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As far as hunts went, this one should have been a piece of cake. They’d had a call from Dean a week ago, dispatching them off to the George Washington State Forest on the tail of a Wendigo. He’d failed to mention, of course, that several hikers had gone missing, not just one. As such, it had turned out to be Wendigo's, plural, and Gabriel was pissed.

“I know he’s your boyfriend ‘n all, but dammit, Cassie. I almost lost a nut thanks to his so-called intel,” Gabriel grouches, grimacing as he runs a hand through the grime caked into his hair.

Castiel winces where he’s propped up against a tree, hand holding a blood-soaked rag to a cut on his upper arm. There’s several slashes across his torso too - the third Wendigo had caught him completely unawares - and he can feel the blood drying and sticking to his shirt. He tries to limit his movement, hissing between his teeth at the pull on his skin.

“Dean isn’t my boyfriend,” Castiel replies wearily, exhaustion setting in heavy across his features. It’s familiar banter between them, but right now Cas really can’t be bothered with it. Because Gabe’s right—Dean’s lack of information royally fucked them, and Gabe’s not the only one who’s pissed. He gratefully accepts the hand Gabriel offers him to help him up, lurching once he’s upright. Gabriel frowns at him, his mouth turning down in sympathy.

“Boyfriend or not, we best get you back there. You need a bit of patching up.”

Cas only grunts in response, allowing Gabe to steer him out of the woods. He groans in relief when the Camaro finally comes in to view, his brother’s baby a beautiful sight, blue paint gleaming in the moonlight. Gabe easeshim into the passenger seat, and it’s a mark of his concern that for once he doesn’t threaten Cas to not get blood on the seats.

“We should get a motel,” Cas murmurs once they eventually make it back to the main road.

“Naa, I’m fine to drive. You just rest.”  

Cas eyes him skeptically, but Gabe does look relatively alert, all things considered. Deciding that there’s no point arguing with his older brother and his stubborn insistence on being his caretaker, Cas settles back against the makeshift pillow he’s made by wedging his jacket between the window and his shoulder. His phone vibrates in his pocket, and he digs it out, huffing when Dean’s name flashes up on the screen.

Dean 03:47: How’d it go?

Castiel 03:48: Dreadfully. Some asshole forgot to mention that there was more than one Wendigo.

He adds a little rolling eyes emoji, knowing that Dean likes the stupid things, but the message is barely sent before the phone is ringing in his hand.

“Dude, are you okay?”

Cas hears the blender going in the background, and Dean’s voice is muffled, as though he’s crammed the phone between his shoulder and his ear.

“Been better,” Cas gets out between gritted teeth. “We’re gonna head straight down to your place.”

Dean grunts in disagreement. “That’s like a seven hour drive.”

“I’m aware,” Cas says, rolling his eyes even though he knows that Dean can’t see him. Dean knows him well enough to pick up on it anyway. Cas shifts, gasping at the pull on the slashes across his torso. Dean makes a soft sound of concern, but Cas cuts him off before he can ask. “Gabe’s been deprived of sugar for the last 48 hours. I don’t want another line of wonky stitches.”

A muffled “Fair point,” comes from the phone, followed by the muted clang of pots and pans as Dean bustles around the kitchen.

“Why the hell are you cooking at”—Cas checks his watch, a battered timepiece he’d inherited from his father—“4 o’clock in the morning?”

“Huh? Oh.” And God, Dean sounds tired. Not the fresh-from-a-hunt kind of tired that he and Gabe are currently rocking, but the bone-deep, unshakeable-haze kind. Cas feels a pang of sympathy for the man, twisted in with the other emotions that he’s learnt to ignore. “Just, you know,” Dean continues, “couldn’t sleep.”

Cas frowns, listening to Dean breathing deeply across the phone. He pictures him, standing at the stove, an array of ingredients scattered around him. Maybe he’s wearing the apron Gabe bought him last Christmas, the one Gabe had cackled over when he’d seen it in a gas station outside of Gunnison. ‘May the fork be with you’ the slogan read. Cas couldn’t pretend that he knew what that meant, but Dean had laughed and said he loved it all the same.  

Yes, Cas decides, he’s probably wearing that dumb apron, flour dusted up the front, wincing around the kitchen because the flagstones will be cold and he refuses to wear slippers.

Cas misses him, he realises. It’s been three years since they got to spend a holiday with Dean and Sam at the orchard, the hunt never bringing them close enough in the time since. They pop in every now and then of course, more often than not turning up unexpectedly but equally welcome all the same. Dean always has a gruff mumble about it, but they know deep down that he enjoys the company. Half the time they’re only stopping in to read up on some lore, or to ask Dean to help them with an obscure translation. And sometimes Cas only gets a few snatched words in, Dean yelling something in Latin at him down the phone while a ghoul attempts to tear his face off. They’re stolen moments, but they’re ones that Cas savours.

Dean may not be out on the road with them, but he’s an integral part of their family all the same.

“You still there, Cas?” Dean mumbles over the phone, and Cas notices it’s all gone quiet now, a soft whump letting Cas know that Dean just fell back into his favoured worn armchair. Cas tries not to picture that one, not wanting to unpack the box that he seems to be having trouble keeping closed tonight. He wonders briefly if the Wendigo might have nicked it, creating a fissure and weakening the structure. But then he realises that he’s being ridiculous, and writes it off as blood loss.

“Yeah, I'm still here.”

“S’good,” Dean slurs, sleep clearly overtaking him now. “That’s good.”

Cas doesn’t reply, just stays on the phone until Dean’s breath evens out into the long, slow ease of sleep. Even then, he stays on the phone a while, just listening to him, taking comfort in the illusion of proximity. It’s only when Gabe starts peering at him out of the corner of his eye, eyebrow raised in question, that Cas finally hangs up.

“All okay at the homestead?”

“It’s not our ‘homestead’,” Cas replies with a sigh, ignoring the weird look Gabe shoots him. The road is their home, the Camaro and their brotherhood. Nothing more. Cas feels another twinge in his chest, but he pushes it aside. “Dean sounded tired.”

“Not surprised, he’s probably been up all night waiting to hear from you, make sure the hunt went okay.”

“From us, don’t you mean?”

Gabe snorts. “Sure, bro. Whatever.”

Gabe glances over at him again, eyes lingering with concern at the blood splashed across his front. He shrugs out of his jacket, a beat up cargo that had been their father’s. He hands it over wordlessly but with an insistent look in his eye telling Cas that he’d better take it. Cas does, laying it over himself gratefully and sighing at the warmth, at the familiar scent of his brother.

“You should get some rest too, Cas,” Gabe murmurs, but Cas’ eyes are already closing, mind drifting into dreams of forests, dark with monsters and yet trees and leaves shining with a viridian green.

 


 

“Dammit Gabe, why didn’t you—”

“Fuck you, Winchester, you wouldn’t know—”

“Hey, you watch your tone with me, kid, I—”

Cas cracks his eyes open with a groan, blinking away the sleep from his eyes and squinting against the glare of the late morning sun streaming through the windscreen. It’s hot in the car, still and stuffy. The seat beside him is empty, but the engine is ticking over quietly, the keys dangling from the ignition. The drum of raised voices drifts across the calm air, harsh against the twittering of birds in the distance. He shifts, searching for the source of the shouting, and lets out an agonised moan as he does so. It’s apparently loud enough to halt the argument taking place, because a sudden hush falls over the air. It’s rapidly joined by the sound of hurried footsteps, of the creak of the car door as it’s swung open, the click of the keys as they’re removed from the ignition.

There’s a beat of silence, and then: “Cas? You with us?

Cas grimaces as he peeks an eye open, finding Dean’s face wavering before him. His sight settles eventually, locking Dean’s features down into an image pinched with concern.

“What, no ‘idjit’ for me today?” Cas says, his grin displaced by the wince of pain from his wounds.

Dean visibly deflates, huffing out a laugh as he gently cuffs Cas on the shoulder.

“Hilarious,” he deadpans. Gabe hovers behind Dean, his own features twisted into a mixture or relief and annoyance. Cas wonders briefly what they were arguing about, decides it’s best not to ask.

“Come on, sassy, into the house with you,” Dean continues, hauling him up and out of the car with an uncharacteristic gentleness. Cas gasps at the movement, the dried blood pulling against the various slashes across his body. Dean shushes him softly, winding an arm around Cas’ waist to support him, all the while muttering something under his breath about dwarves and snow white.

Cas tilts his head, frowning. “I don’t think ‘sassy’ was one of the seven dwarves, Dean.”

Gabe snorts a laugh from behind them, and whatever tension was hanging over the yard instantly dissipates. Dean looks at him curiously, before shaking his head with another huff.

“Of all the references, Cas,” he grumbles, but he’s smiling now, the edges of it peeking out from behind the stubble on his face. It’s only then that Cas realises how drained Dean looks—the lines on his face more pronounced, dark circles pooling beneath his eyes.  

They slowly make their way up to the house, the white-washed farmhouse a welcoming beacon despite its ramshackled appearance. The orchard fans out around it, the late morning sun bathing the trees in a golden hue. Cas feels an innate sense of peace wash through him at the sight of it, that phantom feeling of home spreading through his body. He tries to fight it, recalling how he’d rebelled earlier that day when Gabe had suggested as much about the place, but it’s so much harder now. He’s exhausted and in pain, and the idea of home and all of its comforts is too much to resist. Dean is solid beside him, his body easily supporting Cas’, and the smell of woodsmoke and leather and that hint of apple is so familiar, luring him in. He struggles up the steps, feels the muscles under Dean’s shirt ripple as he stumbles, strong arms catching him, gentle on his sides.

The air is cooler once they cross the threshold, the rooms dark in contrast to the glaring sunlight outside. But Dean’s house is so unchanged, always is, that it’s irrelevant—they could navigate the place in their sleep, him and Gabe both. They bypass the library on their way through the house, towers of books that won’t fit on shelves casting long shadows across the room. Cas glimpses Dean’s desk—the haphazard sheets of translations and the array of burner phones, labeled with various acronyms of government agencies that the hunting community use for ID checks. There’s a laptop propped open, it’s screen flickering, but it’s facing away from them so Cas can’t make out what’s showing. He knows already though that it’ll be a news station, and that the two ancient television sets opposite will be showing more of the same, tuned to different stations across the country.

By the time they make it to the kitchen, Cas is exhausted. Dean deposits him into a chair, each of his movements careful and measured, and it’s only once Dean is upright again that Cas sees him shift, wincing as he stretches and avoids putting weight on his left leg.

Cas opens his mouth to ask, but Gabriel cuts across him.

“I think a sponge bath may be in order for you, Cassie,” he says, winking suggestively while Dean’s back is still turned. He’s followed them into the house, and is now leaning in the doorway, arms crossed and a cheeky grin on his face.

“Can it, Gabe,” Dean replies, but there’s no bite to it, none of the earlier anger between them that Cas had overhead. He makes a mental note to ask about that later, focusing now on attempting to undo the buttons of his shirt. The material pulls across the wound on his arm as he does, and he bites his lip to avoid groaning again.

“Hey, hey, leave that.” Dean bats his hands away gently, placing a bowl of water and a clean, new cloth on the table behind him. He drags another chair over, placing it directly in front of the one Cas sits in, his back to Gabe. “I’ll do it.”

Oh I bet you will,” Gabe mutters under his breath, before huffing dramatically, flapping his arms and declaring loudly, “Right, I’m gonna go hit the hay. Play nice, kiddos.”

Dean rolls his eyes, and he and Cas share a small smile between them. “Whatever, idjit,” Dean calls over his shoulder, but Cas catches the fond expression on his face, and knows that whatever ludicrous ideas Gabe may have, Dean does care for them equally. That same twinge in his chest spikes a little at that, but he pushes it aside, wishing he could do so permanently. Dean’s face is so close to his, he can make out every freckle and every laugh line, and it pains him to not lean in closer and bury his face in Dean’s shoulder, breathing in his familiar scent and warmth. But regardless of whatever it is he’s feeling, he knows that Dean sees him the same way he sees Gabe—just another young hunter that’ll probably never live up to Dean’s legacy, but that Dean will fight tooth and nail to help, as much as he’s able to anyway. There’s only so much Dean can do nowadays, restricted as he is to his ‘armchair hunting’, as Sam likes to call it. Cas knows that it bothers Dean, more than he will ever admit, and he hates to wonder sometimes if Dean only tolerates them so that he can hunt vicariously through them. He dismisses the idea instantly, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s no way on earth Dean is ever as pleased to see him as he is to see Dean. No matter what Gabe says.

A soft touch to his face has Cas starting, his eyes fluttering open where he hadn’t even realised he’d closed them.

“Here,” Dean nudges a glass of water into his hand. “Drink this.”

Cas does as instructed, draining the whole glass before Dean takes it from him, replacing it with an all too familiar flask. Cas stares dumbly at it a moment, before raising his eyebrows at Dean. Dean shrugs, pressing the hand holding the flask up to Cas’ mouth.

“It’ll help,” is Dean’s excuse. The whiskey burns on the way down, and it’s only once the bitterness fades that Cas realises Dean’s hands are on his chest, his fingers deftly making short work of his buttons. Cas shivers, hyper aware of every brush of Dean’s fingers over his bare skin, his stomach clenching as Dean’s hands inch lower.

Dean lets out a low whistle once Cas’ shirt is removed, his face creasing in sympathy. “Jeez, Cas, did you forget the part about staying out of the way of monsters and their claws?”

Cas just glares, reaching for the whiskey again. Dean’s breath is hot on his skin as he leans in to get a closer look at the slashes across his chest, and the harsh liquid searing down Cas’ throat is the only thing keeping him from moaning in a way that has little to do with the pain he feels. Dean’s hands are gentle when they start cleaning the wounds, every brush of the cloth careful and measured. Cas finds himself drifting, barely aware of the time passing as he fixes his gaze on Dean’s face, watching the shadows of his eyelashes fanning across his cheekbones.

It’s only when Dean nudges him and asks, “You ready?” that Cas realises he’s now holding a needle. He grits his teeth as Dean starts the long and slow process of stitching him back together, eventually exhaling shakily as his body grows used to the feeling. His hands, clenched into fists on his knees, start to unclench, his fingers twitching with the urge to just reach out and grab a hold of Dean. It’s not fair, he thinks, for Dean to be touching him, tracing his fingers across the bare skin of his chest, and for Cas to not be able to touch back. He has to focus in on the pinch and pull of the stitches Dean’s making to remind himself that this isn’t that, that Dean isn’t touching him out of some unnamed desire.

“You doing okay?” Dean asks after a while, and the strangled sound that Cas makes is apparently convincing enough for Dean to continue. The silence between them isn’t awkward, isn’t strained, but it still sits like a barrier in the air between them, a bridge that Cas is desperate to cross. He just doesn’t know how, not when the path before him is clearly a one-way street.

“What were you and Gabe fighting about?” Cas says eventually, if only to distract himself from the steady throb of pain now spreading across his torso.

“Don’t worry about it, Cas,” Dean replies, “it was just a stupid big brother thing.”

Cas shakes his head, annoyance flickering across his features. If he had a dollar for every time he’d heard that excuse before.

“So it was about me then,” Cas says, huffing. Dean sighs, exasperated, and stops what he’s doing so he can look up at Cas’ face.

“This shouldn’t have happened to you, Cas, Gabe—”

“Gabe what, Dean? You can’t blame Gabriel every time I get hurt.”

Dean’s eyes flash with something unrecognisable before he looks away, hands fiddling with the end of the needle and the remaining thread.

“He’s supposed to take care of you!” Dean shouts, and then his voice trails off as he mutters, “He’s supposed to take care of you because I can’t .”

And Cas hears him, he really does, but the fury that’s rolling through him doesn’t give him time to pause and actually listen, the same age-old argument that he’s so fucking tired of having boiling the blood beneath his skin.

“I am not a child, Dean,” Cas hisses, flinching away when Dean reaches for him. He’s hurt, embarrassed that he’s sitting here wondering about his feelings for Dean when it’s clear Dean doesn’t even see him as an equal, just a hunter that can’t even hunt without supervision. “I thought we already established that this was your fault anyway!”

It’s the wrong thing to say. Completely and utterly. And the moment the words are out of his mouth Cas knows it, and he can only sit and watch as what little colour Dean had drains from his face.

“Dean, I—”

“I’m gonna go get Gabe.”

Dean says it with such defeated finality that Cas can only sit and watch as he leaves the room, a hollow feeling settling in his chest. Regret washes through him, flooding through his system in a cold wave. He looks down at the bandages Dean had laid out, swallowing around the lump in his throat. Those were for him, because Dean had wanted to look after him. Dean had been upset that Cas had been injured, because he cared, and all Cas had done was throw that back in his face. He turns away, disgusted with himself, flinching when he hears the front door slam. Gabe appears in the doorway a few minutes later, a tired yet sympathetic expression on his face. He doesn’t say anything as he sits in the chair Dean recently vacated, picking up a fresh needle and continuing where Dean left off. Cas barely reacts to what Gabriel is doing, hardly feeling the pain anymore. He’s too busy fighting against the weight that’s settled in his stomach.

It’s only once Gabriel has finished stitching and bandaging his chest, and moved on to the wound on his upper arm, that Cas speaks.

“How do I fix this?” His voice is small, eyes downcast; for once actually feeling like the lost younger brother that everyone else seems to think he is. He hates appearing weak—especially in front of Gabriel, who’s always teased him about being the baby of the family—but right now he just doesn’t care. Just wants the comfort of the only true parental figure he’s ever really known.

Gabe sighs deeply, and Cas half expects him to yell, to tell him that he’s an idiot, but instead he just stops what he’s doing to pull him into a sort of half-hug, wrapping his arm around Cas’ shoulders and squeezing. Cas leans into it, huffing a laugh when he knocks his head on Gabe’s, his brother’s shorter height having never lended him the quality of a good head rest. Cas feels Gabe’s mirroring smile against his hairline, and the momentary warmth of it soothes the ache in his heart a little.

“Would it kill you to just tell the guy how you feel?” Gabe asks after a while. Cas doesn’t bother to reply—he knows that Gabe knows the answer is yes, that it would kill him to have Dean reject him, to damage the relationship that they already have.

He’s thought about it, of course he has; he’s played the scenario out in his mind a hundred times over. But every time he’s tried to picture it—tried to picture freckles beneath his fingertips, green eyes dancing with affection, strong muscles moving under his palms—the image is always blurred, fading out into nothing when all he wants is to grasp onto it and pull it into focus.

They sit in silence while Gabe finishes patching him up, neither of them even cracking a joke about the no-doubt crooked stitches he’s going to end up with. Cas sighs, already missing the weight of Dean beside him.

“I should go and apologise.”

“Maybe you should get some rest first,” Gabe says, holding his hands up in surrender when Cas turns to glare at him. “I’m just saying, you’re beat and Dean will no doubt want some time to cool off. You can apologise later.”

Cas grumbles, but he’s too exhausted to argue. He hurts all over, his wounds on the outside and the heartache of his own making on the inside. He doesn’t fight when Gabe helps him stagger over to the sofa, the thought of making it up the stairs far too daunting a prospect, and he realises that the thought of facing Dean right now is enough to have him wanting to curl up and not resurface for at least a week.

He falls asleep almost as soon as he’s horizontal, barely noticing Gabe’s hands tucking a blanket around him, his mind already swimming with images of Dean wandering the orchard, bathed in golden light.

 


 

Dean at the window

 

Cas wakes to the phone ringing. A muffled curse and the shuffling of papers follows, as whoever is there frantically scrabbles to answer it. Cas smiles into his pillow when he hears Dean reeling off the familiar spiel of an FBI identity check, picturing a hunter like himself, out in the field and waiting anxiously to see if his fake ID is going to work out. It will, of course—Dean always has their backs.

A cold ripple of regret shoots through him as the events of that morning come rushing back in. He swallows nervously, working to keep his breathing even so that Dean will think he’s still sleeping. He peeks an eye open, his gaze softening when it falls on Dean, sitting at the table by the sofa making up salt rounds, phone now quiet beside him. His and Gabe’s bags are open at Dean’s feet, and warmth chases away the chill of the moment before when he realises what Dean’s doing. He must have combed through their bags, checking their supplies, replacing what he saw was missing and knew they’d need. And he’s done it all whilst Cas is sleeping and Gabe is God-knows where, content in the knowledge that they probably wouldn’t even realise he’d done it, happy to help them as always without so much as a thank you.

Cas’ heart simultaneously flips and shrivels at this new-found knowledge, swelling with affection for the man in front of him while breaking at the thought of how much he’d hurt him earlier. Of how he’ll never be good enough for him, and that he should be thankful to even count him as a friend and mentor, rather than growing bitter that he can’t have more.

The moment is too peaceful to shatter, so Cas relaxes back, eyes raking over Dean as he settles into the rhythm of adding rock salt and gunpowder, setting each finished shotgun shell in a row on the side. The repetition of it almost lulls him back to sleep, but he forces himself to stay awake, not wanting to lose the chance to watch Dean uninterrupted.  

Cas figures it must be early evening by the fading shafts of light trickling into the room. They highlight the lines on Dean’s face, showing his age and the scruff of his beard, the bags under his eyes and the crows feet at the corners of his eyes. But they also emphasise the dexterity of his fingers as he fills shell after shell, the lean muscles of his arms that flex with every movement. Cas lies there, watching, soaking up every detail. His eyes trace down towards the scars surrounding Dean’s bad knee, mouth turning down at the corners when he sees they’re mostly obscured by the barely-worn brace that Dean’s currently sporting. He’s wearing just a worn t-shirt and a pair of long shorts that once were jeans, and the black of the brace is in stark contrast to the paleness of the skin of his legs. It’s not often that Dean will wear anything less than his favoured jeans, not enjoying the questions that come with having the scarred lines of his knee on show. From having overheard arguments between Dean and Sam, Cas had gathered that Dean wasn’t one for wearing the brace that often either.

Cas feels a flutter in his stomach at the thought of Dean allowing himself to be so vulnerable around him, but he squashes that down, reminding himself that Dean still thinks he’s asleep and really he’s just invading his privacy right now. Dean had never told them about the injury that had sent him into an early retirement from the life, but Cas knows well enough that it’s a story that still pains him to think about it. Sam and Dean were legends in the hunting community, the best of their time, and the community had felt their loss from the moment they’d had to step back. Cas knows that Dean had tried to get Sam to continue hunting without him, but Sam had refused, not wanting to leave his brother behind.

Cas rakes one last look over Dean, soaking in the sight of him, before he shifts, coughing deliberately to alert Dean that he’s awake without startling him. The man still has the reflexes of a hunter half his age, and right now he’s dangerously close to a potentially loaded shotgun.

“Hey Cas,” Dean murmurs, not looking up from what he’s doing.

“Hey,” Cas rasps back. He grimaces at the dryness in his throat, barely having a moment to wish he had something to drink when Dean speaks again.

“There’s some water on the side there.” Dean waves a hand in the direction of the coffee table. Cas sits up, reaching gratefully for the glass and draining it. The glass is cold in his hand, the water still fresh. Dean must have poured it not long before Cas woke up, and it’s this, just another tiny example of how much Dean cares, that hammers home to Cas how badly he needs to fix this.

“Dean, I—”

“It’s okay, Cas, you don’t have to say anything.” Dean interrupts, leaning over to pick up the shotgun. He starts dismantling it, sliding the pump handle free of the barrel. Cas would normally find the rhythm of it soothing, but Dean using it as an excuse to avoid eye contact is making his skin crawl.

“At least let me apologise,” Cas huffs.

“Why? You didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.” Dean shrugs, his voice quiet, and Cas feels his heart break a little for the man.

“Dean.” The scrape of wire along metal grates in Cas’ ears. “ Dean.

Dean flinches, dropping the shotgun back to the table with a sigh. He looks up at Cas, finally looks at him, and Cas bites his lip as he sees the hurt in Dean’s eyes shining back at him.

“You were upset that I got hurt.” It’s not a question.  

Dean’s gaze drifts sideways again before he nods, clearing his throat and blushing. “Look Cas, I get it. You’re a grown up, you make your own decisions. But it’s just… it’s different with you, okay? I hate seeing you hurt.” Dean trails off, shrugging, but his eyes are pleading when they return to meet Cas’. “It’s so much worse when it’s you. And I don’t really understand why, but every time I send you and Gabe out on a hunt… I hate that I’m not there to keep you safe.”   

“You as in—”

“You as in, you. And that’s not to say I don’t care about Gabriel, or Uriel and Hester, or any of the other hunters out there. Your damned brother does my head in but he’s still family. But with you, it’s...”

“Different?”

Dean cracks a wry smile that looks lost on his face. “Yeah.”

They stare at each other across the coffee table, the space between them close and yet at the same time a chasm that seems impossible to cross. Cas isn’t really sure what’s just passed between them, isn’t really sure what it is that Dean is trying to say. All he knows is that it lights a flare of hope inside of him that wasn’t there before.

“It really wasn’t your fault, Dean,” Cas says, because he knows Dean won’t let him apologise but this at least needs to be said.

Dean sighs. “Yeah. Maybe.” He shakes his head, stowing the distant look in a time-worn tell. “Anyway, you want some pie?”

Cas knows that’s as close to anything he’s going to get from Dean, so he lets it slide, stomach already rumbling at the thought of his favourite dessert. He gets up and follows Dean into the kitchen, eyeing the freshly made pie sat on the counter. That wasn’t there earlier. Cas tilts his head, staring at it in wonder, realising then that Dean must have made it especially for him while he was sleeping.

Dean, ” Cas begins, turning imploring eyes on the man, wanting, needing, to say more to clear the air between them, but Dean shuts him up with a soft smile and a poke to the ribs with a fork.

“Just shut your cakehole, Cas. Pie’s not gonna eat itself.”

Dean’s smile widens as he leans over the counter, dangling his own fork over the pie between them. His face is so close that it would be nothing for Cas to just lean over and kiss the grin straight from his mouth. He can count Dean’s freckles from here, numbering in the thousands now for the years he’s spent outside in the orchard. His hair’s the colour of burnished gold, the dying sun a halo behind him, and Cas licks his lips in anticipation.

The moment’s shattered of course, a clattering on the staircase their only warning before a sleep-ruffled Gabe appears in the doorway, dressing gown hanging from one shoulder.

“Did someone say pie?”

Chapter Text

Things go back to their twisted version of normal after that.

Cas’ wounds heal and within a matter of days they’re back on the road again, three of Dean’s finest apple and cinnamon pies stashed on the back seat. They fall back into their standard routine, salt and burn hunts followed by drinks in dive bars and breakfasts across sticky formica tables. The different motels blur past in a haze of Gabe’s snores and extended showers for the pure sake of privacy. It’s normal, their closest thing to home, and yet with every night that passes Cas finds it harder and harder to sleep, the ache in his chest yearning for a different kind of home. A home where the smell of apple and cinnamon is permanent, and not just a fading comfort, clinging to the interior of the Camaro as if it too is reluctant to leave.

“Where are we?” Cas asks around a yawn one night.

It’s dark out, so dark in fact that he knows they can’t be anywhere near civilisation right now. He glances to his left, Gabe’s profile barely illuminated by the lights on the dash. His jaw is still clenched, but Cas can see the tension in his shoulders easing with every mile of asphalt they put behind them. It had been like this since they were kids—whenever they finished a long hunt Gabriel always liked to just hit the road and drive, wanting to put miles between themselves and the monsters, as if they could outrun the horrors of the world. And the last hunt had been a particularly bitter one, an almost comical reflection of the hunt six weeks ago that had landed them on Dean’s doorstep. A nest of vampires: intel had told them five, there ended up being twelve.

“We’re about three hours out.”

“Three hours out from where?” Cas frowns. He peers out into the darkness looking for a landmark. He can feel Gabe’s eyes boring into the side of his head, so he turns to face him instead, surprised to see a small smile lighting his face. A flutter in Cas’ stomach makes itself known, a swoop with a suspicious tinge of hope, but he quashes it down. There’s no way they’re headed there, it’s silly to even think that, there’s no way that Gabe knows what happened—

“From Dean’s place,” Gabe cuts in, the smile on his face settling into a smirk. Cas can feel his heart beating faster, excitement twisting through his blood, mingled with a sense of anticipation. It pushes out the lingering discontent from the hunt, replaces the ache in his bones with a renewed energy. The remaining blood dried across his palms, haphazardly scrubbed off following the hunt, starts to itch, as his fingers twitch with the need to touch, to feel.

Cas would be lying if he said he wasn’t hoping to hear Gabe say those exact words. Would be lying if he tried to pretend that every night since they’d left the last time, he hadn’t dreamt of Dean, hadn’t dreamt of the house and the orchard. The last six weeks have been hard, the hunts particularly grisly, the nights particularly lonely. Cas smiles softly as he glances down at the phone clutched in his hand, ignoring Gabe’s snort of amusement.

That’s another thing that’s changed. Dean had always kept in touch with them before, calling to check in with new lore, or texting over coordinates of locations that have shown signs of omens. But in the last few weeks, the highlights of Cas’ days have been the little messages he’s had from Dean. Not just checking in, but telling him tidbits of his day, sending photos of Sam passed out on the sofa after eating too much pie, grumbling about his knees and how he’s ‘too old to be climbing ladders in the garden.’ They’re personal—tiny insights into Dean’s life—and Cas has been hoarding them like gold.

And then of course, there was Thunderbird.

Cas opens his phone, thumb scrolling back to three nights ago. He’d had been preparing for the vampire hunt, doing a final weapons clean and check. Gabe had gone out on a supply run, ostensibly to pick up some burgers and beer, but Cas wasn’t expecting him back for at least a couple of hours. His brother always liked to blow off steam before a big hunt. Not that Cas didn’t, but lately every time he tried, locked in the privacy of the motel bathroom, his thoughts would drift to green eyes and tanned skin, and a swooping sense of guilt would immediately override any arousal he’d originally felt.

That night though, things had been different. Dean had been texting him on and off throughout the day, mostly recounting amusing encounters he’d had with vampires in the past. It set Cas at ease, the reminder that Dean had been there once, and sure he and Sam were legends in the community, but that didn’t change that they’d both almost become a vampire’s dinner more than once in the past.

And then…

 


 

Thunderbird Motel, Marysville, Kansas. Three days ago.

 

The Thunderbird Motel is not living up to its name. Cas had been expecting at least some element of pop culture reference here, but alas, nada. It’s as he’s staring at the drab walls of his drab room, lamenting his brother’s disappearance but equally grateful to not be playing witness to Gabe’s “moves” for a change, that his phone beeps.

Dean 22:34: You guys ready?

Cas smiles ruefully, the irritation over being stuck in this motel currently resting at a higher level than his usual annoyance at Dean’s mother-henning.

Cas 22:36: This isn’t our first hunt, Dean.

Dean 22:38: I know, you’re a big boy, you don’t need me to babysit you, bla bla. Just humour me, okay?

Cas 22:41: *eye roll* Fine. I’m just checking our weapons. Gabe’s gone out to ‘get supplies’. I’m not expecting him back any time soon.

Dean 22:42: ‘Supplies’, huh? You didn’t want to join him, maybe blow off a little steam?

Cas 22:44: No, thank you. Gabe’s way of blowing off steam isn’t really my idea of a good time.

Cas sets the weapons aside, leaning back on the bed he’s claimed as his. He taps his chin with the corner of his phone, eyes glazing over as he imagines the myriad of ways he’d love to be blowing off steam right now—all of them involving the man on the other end of this conversation.

There’s a delay before Dean replies, and the bleep of Cas’ phone knocks him out of his stupor.

Dean 22:53: What is your idea of a good time?

Cas gulps, a low heat coiling in his gut. His fingers shake as he taps over the keys, not wanting to give away too much.

Cas 22:58: I prefer my intimate encounters to be less of a one-off and more of a recurring nature.

Dean 23:00: Intimate encounters? We gotta work on your slang, bud.

Cas sighs, instantly dejected. Bud. That is not where Cas was hoping Dean was leading this conversation too. He’s quietly mulling over his own stupidity when his phone beeps again.

Dean 23:03: Seems to me that in this life the only way you’re gonna get that is to find someone else in the game. And I don’t know about you, Cas, but I don’t know many chick hunters.

Cas breathes in, breathes out. Bites the bullet.

Cas 23:05: Good thing I’m not looking for a ‘chick’ then.

The ellipses of Dean typing taunt Cas long enough that his palms start to sweat. He wipes them on his jeans, unsettled by the peculiar mix of fear and longing pulsing through his veins.

Dean 23:14: What exactly are you looking for?

Cas thinks about the way Dean had looked at him across the pie they’d shared all those weeks ago. He remembers how Dean had watched over him while he was sleeping, wanting to make sure he was okay. Remembers how Dean had told him he was different, how Dean had been upset that he wasn’t able to take care of him.

And he thinks, just maybe, he’s got a shot here.

Cas 23:16: I’m looking for someone like you.

He stands from the bed, heading over to the mini-fridge and raiding it for a bottle of Jack. It’s tiny, and not his preferred choice, but it’ll do. He knocks it back, pacing in the space between the two beds as he waits for Dean to reply. Eventually the nerves get too much for him, and he picks up his phone again, wanting to take back what he’s said, tell Dean it was just a joke. He doesn’t know whether it’s the drink or the fact that Gabe’s monologue about their potential last night on earth has started ringing in his ears, but of course, that’s not what he sends at all.

Cas 23:22: That’s a lie. I don’t want someone like you. I want you, Dean.

Dean 23:23: Fuck I was hoping you’d say that.

The phone buzzes in Cas’ hand, startling him out of the euphoria flooding through his veins.

“Dean?”

“Tell me we’re doing this Cas. Tell me it’s not just me.”

Dean’s voice does nothing to quell the buzzing in Cas’ mind, the deep timbre of it fueling the surge of what he now recognises as desire.

“I… It’s not just you. You really want this?” Cas tries to keep the disbelief out of his voice, but he’s wanted this for so long, he needs the reassurance that Dean’s in this too.

“God, Cas, you have no idea. I’ve thought about this for so long.”

“You have?” Cas can hear his voice squeaking, but it’s hard to control it around the pounding of his heart and the blood rushing south. He sinks back to the bed, leaning back against the pillows as he focuses on Dean’s breath down the phone.

Dean huffs. “It’s pretty much all I think about, Cas. Fuck, I wish I was there with you, wish I could show you how much I want this.”

Cas wets his lips, eyes flicking between the locked motel room door and the tent in his pants. He’s not been able to get off for weeks, every time he’s tried his thoughts have been plagued by Dean but he’s been unable to bring himself to use them. Like hell is he going to waste any more time waiting.

“Tell me,” Cas says, desperate to hear it. “Tell me how you’d show me.”

Cas can practically hear Dean smirk, and when his voice next comes over the line it’s deeper, huskier. Goosebumps spread across Cas’ body at the reminder of what Dean can do to him, of what he wants Dean to do to him. “Where are you?”

“I’m at the motel. On… on the bed.”

“Good, that’s good,” Dean murmurs, smooth as velvet. “I want you to take your clothes off.”

Cas scrambles to comply, almost dropping the phone in his urgency, but Dean’s voice brings him back.

“Uh, uh, uh, angel. Slowly. ” Cas shivers. “I want you to imagine that I’m there, and trust me, I am gonna be taking my time with you. Savouring every moment, running my hands over every inch of you.”

“I’d take your belt off first, sliding it through the loops, pulling you towards me. When I have you close enough, I’d kiss up and down your neck, behind your ear, feeling you shiver against me.”

Cas slides his own belt off, the snick of the leather and the phantom sensation of Dean’s skin against his pulling an involuntarily groan from his throat.

“I’d take your shirt off real slow, kissing my way down your chest. Once it’s gone I’d push you back on to the bed. I’d want to see you, Cas, want to feel your skin against mine. While you’re spread out under me, well, I’d have to find out if you like your nipples played with. I’d lick across one, getting it all wet, teasing it with my tongue. Would you like that?”

Cas makes a strangled sound, nodding his head frantically. Dean huffs down the phone, but Cas can hear the grin behind the purr of his words. “Tell me, Cas, I want to hear you say it.”

“I would like that, Dean. Very much.”

Dean hums, satisfied. “Lay back on the bed, Cas. You got your shirt off right?”

“Yes,” Cas says.

“That’s real good, Cas. I want you to put the phone on speaker for me, can you do that angel?”

Cas is practically beyond words at this point, his mind reduced to the singular focused thought of Dean. He’d give anything for him to be in the room right now, but this, his voice surrounding him, losing himself in the picture Dean’s painting for him—it’s still pretty damn good.

“I’ve done it, Dean.”

“Good. I want you to play with your nipples, use both hands.”

Cas’ hands drift across his chest, the movement almost involuntary, all of his muscles singing to Dean’s demands. He lightly pinches his nipple, then both, harder, gasping at the sensation. Dean chuckles, a dark sound dripping with intent. Cas is so hard his zipper is starting to dig into the skin of his erection. He wants to undo it, to draw himself out, but Dean hasn’t given him permission yet.

“Dean—” he gasps, “I want—”

“Oh I know what you want, angel. Don’t worry, I’ll get you there.”

Cas keens, back arching off the bed as he continues teasing his nipples, sparks of sensation rippling across his skin.

“Now, then, where were we?” Dean says, and Cas groans, half wanting to yell at Dean to hurry up, but half glad that he’s drawing this out, never wanting this moment to end.

“Oh yes. Now I’d be kissing my way down your chest, biting gently, not enough to break the skin, but enough to leave a mark. I’d want you to know that you’re mine.

Cas moans, deep in his chest, skin already aching with how badly he wants that. “Yes, Dean,” he pants. “I’m yours. I want you to mark me where everyone can see, want everyone to know.”

“Fuck, Cas,” Dean whispers, “I’d mark you up so good. Are you touching yourself, angel?”

“Not… not yet, just my nipples. You didn’t say I could touch yet.” Dean groans in response, a muttered shit, Cas, drifting across the phone. He pauses in his ministrations, hands flying to his zipper, just waiting.

“Take off your pants,” Dean says, and Cas groans as he draws his boxers down too, his cock springing free and hitting against his stomach. He’s so hard, leaking already, Dean’s voice doing more to him than his own imagination ever could.

“Are you hard, Cas?” Dean murmurs. “I bet you are. Bet you’re so hard for me.”

“Dean—”

“I wish you could see what you do to me, Cas. Wish you could feel how hard I am, just listening to all those sounds you’re making. I’d make you fall apart, Cas, I’d soak up every single little moan just so I could keep pushing you higher, louder. I don’t ever want you to hide your sounds from me, I want to hear what I’m doing to you.”

“Dean, yes. Please, don’t stop.”

“Oh I’m not stopping anytime soon, angel. God, I can’t wait to have you squirming underneath me. Can’t wait to see your cock dripping for me, leaking all over you.”

Cas whines, hands twitching as he fists them in the sheets by his sides, desperate to take his cock into his hand.

“Can you touch the insides of your thighs for me, Cas? Gently—imagine it’s my fingertips trailing over your skin, avoiding where you want me to touch you the most. God, I can picture your cock twitching, waiting for me. I’d leave more marks down your thighs. These marks would be just for us, ones that no one else will see but that you’ll know are there every time you sit down, every time you walk. You’ll feel them and you’ll remember that you’re mine.”

“I’d wait until you were begging for it, Cas. Begging to feel my mouth on your cock.”

Cas whines, his hips thrusting up involuntarily. He can feel his cock leaking copiously, dripping down his shaft, and he’s half-convinced that he could come just from this, just from the sound of Dean’s voice playing out a fantasy he’d never dared to fully imagine. He keeps petting his thighs, moving up to his hip, feeling the bone jutting out from the skin and wishing beyond anything else that he was touching his cock instead right now.

Please, ” he breathes, “ please, Dean, I need to touch, I need you to touch me, I—”

“I bet you taste so good, Cas,” Dean grunts, and the words are rushed, his own voice coming out in pants and Cas knows that Dean is touching himself. “Touch yourself, Cas.”

Cas can’t stop the moan that rips from his throat when he fists his hand around his cock, hips already bucking into his hold. He’s so wet, his cock’s practically dripping, and he uses it as lube as he fucks up into his fist.

“Fuck I wish it was me touching you, angel. Want to feel your cock in my mouth, want to hear you whimpering when you hit the back of my throat. I’d be so warm and wet around you, and I know all I’d have to do is lie there and take it. I’d barely have to move at all, would I? You’d be so desperate for it.”

Dean, ” Cas groans, incapable of doing anything else but lying there and letting Dean’s words wash over him, the copious amount of precome leaking from his cock easing his mind into picturing Dean’s mouth, hot and tight around him.

“Squeeze your cock for me,” Dean says. “I’m so close Cas, I want you to come with me.”

“Yes, Dean, I’m so close too, I can’t—”

“Yes you can, just a little longer, angel.” Cas can hear Dean jacking off down the phone, hear the rustle of his sheets and the tell-tale slick sound of his hand flying over his own cock. He groans, desperate to feel, to see.

“God I can’t wait to hear those moans in person, Cas. Fuck. Your come will be so hot going down my throat, it’s going to taste so good. Fuck, Cas, I’m gonna come. Come now, Cas. Come with me.”

Cas’ orgasm hits him like a lightning bolt. He comes so hard everything whites out for a moment, the only tangible thread tying him to reality the sound of Dean’s groans as he comes too, as he shouts Cas’ name like it’s the only word he knows.

It takes Cas at least 5 minutes to come down from the high, the steady sound of Dean’s breath evening out a welcome accompaniment to his own gasps for air.

“Cas?”

“Hmm?”

“Take me off speaker phone.”

Cas fumbles blindly for his phone, bringing it up to his ear.

“That’s better, angel,” Dean whispers, and the heat in the room drops instantly from wild to intimate. “How was that for an intimate encounter, huh?”

“Eh, I've had better.”

Dean growls down the phone, and Cas laughs, feeling lighter than he has in weeks.

“Just you wait, you little shit,” Dean replies, trying to sound stern but Cas can hear the vibration of his laughter too. “This was merely a taste of what I’m gonna do with you.”

“Oh I’m counting on it.”  

Dean chuckles, and Cas grins, turning onto his side to curl his body around the sound of Dean’s voice. He does a haphazard job of wiping off his chest and stomach, grimacing at the sticky residue. He settles in, his bed feeling just that little bit less lonely, as the sound of Dean’s voice lulls him to sleep.

Chapter Text

The orchard fans out in front of him, the dying light of the day painting the leaves in gold and amber. Cas sighs, the beauty of it not lost on him, but it does nothing to fill the aching hole widening in his chest.

He and Dean have barely spoken since they arrived. The excitement that had vibrated through his body on the drive over has all but dissipated, extinguished in a single moment when he’d entered the house and been met with nothing but a grunt and a nod from Dean.

After that night in the motel, they hadn’t spoken much. Cas had fallen asleep to Dean whispering nonsense in his ear, his tone soft and fond. But since then, he and Gabe had been so focused on the hunt, Cas hadn’t had time to think about anything else. Especially when it turned out the vampire nest was so much bigger than what they’d originally thought. It had been a close call, for both of them, and by the time they were done and the bodies dealt with, Cas had zonked out the second the Camaro’s door closed behind him.

He’d had a few texts from Dean since that night, just wishing them luck on the hunt, offering up last minute bits of advice. But nothing personal, nothing like the weeks before, when he’d sent silly pictures or random updates about his day. And certainly nothing pertaining to that... conversation they’d had, that night that Cas is still half-convinced was all a dream. If he didn’t have the preceding text messages—confirmation that it had happened, he had told Dean how he felt and Dean had responded in kind—Cas would think he was crazy.

As it is, he still feels like he’s going crazy.

He ducks his head as the last rays of sunlight fall below the horizon, swallowing around the lump in his throat as he avoids facing the farmhouse behind him. He’d been so happy to see Dean, walking through the door for the first time fully embracing it as home , the warmth of it filling him from head to toe. When Dean had blanked them, him and Gabe both, it was like a bucket of ice water falling on his head, dousing any flare of hope that had once existed.

Dean doesn’t want him, and Cas was stupid to ever believe that he could.

He sighs as he hears footsteps crunching on the ground behind him, the thin snap of twigs once a familiar comfort.

“Go away, Gabe,” he mutters, recognising his brothers’ footsteps anywhere.

Gabriel approaches anyway, coming to stand close enough that their shoulders brush.

 

Cas and Gabe

 “Wanna tell me what’s going on, bro?”

“There’s nothing going on.” Cas folds his arms and ignores the obstinate look on his brother’s face.

“Oh really,” Gabe drawls, so sarcastic that Cas’ responding eye roll makes his head hurt. “Then tell me, dear bro, why Deano is moping in there,” he jerks a thumb back at the house, “while you are moping out here.”

Cas huffs. “I hardly think Dean is moping, Gabe. More like celebrating dodging a bullet.”

There’s a pause, and then Gabe is stomping around until he’s blocking the view of the orchard, standing so close to Cas they’re practically nose to nose. Cas shoves him away, but Gabe’s always been the stubborn one, and he only steps back an inch.

“What the hell are you talking about, Cas?”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Cas scoffs.

“Wouldn’t understand? Wouldn’t understand? ” Gabe replies in disbelief, grabbing Cas by the forearms when he tries to push him away again. “What the hell isn’t there to understand, Cas? For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been in love with Winchester in there. And last I checked, he was pretty darn smitten with you too. So I don’t know what happened between me walking in on you in the motel before that vampire hunt after doing god knows what, clutching your phone that was still open on a call to Dean, and now, but it sure as hell ain’t rocket science Cas. You guys need to get your shit together and that isn’t going to happen if you can’t even mope in the same damn room.”

“But, Gabe—”

“Don’t you ‘but, Gabe’ me. I don’t care which of you broke it, you both need to fix it. Now get your ass inside.”

Cas glares, mutinous, but Gabriel simply crosses his arms and waits. They face off for a few minutes before Cas deflates, letting out a heavy breath as he glances with concern at the house behind him. He turns back to Gabe, who gestures a shooing motion at him which makes him scowl.

“For the record, you’re my least favourite brother,” Cas states, before turning and stalking off towards the house.

“Hey! I’m you’re only brother!”

Cas smirks, flipping his brother the bird.

The house is cool when he enters, and he has to blink several times to get his eyes to adjust to the sudden gloominess. He doesn’t think of Dean’s house as dark, even in shadow it’s still warm and homely, but there’s a certain emptiness to it at the moment, a stillness that he can’t quite place. It’s only once he’s poked his head into both the library and the kitchen that he realises it’s because Dean isn’t there. The absence of his presence is so strong it makes Cas feel sick. He misses him, he realises. He’s standing in his house and yet he misses him, because Dean can’t even bear to be in the same room as him . For the first time since that night, Cas wishes that it had never happened.

With a sigh, he ventures upstairs, finding Dean’s bedroom door shut. He knocks, but there’s no answer, and feeling brave he tries the handle. He tries to ignore the pain in his chest when he finds the door locked. Another nail in the proverbial coffin of evidence that Dean doesn’t want him.

He makes his way across the hall to the other bedroom, slumping down on the bed and blinking back tears. He lies there for hours, unable to sleep, but unable to summon up the energy to do anything else. The only thought going round and round in his mind that whomever said it was better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all was an idiot.

 


 

Cas jolts awake, eyes snapping open as the clock on the nightstand ticks from 02:59 to 03:00.

Oh great, witching hour, Cas thinks with a roll of his eyes. He’s not sure what woke him, but he can’t even remember falling asleep. He realises he must have dozed off eventually, probably around 9pm, which explains the early wake up. The hunting lifestyle doesn’t exactly lend itself to getting more than six hours sleep often.

He grimaces as he tries to swallow and finds his throat dry. Wanting a glass of water, he gets out of bed, padding softly on the floorboards as he makes his way across the hall and down the stairs. Dean’s door is still shut, and he can hear Gabe’s snores drifting through the wall of the living room.

He doesn’t need to turn on any lights as he makes his way to the kitchen, thinking idly that they must be coming up on the full moon. Silver shafts of light trickle throughout the house, dust motes fluttering in and out of the rays. Dean never bothers to close the blinds down here, resolute that people peeking in the window were the least of his worries. Cas yawns, following the hum of the refrigerator across the hall, stretching and absently scratching at the hairs low on his stomach as he does so.

He comes to an abrupt halt in the doorway, one arm still half raised as he takes in the sight of Dean propped at the kitchen table, bathed in a pool of moonlight. There’s a book open in front of him, and Cas can see from here it’s written in a language he doesn’t even recognise. Dean is hunched over it, one hand propping his head up, the other cradling a mug of what Cas knows is long-turned cold coffee. He hasn’t even noticed Cas hovering awkwardly in the doorway just yet, and Cas knows that’s a mark of how tired the man must be. Still, he relishes in the chance to just gaze at Dean uninterrupted for a moment, knowing full well that it’ll probably be his last, and only, chance to do so.

Dean’s not wearing a shirt, and Cas sucks in a breath as he chases the light trickling across his shoulders, illuminating the maze of scars and freckles that rest there. He’s wearing a loose pair of sweats, but Cas can tell from the shape of them that he’s still wearing the knee brace underneath. His feet are bare, a mirror of Cas’ own dishevelled appearance, and he wonders briefly if Dean’s toes feel as cold as his own.

Cas opens his mouth, but realises he doesn’t have anything to say. Dean’s the one that pushed him away, Dean’s the one that’s been avoiding him, without even explaining why. The least that Cas can do is let him. He ducks his head and makes his way across the room, certain that the movement will be enough to make Dean aware of his presence. The tap squeaks as Cas twists it, the sound grating and doing nothing to cut the tension in the room.

Glass filled, drained, and then refilled, Cas realises he’s deliberately stalling, fiddling with the tap, hoping that maybe he was wrong. But then he turns and looks at the man sitting across the room from him, the man still staring down at his book. Despite the tilted angle, Cas can see the shadows under his eyes, can see the tightness in his shoulders. Dean looks tired, old, and despite everything, it pains Cas to think he may have played a part in it.

“Dean?” Cas says, to no response. “Can’t you at least look at me?” He doesn’t even care how pathetic he sounds, his voice breaking around the words.

But there’s still no reply from Dean, and instead he’s met with the scrape of wood on tile as Dean pushes his chair back, and his heart plummets. He closes his eyes, not wanting to watch Dean physically walking away from him now too.

He startles when instead he feels a touch on his jaw. He opens his eyes to find Dean mere inches away, his hand shaped as if to cradle Cas’ face, but only his fingertips resting on the skin. Dean looks afraid, Cas realises, the expression foreign on the face of the seasoned hunter.

“I could look at you for a lifetime, Cas,” Dean whispers, “and it wouldn’t change a single thing.”

Dean smiles, but it’s empty, and Cas feels a tear slip down his cheek as he looks at the pain in Dean’s eyes. He looks hopeless, and it’s not something Cas ever wished to see on his face.

“I don’t understand. What wouldn’t it change?” Cas’ voice trembles, but he forces himself to not fall apart, understanding that despite the pain Dean’s caused him, it’s nothing next to the pain Dean has caused himself. He leans into Dean’s hand, tilting his head in a way that he knows Dean has always found adorable. It forces Dean’s palm to finally curl around his jaw, and it fits there perfectly, like it was made to, and like Cas knew it would.

“You deserve more than me, Cas,” Dean says. “You deserve someone young and healthy who can keep up with you, not some washed up old hunter that can’t even pick apples in his own garden without his knee flaring up. You deserve someone that can treat you, that can share laughs with you and make you happy, not a retired dropout with six bucks to his name that can’t even think of cracking a smile before 10am and his third cup of coffee. You deserve someone that can be out on the road with you, day in and day out, just shooting the shit and putting miles beneath your feet. You deserve someone that can hunt with you, not someone that wakes up every night with nightmares of his past.”

“I’m old, Cas,” and Dean’s own voice cracks at the admittance. “My knee’s fucked. I haven’t even been out in Baby in weeks . And I’m sorry for pushing you away.” Dean slides his hand back, raking his fingertips through Cas’ hair before curling around the back of his neck. He pulls Cas’ forehead down to his own, closing his eyes as if he can’t bear to look Cas in the face as he continues. “I hate myself for it. The whole time you were gone I was telling myself to leave it alone, to not talk to you outside of the hunt. But I missed you,” he shrugs. “And then when you told me how you felt I just... I couldn’t help myself. I wanted you so badly.” His voice is so quiet Cas barely catches the last part, but then Dean wrenches himself away, turning his back to Cas and running his hands over his face. His voice is louder now, missing the brokenness of before. “It was a mistake, Cas. I should’ve known better. Dammit, I do know better.”

Cas remains silent as he studies the scars criss-crossing their way down Dean’s back. He looks pale, the moonlight waxing across his skin, but firm. He’s lost no definition of muscle in all the time Cas has known him, despite his knee injury. Cas knows he still works out, and he knows that Dean’s mind is far stronger than his body has ever been, the intelligence whirring away beneath his skull a quality Cas has always admired.

And despite all that Dean’s just said, all that Cas can think, as he stands against the sink and Dean stands with his head buried in his hands in front of him, is that he would rather spend a thousand hours just sitting with Dean, learning the stories behind each of those scars, than set another foot on the road to a hunt again.

“I don’t care,” Cas croaks, frowning before repeating louder, “Dean, I don’t care.

Dean freezes in front of him, Cas watches as the muscles tense up his spine, one after the other, and he huffs, stepping forward so that he can spin Dean to face him. “I don’t give a shit if you’re old, Dean. You think I care about that?” He rests his hands on Dean’s neck, thumbs brushing his jawline so that he can tilt Dean’s gaze to meet his. He wants Dean to see the conviction in his eyes. “You think I want some cocky, idiot hunter who would probably get himself, and then me, and probably Gabe, killed, just because he’s the same age as me? Dean, I don’t want to talk to anybody before I’ve had three coffees in the morning. I don’t even drive! You think it’s fun being cramped in the passenger seat the whole time? You’ve heard Gabriel sing, right?” Cas feels Dean’s jaw twitching beneath his hands as he fights a smile at that, and Cas counts it as his greatest victory. “I want you, Dean. Just you. I don’t care about the rest of it if it means I get to have you.”

Dean still looks torn, frowning down into the narrow space between them.

“You know,” Cas whispers conspiratorially. “A wise man once told me... that hunting? You gotta get out while the going’s good. And if you get the chance to get out of the life? You take it.” Dean’s eyes snap up at that, a slow, real, smile spreading across his face. “I want to take that chance, Dean. And I want to take it with you.”

They stare at each other, Cas watching the nuances of fear and regret, longing and desire playing out across Dean’s face. It’s only once his expression settles into something that Cas recognises far too well from his own reflection that he dives in, pressing their lips together in a short but firm kiss. It’s hope, and damn if it isn’t the most beautiful thing Cas has ever seen.

He forces himself to pull away, already wanting more, and is left breathless when Dean dives back in, pressing him back against the counter and groaning into his mouth. Cas’ arms wrap around Dean’s neck, pulling him closer as he sighs into the kiss, opening his mouth to let Dean in. Elation floods through him, warming him from his head to his bare toes, relishing in the feel of Dean’s own toes pressed against his. Dean’s hands are warm on his hips, his fingers gripping tight enough to bruise, and Cas moans, panting as Dean pulls away to kiss reverently down his neck, sucking a mark beneath his ear.

He doesn’t know how long they stand there, making out like teenagers—long enough that the sun starts rising, silver moonlight replaced by the golden light of dawn. Long enough that the edge of the sink starts digging into Cas’ back. Long enough that despite his so-called ‘weakness’, Dean wraps his arms under Cas’ thighs and lifts him up to sit on the counter instead. Long enough that Cas knows his lips will be sore in the morning, kiss-pink and swollen, and yet not long enough to satisfy him.

They break away finally, panting and grinning at each other. Dean’s hair is a mess, the scars and freckles across his shoulders now interrupted by a smattering of red marks. And the smile on his face, Cas thinks absently, the sun could never rise again and it would still be enough to light the room.

 

Cas and Dean

 

“So,” Dean clears his throat. “I don’t know who this ‘wise man’ you mentioned is,” Cas laughs as Dean winks him. “But I think I owe him a thank you.”

“I think that’s fair,” Cas agrees, wrapping his arms around the man in front of him, reveling in the fact that he can.

Dean hums, hugging Cas closer to him so he can rest his chin on the top of his head. “I’m sorry  for pushing you away,” Dean whispers, pressing a kiss to Cas’ crown.

Cas huffs. “I know how you can make it up to me.” He slides out of Dean’s hold so that he can slip off the counter.

“Oh yeah?”

“Oh yes,” Cas replies. “I seem to recall a certain phone conversation, where certain promises were made.”

Desire darkens in Dean’s eyes as he catches on. “Do you now?” he drawls, and Cas backs away slowly, already feeling his heart pounding in anticipation. He nods, a shaky ‘uh huh’ pulled from his lips.

“Well in that case, angel, ” Cas shivers, all of his blood diving south. “I suggest you get upstairs.”

There’s a beat where they stand there staring at each other, predator vs prey, before Cas turns and hightails it back up the staircase, giggling maniacally as Dean makes pursuit. They tumble through the door, crashing onto the bed together in a mess of limbs and laughter, Cas squealing when Dean digs his fingers into his sides and starts tickling. They eventually wrestle out of their clothes, the laughter dying out into moans, the lit up flares of excitement simmering down to the low embers of desire.

It’s as Dean’s sucking a particularly dark bruise into one of Cas’ hip bones that he hears it, the creak of the stairs, the pad of feet. Cas shoots Dean a warning glare before there’s a sharp knock, and an exasperated “finally!” floats through the door. Dean lifts his head, eyes twinkling with mirth, and Cas has only a moment to breathe Dean, don’t before Dean ducks his head and swallows Cas down to the hilt. Cas moans filthily, unbidden, his back arching as the sounds of his brother’s disgusted whines can be heard just outside.

“Ew, too much information! I just came to tell you that I stashed some condoms and lubes in here yesterday.”

Dean’s eyes widen, mirth instantly replaced with lust, and he pulls off Cas with an obscene pop.

Dean, ” Cas hisses, before yelling louder. “Go away, Gabe!”

“Alright, alright, I can tell where I’m not wanted!” Gabriel hollers back, before cackling to himself as he walks away, letting them know loudly that he will be wearing his headphones tonight.

Cas groans, covering his face with his hands to hide his embarrassment. But Dean merely laughs, tugging his hands away. He leans down, kisses Cas like he has all the time in the world—and they do, Cas realises—before pulling back to stare down at him, eyes shining.

“Now then, about this stash that Gabe left…”