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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.

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.