly sunk Castiel’s legs into the water.

Dean lowered Castiel in until the water covered his shoulders and carefully let his head loll back against the lip of the tub, but the angel didn’t stir.

“Why isn’t he moving?”

“Give it a second, Dean,” said Sam. And then, “Pinch his nose. We’re gonna put him all the way under.”

“Shock him,” nodded Dean. He did as instructed and though he cringed, he held Castiel’s nose and pushed the angel beneath the icy water. Still, Castiel didn’t flinch. Jack returned with more ice and the first aid kit. “Dump it in,” Dean called over. He lifted Castiel out for a moment and released his nose. Castiel took a deep breath but didn’t rouse. “Damnit,” he grumbled, and waiting as Jack poured in the ice.

“Is he going to die?” Jack asked as he stepped away, setting aside the bowl. “He can’t die!”

“He’s not gonna die!” Dean yelled, and in desperation, shoved Castiel back under the water, neglecting his nose.

On the other end of the tub, Sam released Castiel’s legs, though they stayed down, the fabric of his trousers soaked through and heavy. “Dean…”

“C’mon, Cas,” Dean grumbled, still holding Castiel down. “C’mon c’mon c’mon.”

“Dean, he needs to breathe.”

“Not yet.”

“Dean!”

Dean growled and hoisted Castiel’s head above water, and the angel coughed and heaved, but still his eyes remained closed.

“Dean, you gotta lock it up,” said Sam quietly. “It’ll take a minute to get the fever down.”

“Yeah,” Dean finally conceded. He sank to his knees with a sigh, carefully keeping Castiel’s head above water. “Hey Jack,” he called over, finally calmer. “There a thermometer in the kit?”

“Umm…” said Jack as he rifled through the box. “This?”

“Yeah, bring it here,” commanded Dean, though after a look from Sam he added softly, “…please. Give it to Sam.”

Jack strode across the room and passed it off, and while Dean kept Castiel above water Sam carefully worked the thermometer beneath his tongue.

“What’s it say?” asked Dean.

“It’s—damn,” breathed Sam.

“What?”

“The highest the thermometer goes is a hundred and twenty,” said Sam, squinting.

“And?”

“It’s reading a hundred and twenty.”

“Great,” sighed Dean. He leaned his head forward to rest his forehead against the cool lip of the tub, squinting shut his eyes.

“He’s an angel,” reminded Sam gently, removing the thermometer and setting it on a nearby table. “He’ll pull through.”

“Yeah,” said Dean, though he didn’t lift his head. Involuntarily, his whole body shivered.

“Want me to take over? You can dry off…” asked Sam.

“I’m okay, Sam.”

“Dean, you’re soaked. And freezing. At least—” Sam sighed through his nose. “At least let me hold him for a sec and take off the flannel?”

Finally, Dean lifted his head. He looked down at his arms, submerged to the elbows to hold Castiel up, and noticed suddenly that water had soaked up to his elbows and was starting to creep across his back. “Okay,” he conceded, and ticked his head to beckon Sam over. Sam rolled up his sleeves and dunked them into the tub to hold up Castiel, and Dean extricated himself. He clumsily stripped out of his sopping flannel and tossed it aside. “You got a rag or anything, Jack?” he called over, rubbing his face while he went to retrieve a chair from across the room. Jack nodded, and Dean replied, “Wet it and put it on his forehead, alright?”

“Okay,” said Jack, and hurried to help.

Dean toted the chair over to the tub and set it down near Castiel’s head. “I got him, Sam.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Alright, come on.” Dean sat himself in the chair and leaned down again to hook his arms underneath Castiel’s, and Sam backed away.

Sam rubbed the cold from his arms as he stepped back to make room for Jack, who folded the cold rag and laid it carefully across Castiel’s brow, then backed away. “What can we do?”

“I dunno,” said Dean. He sighed and hung his head. “Make some coffee. Start diggin’ in the lore.”

“What about you?”

“M’stayin’ here. Just bring me some coffee when it’s done?”

“Yeah,” said Sam, though he furrowed his brow. “Okay. Call if you need anything.”

Dean nodded, and Sam clapped Jack gently on the shoulder. Dean could hear him giving coffee instructions as they turned down the hall, and slowly, their voices disappeared. Once he was sure he was alone, he leaned further over Castiel to stretch his arms around from behind to fold his fingers across Castiel’s chest. Dean shivered again and dropped his forehead to Castiel’s hair. “You’re gonna be fine, Cas,” he mumbled into it. “Everything’s gonna be fine.” He sat like this for a moment, face buried in Castiel’s hair, before he carefully stood to lean over him and press a slow, halting upside-down kiss to Castiel’s slack, too-warm mouth. Dean lingered like this for a moment before sinking back down and reaching for the thermometer and placing it gently beneath Castiel’s tongue. He held it there for a few minutes, keeping Castiel afloat with one arm, before checking it. One-hundred and sixteen.

“Okay,” he said softly as he removed it and set it aside and looped his arms back around Castiel. “Keep it up, Cas. Gonna be fine.”

Dean laced his fingers tightly across Castiel’s chest, and he shivered as the water displaced with his movement to lap the arms of his t-shirt. Still, he simply sighed and rested his forehead back into Castiel’s hair. Dean sat this way in silence for a few minutes, staring blanking into the darkness of the angel’s hair. A memory flashed through his mind, and he closed his eyes.

“Hey, Jude,” Dean began to sing into Castiel’s hair, soft, low, and a little off-key. “Don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better…remember to let her—him into your heart, then you can start to make it better…”

Sam rounded the corner with a cup of hot coffee but stopped short in the doorway and stared. Dean hadn’t heard or seen and kept quietly singing, “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid…” His heart lurched in his chest and he knew he should leave, but something about seeing his brother this way—seeing the unbreakable Dean Winchester soft and open and in love—was too rare and beautiful a thing, painful as it was, and Sam found himself unable to look away.

“…and anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain. Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders…”

Without really meaning to, Sam leaned his shoulder against the doorway, transfixed. He’d seen Dean cry before—when their dad died, and hell, even when he’d died himself, and a few other times—but somehow this was even more intimate though his brother shed no tears. He knew Dean loved Castiel differently than a brother, or even a friend, but he didn’t know just how much, how deeply, until they’d lost him last year. Now, after hearing what Michael said to Castiel, and watching him cradling and singing to the unconscious angel, he knew in his gut that Dean wouldn’t come back from it if they lost Castiel again.

“…for well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder…”

Sam had been subconsciously leaning forward into the scene, and he winced as he snapped himself out of it by spilling steaming coffee onto his hand. He hissed and some of it splashed to the floor and he jerked his head up, fully expecting to see Dean staring at him. But Dean kept on singing, clinging to Castiel, and Sam reached inside to set the coffee mug quietly on a little end table by the entrance before turning into the dark hallway and closing the door behind him.

“Hey Jude, don’t let me down…”

***

“Aight Cas, time to knock it off,” Dean grumbled into Castiel’s hair nearly four hours later. “I got like, one more Beatles song up my sleeve, and then I’m switching to Bon Jovi.” He plucked the thermometer from Castiel’s mouth—ninety-eight point six. “Just gonna annoy you awake.”

He set the thermometer aside and slipped his arm back into its hold around Castiel’s chest and let his head drop into the angel’s hair with a sigh. “Should be awake by now,” he grumbled, and then sighed again. “You asked for it. Last Beatles song. …Oh, darling, if you leave me, I’ll never make it—wait, no,” Dean began to tiredly sing, then cut himself off. “Rookie move, Winchester. Wrong verse.” He cleared his throat and said, “My bad, Cas,” before starting over through chattering teeth, “Oh, darling, please believe me, I’ll never—”

“Dean?”

Dean’s heart stuttered and he snapped up to look down at Castiel, who was staring up at him, blue eyes wide. He didn’t look the least bit tired. “Cas! Hey, hey are you okay?”

“I suppose I didn’t die, then,” Castiel said simply, then sat up, loosening Dean’s grip. “Why am in a tub?”

“You—no, you didn’t die, but your temperature was off the charts, man. It was like you ate the freakin’ sun. We had to cool you down.”

“Oh,” said Castiel. “Well, thank you. I feel—well, not great. But not terrible either.” He gripped the edge of the tub and stood up, sending cold water splashing. He turned to face Dean, and his white shirt clung to every contour of his chest and stomach, wet and nearly transparent. Dean’s eyes went wide and his jaw popped open unbidden, and Castiel tilted his head. “Dean? What…your arms…”

“What?” Dean stammered, and then looked down. “Oh, yeah. They went numb a while ago.” He pulled them from the water to rest heavily in his lap.

Castiel stepped out of the tub, seemingly unbothered by the cold, and dripped his way over to a cabinet to pull out a couple towels while Dean stared down at his hands. He tried to wiggle his fingers, but they wouldn’t move, and he realized all the skin he could see of his arms was a pale, blueish white. Castiel scruffed one towel over his hair as he returned to Dean, then threw that one over his shoulder as he knelt before Dean’s chair, wrapping the other around him like a blanket.

“Your lips are blue,” Castiel said softly. “And you’re shaking.” He shrugged away the towel on his shoulder and reached to fold Dean’s numb hands in his own warm ones. “Dean, you’re freezing.

“I am,” laughed Dean quietly, and he sucked in a chattering breath. His fingers, tense with cold, struggled to move to bend back around Castiel’s hands, and Castiel shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Dean,” he said gently. Dean started to speak, but Castiel shook his head again. “Please, just let me say it.”

Dean was silent. Castiel lifted his gaze from Dean’s hands to find his eyes. He stared into them, searching, and Dean searched back. Castiel released one of Dean’s hands and lifted his own, tentatively, to cradle Dean’s cheek. Dean’s breath caught in his chest, and Castiel could feel his heartrate pick up. “Even your face is cold,” he said lowly and rose from his knees just enough to seat himself on the edge of the tub, facing Dean. “And your lips are still blue.” Castiel held Dean’s jaw and swept his thumb over his bottom lip, and Dean, already shivering, shivered harder. Slowly, he angled himself forward, first bumping the tip of his nose with Dean’s, then closing his eyes and dipping his chin. He parted his lips against Dean’s in a careful, tender, lingering kiss, breathing warmth against Dean’s cold ones. He melted into Dean, a burn rising in his chest that had nothing to do with what archangel grace remained, and Dean leaned into the kiss.

Castiel brushed his hand from Dean’s cheek up into his hair, sweeping his fingers over Dean’s ear, down the back of his neck—and then Dean involuntarily broke the kiss with a violent, whole-body shiver. Castiel blinked at him, then offered a gentle smile. “Let’s get you warm,” he said softly, and then teased as he stood and held out a hand, “You’re so cold you aren’t even blushing.”

Dean took Castiel’s extended hand and pulled himself up, then tugged the towel more tightly around his shoulders. “B-bite me, Cas,” he chattered out.

“Maybe later,” said Castiel, smugly, and he strode to hold open the door for Dean.

Dean rolled his eyes and shuffled for the door. He cut his gaze to the full, but cold, mug of coffee on the table on the way out.

***

When they made it upstairs, Dean disappeared for a long, hot shower, and while he did, Castiel rifled through one of Dean’s drawers to find some dry clothes, borrowing some jeans and boxers and a light gray Henley. The shower was still going when he was dressed, so Castiel wandered out into the hall and to the kitchen, where he found Sam hunched over a book and a mug of coffee, looking haggard.

Sam glanced up at the movement in the doorway, and then perked up further. “Cas, hey! How are you? How long have you been awake?”

“Not long,” answered Castiel, padding barefoot over to the table. “But I feel strangely okay. Just a bit more…human, than normal.”

“Good, that’s great,” stammered Sam, and he started to stand, but Castiel motioned him down. “Want uhh—coffee, anything?”

Castiel hesitated, then turned for the fridge. “Maybe…beer, actually. If that’s alright.”

“Yeah, ‘course,” said Sam, then chuckled. “It’s like seven forty-five in the morning, but what the hell—grab me one too.”

Castiel grinned a little and snagged two bottles from the fridge and an opener, and slid into the seat across from Sam. He opened one and passed it to Sam, then opened his own. “Where’s Jack?”

“I told him to crash a couple hours ago,” said Sam, toasting Castiel before taking a swig. “That spell did more of a number on him than he wants to let on. Where’s Dean?”

“Taking a ‘long as hell shower,’ he said,” said Castiel, punctuating the words with finger quotes. “He was very cold.”

“Yeah, I bet,” said Sam, and his face twisted into something more serious. “He wouldn’t leave your side. He was down there with his hands in the ice, holding you up, for hours. He sang to you.” Sam scoffed humorlessly, and added, “He’d kill me if he knew I told you that last bit.”

“He sang to me?” said Castiel, faltering in a sip of his beer.

“Yeah,” nodded Sam. “Mostly the Beatles, I think. I checked in a couple times. He sang the one he says Mom used to sing to him to get him to stop crying as a kid.”

Castiel didn’t speak. He lowered his beer to the table and stared through it, brows knitting. In his chest, his heart lurched with a strange, wonderful pain. He only looked up when Sam spoke again.

“He loves you, Cas,” he said softly. “More than I think he’s ever loved anyone. When you were—when you died, man, I really thought he was gonna die too. I think he wanted to. I think he even tried.” Sam closed the book in front of him and slid it away, taking a long drink from his beer. “I know you think when he says we need you that he means as a weapon,” he said. “But what he means is he needs YOU, Cas.”

Castiel stared, wide-eyed, at Sam, a mixture of heartache and incredible fondness swirling awkwardly in his chest. At some point he realized he’d been holding his breath, and he sighed it out and nodded at Sam, though his gaze dropped to stare at the table.

“It’s a lot,” said Sam, understanding. He was quiet for a few moments, watching Castiel, and then he drained his beer and stood up. “Look—if you’re okay for now, I need a few hours of shut-eye. I’m not retaining any of this research, and if you’re good—”

“I’m good for now, Sam,” said Castiel, breaking from his trance. “Thank you. For everything.”

“You’re family,” said Sam in answer, and he clapped Castiel gently on the shoulder before disappearing into the hall.

Castiel stared at the table for a few minutes longer, sipping on his beer. After a while, he suddenly rose and abandoned what remained of his drink, striding down the hallway full of resolve. A few feet before he reached Dean’s closed door, Dean opened it in jeans and a t-shirt, ruffling his wet hair with a hand. He blinked at Castiel and the look on his face, and started, “Cas, what’s—”

He was cut off by Castiel closing the distance between them with a desperate, bruising kiss that pushed Dean, silently, back into his room.

Chapter Text

Dean staggered backwards into his room, propelled by Castiel’s kiss, and Castiel closed the door behind them without parting their lips. Dean gasped into the kiss, shocked, but not resistant. Castiel gripped Dean’s hip and started walking them backwards, and Dean only broke the kiss when Castiel wound a hand into the back of his hair, and he flinched. Castiel blinked and withdrew and looked down to find his hand speckled in blood.

“Dean—”

“It’s okay, it’s fine,” said Dean, breathless.

“You didn’t tell me you were hurt.”

“I’m not, it’s just a bump.”

“You’re bleeding.”

“Cas, it’s fine, really. Just—go easy on the hair?”

Castiel stared a moment longer, then smiled a little. “Alright,” he said, and stepped back into Dean’s space. This time, he was far more gentle. His hand returned to Dean’s hip and his other settled, carefully, at the back of neck. “Is this alright?” he asked softly.

Dean answered by mirroring Castiel’s position to pull him in close and press their foreheads together. “Yeah, Cas,” he whispered, and let his eyes slip closed as he leaned in to steal a slow, tender kiss.

Castiel sighed into the kiss and Dean parted his lips, but neither of them deepened it yet, content to work their mouths together in a slow, heady rhythm; to breathe each other’s air. Castiel was careful, but Dean ran his fingers up into his angels hair, carding and pulling gently, drawing little sounds of pleasure from Castiel’s throat that set his veins on fire.

“Dean?” Castiel murmured against Dean’s lips between kisses. Neither opened their eyes.

“Hmm?”

“Can we—I was wondering—” Castiel tried, but finally broke the kiss to pull back and catch Dean’s gaze.

“What is it?” Dean asked with more gentleness than Castiel ever remembered hearing, his eyes soft.

“In your head,” Castiel began awkwardly. He tried to glance away, but Dean’s hand slipped out of his hair to tilt his chin back up.

“In my head what?”

“You were—we were dancing,” said Castiel, searching Dean’s gaze. “Could we—would it be okay if—”

Dean pulled away and squeezed Castiel’s hand, turning to rifle through a box on his nightstand. He pulled out a cassette tape and crossed the room again, heading toward an old school boom box. “My dad made this for Mom while they were dating,” he said softly, a little grin on his face as he pulled the tape from its casing. “Right before he proposed. ‘Mary’s Mix Four.’ I have these fuzzy memories of them dancing to it in the kitchen before Dad would leave for work.” Dean pressed the cassette gently into the tape deck and closed it but didn’t hit play. “He stopped playing it after she died.”

Castiel listened, watching Dean in sad silence. When Dean lingered over the quiet boom box just a bit too long, lost in thought, Castiel finally spoke up softly. “I’m sorry, Dean.”

That snapped Dean back into the present, and he shook his head to throw a small smile over his shoulder at Castiel, pressing play. “Is what it is,” he said as he fidgeted with the volume. A few seconds later, a voice sung out from the speakers, Hey, Jude…

“Mom used to sing this to me to get me to fall asleep,” he said, and he stood there and let it play through the first chorus, but then began to fast-forward through it. Behind him, Castiel’s face lit up with the memory of Sam’s earlier words, and he made a note to ask Dean to play the whole thing for him later.

Dean fidgeted with the rewind and fast forward buttons for a few more seconds until he landed where he wanted. A slow, easy guitar lilted out from the speakers, and he turned around to look at Castiel. “So,” he said, and rubbed the back of his neck, cheeks coloring.

“So,” repeated Castiel, heart in his throat, eyes wide.

Dean cleared his own throat and stepped forward, holding out a hand palm up to Castiel. “I—can’t believe I’m gonna say this, because it’s so corny, but…can I uhh. Have this dance?”

Castiel didn’t think he was much of a blusher, but he found himself unable to answer verbally, and instead nodded, his face suddenly very hot. He reached out and took Dean’s hand, and Dean flashed a crooked grin and pulled him in quickly, bodies flush. He linked their fingers together and wound his other arm around Castiel’s back, watching the angel carefully. Castiel followed suit and looped his arm below Dean’s, fingers bunching up around his t-shirt.

Dean started to sway in a slow, barely-there turn and closed his eyes, tilting his forehead against Castiel’s. “Is this like what you saw?” he asked quietly, and Castiel went suddenly tense beneath his fingers. He lifted his head and opened his eyes to find his angel staring hard at the doorway. Dean’s stomach sank and he released Castiel’s hip to reach up and use a finger to gently turn Castiel’s head. “Cas…” he said, and then, “Cas, look at me.” When the angel turned, Dean shook his head. “It’s not a dream. You’re not gonna walk through that door. This is real.”

Castiel exhaled slowly and leaned his forehead back against Dean’s, closing his eyes. “Just feels too good to be true.”

“Isn’t that my line?” said Dean with a little grin. He heard Castiel push a breathy laugh through his nose. “I’m sorry, Cas. That you had to see that. I know it must’ve been weird as hell.”

“It was,” Castiel agreed softly. “But in a way I’m glad I did.”

“Why’s that?”

Castiel hesitated, though when Dean said his name, he answered carefully, “I didn’t think you’d ever want that. Not with me. If I hadn’t, I don’t think we’d be here now.”

“I dunno,” Dean said, swallowing guilt. “I had that for months. I don’t know if I could give it up.”

“You don’t have to,” whispered Castiel. “I don’t want you to.”

“I won’t if you won’t,” Dean replied.

“It’s a deal.”

“Good.”

They danced through the slow, soft guitar from one song to the next. …you’re asking me will my love grow, I don’t know, I don’t know… Dean sighed low and turned his head to press his cheek to Castiel’s, and Castiel mirrored the sound.

“What’s missing?” Dean mumbled into Castiel’s ear.

Castiel didn’t answer. Instead he pulled his face away and opened his eyes to stare into Dean’s. The song faded out into something quieter, slower, and Castiel tilted his head forward to drag the tip of his nose down the bridge of Dean’s. He hovered there for just a moment before dipping his chin down to press his lips gently to Dean’s.

With a happy sigh, Dean kissed Castiel back and released his hand, sliding his own up Castiel’s arm to cup the angel’s jaw. They kissed slowly, deeply—dove in and retreated over and over, testing every angle, tasting each other’s breath.

They dissolved into one another, the electricity building in the room as the music switched into the passionate, bluesy crooning of a woman’s voice on the speakers. …I'm all alone and needing you, please, please, please…

“Cas…” Dean breathed against Castiel’s lips, and without more prompting, Castiel parted his lips beneath Dean’s. Dean rolled Castiel’s jaw open and licked into his mouth, pulling a satisfying, barely audible sound of pleasure from somewhere deep in the angel’s chest. The tell-tale click of the cassette tape turning over punctuated the moment, and instead of returning to sweet acoustic guitars, the sexy, bluesy classic rock continued. Dean pulled Castiel’s bottom lip between his teeth and dragged until he’d pulled away to look at the angel.

Castiel was breathless, pink-lipped, blue eyes blown wide and wild. His hair stuck up at odd angles where Dean’s hands had been wandering, and Dean was reminded of the night they met all those years ago. Without a word, he released Castiel except to grab one of his hands, and started walking backwards towards his bed, pulling the angel willingly along.

When the backs of his legs hit the mattress, Dean wound a hand back around Castiel’s waist and turned them so it was Castiel, not Dean, who was forced into seat. Castiel leaned back on his hands and stared up at Dean, and Dean leaned down to capture the angel’s lips once more, pushing against his shoulder. Castiel dragged himself backwards and Dean crawled with him. Once the angel was flat on his back he gently directed his arms above his head, linking their fingers. He pinned Castiel down with kisses and hands, and Castiel arched into him. Dean steadied himself and released Castiel’s hands but not his lips, reaching down to pull up the hem of Castiel’s shirt.

A hand closed around his wrist, prompting Dean to open his eyes. “Cas?” he whispered. Castiel stared up at him looking like a raw, angelic nerve, his hair was a messy, dark shock against the white pillowcase. “What’s wrong?”

In lieu of an answer, Castiel shook his head and gently pushed on Dean’s chest with his other hand, and Dean sat back on his haunches, straddling him and watching Castiel carefully. Castiel sat up with him and released Dean’s wrist, and after a moment of staring, pulled his shirt up and over his head himself. Dean smirked at him and arched a brow, and Castiel stared for a nervous moment before reaching for the edge of Dean’s t-shirt with both hands. He gripped the hem and started to lift, then looked back up at Dean, as if for permission. Dean’s smile softened. He lifted his arms, and Castiel pushed the t-shirt up until he couldn’t, and as Dean pulled it over his head and tossed it aside, Castiel ran his fingertips down Dean’s sides in wonder and disbelief.

“I’ve been shirtless before,” Dean teased gently as he resettled himself, lazing his forearms over Castiel’s shoulders. “Hell, I’ve seen you naked. On my car, covered in bees…”

“Not like this,” Cas whispered, and looked back up at Dean, awestruck, borderline worshipful.

Dean stared back and his smile faded into something open, curious, and Castiel broke his gaze to lean back on his left hand, then lift up his right and trail his fingers slowly along the length of Dean’s arm. Dean watched him curiously, but his lips parted with a breath of realization when Castiel meticulously placed each finger on Dean’s shoulder in the exact location they’d been when Castiel’s hand scarred him, years ago, when he dragged him up from Hell.

“You were an assignment,” Castiel said softly, staring at his hand on Dean’s shoulder. He squeezed a little. “A mission. I didn’t question my orders, though I didn’t understand why God chose me. Now I think he must have known.”

“Known what?” Dean wondered, nearly a whisper. He trailed his arms down just slightly to clasp his finger’s behind Castiel’s neck at the base, thumbing gentle circles into his skin.

“That I needed you,” Castiel answered, looking back up to meet Dean’s gaze, though his hand remained in place. “That I was lost without you, not because of you.”

Dean was blushing furiously, and simply mumbled, embarrassed and deflecting, “…doesn’t make sense. Like, chronologically.”

Castiel smiled, soft and amused, up at Dean. “No, it doesn’t.”

Dean snorted. “Freakin’ angels,” he teased, and leaned down to capture Castiel’s lips in a passionate kiss, sending them falling back down onto the mattress.

Dean pulled Castiel’s lip back between his teeth and Castiel shuddered, gliding his hands up Dean’s arms and down his back, fingers digging into skin. Caught up in the passion, Castiel slid one hand back up into Dean’s hair and gripped hard, and Dean winched. Instead of pulling away, though, Castiel spread his palm and, carefully, sent a little shock of healing grace to the wound to fix it, then pulled Dean’s hair even harder. A low hum of pleasure rolled up Dean’s throat and vibrated against Castiel’s lips.

“I need you,” Castiel gasped a whisper into Dean’s kiss.

“I love you,” Dean whispered back, and licked into Castiel’s mouth, rolling his hips at the same time.

Castiel moaned low in his chest and dragged his hands down to hold Dean by the hips, pulling him in closer, harder, as he arched back up into him. He hooked his fingers into Dean’s belt loops and pulled impatiently, gathering a little chuckle from Dean, who reached down between them and, after a moment of fidgeting, had loosened both Castiel’s button and zipper and his own. He helped Castiel push them down, boxers and all, while Castiel angled up to use his heels to awkwardly shuffle his own off from the end, but it was enough.

Dean kicked his jeans aside and while Castiel was still fidgeting with his own jeans, hooked a finger into the waistband of Castiel’s boxers and pulled them down in one quick jerk. He leaned forward to kiss Castiel hard as he took his erection in his hand, and Castiel arched into the touch, unintentionally breaking the kiss as his mouth opened in a loud, uninhibited, filthy-sounding groan that sent Dean reeling. He bent forward with Castiel to try to swallow the sound as he stroked him again, slowly, harder.

“Shhh,” Dean whispered against Castiel’s lips, grinning. “Don’t wanna wake up the bunker.”

Castiel laughed breathlessly into Dean’s mouth and dug his nails into his hips. “You make it hard,” he whispered back.

“That’s the idea,” Dean teased, and then ate his words: one of Castiel’s hands dragged down around Dean’s hip and slipped underneath to grip his arousal and pull, and in the shock of it, he let out a too-audible moan of his own.

“Shhh,” Castiel mocked, and Dean shook his head, shutting him up with another bruising kiss and stroke of his fist.

Castiel and Dean swapped breathy, dirty kisses and stroked each other into a frenzy until the music clicked off and the only sound was their panting and groaning, the whispers of each other’s names and please and yes.

Dean interrupted the symphony with a quietly uttered, “Here,” and released Castiel to gently push Castiel’s hand off himself as well, instead taking hold of both their erections in one hand and lining them up. “Put your hand like mine,” he whispered, and when Castiel obliged, he rolled his hips forward and then back, pulling another too-loud moan from somewhere deep in the angel’s chest. “Good,” he half-groaned himself, and repeated the motion, grinding fluidly, slowly against Castiel, who arched himself back up into the rhythm.

It was pushing the angel over the edge. As the pressure built, Castiel’s moaning grew more frequent and uncontrolled, punctuating each thrust until the sound and feeling threatened to break Dean’s resolve as well. “I—” Castiel began, but lost his words, instead reaching his free hand to grip Dean’s wrist, propped near his head.

“Me too,” whispered Dean, and almost as soon as he spoke, Castiel threw back his head into the pillow with an open mouthed, filthy sound, coming hard.

At the sight of the angel and the nails in his wrist, Dean let himself give in, and with a few more thrusts to grind Castiel through his orgasm, he was finishing too, gasping into the soft skin where Castiel’s shoulder met his neck. He collapsed heavily on top of Castiel, heedless of the mess, and lifted his head. Castiel was breathing hard through his parted lips, blue eyes staring wide at Dean.

The angel gently pulled his hand from Dean’s wrist and ran his fingertips across his lips, the bridge of his cheek, the crest of his ear, and back into the sandy-brown hair. Dean smiled down at him, and quietly, Castiel wondered, “Is this what it was like all the time? In your dreams with Michael?”

Dean shook his head gently and leaned down to claim Castiel’s lips. “No,” he whispered into the kiss. “This is a miracle.”

Chapter Text

Castiel didn’t sleep, but he tried to. He wanted to. Dean passed out a little before ten AM, shortly after cleaning up from their “miracle,” and Castiel craved nothing more than to be able to join him in his dreaming. He didn’t miss that much about being human, but dreams—those were strange, wondrous things. Holy things. He wondered what Dean might be dreaming of, and what his own dreams might look like after the morning they’d had. Castiel was briefly tempted to reach into Dean’s mind and watch, but he’d done enough of that lately, and besides—he promised, long ago, not to read Dean’s thoughts without permission, and dreams were a certain kind of thought.

Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t plant something there for Dean to enjoy—so Castiel leaned gently over Dean in bed and pressed his lips to his forehead to whisper words of Enochian against it. He wove a dream of Dean and Sam fishing at the shore of some clear blue ocean they’d never seen, a cooler of beer between them. When the beer was gone, and the cooler filled with fish instead, they’d drive home the long way—the scenic route, take days to get there. No hunts coming through over the wire, nothing pressing or threatening them—and when they got home, Castiel and Mary and Jack would be there waiting to hear the fisherman’s tall tales. He'd listen to the brothers bicker over trivialities, and while Dean fried up the catch for dinner, Castiel would eat with them and enjoy it, truly enjoy it, even though he only tasted molecules and the sea. And then, while Jack and Mary were busy doing dishes (the one who cooks never cleans) and Sam was out getting more beer, he’d lean close and whisper to Dean, I missed you, and they’d disappear into Dean’s room, fall into bed, become a tangle of sheets and legs and hands…

Castiel leaned back up to watch Dean’s face as the dream took hold, and when he smiled in his sleep, Castiel knew it had worked and Dean was enjoying a salty sea breeze with his toes in the cool water, lounging on white sands somewhere along the Gulf of Mexico with his brother. He grinned down at the sleeping hunter and leaned back on an elbow to let his gaze linger for a while, content to be curled against Dean’s warm skin. With feather-light touches, Castiel traced the contours of Dean’s face: the arches of his eyebrows, the curve of his lips, the hard lines of his cheekbones and jaw. He brushed his fingertips over the soft ends of Dean’s eyelashes and the satisfying prickle of his stubble, the almost-invisible creases in his forehead that weren’t there when they first met but had been rendered permanent by years of anxiety and loss.

Angels could heal wounds and ills, even rouse the dead with enough power, but there were rules: they could hop through time, but they couldn’t stop it moving. Castiel wished he could kiss those lines away, and he tried—pressed his lips to their lengths in a soft flurry, directed all his energy to removing them—but they remained, and he realized his own vessel was aging as well. He lay back and stayed close to Dean but lifted his hands to look at his palms—so much more calloused and harder than they’d been when they belonged to Jimmy Novak. Castiel had known for a long time that this was his body now, not merely a vessel, but where that realization used to settle in his gut like a stone it bloomed now, warm and bright as a sunflower in spring. Castiel suddenly understood that this feeling was an anticipation—one he wouldn’t have without the confines of a body: this way, he could touch Dean. Grow old with him. Love him.

Castiel smiled to himself and lowered his hands, looking back over at Dean, sound asleep and lightly snoring. “This is a miracle,” he whispered in belated agreement, and propped back up onto his elbows. “You are a miracle.”

Gently, he pressed a ghost of kiss to Dean’s lips and slowly shuffled himself out of bed, tucking the sheet and blanket back around Dean. They’d both slipped back into boxers before crawling into bed for Dean to sleep, and Castiel donned his earlier discarded jeans and t-shirt and padded silently to the bathroom. He blinked at himself in the mirror when he turned on the light—his hair was a wild, dark mess from where Dean’s hands had been, and because of that, he was hesitant to fix it—the physical proof of Dean’s touch. Still, for Sam’s sake, he pushed his fingers through it to settle it into something a little more typical.

Castiel wet his fingers and was leaning in close to the mirror to smooth the last few spikes when he stopped and stared at himself, stomach seizing. He widened his eyes and leaned in even closer, nose almost brushing the mirror. Reflected at Castiel were his eyes, blue as ever, but behind them a crackling, writhing light. Michael’s grace, however dormant it had been in the hours since its explosion in the car, was waking up.

Castiel shut off the light and backed out of the bathroom. He snagged his phone from the dresser, cast one last look at Dean, and turned off the lamp to douse the room in darkness. Castiel made for the hallway, closing the door softly behind him.

Immediately, he turned for the library, trying to subdue the seed of panic beginning to sprout in his chest. Once there, Castiel cleared a table and began perusing the shelves quickly—still more quickly than a human could process, but slower than he should’ve been able to. Within minutes, stacks of books and scrolls on angelic lore littered the table, and Castiel settled in. He pulled the top book of the closest stack and began to read.

***

He finished the first stack—ten books and a handful of scrolls—in three hours. The bunker was still silent despite the afternoon hour, and Castiel was relieved. The longer the boys slept, the less he’d have to deal with worrying them. Another hour passed. Three PM and still, silence. Annoyed with the unhelpfulness of the second stack of books, Castiel rose and paced to the kitchen to make a large pot of coffee he didn’t really need. When it finished, he neglected a mug, instead opting to take the whole carafe back to the library with him.

Castiel was leaning back in his chair, bare feet propped on the table as he drank out of the coffee pot and skimmed a book with the other hand, when Sam shuffled past at nearly four-thirty. Half a second later he appeared in the doorway again, staring at Cas in confusion.

“…are you drinking out of the coffee pot?” he asked.

“I am,” said Castiel, matter-of-factly.

“Okay,” said Sam, and sleepily shuffled away again. And once again, he returned a second later, adding, “I need that.”

“What?”

“To make coffee,” grumbled Sam.

Castiel blinked at the shaggy-haired hunter in the doorway, then down to the half-empty pot, then nodded. “Oh. Right. My apologies.” He chugged the rest of the long-cold coffee while Sam watched with a sleepy kind dull wonder, then rose and paced over to pass off the empty carafe.

“Thanks?” said Sam, taking the pot.

They stared at each other for a moment, awkwardly, before Castiel finally cleared his throat and asked, “Did you sleep well?”

“Uhh—yeah, Cas. Fine, thanks. You sleep any?”

“No, I don’t sleep,” Castiel reminded gently.

Sam grunted. “Right, yeah. So what’s with the coffee?”

“I enjoyed it as a human,” Castiel said, shrugging. “It doesn’t serve much of a purpose now other than habit. I suppose if I drank enough, but it would take—well, more than we have here for not much payoff.”

“Okay,” said Sam, shaking his head. “Seen Dean or Jack yet?”

“I believe they’re both still sleeping.”

Sam nodded, then peered around Castiel to the piles of books and papers. “What are you doing, anyway?”

Castiel glanced behind him and sighed. “Looking for anything on archangel grace. It’s frustrating. Most of this I already know just by virtue of being an angel.”

“We’ll find something, Cas,” said Sam softly, reaching out to pat Castiel on the arm. “We always do.”

“Yes,” answered Castiel, mustering a small smile.

Sam cleared his throat and lifted the coffee pot to tap it, and when Castiel nodded Sam meandered on down hallway toward the kitchen. Castiel turned around and looked back at the books with a sigh, returning to his chair. Another half hour at the table and he found himself suddenly hating both the chair and the table, and he dragged a stack of books into the floor and sat cross-legged, making a semi-circle around himself with the volumes.

The minutes ticked slowly by as Castiel read, marking passages here and there, the semi-circle of books and scrolls surrounding him gradually expanding. Jack stopped by at some point and gathered a stack from the table to take to the war room and read with Sam, who was researching there on his laptop. The lack of information Castiel was finding, coupled with the archangel grace slowly building again inside him, set Castiel even more on edge than was typical.

He’d felt rage before. Often, even. Castiel was a soldier for millennia, and he’d felt it even more keenly since his fall and his time with the Winchesters—love of his family brought it out in him in ways he never expected. Still his anger was reserved for certain situations, and outbursts were rare, but the combination of frustrations and the strange, wilding grace were testing his patience. He still sat cross-legged in his circle of books, one particularly old volume open on the floor before him, elbows propped on his knees, head in his hands as he read.

Castiel turned one page, then another, and another, poring quickly over each one. He felt the growl churning in his chest, and before he knew it or could think to control it, the rage was bubbling over. In an uncharacteristic display, Castiel let out a primal, angry roar and slammed the book closed, then hurled it across the room, where it knocked over a lamp, shattering glass. The lights flickered, and he hunched forward, his eyes wrenched closed, teeth grinding, fists pushing into the floor.

“Cas?”

Blinking his eyes open, Castiel let out a sigh and looked up to find Dean standing in the doorway, brows knit. “Dean,” he said, and his voice still sounded too full of anger, so he cleared his throat and straightened before adding, almost shyly, “How long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough,” answered Dean calmly. He left his place and walked over to collect the book from across the room, dusting away shards of broken glass. “What’s going on man?”

“Nothing,” Castiel groaned and rubbed a hand down his face.

“Cas…” Dean chided as he walked to kneel in front of Castiel, but the angel interrupted.

“No, I mean—there’s literally nothing. This,” Castiel swiped his hand out at the stacks of books, “is all completely useless. I either know it all already because, angel, or it’s just got nothing.”

“Hey,” said Dean, setting the book aside. He reached to cradle Castiel’s chin and lift it to bring their eyes together. “We’ll find something. We will. We’ll fix this.”

Castiel closed his eyes and sighed. He leaned into Dean’s touch and clasped his hand overtop Dean’s. “I hope you’re right.”

“I’m always right,” said Dean, and Castiel opened his eyes to find him smirking.

“You’re intolerable,” grumbled Castiel, though he grinned back.

“Come on, you love it,” said Dean, still wearing his grin. He rose from his kneel just slightly to crawl into Castiel’s cross-legged lap and straddle him, a knee on either side of the angel’s hips. He looped his arms around his neck and bumped their foreheads together.

Castiel felt the rage in his chest calm, the tendrils of it receding like weeds in winter, crawling back into the cracks of a sidewalk. “I do,” he murmured, nearly a purr, as he wound his arms around Dean’s waist. He let out a contented sigh and closed his eyes, nuzzling Dean’s forehead with his own. “I could get used to this.”

“Gonna have to mix it up then,” Dean joked softly, and dipped his chin down for a kiss.

Castiel leaned up into it, sliding a hand up Dean’s back. The sunflowers in his stomach were just beginning to bloom again when Sam’s voice came from the hallway.

“Cas! We heard a—”

Sam and Jack stood, wide-eyed, in the doorway. They both gaped at the image: Dean Winchester in the lap of Castiel, angel of the Lord, surrounded by books and broken glass, lip-locked. Or—they were lip-locked until Sam spoke. Dean cleared his throat and scrambled backwards to land hard on his rear, blushing furiously.

“I—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—” Sam started, and Dean spoke at the same time, a chorus of awkward male voices.

“We were just—there was a book and some glass—”

Castiel, for his part, sat silently in the floor, looking shell-shocked while Dean and Sam talked over each other.

“You guys are in love!” Jack exclaimed, beaming a huge smile just behind Sam, his hands pressed to his cheeks. Everyone went silent and looked over, and he threw up his hands. “I mean—aren’t you?” he faltered, though his grin didn’t.

Nobody spoke. Dean cleared his throat and looked down to his shoes and made a noise in his throat, and Sam, blinked back at Jack and broke into a wide smile of his own.

“Y—es?” Castiel croaked out haltingly, regaining himself. He looked from Jack and Sam to Dean, who cut his gaze aside and nodded once, but otherwise didn’t look up. “Yes,” said Castiel more certainly, straightening his shoulders.

“Called it,” said Sam.

“Shut your face,” grumbled Dean.

“Like eight years ago.”

“Sam!”

Finally, Castiel cleared his throat and pushed himself to his feet, standing there awkwardly. Dean glanced aside again and couldn’t stop a little smirk—Castiel wore the same terrified, bewildered expression he had the first time they worked a case together, when he’d shown his badge upside-down.

“But that’s great!” said Jack, stepping forward into the library and beaming again. He looked between Dean and Castiel, considering them a moment before he asked, genuinely, “Are you going to get married?”

Dean choked on nothing at all and Castiel remained as he was, still as a statue, though his eyes and nostrils widened while Sam barely stifled a laugh.

“Okay, uhh—come on Jack,” prompted Sam, reaching out for Jack’s shoulder to direct him back towards the door. “I—think you broke Cas,” he added more seriously.

“Oh, no I didn’t mean—” Jack started.

Sam shook his head and dragged him backwards, a smile edging its way back to his lips. “C’mon,” he said, and then to Dean and Cas, “Just—try not to break anything else?” He started off into the hallway, and then muttered, “Or do, but keep it to the bedro—”

“I’ll kill you Sammy!” Dean growled and picked up a book from the table nearby, hurling it at Sam, who ducked away just in time, smirking. The book hit the wall on the other side of the entryway with a dull thud.

At the sound, Castiel blinked himself out of his deer-in-the-headlights stare and slowly turned to look at Dean, mouth agape. “That went well,” he said, completely wooden.

“I need a drink,” mumbled Dean. “Several drinks.”

Castiel was silent for a few more beats, and then asked, still wooden and shell-shocked, “Are we?”

“Are we what, Cas?”

“Going to get married.”

“So, so many drinks,” said Dean, gulping, his cheeks somehow reddening even more. He turned to look at Castiel, finally, and the angel tilted his head, narrowing his eyes—not expectant, but curious—classic Castiel. “Don’t do that!” Dean fumbled.

“Do—what?”

“The thing!” Dean said, waving a hand at Castiel, whose head tilted further, lips parting, brows furrowing. “THAT!”

“Um. Alright,” said Castiel, and smoothed himself into badly-feigned stoicism.

Dean stared at Castiel for a few seconds and then rolled his eyes. “Wh—oh my god,” he said, and started to stalk for the door.

“Dean, where are you going?”

“The liquor store.”

“Well, I’ll come with you,” said Castiel, trailing along behind him.

“Cas, no,” said Dean. He turned around to find Castiel in his space, but instead of complaining, he put his hand on his chest. Castiel searched his eyes, and Dean could see the shadow of hurt easing into the angel’s gaze. “It’s not like that,” he said, softening. He dipped his chin to claim Castiel’s lips in a quick, but bruising kiss, reaching to thumb over the angel’s cheek. When he felt Castiel relax into him, he broke it to look into his eyes. “Just need a minute to myself, okay?”

“Okay,” said Castiel, stepping back as Dean dropped his hand.

Dean looked over Castiel’s shoulder at the mess of research and glass. “Why don’t you take a break from this, huh? Clear your head a little. Watch some Netflix or something.” Castiel nodded, and Dean smiled. “Hey,” he said, reaching up once more to brush Castiel’s hair back. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” said Castiel, finally managing a small, crooked smile.

Dean’s own grin softened and he leaned in for another quick kiss, then turned and left Castiel standing, still feeling dumbstruck. Moments later his smile widened as he heard Dean yelling at Sam to “shut up” before the door to the bunker slammed.

Chapter Text

Lebanon, Kansas was small—roughly 200 people in total population small—and while it typically annoyed Dean that this meant nothing was open late and you had to drive out of the city limits to find anything worth doing, tonight, Dean was thankful for the extra time.

The closest liquor store was a good fifteen-minute drive with no traffic—not that there ever was any, even now at half-past five—and Dean took his time, enjoying the early October breeze with his windows down. Driving had always been his solace, his way to think through things, good or bad. In the calm of the cool, early evening, not quite sunset yet but no longer afternoon, it was easy to forget that there were monsters or angels or even death.

Even still, the trip went by quickly. He was at the liquor store in twenty minutes and knew where the whiskey he liked was by heart. He had two big bottles in hand in thirty seconds and was checking out within thirty seconds more. To kill some more time, he dropped those in the car and went back inside to peruse the beer cooler, but even then, he found what he wanted within minutes, and before a half hour had passed since he left the bunker, he had more than what he needed and was ready to make the drive home.

Except Dean wasn’t ready. He hadn’t done what he meant to do with the time—think about Cas. Think about things that mattered—the stolen grace, this messy new relationship, Michael still out there circling—and he decided to make another stop. Dean thumbed a search into his GPS, and in a moment was rumbling out of the liquor store parking lot, heading another twenty minutes west out of his way to a pawn shop—one bigger than the only shop they had in Lebanon that only ever had dusty VHSs and camouflage in stock. Dean pulled up to Brooks Pawn & Vintage just as the clock hit 6.

“Close in half an hour,” said a gruff voice from an old, balding man at a fluorescently-lit counter as Dean stepped inside, ringing bells on the door.

“Won’t be long,” Dean assured, nodding, as he turned to begin slowly walking through the rows of musty pre-owned goods, 80’s pop music thrumming lowly through a radio back at the front desk.

He trailed his fingers over things absently, not really seeing or touching them, and let his mind wander. So, Cas was going to burn out—but we don’t know exactly what that means. There’s gotta be a spell to…that’s a pretty sweet gun. Ugh. Airsoft. Useless…there’s gotta be a spell to untangle him -somewhere-. Maybe we can tweak that extraction one…huh. I should get Jack a fanny-pack. Bet he’d wear it. Doesn’t know any better. Hilarious. Jack…why’s he think me and Cas are getting married? I mean it wouldn’t be the worst thing. But do we even need to? We have everything we need. It’s fine the way…

Dean’s thoughts stilled as he turned the corner to another aisle and was greeted by rows upon rows of vinyls and, opposite those, old turntables. He blinked at them, then down at his watch, then loped down the aisle to poke his head out the other side.

“Hey! These things work? The record players?” he called to the old man at the counter.

“If they got a green sticker they work fine,” the old man said, not looking up from a newspaper he was reading. “Orange means they work but need a tune-up. Red sticker, they don’t work at all. Good for parts to fix the orange ones.”

“Alright,” said Dean, and disappeared back down the aisle.

“Fifteen minutes,” the old man drawled.

“Yeah, okay,” Dean called, returning. “And the records? They play alright?”

“More’n fifty cents, they’ll play,” said the old man. “More’n five bucks, they’ll play good.”

“Thanks,” he said, and again disappeared into the stacks.

Dean skimmed the record players quickly, grumbling under his breath. “C’mon, c’mon. Green sticker…”

Finally, tucked away behind two orange-stickered players was a modern-looking turntable with a green sticker. Small, electric—not quite authentic, but it would do the job. Didn’t need anything fancy, anyway. And for thirty bucks? Why the hell not. He pulled it out and set it on the floor beside him, then turned and started quickly skimming through the crates of records, searching the labels. Pop, classical, new age, rock and finally, on the bottom shelf, three crates labeled ‘classic rock.’

Quickly, Dean knelt down and started thumbing through the records. He flipped past Twisted Sister, Dio, REO Speedwagon, Ladyheart, and grumbled, “Freakin’ hair metal…” before stopping on a Motorhead vinyl for $5.99. He set it aside and kept flipping. Dean went through two of the crates and found a few things he liked—AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Jefferson Starship—and he set them out for himself, but still couldn’t find what he was looking for. He was losing hope by the time he began the third crate and was racing against the clock—five minutes to close—when he finally found the one he wanted—well, one of the ones. Deciding it was good enough, Dean piled up his records and the turntable and lugged them to the front.

“This all?” said the old man as Dean settled his spoils on the counter, talking over the pop music that had gotten too loud.

“Should do it,” nodded Dean, and watched as the man slowly began to type prices into an old school calculator. Rather than watch, Dean turned to glance absently over the smattering of odds and ends nearby.

Her hair is Harlow gold, her lips sweet surprise.
Her hands are never cold, she’s got Bette Davis eyes…

“What’re ‘Bette Davis’ eyes?” Dean asked over his shoulder, not really caring, but making small talk nonetheless.

“You’re too young to remember her, boy,” said the old man with a chuckle, beginning to slip the records into a paper sack. “America’s darling in the forties and fifties. A real doll. Bluest eyes you ever seen. They knocked you flat on your back.”

“Really?” said Dean, straightening. He sunk his hands into his pockets and blushed without meaning to. “I know somebody like that.”

The old man smiled a little, and added, “I remember when her first color film came out in the sixties. Boy, I swear, I saw men leave their wives at the drive-in—and she had to be fifty years old by then. Man, she was a fox. Those eyes were so blue they’d break your heart.”

Dean grinned and tried to hide the color still deepening in his cheeks. “Sounds like she was really something.”

“She was,” said the old man. “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

Dean let out a little chuckle and he looked down at his shoes. “Yeah. What do I owe you?”

“Tell you what,” the old man said, settling the sack of records atop the player. “Why don’t you take the lot for forty? Ain’t often anybody comes in here and humors an old man with conversation.”

“Yeah—sure, thank you,” said Dean. He smiled and tugged out his wallet, starting to thumb out some bills. He was passing them over the counter when he stopped, gaze landing on something in the glass case below. “Hey,” he said, and leaned down to point through the glass. “How much for that?”

…she'll take a tumble on you, roll you like you were dice
until you come out blue…she's got Bette Davis eyes…

Dean left his cash on the counter and thanked the old man with a grin, toting his purchases out to the car. Six thirty-four. If he punched it, he figured he could make it home by sunset, and maybe he could drag Cas out to watch it with him, surprise him with the records and a view. With his heart in his throat he started the Impala and stepped on the gas, peeling out into the street in a cloud of dust.

Dean had been driving for seventeen minutes when his phone started buzzing in his pocket. He smiled at Castiel’s name on the screen and slid the arrow into the green. “Cas, hey—what? …Why are you on Cas’s phone? …Not far. Went to a pawn shop…What? …What happened? …M’on my way. Keep him safe.”

Dean hung up the phone and pushed the Impala harder, scowling out the windshield into the last rays of sunlight the day had to offer.

***

Castiel didn’t take a break. As soon as Dean left the bunker, he returned to digging through the lore. Dean meant well in telling him to watch some TV, he knew, but he also knew it was a leisure he didn’t have. The grace was burning in him again, and every now and then he could see its light ghost beneath the skin of his hands and forearms.

He was halfway through an ancient copy of The Lesser Key of Solomon when things got bad again. Castiel was sat back in the floor, cross-legged as before, with the book in his lap when he found himself suddenly unable to turn the pages. His fingers had clamped down on the edges of the book, held there by some invisible force. With a jolt of panic, Castiel realized his entire body was locking up.

“Sam—” he tried to yell, but found his throat wasn’t immune to the rigidity, and it came out a hoarse almost-whisper. He cleared his throat and tried again, mustering all his energy. “SAM!” this time, his voice bellowed and echoed off the stone hallway. Castiel wondered if it would have been loud enough if he’d been behind a closed door.

“Cas?” he heard Sam calling before the footsteps arrived. “Cas, what’s wrong?”

“The grace,” Castiel began through clenched teeth. “I can’t move.”

“Okay—okay. We need to get you to—I don’t know. A bed or something?”

“I don’t know,” grumbled Castiel. He ground his teeth together and managed to huff out a rough breath. “Call Rowena.”

“Yeah. Hey, Jack!” Sam turned to yell down the hallway. “Call Rowena and c’mere!” He turned back to Castiel and loped over. “Come on. Let’s get you into a chair at least. Can you move at all?”

“I don’t know,” Castiel repeated. “It’s like the grace is a paralytic.”

Sam bent down and started to pry Castiel’s fingers off the book. “Okay, so—muscle relaxer, maybe? Can you swallow?”

“Yes,” said Castiel. He nodded tensely. “It’ll take more than one.”

“I’ll just—bring the bottle,” said Sam haltingly. Once he loosened Castiel’s fingers, he took hold of both his hands. “Can you bend your knees if I pull up?”

“I think so,” said Castiel, and his eyes shot over Sam’s shoulder as Jack arrived, holding a phone to his ear.

Okay, count of three then,” said Sam. “One, two—”

Castiel grunted low as he struggled to stand with Sam’s help, and staggered awkwardly to collapse in his chair beside the table.

“She’s not picking up,” said Jack from the doorway.

“Alright—use my phone. Maybe she doesn’t know your number,” said Sam once Castiel was settled, passing the phone over to Jack. “Cas, you have yours?”

“There,” answered Castiel, ticking his forehead to the corner of the table.

“Okay. I’m gonna call Dean,” said Sam, swiping it. “He just went to the liquor store?”

“That’s what he said,” said Castiel.

“He should be back by now,” grumbled Sam as he scrolled through the contacts, then lifted the phone to his ear. “It’s almost seven.”

“Rowena!” said Jack, answering someone on the other end of Sam’s phone. “Can you get to the bunker? We need your help.” He was silent for a moment, then looked at Sam, who nodded once. “Yes. We’ll owe you another favor.” He listened for a moment longer, then hung up. “She’s coming.”

“Good,” said Sam, listening to the line ring. “We should—Hey, Dean!” He turned to start an absent-minded pace across the floor. “It’s—no, Jack’s got my phone. Look, where are you? …Okay, well. Something’s wrong with Cas… We don’t know…You need to get here…okay.” He hung up the phone and set it on the table. “Dean’s on his way.”

Castiel nodded and groaned. He rocked forward in the seat, hands clenching hard into fists. Grace rippled beneath his skin like wild veins of electricity.

Sam grimaced and turned to Jack. “Hey—go to my room and get the green metal box from under the bed and bring it here?”

“Okay,” said Jack, looking wide-eyed from Castiel to Sam before turning to take off down the hall.

With a sigh, Sam looked back to Castiel and frowned, watching the angel shudder as the grace ricocheted through his body. “It’s killing you, isn’t it?” he asked softly.

“Yes,” Castiel confirmed lowly through grit teeth.

Sam sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “We’re not gonna let that happen. Dean’ll be back any minute, Rowena’s coming—all of us together will figure something out. We will.”

“I don’t know if—”

“Stop,” Sam interrupted, shaking his head. “It’s not happening. Okay?”

“Sam…”

“No,” said Sam, firmly. He leveled his gaze with Castiel. “He won’t last without you. This is as much for him as it is because we care about you.”

Castiel’s face fell. He didn’t need to hear a name. He nodded once, lips twisting into something sour as the grace pulsed through his body once more. Jack stepped around the corner into the library and over to the table, settling the box between where Castiel sat and Sam stood.

“Thanks, Jack,” said Sam, and flipped open the lid to start shuffling through pill bottles. “Rowena say how far out she was?”

“A day,” said Jack.

“A day?” Sam balked, looking up from his digging. “Does she know how bad it is?”

“That’s what she said,” answered Jack, looking worriedly to Castiel’s hunched figure.

“Call her back,” said Sam, jaw set. “Tell her to get on a plane.”

Jack nodded and skirted to the corner of the room with Sam’s phone, dialing. In the background while he made quiet conversation with Rowena, Sam located the correct bottle.

“One knocks me out,” he said to Castiel, reading the muscle relaxer’s label. “How many should you take?”

“I don’t know,” growled Castiel, his breathing labored. “How many are there?”

“Uhh…” Sam dumped the bottle into his palm and counted quickly. “Twenty-six.”

“It took a whole bottle of aspirin to kill a hangover,” said Castiel, remembering.

“So—maybe let’s start with half? Thirteen? These things are strong.”

“Alright,” said Castiel.

“I’ll get you some water,” said Sam, loping out of the room.

Castiel shuddered out a heavy sigh and leaned his forehead down to press against the table. He squeezed his eyes shut and in the dark, grace buzzed and flickered across the backs of his eyelids like heat lightning in a summer sky. He let out a low, pained groan and took deep breaths to steady himself. A moment later, a hand landed on his shoulder. Castiel sat up stiffly to find Jack staring at him with a chaotic kind of anxiety.

“Are you gonna be okay?”

“I don’t know, Jack,” said Castiel, honestly.

“Rowena’s coming,” said Jack, hope edging against the nervousness in his voice. “She’s getting a flight to Kansas City and then driving here. She says she lifted one of Sam’s credit cards anyway and that’s how she’s paying for it, and she’ll be here by morning.”

“That’s good,” answered Castiel.

“She can help,” said Jack. He squeezed Castiel’s shoulder. “I know she can.”

“Okay,” Sam’s voice interrupted as he returned with a glass of water. “Can you lift your hand, Cas?”

“Maybe,” Castiel answered, testing his fist. “It feels a little looser.”

“Good,” said Sam. Jack took a step back from Castiel as Sam approached with the water and pills. “Here.” He shook roughly half the pills into Castiel’s palm, then waited as the angel stiffly, slowly lifted them to his lips. Sam offered him the glass, but he shook his head.

“I’m afraid I’ll crush that,” said Castiel.

“Alright—here,” said Sam. Castiel leaned back as much as he could, and Sam carefully poured a few sips worth of water into Castiel’s mouth. “Got it?”

“Yes,” said Castiel thickly after he swallowed. “How long will it take?”

“Well, they’re rapid release,” said Sam, toying with the bottle again. “About a half hour for me. Not sure about you.”

“Alright, well, I’ll make it until then,” groaned Castiel. He moved his hands, curled back into fists, to the table, and growled as he tried, and failed, to stand.

“What do you need?” asked Jack, back at Castiel’s side in a heartbeat.

“Um—that book in the floor,” he said tensely.

“Okay,” said Jack, and turned around to face stacks of books and papers scattered across the library floor. “Uhh. Which one?”

“The one I was reading,” explained Castiel, squinting closed his eyes again as another wave of grace shocked through his system. “The Lesser Key of Solomon.”

“Cas, you should rest…” said Sam, frowning.

“If all I can do is sit here,” Castiel growled, “I might as well try to find a way not to die.”

Sam pressed his lips together in a hard line but said nothing. His gaze followed as Jack picked through the books and scooped up a large, ancient-looking open one, then settled it on the table before Castiel.

“Can we do anything?” asked Jack as he backed away.

“The stack furthest to the right,” said Castiel, opening his eyes again. “I haven’t read through it yet.”

“Okay,” said Sam. He nodded at Jack and the pair of them grabbed half of the stack each and settled at the table opposite of Castiel, beginning to read.

The room dissolved into silence as they scoured the books, only interrupted by Castiel’s labored breathing and pained grunts. It only lasted for ten minutes before the sound of a slamming door echoed through the bunker, followed by a shout.

“Cas?” Dean’s voice, far off, warbled into the library.

“In here,” Sam called back, and moments later Dean turned the corner, face pale. He struck immediately out for Castiel and pressed his palms to the angel’s cheeks.

“Cas, what’s happening? What’s wrong?”

“It’s this grace,” Castiel answered, though he visibly relaxed, if only marginally, at Dean’s touch. “It’s fighting to get out.”

Dean straightened and looked around, shaking his head. “What’re you even still doing in here?” he said. “I told you to take a breather, man.”

“I know,” said Castiel, sighing as Dean’s hands left his face. “But I needed to keep going.”

“You should’ve told me,” Dean said. “I would’ve stayed.”

“It’s alright, Dean.”

“It’s not.”

“Does that matter?” interrupted Sam, exasperated. “Look—bicker if you want. I’m going to keep reading. Jack is too. But, Cas,” he looked from Dean to the angel. “You really should rest. At least for a bit. Those pills are gonna hit soon—”

“You gave him pills?” interjected Dean.

“Muscle relaxers,” said Sam. “Because he couldn’t move, Dean.”

“Right,” said Dean, exhaling hard from his nose. “Okay.” He put his hands behind his head and turned to face the wall.

“…Dean?” said Jack quietly.

“Yeah, Jack,” Dean answered without turning around.

“It’s going to be alright. We’re going to keep looking.”

“Yeah,” said Dean, and sighed. He lowered his arms to rub over his face.

“And Rowena’s coming to work on a spell,” added Sam.

“She got a plane ticket,” said Jack, looking to Sam. “She’ll be here in the morning.

Sam nodded. “Good.” He looked up to Dean’s back and opened his mouth to speak, but his eyes cut to Castiel. “Cas, you okay?”

Dean whipped around to see Castiel letting his head fall back and his eyes close, fists loosening. “I think the pills are working,” said the angel, almost slurring.

“Why don’t you take him to lay down, Dean?” suggested Sam. “Me and Jack are okay here. We’ll keep an eye on the phones for Rowena.”

“Yeah, okay,” mumbled Dean. He knelt before Castiel, whose eyes were still lazily closed. “Can you walk, Cas?”

“Yes,” said Castiel. He opened his eyes and lifted his head, and pushed up out of his chair, but his knees buckled.

Dean sprang up to catch and stead him. “Woah, alright,” he said. “Arm over my shoulder. I gotcha.” Castiel did as instructed, slumping against the hunter. “I’ll call if I need you,” Dean called back to Sam, shuffling out of the room.

“Okay,” said Sam, watching the pair almost sadly until they disappeared.

Dean bore Castiel slowly to his room, then settled him gently to the bed, where Castiel flopped backwards instantly. “I don’t sleep,” Castiel mumbled, “But this might come close.”

“How you feeling, Cas?” said Dean, sitting beside him.

“Better,” grumbled Castiel, eyes once again closed. “The grace still hurts, but without a vessel that can react to the tension, it’s duller. Quieter.”

“Good, that’s good,” said Dean, exhaling. “Hey—you okay for thirty seconds while I run to the car? I got you a present.”

“I’m alright, Dean.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

“Okay,” said Dean, standing. “If I get back and you’re glowing, I’m gonna kick your ass.”

Castiel didn’t open his eyes or move, except to give a sleepy smile. “Noted.”

“Okay,” said Dean. “Thirty seconds.”

“Thirty seconds.”

Dean smiled helplessly, worriedly at the prone angel, and darted out of the room. As promised, roughly thirty seconds later, he returned with an armful of turntable and a rustling sack of records. “Keep your eyes closed,” he instructed Castiel quietly.

“Not a problem,” Castiel answered. He let out a small chuckle. “This feels very similar to the early stages of intoxication.”

“Glad you’re enjoying yourself,” snorted Dean. He slid the boom box aside on the dresser and settled the turntable in its place, then simply opted to move the boom box to the floor, replacing it with the bag of records. Dean fumbled for a moment with the cords and the settings, and then pulled a record from the sack. “Listen,” he said softly over to the angel as he slid the vinyl from the sleeve and settled it on the turntable.

Carefully, he moved the tone arm down and set the needle on the record, toward the center instead of the start, and a bluesy, slow, familiar rhythm picked up. He looked over his shoulder at Castiel, whose eyes had flown open to stare at the ceiling. “You recognize it?”

“It’s—” Castiel started, then slowly sat up. His eyes were beginning to mist over as he looked from Dean to the turntable and back. “When you were—”

“When you broke through,” said Dean, nodding softly. “We were dancing to this. Then I heard you, and I looked over my shoulder, and I knew.”

“You did this for me?” said Castiel, breathless.

“Well—yeah,” said Dean, and his cheeks began to flush. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Y’know. Thought you’d like it.”

“I love it,” said Castiel, smiling. He scooted to the edge of the bed and made to stand, reaching toward Dean. “Do you—” he started, then faltered, knees going weak again.

“Woah, hey, take it easy,” said Dean, hurrying over to steady Castiel. “Later. We’re gonna have time, because we’re gonna fix you. But now you gotta rest. Okay?”

“Alright,” said Castiel, nodding. He sank back down onto the bed and rubbed his face.

“Hey,” said Dean, softly. “C’mere.” He shrugged out of his coat and flannel and tossed them on a chair, then toed off his boots to crawl onto the bed. He scooted to lean against the headboard, and said again, “C’mere, Cas,” before reaching to gently guide Castiel towards him and settle the angel between his legs, resting his back against Dean’s chest. Castiel sighed and let his eyes droop, his head lolling back to rest just below Dean’s chin.

Dean wound his arms around Castiel’s front and buried his face in the angel’s hair. “You’re gonna be fine, Cas,” he whispered against the dark strands. “Gonna be just fine.”

Castiel made a low, content noise in his chest and settled easily against Dean’s chest, like it was the most normal, natural thing in the world. They settled into a comfortable silence as the song played through, then ended, filling the room with soft static. “Hey, you—” Dean began and lifted his head, but stopped short. He looked down to find Castiel snoring gently, his lips parted in sleep. A warmth washed over him at the image, but only briefly—it was overturned by a cold stone of fear as he realized, once more, that angels don’t sleep.

Dean pulled his arms more securely around Castiel—protectively, as if he could stop whatever was raging inside the angel—and stayed up holding him all night, checking his pulse, watching his chest rise and fall with his breath.

Chapter Text

Only once during the course of the night did Dean leave Castiel, and even then, he had Sam come look after the sleeping angel. Around midnight, Dean got antsy and cramped, and texted Sam that he needed a quick bathroom break. Before his brother got there, Dean carefully slipped out from behind Castiel and laid him out flat, tucking a blanket around his sides. The angel didn’t budge. Dean tried to make the room look casual for when Sam arrived: he quickly and quietly silenced the still-clicking vinyl, then lifted the chair from his desk to angle it toward the bed and opened his laptop, pulled up an article about angels on some occult website he’d had open before. He had barely settled himself in the chair with the computer in his lap, feet propped on the bed, when Sam arrived.

“Hey. How’s he looking?”

“Seems fine for now,” said Dean, closing the laptop and sitting up. “Except for the whole, y’know. Sleep thing.”

“Yeah,” said Sam, pursing his lips and looking over Castiel. “Probably just the muscle relaxers.”

“Yeah,” echoed Dean, glancing back to Castiel as well. He worked his jaw for a moment before he stood up and stretched, setting the laptop aside. “How’s research going out there?”

“More dead ends,” sighed Sam. “Plenty on how to remove angelic grace. Nothing on how to do it without removing Castiel’s too.”

“I don’t get it,” said Dean. He shook his head. “When Lucifer was possessing Cas there were two angels in one body and it didn’t seem to be that complicated.”

“Maybe it’s different when it’s a double-possession versus just ingesting some partial grace,” Sam shrugged. “And remember, Amara literally burned Lucifer out of him. We don’t know how she did that, or if we can even replicate it.”

“Yeah. Man, this is so messed up.”

Sam snorted humorlessly. “When have our lives ever been clean?”

Dean tilted his head in acquiescence, then cleared his throat. “Anyway. You okay to keep an eye on him for a sec? I need a bathroom break. And I left two perfectly good bottles of whiskey in the car.”

“Sure,” said Sam, grinning a little. “Pour me one too?”

“You got it,” said Dean. He clapped Sam on the shoulder as he stepped around him and out into the hallway, feigning nonchalance. Once outside, he hesitated a moment and then angled his head to peek back into the room, casting one last glance over Castiel, watching as Sam took a seat in his chair and hunched forward to watch the angel. Finally satisfied, he nodded to himself, and struck out for the garage.

Dean snagged the liquor store bag from the backseat and tucked it against a hip and was turning to head back inside with his whiskey and beer when he hesitated. He turned to stare at the Impala like it was a trap, then finally returned, opening the passenger side door. Before he could think about it too long, he pulled open the glove box and snagged a small, folded paper sack from it, then shoved that into the back pocket of his jeans and set off for the kitchen, ears red.

Back in the bunker, he dropped the beer and one of the bottles in the fridge and filled a couple of glasses with ice, toting those and the second bottle back to his room. Sam was standing over Castiel, his hand on his forehead, and Dean’s stomach turned.

“What happened?”

Sam looked up and stepped back. “Nothing, Dean. I was just checking.” He stared at his brother for a moment, considering, before he approached to take a glass. “I know this whole thing with you two is new, but it’s also not. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but man, you gotta hold it together.”

Instead of fighting back, Dean simply passed over the glass and sighed, nodding. “I know,” he said. He set his own glass on the desk and unscrewed the whiskey’s lid. “It’s just…” he trailed off and stared at the ice in his glass, then slowly began to pour. “It’s not new. But now it’s real. And that—that scares the hell out of me, Sammy.”

“He’s going to be okay, Dean,” said Sam gently, holding out his glass to Dean.

“Come on, Sammy,” said Dean, pouring Sam’s drink. “This life? We don’t get to be happy. We don’t get relationships.” He set the bottle down, a little too loudly, but Castiel still didn’t stir. “I mean, look at our track record. Lisa, Jessica, Amelia…”

“But all of those are different,” protested Sam. “None of them were hunters. Somebody in the life—”

“Like Eileen?” interrupted Dean, lowering his brows. “I know you carried a torch for her.” Sam flinched, and Dean sighed. “Look—I’m sorry. I’m not trying to hurt you, Sam. I’m just—”

“Trying not to get hurt,” Sam answered. He cleared his throat. “No, I get it. But this is Cas we’re talking about. If either of us ever stood a chance of making a life with anybody, it’s with somebody like him. Somebody who can hold their own.”

“What, like he’s holding it now?”

“Dean, come on,” said Sam, rolling his eyes. “This is different, and you know it. Cas is different. And how many times have we done something stupid to save each other?”

Dean was silent for a moment. He took a large sip of his whiskey and shook his head, grumbling finally, “Can’t argue with that one.”

“Exactly,” said Sam, taking a drink of his own. He watched his brother—the way his shoulders began to fall in a kind of strange self-defeat.

“I don’t know,” Dean finally sighed. He looked down at his shoes. “It’s just not—I don’t know. Not how I pictured things.”

“Because you have a chance to be happy?” asked Sam gently. “Or because Cas is a guy?” Dean’s head shot up and he looked at Sam, wide-eyed and red-cheeked, but didn’t speak. Sam scoffed, and continued, “C’mon, man. It’s 2018, nobody cares. And like I said: I’ve known for years. Everybody has. And not just about you and Cas—even before him. Like I never noticed you checking out a dude before.”

“I didn’t—”

“Dean, stop,” said Sam, and for once, Dean did. “You did, you do, and it doesn’t matter. The only one who’d give you crap over it is Dad, and he’s not here. Nobody cares. Nobody. Especially not hunters. This life we live? Everybody’s grabbing happiness wherever and however they can find it.” He paused for a moment and chuckled. “Garth married and became a freakin’ werewolf. You’re allowed to be in love with a guy. Or an angel in a guy’s body.”

The room fell into silence. Sam and Dean stood quietly, drinking their whiskey, watching Castiel or the floor or the wall—anything but each other. Finally, Dean grumbled a quiet, “You’ve known for years?” as he went to fill his glass again.

Sam smirked. “Years. ‘More profound bond?’ Yeah. Years.” He drained his own glass and held it out to Dean for a refill. “Anyway, you never look at me like you look at him. Hope you never do.”

Dean snorted. “Shut up,” he said, and filled his brother’s glass, allowing a little grin. He set the bottle back down and leaned against the desk, swirling his whiskey, though he stared over the rim of his glass at Castiel. “It really doesn’t matter?” he asked, almost a whisper.

“It really doesn’t, Dean,” said Sam. “Not even a little.” He reached out to grip Dean by the shoulder. “You’re my brother. I don’t care who or what you love. I just want you to be happy—and I’m happy for you both. You’ve wanted this a long time.”

“Yeah,” said Dean. He cleared his throat. “Yeah. Thanks, Sammy.” He set down his glass and reached to take Sam’s without permission, placing it on the desk as well. “C’mere,” he said gruffly, and pulled his brother into a tight hug.

Sam grinned and wrapped his arms back around Dean, then stepped away as Dean slapped his back twice to signal the end of the embrace. He looked over Dean’s shoulder as he stepped back and blinked. “When’d you get a record player?”

“What?” said Dean, snagging his drink again. “Oh, yeah. Today. Well, yesterday. Whatever” He picked up Sam’s glass and handed it over as well. “Gift for Cas,” he added shyly.

Sam walked over to skim the records, pulling them from the bag. “Cas likes vinyls?”

“He did,” Dean clarified lowly, and cleared his throat. “In my head, with Michael.”

Sam paused and turned around to lift his brows at Dean. “What happened in there?” he finally ventured.

“Honestly? Mostly the same as what happens out here,” said Dean with a shrug. He paced over to the chair and sat down again, watching Castiel. “Less hunting. Less danger. Enough to keep it realistic, I guess. Keep me from questioning it. We were all here—you, Mom, and Jack. And Cas.” He took a sip from his drink. “Dad was alive, but we didn’t talk. You and Mom didn’t talk to him either.”

“How come?” asked Sam, seating himself on the edge of the desk.

“He didn’t approve,” said Dean softly. “Of me and Cas. You and Mom took my side, so he left.”

Sam stared at Dean and finally let out a dark chuckle. “Sounds about right,” he said softly.

“Yeah,” said Dean. “I think—me and Cas were official.”

“What, like married?”

“Yeah. Somethin’ like that. Whatever it is hunters do.” Dean sipped his whiskey and added, “Freaked me out when Jack said that. Dunno why. Just never thought of myself as the marrying type.”

Sam smiled. “I don’t think many hunters do.”

“Yeah,” said Dean softly. His face started to flare red, and still, he sat up and tugged the folded paper sack from his back pocket, tossing it behind him to Sam without a word. He kept drinking, staring straight ahead at Castiel.

Sam caught the sack with a little rustle and eyed Dean carefully before he set his glass aside and began to unfold it. He opened his hand and carefully shook the bag. Sam’s eyes widened as simple, plain silver ring landed coolly in his palm. “Dean…”

“You can’t say a word,” Dean warned quietly, no real heat to his words. If anything, he sounded tired, beaten. He wouldn’t look at Sam. “He pulls out of this, m’gonna ask.” After a few moments, when Sam didn’t speak, he cleared his throat and shrugged. “You know me, man. I’m not—I’m a pretty simple guy. I’m not that complicated. There isn’t much I want. Even less that I need.”

“I know,” said Sam, finally, voice barely audible.

“But Cas—” said Dean, and he sighed, softening without meaning to. “He’s one of very few things that make both those lists. And I—it took me too damn long to figure that out, and I can’t ignore it. Not anymore. Not after everything.”

“Yeah,” said Sam from behind. “Good.” The two went quiet for a moment, and Sam slid the ring back into the sack, folding it carefully. He drained his whiskey and slipped down from the desk, leaving his glass behind. “Hey, Dean?” he finally said, stepping around to face his brother. Dean looked up but didn’t speak. Sam’s eyes were watery and rimmed with red, but a grin split his face. “I’m really—” he started but shook his head and laughed. He set the folded bag on Dean’s knee. “If I’m not the best man I’ll kick your ass.”

Dean snorted and lifted his drink. “Alright.” He glanced across the room at a clock and added, “You should get some sleep. No good to anybody worn out, and we gotta bring our A-game tomorrow.”

“Okay,” said Sam. He patted Dean on the shoulder and started for the door. “I have my phone. Call if you need anything.”

“Will do, brother,” said Dean.

“Hey—” said Sam, stopping in the doorway. “I’m proud of you, Dean.”

Dean nodded and cast Sam a little, embarrassed smile, and Sam patted the wall and exited, pulling the door closed behind him. When he was alone again, he let out a long, slow sigh and drained his whiskey, then stood to move the chair back across the room, leaving his glass as well. He stowed the bag with the ring in a desk drawer and then returned to Castiel’s side. Dean felt his forehead, leaned down to listen to him breathing, checked his pulse, and carefully wormed his back back behind the angel to lean against the headboard and hold him close.

***

Dean must have accidentally eventually dozed off, because when he woke to Sam’s knocking at the door, announcing Rowena’s arrival, he was beneath the blankets with a very much awake Castiel, tangled up in each other’s arms.

“Good morning,” said Castiel, voice gruff with sleep—or maybe pain.

“Cas,” said Dean around a yawn. “How long you been awake?”

“A few hours,” Castiel admitted.

“Should’ve woken me up,” grumbled Dean. “M’supposed to be keeping tabs on you.”

“I’m alright,” said Castiel. “I like watching you sleep.”

Dean snorted. “Cas, man, you gotta know how creepy that sounds.”

“I’ll stop, if you like.”

“Just—don’t tell me next time,” said Dean, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

“Alright,” said Castiel, and his eyes narrowed in confusion. He leaned into Dean’s space and inhaled. “You smell like whiskey.”

“Yeah,” said Dean. “Told you I needed a drink or two.”

Without warning, Castiel’s hand was in Dean’s hair, his lips claiming Dean’s in a soft, but somehow burning kiss. His other arm snaked beneath Dean’s back and Castiel rolled so that he was on top of him, and the kiss turned breathy and bruising. It sent sparks shooting through Dean’s blood, and when he recovered from the shock, he slid a hand up Castiel’s back beneath his shirt, gripping skin with fingertips, gasping into the kiss.

Castiel parted his lips and Dean’s parted with them, the angel rolling his jaw and his hips, only breaking away when he’d pulled a helpless sound from somewhere deep in Dean’s chest. He looked down at Dean, the hunter breathing heavy with eyes blown wide, and crooked a little grin. “You taste like whiskey too.” He paused, then wrinkled his nose. “Well—the molecules that make up whiskey, technically. I hope you didn’t spend too much on it, Dean, because the corn they used for this particular bottle wasn’t grown in very high-quality soil, and in a season without much rain, so it seems they had to source water from—”

Castiel stopped, blinking down at Dean, who’d completely lost himself to a fit of rarely heard, authentic laughter. His head was thrown back against the pillow in an open-mouthed smile, his body shaking beneath Castiel’s with his amusement. A few tears found their way out of Dean’s eyes, and he’d barely calmed himself down when he jerked Castiel back down, kissing him hard and happy through an un-killable grin.

“I love you, Cas,” Dean mumbled through the kiss, breaking it and rejoining and breaking it again. “I love you so damn much I can’t stand it.”

“I—love you too,” said Castiel, staring at Dean despite the sloppy kisses. Finally, he smiled against Dean’s lips and kissed him back, slowly, deeply.

Dean wrapped his arms around Castiel’s neck and sighed into the kiss, feeling like his chest might burst open from love. He used the kiss to nudge Castiel, gently guiding him to roll onto his back, and when Dean was on top he melted against the angel, letting his whole weight fall to Castiel’s chest. Castiel’s hands trailed over Dean’s back, crushing them still closer, and Castiel parted his lips to pull the breath from Dean’s lungs. Dean shuddered and grazed Castiel’s bottom lip between his teeth, and Castiel gasped. Something warm and wet touched Dean’s cheek, and just as he thought the angel might be crying, a wave of grace rolled through Castiel’s body, so hot and full of static Dean felt it brush against his own skin.

All the warmth of the moment left Dean’s chest in a punch, replaced by a chill of dread. “Don’t you ever leave me,” Dean whispered against Castiel’s lips.

“Never,” Castiel answered, low and intense.

Dean broke away to look down at Castiel, and the angel stared back up at him, his blue eyes wide and bleeding. The color drained from Dean’s face as he touched his cheek and found not tears, like he’d though, but Castiel’s blood.

“Dean…” Castiel whispered, unintended fear pinching his features.

“Okay,” said Dean, suddenly all business. He backed up off Castiel and reached to take the angel’s hand, tugging him out of bed. “Rowena’s here. We’re doing this now.

Chapter Text

Sam and Rowena were waiting in the war room. Dean hadn’t bothered to clean himself up and hadn’t given Castiel the time to do it either. They’d both slept in their jeans, and Dean dragged Castiel down the hallway by his wrist, both of them bloody-faced and rumbled from sleep, hair a mess. Dean still hadn’t cut his since Michael evacuated, and it was as long as Castiel’s, and sticking out in much the same way.

“Hey—what the hell?” said Sam, rising quickly. “Is that blood?”

“Cas’s eyes are bleeding,” said Dean, controlled. He released Castiel’s arm. “What’ve you got, Rowena? We need to end this.”

“What have I got?” blinked Rowena. “I’ve only just arrived!”

“Does that mean nothing? Because so help me—”

“Dean, stop,” interrupted Sam, pressing a hand to his brother’s chest to stop him advancing on the witch. “Rowena, tell him what you told me.”

Rowena smoothed the front of her dress. “I’m working on a hybrid spell,” she said. “One we can use to isolate poor Castiel’s grace from Michael’s so we can work the extraction spell.”

“How long’s that gonna take?” growled Dean over Sam’s arm, then pushed it away.

“Dean…” began Castiel, reaching out to touch him on the shoulder, but Dean didn’t relent. He shook Castiel’s arm off.

“How long, Rowena?” Dean repeated.

“Let me get everything ready and we can start in an hour,” Rowena answered quietly. She looked up at Sam. “Where are we doing this, Samuel?”

“I’ll show you,” said Sam, watching Dean carefully. “Give me a minute, Rowena? There’s coffee in the kitchen. And some breakfast. Help yourself.”

Rowena smiled and held up her palms, turning to click slowly away. Sam watched her until she disappeared, then looked to Dean. “What did we talk about?”

“What?” grumbled Dean. Behind him, Castiel squinted, tilted his head.

“About keeping it together,” reminded Sam lowly. “Dean?” he said when his brother didn’t answer.

“Okay, alright,” said Dean, scowling.

“Okay,” said Sam. He looked Dean over. “Not that I care, but if you don’t want everyone seeing the evidence of your morning activities, you should go wash your face.” Sam glanced over to Castiel and cleared his throat. “Both of you. Anyway, Jack’s not up yet, and seeing you guys bloody might freak him out.”

Dean blinked and straightened with the realization and touched his cheek, then looked down at his fingers, smeared in blood. “Right,” he said, then turned to Castiel and scowled deeper. “You’re still bleeding, Cas.”

Castiel reached up to touch his face, then like Dean, looked down at his fingers, covered in substantially more, and newer blood, than Dean’s were. “Oh,” he said quietly. “That’ll be the pressure.”

“Pressure?” asked Sam.

“In my head,” said Castiel, too calmly. “Feels a bit like my brain is expanding.”

“Okay, see, that’s what you lead with,” said Dean, his stoicism waning.

“Guys, go clean up,” repeated Sam. “Get something to eat if you want it and then come downstairs to the medical room. I’ll be there with Rowena.” Dean and Castiel stood there in silence, and Sam sighed, pointing down the hall. “Go!”

Dean startled out of his grouchy stare at Castiel and nodded, turning on a heel. Castiel cast Sam a worried look, which Sam returned with a sigh, before the angel followed Dean down the hallway.

Dean moved quickly. Stalked. He beat Castiel to his room by a few seconds—long enough for him to be standing at his sink, hands on the sides, staring at his reflection when Castiel arrived. He closed the door softly behind him. “Dean,” he said gently, but Dean rounded on him.

“Why are you so calm about this?” he growled, nearly yelling.

Castiel balked, stopping in his tracks. “I don’t—”

“Spare me, Cas,” said Dean harshly. He turned to twist the faucet on with a hard jerk and splashed his face roughly, sending water splashing to the floor, dripping down his shirt. Castiel stood behind and watched, dumbfounded. Dean straightened and ran his wet hands back over his hair, then turned, not bothering to dry off. “Why aren’t you worried?”

“I am worried, Dean,” said Castiel quietly.

“Yeah?” challenged Dean, stepping into Castiel’s space. “Because you’re acting like this is a walk in the park. Not waking me up, not telling me your brain’s going nuclear—”

“I didn’t wake you because you needed to rest,” Castiel argued, stepping to Dean as well. “And I thought the rest was obvious,” he said, pointing at his blood-striped cheeks.

“The hell do I need rest for?” Dean scoffed. “I spent the last six months asleep!”

“No, you spent the last six months as the vessel of an archangel,” growled Castiel. “That is why I—is this really important? Are you actually that angry I let you sleep?”

“Of course I’m not!” yelled Dean. He grabbed the front of Castiel’s shirt on instinct, but released it almost instantly, taking a step back, eyes widening.

Castiel, upon the contact, lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes in defiance, jaw set. It was a look Dean hadn’t seen—not directed at him, anyway—in years. The last time he saw it, Castiel had called him “Boy,” and he was reminded suddenly that Castiel, childlike though he could be, was very old and built with power, a soldier of Heaven who spent most of his long existence commanding legions—archangel grace or not. A hot blue anger flashed behind the angel’s eyes, and Dean recognized it—not as Michael’s grace, but Castiel’s.

Castiel rolled his shoulders slowly when Dean retreated, almost as if he was de-ruffling the agitated feathers of his invisible wings. He closed his eyes and blew out a slow breath, shoulders relaxing. “Dean,” he said with a vulnerability that was shocking after the display of holy anger. He looked up at Dean and took a step forward, reaching out. “I’m sorry.”

Dean met his gaze and, even rimmed by blood, he was reminded of what the old man said at the pawn shop: eyes so blue they’ll break your heart. And Dean’s heart broke. “You can’t leave me.”

“What?” Castiel whispered, face falling.

“You’re calm because you think there’s no hope,” said Dean softly, broken. “This whole time—”

“Dean, that’s not true,” said Castiel, shaking his head.

“You said you wouldn’t leave me,” said Dean.

Castiel could practically hear the bricks being stacked in Dean’s voice—could see the wall being built. “And I won’t,” he said softly, taking Dean by both shoulders. “But you can’t either.”

“What?”

“You don’t think I can tell when your walls go up?” hushed Castiel. His hands lifted to Dean’s face to thumb at his cheeks. “I know you well, Dean Winchester. Well enough to know when you’re running. I’m asking you not to.”

Dean didn’t speak, just stared slack-jawed, and Castiel sighed. He returned his hands to Dean’s shoulders to gently move him a step aside, then leaned down to turn on the sink and splash his own face until the water ran clear, then pat it dry. He turned back to Dean. “I’m asking you to stay with me.”

“Then you gotta tell me why you’re so calm about this,” said Dean, his voice cracking a little, though his cheeks and eyes stayed dry, if red. “Why it doesn’t seem like you’re fighting. Because man, I’m punching this with everything I got, but it’s like hitting a wall if you aren’t punching too.”

“I am fighting,” answered Castiel. He reached back out for Dean and cradled his cheek with one hand. When Dean leaned into the touch, Castiel stepped forward to pull him into a tight embrace. “But I’m also watching you,” he said softly into Dean’s ear. “Watching your fear. I thought if I stayed calm it might keep you from spiraling.”

Dean rested his forehead against Castiel’s shoulder and wrapped his arms around the angel’s back. “That’s really it?”

“That’s really it.”

“You’re not giving up?”

“As you’d say, hell no.”

Dean smiled against Castiel’s shoulder and pulled back just enough to search his gaze. “Okay. But—that doesn’t work for me. I want you to be angry at this. I want you to rage against it.”

Castiel blew out a breath through his nose. “Think about the moments this has been at its worst,” he said quietly. “It’s when I’m worked up.”

Dean blinked at Castiel as understanding settled sadly over his face. “…right. Okay. I—I’m sorry, Cas. This has—it’s just got me spun out. Michael and the grace, and this new thing with us, it’s…”

“It’s a lot,” said Castiel, withdrawing a hand to run his thumb over Dean’s cheek.

“Yeah,” said Dean, swallowing.

“Well, rest assured,” said Castiel gently, smiling just barely. He pulled back his other hand to have a palm on either of Dean’s cheeks, forcing Dean to look him in the eye. “I love you, Dean Winchester, and I will fight for you as long as I live, or as long as you’ll have me.”

Dean stared speechlessly back at Castiel, searching his gaze, until Castiel simply smiled and claimed a quick, gentle kiss. “Now,” said Castiel, backing away and releasing Dean. “Let’s go ‘kick it in the ass.’”

Castiel turned to walk toward the door, leaving Dean scrambling. He turned his head to eye the desk drawer that held the ring, and turned back to call out, “Cas, wait!” But his voice was a hoarse whisper, and the angel had already disappeared into the dark of the hallway. “Damnit,” he whispered to himself, and followed Castiel out.

“Cas!” he called down the corridor, and about twenty feet away, Castiel backed up around a corner to look his way, brows lifted. Dean jogged the length of the hall to catch up to him, and when he did, he took Castiel’s face in both his hands and pushed him up against the wall, kissing him hard and desperately.

It took Castiel two seconds to get over the shock, and then he was bracing his bare feet on the floor to lean into the wall and pull Dean closer, nearly lifting the hunter off the floor. Dean pushed his hands back through Castiel’s hair, gasping out another deep kiss, and Castiel slid down the wall just far enough that he could reach the back of Dean’s leg, just above the bend of his knee.

“We don’t have time for this,” Castiel whispered into Dean’s kiss, but didn’t make any effort to stop. Instead, in a too-quick-to-be-human movement, Castiel did go to lift Dean, both hands moving to grab the backs of Dean’s knees and sweep him up to seat Dean around his waist. Dean sucked in a breath of surprise, but kept his lips pressed to Castiel’s, his fingers deep in the angel’s dark hair. Dean parted his lips to speak but found himself cut off.

With the quick shifting of their weight, one of Castiel’s heels had stepped backwards into the hem of his borrowed, barely-too-long jeans. As fast as he’d lifted Dean his foot slipped out from beneath them and he slid down the wall, landing hard on his ass and taking Dean with him. Dean, now straddling Castiel’s lap in the floor, blinked his shock at the angel, and Castiel blinked back before his lips twisted into a childish grin.

Castiel had smiled before—even chuckled. But he’d never laughed. Not like this. He leaned his head back against the wall and laughed from his chest, hard and genuine, and Dean couldn’t help but laugh with him. He let his hands slide out of Castiel’s hair and to the back of his neck, and Castiel trailed his own up from Dean’s knees to the small of his back. Castiel finally calmed and Dean leaned forward to press a kiss to the angel’s smile, and Castiel kissed him back.

“What was that?” asked Castiel, breathless, as Dean broke the kiss a few moments later.

“You left before I could say I loved you too,” Dean answered softly. He dipped his chin down and claimed another slow kiss. “Man,” he laughed low in his throat, leaning back. “Makin’ me feel like a teenager, Cas.” He steadied himself on Castiel’s shoulders and stood, then offered a hand down to the angel to pull him up. “C’mon. We should get down there.” His smile faltered. “Your eyes are—they’re starting again.”

Castiel’s easy smile faltered as he stood, and he reached up to touch at the corner of an eye. Sure enough, a droplet of blood appeared on his finger, and he nodded at Dean.

“Tonight, when this is over,” Dean said, starting off down the hall, Castiel beside him, “and you’re all fixed up, we’re gonna get blackout drunk and laugh our asses off at nothing.” He reached out to take Castiel’s hand and give it a brief squeeze. “And then tomorrow night, we’re gonna hole up in my room and put on a record, and we’re gonna dance.”

“I’d like that,” said Castiel with a tense smile. He squeezed back before they dropped their hands, turning the corner to descend the stairs to the medical bay.

***

“Everything good?” asked Sam, looking over the table full of occult items in the harsh, fluorescent light.

“Aye,” nodded Rowena, meticulously rearranging a few jars of sinister-looking liquids. “Go and fetch the lovebirds?”

Sam snorted without humor. “Don’t mess with them about that,” he said.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” chirped Rowena, rolling her eyes.

Sam rolled his own in return and turned to head out the door. He was halfway up the stairs when, from down the hallway, he heard his brother call Castiel’s name. At the top of the stairs, Sam saw Castiel stop and backtrack, but Castiel didn’t see him. Worried, he took the stairs two at a time and rounded the corner just in time to see Dean tackle Castiel against the wall.

Quickly, Sam ducked back into the shadow of the stairwell, stopping when his back hit the wall. He glanced down the dark stairs, then back up, and he was about to interrupt when he watched the couple collapse and dissolve into laughter. Sam couldn’t help but stare a moment longer, smiling with warm vicarious joy.

“Makin’ me feel like a teenager, Cas. C’mon. We should…”

Sam turned and descended the stairs, quickly and quietly, and ducked into the too-bright room.

“They’re coming,” he said to Rowena, quickly scrubbing away his smile.

“Excellent,” she said. “And the boy?”

“Who—Jack?” asked Sam, slipping back into business mode. “Guess he’s still asleep. It’s like seven in the morning, Rowena. We were up late, and he’s a kid. And newly human.”

“Aye, alright,” she said, twisting her hair. “And your mum? Haven’t seen her about.”

“We—she’s across the country with Bobby,” said Sam with a grunt. “We wanted to leave her out of this until—”

“Until you figured out if Dean would live, and now if Castiel will explode?”

“Something like that,” he answered, working his jaw. He looked up as footfalls sounded on the stairs and smiled without meaning to when Dean and Castiel appeared, shoulder to shoulder.

Dean gave him an odd look, then wandered over to the table, gruffness returning. “Alright,” he said. “Let’s do this.”

“Where do you need me?” asked Castiel, his own stoicism well intact once more.

“Here,” said Rowena, and she directed him to what looked like a dentist’s chair.

Castiel recognized it as the one where he’d tried to withdraw Gadreel’s grace from Sam, and he grimaced, but climbed settled himself into it nonetheless. “What’s the—hey!” He snapped his head to the side as Rowena magically cinched his wrists to the arms of the chair with leather straps.

“It’s a precaution,” said Rowena.

Dean approached protectively, and Sam held up his hand. “It’s alright, Dean,” he said softly, and looked to Castiel. “We don’t know how you’re gonna react, and if it’s bad—”

“I could hurt you without meaning to,” said Castiel, conceding. “These won’t do much good, though.”

“Better than nothing,” said Sam. “Lucifer melted our Enochian handcuffs…”

“Right,” said Castiel, and he looked over at Dean.

“Gonna be fine,” said Dean, unconvincingly.

“Alright, I need quiet,” said Rowena, and she stepped over to a large bowl on the table. “If I can’t focus I’ll muck it up, and none of us want that.”

Everyone went silent, and when Sam nodded, Rowena started a low chant, words a blend of Latin and some ancient Celtic tongue. She added ingredients slowly and tossed in a match, and a thick, red smoke began to curl from the bowl’s depths, glittering with yellow sparks.

She lifted her hands and spoke another word, softly, before directing her fingers to Castiel. The smoke curled itself into a ball and hovered just beyond her fingertips, and she walked it slowly over to hover above Castiel. “When I say, breathe this in, deeply as you can. It isn’t going to be comfortable. Aye?”

Castiel nodded and cast a glance at Dean, who curled his fingers over his shoulder. “Alright.”

“Ready…” Rowena murmured, poising her fingers around the edges of the ball of smoke. “And…now.” Castiel inhaled deep and slow, and Rowena murmured one more foreign word as she stretched out her hands, forming the smoke from a ball into a thick, red rope that wound its way down Castiel’s throat.

His body seized and bucked as if he was swallowing something solid, though he didn’t relent.

“Rowena…” Dean growled as Castiel’s eyes rolled back into his head.

“Just wait!” Rowena commanded, and guided the tail of the smoke into Castiel’s mouth, pressing her palm over it. “Separabis originem invasor!” She whispered harshly.

Castiel’s eyes flew open, wide and red with pain. Within his pupils danced a multitude of sparks: bright yellow from the spell and two barely discernable shades of blue. Castiel’s fingers gripped the arms of the chair hard—hard enough to crush the end of the one closest to Sam. He shook violently, a low scream muffled in his chest behind Rowena’s hand over his mouth, and then he stopped.

The room went still and silent, though Castiel’s eyes remained open, staring at nothing. Within them, the blues were separating themselves like oil and water, segmented by a band of glittering gold.

“Samuel,” said Rowena, finally lifting her hand from the angel’s mouth. “Get the syringe.”

“You’re okay,” whispered Dean, panic in his voice and eyes. He knelt down beside the chair to keep his head level with Castiel’s. “You’re okay, Cas.”

Carefully, Sam slid the thick needle of a large, ancient-looking syringe into a vein of Castiel’s arm, and with a nod from Dean, he gripped the plunger and slowly began to pull.

Chapter Text

“How do we know when we got it all?” asked Sam, pausing the extraction. He looked up to Rowena. “And how do we know which grace belongs to Cas?”

“Once there’s no more left he’ll likely go unconscious for a spell,” answered Rowena. Her hand was still clasped over Castiel’s mouth. “We won’t know until dear Castiel comes to and tells us himself, but they are coming out separated, thanks to the spell.”

“We have jars for that?” asked Dean, finally looking up from Castiel’s face.

“In the cabinet,” said Sam. “I think we’re almost ready for them.”

“I got ‘em,” said Dean. He cast one more look down at Castiel’s eyes, still wide, shining, and staring unblinking and unmoving at the ceiling, then strode across the room to dig through the shelves. He returned with two small vials and uncorked them both, settling them on the table. “How’s this work, Rowena?”

“See those wee specks of gold in the syringe?” Rowena asked, tilting her head towards Sam. “Those have bonded with Michael’s grace. What’s left belongs to Castiel.”

“So…” said Sam, looking up very briefly from his slow pull on the syringe.

“So think of it like a snow globe,” said Rowena. “Right now it’s all shaken up. Once you’re finished, Samuel—which will be any moment now—” she said, checking Castiel once more. “We don’t need the jars just yet. What we’ll do is store the syringe upright for a spell and let it settle. You’ll know it’s done when it looks like oil on top of water—Michael’s gold grace distinct from Castiel’s blue. Then you can slowly push them into their respective vials.”

“He’s going to be human?” interrupted Dean, glowering. “You didn’t say that.”

“I thought it was obvious,” trilled Rowena, eyes fluttering. She looked down at Castiel once more, now still and silent, and she slowly removed her hand from his mouth and stepped back. “His eyes are dimming,” she said. “Once they go out it’s over, Sam.”

“Say when,” answered Sam tensely. “Dean?”

“On it,” Dean replied, abandoning the jars. He went to lean over Castiel, nudging Rowena out of the way.

Rowena rolled her eyes. “So much for trust.”

“It’s not that,” grumbled Dean.

“Aye,” she grinned. “It’s that he’s your beau, isn’t he?”

Dean’s cheeks and ears flared red and he cleared his throat, but he remained silent. Sam shook his head and frowned.

“What’d I say, Rowena?”

“Alright, don’t get your trousers twisted,” she chirped back and waved her hand flippantly at Sam. “It’s not like no—”

“Sam, it’s time,” interrupted Dean. The glow in Castiel’s eyes flickered like a dying lightbulb, then dimmed, and finally disappeared entirely. The only blue that remained were his irises, and though beautiful, Dean noticed the blue was a bit darker—a little less light.

Sam withdrew the needle carefully and let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. As he did, Castiel’s eyes fluttered closed, and he inhaled deeply, as if he’d been holding his breath too. “Okay,” he said softly. “Alright. How’s he looking?”

“Hey—Cas?” asked Dean, shaking Castiel’s shoulder gently. The angel didn’t budge, but he did begin breathing more steadily. Humanly. “I think he’s—sleeping?”

“The spell will have tired the poor lad out,” said Rowena, already packing her things on the other side of the room. “He’ll be fine but it’s going to take a day or so for the grace to fully separate. In the meantime,” she said, tossing her hair, “I’m going home, and taking the Book of the Damned with me.”

“Like Hell you are—” Dean started, looking up at her from Castiel.

“Dean…” said Sam, sighing. “C’mon.”

“You kidding me?” Dean rounded on Sam. “She’s—”

“The one who just saved Cas,” Sam interrupted again. “I don’t like it either, but we owe her.”

Dean narrowed his eyes at Sam, then looked back down at Castiel, peacefully oblivious, and hung his head with a sigh. “Alright. Fine. But,” he said, looking back up at Rowena. He lifted a finger. “You’re not taking the real book. You’re gonna make a photo copy and the real thing stays here.”

Rowena stared back at Dean long enough that it nearly felt like a contest before speaking. “Fine,” she finally answered. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a machine for that?”

“You’re a witch,” said Sam with a low chuckle. “Don’t you have some sort of—I dunno, cloning spell?”

“Don’t you think I’d have used that already if I did?” she answered. “The book’s warded against that sort of thing. But when it was written there weren’t copiers or cameras.”

“Right,” said Sam, shaking his head. “There’s a scanner in a cabinet in the library. Have at it.”

“Thank you,” said Rowena with a little disingenuous courtesy. She grabbed her bag of magic and looped it over her shoulder. “Goodbye, boys. If you need anything else, don’t.”

“Rowena?” huffed Dean. When she turned, he cleared his throat. “Stay out of trouble. And—thank you.”

“I’ll try not to get caught,” she winked, and picked up the hem of her dress to turn and sweep out the door, heels clicking all the way up the stairs.

Once it was silent, Dean let himself sigh. He looked down at Castiel and frowned. “Back for round two of ‘make sure Cas wakes up,’ I guess.”

“He will, Dean,” said Sam. He tapped the syringe in his finger idly, then moved to put a cap on the needle and set the entire thing down into a larger jar to keep it upright while the grace separated.

“Lock that up good,” said Dean, eyeing the grace.

“Yeah,” agreed Sam. He turned to pull some keys from a drawer below the cabinets, then settle the grace on a shelf in one of them. He locked the doors behind him and turned to toss Dean the keys.

Dean snagged them from the air and pocketed them, then ran a hand through his hair. “Think we can get him to a bed?”

“Yeah, probably,” said Sam. “You get the left, I’ll take the right?”

“Yeah,” said Dean. He looked to Castiel and continued, “Sorry, buddy,” before scooting his arms beneath the unconscious man and gently lifting him to a seat.

Castiel’s head lolled forward, but he didn’t wake. Dean crouched and pulled Castiel’s left arm over his shoulder, winding his right around the angel’s back, and Sam mirrored him. They scooted him to the edge and on the count of three, lifted to bear Castiel limply across the room, up the stairs, and down the hall, his feet dragging the floor uselessly between them.

When they reached the door to Castiel’s room, Sam stopped but Dean kept moving, Castiel stretching awkwardly between them.

“Not in his—oh,” said Sam as realization hit. He badly stifled a grin.

“Shut up,” Dean grumbled. “Not like that. I just wanna keep an eye on him.”

“Yeah, okay,” said Sam, readjusting the unconscious angel and catching up to Dean’s steps.

“Dude,” said Dean, looking past Castiel’s hung head to glare at his brother. “Don’t make it weird.”

“Nothing’s weird,” said Sam. “Just, y’know. You’re taking your unconscious boyfriend back to your bedroom.”

“Well yeah, but—”

“This is like every after-prom warning poster ever.”

“Shut your face, Sammy.”

Sam smirked and let out a low laugh. “I’m just messing with you, man.”

“Hilarious,” said Dean, rolling his eyes. They kept shuffling down the hallway and finally paused before Dean’s room while he carefully reached to fidget with the handle.

“Didn’t deny he’s your boyfriend though,” mumbled Sam, grinning.

“How old are you?” Dean scoffed, making a face at his brother. He pushed open the door with a foot and ticked his head to motion Sam inside.

Sam didn’t answer, opting instead to just snicker again and shuffle across the room with Dean and their charge. They settled Castiel carefully on one side of the bed and while Dean adjusted the pillow, Sam stepped back and chewed the inside of his cheek. “It’s weird. Seeing Cas without the trench coat.”

“It really is,” said Dean, stepping back once he was satisfied with Castiel’s pillow. “Or that god-awful suit.”

Sam smiled and folded his arms comfortably. “Yeah. Dude needs some new clothes.”

“I guess he just doesn’t think it’s, I dunno, practical or something,” said Dean with a shrug, unconsciously mirroring Sam’s posture. “He just like, mojos them clean or something.”

“Or maybe he just likes them.”

“I don’t not like them,” said Dean, looking over his shoulder to Sam. “I don’t know. I just don’t think he cares.”

“Yeah, maybe,” agreed Sam. He smirked again and met Dean’s gaze. “But maybe he’ll change it up. Try to look cool for you, you know, since you’re dating now—”

“Alright, you done?”

“Yeah, I’m done,” said Sam, sinking his hands into his pockets and looking very self-pleased. He collected himself and sniffed, glancing over his shoulder through the door into the dark hall. “Time is it, anyway?”

Dean squinted at the red numbers of his alarm clock on the nightstand. “Almost ten. Kid’ll be up soon.” He snorted and looked back to Sam. “He hasn’t been human long, but he took to that teenage sleeping-late thing pretty quick, huh?”

“You have no idea,” said Sam, smiling. “While you were…uhh, gone, there were a couple times I had to drag him out of bed past noon.”

“Good for him,” Dean sighed. “I miss that. Was the best part of skipping school. Whenever we were in school, anyway.”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “Alright, I’m gonna go keep breakfast warm for him.”

“Good call,” said Dean, and then moved to grab his chair from his desk. “Oh—hey, Sammy?”

Sam turned around in the doorway. “What’s up?”

“Why don’t you take Jack grocery shopping? Cas is human for a little while. He’s gonna be hungry. Get some of his favorites?”

“Sure,” said Sam. “What’s he like?”

“Uhh. Coffee, beer. PB&J…” Dean rambled off, scrunching his face in thought. “Think he liked those White Castle burgers, but I wanna make him the real ones, so maybe get stuff for that. OH, stuff for burritos too. Honey. Maybe some tea. You know stuff about tea? I don’t know anything about tea.”

“I know stuff about tea,” said Sam with a smile.

“Course you do,” said Dean. “You like rabbit food. Hey, get a couple pies too. Apple, of course. Blueberry, cherry, blackberry—”

“You want four pies?”

“…okay, maybe just do slices of the last three. But yeah, do the whole apple.”

“You planning on force feeding him to death?”

“Pie’s mostly for me,” Dean admitted with a shrug. “But, yeah. Last time Cas was human he was homeless. Can’t have been eating good food. I’m gonna milk this chance to give him something awesome.”

Sam smiled and shook his head. “Alright. I’ll go wake up Jack. Call if you need anything?”

“Yeah,” said Dean. “Thanks, Sammy.”

“Yep,” said Sam. He knocked on the doorframe as he left, the pulled the door closed behind him.

The room settled into a comfortable silence, and Dean checked Castiel’s breathing before settling into his desk chair, opening his laptop. He pulled up a web browser and sat staring at where the cursor blinked in the search bar, gently tapping the keys. Finally, he blew out a puff of air and typed, how to ask a literal angel to marry you when you’re not even really dating and hit the enter key. The search pulled up a strange, scattered list of articles: ‘The Devil Wants You To Settle’ from Chastity.com, ‘8 Signs You’re Being Used For Sex,’ and too many links about Criss Angel to count. Dean sighed and mumbled to himself as he backspaced, “Don’t know what I expected.”

He stared at the empty bar again, tonguing his cheek, and then typed, simply, angels in love. The browser answered in blue, Did you mean: Victoria’s Secret Angels, followed by a long list of porn and erotica titles. Dean rolled his eyes at himself and deleted the search again and pulled up Netflix instead, putting on Full Metal Jacket for the hundredth time. He watched absently and was distracted within a half hour, folding his hands across his chest and leaning back to stare at the ceiling. He muted the movie, closed his eyes, and sighed through his nose, remaining that way for a few minutes to enjoy the moment of relative peace and quiet after the last few days of chaos. When he finally opened his eyes again, he looked over to Castiel on the bed, still sleeping, and asked aloud softly, “What can humans do that angels can’t?”

Dean chewed the inside of his cheek as he watched Castiel and tilted his chair backwards to balance on two legs, balancing with a foot against the desk. He made a mental list: eat food and enjoy it—taken care of; get blackout drunk—already part of the plan; did angels get adrenaline rushes? no time for a theme park, but he could take Cas for a joyride just to see; get a headrush from standing up too fast… Dean ran his tongue over his teeth, lost in thought. Distracted, he pushed his toes absently against the desk and threw his leaning chair off balance. The back legs scraped out from under him with a dull, scratchy squeak, and in a second flat Dean was on his back on the floor, the chair slapping it with a loud crack.

Castiel was shocked awake and he bolted up in bed with a gasp, looking around to get his bearings. When he found Dean on the floor, arms and legs akimbo, he tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “Dean…what are you doing?” he grumbled lowly, then reached up to touch his temple with a frown. “My head aches.”

“What? Nothing,” said Dean with a needless cough, recovering. He stood and righted the chair, pushing it beneath the desk. “Yeah, well. Not surprising. You’ve had a hell of a day and it’s only…” he glanced at the clock. “Not even noon.”

Castiel looked away from Dean and pulled his knees in to sit cross-legged. He lowered his hands to his lap to stare at his palms. He flexed his fingers as if they belonged to someone else and scrunched his nose. “I’m human.”

“It’s temporary,” promised Dean, settling into a seat at the end of the bed beside Castiel. “Rowena’s spell worked, but we gotta wait for it to separate before we can put it back.”

“I don’t mind,” Castiel answered softly, looking up from his hands. “Though I don’t enjoy using the restroom.”

Dean smirked. “Nobody does.” He reached out and set a tentative hand on Castiel’s knee. “You hungry?”

“I think so,” said Castiel. He knit his brows in an odd kind of confusion. “It’s been a long time since—well, since the last time I was human. The memories are fuzzy.” As if on cue, Castiel’s stomach gave a loud, irritated growl, and his lips turned up in a half smile. “Yes, I’m hungry.”

“Great,” said Dean. “There’s some leftover breakfast, I think, and Sam and Jack should hopefully be back soon with some grub. Gonna cook you up my specialty.”

“What’s your specialty?”

“Cheeseburgers,” said Dean, beaming. “With extra cholesterol.”

“That sounds irresponsible,” said Castiel, lowering his brows. “Sam said you should be watching yours.”

Dean’s cheeks colored. “Yeah, well. Sam can bite me. Anyway, it’s a special occasion. It’s not often you get to eat without it tasting like—what was it, molecules?”

Castiel nodded. “That’s true, I suppose.”

“Whatever, man. It’s like I told Sammy: if bacon’s what kills me, I win.”

“Alright,” said Castiel with a slight smile. “You said they’ll be back soon?”

“Yeah. Actually, I dunno,” answered Dean. He pulled out his phone. “I’ll text him.” He began thumbing out a message and was almost through when Castiel started reaching for the phone, though he only touched and didn’t take it.

“That’s not why I’m asking,” he said, voice low.

Dean looked up to find Castiel staring at him, lips parted, eyes wide and wanting, and his breath caught in his throat. He swallowed and set his phone aside on the bed, hitting ‘send’ quickly before turning off the screen. “Why are you asking?” he answered softly.

Castiel leaned forward and scooted onto his knees to sit on his haunches, face inches from Dean’s. “I feel—” he started, voice nearly a whisper. He reached tentatively for Dean’s face, resting his hand on his cheek. Castiel dragged his fingertips slowly down Dean’s jaw, feeling his rough stubble. “It all feels different,” he finished quietly. “You feel different.” His other hand lifted to Dean’s other cheek and he held the hunter’s face in his hands, traced the line of his nose, his eyebrows, ran his fingers through Dean’s hair, and Dean let him—the whole display an innocent exploration.

“Bad different?” Dean wondered softly, watching Castiel’s eyes as they followed his fingers. Dean leaned back on his hands, and Castiel shook his head and finally met his gaze.

“Not bad,” he said. “Good. Just a different kind of good. Angels—we feel things like we taste them; it’s almost molecular. When I touch you I feel your skin, but more. All the atoms that hold you together. It’s nice. Intimate. But this is nothing like—this is so…” he trailed off and crinkled his brow, running his hands down the sides of Dean’s neck and over his t-shirt sleeves on his shoulders, then down his arms. “…soft.”

Dean watched Castiel openly, listening in silence, and then with the angel’s last word he smiled. “Glad you’re enjoying yourself.” He stared at Castiel a moment longer, then began to shift himself. “What about this?”

Castiel withdrew his hands to his lap as Dean began to lean forward, watching him carefully. Dean held eye contact until his lips were a breath from Castiel’s, and then he grinned. Instead of kissing him, Dean dipped his head down below Castiel’s jawline and pressed his lips to the side of the angel’s neck. Castiel inhaled with a little gasp, and Dean felt him shiver as goosebumps began to ripple across his skin, so Dean went further. With the next brush of his lips he sucked a gentle kiss into Castiel’s neck, then repeated the gesture, slowly moving lower until his mouth reached the curve of his shoulder, and Dean let his teeth just barely graze against the dip. Castiel let out a slow sigh, his heart beating so hard Dean could feel his pulse through his lips. He smiled against the angel’s neck and started to withdraw, but Castiel’s hands flew up to his shoulders, holding him in place.

“Don’t,” he whispered to Dean, his chin lifted, eyes closed. His fingers dug into Dean’s shoulder.

A warm, familiar ache began to curl low in Dean’s belly, and he obliged Castiel gladly. He kept his balance with his right hand on the bed while his left found its way to Castiel’s side, and he used the leverage to pull him closer. Dean opened his lips wider, dug his teeth harder into the skin of Castiel’s neck, and Castiel bit down on his own bottom lip, a low noise sounding from deep in his chest. One of his hands crept up to grip the back of Dean’s neck, and Dean began slowly working kisses back up towards Castiel’s chin. When he reached the space where Castiel’s neck met his jawline—the soft place just below his ear—Dean slid his own hand up to cup Castiel’s cheek and tilt his chin up further. He pressed his lips there and was about to withdraw to kiss the angel properly, but suddenly diverted. Instead, Dean angled his kiss upwards, giving Castiel’s earlobe a soft graze with his teeth.

Dean wasn’t prepared for Castiel’s reaction. He’d expected a gasp, maybe another shiver, a little sigh of pleasure. Instead, he received a low moan, and found himself suddenly being manhandled to his back on the bed, a pair of strong hands pinning him by his shoulders. Castiel hovered above him, blue eyes wide and wild, and for a moment Dean swore he saw a flash of angel behind the irises. He stared back up at the disheveled Castiel, breathing so hard he might have just finished a race. Dean cast him a fond smile and crooked up one arm from the elbow to trail his fingers along Castiel’s bicep, still holding him in place.

“Even human, you’re not all the way human, are you?” Dean asked softly, musing. “Not really.”

Castiel blinked down at Dean, bewildered, and then finally released him to sit back on his haunches and collect himself. “I don’t know. I don’t exactly have a baseline to compare to, though I suppose it’s entirely possible some of my grace has bonded permanently to this vessel.”

“That’s fair,” said Dean, chuckling softly. He sat up a moment later, considering Castiel, lip pursed in thought. “You still think of this as a vessel?” he asked, reaching out to give Castiel’s knee a little thump. “I dunno, man. To me this is you. Your body.”

“I admit, I’m partial to it,” agreed Castiel, looking down to his palms again. “Even though this body isn’t technically me, I don’t think I’d feel quite at home anywhere else anymore. This is—comfortable. Home.”

“Good,” said Dean with a simple nod. “I’m pretty fond of it myself.”

Castiel looked up to meet Dean’s gaze and stared blankly for a moment, but then curled his lips into a small, challenging grin. He arched a brow. “Are you?”

Dean snorted nonchalantly, but he felt that warm twist in his belly again, and his heart stuttered. “You trying to go alpha male on me?”

“Maybe I am,” answered Castiel, canting his head.

“You know, without your grace we’re probably on pretty even footing,” said Dean, smirking. He looked Castiel up and down. “I could take you.”

Something dark and hungry flashed in Castiel’s eyes, and he rolled back his shoulders to broaden his chest. He lifted his chin just slightly—defiantly, and answered lowly, “Would you like to try?”

Dean felt himself choking on nothing and tried his best to swallow it, but he was sure Castiel could see his Adam’s apple bob with the gulp. The room felt suddenly hot and electric, almost as if Castiel still owned his wings and he was flexing them, filling every inch of space with power. A chill of anticipation shivered down Dean’s spine despite the heat and settled in his stomach, wanting. Dean was trying to come up with an answer that didn’t give in but also didn’t push Castiel away when, on the other side of the bed, his phone buzzed—and he was secretly grateful for the interruption. He cleared his throat and tore his eyes away from Castiel, cheeks red, to check the message.

“Calm down, Hulk Hogan,” Dean said with a smile, hoping his voice didn’t waver too much. “Let’s get you in fighting shape first, huh?” Castiel tilted his head, bravado fading a bit, and Dean held up his phone to explain. “Sam and Jack are back. You still hungry?”

 

Castiel’s lips parted as he stared at Dean, narrowing his eyes in consideration. Dean’s brows lifted in question, and finally, Castiel answered, “…no. Yes. I think so?”

Dean smirked. “Well,” he said, and leaned forward to claim the almost-angel’s lips in a brief, but bruising kiss. “You need to eat something anyway. You’ve had a rough couple days.”

“And you’ll be cooking?” Castiel asked as Dean pulled away. He arched his brows in a look so uncharacteristically full of human excitement it made Dean melt.

“Yeah. Whatever you want. Well—kind of,” said Dean. “I was trying to remember what you liked from last time, so it’s pretty much burgers or burritos. We can do one now, the other for dinner.”

Castiel’s eyes widened at Dean. “You remember that?”

“’Course I do,” said Dean, a quirky grin crinkling his eyes. “I remember things.”

Castiel looked down, almost bashfully, and he smiled back. “Burritos now, I think,” he said. “Burgers for dinner?”

“Okay, let’s do it,” said Dean. He leaned forward to steal another quick kiss before scooting off the bed.

“Dean?” said Castiel, following. Dean stopped in his tracks and turned.

“Yeah?”

“Thank you. For all of this.”

“Yeah, ‘course,” said Dean, knee-jerk. He started for the door again but faltered. In his chest, a warmth wrapped itself around his heart, squeezing uncharacteristically soft words up to his lips. He shifted to face Castiel again before he could talk himself out of the vulnerability and looked him in the eye. “I’ll always take care of you.” Castiel was quiet, staring intently back at Dean, and Dean felt suddenly too exposed and raw. “Starting with lunch,” he said, defusing the tension. “C’mon, sunshine.”

Dean held out his palm, and Castiel approached to take it. They linked their fingers together tightly and set off for the kitchen, unabashedly hand in hand.

Chapter Text

Sam and Jack were putting away the last of the groceries when Dean and Castiel walked into the kitchen, and Dean didn’t bother releasing Castiel’s hand. Sam noticed, and smiled, but didn’t tease and—mercifully—kept Jack distracted until Dean and Castiel thought better of it and hesitantly let each other go. Neither were in the mood to field questions from the kid. Especially questions they didn’t quite yet have the answers to themselves.

“What’s it gonna be?” asked Sam.

“Burritos,” said Dean. Jack was searching the fridge for an empty space to put a large quantity of ground beef, and Dean called over, “Hey, Jack, leave that out would you?”

“Oh, sure,” said Jack. He grinned at Dean, then turned to Castiel, setting the raw meat aside on the table. “How are you feeling, Castiel?”

“I’m alright,” Castiel answered. He snorted. “Very human.”

Jack beamed a grin. “Me too. I’m mostly used to it now, but sometimes it still feels…confining?”

“Yes,” agreed Castiel. “It is certainly that.”

While they talked, Dean left Castiel’s side and moved around the kitchen, collecting utensils and cookware. He quietly gave Sam instructions, and within a minute or two, the brothers were beside each other at the counter, chopping vegetables, elbowing each other and bickering like everything was normal.

Neither Sam nor Dean realized Jack and Castiel had stopped speaking, or that they were watching the sibling rivalry unfold. When it started, Castiel held up a finger to his lips and pointed to the brothers, whose backs were turned, and he and Jack observed in amused silence.

“That’s not how you cut an onion, Sammy.”

“There’s not a wrong way to cut an onion. And since when are you the vegetable expert? You hate vegetables.”

“Onions aren’t vegetables!”

“Then what are they?”

“I dunno—toppings.”

“Dude, what?

“Shut up,” Dean grumbled. “And scoot over. Your spaghetti arms are all in my space.”

“Spaghetti arms?” Sam answered, the eye-roll audible in his voice. In response, he bowed his elbows out further, comically.

“You know, you don’t have to help.” Dean shouldered Sam.

“Uhh, yeah, I do. I’m hungry.”

“So it’ll go faster if you’re not in my area.

“You guys are funny,” Jack finally interrupted.

Sam and Dean both stopped and turned around to find Castiel and Jack both staring and smiling, and standing in the same way—arms folded, head tilted. It was almost comical.

“Can we help with anything?” Castiel asked, stepping forward.

“Too many cooks in the kitchen,” grumbled Sam. He left his knife on the cutting board and threw up his hands, absconding. “You can cut the tomato, Cas. But be sure to ask the Fruit Whisperer the correct way.”

“Can’t even insult me right,” Dean smirked, mumbling.

“Tomatoes are fruits, Dean,” said Sam. He moved aside and Castiel took his place.

“What? No they’re not.”

“Actually, Sam is right,” admitted Castiel. Dean sighed, and Castiel smiled. “How do you want the tomato cut?”

“Uhh—like little cubes.”

“Dude, What the hell… that’s how I was cutting the onion!” protested Sam, taking a place beside Jack.

“The onions go in strips!” said Dean.

“Literally none of this makes sense,” said Sam, sighing.

“Shut up,” grumbled Dean. “You wanna help or not?”

Sam stared at Dean’s back for a moment, squinting, and finally relented. “Fine.”

“Good,” said Dean. He nodded at the stove. “Throw some butter in a pan and cook the onions you butchered.”

Sam rolled his eyes but went to snag a pan and moved to light the stove. “Jerk.”

“Bitch.”

“What about me?” asked Jack.

“Uhh—cut up some limes?”

“Okay!”

Jack found an empty spot and set about his task, and for a moment, the kitchen was quiet except for the sounds of knives on cutting boards, the sizzling of vegetables in a pan.

“This is…pleasant?” said Castiel after a few moments.

Dean snorted. “You sure?”

“Yes,” answered Castiel, smiling over. “I just don’t know if the word is quite enough.”

“It’s…calm,” chimed in Jack, looking up. “It’s never this simple.”

“No kidding,” said Sam, laughing a little.

“I wish it could always be like this,” said Jack. He couldn’t see, but the contentment slipped of both Dean’s and Sam’s faces, replaced with a soft, familiar sadness too old for their years.

“Yeah,” said Dean, finally. He cleared his throat, and after a few more moments, he changed the subject, attempting to rekindle the mood. “Hey, how was the weather, Sam?”

“Really nice,” said Sam, perking up again. “Like a calendar October day. Warm in the sun, cool breeze, only a few clouds.”

Dean nodded. “You guys want to eat outside?”

“Yes! Can we?” exclaimed Jack.

“Yeah, I like a picnic,” said Dean. A fond smile crept its way to his lips and he glanced aside to see the same look on Castiel’s face, beaming with something like fatherly pride. “How ‘bout you and Sam finish what you’re doing and go set us up a table and chairs out back?”

“Yes!” said Jack. He started cutting the limes more quickly, the knife thumping loudly.

Sam turned to face him just in time to see the kid accidentally jab the tip of his knife into a finger. “Hey, slow—” He sighed and set the pan of sizzling onions aside. “Okay. Let’s clean that up and go get the table ready, huh?”

Jack nodded and sucked on his finger, embarrassed. Sam smirked and moved to corral him out. “You guys good?”

“Solid,” said Dean. Sam nodded and steered Jack away, their conversation muffling in the hallway.

“Kid’s pretty excitable,” said Dean, elbowing Castiel gently in the ribs as the others left. He turned to set aside the vegetables he’d prepared in the meantime—bell peppers, a can of corn and one of black beans, Castiel’s tomato chunks. “Like father like son, right?”

Castiel smiled at the jab to his side and went to collect the lime wedges, but then lowered his brows. “You think I’m excitable?”

Dean had retreated to the stove and was scraping ground beef and seasonings into a pan of oil. “What? No, Cas—it was a joke.” He snorted and shook his head at Castiel a little.

“Oh,” said Castiel. He nodded. “I see. Sarcasm?”

“Yeah,” said Dean, grinning. “You wanna get the tortillas out? Throw the beers and some ice in a cooler while I finish this?”

“Alright,” said Castiel, returning the smile again. Dean turned his back and focused again on the cooking. Instead of going to the pantry to get the supplies, he stood and watched Dean in silence—noted the way the blades of his shoulders moved beneath his shirt, almost like the muscles in a pair of wings. Something painful twisted in his gut, and Castiel’s feet moved seemingly without permission to carry him across the kitchen. Silently, he approached Dean and wound his arms around his torso, pressing his forehead to the back of Dean’s neck to kiss the center of his back between his shoulders with a long sigh.

“Hey,” said Dean softly, releasing the handle of his pan to press a palm over Castiel’s folded hands on his stomach. “You okay?”

Castiel lifted his head and kissed Dean’s neck, then released him. “I am,” he said simply, and slipped away to the pantry.

Dean watched as he dragged out the old green cooler to the fridge and started filling it with ice. He pressed his lips and his brow creased with worry, but he swallowed it, turning his attention back to the cooking.

The rest went quickly; Sam and Jack returned a few moments later to say everything was ready, and they all loaded up their arms with food and drinks to carry it outside and set up a build-your-own-burrito bar out behind the bunker. Dean brought out a radio, and while he fidgeted with the dials, Sam disappeared back inside, then returned a few minutes later wearing a wide grin and toting a frisbee.

“When’d you get a frisbee?” Dean asked when Sam returned, sliding into one of the chairs beside him at the rickety, round table they’d dragged out from storage.

Sam shrugged. “I had a dog,” he said simply, and with a nod of understanding, Dean let it go.

“Okay, dig in,” he said, smiling easily—more easily than he remembered smiling in years, as Castiel claimed the seat on his other side and Jack the one across from him.

Dean watched, completely content, as the two of them and Sam began loading up their plates. Jack, excited to show off the human tastes he’d acquired in the six or so months since he’d lost his powers, stopped Castiel at every turn, making him taste a cooked sliver of onion, then a raw one; a bite of burrito with cheese and without; complain that they’d forgotten guacamole. Sam even joined in, passing Castiel a whole jalapeno pepper. Dean fixed his own plate in silence, wedged a lime down into his beer and smiled with anticipation as Castiel took the pepper, sniffed it, then crunched into it whole, biting it off at the stem to take the whole thing into his mouth—which caused Dean to choke on his drink.

“Dude, you’re about to hurt,” said Sam, eyes widening.

Castiel stopped chewing to look up at Sam, then Jack, and finally, when his eyes started watering and his face turned red, Dean—expression almost comically wounded.

Sam doubled over in laughter as he watched the tears stream down Castiel’s cheeks, but Castiel refused to spit it out, and Dean couldn’t tell whether it was from pride or lack of experience. Jack joined in the laughter, and Dean smiled wide, lifting his brows as he watched Castiel sweating through it, sipping on his beer.

Finally, Castiel swallowed and reached for a beer, chugging it down almost in one gulp. He looked at Dean, eyes wide and red, and said—voice raw with the heat of the pepper— “Why didn’t you stop me?” Then Dean broke, spitting out a little beer as he squeezed shut his eyes, laughing into a fist.

“Just too easy, man,” Dean answered when he regained some composure, and without thinking, reached over to brush a few fallen spikes of dark hair from Castiel’s forehead. When he realized, he withdrew his hand quickly to instead claim his burrito, refusing to make eye contact with anyone as he took a too-large bite, but from the corner of his eye he saw Sam and Jack smile.

They finished eating, and while Dean sealed up all the food and stacked the dishes, Sam dragged Jack and Castiel out into the little space of open grass just before the tree line to give frisbee instructions. Dean toted everything inside but the cooler and the radio, which he turned up when he got back outside. He seated himself and leaned back comfortably, reaching into the cooler for another beer. The lid slapped heavily closed, and Sam turned his head that way, then handed the frisbee to Jack and slapped him on the shoulder. He loped over to Dean and relaxed into the chair beside him.

Dean cracked open the beer and passed it to Sam, then claimed another from the cooler for himself. “Like a freakin’ Hallmark card,” he said aside, sipping his drink. “Well—our version of one, anyway.”

“You’re not wrong,” laughed Sam. He propped his feet on what had been Jack’s chair and watched as Jack shooed Castiel further away, preparing to throw the frisbee long.

“Just missing Mom,” answered Dean, grinning at the scene. “Where is she, anyway?”

“Northeast, with Bobby,” said Sam. “I wanted to keep her out of this thing with Michael. Keep her safe until we knew you and Cas were both out of the woods.”

Dean smirked and dipped his head. “She’s gonna be pissed about that. But I’d have done the same thing. You talk to her yet?”

“Nah. Waiting to see how this thing with Cas’s grace goes, then I’ll call her.”

“Good plan,” said Dean. He took another long swig of beer and sighed, content.

Over in the grass, Jack let the frisbee fly, and Castiel broke into a run to try to catch up with it, looking backwards over his shoulder. He jumped to snag it from the air, and did, but tripped over his own feet and hit the ground. Dean watched as Castiel looked down at his palms—experienced grass-burn for the first time—and then stood up, took aim, and sent the frisbee sailing back toward Jack. A cool, comfortable breeze rustled the leaves beyond the grass, and from the corner of his eye, Dean saw Sam tuck his hair behind an ear to keep it from his face. Van Morrison’s voice sang out softly from the radio, We were born before the wind..., comingling with the breeze in the trees and the sound of Castiel and Jack calling back and forth to each other, directing the other where to go in their game of catch.

“Haven’t felt this good in a long time, man,” he finally said to Sam. “Not since—” He cut himself off and the warm serenity that had settled in his chest sank, replaced by tendrils of dread. Dean leaned forward and his eyes glazed over as he gripped the edge of the table, testing its reality.

Sam furrowed his brow and set aside his beer. “Dean? What’s going on?” He watched his brother squeeze the edge of the table, then reach up and run a hand over his face, back through his hair, and understanding washed over him in a sad, slow wave. “This isn’t Michael. This is real,” he said softly. “You’re out.”

Dean dropped his hand to his lap and looked back up to watch Jack and Castiel, and after a moment, let out a long sigh. He settled into his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose, snagging his beer with his free hand. “How long you think it’s gonna be before that stops happening every time I’m happy?”

“I don’t know,” said Sam, relaxing again. “You need an anchor.”

Dean looked away from Castiel and Jack, where the former was once again lifting himself out of the grass after a failed catch. “An anchor?”

“Yeah. Like my hand, when I was hallucinating that I was still in Hell.”

“Mmm. Right,” said Dean. “No idea where to start.”

“What was something you have here that you didn’t have there?” asked Sam, sitting up a little.

“Dunno,” mumbled Dean. “Dad’s journal, maybe. But I don’t wanna carry that around everywhere.”

“Yeah,” agreed Sam. He looked away from Dean and back to Jack and Castiel, then laughed. “Look at this,” he said.

Dean looked up to find Jack seated on Castiel’s shoulders, the pair of them staggering awkwardly around as Jack stretched for a tree branch, trying to shake down the stuck frisbee. He smirked and shook his head, draining his beer. “They’re gonna hurt themselves.”

“I dunno, I kind of want to see how this plays out,” said Sam, reaching for another beer. He passed it to Dean, who nodded in thanks.

“Oh yeah, I’m not suggesting we help,” he answered.

Sam snorted. He relaxed into his chair and happily watched the scene play out in front of him. He was beginning to finish off his own beer when he hesitated with it on his lips, then looked to Dean. “What about a ring?”

“A ring?”

“Don’t play dumb,” said Sam, rolling his eyes. “You told me you were gonna propose—”

“Dude, don’t call it proposing,” Dean cringed. “Sounds so domestic.”

“Okay, whatever. You’re going to ask him to marry—”

“Don’t call it that either!”

“Oh my god, Dean.”

“What?” protested Dean, face red. “I don’t like the way it sounds!”

“You’re so weird,” sighed Sam. He shook his head. “Point is, he’s gonna have a ring. You could get one too. To be your anchor. Unless you had one in your head too?”

Dean was quiet, stewing, but shook his head. “Didn’t.”

“Okay, great,” said Sam. He shrugged. “So get a ring.”

“Maybe. If Cas says yes.”

“Do you really think he won’t?”

“I dunno,” said Dean, taking a long swig of his beer. “I wouldn’t say yes to me.”

“He’s not you,” said Sam, softening.

“No,” agreed Dean. “He’s better.”

“I bet he’d say the same thing about you,” countered Sam. He ran a hand back through his hair. “Listen, I know the self-loathing is just sort of what we do, but you gotta give yourself a break sometimes, Dean. You’ve always done the best you could. We all have.”

“Yeah,” said Dean, simply. His lips twitched in the barest smile as he looked up in time to watch Jack shake the frisbee loose but cling to the branch he’d climbed to, from which he now hung—just a hair too high for Castiel to reach him.

“I’m gonna get him down,” laughed Sam, rising. “Don’t sabotage this thing with Cas like you do.”

Dean didn’t answer—just took a long swig from his beer and sighed, watched Sam jog over to the tree where Castiel stood, helplessly staring up at Jack hanging from the branches, hands on his hips. He smirked as the wind carried the sound of their gentle bickering to the table.

“Just let go! It’s not that high.”

“It’s not that high to you!”

“It’s only normal he’s scared, Sam.”

“I’m not scared!”

“Then let go!

Jack’s legs kicked out awkwardly as he shifted to look down. Sam just barely dodged one of his feet, and Castiel ducked on instinct. The next time Jack swung a leg, Sam caught his foot, instructing him. Castiel turned around to look for Dean and when they made eye contact, they both smiled. A peaceful warmth inflated Dean’s chest as Castiel said something to Dean, the words lost in the rustling leaves, and then started walking away—towards the table where Dean sat.

“Dora the Explorer gonna make it?” Dean teased with a grin as Castiel neared.

“I don’t know who that is,” Castiel answered. “But if you mean Jack, I think he’ll be fine.”

“Yeah,” said Dean. He smirked and shook his head, then downed the rest of his beer. He dragged a finger absently up and down the side of the empty bottle a few times, watching Castiel with a fond smile. Castiel blinked at him, expression going blank.

“What?”

“Nothing,” said Dean, abandoning the bottle to scratch awkwardly through his hair. “Just—I dunno. This is good.”

Castiel returned the smile. “It is.”

Dean watched him a moment longer, then glanced over at Sam still struggling with Jack in the tree, and then down to his watch. “Wanna go for a drive?”

“I’d like that,” Castiel answered. He sunk his hands into the pockets of his borrowed jeans and his smile grew. “When?”

“You busy now?”

“I don’t know,” Castiel answered, too seriously. When Dean blinked at him, he winked back. “Have to check my calendar.”

“Oh, he’s got jokes now,” snorted Dean, rising. He collected the empty beer bottles on the table by their necks and called over to Sam. “Hey Sammy, goin’ for a drive! You got the dishes?” Then, before Sam could answer, “Great, good talk!” He turned to Castiel and flashed a shit-eating grin as he set off for the bunker. “S’go before he starts bitching about it.”

Castiel rolled his eyes and smiled, following Dean inside.

They spent so much time outside after lunch it was half-past three by the time Dean and Castiel were ready to hit the road. They had just slipped into the Impala in the garage when Dean patted his pocket and lied. “Guess I left my keys in my room. You wanna run and steal that cooler while I get ‘em? We can pick up some more beer while we’re out.”

“Sure,” said Castiel, and they both exited the car, heading in opposite directions.

Dean held his breath as he hurried to his room. He closed the door behind him, just in case, and went to pull open the desk drawer, withdrawing and then pocketing a small, brown paper sack before he set off once more for the garage.

Chapter Text

Dean eased the Impala lazily down the road, enjoying the hum and vibration of the engine, Castiel’s hand linked with his across the front seat. The low green country rolled by in subtle waves of earth outside the window, segmented in half by the empty two-lane road they traveled. Above them the sky was mostly clear, dotted with only a few clouds that threw the late-afternoon sunlight across the landscape in thick golden beams. In the distance, a dark gray thunderhead loomed on the flat horizon, flickering with sporadic branches of blue and white lightning.

They drove the first twenty or so minutes in a blissful silence, Dean taking in the feeling of Castiel’s warm hand in his, Castiel taking in the countryside as if seeing it through brand new eyes. When they hit the Nebraska state line around the half-hour mark, Castiel started peppering Dean with questions about humans—specifically, why they felt the need to carve up the Earth with arbitrary borders and invisible lines, and why those lines created identities. Dean didn’t have any good answers, but he tried: “Because we’re selfish.” “Because we like things that bind us together.” “Because we like things that keep us apart.” It was a shame, Castiel said, that people couldn’t see difference as a thing of wonder and beauty, and Dean agreed.

Then, about forty-five minutes in, they passed a large, fenced-in pasture full of black and white spotted cows milling about calmly in the cool October air, and Castiel regaled Dean with the story of how cows were “invented,” and how once upon a time, he’d known the angel responsible for the design—told Dean that after the original creation, God took to delegating the more “artistic” tasks, and left a handful of angels in charge of deciding how plants and animals would look and function as they evolved. Dean laughed as Castiel described some of the failed “blueprints,” and he asked Dean why it was funny since so many other ridiculous looking animals made the cut. The giraffe, he conceded, was the cow-building angel’s attempt at humor and was only meant to be a joke, but God found it too entertaining to throw away. He admitted that when God sent the Great Flood out of his own hurt and wrath, watching Noah struggle to get the giraffes on the ark was the only thing that made any of them retain any hope for the salvation of humanity.

Finally, after an hour, Dean turned off the paved road and onto a dirt one, tires spitting up a cloud of dust in their wake. Castiel fell back into silence and alternated from watching the landscape slope slowly downwards and curiously watching Dean, and Dean mostly watched the road, navigating around bumps and potholes, but stealing glances over at Castiel when he thought the blue-eyed man wasn’t looking. He smiled to himself, satisfied, when Castiel’s eyes grew large and excited as, around a bend, the earth opened up into a large, glittering lake.

“How did you know this was here?” Castiel asked as Dean pulled off the dirt road and slowed to a stop near a solid-looking stretch of shoreline.

“Me and Sam come fishing up here sometimes when we get a couple days without a hunt,” Dean said, throwing the car into park. “C’mon.” He swung open the door and walked around to the trunk, popping it open. “Grab the cooler from the back?” he called to Castiel as he dug around.

When he resurfaced, Castiel was standing beside the car, leaning against it with a hip and holding the cooler, watching Dean curiously. Dean slammed the trunk and drummed his fingers on a threadbare flannel blanket rolled beneath his arm. He shouldered a green duffel and ticked his head to a little copse of bushes about twenty feet away. “S’go.”

Dean set off, and Castiel trailed behind him curiously, melting ice and the leftover beer sloshing with a dull rattle against the inside of the cooler with his steps. “What are we doing?”

“Figured we could hang out here for a while, maybe catch the sunset if the rain holds off since we had a kinda big lunch. Don’t need dinner too early,” Dean answered, disappearing around the shrubbery. When Castiel followed him into the secluded little clearing by the water’s edge, Dean shrugged off the duffel. “I thought we could just—I dunno, talk, and stuff. If you want.”

Castiel’s lips parted as he stared at Dean, and then he smiled. “Yes,” he said. “I’d like that.”

“Awesome,” said Dean, and he smiled through flushing cheeks. He shook out the blanket and spread it over the grass, then sat cross-legged on one corner and pulled the duffel to his knees. Castiel took the other side of the blanket and set the cooler in between them, behind them in the grass. He watched as Dean fished out three low, half-burned up candles in glass jars, labeled Citronella in ugly red letters on the side. He flicked on his lighter and was hunching against the breeze, trying to light the candle, when he caught Castiel watching. “Mosquitos,” he explained, and handed Castiel the now-burning candle.

“Oh,” said Castiel, and set the candle off to the side. “It…smells.”

“It does,” Dean smirked, lighting the other two. He set one beside him and the other at the foot of the blanket, then fished around in the duffle bag again, pulling out a beat-up hiking lantern and an oil can and lit it too, placing it behind them in front of the cooler. “Okay,” he said, satisfied.

“Okay,” repeated Castiel. He stared at Dean for a few seconds, unblinkingly, and then asked, “What now?”

“Now,” said Dean, scooting forward to lie on his back and crook an arm beneath his head. “We chill.”

“Oh,” said Castiel again. He stared at Dean, then leaned back on his hands to look out over the water. “What does that mean?”

Dean snorted. “It means you relax. Take it all in. Try not to think about anything bad.”

“I see,” said Castiel. He nodded and tested the word on his tongue. “Chill.”

“Yep,” said Dean. He closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose, content.

They fell into a comfortable silence, Castiel watching the water, Dean lounging on the blanket. “It’s quiet,” Castiel finally said.

“It’s not if you listen.”

“Listen to what?”

“Just—shhh,” said Dean, opening his eyes to glance at Castiel. “Listen. Close your eyes. It helps.”

Castiel looked down at Dean, then nodded, and Dean watched as he shifted a little to sit up straighter, close his eyes and focus. Dean smiled at him and closed his own eyes again, sighing happily. And Castiel listened: to the steady wind shaking the tall grass and the reeds; the dull thunder rumbling like a train in the distance, growing closer; a fish splashing in the water; the high, slow song of crickets and cicadas; a bullfrog’s lazy, drawling croak.

Minutes ticked by and finally, Dean heard Castiel sigh. “Oh,” he breathed, and Dean smiled.

“Yeah,” he said, and opened his eyes to drink in Castiel—watch his dark hair tousling in the breeze. “Cas?” He sat up slightly, propping himself on an elbow.

“Dean,” Castiel answered softly, looking down to Dean with a small, content smile.

The sun rose in Dean’s chest, pushing a smile to his lips as well. “I—just. I love you, Cas. And,” he faltered, slipping into a guilty frown. “I’m sorry. For not saying it earlier. I’m sorry for ever making you feel like I didn’t—didn’t love you, or didn’t want you, or—I’m just sorry. I don’t know how—”

“Dean, stop,” said Castiel, all gentleness and warmth. “It’s alright. I know.”

They stared at one another as they had so many times before, and Dean shook his head. “Why’re you so good to me? After everything I’ve done to you?”

“Because you deserve good things, Dean,” answered Castiel quietly. “Because I’ve hurt you too. Because I also love you.”

Dean didn’t speak. He stared back at Castiel, lips parted, heart thudding. Finally, he cleared his throat and simply grumbled, “C’mere,” and Castiel did. Dean lay back and crooked his arm beneath his head again, opening the other. Castiel tucked himself into it and Dean hugged him close into his side, crossing his ankles. Castiel’s head settled on Dean’s shoulder, and Dean leaned aside to press a kiss into the dark hair above his temple, sighing.

Castiel let the arm closest to Dean flop onto his stomach and curled the other one up to brush his fingers over the back of Dean’s hand. “So, this is chilling?”

Dean snorted. “Yeah, this is chilling.”

“I like it,” mumbled Castiel, almost sleepily.

“I hoped you would,” said Dean. “This whole thing with your grace—sort of a blessing in disguise, much as it sucks. Forcing us to lay low, you know? Giving us some time like this.”

“It doesn’t ‘suck’ that badly,” Castiel countered lazily. “I don’t mind being human. In fact, I vastly prefer humans to angels.”

“I don’t mind you being human either,” said Dean, closing his eyes with a soft sigh. “But I worry less when you’re an angel.”

“That’s what it’s like for me all the time, Dean.”

“How do you mean?”

“You’re always human,” said Castiel softly. “Fragile.”

“Dunno if I’m exactly fragile,” Dean grumbled.

“Maybe not in comparison to other humans. But in the grand scheme of it all?”

“Yeah, okay, I get you,” said Dean, humming quietly. “You really worry about me?”

“Always.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I couldn’t stop if I tried.”

“Hmm,” Dean laughed a little through his lips. “Can’t argue without calling the kettle black. Guess that makes me the pot.” Dean felt Castiel’s head turn against his shoulder, and he opened his eyes to find blue eyes looking over at him.

“What?”

“It’s just an expression.”

“What does it mean?”

Dean smiled unconsciously squeezed Castiel closer as the wind picked up, suddenly gusting and chilly. The candles flickered out almost in unison, leaving only the lantern. “Means I’ll never stop worrying about you either. So I got no room to argue.”

“Oh,” said Castiel. He hesitated, then added softly, sadly, “I wish it didn’t have to be like that.”

“Yeah,” said Dean, echoing the tone. He made a noise low in his throat and sat up, rolling over to hover on his elbows above Castiel. “I don’t wanna talk about that right now.”

Castiel sucked in a breath and stared up at Dean, voice stuck in his throat. He swallowed, then asked, “What do you want to talk about?”

“Don’t wanna talk at all,” said Dean, and he ducked down to claim Castiel’s lips in a sweet, slow kiss.

Castiel hummed against Dean’s lips and pushed his hands up Dean’s back, pulling him down close. He kissed back feverishly, parting his lips in breathy little gasps that sucked the air from Dean’s lungs, sent Dean’s head spinning. The wind gusted again, and Dean shivered, goosebumps prickling his arms. Beneath him, Castiel was warm and writhing, and the contrasting temperatures somehow made him shake harder, though he tried to ignore it—sucked Castiel’s bottom lip into his mouth and grazed it with his teeth. Castiel moaned in response and crooked a knee into Dean’s side, then used that as leverage, flipping them so Dean was on his back, Castiel on top.

Castiel dove immediately back down for another kiss, breathing in through his nose as he dipped his tongue into Dean’s mouth, kissing him hot and deep. Dean groaned in his chest and licked back up into Castiel, buried both hands in his dark hair and arched his back. In response, Castiel gripped Dean’s wrists and pinned them to the blanket above his head. Dean laughed against Castiel’s lips, and Castiel silenced him with another bruising kiss, then moved to mouth at the space where Dean’s jawline met his neck, sucking the soft skin between his teeth. He did this again, two more times, then three, moving slowly down the side of Dean’s neck until he reached the edge of his t-shirt.

“I want to claim you,” Castiel growled low. “Again.”

A shiver of pleasure and nerves ran through Dean’s blood. “Again?” was all he managed to reply, voice a strangled whisper.

In answer, Castiel bit into Dean’s neck again and wrapped his fingers tightly around Dean’s shoulder where he’d once scarred a handprint, and Dean laughed without meaning to. His eyes flew open unbidden as Castiel’s teeth sunk into his skin, and he looked beyond Castiel’s hair and gasped. “Cas,” he whispered, and lowered a hand to tap against Castiel’s back. “Cas, look.”

Castiel pulled back and opened his eyes to stare down at Dean, pupils lust-blown, lips red and wet. “What is it?” He blinked, then started to turn over. “It got so dark…” He sat up and looked out toward the lake and inhaled sharp and low. Dean sat up beside him and smiled.

The clouds had moved in quickly on the wind, sending the world into premature darkness. Around them flew hundreds and hundreds of fireflies, blinking serenely in the shadow of the storm. They weaved in and out of the reeds and rushes, reflected on the water—swarms of little living, yellow stars. Castiel watched the fireflies, enraptured, and Dean watched Castiel, heart swelling in his chest. He let the almost-angel sit in silence for a few moments, then finally cleared his throat.

“Hey, Cas?” he interrupted softly.

“Yes, Dean?” Castiel answered, gaze still locked on the glimmering scene unfolding before him.

Dean rubbed the back of his neck, which was growing hot, and he knew his face would be red in seconds if it wasn’t already. “I uhh—I wanna claim you too.”

Castiel blinked away from the fireflies and turned to stare at Dean, head tilting. When he didn’t speak, Dean stuffed his hand down into his back pocket and pulled out the little paper sack. He stared at it as he continued. “I—m’not any good at this. But if you—I want you. I want you to know that I want you, here, always. Not just here. Here…with me. Specifically me. I umm…”

He cleared his throat again and slipped two fingers into the bag, closing his fist around the ring before he pulled it out, hiding it from Castiel’s view. He crumpled the bag and shoved it back into his pocket. Castiel stared at Dean’s closed hand, then looked up at Dean, and his blue eyes narrowed with curiosity.

“…Dean?”

“I uhh,” Dean started. He shook his head and laughed softly at himself, finally looking up to Castiel. “Okay, I’m just gonna come out with it. And you can say no, because—because I’d say no to me. And I won’t hold it against you, and we can pretend it never happened if you want to, ‘cause—”

“Dean.”

“Yeah, okay,” Dean said. He cleared his throat for a third time. “If you—I don’t want you to go. Not ever again. I don’t know what the rules are—or if there are rules. I’m just—I don’t want you to have your own room anymore.” Castiel stared, and Dean blew out a breath, steadying himself. He reached out to take one of Castiel’s hands and turn it palm up, then extended his closed fist over it. “I don’t want my own room anymore either. I want our room.” He opened his hand and a small, silver ring fell into Castiel’s palm, and he withdrew. “For however long the rest of my life is. If you—if you want that too.”

Castiel’s mouth fell open and he stared at Dean, then down at the ring in his palm, frozen. He sat this way for a long few moments, gaze alternating between the ring and Dean. Dean looked away and cleared his throat, and Castiel shook himself out of the shock. “Dean, you’re…are you asking if I’ll marry you?” he asked, voice low.

“Yeah,” Dean answered thickly. “Guess I am.”

“You…guess?”

“I am,” said Dean, and he cringed with embarrassment. He looked up to find Castiel staring at him, and he broke. “Marry me, Cas—Castiel. Please. If you want to,” he forced out, voice almost a whisper.

Castiel stared back at Dean’s green eyes, wide and frightened and clearly watering, even in the low, gray light of the storm. He felt something stinging his own eyes, and something large and bright blooming in his chest. Castiel closed his fist around the ring and pulled in a slow breath, steadying himself. “Dean Winchester,” he said softly, genuinely. “There is nothing in Heaven or Hell or on Earth—nothing in any reality, any universe, that could keep me from you. There is nothing I would rather do.”

Dean blinked back tears and the tension left his shoulders, his face splitting into a wide smile. “That a yes?”

Castiel smirked and casually, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, pushed the ring onto the fourth finger of his left hand. “Don’t ask stupid questions,” he mumbled, and he leaned forward to throw his arms around Dean, crushing their lips together. They kissed each other, rough and sloppy and joyful, and just in case, Castiel whispered against Dean’s lips, between breaths, “Of course it’s a yes.”

“Think the words you’re lookin’ for are ‘I do,’” Dean grinned against Castiel’s mouth.

“Shut up,” said Castiel, pushing Dean onto his back on the blanket. He kissed him wildly, raking fingers back through Dean’s hair, and Dean reciprocated—pulling and biting and working themselves into a frenzy. They didn’t notice that the crickets and cicadas had gone quiet, or that the wind was blowing harder, whipping the surface of the lake.

Castiel pushed his hands up underneath Dean’s shirt to drag his fingers down along Dean’s sides and over his chest, and Dean wound an arm around Castiel’s back and pushed himself to a seat without breaking the kiss, forcing Castiel to straddle him. Dean was clumsily dragging up the hem of Castiel’s t-shirt when the first raindrop landed fat and heavy on his forearm. He ignored or didn’t notice it, distracted with digging fingers into the skin of Castiel’s back and tugging at his clothes, pulling low sounds of pleasure past Castiel’s mouth with his lips and tongue and teeth.

Then the second raindrop hit, and the third. Fourth. Thunder rumbled above them, suddenly loud and engulfing, hard enough that they felt the vibrations in the ground. Before Dean and Castiel could think to pull apart, the sky flashed once with lightning, then split open above them, sending down a torrential rain. Castiel pulled back and looked up into the water, blinking, and Dean looked up at Castiel, his dark hair suddenly heavy and wet, sticking to his forehead.

“Hey!” Dean called out over the dull roar of rain, reaching to cup Castiel’s cheek and draw his gaze back down. When he found blue eyes looking back into his, he tilted up his chin to bruise a kiss against Castiel’s lips, then broke it slowly with a grin.

Castiel stared down at Dean and pushed wet hair from Dean’s eyes as Dean pulled back from the kiss, then threw back his head and laughed, deep and loud. Dean smiled up at him, blinking in the rain, and then released Castiel to pat him on the thigh.

“C’mon,” he said, and Castiel rose clumsily, heavily from his lap, and then Dean stood as well. As quickly as they could manage in the deluge, they gathered up the candles and sopping blanket, put out the lantern, and shoved it all haphazardly into Dean’s duffle bag. Castiel grabbed the cooler and Dean threw the bag over his shoulder, and they made their way the twenty feet or so back to the car in a slow, splashy jog, the mud of the shoreline sucking gently at their shoes.

Dean fidgeted with his slippery keys and opened the trunk, and they shoved everything hastily inside, then slammed it and sloshed around to the Impala’s front seat, sliding quickly inside. They pulled the doors closed and the sound of the rain muffled into a dull, static roar. For a moment they sat there, breathing heavily with effort and the chill of being drenched in the cool October rain, then they looked over at each other and began to laugh.

“You’re soaked,” said Castiel, obviously.

“What’d I say about pots and kettles?” answered Dean, smirking. He rubbed his hands over his face, then up through his hair, pushing the wet strands back out of his eyes. When Castiel didn’t answer, he looked over, and found the almost-angel mimicking the motion, tousling his own dark hair into haphazard spikes. Dean’s smile softened. “The night we met, in that barn, that’s almost how your hair looked.”

Castiel dropped his hand and tilted his head at Dean. “I didn’t know much about personal grooming,” he said.

Dean shook his head. “Nah, I like it. It’s—I dunno. Classic Cas.” He paused, then added, “Not that I don’t like how your hair is now.”

“Classic Cas,” Castiel repeated, smiling softly with the memory. “He was a very different angel.”

“I dunno,” said Dean, reaching out to thumb over Castiel’s cheek. “Not so different. Still good. Still loyal—maybe just a better kind of good, now. Loyal to better things.”

“That’s kind of you to say.”

“Well, it’s like a devastatingly handsome temporary human once told me,” said Dean, smirking. “You deserve good things.”

Castiel’s smile turned bashful, and he leaned his cheek into Dean’s hand, humming contentedly. Dean tossed his keys onto the dash with his other hand and turned sideways in the seat to stare at him, and Castiel squirmed happily under the attention. “So,” he said.

“So?” Dean asked.

“Are we going to have a wedding?”

Dean made his face carefully blank, and asked, trying to hide the dread in is voice, “Do—you want a wedding?”

“I don’t need one,” Castiel answered, grinning at Dean’s discomfort. “And you don’t want one.”

Dean shook his head and laughed, embarrassed. “I really don’t. Don’t even like the word. Don’t like the ‘married’ word either, honestly.” He paused and cleared his throat. “But I’d do it, y’know. If you wanted to.”

“I don’t,” assured Castiel gently.

“You sure?”

“Completely.”

“Okay,” said Dean. He nodded. “Thanks, Cas.”

“It’s not a problem,” Castiel answered. He smiled and crooked a brow, settled his hand over Dean’s on his cheek. “When, though?”

Dean blinked. “When what?”

“When do you want to get—” Castiel hesitated, then added, “M-worded?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “You can say it, Cas.”

“You don’t like it.”

“Doesn’t mean you can’t say it.”

“Alright,” said Castiel, challenging gently. “When do you want to get married, Dean?”

Dean snorted and shook his head, smiling awkwardly. He looked down at nothing and after a moment, his face smoothed over seriously. Dean licked his lips and looked back up to Castiel. “How about now?”

Castiel tilted his head, squinted. “Now? Where?”

“Now,” confirmed Dean. “Here.”

“Don’t we need some kind of—I don’t know. Officiant?”

“I don’t need anything but you.”

Castiel sucked in a breath, watched Dean carefully. “How?”

Dean stared back at Castiel and swallowed. He looked over his shoulder into the empty backseat, then back to Castiel, quirking a brow. Castiel nodded, barely visible, and Dean let him go. He wrenched open his car door and the sound of pouring rain was once again loud and raw as he stepped outside, and Castiel followed. Dean shut the front door and opened the rear one, staring over the roof of the car toward Castiel in the rain, and when Castiel opened his door as well, Dean stripped out of his shirt and threw the sopping thing to the Impala floor, then crawled onto the seat on hands and knees, pulling the door closed behind him.

Castiel scooted inside and shut his door, and Dean met him halfway, pulled Castiel to him by the hips as he toed off his dirty shoes and wet socks in the floor. Castiel did the same, and in a second he was prone on the seat beneath Dean, staring up at him, blue eyes wide. Dean didn’t speak, but stared right back, and then began peeling Castiel’s wet t-shirt from his skin, wrestling it above his head and letting it flop, soaked, to the floorboard. He wound one arm beneath Castiel and braced his other hand against the door, pulling to scoot them backwards, give them more room, and then claimed Castiel’s lips, hard and hot.

Castiel wrapped his arms back around Dean and he gasped into the kiss, dug his fingers hard into the skin of Dean’s shoulders, dragged his nails down the length of Dean’s back. Dean shuddered and moaned into Castiel’s kiss, worked open his jaw to part their lips and lick deep into Castiel’s mouth. His hips rolled at the same time, and Castiel shivered back, dropped a hand to the front of Dean’s jeans to work at the button and zipper. Dean let him push them down, awkwardly—the fabric heavy with water and tight from arousal, and when he’d managed to kick them to the floor, Dean made quick work of Castiel’s zipper too.

The rain-soaked cloth was stubborn, and Dean sat back just long enough to let Castiel lift his hips from the seat so he could jerk his jeans down, boxers and all. He shuffled out of his own boxers while he was up, then leaned back down, grinding against Castiel as he did, pulling a low sound from his throat. “How far do you wanna go?” he whispered against Castiel’s lips.

“How far can you take me?” Castiel whispered back.

Dean smiled and growled into the kiss, rolled his hips again, and then dropped his head, sucking kisses along Castiel’s jaw and collarbone, down the length of his chest and stomach. He paused on a hipbone and looked up to find Castiel staring back at him, beautifully disheveled. “Gimme your hand,” he whispered, and Castiel obliged. Dean wound his fingers through Castiel’s and then dipped back down, taking Castiel’s length into his mouth. A dirty sound rumbled from Castiel’s chest and his fingers tightened around Dean’s as Dean licked back up, then down, slowly, flattening his tongue. He pulled back up and off, smiled up at Castiel, then twisted their hands. He bent down all but two of Castiel’s fingers, then guided those into his mouth as well, sucking them slick, crawling forward as he did.

When Dean was straddling Castiel, he pulled his fingers free and leaned down to kiss the almost-angel, guiding his hand around to his ass. “You trust me?” he whispered.

“Yes,” Castiel whispered back.

Dean nodded. “Just follow my lead,” he said. “Go slow.” Castiel nodded back, and very carefully, Dean guided one of Castiel’s fingers inside him, sitting back. He bit his lip through a little moan, then took Castiel’s arousal in his hand once more, pumping slowly. “Give it a minute. Then put the other in.”

Castiel tried to answer, but as Dean’s hand wrapped around him his head fell back against the rain-blurred window, open-mouthed. “Yes,” he said, broken, and moved his finger gently inside Dean, other hand digging into his hip.

Dean grinned and adjusted his hand to hold their erections together, stroking slowly, as he went back in for another greedy kiss. A few minutes went by, and when Castiel started to shake, Dean released them, nodding, and Castiel carefully worked another finger inside. Dean tensed and moaned as Castiel worked him open, and he rocked slowly back onto Castiel’s hand. A few more minutes, and he opened his eyes to pull his lips back from Castiel’s and look him in the eye. “You okay?”

“Yes.”

“You ready?”

“Yes.”

Dean nodded, and slowly guided Castiel’s fingers out, then licked his palm, slicked Castiel, and lined him up. He looked into blue eyes, and when Castiel nodded back, he sank down slowly, exhaling a moan that turned into a laugh. Castiel gasped and writhed, hips bucking up without meaning to. Dean slowly lifted, then sank back down, Castiel’s hands warm and tight on his hips. “C’mere,” he whispered, and pulled on Castiel’s shoulder to guide him forwards. Castiel moved slowly so as not to unseat Dean, lowering him onto his back on the seat of the car.

Castiel looked down at Dean below him, the world suddenly silent—the only sounds their breathing and the thumping of the rain on the Impala’s hood, occasional thunder. “I love you,” he whispered to Dean.

“I love you,” Dean whispered back.

Castiel lifted his chin in question, and Dean gripped Castiel’s arm, squeezed it hard in answer, smiled. Castiel smiled back and rocked his hips forward once, slowly, then pulled out even slower. He groaned as he picked up a slow rhythm, rolling smoothly in and out of Dean, who arched and moaned beneath him, wrapped his legs around Castiel’s back. Dean braced himself with a hand on the door behind him, head thrown back against the seat, eyes closed, mouth open. “You won’t break me,” he whispered brokenly to Castiel when he felt the almost-angels arms shaking with restraint, and Castiel growled, thrusting harder, faster. A loud sound of pleasure rolled from Dean’s chest, and Castiel growled, pressed a hand to the window. Dean let one foot slip to the floor for leverage and lifted his hips, and Castiel bucked harder, took Dean’s erection into his hand and began to pump with the rhythm.

“C—as,” Dean gasped, holding Castiel’s arm.

“I know,” said Castiel, and he felt Dean tremble. “I—”

His own words were cut off by an unbidden moan, and he bit his lip. He thrusted into Dean again and began to stutter, and then Dean was coming beneath him, loud and long and beautiful. Castiel held on until he finished, stroked him through, and then released Dean to wind an arm around his back, pulling himself impossibly deeper with one last thrust and then he was coming himself, a broken sound of pleasure tumbling past his lips. His hand slipped off the steamy window, leaving a series of broken trails.

Dean stared up at him, and Castiel stared down, messy and panting and drenched in sweat. Finally, Castiel leaned down to bruise his lips against Dean’s, again and again, and Dean wound his fingers into Castiel’s hair as Castiel slipped slowly, carefully out and collapsed on top of him.

Castiel only once broke the kiss longer than the space of a breath—just long enough to whisper against Dean’s lips, low and clear, “I do.”

Chapter Text

“I do,” said Castiel once more.

“God, you’re corny.” Dean smiled against Castiel’s lips. “But, y’know. Same.”

Castiel pulled back to hover over Dean, blinking down. “Same?” he asked, voice edging on sarcasm.

“Yeah, same,” Dean insisted. He lifted his chin to follow Castiel up, nipping his lip. “I did the hard part so I get to say ‘same’ if I want.”

Castiel snorted, shaking his head. “Whatever you say.”

“And I say same.

Castiel stared down at Dean, unblinkingly, and then made a rather obvious show of rolling his eyes. “You’re insufferable.”

“You’re the one who said ‘yes,’” Dean reminded, grinning.

“Perhaps I enjoy suffering.”

“Shut up,” snarked Dean, nudging Castiel to a seat, who bumped his head lightly on the Impala’s roof. “You love it.”

“I love suffering, or you?” Castiel asked, awkwardly scooting back to give Dean room.

“I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive,” answered Dean, still grinning, though he looked down awkwardly at his messy, naked form.

“Fair point,” mumbled Castiel, and he too looked over Dean.

Dean noticed, and blushed. “We should uhh—clean up. Get back. Time is it, anyway?” He reached to snag his shirt from the floorboard and found it heavy, still soaked. “Crap.”

“Umm,” said Castiel, reaching up to the front seat to check his phone. “Almost six-thirty.” He glanced back to Dean, head tilting. “What is it?”

“We didn’t think this through,” said Dean, simply. He held up the amorphous, wet glob of cloth that was his t-shirt. “Gonna be a bitch trying to get this wet stuff back on.” He let the sopping thing drop back to the floor with a dull thud, and then his face paled. “And we didn’t uhh—y’know. Use protection.”

“Oh,” said Castiel, leaning down to thumb at the soggy lump of his jeans. “Protection? What—oh.”

Dean snorted. “Yeah.”

“Well, any sexually transmitted diseases Jimmy Novak may have had were healed when I claimed this vessel,” said Castiel, completely deadpan—unbothered. “So it’s unlikely you’ve got one now. Though when I have my grace back I can check your—”

“Nope, no,” said Dean, cutting Castiel off with a rough clear of his throat, shaking his head. “M’good.” He ran his hand back through his hair and sighed. “Okay, uhh—m’gonna start the car and crank the heat. We can lay our stuff out up front and maybe it’ll get dried at least a little.”

Dean fished his keys from his wet jeans in the floor and stretched long over the front seat to put them in the ignition, then cranked it. The Impala rumbled to life, and Dean subconsciously smiled at the sound. He turned the heat on full blast and was settling back into the backseat to gather up his clothes when he caught sight of Castiel, smiling softly and staring. “What?”

Castiel blinked, eyes narrowing curiously. “What?” he parroted.

“You’re staring, and I’m in my birthday suit, buddy,” Dean said, clearing his throat.

“Dean, I was just inside you,” Castiel said, the breath of a laugh escaping his lips. “And anyway. Aren’t you my husband now?”

“Iunno,” grumbled Dean quietly, ears red.

Castiel rolled his eyes. “Is that another word you don’t like?” he asked, though not unkindly. He began spreading his jeans and t-shirt over the front seat.

“No. I mean, yeah. I mean—I just don’t—” Dean stammered, looking anywhere but Castiel. He also started folding his clothes over the seat, save his boxers: damp, but not soaked. Awkwardly, he shifted himself so slip them on, and he sighed. “Look, Cas. This is what I want, or I wouldn’t’ve asked. Honest. But I never saw myself as the marrying type. Hunters—we don’t get married. Not really. Not like normal people do. And it feels—husband, marriage…those words feel cursed to me, man. My mom and dad, and Sam’s fiancée, it’s…That’s what this is, but—I don’t wanna call it that. Wanna call it something that’s just ours, that doesn’t feel like it’s gonna go up in smoke.”

Castiel stared at Dean, softening sadly as he listened. His shoulders fell and he fished out and tugged on his own boxers, then scooted across the seat to tilt Dean’s chin toward him. “Dean, look at me.” Dean did, and Castiel leaned in to press a soft kiss to the center of his forehead. He withdrew slowly, and said, “We’re not cursed. We can call it anything you want. I’m with you.”

“You sure?” said Dean, swallowing. His eyes were red-rimmed as he stared back at Castiel.

“Yes,” said Castiel gently. “On both counts.” He ducked down and kissed Dean gently on the lips, repeating again as he pulled away, “I’m with you.”

Dean reached up and wrapped his fingers around Castiel’s wrist, just below his chin. A small smile turned the corner of his lips. “Don’t think I’ve ever said this in my life,” he said, “but I’m one lucky son of a bitch.”

Castiel smiled. “We’ll find our own word. Or we won’t. We know we are. That’s enough.” He swiped the pad of his thumb gently over Dean’s lower lip, and his smile faded into something serious, reverent. “I’ve been searching for something like this—like you—for millennia. Something was always—I always wanted in ways the other angels didn’t seem to, so I kept it to myself, but—seeing your soul that first time in Hell? Beaten as it was, it was holy. It made me whole.”

Dean’s eyes widened and watered as he stared at Castiel, and to dam the flow of tears before they began, he cleared his throat and looked away, down to Castiel’s chest. “First time I saw you scared the crap out of me, to be honest,” he said.

Castiel smiled. “I know. I could hear you.”

“You could hear me?” Dean wondered, looking back up. “Thought you said you didn’t read my mind.”

“I don’t,” said Castiel. “But that was before you made the rule.”

“Mmm,” Dean grunted, conceding. “That’s fair. How do you stop it, anyway?”

“Stop myself hearing your thoughts?”

“Yeah,” said Dean. He released Castiel’s wrist and trailed his fingers slowly down the length of his arm. “Psychics just hear stuff all the time.”

Castiel’s smile twitched a bit larger and he dropped his hand from Dean’s chin to rest easily on his partner’s knee. “It’s similar, though not quite the same as being psychic,” he explained. “Think of it like—well, like angel radio—which is a term we only use because of humans, by the way. The actual process is best described by a series of mathematical equations incomprehensible to the human mind, although—”

“Cas,” said Dean. He stared at Castiel blank-faced.

“Right,” said Castiel with a light laugh. “It’s all waves. So, like the radio, you have your own…station.”

“And you can turn the dial away?”

“Something like that,” said Castiel. He smiled. “It’s an imperfect metaphor, of course, as I can hear multiple ‘stations’ at a time, but—yes, that’s essentially it.”

Dean nodded. “Huh. So praying…?”

“Emergency broadcast system,” said Castiel. “Takes over every frequency. So to speak.”

“Huh,” said Dean again. “You can’t shut that off?”

“Prayers? No,” said Castiel. “But I don’t get many.”

“Really?”

“Really. Most people pray to God, or the archangels they know from the Bible,” said Castiel. “In fact, my name isn’t well known. It’s mostly esoteric circles—Kabbalistic Jews, witches, the occasional pagan…”

“Pagans?” asked Dean, blinking. “Really?”

Castiel nodded. He traced absentminded circles over Dean’s knee with a finger. “It’s not so odd. Angels, or the concept of beings like angels, exist in almost every religion. Our presence is often mistaken for spirits of some kind, and they name us—sometimes gods, too…” he trailed off, and then looked up to Dean, smiling playfully. “Castiel is my true name, but I’ve been called others. Some you’ll know.”

Dean snorted and rolled his eyes. “You already did the God thing, Cas.”

Castiel shook his head. “That’s not what I mean.”

“Okay, fine,” said Dean. “What other names?”

“The most famous of them,” said Castiel, raising his eyebrows, “You know from Greek mythology as the goddess Persephone.”

“Persephone?” said Dean. “Seriously? You’re Persephone?” He balked and began working at his lower lip between his teeth.

Castiel again reached up to gently coax it back out with a swipe of his thumb and laughed through his nose. “Persephone isn’t real, but her original mythos is loosely based on an encounter I had with a…Dean, are you alright?”

“Yeah, m’great,” said Dean, recovering by throwing up a devil-may-care smile.

“You don’t do that when you’re fine,” said Castiel.

“Do what?”

“Gnaw on your lip.”

“What? Do so,” Dean answered, petulant.

“Not often,” countered Castiel. He watched Dean carefully as they fell into a brief silence, and without asking, Castiel reached up to Dean’s shoulders, turning him so his back was to Castiel’s chest, and Dean let him. Castiel scooted across the seat to lean against the door, pulling Dean with him to rest against his chest. He wrapped his arms around Dean from behind and sighed into his hair. “You can tell me anything, Dean,” he murmured.

Dean relaxed against Castiel and let out a slow breath, closing his eyes, savoring the warmth of Castiel’s skin. “I know,” he said softly. He reached up to trail his fingers slowly up and down Castiel’s arm over his chest. “I just forget sometimes. How—I dunno—ancient you are. Powerful. I know you’re an angel, but I don’t always process what exactly that means.”

Castiel tilted his chin down to nuzzle his nose against the soft skin behind Dean’s ear. He closed his eyes as well and sighed before speaking lowly into Dean’s hair. “Does that bother you?” he asked gently.

“No,” said Dean, squeezing Castiel’s wrist and leaning into the lips in his hair. “Just makes me feel small.”

“You’re not small,” said Castiel, dropping his head to murmur against Dean’s neck in between kisses, and Dean tilted his head, baring it for Castiel. “What was it you said? This is a miracle. You are a miracle, Dean. Beautiful and vast and anything but unimportant.”

Dean hummed in contentment, lulled there by Castiel’s touch, though his cheeks flared hot and red. “Dunno how you can think that, but okay,” he said. “Whatever you say.”

“Like I said,” answered Castiel, still mouthing the skin of Dean’s neck. “I’ve been searching for this for my entire existence. Before you, there was only duty. Now there’s reason. Purpose. That’s not something angels are meant to have. Don’t underestimate how significant you are. How rare this is.”

Silence settled over the car. Dean leaned into Castiel with a sigh and closed his eyes, content for the moment to relax against his angel, and Castiel seemed to savor the arrangement as well, face buried in Dean’s hair. Finally, Dean broke the silence with a little laugh through his nose, smirking. “You’re such a freakin’ romantic, Cas.”

Castiel lifted his head to stare at the back of Dean’s. “Am I?”

“Basically a chick flick on legs,” Dean confirmed.

Castiel hummed and shifted his weight, changing Dean’s angle. “I don’t mind.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. You love chick flicks.”

“Touché.”

“Would you like to hear more?”

Dean blinked. “You got more?”

Castiel leaned back into Dean’s hair and smiled. “I do.”

“Okay,” said Dean, snorting. “Let’s hear it.”

“Okay,” said Castiel. He gently angled Dean to sit up straighter, and Dean obliged. Castiel’s arms wound further around—one all the way across Dean’s chest, and he used that hand to grip his shoulder. “This is how it was,” he said softly. “When I pulled you up from Hell.”

“Oh,” Dean breathed after a moment. He swallowed his emotion down and smirked instead, leaning his head back against Castiel. “Had a thing for me even then, huh?”

Castiel rolled his eyes and let his hands drop to settle comfortably at Dean’s hips. “Like I said,” he mumbled, ducking his head to kiss Dean’s neck. “Insufferable.”

“Yeah,” agreed Dean gently, then slowly peeled himself from Castiel’s chest to look at his partner over his shoulder. “Speaking of insufferable…dude, this car is hot. And we’ve been gone a good minute.”

“We should get back,” Castiel agreed softly. He reached for his clothes and grimaced. “They’re not dry.”

“Nope,” said Dean. He frowned himself as he pulled his jeans into his lap. “This is gonna suck.”

Castiel watched as Dean contorted oddly, wrestling with the wet fabric to try and clothe himself. He grinned and followed suit. When they were both fully dressed, they climbed over the front seat—avoiding the rain outside—and Dean drove them home in comfortable silence, classic rock on the radio, rain pelting the hood, their hands clasped easily on the seat between them.

Chapter Text

The bunker door swung open and Dean and Castiel trudged heavily down the stairs, both shivering, and Sam smirked from his place at the table below.

“You guys get caught in the rain?” he asked.

“Yeah,” answered Dean obviously. “And with no pina coladas.”

Castiel narrowed his eyes at Dean as they reached the bottom of the stairs. “What?”

“S’a song,” said Dean.

“I know—but wouldn’t that imply you liked getting caught in the rain? You’ve done nothing but complain about it the whole drive home.”

Dean tilted his head at Castiel, but didn’t answer, so Sam did instead.

“Yeah…where’d you go anyway? You’ve been gone forever.”

“Took Cas out to the lake,” said Dean. And then he lied, “And drove home slow ‘cause of the storm.”

Sam scoffed. “Since when does rain slow you down?” he asked, looking Castiel up and down carefully.

“Since I’ve got precious human cargo, alright?” he answered, gesturing to Castiel, who rolled his eyes.

“I’m going to put on some dry clothes,” said Castiel, and turned to shuffle down the hall.

Once he was out of sight, Sam stood from the map table and approached Dean, brows lifting conspiratorially, “So when’s the wedding?”

Dean rolled his eyes and began stripping out of his damp top layer, cheeks flushing. “Dunno what you mean, Sammy.”

“Dude, come on,” said Sam. He stepped around to stay in Dean’s line of sight. “I saw—” he began, then lowered his voice. “Cas is wearing that ring. So something happened.”

“Yeah,” said Dean shortly, wadding up his flannel and tossing it to the table where it landed with a low, wet slap.

Yeah?” asked Sam, annoyed. “That’s all I get?”

“What else do you need, man?”

“Well, like—what happened?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking.”

“You don’t know what a ring means?”

“Of course I do, Dean. I’m asking how it went down.”

“I asked,” said Dean simply, toeing out of his boots.

“…and?”

“And what, Sam?”

“And what happened?

“And nothing!” said Dean, finally looking back up to Sam. His face was red, and when his brother smiled, he looked away again and cleared his throat. “Cas is gonna stay in my room from now on.”

“So…he said yes?” said Sam, grinning.

“Obviously,” answered Dean, rolling his eyes again. “Why else would he have on the ring, man?”

“So you guys are engaged, right?”

“I don’t know if—” Dean started, but was cut off.

“He said ‘yes,’ Jack!” Sam yelled.

The color drained from Dean’s face as he balked at Sam, and then rose again as Jack jumped out from behind a shelf where he’d been hiding and listening. “I heard!” he said cheerily, all but bouncing up to Dean. “So, when’s the wedding?”

Dude!” Dean groaned at Sam.

“Are you going to have a cake?” asked Jack genuinely. “Sam and I looked on the internet after you and Castiel left. Most weddings have cake. And lots of white—”

“There’s not going to be a wedding!” Dean yelled, interrupting. Jack’s smile slipped away, as did Sam’s, and Dean shook his head, doing his best to swallow his embarrassment. “We’re not going to have a wedding because we’re already married.”

Sam blinked. “What? How? It’s the weekend, the courthouse is closed.”

“Don’t need one,” said Dean. “Just decided.”

“Decided what?” asked Sam.

“That we’re—y’know. A thing.”

“That you’re married, you mean,” clarified Jack.

“Yeah,” said Dean. He bent to scoop up his shoes and snag his wet flannel from the table.

“You can do that?” asked Jack. He looked to Sam as well. “Just decide to be married?”

“Not—really, no,” said Sam. “Not legally.”

“What would I even say, Sammy?” said Dean, exasperated. “I’d just walk up to the clerk and say, Hi, my name’s Dean Winchester, who you’ll have listed as legally dead, and I’m here to marry Castiel, who has no last name because he’s a freakin’ angel, and lives in the former body of one James Novak—also legally dead? Think that’ll work?”

Sam and Jack were silent for a few beats, considering, and finally Sam said with a little chuckle, “…yeah. Fair point.”

Dean sniffed and started to pad away down the hall. “No part of our lives is even remotely legal anyway,” he said. “And I wanna change and then eat.”

“Okay,” said Sam. “Burgers?”

“Yeah,” said Dean. “Fire up the grill?”

“You got it,” said Sam, and Dean nodded once before disappearing into the shadow of the hall.

Sam turned to look at Jack, placing a hand on his shoulder. “So,” he said. “Wanna plan a surprise party?”

***

Dean stepped into his bedroom to find it hazy. The bathroom door stood open, filling the room with warm steam from the running shower. He smiled to himself and pulled the door closed gently behind him, setting his shoes down beside it. He threw his wet flannel over the back of his desk chair to dry, then stripped out of his t-shirt and did the same with it before heading to drag an old boom box from beneath his bed. Dean cleared a space on the nightstand and settled it there, then turned it on and began to fiddle with the dials. When he found the right frequency—a local classic rock station he liked that played a nice selection of chilled out and acoustic rock in the evenings—he turned it up and stripped out of his jeans, heading to the bathroom.

…I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, I’ve seen sunny days…

Castiel was standing still in the shower, his hands by his sides, face upturned into the hot water. Dean quirked a little grin and knocked lightly on the wall to signal his approach. Castiel lowered his head but didn’t open his eyes. “Hello, Dean.”

“Hey, Sunshine,” Dean answered. “Having a good time?”

“Mmm,” hummed Castiel. “I am.” He let out a slow sigh and lifted his hands to the back of his neck, digging fingers into his shoulders. He dragged them forwards in a little massage and hummed again, content. “I always liked this part,” he said softly. “The hot water, and the steam. It’s soothing.”

“It is,” agreed Dean. He leaned his hip against the sink, watching his lover. “You gonna share?”

Castiel brought his hands forwards and up over his face, moving water and wet hair out of his eyes before opening them and looking over to Dean. They widened when he found him unclothed, but he simply said, “Of course,” and took a step back to make room.

Dean grinned and shook his head, amused, as he stepped into the shower, invading Castiel’s personal space. The hot water spilled over the back of his neck and Dean sighed, closing his eyes and leaning into it. He tilted his chin up and let the water splash onto his face. “It is nice,” he said. “We’re always in such a hurry. Haven’t enjoyed a shower in a long time.”

“I’m sorry,” said Castiel, watching Dean’s face carefully.

“S’alright,” said Dean, eyes still closed to the water.

Castiel tilted his head, stared at Dean. A slow harmonica drifted in from the bedroom. Hesitantly, he lifted his hand toward Dean’s temple. He gently pressed his fingertips to Dean’s forehead, and when Dean cracked a smile, so did Castiel, and he pushed stray strands of Dean’s wet hair back into the whole. Castiel let his hand linger in Dean’s hair, watching him enjoy the shower. “Dean?”

“Yeah, Cas?” Dean answered softly.

Castiel leaned forward and joined Dean beneath the water, claiming his lips in a warm, wet kiss. Dean laughed through his nose a little and returned it, reaching to press a hand to the small of Castiel’s back, drawing him closer.

“I love you,” said Castiel, breaking the kiss briefly.

“I love you too,” Dean answered. He lifted his other hand to Castiel’s cheek and drew him back in, parting his lips into another, deeper kiss.

Castiel sighed into it and stepped forward, pushing Dean tenderly backwards into the shower’s wall. Dean made a low sound in his throat that vibrated against Castiel’s lips, pushed his hand up from Castiel’s cheek into his hair. Even in the shower’s heat, Castiel shivered so hard he broke the kiss to look down at his arm in shock at the visible goosebumps.

“It happens,” said Dean, smirking, watching Castiel. From the bedroom, a soft guitar found its way to the shower, muffled beneath the sound of the water. He let his hand trail lazily out of Castiel’s hair and down the side of his face, fingertips grazing stubble. He stopped there, briefly, to thumb over Castiel’s jawline, then let his fingers trace their way down Castiel’s goosebumped arm. “Hey,” he said softly, taking Castiel’s hand.

Castiel broke from his wonder to look up at Dean, blinking back drops of water. He tilted his head, so Dean continued.

“This is perfect,” he said, squeezing Castiel’s hand. “And I’d be happy to stay here forever—or until the hot water ran out, anyway—but I’m pretty hungry, and Sam’ll have the grill going by now.”

Castiel smiled and squeezed back. “Burgers, extra cholesterol?”

“You know it,” answered Dean. He leaned in to claim another bruising kiss, pulling Castiel’s bottom lip between his teeth and eliciting a moan from his lover before he backed away, winking.

Castiel watched, eyes wide and lust-blown, jaw slack as Dean stepped out of the shower and wrapped himself in a towel. “Why’d you do that?” he said, almost breathless as he turned off the water.

“Give you something to think about,” said Dean, grinning wolfishly. “Y’know, for later.” He dried himself off quickly, rubbed the towel over his hair, and then tossed it to Castiel, who barely caught it. “Sammy’s gonna wonder, so I’ll meet you out there?”

“Alright,” said Castiel, bewildered. With the sound of the water gone, the music carried in more clearly. Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail… He heard Dean open and close a few drawers, the sound of rustling fabric, and then the bedroom door open and close before he pulled himself out of his trance. Castiel stepped out of the shower onto the cold tile, the cool air hitting him like a brick. He looked down at the ring on his finger and his arm—still covered in goosebumps—and smiled.

***

“Grill ready?” Dean asked as he loped into the kitchen, heading for the fridge.

“Should be about there,” answered Sam. He grinned, looking his brother over. “Have a nice shower?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “This how it’s gonna be now?”

“Absolutely,” said Sam.

“Alright, well, for the record, since you asked,” said Dean, rounding on his brother and slamming the fridge door, arms laden with hamburger meat. “I’m good—like, really good, but ten minutes is quick even for me.”

“Dude, gross,” said Sam, shaking his head.

“You asked,” reminded Dean, grabbing a spatula from a drawer before sauntering out of the kitchen.

Sam groaned and shook his head, running a hand over his face. When he opened his eyes again, Castiel was standing in the doorway in jeans and Dean’s gray AC/DC t-shirt, watching him curiously. “Hey, Cas,” he sighed, turning for the pantry.

“Sam,” Castiel nodded. He narrowed his eyes and stepped further in. “Is everything alright?”

Sam nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “My brother’s just an asshole—which I don’t have to tell you.”

Castiel smiled, almost impishly. “He can be abrasive,” he agreed.

“That’s one word for it,” Sam said with a laugh. He pulled out some hamburger buns and a jar of pickles, then set them on the counter and turned for Castiel. “Hey, Cas?”

“Yes?”

“I’m just—” Sam began, then laughed, looking down bashfully to his feet. He ran his hand through his hair before looking up again. “I’m really happy for you and Dean. You’ve always been family, but it’s good to call you my brother.”

An uncommonly large smile split Castiel’s lips, and his face lit up and turned red at the same time. “Thank you, Sam,” he said. “And thank you for all of your encouragement. I know I can—that Dean and I can both be, as he’d say, a couple of dumbasses.”

Sam shook his head and let out a soft chuckle. “Yeah, you can. I think everyone knew before you two did. Been a long ten years watching you guys flirt.”

“Flirt?” asked Castiel, squinting.

“Yeah,” snorted Sam. “Flirt. ‘More profound bond’ ring a bell?”

“Oh,” said Castiel, face blank. “Yes, I do remember that.”

“Yeah,” said Sam again. He watched Castiel for a moment, then took a step forward. “Hey,” he said softly. Sam reached out and pulled Castiel into a quick hug, slapping him lovingly on the back. “Seriously.”

“Thank you,” said Castiel again, returning the embrace with a grin.

Sam sniffed and stepped back to smile for a moment at Castiel before adding, “Jack’s pretty thrilled too. Fair warning, he’s gonna try to talk you into a wedding.”

Castiel laughed softly and scratched his head. “It’s not me he has to convince, though I’m admittedly apathetic either way.”

“I figured,” said Sam. “Help me carry all this out? We’re going to eat in the war room.”

“Sure,” answered Castiel. They loaded up their arms with hamburger buns, condiments, and bags of chips, and—at Sam’s behest—a few bottles of whiskey, and set out.

Half an hour later, all four boys were seated at the table, and again Jack was all but force-feeding Castiel strange new foods: a burger with and without cheese, chips alone and chips with a bite of burger, Cheetos dipped in ranch (a combination Castiel found particularly loathsome).

Dean, on the other hand, had a promise to keep: get Castiel blackout drunk.

“Alright,” he said, splashing a couple ounces of whiskey in the glasses he’d brought out. “Let’s do this.” He’d just started pouring the fourth glass when he faltered, looking up at Jack.

Jack blinked at Dean. “What?”

“…Can you drink?”

“I’ve had beer,” answered Jack. “Remember?”

“Yeah, but that was different,” said Dean, shrugging. “We didn’t know what to make of you yet.”

“You let him drink?” said Castiel, brows knitting.

“I mean—yeah?” said Dean. He looked to Sam for help.

“He—looked like an adult,” Sam said, clearing his throat. “When he was born, I mean.”

“You gave him alcohol right after he was born?” Castiel balked.

“It was just a beer!” Dean said, rolling his eyes in protest.

“He was an infant!” said Castiel.

“And now he’s—what, a toddler?” said Dean, scoffing. He gestured at Jack. “Does he look like a child?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean—”

“What it means is he’s got the liver of an adult,” interrupted Dean. He splashed a little whiskey in the glass belligerently. “Have at it, kid,” he said, and passed the drink to Jack.

“Jack, you don’t have to drink that,” said Castiel.

Jack stared down into his glass, then looked up to Dean, then Castiel. He stared between them a moment, then broke into a wide grin. “Sam told me this would happen,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Dean narrowed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Sam told you what would happen?”

Sam tried to intercept Jack, but Jack beat him to it: “He wanted to see how long it would be before your normal bickering sounded like married bickering.”

“Sammy, so help me…” said Dean, pinching his nose.

“It was funny,” said Sam, shrugging. He reached out and snagged one of the glasses and cleared his throat.

Dean rolled his eyes and reached for his glass, and Castiel did the same. Sam spoke again before anyone could drink. “Hey, uhh…” he started. He sniffed when he saw the three watching him curiously, then lifted his glass and leaned back. “Congratulations, guys,” he said gently, looking first at Castiel, then at his brother. His gaze lingered there seriously, but he cracked a smile when he continued. “It’s about damn time.”

Dean snorted. “Shut up,” he said, but he reached forward to clink his glass against his brother’s, then Castiel’s and Jack’s. They all tilted their glasses up at the same time, and Dean nearly spit his whiskey in laughter when he saw Jack’s reaction to the taste: Jack took a large sip, his eyes went wide, and then he leaned over his glass and let whiskey and spit drain back into it as he coughed in disgust, eyes watering.

“Why—do you do this?” he gasped.

“It ain’t for the taste,” said Dean with a smirk. Castiel gave him a side-eye and he shrugged, downing the rest of his glass. “Alright,” he said again, reaching for the bottle. “Who’s up for round two?”

***
“Woah—easy,” said Dean, staggering sideways as he half-carried Castiel down the hall, the other man nearly dead-weight. His shoulder hit the wall, and he used it to brace himself to better his hold on Castiel. “You gonna make it?”

“I once…led armies,” Castiel slurred back, punctuated by a hiccup. His eyes were closed as he slumped against Dean, letting himself be dragged along limply.

“I know ya did,” answered Dean with a little chuckled sigh.

“But that’s when I was an angel,” he slurred.

“You’re still my angel,” said Dean softly, shifting to hoist up Castiel a bit. He paused outside his door and stared at it, sighed again, then looked at Castiel. “Can you stand on your own?”

Castiel scoffed but didn’t open his eyes. “Yes, Dean.”

“Okay,” said Dean, skeptically. “Can you open your eyes?”

“Of course I can,” slurred Castiel. “What a ridic—ridiculous question.” He hiccupped and opened his eyes just barely to squint blearily at the door.

“Uh-huh,” said Dean. He snorted and stared at Castiel, looking him up and down. “Okay. Hang on, buddy.” Castiel did as he was told, but only loosely. He looped an arm through Dean’s and leaned heavily into his side. Dean grinned and carefully let go of Castiel with his other hand and reached quickly for the doorknob, trying to turn it and push it open before his lover had a chance to collapse. He’d barely toed it wide enough to get through when Castiel swayed forward on his feet, forcing Dean to scramble. “Woah—alright, Cas…” he began, then sighed to himself, “I’m too drunk to take care of a drunk.”

“M—fine,” said Castiel, catching his breath as Dean snagged him around the waist. The pair of them staggered into the bedroom and over the bed, Dean lowering them both in a heavy slump to the mattress. Castiel groaned and flopped onto his back.

Dean chuckled and looked down to Castiel, smiling, and he opened his mouth to speak but Castiel cut him off.

“C’mere,” he mumbled, reaching for Dean’s arm to drag him roughly down.

Dean came easily, propping himself on an elbow beside the drunk almost-angel. “Hey.”

“Kiss me,” Castiel whispered on a breath, pulling Dean down further to smush him into a messy, sloppy kiss.

Dean obliged smilingly, humming against Castiel’s lips and reaching to thumb happily over his cheek. Castiel hiccupped and he broke it with a little laugh. “Takin’ advantage of me?”

“No,” slurred Castiel. He hiccupped again and threw an arm over his eyes, groaning. He was silent for a few minutes, and then finally let out a sickly moan, “Dean?”

“Yeah?”

“My head’s—”

“You gonna be sick?”

“Think so.”

Dean sat up, steadying himself on the edge of the bed to fight through his own dizziness. “You gonna puke man?”

“Mnngh.”

“Alright,” said Dean, sighing. He pushed himself up and reached back for Castiel. “C’mon. Can you make it to the bathroom?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay, c’mon Cas.”

Reluctantly, heavily, Castiel dragged himself to a seat and then took Dean’s hand, staggering forward. Within two steps he was gagging and pressing his hand to his mouth, swaying in Dean’s grip, and Dean mumbled under his breath and tried to shuffle faster. He barely got Castiel to the bathroom and got him on his knees in front of the toilet before the contents of Castiel’s stomach made their appearance.

Dean patted him on his back while he vomited, grinning drunkenly, “Welcome to your first human pre-hangover.”

Castiel simply groaned in response.

“Here,” said Dean, leaving Castiel propped against the toilet bowl once he was steady to fetch a glass from the counter. “Water.”

“M’okay,” said Castiel.

“Well, drink it when you can,” said Dean. “You gonna be okay?”

“Yes,” groaned Castiel, pressing his cheek to the toilet seat and closing his eyes.

“You gonna sleep there?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You want a blanket?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay,” said Dean, shaking his head. He disappeared out into the bedroom for a moment, then came back and draped a plain, blue flannel blanket around Castiel’s shoulders. “You gonna be mad if I lay down in the bed?”

“No, Dean,” said Castiel, grumpily.

“You sure?” asked Dean, leaning against the door frame.

“Please stop asking questions and go to bed,” Castiel groaned. “Leave me here to die.”

Dean snorted. “Okay,” he conceded, rubbing his own bleary eyes. “Drink that water, babe.”

“I will.”

“And don’t stay there all night,” Dean said.

“Alright.”

“Come to bed when you feel up to the journey,” Dean teased.

“Dean,” groaned Castiel. “Please…”

Dean snorted again. “Alright.” He paused to smile fondly at Castiel, then stepped forward and leaned down—nearly falling over in the process—to kiss Castiel’s hair and murmur against it, “I love you, Cas.”

“Love you,” mumbled Castiel. He dropped his head and vomited again, making Dean back up.

Dean shook his head and laughed, leaving the bathroom light on and the door open, though he turned off the lamps in the bedroom. He settled in bed fully clothed and rolled on his side, staring at Castiel until the whiskey pulled him into sleep.

Chapter Text

The late afternoon sunshine bathed everything in gold. A pleasantly cool breeze slipped between the branches of the trees dotting the hillside, making the leaves gossip and laugh. Lying there on his back in the greenest grass Dean had ever seen was Cas, his eyes impossibly blue, a perfect mirror of the cloudless sky. One arm was tucked comfortably beneath Cas’s head while the fingers of his other hand played silent melodies in the long, soft blades of the swaying grass, and Dean was beside him, watching.

Dean pushed up onto his elbows and looked over his shoulder to find the Impala parked at the top of the hill, gleaming in the sunlight. He looked back and patted the pockets of his jeans, and his brows furrowed.

“I thought we agreed: no phones today,” Cas’s voice drifted lazily up on the wind.

Dean settled back onto his elbows and smiled. “Right. Habit, I guess.”

Cas closed his eyes and stretched, savoring the warmth of the sun. “You humans are too dependent on those things,” he said.

Dean snorted and rolled onto his side to prop his head in his hand and watch Cas. “Not all of us come standard with Angel Radio.”

Cas hummed and smiled. “That’s true,” he conceded. He opened his eyes and rolled to face Dean, mirroring his position. “But you never write letters.”

“That’s not true,” said Dean.

“Suicide notes and two-weeks-notices don’t count.”

“I’ve never written either of those,” Dean complained.

“What do you call those Sammy, don’t look for me, the car’s all yours notes, then?” asked Cas. His eyes were wide and curious; not at all unkind.

Dean rolled his eyes. “Classic Cas,” he mumbled. “Those are—I dunno what those are. But they’re not either of those things.”

“Classic Cas?”

“Yeah, you know,” Dean began, grinning a little. “Saying things that if anyone else said ‘em, it’d be rude. But it’s you, so it isn’t.”

“Oh,” said Cas. “I didn’t intend it rudely.”

“I know you didn’t,” said Dean. He winked. “S’why I’m just gonna let you win this one.”

A smile curled Cas’s lips. “Is that what’s happening here, Dean Winchester? You’re letting me win?”

Dean smirked and reached out with his free arm to run his hands through Cas’s hair. “I always let you win.”

“Do you?”

“Yep.”

“Are you sure?”

“Uh-huh.”

Impossibly fast, Dean found himself breathless on his back in the grass, Cas hovering above him, head tilted. Dean’s arms were triangled above his head, Cas holding his wrists. After a few moments of intense staring, Cas gave a satisfied smile and ducked down to snag a kiss from Dean’s stunned, parted lips. “I suppose this was you letting me win?” he asked as he pulled away, sliding his hands up to link fingers with Dean.

“Yeah,” said Dean, adopting a shit-eating grin. “Doesn’t count if it’s a fight I don’t mind losing.”

“To say nothing of your unpreparedness,” said Cas, rolling his eyes.

“So you’re saying you were trying to ambush me,” said Dean, “And…you’re mad that it worked?”

Mad isn’t quite the term I’d choose.”

“Disappointed?”

“Obviously not.”

Dean smirked. “Relieved?”

“You’re impossible,” said Cas. He sighed and released Dean’s wrists and sat back on his haunches, straddling Dean’s hips comfortably.

“Yeah,” said Dean. “But that’s why you like me.”

“One of the reasons,” agreed Cas, smiling.

Dean curled one arm behind his head for a pillow and reached the other to settle easily on Cas’s thigh. “What are the others?”

Cas rolled his eyes. “Impossible,” he repeated.

“Know what else is impossible?”

“What’s that?”

“Well, according to you,” began Dean. He flashed a wolfish grin and suddenly crooked his legs to plant his feet on the ground and push, using the arm beneath his head as a turning lever and the one on Cas’s thigh as a guide. In a moment, their roles were reversed, Castiel wide-eyed and stunned on the ground, Dean above him. “This,” he concluded.

Cas regained his composure quickly and grinned up at Dean. “You think I didn’t know that was coming?”

“Your face didn’t say you knew,” said Dean.

“I’m an Angel, you ass,” said Cas. “I can read your thoughts.”

Dean’s smile faltered. “You promised you’d never do that.”

“I did,” agreed Cas. “But I know you, Dean. I don’t need to read your mind to know what you’re thinking.”

Dean smirked again, and he snorted out a little laugh. “Okay, without reading my mind—because you promised—what am I thinking now?”

“You’re thinking the phrase ‘I’m not thinking about anything’ over and over.”

Dean sat back, appalled. “I told you not to read my mind!”

“I didn’t,” said Cas, a wide grin splitting his face. “But we’ve played this game a hundred times, and that’s always what you say when I guess wrong.” He propped himself up onto an elbow and shrugged. “It was a gambit. Looks like it worked this time.” Dean stared at him, slack-jawed as his anger drained, and Cas tilted his head, narrowed his eyes. “Now you try to guess what I’m thinking.”

“Probably something sassy,” said Dean, petulant. “Cause you’re like a teenage girl sometimes, man, with that eye-rolling.”

Cas blew out a soft laugh through his nose. “No.”

“A joke in Enochian I’m never gonna get right.”

“No.”

“Dean Winchester is the smartest, funniest, handsomest person in the world and he’s never wrong.”

Cas snorted. “Always, but no.”

Dean threw up his hands. “Okay, then what?”

Cas reached up to snag one of Dean’s arms and pull him down, sending him crashing into his chest. “That you’re too far away,” Cas whispered.

Cas pushed his hand up through Dean’s hair and drew his lips into a kiss, and Dean melted into it. A liquid warmth, golden as the sunshine, pooled in the space between them—a comfortable heat coursing through Cas and into Dean, then back—a perfect symbiotic love. Dean wriggled his arms beneath Cas’s head to support both it and him, and Cas tightened the hand in Dean’s hair, trailing the fingers of his other across Dean’s shoulder, down the length of his spine, then slipped it beneath Dean’s shirt to tug him closer by the small of his back. Dean hummed contentedly against Cas’s lips, and Cas deepened the kiss—parted his lips against Deans, and Dean obliged. Cas licked into Dean’s mouth, and Dean shuddered, reciprocating. He pulled Cas’s bottom lip between his teeth and Cas moaned into Dean’s mouth, dug fingers harder into Dean’s back and hair, pulling him impossibly closer.

That pooling warmth settled between their hips, and Dean instinctively rolled his into the heat. Cas moaned again and arched his back into the touch, dragging his hands up until they reached Dean’s arms beneath his head. He pulled them out and stretched until Dean figured it out—pinned Cas’s arms above his head in the grass and linked their fingers. He kissed Cas deeper, ground his hips harder, more intentionally, finding the center of that heat and pushing. They panted into each other’s mouths, and Dean released one hand to trail it down between them, to the button of Cas’s jeans. He unhooked and unzipped them, and then his own, settling his weight there, the thinner fabric between them churning the heat to a fire. When Cas groaned, he lifted his hand and wound their fingers together again, tighter, more desperately.

“What are you thinking now?” he broke the kiss long enough to whisper against Cas’s lips.

“I—” Cas gulped, but threw his head back into the grass. As he answered, Dean dug his hips into Cas’s again, and Cas arched. Dean dropped his head to Cas’s jaw.

“I didn’t catch that,” Dean teased, panting into the soft skin covering Cas’s pulse.

“I think—” Cas tried again, and again Dean made it difficult on them both: rolled his hips, twice this time, quicker and more rhythmically, and he grazed his teeth along the side of Cas’s neck.

“Come again?” Dean whispered.

“Mmmnfff,” Cas answered, writhing beneath Dean. He hugged his knees into Dean’s side and this time, when Dean dropped his hips, he rolled back up into them, finally catching Dean off-guard enough to let slip a moan of his own.

Dean shuddered and laughed, sucking a kiss into Cas’s neck. He answered by grinding down harder, pinning Cas hard into the grass. “Use your words, angel,” he panted.

“I think—” Cas tried again, broken up by a moan of pleasure. “I—” he started over, but Dean claimed his lips, rolling once more, and Cas groaned into them. He arched again, and Dean broke the kiss once more to nibble at his ear. “I think—” he tried one more time, and then he went still beneath Dean. Lifeless.

“I think the extent of your delusions is pathetic.”

Dean’s blood ran cold. The voice that came from Cas wasn’t Cas. The heat that had been sustaining him was suddenly ripped away, and he opened his eyes to find himself not on top of Cas but face down on the dirt, fingers digging not into Cas’s hands, but the cold earth. He blinked and scrambled backwards. There was no grass, no sunlight; the hillside was bare and the sky gray. A bitter wind gusted suddenly out of the north, and there were no leaves to rustle—the bare branches of ghostly trees cricketed together like nails on a chalkboard. His jeans were zipped; his hands blue with cold. At the top of the hill, the Impala was on blocks, dull and covered in rust.

Dean pushed himself up in a panic and whipped around. “Cas?” he yelled but stopped short.

Behind him stood Cas, but he wasn't quite right. And he wasn’t standing so much as hovering, arms behind his back—in the mist that was rolling suddenly in, his legs were obscured, and Dean couldn’t tell if Cas’s feet were touching the ground.

“Guess again,” said Cas. No—Cas’s lips didn’t move. It was a voice behind Cas, disembodied. Cas looked petrified, frozen.

In his chest, Dean’s heart seized. “Michael,” he said, voice barely audible.

The voice returned. “Now you’ve got it!” It taunted. A shadowy, man-like figure appeared behind Cas, its hand suddenly visible, wrapped around Cas’s mouth, the other on the side of his head. The blue light of angelic grace pulsed dully within the featureless shadow, who tilted what was probably his head. “Did you think this would be so easy? That I wouldn’t return?”

“Let him go,” demanded Dean, but his voice wavered. He reached out for Cas and tried to step forward, but it was like the air was suddenly slow and thick, the ground beneath him sucking at his feet like wet cement. “He doesn’t have his grace. He’s human. You don’t need him.”

“Of course I don’t,” said the Michael creature. “But you do.” When Dean didn’t answer, the voice continued. “These fantasies have been keeping you complacent for me, but time’s up. You let your guard down long enough for me to get what I needed to return, and, well, here I am!”

“What are you saying?” said Dean. His voice cracked, and he locked eyes with Cas, who just barely shook his head. Even from the distance, Dean could see his blue eyes beginning to sparkle with tears.

“I’m saying it’s time to go now, Dean. And if you say ‘no,’ I’ll snap his neck.”

“Why?” countered Dean, trying to conceal the panic rising like bile in his throat. “Like you said, you don’t need him.”

“I don’t,” Michael’s voice repeated. “But like I said, you do. So give me what I want, or I take what you need, and then I take you anyway.”

Cas wrenched his head free. “Dean, don’t—” he started, but the shadow Michael’s hand clamped down more tightly.

“Annoying,” Michael’s voice groaned. “What’s it going to be, Dean? You said ‘yes’ for Sam. You won’t do the same to save your dear Castiel?”

“Shut up,” growled Dean. His hands became fists at his sides.

“Tick tock,” said the shadow. “I’m not a patient man.”

Dean looked from the faceless figure to Cas’s eyes, still watering. Cas shook his head, and Dean’s own eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry,” he said, cracking. Cas tried to shake his head harder, but the shadow’s hand held him firm. “I’m sorry. I won’t—I told you, I can’t lose you again. I’m sorry. I love you.” Cas made a strangled noise in his throat, but before he could protest too long, Dean set his resolve. He looked at the shadow of Michael. “Yes,” he said simply.

The shadow disappeared, and Cas crumpled to the ground in the mist. Dean took one running step toward him, the concrete suddenly gone, but he was punched backwards by Michael’s grace slamming itself down his throat. The heat of it was brilliant in contrast to the cold, and Dean felt the familiar ache of it wrapping itself around his brain. In a second it was over, and Michael was once again inside.

“There now,” said Dean’s voice, but it wasn’t Dean. “You see? I can be merciful.”

Eat a dick, Michael, said Dean, his words only audible inside his head.

“Not today, though,” said Michael.

Dean thought Michael was responding to the insult and was preparing another when his body disappeared, then reappeared, and Dean was looking through Michael’s eyes down at Cas on the ground. With a sudden sickness, he realized he was wrong.

You said you were merciful!Don’t—why? Stop! Cas, RUN!

“He’s begging me to spare you, you know,” said Michael. Cas tried to scramble to his feet, but Michael snagged him by the collar of his shirt, hoisting him up effortlessly. “He does love you, brother. Let that be a comfort.”

NO! Cas, RUN! Let him go! CAS!!!

“Why, Dean?” Michael’s voice turned inward. Dean watched helplessly as his own hands, without bidding, moved to grasp the sides of Cas’s face. “Because you’re quiet when you’re broken.”

NO!

With a quick turn of his wrists, Michael snapped Cas’s neck. Dean felt the bones pop, saw the blue of Cas’s eyes go dull, and his stomach rolled but Michael quelled it. He screamed inside his brain, but then his voice went silent too. Michael dropped Cas’s body unceremoniously to the ground, and then he spoke.

“Now shut up and go to sleep.”

***

“NO!”

Dean woke up screaming. His body was covered in sweat and his heart was racing, but despite it, he was shivering, covered in goosebumps. He sat bolt upright in bed and panted, stared around his bedroom. He touched his face and the sheets to make sure they were real, then turned to his side, looking for Castiel. The bed was empty. He threw off the covers and ran to the bathroom, forced open the door. Empty. He looked for the glass of water he’d given Castiel the night before and found that it, too, was gone. “No, no, no,” he whispered to himself, panic thick and bitter in his throat. He shoved out of the bathroom and looked for something—anything—to prove this was real, that he was free of Michael.

“Dad’s dead,” he said softly to himself, scanning the room. “His journal’s in that drawer.” He walked over and tugged it open and, finding the journal, let out a sigh of relief. He closed it and pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head. Dean stood like this for a few moments, steadying his breath, and finally lowered his hand. When he opened his eyes, his blood went cold again. He stared at the small pile of vinyls on the dresser, the sleeve on top with a man sitting in a bar, the record player beside them. I don’t have a record player he thought, and then said out loud, “I use cassettes.”

Dean sank to his knees in the bedroom floor, his eyes unfixed and watering. “No,” he whispered, and his body began to shake. “No.” Somewhere, in the back of his mind, a dull laughter began. It grew slowly louder, overwhelming him. Dean realized it was his own voice—Michael’s voice—and his stomach seized. He leaned forward and braced his hands on the floor and vomited. Can you throw up in a dream? Can you feel pain? “That’s why people pinch themselves,” he said aloud. He coughed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, sitting back. He stared long and hard at the record player on the dresser, and then he stood.

The record player stared back, indifferent. Dean looked for a few more seconds, then let out a loud roar of agony and anger. He reached for the record player and grabbed it by its sides to yank it from the desk. The lights flickered as the strain on the cord shifted the plug until it came loose, and Dean hurled the whole thing at the opposite wall. It slammed into the cinderblock with a loud, hard crash, then hit the floor with a smack. Dean rounded on it and slid to his knees before the broken player, then roared again as he began punching the largest pieces still intact, over and over and over. Broken plastic sliced into his knuckles. He didn’t relent. When a large piece lodged itself between his middle and pointer finger, he ceased his punching and picked up another chunk, hurling it at the wall beside the door which, a half second later, swung open so hard it smacked into the wall.

“Dean? Dean!”

Castiel’s voice cut through the red haze of Dean’s anger and fear. He looked up at the man in the doorway, his terrified expression, and his own chest heaved. Hot tears spilled down Dean’s cheeks, and he became suddenly aware of the throbbing pain in his hands. He meant to say Castiel’s name, but instead, without meaning to, he simply croaked, “Are you real?”

“Dean…” Castiel’s voice softened, and he shook himself out of his trance to step hurriedly across the room. Once he moved, Dean could see where Sam and Jack were standing behind him in the shadow of the hallway, their faces a mirror of Castiel’s terror.

Castiel knelt slowly in front of Dean, being careful of the broken pieces of record player. He glanced over to where it once sat, then his eyes trailed downward to find the pool of vomit in front of the desk. Castiel sighed and looked back to Dean, then his bloodied hands, and finally reached up to cup his cheek. “I’m real,” he said lowly, assuredly. “I’m real.”

“How do you know?” said Dean, voice a cracked whisper. “How am I supposed to know?”

“Because I pulled you out,” said Castiel gently. His thumb swiped away a tear on Dean’s cheek. “Because we found you. Because,” Castiel began, and then smiled a little. “Because I’m human, otherwise I wouldn’t be experiencing my first hangover—which is less than pleasant.”

“I’ll…get the bandages,” said Jack from the doorway, awkwardly. Sam nodded at him and frowned, and Jack disappeared down the hall.

Dean blinked over at the door and locked eyes with Sam, who gave him a nod as well, his eyes large and sad. Dean nodded back, and then sighed. “Right…right,” he said softly.

“It’s going to take some time,” said Sam gently. “But you’re here. You’re safe, and we’re real. We’ll remind you as often as you need. Forever, if we have to.” He paused. “We’ll all get anchors,” he decided. “Things you can touch and know are true.”

“That’s a good idea,” agreed Castiel, though he didn’t look away from Dean. He dropped his hand from Dean’s cheek and gingerly slipped it and his other beneath both of Dean’s hands, lifting them up to inspect the damage.

Dean looked from Sam to Castiel and sighed, shuddered. “You were gone,” he said, voice wavering. Tears welled in his eyes again, still wide with fear. “I woke up and you—”

“I went to get something to eat,” said Castiel softly. “For the hangover.” He shook his head gently at Dean. “I didn’t want to wake you.”

“You can’t leave me,” said Dean, louder, still panicked.

Jack returned with a small first-aid box, and he moved to enter, but Sam put out his arm, shook his head. Jack looked over to the scene and dipped his head once in understanding, then crouched to set the box against the wall, just inside the bedroom door.

“I won’t leave you,” soothed Castiel.

Sam ticked his head to Jack and he reached for the doorknob. He gave Dean and Castiel one last pained look, then slowly closed the bedroom door. Castiel leaned forward and kissed Dean on the forehead, then gently extricated his hands and stood, walking to snag the first aid kit.

“Tell me what happened,” he said softly. Castiel set the kit on the bed and then returned to Dean, gently urging him to stand from the floor. When Dean did, Castiel guided him to a seat on the bed, and he turned to grab the chair from the desk and bring it over, carefully stepping around the vomit. He placed the chair before Dean and sat himself in it, then opened the first aid kit.

Dean shook his head. He swallowed. “Was a dream, I guess,” he said lowly, cheeks coloring. “God, I’m so stupid.”

“No, you’re not,” said Castiel. He glanced up at Dean from his work, soaking a thick piece of white gauze in rubbing alcohol. “You’ve been through something traumatic. Like Sam said—it takes time.”

“It didn’t with you,” said Dean. “After Lucifer.”

“Well, I was also an angel,” reminded Castiel. “It’s unfair to yourself to compare the way we heal.”

“Yeah,” said Dean, noncommittal.

Castiel stared at him for a moment, then sighed. “Ready?” he asked and slipped a hand beneath Dean’s—the one with the chunk of record player wedged between his knuckles. Dean nodded once and clenched his jaw. Castiel gave an apologetic look and gripped the plastic, and Dean winced. “One…two…” he counted, and pulled the chunk out in lieu of saying ‘three.’ Dean hissed, but stayed otherwise composed, and Castiel set the piece aside to stem the flow of blood with the gauze. He held it there while he added another piece on top, then began to gently dab the rest of the cuts on that hand with another piece of prepared, sterilized gauze. “Why the record player?”

Dean winced a little at the stinging of the alcohol but sniffed and shook his head. He answered lowly, as if embarrassed, “With Michael, it was—I didn’t have one here. I had one there. Realizing that is how I figured out it wasn’t real.” Dean’s stomach sank, and he sighed. “Cas, I’m sorry—that was your gift. I didn’t mean—”

“Shh—stop,” hushed Castiel, shaking his head. “It’s alright, Dean. I’m not upset.” He stopped cleaning and switched out the blood-soaked gauze from Dean’s worst cut for a clean one, then set about wrapping a large piece around Dean’s knuckles to hold it in place. He held it down and snagged the tape with his free hand, ripping a piece off with his teeth to stick the bandage down. “I saw it, too.”

Dean blinked. “The record player in my head?” And then, with understanding, “…right, the song. I knew that.”

Castiel shook his head and set Dean’s bandaged hand aside, then began soaking more gauze to tend to the other one. “No. Well, yes, I did, but that’s not what I meant.” He took Dean’s other hand and began gently wiping away the blood, continuing, “I mean I saw it—what it was like. How things were. How real it all felt. Angels don’t sleep, so we don’t really dream either—but I dreamed about it last night too.”

“Was it bad?” Dean asked softly.

“In a sense,” answered Castiel. He set aside the bloody gauze and reached for a new piece—a longer one. “Not like it was for you, I imagine, if the state of your hands is any indication.” Dean cringed, and Castiel lifted the unbandaged hand to press a soft kiss to one of the battered knuckles. “It must be much more real for you. For me, I was trapped there with you, but you couldn’t see me. I had to watch you live your life—live our life—with my imitation. I couldn’t get out. It was like I was behind a wall of glass and I kept pounding on it, screaming, but you couldn’t hear. I watched the life I wanted play out without me.” Castiel finished wrapping Dean’s hand and taped it, then gathered both bandaged hands in his own. “But when I woke up, I knew I was awake. That it wasn’t real. Not like this.”

“I’m sorry,” said Dean. He wouldn’t meet Castiel’s gaze. “I’m sorry I did that to you. I know you saw—I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I thought it was you. The whole time, I—or maybe I just wanted it to be you, because it felt good and it was easier than—”

“Dean, stop,” said Castiel, cutting him off. “Look at me. Please?” Dean finally lifted his eyes; his face was lined in guilt. “None of this was your fault. None of it. You were trying to survive however you could. And it doesn’t matter now. Because you’re here. I’m here. This is real. We’re together, and this is all real. And it hurt to see that, of course, but like I said before: if I hadn’t I don’t know if we’d have ever made it here. But I did, and we did. I’m yours. You’re mine. Forever. This is real.”

Dean stared into Castiel’s eyes for a long, silent moment, and finally he nodded. “Okay,” he said simply.

“Okay,” repeated Castiel. He cracked a small smile. “Do you know what else is real?” Dean shook his head. “Your morning breath. You smell like a bar.”

Dean snorted and looked away. “Yeah,” he said. “That a hint?”

“It is,” said Castiel. “I’d like to kiss you, but my human nose would like you to brush your teeth before I do.”

“Romantic,” said Dean, clearing his throat. He looked down at his hands and sighed, standing. “I’ll get you a new record player.”

Castiel stood and moved out of the way, pushing back his chair. “We can go look for one together. Maybe a heavy-duty one.”

Dean laughed lightly through his nose. “Yeah,” he said, embarrassed, and began making his way to the bathroom, stepping over broken chunks of record player. He side-eyed the pool of his vomit and cringed, then slipped into the bathroom and gently closed the door.

Castiel smiled until the door shut, and then he let it and his shoulders droop. He sighed and ran a hand over his face, covering his eyes. He stood this way for about twenty seconds, then composed himself and moved across the room. Castiel dug through a hamper in the corner for a dirty towel and used it to mop up the vomit. When Dean returned, it was gone, and Castiel was crouched on the other side of the room collecting pieces of record player, placing the smaller parts back into the broken-in hull of the whole.

Chapter Text

By the fourth day as a human Castiel was restless. His grace was slower to separate from Michael’s than everyone expected, and that meant time was moving mortally for him for the first time in years. He wouldn’t mind it so much, he thought, if he had something to do during all these hours. Sleep was nice. Hot showers were good. Sex was great, and it also meant more hot showers. He liked cooking with Dean and watching movies with him and Sam and Jack. They played Monopoly, and Castiel found it infuriating—he didn’t understand it and he always lost. But he loved Battleship. Castiel had spent most of his thousands of years of existence as a soldier—a war strategist—and he out-maneuvered everyone in that game, every time. Battleship made sense, but after the seventh game in five days, they were all tired of it too.

More than that, Sam and Jack kept sneaking off to whisper with each other behind closed doors, and Dean was still Dean—meaning he still needed an hour or two alone every day—so Castiel found himself wandering the empty bunker alone, poking through books and feeling frustrated he couldn’t read them as quickly as he could with his grace. Everyone but him seemed perfectly content to stay inside, but Castiel was climbing the walls. So on the fifth day he broke the rules and started trawling the local news and police scanners for a case. He even considered calling Mary and breaking the news to her about Dean’s return—but they’d wanted to keep her out of it until this thing with the grace was settled. And anyway, Sam had hinted she needed the time away with the other Bobby.

Late that evening, Castiel was lounging comfortably in bed, shirtless and cozy in flannel pajama pants, reading the paper when he stumbled across what might be a case: a possible haunting at the local morgue and crematorium. He leaned forward and pulled the cap of his pen off with his teeth and spread the paper on the bed between his knees, moving to circle it. As he did, Dean opened the door and stepped into the room, smiling when he caught sight of Castiel.

“Got a good crossword today?” he teased.

“Yes, actually,” said Castiel, lifting his gaze to Dean. He let the pen cap drop to the bed. “Horizontal six was ‘Epicureanism.’”

“Six across,” said Dean, meandering over to the bedside.

“Tautology,” Castiel answered, twitching a little smirk at Dean.

Dean rolled his eyes and settled beside Castiel, stripping out of his top layer of flannel. “So, what’s Epicureanism?” He tossed the flannel over to the hamper. It missed, landing in a lump on the floor nearby, but Dean paid it no mind.

“Based on the ideas of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus,” said Castiel. “The belief that the soul does not survive after death, therefore allowing a life of guiltlessness, as there’s no eternal punishment without a soul.” Dean blinked at him, and Castiel shrugged a bare shoulder. “He was wrong, of course. I happen to know Epicurus is in Hell for preaching a false doctrine.”

“Huh,” said Dean. “That sucks.”

“It does,” agreed Castiel. “I remember Epicurus. He was a brilliant mind. Wonderful orator. Just…” he shrugged again and looked over to Dean. “Blasphemous. Never mind that this was before Judaism, much less Christianity.”

“Is that how it works?” asked Dean, brows knitting.

“For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God,” Castiel recited blandly. He reached to cap his pen.

“Thought Epicurus didn’t believe in anything,” said Dean.

“Anything you worship could be a god,” said Castiel. “Well—in God’s eyes. Money, food, intellect, desire…”

“Huh,” said Dean again. He glanced down at the paper and wrinkled his brows. “That’s not the crossword.”

“It isn’t,” agreed Castiel. He beamed a proud smile at Dean. “I found us a case.”

The color drained from Dean’s face, but he cleared his throat and quickly regained composure. “Oh. You sure?” He reached for the paper and pulled it to himself, scanning the circled portion. “Cas…”

“Yes, Dean?”

“Strange sightings in a morgue?”

“Yes,” said Castiel, eyeing Dean. “I—realize it sounds too obvious—”

“That’s an understatement,” said Dean, snorting.

“Dean—”

“Cas,” said Dean, cutting him off. “Listen—it’s probably nothing. I mean it’s a freakin’ morgue. And you’re—”

“Human?”

“C’mon, Cas…”

“Isn’t that what you were going to say?”

“Well, yeah,” said Dean, blinking. “But it’s not—it’s not like I don’t trust you.”

“Then what is it?” demanded Castiel, voice rising.

“Can we not do this, please?” asked Dean in a low whine. He set aside the paper and turned to slip his fingers around Castiel’s arm, pressing his lips to the bare shoulder. “Not when you’re here like this,” he mumbled against skin.

“Stop trying to distract me,” said Castiel, pulling away. His brows knit in anger. “Tell me why.”

Dean shook his head. “Cas…”

“Dean!” yelled Castiel, sitting up straighter. “Why won’t you let me do this?”

“I don’t wanna argue right now.”

“Well I do!”

“Cas, please—”

“Dean, I’m losing my mind stuck in this damn bunker,” confessed Castiel. “So please, just give me something.

A thick silence rolled into the room like fog, so tangible the act of clearing it enough to speak true felt, to Dean, physical. When he finally answered, his voice was almost a whisper. “You’re human. You die a lot easier now. I can’t—” his voice got caught in his throat and he shook his head.

Castiel softened. “Dean, it’s—you’re always human. I don’t stop you,” he refuted gently. Castiel reached out for Dean’s cheek, flinching when Dean turned away from the touch. “It isn’t fair,” he concluded softly.

“I know it ain’t,” said Dean, grumbling. Castiel recognized the tone—masking hurt with gruff anger; second nature. “But I can’t lose you again, Cas. You don’t know what it was like.”

Castiel tilted his head. “Are you suggesting I don’t know what it’s like to lose you?” He asked. “Because I wish I didn’t, but I do.”

“Don’t make me go through this again,” said Dean, sighing. “We’ve had this conversation.”

“Not the whole thing,” said Castiel. He folded his arms loosely across his chest and angled himself toward Dean.

“Which means?”

“You told me you were broken,” said Castiel, matter-of-factly. “Lost—when I died. You didn’t tell me all of it.”

“What didn’t I tell you?”

“What Sam told me,” he said. “Which was that you wanted to die. Or at the very least you didn’t care if you lived.”

“Yeah, so?” said Dean after a beat, petulant.

“Do you think that’s what I wanted?”

“You were dead, Cas. It didn’t matter what you wanted.”

“I’m not dead now,” Castiel countered. “And it seems what I want still doesn’t matter.”

“Because I don’t want you to get dead again!” said Dean, breaking out of his quietude into a yell. He put his hands on his temples. “Shit, Cas—you’re such a child sometimes! How do you not get this?”

“You have to let me do something, Dean!” Castiel yelled back. “You can’t keep me locked in here forever.”

“It’s been five days! I’ve had longer Netflix binges, man.”

“And I’ve spent millennia as a formless embodiment of pure celestial energy with no walls and no boundaries, and I stayed in a vessel for you, Dean, and I don’t mind and I don’t regret it, but at least the last time I was human I got to go outside!”

“You wanna go outside? Fine. Let’s go to the movies. Or the grocery store,” grumbled Dean.

“But no hunting,” said Castiel.

“No hunting.”

“No doing anything that might help someone else.”

“Not today. Not until you have your grace back.”

“You know I’m not helpless,” argued Castiel. “You know I can hunt.”

“And I know you can die,” said Dean, resolute.

“So can you!” Castiel stared daggers at Dean.

“That’s not the point, Cas!”

“It never is.”

Dean balked. He pushed angrily up from the bed and folded his arms. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Castiel was silent. He jerked his gaze away from Dean and went back to his paper, seething. Dean ruffled. “Cas…” he warned. Castiel still didn’t look up, petulantly upcapping his pen and focused on the words. “Damnit, Cas!” He reached out and snatched the pen from Castiel, throwing it across the room. “C’mon. You wanna argue? Let’s argue. Hell, let’s fight, since that’s what you seem to want tonight. C’mon, Cas,” Dean goaded, reaching out and pushing Castiel on the shoulder.

Castiel was on his feet in seconds, lithely rolling to throw his forearm across Dean’s collarbone and step him quickly backwards, slamming him into the wall.

“Good,” said Dean. His lips curled into a dark smile. “Get angry.” Castiel curled his fingers around Dean’s shirt, grinding him into the wall with his arm and scowling. Just when he was ready to give up and step away, Dean turned on his fight, sliding an arm between them and knocking Castiel backwards. Castiel blinked in shock at being bested but managed to stay on his feet. “Come on!” yelled Dean.

Castiel growled low in his throat and swung for Dean, but Dean deflected. He caught Castiel’s arm and rotated them so that Castiel’s arm was twisted to back, and Dean pressed against it. He turned them and shoved Castiel’s chest hard into the wall. “You done?” he asked Castiel, but Castiel growled and reached a leg behind him to hook his foot around one of Dean’s ankles. He pulled and Dean toppled, landing hard on the floor on his back—but he pulled Castiel down with him. Castiel’s rage built up in his chest, and he flipped, straddled Dean on the floor and drew back his fist with intent, his teeth clenched.

Just as he was about to let his punch fly, he looked at Dean on the floor beneath him—really looked, and his stomach was suddenly filled with ice, his blood chilled. Dean was staring up at him, but he wasn’t fighting back. His arms were splayed out above his head on the floor, fingers loose and unfisted. His smile twisted Castiel’s gut—reminded him too much of the way Dean smiled when he was a demon—but the worst was Dean’s eyes: the green of them was deep and sad; brimming with guilt. Castiel stared back and his lips parted in a heavy sigh. He uncurled his hand and panted through his anger, and now his heartache. Dean hadn’t thrown a single punch, but Castiel felt like he’d been hit in the chest with some large, heavy object. He shook his head slowly, still staring down at Dean, and finally pushed to his feet.

Dean caught Castiel’s emotional shift just as he began to rise, and his fighting smile slipped away into a worried frown. “Cas?” He pushed to a seat in the floor and watched Castiel’s back retreating for the door. “Cas, wait—”

“I’m sorry,” was Castiel’s only answer. He snagged a white t-shirt from the drawer closest to the door as he opened it and slipped into the hall.

“Cas!” Dean scrambled to his feet and followed, his heart splitting in his chest.

Castiel was halfway down the dark hall, t-shirt still in hand. Dean had to jog a few steps to catch up, and when he did he gripped Castiel’s shoulder, forcing him to turn around. “Cas, talk to me,” he said softly, pressing his lover’s back gently into the wall to make him stop.

“I’m sorry,” Castiel said again. He wouldn’t meet Dean’s gaze.

Dean shook his head. “I started it,” he said. He ran his fingers up Castiel’s shoulders to his jaw, angled his chin up to meet Castiel’s gaze. When Castiel finally made eye contact, Dean smiled a little. “Get it out of your system?”

“No,” said Castiel quietly. “And this is what I meant, when I said It never is. It never matters to you if you get hurt. You were going to let me hurt you just to calm me down, but—I don’t want that. It matters to me. Why do you get to take risks but I don’t? Do you—” he sucked in a breath. “Do you think I wouldn’t be broken without you? Do you think I don’t love you as much as y—"

Dean shook his head hard and swallowed. “Stop it, Cas. No. No, I don’t…” he paused again, lifting his other hand to Castiel’s cheek. “You’re right. Okay? It’s not fair. It’s not because I think you don’t—any of that. It’s because I’m selfish. And a coward. I’m afraid of my life if you’re not in it.”

“If that means you’re a coward then so am I,” answered Castiel lowly. He sighed through his nose and finally lifted his free hand to settle it gently on the back of Dean’s neck. He drew Dean forward to rest their foreheads together, closing his eyes as he continued. “But you don’t get to lock me away because you’re afraid. And I won’t do that to you.” He paused. “We’re not Rapunzels.”

Dean snorted softly, shaking his head against Castiel’s. “Right,” he said. “Right. I mean, you’re right. It’s—hard, man. This thing with you, it’s…” Dean sighed and ran the pad of his thumb across Castiel’s cheekbone. “Having you like this, after so long—it’s terrifying.”

“More to lose,” agreed Castiel. “Now that we know.”

“Yeah,” said Dean. He exhaled slowly. “You still mad at me?”

Castiel shook his head gently. “It was never really you I was angry with, Dean. I’m just—you’d call it ‘climbing the walls,’ I think.”

“I know. It’s a lot.”

“It is.”

“So you’re not mad?”

“No, Dean. I’m not mad.”

“So it’s okay if I do this?”

“Do what?”

In answer, Dean tilted his chin up and pressed a soft kiss to Castiel’s forehead, still holding his face in his hands. Castiel looked into Dean’s eyes when he pulled away and, instead of answering verbally, simply gave a small nod. Dean grinned and nuzzled the tip of his nose against Castiel’s, then dipped down to claim a proper kiss, warm and too tender to follow the fight of a few minutes before. Castiel shivered into it, simultaneously cold with his bare back against the stone wall and melting with Dean’s kiss, and Dean smiled.

“C’mon,” he said, pulling back and taking Castiel’s free hand. He started to step toward the bedroom, but Castiel resisted. Dean arched his brows.

“I’m so tired of being in that room,” said Castiel in answer.

“Anywhere else we might get caught,” said Dean, then backtracked. “Which is actually kinda hot.”

Castiel grinned and held onto Dean’s hand, pulling him in the other direction down the dark hallway until the reached a turn. Left would take them to the stairs into the medical room, where a cabinet held Castiel’s grace. Right would take them through another hallway that curved around and down into the ‘Dean Cave,’ and that’s where Castiel went.

When they arrived Dean closed the door behind them and then took over, leading Castiel over to one of the recliners. Without speaking, Dean took the t-shirt from Castiel’s hand and tossed it aside, then pushed him down into the chair and climbed on top, straddling him. “You should go shirtless more often,” said Dean, and he bent down to pepper a line of kisses along Castiel’s collarbone.

“Will it always lead to this?” asked Castiel, breathless. He felt himself hardening in his sweatpants and reached around behind Dean to sink his hands into the back pockets of his jeans and pull him closer.

“Mmm,” was Dean’s answer. He lifted his chin as Castiel pulled him in, sucking kisses into the side of his neck. When he reached Castiel’s jaw Dean paused, turning suddenly to tug an earlobe between his teeth, sending Castiel over the edge.

He moaned low in his throat and slipped his hands forward to dig fingers into Dean’s hips, and his eyes shot open to stare past Dean’s head, lips parting. He blinked and turned his head just slightly while Dean continued, and he reached over to the other chair. “Hold on,” he growled low to Dean. Castiel leaned forward and snagged a fluffy blanket from the back of the second chair and threw it haphazardly to the floor, where it spread out just enough to satisfy him. He then hooked both arms firmly around Dean’s waist and rose, just slightly, and just long enough to settle himself and Dean on the blanket on the floor. Before he let his weight fall on top, though, Castiel jerked Dean’s t-shirt up, prompting Dean to pull it off and bunch it beneath his head like as a pillow.

“Power move,” Dean joked softly, looking up at Castiel looking down at him.

Castiel tilted his head. “I’m just getting started,” he said. Without looking away from Dean he slipped his hand between Dean’s legs, palming slowly up over his length through his jeans, and Dean gasped. Castiel smiled, and it was dark. He broke Dean’s gaze just long enough to find the button and zipper of his jeans, and made quick work of them both before hooking the fingers of both hands into beltloops and jerking them partway down.

“Huh,” said Dean with a little breathless laugh, watching Castiel. Castiel said nothing. His smile faded into a thin, resolved press of his lips and he lowered his chin, arching one brow at Dean and staring at him, eyes intense. “What—” Dean began, but found himself strangled, his back arching up off the floor unintentionally, as Castiel reached beneath his boxers and gripped him hard, never breaking eye contact.

Castiel leaned forward to brace a hand next do Dean’s head and kissed him hard, swallowing a moan from Dean as he began to slowly pump and squeeze. He licked into Dean’s mouth on the upstroke, and again Dean bucked his hips upward. Castiel broke the kiss and pulled back, and he released Dean as well, instead using that hand to touch at Dean’s lips with his middle and pointer finger. Dean stared up at him, and Castiel said lowly, “Open your mouth.”

Dean shivered but parted his lips, and Castiel, gentle but insistent, pushed those two fingers slow and deep into Dean’s mouth. “Get them wet,” he commanded quietly. At the same moment, he sat back just enough that he didn’t need support and used his free hand to coax Dean’s jeans and boxers halfway down his thighs, exposing him. Dean swirled his tongue around Castiel’s fingers and sucked on them, watching Castiel with lust-blown eyes. Castiel smirked down at him and left his fingers there, demanding, “Don’t stop,” as he ducked his head and shifted slowly down Dean’s body. He pressed kisses into Dean’s chest and stomach, far too gentle for his commanding tone, and then in one fluid motion licked his lips and took Dean into his mouth.

Dean moaned and bit down on Castiel’s fingers without meaning to, bucking his hips up into Castiel’s warmth. Castiel flattened his tongue and dragged it up Dean’s length, and Dean parted his lips to moan louder. With his fingers free, Castiel slipped them down to Dean’s hips and under, and began to press gently at his entrance. Dean threw back his head and closed his eyes, spreading his legs to give Castiel better access, and after a moment Castiel began to slowly push one finger, then the second, inside. A filthy noise tore from Dean’s throat, and one hand bunched around the blanket below him, the other winding itself into Castiel’s hair.

Castiel worked Dean slowly open as he sucked him off, pushing his fingers slowly in and out with the rhythm of his head. When Dean said his name, Castiel lifted his head and arched a brow to look up, and when they locked eyes, Dean nodded. “Almost,” said Castiel.

“What?” panted Dean, sitting up just slightly. Castiel curled his fingers inside him, and he shivered.

Castiel sat up enough to tug his sweatpants down over his hips, and they fell loosely around his knees, exposing his hard length. He arched a challenging brow to Dean. “Get me wet.”

Color rose in Dean’s cheeks and he felt himself grow somehow achingly harder. He moved to sit up and Castiel gently removed his fingers with the motion, eliciting a little noise from Dean. Dean leaned forward, first, to catch Castiel’s lips in a quick, hard kiss, and then ducked down to guide Castiel’s erection into his mouth, bracing a hand beside his hip. Castiel’s mouth fell open and his eyes closed, head tilting back as a sound of pleasure slipped past his lips. Dean sucked and slicked for about a minute before Castiel touched his cheek, and he lifted, looking up.

“Turn over.”

Dean’s heart stuttered in his chest but he backed up and did as he was told, moving the blanket to brace his hands on the cold floor for a better grip. Almost instantly, Castiel was there, a hand on Dean’s hip, the other lining up Castiel’s spit-soaked erection with his entrance.

“Are you alright?” asked Castiel, his voice suddenly softer than the commands, sounding out of place. “Is this alright?”

“Yes,” breathed Dean, laughing just slightly at the difference in tone.

Castiel didn’t say another word. Slowly, gently, he pushed himself inside Dean, and Dean relaxed himself around the pressure, letting Castiel sink himself until Dean was flush with his hips. They both groaned in unison, and Castiel leaned forward over Dean to press a kiss between his shoulderblades. “Give me your hand,” he whispered, and Dean resettled one of his hands closer to Castiel on the floor. One of Castiel’s landed softly on top, winding his fingers through Dean’s, tender and cautious in the wake of his demands.

Castiel clenched his fingers around Dean’s hip and hand, and then withdrew almost all the way, gasping as he did. He rolled back in and moaned, slow and heady. Back out—a moan from Dean. Back in, and he bit down hard on Dean’s shoulder.

“Yes,” Dean whispered through a breathless sound of pleasure, and Castiel released his hip to wind fingers around Dean’s other hand and force them both more prone.

Castiel braced himself on his knees and when he was sure Dean’s position was steady, he began to thrust more quickly, finding a rhythm. Dean arched into the sensation and his knees slipped, forcing his chest to the floor. Instead of slowing, though, Castiel found more depth and pushed in harder, more fluidly, grinding Dean’s hips into the blanket on the floor. Castiel let out a low, filthy growl, and sank himself somehow deeper, pulling a loud groan from Dean that bounced off the wall.

“Cas,” said Dean, his voice a broken whisper.

Cas didn’t stop thrusting, but he slowed. “Yes?” he panted back.

“I want you to touch me.”

Castiel said nothing but released one of Dean’s hands and worked it beneath him, wrapping it around his length. Dean bucked into Castiel’s fist immediately, and Cast resumed his rhythm, keeping time. The sounds Dean made with the added pleasure were agonizing, and within minutes Castiel found himself tumbling quickly toward the edge. “Dean—”

“Yes,” Dean answered. It wasn’t a question.

With that, Castiel pumped himself harder and let go of his resolve, giving himself over to sensation. He abandoned Dean’s pleasure for the moment and instead braced his hand on the floor, curling slow and deep into Dean for the final few thrusts, and then he was coming, his climax shaking his whole body. Before he came down completely, he reached back beneath Dean and stroked him hard and slow, and before Castiel was all the way finished with his own orgasm, Dean was coming too, crying out into the t-shirt bunched on the floor. Castiel held him through it, and then he slipped carefully out of Dean and collapsed on the blanket beside him, both of them sex-drunk and out of breath.

Dean looked over at Castiel, and when their eyes met, they smiled at each other through their panting.

“I love you,” whispered Dean.

“I love you,” answered Castiel. And then, with a smirk, “Let’s argue more often.”

Dean smirked back and snorted. “Yeah, okay.” He paused and searched Castiel’s face for a moment, then asked, “What was that, anyway?”

“What was what?”

“That—y’know. Telling me what to do thing. Not that I’m complaining, just—that’s usually your go-to ‘I gotta put the fear into some demons’ voice.”

“I…don’t know,” admitted Castiel. “I wanted you.”

“You wanted control,” said Dean, clarifying.

Castiel blushed and jerked his gaze away from Dean. “I guess I did. I’m sorry.”

Dean shook his head and smiled. “I’m not mad, Cas. It’s okay. I get it. And like I said—I’m not exactly upset over it.”

Castiel looked back up at Dean and searched his eyes. “I feel helpless,” he finally said, softly. “Useless. Like a child.”

“You’re not any of those things,” assured Dean. “Your grace is down the hall. It just takes time. And even without it, you’re not helpless.” He cleared his throat and sat up, pulling his boxers up and running his fingers down Castiel’s back. “If we’re being honest, man, I think I got some kind of PTSD. I saw you die—bright light, burnt wings, the whole thing—and I don’t know. It messed me up. It’s not your fault, and it’s not fair. But it messed me up.”

Castiel sat up after a moment as well, tugged up his sweatpants. “I know. I’m sorry. I wish I knew how to help.”

“Just—be patient with me,” said Dean. He dropped his hand to take Castiel’s. “M’trying. But it’s hard, between the Michael nightmares, the nightmares about you…it’s hard.”

“I know,” said Castiel. “But I’m not going anywhere. And I can be patient.”

Dean nodded. “Thanks, Cas.”

“Of course,” said Castiel, and then twitched a mischievous grin, lowering his voice. “Husband.

Dean rolled his eyes. “C’mon, man.”

“Sorry,” said Castiel, not sounding all that sorry at all.

“Yeah, whatever.”

Castiel stared at Dean for a few moments and his smile slipped away, expression turning soft, and almost sad. Without speaking, he sat up on his knees and crawled the few inches over to Dean, who watched him, startled. Castiel seated himself carefully in Dean’s lap, hugging a knee to each side, and wrapped him in a tight, borderline childlike hug, as if he was trying to absorb Dean into his body, make sure they were connected at the chest. He dropped his head, burying his face in Dean’s shoulder.

“Cas…” he whispered and wound his arms firmly around Castiel’s back in turn. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Castiel murmured into Dean’s skin. “I just—it sounds silly,” he said, “but I can’t ever seem to be close enough to you. Sometimes it’s like any space is too much space.” He paused as Dean’s fingers tensed on his back, pulling him somehow closer, and then he whispered, “And we spent so many years already fighting back the urge to touch. So much time.”

“I know,” Dean whispered back. He leaned his head against Castiel’s, turning it so his face was buried in his hair, and Dean closed his eyes, breathed in the scent, and savored it. “I know.”

They held each other like this in silence until, finally, they rose to clean up and go to bed. The rhythms in their chests bounced back and forth until they sounded as one, and when they parted, their heartbeats remained in sync.

Chapter Text

Dean woke on day 7 of Castiel’s humanity to find the other half of the bed empty. He rolled to his back and stretched, mumbling to himself, “So much for the honeymoon phase.” Dean slipped from bed and started across the room, pointedly keeping his gaze away from the desk and the pile of records stacked on top, now without a player to make them useful. He showered quickly, brushed his teeth, dressed, and made for the kitchen.

Jack was the only one present, scrolling through the news on Sam’s laptop while he shoveled massive spoonfuls of unnatural, neon-colored cereal into his mouth. He grinned when Dean arrived, chipmunk-cheeked.

Dean smirked. “Solid breakfast choice,” he said, padding for the coffee pot. His brows knit when he found it brewed, but the maker turned off, long enough abandoned to have gone cold. A soft, sugary smell wafted toward him and he sniffed. “You baking something?”

Jack opened his mouth to speak and milk dribbled down his chin. He dropped his spoon and clapped his hand over his mouth, holding up a finger to Dean while he loudly crunched the too-large mouthful.

“Take your time,” Dean snorted. He poured the cold coffee anyway, meandering for the microwave.

Jack made a pained face as he swallowed and cleared his throat. “No,” he lied badly.

Dean snorted again. “Okay, whatever.” He glanced around and then asked, “Where is everybody? I slept in but it’s not that late.”

“Sam was up early to go for a run,” said Jack.

“Of course,” said Dean. “And Cas? He watching TV somewhere?” The microwave dinged, and Dean took out his hot coffee, blowing at the steam.

“Oh, no,” said Jack. “I told him Sam went for a run and suggested he go for one too.”

Dean stopped short from drinking, the mug barely touching his bottom lip before he jerked it away, spilling a few drops of coffee on the floor. “You mean he’s not here?”

Jack’s smile faltered, and he blinked. “He—no, he borrowed some of Sam’s sneakers and left.”

“You let him leave?”

“He didn’t ask for permission, Dean.”

“How long—aaaahhh,” Dean growled. He slammed his mug down on the counter and hissed when hot coffee splashed onto his hand. “How long ago did he leave?”

“I don’t know,” said Jack. “Sam left about around seven, and Cas probably left about a half hour later, or so.”

“It’s—what, nine?” said Dean, whipping around to check the clock on the coffee maker. 9:17. “Damnit,” he grumbled, stalking out of the kitchen.

“Dean, wait!”

“Stay here!” Dean yelled from the atrium. His voice echoed harshly in the empty morning quiet. His footfalls on the metal stairs sounded heavy and quick, as if he was taking them two at a time.

“Dean—” Jack called, but the slamming of the bunker door cut him off, plunging him back into silence.

Within minutes, Dean was rumbling down the road in the Impala, cell phone pressed to his ear.

This is my voicemail. Make your voice…a mail.

“Not cool, Cas,” he said into the phone before hanging up and tossing it aside. He glared at the road like it was offensive and propped his elbow against the lip of the window, pressing his knuckles into his temple.

A few minutes later, Dean swung the car around a tree-hidden curve of road and slowed to a stop. On the other side of the street, heading his direction, was a very out-of-breath Castiel sweating through a thin gray t-shirt and shorts. When Cas saw the car he slowed his pace to a walk, then finally stopped, panting and staring at the Impala as he pulled the earbuds from his ears.

Dean shut off the car and stepped out but said nothing. He slammed the door and leaned against it, folding his arms across his chest.

Across the street, Castiel stared back in silence. It was interrupted by an old truck wheezing between them, then the quiet resettled, and Castiel spoke. “I thought I’d be home before you woke.”

“Oh, so you were just going to sneak in and what? Hope I didn’t notice?”

“Essentially,” Castiel answered dryly.

“So you weren’t even going to tell me?”

“I was,” Castiel said. “Once I was back safely so you’d know there was nothing to worry about.”

Dean scoffed. “Awesome. That’s great.”

“Dean—”

“No, really,” said Dean. He turned and jerked open the car door. “I thought we’d hit the ‘hiding things from each other’ phase of marriage in a couple years, but we got there in a week. Must be some kind of record.”

Castiel started crossing the street. “I thought you didn’t like that word,” he deflected.

“Because that’s the point right now,” Dean countered. He fished his keys from his pocket and slid into the Impala, starting it, but not yet closing the door.

Castiel hesitated a few feet away. “You’re not going to make me ride back with you?”

“I can’t make you do anything, Cas,” said Dean. He shut the door with a squeak and, staring straight ahead, kept driving in the opposite direction of home.

Castiel stood in the road, lips pressed, and watched the taillights disappear. After a minute, he crossed back to the right side and tugged the earbuds from his phone. He stuffed them in his pocket and pressed Dean’s name on speed-dial. Castiel smirked to himself, darkly, when it went straight to voicemail. Dean had already turned off his phone. He thumbed out a text to Sam and then pocketed his phone once more. He jogged the rest of the way home in silence.

***

“I can’t make you do anything, Cas.”

Dean slammed the car door and shifted into drive. He didn’t look out the window at Castiel; he thought he might change his mind if he caught a glimpse of his eyes, so instead, he pushed the Impala down the road. Only when he was out in front did he check his rearview, and his stomach twisted with guilt and love when he saw Castiel standing in the middle of the road, watching him drive away.

“Damnit, Cas,” he sighed to himself. He jerked his gaze away and turned up the volume on whatever tape was in the deck—Led Zeppelin III. He let the music blare for a second, then reached for his phone and powered it off, tossing it into the seat beside him. Dean knew he was being petulant, but he didn’t care. They’d talked about this. They’d fought about it. Was he overreacting? Dean was certain the answer was yes, but somehow, that didn’t seem to matter. Castiel knew how Dean was feeling. Castiel knew, and still he chose to go behind Dean’s back. That was enough of a reason to be pissy and childish. It was enough of a reason to sulk, so sulk he did. Dean let the anger pulse through him, punching the gas harder as the music blared.

…I’ve really been the best, the best of fools…I did what I could, yeah. Cause I love you baby, how I love you darling, how I love you baby, my beloved…

Dean blew out a long breath through his nose and listened for a moment, then sang along as he rounded a sharp curve, tires squealing, voice lost to the bluesy guitar and Robert Plant’s loud crooning. “But baby, since I’ve been loving you, yeah, I’m about to lose my worried mind.”

***

“Damnit Dean, you child,” Sam growled at his screen and the text from Castiel. Dean knows. He found me, then left. On my way home.

He backed out to his texts and tapped Dean’s name, thumbing out a message. Quit being an idiot and come back. Or at least call me. Better yet, call Cas. He sent it and sighed. Sam was still staring at his phone, waiting for Dean to respond, when he heard the telltale creak of the bunker’s door swinging open. He walked around the corner to find a sweaty Castiel slowly descending the metal stairs, feet thunking heavily despite his light running shoes.

“Cas,” he sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “I’m sorry my brother’s a dumbass.”

“He’ll live,” said Castiel dryly, but his shoulders sagged.

“He will,” said Sam, watching the angel carefully. “And he’ll come back,” he added, soothing. “You know he will.”

“I know,” answered Castiel.

“He’ll realize what a dick he’s being soon if he hasn’t already. He probably already knows and he’s just embarrassed.”

Castiel smirked humorlessly and pinched at the bridge of his nose. “That sounds right.” He rolled out his shoulders and dropped his hand, letting out a slow breath. “I’m going to shower. Thank you for letting me borrow your clothes.”

“Anytime,” nodded Sam. He reached out and clapped Castiel on the shoulder as he passed, reassuring. “He’ll be fine. Don’t sweat it.”

Castiel answered with a measured smile and a half nod. He patted Sam’s forearm and slipped on down the hallway to his and Dean’s room.

Sam watched until he disappeared, then looked down to quickly thumb out a text to Jack. Where are you? He paced around the bunker, peeking into the kitchen and then the library in search of the kid. On a whim, he decided to slip down to the medical room and glance at the progress of the tangled grace. Maybe there’d be some good news.

And there was; Sam unlocked the cabinet and pulled out the jar that held the syringe of grace, carefully setting it down on the table. Like oil and water, the graces had separated: Michael’s gold-tinged grace heavy on the bottom, Castiel’s bright blue on the top, just as Rowena promised. Sam grinned and grabbed a couple vials, then angled the needle of the syringe down into one of them. Slowly, carefully, he pressed the plunger, pushing wisps of Castiel’s grace into the vial until only Michael’s golden grace remained. He corked Castiel’s vial and set it aside, then pushed Michael’s grace less carefully into the second vial and sealed it as well.

Sam was turning to put away the syringe when his phone buzzed, and a text let him know Jack was out back. He leaned against the counter, the grace to his back, and texted Jack back to ask what he was doing. Behind him, Michael’s golden grace shimmered, the spell no longer needed, and turned to blue. You’ll see! came Jack’s reply. “Great,” muttered Sam. He grabbed a vial of blue grace, sighed, and trudged to the backyard hoping he wouldn’t find what he was expecting. He swung open the door and groaned when he found exactly that:

The yard looked like a craft store had vomited all over it. Cheap white paper streamers tangled haphazardly along the tree line, interspersed with flashes of equally cheap streaks of metallic gold. They rustled and glinted in the breeze and morning sunlight, some of the free ends curling up in lazy waves with the wind. The same streamers were draped in random places throughout the yard: taped to the concrete walls of the bunker, wrapped around a rusted-out grill, tied into clumsy bows around the backs of the chairs. The round table was covered in what looked like white butcher paper, and Jack had covered it in so much gold glitter that the breeze picked up a little at a time in puffs of sparkling dust. In the middle of the table was a small, lopsided white cake on a plate Sam recognized from the bunker’s kitchen and an ugly bucket, also tied with streamers, full of ice and bearing a bottle of cheap champagne. A stack of four plates and silverware was beside the cake, which read, in bad blue-iced handwriting, “Congrats Cas and Dean,” four glasses beside those, and every other free space on the table was covered in mugs and jars half-filled with water, some holding leaves and random assortments of autumn wildflowers. A radio played soft classic rock from somewhere. Probably beneath the table, Sam guessed.

“Jack?” Sam called out after staring for a moment.

“Coming!” Jack’s voice sounded from somewhere beyond the trees.

Sam heard snapping branches and leaves, and Jack’s voice crying out in frustration more than once, before he emerged from the forest, arms full of more wildflowers—yellow marigolds and witch hazel, purple aster, and even a few small sunflowers and black-eyed-susans.

Jack grinned as he emerged, traipsing happily over to where Sam stood beside the table. “What do you think?” He asked cheerily, starting to deposit flowers and leaves into the vessels.

“It looks great, Jack,” said Sam. He managed a small smile, but when Jack looked up, it faltered.

“What’s wrong?” Jack asked, brows knitting. He pushed a bunch of witch hazel and aster into a coffee mug that read, in Old West lettering, Visit Dodge City!

“Uhm,” started Sam, and then he sighed and shook his head. “Cas and Dean are fighting. Dean went for a drive. I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

Jack’s face fell as he looked down to the table. “Oh,” he said simply.

“It’s okay, just—” said Sam, and then cut himself off, digging in his pocket. “Here, you know what? I’ll call the burners. It’ll be okay.”

“Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise party,” Jack said softly.

Sam shook his head. “No, this is great, Jack. It’ll be fine. Just gimme a sec.”

Jack pressed his lips but nodded, and when he went back to arranging plants, Sam turned and slipped back inside, dialing Dean’s main number once more, just in case. When it went straight to voicemail, he growled out a message, and then he began going down the list of every burner number they had.

***

The cool wind whipped against Dean’s cheeks, and he pulled his flannel overshirt tighter around his chest. He lay on the hood of the Impala, back propped on the windshield, watching fat clouds meander lazily across the cold blue autumn sky. He’d stopped driving and pulled off into a wide clearing of golden grass when he realized, about four songs in, that the further away he went the further away he pushed Castiel. And the further away he was, it was that much longer it would take him to get back if something bad happened. With the windows rolled down and the music still playing, Dean tried to relax and calm himself down. His eyes fluttered closed as a large cloud moved out of the way and the sun warmed him in the cool breeze, and after a few minutes he was near to dozing. Just as he was beginning to drift off, the tape ended, and the sudden silence jolted him back to reality.

With a grunt, Dean rolled to a seat and slid off the Impala’s hood. He settled himself in the front seat and reached for his box of tapes. He was going through it when he heard rattling from the glove compartment. Brows furrowed, he reached to open and dig through it, trying to figure out which burner had been going off. He pulled out one, but the missed call was from fifteen minutes ago. Another, seven minutes ago; another must have been the one that was ringing, as its missed call was only a minute passed. Dean fished out the last two phones. Each had at least one missed call; some of them multiple. His stomach sank. He shoved all the burners back into the glove compartment and started his car, whipping out onto the road and powering on his cell.

The Impala had been speeding home for a solid minute before Dean’s phone booted up completely, and he broke his own rules to glance at the screen while driving to see notification after notification come through. Missed calls and texts from Castiel and Sam, and a couple voicemails from the latter. Panic flooded his nervous system and he took a few deep breaths to calm himself, taking a moment to focus on the road as he hit a stretch with lots of sharp turns. Dean tried to talk himself down. It’s nothing. It’s nothing. They would’ve come after me or something. It’s nothing.

He came around a bend and the road straightened, and Dean used the familiar, simple street path to quickly scroll through his notifications.

CAS [9:32 AM]: I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gone behind your back.
CAS [9:33 AM]: I should have told you.
Missed Call: Cas at 9:45 AM
CAS [9:47 AM]: Can we talk?
CAS [10:01 AM]: Please come home.
Missed Call: Cas at 10:06 AM
CAS [10:09 AM]: Please.

SAMMY [9:48 AM]: Quit being an idiot and come back. Or at least call me.
SAMMY [9:49 AM]: Better yet, call Cas.
Missed Call: Sammy at 9:58 AM
Missed Call: Sammy at 10:32 AM
Voicemail: Sammy at 10:32 AM. Tap to listen.

Dean sighed and tapped the voicemail icon, pressing the phone to his ear. Sam’s voice complained through the speaker: Answer your phone and stop being a dick. Come home and talk to Cas. And stow your shit. Jack’s been working hard on a surprise for you and Cas. So you’re going to come home and act grateful and surprised. You owe Jack that at least. I’m calling your burners.

“Damnit,” Dean grumbled to himself. He tossed his phone aside again and let the panic fade into guilt as he eased up on the gas pedal. Dean drove the rest of the way back to the bunker in silence. In the glove compartment, the burner phones kept vibrating, the sound following him like flies.

***

Castiel sat on the edge of the bed, a towel around his waist, his wet hair sticking out in every direction. He stared at his phone, his unanswered messages to Dean. Can we talk? Please come home. Castiel blew air out through his nose and tapped the call button, holding it to his ear. Straight to voicemail, again. He hung up and fell onto his back with a groan, letting the phone drop to his stomach, and stared at the ceiling. Something squeezed painfully in his chest, and on instinct, he pressed his hand to his heart to make sure it was still beating. It was, but the pain kept leaking out. It drained from his chest to his stomach, pooling in his gut like a stone, so heavy he thought the weight might make the mattress swallow him whole. Castiel closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, then slowly sat up. He thumbed out one more text message to Dean: Please.

One minute passed and then another. And another. After too many minutes of staring at the screen, Castiel stood and paced across the room to the dresser, starting to pull out sweatpants. Before he could, his phone buzzed, and he was back at the bed to check the message in a minute flat, heart beating wildly, hopefully behind his ribs. Only for a moment; Sam’s name flashed across the screen. Heard from him yet? “Of course not,” Castiel grumbled aloud, crestfallen, but simply texted back a single No. Sam’s reply was instant. He’ll come back. I’m about to hit up all his burner phones. Anyway, you should get dressed. Meet me in the library when you are.

Castiel squinted at his phone and pursed his lips skeptically. The pain in his chest twisted to bitterness. He tossed it back to the bed and let the towel fall away from his hips into a wet lump on the floor as he went back to the dresser. He pulled out a pair of boxers and slipped them on, then socks, then a pair of Dean’s dark-washed, barely too-tight-for-his-thighs jeans. Digging through a drawer of band tees, Castiel tried to pick out Dean’s favorite, or at least the most sentimental—the one that might irritate Dean the most. He chose an old, soft white Zeppelin 1977 tour tee and slipped it over his head; it fit snugly over his chest and arms, but the rest was comfortably loose. He tugged on a pair of plain gray sneakers—the ones he’d worn last time he was human—and collected his phone, setting off for the library.

Sam was already there at the table, phone to his ear. He lowered it and hung up when he saw Castiel’s approach. “Hey,” he said. Sam looked Castiel’s outfit up and down but said nothing.

“Hey. Anything?” asked Castiel, seating himself across from Sam.

Sam shook his head. “No. But I’ve called all the burners twice. He has to have heard one of them.”

Castiel hummed and sank back into his chair and combed his hand back through spikes of his still damp hair. “You wanted to talk?”

Sam blew out a breath through his nose. “Yeah.” He idly pressed call again, though he left the phone on the table, watching it ring. “I know you and Dean need to work through some things, but I wanted to ask if it could wait.” Castiel arched a brow, and Sam amended quickly, “Not long. Just an hour or two. Jack has a surprise for you that you’re obviously not supposed to know about it, and he worked really hard. It’s just—”

“You’d like us to pretend everything’s fine,” Castiel finished for him.

“Just for a little while,” Sam said apologetically. He tapped the end-call button as it went to voicemail, then scrolled down and pressed the call button on another number. “For Jack. He’s so excited.”

“I agree, Sam,” Castiel answered gently. He shook his head. “Dean and I have been through worse. I think we’re both…it’s an adjustment.”

“Yeah,” Sam nodded. He smiled a little. “You can’t tell him I told you, though. You have to act surprised.”

“I’m sure I will be, considering I don’t know what the surprise is,” said Castiel, a wry grin twisting his lips.

Sam snorted. “Fair point.” He hung up the call and made another. “You know, whatever it is, I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“The surprise?”

“Er—no. With you and Dean, I mean.”

Castiel nodded. “It’s new. And it’s complicated. And this thing between us—it’s always been…” he knit his brows and looked down at his palms. “Messy. It feels different, being human. I’d forgotten.”

“What do you mean?” asked Sam.

“Last time I was human,” Castiel started softly, looking up from his palms, “Dean dropped me off at work and I felt this twisting pain in my chest when he left. I hated it. I didn’t know what it meant.” He cleared his throat and looked away from Sam. “I thought I was sick. But now I feel it again. It’s almost physical, and it turns so quickly from hurt to anger. It’s…jarring.”

Sam blinked at Castiel, staring at him a moment, his phone abandoned. “It’s heartache,” he said simply, almost in awe. “You’ve never—you don’t feel that as an angel?”

Castiel’s eyes widened with the word, and he repeated it like a revelation. “Heartache…yes. And, no. It’s similar, I suppose. Angels aren’t meant to feel anything so intensely, but I feel it in my grace. It’s consuming. I never had a name for it. I’ve only understood love by human standards for a few years. Since I—” Castiel paused, and he smiled sheepishly up at Sam. “Well, since I pulled your brother out of Hell. I didn’t know what to call it then, of course. But I learned. I learned that love was warm. Like witnessing my father build the stars. I didn’t know it could be cold as well.” He shrugged. “Now I know. All those moments I’ve been so angry with Dean—angry enough to kill him—that was love, too.”

Sam watched Castiel carefully, silently, and finally nodded. “Love, being human—it’s complicated,” he said softly. “More complicated, I’d assume, when you’re not human to begin with. How are you—”

Your message has reached it’s limit. Your call will now disconnect. The robotic female voice blurted up from Sam’s phone. He stared down at it, then looked up at Castiel. “I forgot to hang up.”

Castiel’s eyes went wide and his cheeks colored. “Do you think—”

“SAM! Stop calling the damn burners!” Dean’s voice echoed from the atrium, the heavy door slamming behind him.

Castiel’s brows shot up and he felt his heartrate spike as Dean’s footfalls descended the stairs in the next room. “What do I do?” he asked Sam.

“Uhh—sorry,” Sam called back out to Dean, shrugging at Castiel. “I don’t know,” he said. “My relationships haven’t exactly lasted.”

“Where are you?” Dean’s voice echoed back, closer. Castiel sat rigid.

“In here—uhh, library,” yelled Sam. He pushed back his chair and stood right as Dean came around the corner.

Dean stopped short when he saw Sam and sucked in a breath when Castiel stood and turned to face him. He stared, drinking Castiel in without meaning to, and Sam cleared his throat.

“I’ll go tell Jack you’re here,” he said. “I’ll be back in five minutes to get you.” With that, Sam moved to stride past Dean, patting him on the arm as he passed.

When he was gone, Dean let his façade shrink. His shoulders fell and his hard face softened as he stepped toward Castiel. “Cas, I—”

“Don’t,” said Castiel softly, shaking his head. He in turn moved towards Dean. “I shouldn’t have gone without telling you.”

“You’re right,” said Dean, and Castiel bristled. Dean swallowed and shook his head. He stepped into Castiel’s space and hesitantly reached for his lover’s cheek, as if asking permission. “No, I—I’m sorry. I was—”

“Worried, I know,” Castiel sighed. He brought his hand up and clasped it over Dean’s, leaning into his palm. “But I needed it. I can’t stay locked up all the time.”

Dean let out a long, slow breath and leaned his forehead against Castiel’s, closing his eyes. “We’ve been through this,” he answered wearily.

“We need to go through it again,” said Castiel. “But not right now. Now we need to be there for Jack.”

“Yeah,” conceded Dean. He pulled back a little, just enough to look Castiel over. “This is a good look on you,” he said lowly, voice darkening.

Castiel snorted. “I was hoping to elicit a much different reaction.”

“Were you?” said Dean, hooding his eyes. He reached out his free hand to clutch at the small of Castiel’s back, pulling him flush.

“It seems to have backfired,” Castiel answered. He slipped his arms around Dean’s back and pressed his forehead to Dean’s again. “Although I can’t say I’m disappointed.”

“I just can’t lose you again, man,” said Dean, suddenly serious again. His fingers dug into Castiel’s back. “I’m barely keeping it together with the nightmares. I can’t—”

“We can’t talk about this now,” Castiel hushed, soothing.

“I know, but—”

“Shh,” whispered Castiel. He leaned in and quieted Dean with a soft kiss. He held still until Dean relaxed into it, and then he parted his lips. “I love you,” he breathed into Dean’s mouth, bruising the kiss deeper before pulling back. “I know. We’ll talk about it later. I promise. Right now…”

“Jack,” Dean confirmed softly. “I love you too. That’s why—”

“I know,” said Castiel.

“Uhh—you guys ready?” Sam’s voice came awkwardly from behind.

“Yes,” answered Castiel for the both of them, stepping away from Dean.

Dean cleared his throat. “Lead the way, I guess,” he said.

“Remember,” Sam warned. “You’re surprised.” He turned to walk toward the back exit and Dean and Castiel followed behind, hands linked.

***

“SURPRISE!!!”

The door to the back yard was barely open when Jack’s enthusiastic yawp came echoing through the concrete hall. The almost-noon light was momentarily blinding, but soon enough the yard came into focus, and Dean and Castiel were, in fact, taken by surprise. Castiel’s eyes widened and a grin split his lips as he took in the gaudy white and gold scene. Dean, for his part, looked shell-shocked—borderline horrified. Castiel caught sight of it and squeezed Dean’s hand, pulling him out of it. Jack stood behind the flower-stuffed table and cake, arms spread, smiling expectantly.

“This is—uhh—” Dean started, stammering. “It’s uhm…”

“It’s wonderful, Jack,” Castiel interrupted. He released Dean’s hand and walked over to Jack, wrapping him into a fatherly hug. “Thank you.”

Jack returned the hug briefly and stepped back, beaming. “You really like it?”

“Of course we do,” said Castiel with a smile, answering for both himself and Dean. “You did all this yourself?”

“I did,” he nodded proudly. “But Sam had to buy the champagne. And the streamers. And…well, everything, because I have no money, and I can’t drive.”

Castiel turned to Sam then as well, winking at him out of Jack’s view. “Thank you for your part as well, Sam. What a lovely surprise.”

“Sure thing, Cas,” said Sam, grinning easily. He rocked back on his heels and cleared his throat, shooting Dean a pointed glance. “Dean? You with us?”

“Uhh—yeah,” said Dean, blinking himself back to the present. “Yeah, it’s uhh—it’s great, Jack. Thanks, kid.” He stood there awkwardly and then said, “You mentioned champagne?”

“Yes!” said Jack, clapping his hands together once. “We didn’t have any fancy glasses. Or a fancy bucket, but—”

“It’s perfect, Jack,” said Castiel, clapping the teen on the shoulder with a proud grin. “Should we drink?”

“We should,” said Dean, attempting to hide his gruff embarrassment. He seated himself at the table opposite where Jack and Castiel stood.

“I also made a cake,” said Jack, gesturing obviously to the lopsided cake in the center of the table. “Sit! I’ll serve you. It is your wedding party after all.”

“We’re not having a—” Dean began, but he was cut off by a pair of hands digging into his shoulders.

“Thank you, Jack,” said Castiel from behind Dean. When he was silent, Castiel slipped into the chair beside his, reaching for his knee under the table to give it a gentle squeeze.

“Sam, you sit too!” Jack commanded.

Sam snorted. “Yeah, okay.” He took the chair on Dean’s other side, clapping his brother loudly on the back as he settled.

Jack had just sunk a knife down into the unfortunate-looking cake when he startled himself straight. “Oh! Music. I should turn it up.” He bolted to the radio plugged into the wall, and Dean used the opportunity to hiss at Castiel.

“This is the actual opposite of what I wanted,” he groaned under his breath.

“Dude, be a good sport,” Sam answered.

“I’m talking to Cas!” Dean countered. “You don’t talk! You encouraged this!”

“Dean, calm down,” Castiel murmured. “Grin and bear it. Get drunk. Jack worked hard.”

“I know,” Dean grumbled. “Doesn’t mean I gotta like it.”

“No, but you do have to pretend you like it,” Castiel instructed gently.

“I know,” Dean grouched again, painting on a pained smile as Jack returned, the cheery sounds of Santana following behind him.

Jack resumed his cutting of the cake, doling out four uneven slices. “It has sprinkles inside the bread,” Jack beamed, and a warmth spread through Dean with the realization that this was Jack’s first experience with Funfetti.

“The best kind,” said Dean, genuinely. Jack passed him a fork and Dean dug in immediately.

“Is it good?” asked Jack, eyes widening. “I followed the box exactly.”

“S’great,” Dean mumbled around a mouthful of cake and icing.

Jack grinned and passed Castiel a slice, and then Sam, before cutting his own. “I’m very good at following directions.”

“So am I,” said Castiel, smiling back.

“Want me to get the champagne?” asked Sam, half-rising.

“No! I’ll do it,” said Jack immediately, and abandoned his own cake to pop the cork too quickly, sending it flying off across the yard. A little foam ran down the bottle’s neck, but he wasn’t deterred. Within a minute, he’d filled each of the four glasses with champagne and passed them around, and sat down to look expectantly at his party guests.

Not knowing what to do, Dean took another large bite of cake. Castiel faltered as well, and looked to Sam, who smirked and lifted his glass.

“I’d like to propose a toast.”

Dean froze, mid bite, and glared over at Sam, who only grinned wider.

“Never in a million years did I think I’d see my big brother married,” Sam began, glass in the air. “Much less married to a—”

“Sam,” Dean interrupted, tone warning. Castiel replaced his hand on Dean’s knee beneath the table and squeezed.

“…married to a guy who’s not exactly human,” Sam finished, rolling his eyes at Dean. “But I’m glad that he is—you are,” he redirected, “and I’m glad that he’s married to you, Castiel.” A brief silence settled over the table as he began to extend his glass for the toast, but then withdrew it. “Also, I just want to say that I saw this coming the moment Cas said you had a ‘more profound bond,’ and a lot of people owe me money. So, thanks for that. Cheers, guys.”

Dean choked on his cake briefly before clearing his throat, then he begrudgingly lifted his glass to clink it with the others. “Get bent, jerk,” he grumbled lovingly to Sam.

“You first, bitch,” Sam answered, smiling wide. He drained half of his champagne and then turned to his cake.

“Can I say something too?” Jack chimed in.

“Of course,” said Castiel.

“Okay,” said Jack, and the smile slipped from his lips, brow knit in concentration. “Because of you, all of you, I have a family,” he started softly. “And I love you. All I want is for you all to be happy, and with you guys together, it feels like that might be something real. Thanks for getting married,” he ended awkwardly, finally twisting another grin.

“Thank you, Jack,” said Castiel, clinking his glass. “You mean everything to us.”

“You really do, kid,” said Dean, lifting his glass as well. He took a long swig—nearly all of it—then cleared his throat. “Alright, we’ve had the chick flick moment. Can we just drink now and be normal?”

“Yes,” said Jack, smiling brightly again. “There’s beer in the cooler over there.”

“After my own heart,” said Dean. He drained the rest of his champagne and set down the glass, rising from his seat. “Anybody else?”

“Yeah, I’ll have one,” called Sam.

“I’m alright for now, thank you,” said Castiel. Jack simply shook his head, mouth too full of cake to speak.

“Cool,” nodded Dean. He set off for the cooler. Behind him, he heard Sam shuffle to lean forward and talk to Castiel.

“Hey, Cas, got another surprise for you,” he said.

Dean dug a beer from the ice and let the cooler lid thunk closed, obscuring Sam’s next words. He turned around just in time to see Castiel smiling as Sam pulled a glowing blue vial from his pocket and reach to pass it across the table. Relief flooded every cell of his body. He was hoping, selfishly, that this meant he and Cas didn’t have to have their talk when the relief was pulled from beneath him like a rug covering a pit. There was a cool rush of air and suddenly, he was falling—or, no, he only thought he was falling.

A woman, olive-skinned and dressed in a black power suit, had materialized behind Castiel and was holding him by the neck, other hand extended toward a dumbfounded Sam.

“Dean!” Sam yelled, joined shortly after by Jack.

Dean stared, rooted to the spot. He was sure he was falling; his stomach knew it. It was tangled in knots, climbing its way up his throat. “This isn’t real,” he whispered, finally, almost to himself.

“That old chestnut?” the woman spoke, her lips curling evilly. “I thought we were beyond questioning reality, Dean.”

Dean’s heart seized, and his skin went cold. He spoke without meaning to, and the voice that came from his lips sounded like it wasn’t his; like it was spoken by someone else at the far end of a hallway, the sound hollow and detached. “Michael.”

Chapter Text

“Michael.”

The name hung in the air like the last mournful blow of a retreating army’s horn across some ancient, hopeless battlefield. It sounded like defeat. The soles of Dean’s shoes seemed to be filled with lead. He was falling. Sinking. He was certain. The cold earth was softening beneath him and sucking at his feet, preventing movement. From across the yard, the radio blared a cheerful Boston song, completely out of place for the weight of the moment. …It’s more than a feeling, more than a feeling…

This seemed to entertain Michael to no end, and he—or the woman he was wearing—smiled. “So you do remember my name,” Michael crooned, tilting his head at Dean. He turned his body, dragging Castiel along with him by the neck so Dean could see the pain on his lover’s face. Michael pressed his free hand to his chest in mock offense. “And here I was thinking you’d moved on.” He clicked his tongue through the poor woman’s mouth. “Glad to see I was mistaken.”

In Dean’s head, Michael’s voice was coming to him as if through a tunnel, and his ears were ringing. Finally, when Michael snapped his fingers and the radio went silent, he managed to speak. Once more, the words felt thick and foreign, like they were rolling off someone else’s tongue. “How did you—”

“Find you?” Michael interrupted. He chuckled. “That may be the stupidest question you’ve ever asked—well, anyone.”

Dean shivered and regained some of his composure, trying to silence the ringing of panic in his ears. “Okay, Dick. Let go of Cas.” He finally managed to look away from the archangel and to Castiel, and his green eyes met the most despairing blue he’d ever seen. He managed to quell the jerk in his stomach long enough to look past them both to where Jack sat, rigid, on the other side of the table behind Michael’s back. From his periphery, he saw Sam hide the glowing vial of grace in his palm and shove it into a pocket, then begin to stand.

“What a predictable nerve I seem to have struck,” said Michael, rolling his eyes. He must have seen Sam standing, too, because his other hand balled into a fist, and Sam collapsed to the ground, eyes wide, clawing at his throat for breath. “What about this nerve, Dean?”

“Stop it!” Dean shouted, the lead in his feet dissolving. He took two running steps forward, but Michael stopped him short.

“So testy,” Michael clucked. “Have a little faith, Dean. I’m not here to hurt anyone. Well,” he shrugged, grinning. “Not unless you force my hand.”

Dean looked from his blue-faced brother on his knees to the pained, panicked Castiel, held by his scruff like a dog, and folded. “Please,” he croaked. “Please. What do you want?”

“Wasn’t that easy?” Michael crooned. “Amazing what a little respect can do.” Michael lowered his hand and Sam gasped in a ragged breath, gasping and coughing, doubling over into the grass to try and catch his breath. In the same moment he tightened his grip on Castiel’s neck so hard that the former angel growled and scrunched up his face in pain, and then Michael tossed him forward like a ragdoll.

Castiel landed face down a few feet from Dean. He scrambled on his hands and knees for purchase, and Dean rushed forward to jerk him to his feet, then stepped possessively out in front. “What do you want, Michael?” He repeated lowly.

Michael’s smile slipped away into a dark, quiet rage that unsettled Dean to his core. “You still have something that belongs to me,” he said. “And I’d like it back.”

“Why now?” Sam cut in, rising slowly, his voice still strained. “We’ve been out here vulnerable before. Why today? What’s different?”

“Because today’s the day you made a mistake,” answered Michael, that smug grin partially returning.

“What mistake?” Sam demanded. He stepped around to Jack, protectively.

“Oh, interesting. Your Nephilim’s still powered down.” Michael tilted his head in genuine interest. “Tell me—Jack, was it? What’s that like?”

“I—” Jack began, but Sam grasped his shoulder.

“You don’t have to say anything,” he said.

“Always so dramatic, Sam,” Michael said, rolling his eyes. “I’m merely curious. Nephilim are rare in every universe.” He winked at Jack. “Don’t worry, kid. You’re of no use to me dead—and I do have a use for you, when you’ve healed.”

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” interrupted Dean, his voice a low growl. Behind him, Castiel gripped his arm and squeezed.

“Your mistake,” Michael spoke over Dean, pointedly, the harshness of it wrong coming from such a small woman of a vessel. “Is in your pocket, Sam.”

“…Castiel’s grace?” Sam answered, brows knitting.

Michael rolled his eyes again. “No. What you’ve got is my remaining grace,” he said. “And you’ve brought it outside your bunker’s warding.” He looked Sam up and down, almost hungrily, and licked his lips. “It’s like a beacon, Sam. Always wanting to come home. I knew the second you walked outside.”

“Then why weren’t you here hours ago?” Dean countered. He balled his fists, only then realizing he was still holding his bottle of beer.

“He was running recon,” Castiel chimed in lowly. “He’s probably been hovering around the woods the whole time, making sure we didn’t pose a threat.”

“It was a truly moving toast, Sam,” Michael said to the younger Winchester without breaking his eyes from Dean and Castiel. “And Jack,” he said, turning to wink. “Great party.” He turned again, holding out his vessel’s slim arms, palms to the sky. “A party I’d be happy to let you get back to as soon as you give me what I want.”

“Oh, really?” Dean snapped. Castiel tightened his grip on Dean’s arm. “Just like that?”

“Just like that,” said Michael. His smile was wolfish, deceitful.

“Yeah, I’m not buying that,” said Dean. He tried to hide the quiver in his voice.

“And what are you going to do, Dean?” Michael said, grin widening. “Fight me? With what weapons? You’re out here, unarmed, sipping champagne. And I won’t offer to do this the easy way again.”

“Dean, maybe we should—” Jack began from behind Michael.

“Yeah, Dean,” Michael interrupted. “Maybe you should.”

“Why haven’t you killed us?” Dean demanded, panic rising in his throat, coming out of his mouth in a shaking rage. “You could have ended us all in a second flat and just taken the damn grace. So why not? What’s the catch?”

“Dean—” Castiel pleaded behind him.

“Unless you can’t,” Dean spat, ignoring his lover’s concern. “Unless you’re too weak to take us all on without your grace, even unarmed.” Dean took a step forward, anger masquerading as confidence. Michael merely tilted his head, watching Dean with all the interest of someone observing a caged lion in a zoo.

“Dean!” Sam called this time, but Dean persisted.

“It hasn’t been that long,” he continued. “Between your missing grace, Rowena’s spell, the holy oil…you’re still on the mend, aren’t you? Not at full power yet. I bet you’re not even at half power.”

“Power enough to crush you, insect,” said Michael, tilting his head, and suddenly static rippled through the air, causing the hairs on everyone’s arms to stand on end.

Pulsing with adrenaline now, Dean kept advancing. “Then do it,” he hissed.

“Dean, stop!” Castiel called, following Dean a few steps until Dean threw him a warning look.

“Do it,” Dean continued, gripping the neck of his beer bottle tightly. When Michael didn’t make a move, he smiled. “But you won’t. Because you’re still banking on getting me back—on getting back your sword.”

Sam’s jaw fell open as he watched Dean, and he looked to Michael for the answer.

Dean smirked. “That’s it, isn’t it? I gotta say, dude—it’s pathetic.”

“Shut up, Dean,” Sam warned.

“Pining after your ex, hoping they’ll come crawling back with time? That’s some minor-league shit.”

“Dean!” a chorus of voices shouted.

“Sorry to break it to you, Michael, but you’re not wearing me to the prom again,” Dean growled, stopping an arm’s length from the archangel. Dean sucked on his teeth for a moment, considering, and then said simply, “We can still dance though.”

It all happened in a matter of seconds. In one swift motion, Dean brought his beer bottle crashing down onto the table, shattering it and sending foam and glitter away from the impact in waves. A second later, he was wielding it like a baseball bat, and with a growl, he took a hard swipe at Michael’s throat. The archangel was caught off guard, but not for long. The bottle’s jagged edge sliced clean into the vessel’s jugular, and as Michael gripped the wound to stem the flow of blood, Dean attacked again. He took another swipe and caught Michael across the forearm that was raised to his throat. Dean got in one more hit, shoving the bottle into the archangel’s gut with a roar, before Michael retaliated.

Michael roared back at Dean and staggered backwards, hand at his throat, bottle protruding from his stomach. He took stock of his body briefly before returning his attention to Dean, who, while Michael was distracted, had managed to shuttle Sam, Jack, and Castiel away from the mayhem and toward the bunker’s entrance. If they made it inside, Michael was back to playing a waiting game, and Sam wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. He couldn’t fight them all in his weakened state, it was true; and with the new damage to his vessel, he knew there was no chance of getting the grace from Sam. The younger Winchester would crush it in his palm the moment Michael tried, and it would all have been for nothing. But he had enough power to do one thing.

Bearing his teeth in a grimace, Michael used just enough of his grace to heal the slice to his artery. He ripped the bottle from his gut with guttural groan, and then growled out in a yell, “Dean Winchester!” From the pocket of his vessel’s coat, Michael pulled a pendant—a spiked, glowing purple crystal on a leather string, and looped it quickly around his neck.

Sam had just wrenched open the bunker door and was ushering Jack inside when Michael’s yell came out. He forced Jack into the hallway, but the three men hesitated at the threshold, looking back to the archangel, who cocked his head and smiled, blood coating his vessel’s teeth.

“I have more than one trick up my sleeve, and you’ve just ensured my need for collateral.”

Before Dean could react—before he could even blink—Michael appeared at his side. In one more disorienting split second, Michael once again grabbed Castiel by the throat and disappeared them both back to the yard. The realization hit Dean all at once—steamrolled over the most broken, haunted places of his soul—all the parts Castiel had been helping him put back into place.

“NO!” Dean roared, lunging for the pair in a dead sprint. “Cas, no! No!”

“Yes,” Michael said simply. His hand moved, lightning fast, to Castiel’s shoulder. His fingers dug into the flesh, hard and quick, and spots of red began to bloom across the white t-shirt where they landed.

Castiel cried out in pain, and Michael forced him to his knees with a swift, hard kick to the back of his leg. Dean heard a sound like a cracking tree branch, and then Castiel’s voice screaming in an agony that was borderline inhuman. He put the two together and staggered, nausea rolling through the panic and fear. “CAS!” Dean got his footing and swallowed bile, running the last few steps to close the gap.

Michael yanked Castiel backwards as Dean approached, and hissed quickly, “Remember that I gave you a choice.” When Dean was within reach, Michael directed whatever grace he could spare into his fist and threw it, landing it squarely on Dean’s jaw and knocking the hunter back a good ten feet. “And this is the one you made.”

A slamming door and the glint of an angel blade alerted Michael to Sam’s presence, the other hunter barreling to Dean’s aid. “I need to heal. If my grace stays safe, so does Castiel,” said Michael, jerking Castiel back again. He gripped the crystal around his neck in his palm and shrugged, amending easily, “Maybe. Guess you won’t know until I’m back.”

A purple light flared up around Michael and a pain-wracked Castiel. “NO! CAS!” Dean roared, scrambling to his feet and running, Sam on his heels. “CAS!”

Michael gripped Castiel by the hair, jerking his gaze harshly upwards. “Say goodbye, Castiel,” he crooned.

“NO!” Dean roared.

The light pulsed, and the archangel and former angel began to fade. “Dean!” Castiel found the strength to call out, voice strained with hurt. “I love—”

“CAS!” Dean screamed, reaching out, but the light surged and cut Castiel off, and Dean’s fist closed around thin air. “NO!” Dean pounded his fist into the ground where his lover had been moments before. “No, no, no, no, NO!”

“Dean, stop!” Sam’s voice came from behind. When Dean didn’t relent his assault on the earth, Sam grabbed him by the shoulder and wrenched him back. “Dean, listen to me!”

“No, no, no,” Dean repeated, voice lowering from rage to panic when he was pulled. “He can’t—he can’t be,” he stammered. “He can’t—Sammy, I can’t—”

“I know,” said Sam, broken. He wrapped both arms around his brother, too tight to be an embrace. Sam was becoming Dean’s straitjacket. “I know.”

“I can’t—” Dean gulped. His eyes focused on nothing.

“I know,” repeated Sam. “Come on. We’re not letting him go. We’re not, Dean. We’re calling Michael’s bluff. But we’re going to need a plan first. Okay?” Dean didn’t answer, and Sam shook him. “Dean, you with me?”

“I’m gonna kill him,” Dean hissed. Sam hauled him to his feet, and Dean let him—let himself be all but dragged back into the bunker. He heard nothing but his heartbeat in his ears, the sound of Castiel’s wails and bones breaking. He saw nothing but red. “I’m gonna rip him apart.”

“We will,” said Sam. He shoved Dean into the safety of the bunker, where Jack waited in the hallway with terrified eyes.

Jack looked from Dean’s already bruising jaw down to his bloody knuckles, then up at Sam. His voice hitched higher when he asked, afraid, “Where’s Cas?”

“Don’t—” started Sam, but it was too late.

At the mention of Castiel’s name, something slipped loose in Dean. The finger in the dyke of his psyche that had been so precariously protecting Dean’s sanity from the floodgates was removed, and the dam didn’t just spring a leak; the walls came down entirely. It all came rushing back: Michael’s twisted reality, the bright light and charred wings of Castiel’s death, Sammy jumping into the mouth of the pit, his mother burning to ash on the ceiling, all the minutiae of everything that was done to him and that he did in Hell. The things that haunted him—the feelings Dean had forced behind that dam for years and years and years—descended on him. Like a flood of locusts and water, drowning him and consuming him all at once.

Dean lost control. A roar clawed its way out of his chest, alien and sustained. It echoed down the corridor, the echo amplifying and multiplying it until it was a cacophony of bloodcurdling agony and unobstructed rage. He wrenched away from Sam’s hold and threw his fists into the wall over and over and over. The sick sounds of snapping fingerbones joined the chaotic sound, Dean’s blood smearing over the white stone wall with every hit, each as intentional as the last. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Dean heard someone calling his name. Felt hands grappling for his shoulders. Something hard and blunt hit him in the temple and he finally slumped to the floor, all the red in Dean’s vision giving way to black.