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Oh, How it Shakes the Ground

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There’s that noise, again.

Expecting an angel, Dean drops his bag by the curb, draws a blade and toes at the open door to his motel room.

He steps in, silent.
Rolls his eyes at Cas and lowers his weapon.

Yeah, so, he was expecting a newborn, obviously. But it really is about time Cas caught up to him.
He wipes his face out of habit. There’s no perspiration from either the heat or the adrenaline spike. He turns and grabs his bag and shuts them in the room.

Castiel seems to conclude that he won’t turn and run now that he’s been cornered. So he goes to the sink, wets a wad of paper towels, and hands them over to Dean.

He nods in thanks. “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.”

Cas’s usual tick of disappointment at recognizing a movie line from somewhere, but not really caring exactly what. “The victim?”

“Fine. Just freaked. Could hardly untie her for how much she was kickin' me in the face.”

He persisted without pausing to calm her down. Or shout her down. He let her do it, knowing he’d have a bruised, bloody face. He wipes at that blood now, and it all comes away easily. The pain faded by the time he got her back to her husband. The cuts and scrapes closed on the way over here. He’s sure he’s almost completely healed by now.

Cas is staring, as per usual. Dean pulls up his collar, but he knows Cas isn’t staring at the black marks on his neck, because he wouldn’t do that.

He just stares at Dean. Just because that’s who he is.

Dean has felt Cas hot on his trail for a month, now. He still doesn’t need to sleep, or Cas would have caught up before today. If the case hadn’t taken quite so long, he’d have been checked out and on to the next one.

But he is finally flagging a little. Not quite so bulletproof as when this started. He felt himself zone out this morning, staring at the television in some kind of state suspended between idle thoughts and sleep. He may even be tired enough for a full hour of actual unconsciousness.

“How’s Sam?”

Cas wavers a little. “Handling it,” he leans on the counter and that is stranger to Dean, now. Knowing he doesn’t really need to shift his weight. Knowing he doesn’t get conventionally uncomfortable and his human mannerisms are a completely learned behavior. He honestly hadn’t given it thought, before, and now that he knows how much it sucks to have to sigh and hesitate and lean and shift and pretend to feel all these human things, he wonders why Castiel does them around him. And how he manages them so fluently.

It bugs him a little, this line of thought.

And he doesn’t like that he’s been cornered, finally.
And he doesn’t like that Sam is just ‘handling it.’
And he doesn’t like the sensation of feeling like he has to move from Cas’s sight.

He never felt that way before. But now it feels like when he was freshly rescued from Hell. Like this angel, who’d left this print on his skin, could see clear through him. Through to the ugliness inside.

Considering everything that’s happened since Michael, that feeling is a fresh torture, today.

He does close his eyes for a brief moment and finds that he needs it. Decides to splash water on his face at the sink, then sit at the kitchenette table.

“Mom? Bobby? Jack?”

“All fine,” Cas takes the seat next to him. “All working. Not that you’ve left much for them. They come in behind you and see that everything’s done, then seek other hunts nearby. Rarely find any.”

“So they’re here?” Nearby. His heart jumps into his throat at the thought of it and the human sensation of panic makes a sluggish return.

“No,” Cas is gentle about saying so. “No, I had to move ahead of them to catch up to you. But Sam is... anxious to hear from you. This isn’t easy for either of us. And the rest would welcome you back,” he insists.

However, that’s not something he can believe quite yet.

He’s the reason they’re chasing down hunts. He’s trying to keep the work out of their hands, clean up his own mess, and still they run after him. That isn’t what he wanted.

“You guys should go. Home. Go home. I mean. I’ve got this covered.” He taps the table and doesn’t look up.

Cas ignores that out of hand. “Tell me how I can help,” he requests.

“You can go and work with Sam,” Dean shakes his head. “You can let me wrap this up, man. I’m finished when I’m finished. That’s all there is to it.”

“I did not ask how I could make you feel better,” Cas settles further into his chair. “What I asked was how I could help you. You won’t feel better no matter what I say or do. So I’m just... forced to do my other job. And simply keep you alive until you realize it’s still worth living.”

There’s a feeling as sharp as the moment he looked up and he was seeing through his own eyes again. Moving his own hands again, Michael somehow pushed to the background.

He blinks slowly and meets Castiel’s eyes. He can see the edge of energy in them, still. One of the many things he was driving away from when he left the bunker to hunt on his own.

Again, Cas’s eyes don’t dip to Dean’s collar. They don’t look to him but they could look through him and he still hates feeling known when he isn’t sure he knows himself at all anymore.

He wants to get out of town. He’s on a schedule. A world apology tour.

He also suddenly needs that hour of sleep in an unexpected and piercing way.

It makes so little sense at the moment. “You can uh. Drive. You can drive,” Dean offers, by way of explaining what Cas can damn well do if he’s gonna damn well be stubborn.

One short assessment happens. Cas’s eyes skid over him, up and down, quickly.

And he does pause on Dean’s neck.

But he doesn’t say anything. He gets up and starts packing. Then, Dean gets up to follow.


Broken bones and ruptured organs take Dean about three hours to heal. That’s the longest of anything.

And the scars don’t stick around. The only things that do are the imprints. The ash.

Cas and Sam spent too long trying to figure out why Michael died and Dean didn’t. Spent too much time trying to figure out why Dean still held so much grace inside him when Michael was confirmed gone.

Sam, in the usual fashion, kept rattling Dean’s shoulder to test for integrity in this weird, seemingly-brotherly way. Slap him in half a hug or grab him by the neck and shake him. “You’re a badass,” or “Yeah, glad we didn’t lose you, man,” or “We’ll figure it out.” He got handsy. It was aggravating. It knocked Dean off center and made him so emotional he was having a hard time denying it.

Cas kept seeing him, too – seeing through him – and that was driving him more nuts than usual.

He also felt like a little bit of Jack’s residual hate didn’t exactly wash off of him when Michael left the building, so it was hard to even look the kid in the eye.

Dean had fought Michael, somehow. Not the same way Sam did when he was possessed.

Sam was stronger than him. Put a gag on Lucifer, suppressed him, and told Dean it was gonna be okay. Then he threw himself in that hole. Into the cage.

Dean wasn’t strong enough to put a gag on Michael. He was barely strong enough to stab himself with the archangel blade. Stuttering and fighting his limbs the whole way, he had finally managed to bring Michael to his knees – their knees – and practically fall on the sword.

He thinks what happened is that Michael saw it coming. He thinks Michael was trying to heal himself as he was dying and the grace got tangled between the angel who owned it and the vessel it was packed inside of.

When he fell, he fell sideways, and two of Michael’s many wings landed on him as they burned out and he died.

Dean woke up on his back with a gasp, Sam crying his eyes out above him, then was snatched up off the ground so fast that he watched, over Sam’s shoulder, as realization struck Cas and he literally fell on his ass in relief.

Sam was so thankful, so happy. They, none of them, noticed his side was smoldering. Jack shook himself off first and patted the arm of his jacket to put the tiny flames out.

Dean didn’t feel the pattern of the wings burned into him, but they are there, still.

He doesn’t wipe off the mirror when he gets out of the shower. He doesn’t look at himself.

When he does see himself, he pulls up his collar to hide the black tip of a feather curving up the left side of his neck. It looks like a tattoo and he wanted to puke the first time someone admired it like it was artsy and daring.

He tries to speak to people leaning in, now, with his good side facing them.

He gets distracted by himself. His own faint reflection in the window next to him makes him swat at his neck, sometimes, forgetting that it’s not dirt or a bug. Nothing has landed on him, he didn’t get barbeque sauce on his collar.

Michael’s wings are burned into him. He will never be able to be anyone else but a vessel.

He spent so much time fighting that, that sometimes he actually does hesitate in putting on his shirt. He does stop and stare at his arm. He put this body up on the auction block. Destiny said all along that it knew exactly who he was and that he would be owned by his fate one day.

And he went and gave himself up.

It was about two weeks, back at the bunker. Sam and Cas trying to figure out if his grace was gonna burn out or what the hell was gonna happen.

He finally pried an answer out of Jack as to where Mom had disappeared. Mom and Bobby and the other-worlders were all hunting. Were all cleaning up after him. Michael had rampaged across the world and new angels were still dropping out of the sky from that weird factory he’d cranked to life.

Sam had tried to keep those facts from him. Tried to be himself. Tried to be annoyingly earnest about his very scientific inquiries about Dean somehow not dying when Michael was dying.

So Dean had left.

Well.

Back up.

It wasn’t that Dean had packed his shit in the middle of the day and given Sam a heads-up with the full itinerary.

It was that he felt Castiel in the kitchen. Felt him in the garage. Felt him in the bedroom.

He could hear the ethereal matter that half-made-up Jack’s very being.

Cas would talk to him and he wouldn’t just hear the high strain of grace or the words he was saying, but he would also hear the-

He still hesitates to call it prayer. Though. You can’t outrun the facts forever.

Prayer is how Castiel’s fucking species communicates. Useless to pretend that Cas was whispering to himself in Enochian or some shit.

Dean understands the Enochian, now, but the prayer. He hears that, too.

And the fact that he could feel Cas’s sense of belonging now that Dean was home?

Okay, that. That, you know. Freaked him out. Kinda big-time.

Cas was awake 24/7. Dean was awake 24/7, too. They had a conversation where Dean asked-but-didn’t-beg for Cas to tone down the signal and he immediately took sympathy and cut the sound out.

He changed for Dean and then Dean felt awful about it.

Had to wait until Cas was unshakably distracted by Jack. Had to wait until Sam was in the shower. Had to run from the house so fast that he tripped on the stairs down to the garage, startling himself so suddenly that he accidentally tried to fly down the last few steps.

His human body knew he didn’t have wings. The grace inside him was adjusting to not having wings. So it was... maybe more of an inhuman leap. And the closest to panic he’d felt since he woke up covered in ash.

Look.

It isn’t as if he doesn’t feel good having a member of his family here. And profound fucking relief that Cas is the one who showed up. But it just isn’t in his fucking nature not to fight the inevitable.

This is going to manifest in some butthurt pouting. Because now that Cas is here, he isn’t actually willing to run away from him, but still doesn’t feel ready to face him every day.

In fact, now that Cas is here, he feels a little more like he can breathe. He feels almost two degrees of happy which is totally unacceptable. Who the hell is he to feel happy at a time like this? After he almost got the world ripped apart?

And Cas has made his own head-first run at penance, so he’s actually going to be aggravatingly understanding and kind about it and Dean’s going to get exhausted of being a brat sooner than Cas is going to lose track of him again.

Part of having grace, it turns out, is having a bit more of an innate sense of strategy. And if he didn’t know Cas well already, Michael was familiar enough with his version of Castiel that he’s already positive he’s doomed to never, ever out-strategize him again.

It’s a game of chess that’s over after the first move.

He brings that up, when they’re parking in front of the next hotel and he’s in the throes of his last sulk before he has to give it up and fucking move on with his life because his best friend happens to be the most viciously battle-ready tactician still walking this planet. “There was another Castiel. In Bobby’s world.”

“I know,” Cas turns the keys to shut the car off. Hands them over.

Dean sits up and takes them.

“I killed him,” Cas says.

Dean pauses and blinks. Not even Michael had known that.

Cas pulls Dean’s hand up and closes it around the keys so he doesn’t drop them. “Why did you let me drive?”

“You.” Dean tries to stop and—“Why wouldn’t I let you drive?”

“You barely ever let Sam drive.”

“I was gonna shut my eyes for a minute. I know you know the car and—You killed yourself,” he blurts, shocked at how fucking ugly and dangerous it sounds being verbalized.

Cas half shrugs.

Dean sits all the way up and fucking slugs him in the arm.

Cas flinches because, yes, he’s so powered-up that actually hurt. But Dean doesn’t spare a minute to apologize. “Who said you could fucking kill yourself and not fucking tell me about it?!” he barks, almost livid. “How the hell do you go and do something that-that, like, traumatic and not fucking come back to me and tell me??? I have to find out fucking this way??!

He rubs his arm. “I didn’t think it—he wasn’t me. He was some other. Creature. It wasn’t even-I wouldn’t have-”

Dean leans in, gets in his face. “You can’t do that. Listen to me,” he yanks Cas’s hand away from his bruised arm. He’ll be fine. “You told me once that you were suicidal. Where I come from that’s a fucking huge deal and nobody takes it lightly. You get me? You don’t ever-”

“Don’t ever kill myself again and not tell you? Dean,” he looks almost as if he’ll grin. As if that’s absurd.

Dean shakes himself. Throws out a hand. “This isn’t funny. This is so fucking far from funny.”

And Cas just.
Cas just stares at him.

He hears it. He’s been able to hear the grace all along, yes. But he hears when it turns into something soaring and beautiful.

“I’m,” he flicks Cas instead of punching him again, because, yeah, he guesses it isn’t cool to lecture someone on his suicide risk while fucking abusing him or something. “I’m for real here. The fucking depth of your self-hate and shit is so Marianas Trench I don’t find out you killed your evil twin until months later and you look at me like I’m crazy for flippin’ out and then you get the psychic warm-fuzzies because I care?” he motions at his own ears kinda reminding Cas that he can hear that, now.

And it dims out pretty quick.

“God,” he sighs. “Like I wouldn’t care that you fucking killed yours-” He doesn’t even wanna say it again. “You tell me this kind of shit,” he says one more time, laying down the law.

Cas sits to the side in his seat. “Alright. While we’re covering my trauma, I feel obligated to note how bad it feels when you die, scare us, come back with powers of unknown certainty, and then disappear. I will admit to that being traumatic and...” he thinks about it, decides, “demand a remedy.”

“Remedy?”

“A vow will do for now. That you won’t run out for beer and fail to return. Dean, we don’t know when Michael’s grace will fade, if it ever will. But if it should happen to fade because you’ve used it to heal yourself one too many times and it suddenly stops sustaining you, I might not be able to find you before you bleed out. We don’t know if old wounds will open. In fact,” he presses, “you have to answer for your own self-hatred!” he throws back at him. “If this mission to repair Michael’s misdeeds should lead you to irreparable damage, how could you possibly hold me accountable for any of my issues with self-harm? It would be far less traumatic for me if I wasn’t constantly worried that you would use this mission of atonement to achieve your eventual end!”

Dean feels affronted and totally called-out. He sits and. Sits and.

He can’t really fucking argue that.

Jesus. Every angle he looks at, Cas finds some sort of way to-

He quits before the checkmate because he sees it six steps ahead and he wasn’t really kidding about needing to sleep. He only drifted as they drove, he could probably use some more time to actually press towards the real thing. Dean rubs at the bridge of his nose. “A vow?”

“I won’t force you to call Sam or Mary before you’re ready. But you also can’t skip out on me. I’ll agree to keep working until you’re ready to go home. I only want you to let me stay with you until then. I can’t let you atone to the world all on your own until the grace runs out and you crash, Dean.” He waits.

Dean nods. Yawns.

Cas reaches over the seat for one of the bags and thumbs through a stack of credit cards. He pulls the green one.

“Not that one,” Dean sighs. He takes the stack and shuffles for a red one.

Cas claims it from him. “I’ll get the room. Follow and get the bags.”

Dean nods.

Cas does, too, and Dean watches him get out.

Upon entering the building, Castiel’s small signal cuts out.

Dean thought maybe to sleep for an hour, but it might be more like three, four.

It used to take more distance than that for the sound of Cas’s grace to fade from his awareness, too.

So he’s definitely losing some of Michael’s juice. It might even be exactly like Cas said – he’s running himself into the ground and if he keeps being reckless, he’ll use it all up.

Maybe he’d—

Maybe he’d think of himself as human, again, if he did.

But. In the meantime. While he’s got this garbage under his skin, anyway. Might as well reverse Michael’s damage.

They’re in town for a demon. There’s been a little bit of press about the case and they don’t want there to be much more.

Some of this is Michael’s doing – these weak demons boiling to the surface and causing havoc without the usual elaborate plans and dramatics. Just ruining the lives of families and destroying faith and whatnot.

A few hours of sleep and then they can get moving.

Cas helps him in with the last bag and goes to get ice from the machine. Dean doesn’t really need it, but it’s a habit he ingrained into Cas for a reason. He trained Cas what to do at a motel every time they move into a new room and Cas follows the process faithfully.

Dean sits on the couch for a minute.

And Dean passes out.


Cas wakes him for dinner. Dean’s not amused at all.

He takes some of the fries but he mopes about it when Cas passes him an opened beer. “’S no point,” he gripes with his mouth full.

Cas frowns but uncaps a beer for himself and sits down with his ‘Ranch Wrap’ (he explained that it “sounded interesting”).

“You can’t get drunk anymore so you don’t even miss the taste of beer?” Cas challenges, doubtfully.

“I mean,” Dean chews and swallows. “I mean it takes me two straight bottles of whiskey to get a buzz that lasts for three minutes. It’s just.” He shrugs, unable to explain.

“You enjoy beer. It’s refreshing. You don’t have to feel the effects of it to continue liking it. You don’t have to use it just to get drunk.”

“I miss it.”

Cas laughs at him a little.

“I do,” he insists.

Cas grins. “Um. Sour grapes, I think is the phrase. Sam uses it to characterize your baseless griping. You miss blurring out your own life?” he challenges one more time.

Dean knows there’s no real justification for his complaints. He knows he still likes beer, the familiar taste and the cool of it. The smell and the very texture. But he grumbles and only drinks when there isn’t food left to eat.

“It’s not the same,” he sighs again.

Cas is done trying to decide if he enjoys his wrap and pulls the components apart to get the cheese and chicken, the parts he really likes. “I know things aren’t the same,” he nods. “Humans change, but you’ve always found it easier not to. And that’s always felt a little familiar to me. I like trying new things out, but I come back here. Come back to you and Sam. And keep doing the same things with all of you. Hunting and fighting.” He pulls the crunchy things out of the wrap with a critical eye. “You can enjoy these things, savor them, without them feeling exactly the same. We learn to do that – angels.” He grins a little again. “For all the times you’ve given me human lessons, I suppose it’s about time I gave you angel lessons.”

Dean bristles at that. “Not a fucking angel,” he steals some of the crunchy things and pops a few into his mouth.

Ranch-drenched corn chip strips. Getting soggy and mostly tasteless to him. He can taste the component parts. Buttermilk, parsley, corn meal, oils, salts.

“Well. Arguably this is an angel-coping-with humanity lesson, so not strictly an angel lesson,” he tilts his head.

Dean leans on one hand and pulverizes a crunchy thing with the other. “Fine. What.”

“If you don’t enjoy things on the whole, and you can’t stop thinking about what they’re made out of, embrace the history of them.”

“History?” he scoffs.

Cas takes another sip of their cheap beer and thinks about it, closing his eyes. “Metal machinery. Filling the bottles. Sanitizing them before that. An industrial cleaner used to maintain the machines. The vats the beer was made in. The paddles in the vat were recently replaced. They’re newer than the other parts of it. The hops from a field in Iowa. The diesel running the harvester.” He seems to savor it. Enjoy it. That all the small tastes and odors of the beer tell him where it came from.

Dean is skeptical. But he knows he’s been sensing some of the same things when eating and drinking. His body still needs to be sustained. In fact, he’s been eating more than usual, like the grace and its healing effects require more fuel than human fare can regularly provide. He takes another sip of his beer.

Where it was tasteless before and he just got this sense of it being handled, Dean thinks about it carefully and finally knows why he got that feeling.

The industrial pesticide used in the field of hops. The rusted old sprinklers that rotate over them. The dirty hands of the people pulling debris out of the bale of product.

He shudders. “Oh, gross.”

“Just... try to enjoy it,” Cas shrugs.

“Why?? How?? People are so fucking—people need to wash their hands more. People need to buy better equipment.” He pushes his bottle up the table and away.

Cas rolls his eyes. “People have ingenuity. People invent and build and destroy and rebuild. They’re fascinating, Dean. And us? We save them.”

Dean’s heard Sam say that a lot more often lately. He feels it, too. They got Mom back. Jack’s still alive. Satan’s dead. They evacuated a whole other world to save lives. They’re good at it.

This is one of the very few times he’s ever heard Cas say it. He sits up a little more. His chin is up.

He’s proud of it. Proud of all of them.

They do save these people. The other hunters, the dirt-caked farmers, and the rich bastards brewing cheap beer.

If you’re kind of an angel and you don’t want to be a dick about it, maybe you admit that even the shitty things about humanity are worth saving.

He’s known that and he’s espoused it before, but maybe sharing space with Michael ratcheted up the contempt and he has to climb down from his high horse.

He takes his beer back up and has another sip.

Long buried under the field of hops, there’s a farm house from the 1800s. It burned down and was built on top of. Cows died there, enriching the Earth. Men sweat into their dirt as they turned it by hand. To earn enough to sustain their families so they could make hops in 2018 and sell them to scrape by.

The house burned down and a new farm came up on top of it. Somewhere far below are the bones of animals that roamed the plains before humans did.

The whole Earth and all its history. And Dean might have fucked up and put it in danger for a while, but he killed two archangels who will never threaten this place he’s worked so hard to preserve. Sam and the newborn angels and the fast-food and the IRS and the kindergarten teachers and the cheap beer.


The demon in Wyoming will not be hard to pin down and eliminate. Not least of all because of the press.

A priest has trapped it inside of a teenage boy and the only actual challenge will be getting past the church officials and the family... and now the news crews, to perform a real ritual themselves.

“Fucking Exorcism of Emily Rose,” Dean closes the newspaper. “They’ve got cell phone video and everything. Half the world thinks the kid is pranking for YouTube views and the other half think he’s got Mad Cow.”

“When will it be best to pull him from the house?”

Pull him?” Dean frowns. “We can’t just take a kid out of his home. Think of how freaked he’s gonna be after the demon’s gone. He’ll need to be at home. He’ll need his family, Cas.”

Castiel drags Dean’s bag over and considers some of their fake IDs. “With the press alerted, it may be hard to gain entry, let alone corner the demon quietly and perform the exorcism.”

“We go as church officials. Monks. With hoods and everything. Jesuits or some shit.”

“It won’t take the Jesuits or the Benedictines or any sect long to disavow us. The local diocese already publicly chastised the priest who’s helping the family, now. We may not make it past the cameras in time to avoid all the church authority.”

He rejects all the IDs except one. Places it on the table. Dean’s straight-backed in plaid. He’s labeled as a utilities worker.

“When there aren’t so many members of the press in the neighborhood – first thing in the morning, I suppose – we park a van in front of the home and come in for some sort of... inspection,” Cas shrugs. “We say something is dangerous and evacuate the house.”

“Might work. If nobody’s good enough with a hammer and duct tape to know we’re bullshitting,” Dean points out. He reaches across the table and flips the ID over to the blank reverse. “Here’s an idea,” he pauses and waits for Cas to meet his eyes. “We go in as ourselves. We say we believe all of what’s happening and we’re there to end it quick. We say we’ve been to Hell and back and we fight demons every day. And then we ask them to let us out the back door so Channel 2 News doesn’t try to interview us or some shit.”

Cas considers. “A compromise. How about we go to the door as utilities workers, then reveal ourselves for who we are. It won’t seem unusual that we’re carrying belts of weapons if they look like tools. It should fool any of the press camped out in the neighborhood.”

Dean snaps his fingers. “Alright. You’re with me on this, then? No dragging the kid out the back window?”

He nods. They go about the business of plotting to steal a utilities vehicle.

They end up with a truck. And they don their reflective vests only to have to add garish yellow slickers to their outfits when the persistent, drizzling rain begins falling the next day.

It would also appear that a compromise between their instincts is necessary.

At first blush, the family let Dean and Castiel in the door with wonder and a healthy dose of skepticism. “I’ve been to Hell - we’ve been to Hell,” Dean says. “I’m not some 40-year-old virgin in a robe. I’m here to fix this.”

His eyes say as much. The mother is the first to end her long consideration of his appearance.

She steps aside.

They understand that something is genuinely wrong with their son. That’s why they’ve allowed some priests to strap him to his bed while he occasionally cackles and coughs live insects onto his own chest, speaking a language they’ve never heard.

The father stays downstairs, shaking his head, muttering with the in-laws after his wife hushes him and leads them upstairs.

She shocks at something and nearly topples onto Cas, who catches her handily.

Something skitters and tumbles down the stairs past their feet.

Dean looks down to see a trail of beetles making their way in the opposite direction. Fleeing the presence above them.

“Gross,” Dean mutters.

“Dean,” Cas motions him out of the way and they let the mom head back downstairs, crossing herself and clutching the cross on her necklace.

He blows out a breath. “You didn’t leave anything in the truck, right?” he whispers. “If the demon won’t go – if we have to stab this kid? We have to abandon everything and-”

“We’ll have to, anyway,” Cas peeks through a curtain when they get upstairs. “I don’t see any news vans, yet, but I see at least two people filming video blogs on their iPhones. One’s walking backwards. Giving commentary. There are witnesses in the other houses. People passing slowly in their cars...”

Dean throws his hands up. “Get our cover blown by an Instagram Investigator. One day we’ll die on the Ghostfacer’s Snapchat.”

Cas pulls the curtains shut firmly. Turns and puts a hand to Dean’s shoulder. Marches him up the stairs. “No we won’t. Will you do me a favor?” Cas stops them at a closed door. There’s a rosary on the floor, some beads fallen away. The fine metal links are ruined as if the chain was looped over the door handle, which grew so hot it melted and fell. He swats Dean’s hand away from it before he burns himself and steps in front of him. “Please.”

Dean nods, shrugs, nods.

“Try to lay hands on him.”

“... Gross?” Dean says again.

“Like I do. Burn him out.”

“What if I—Cas, I. I mean. I don’t know how to do that without hurting the kid. When you burn ‘em out, you blind ‘em. Or they just, you know. Drop dead.”

“I’m sure with the grace still-”

Dean maneuvers around him, reaches for the door again. “The words are enough. Spitting spiders and cursing Aramaic? That’s kid stuff. That’s lower demon shit. This won’t even take the long-form exorcism, Cas, it ain’t worth it to even risk-”

He bats Dean’s hand away from the door again.

It glows hot when Castiel touches it, but that heat does not burn him.

Not that it would burn Dean, either. But Cas is a showoff.

(Cas is protecting him. He knows that. It’s habit. But you know. Easier to keep branding it ego.)

It’s locked from the inside. Castiel’s own power means he only need exert the barest pressure to break the handle and open it, anyway.

The demon inside the teenager screams a laugh at him.

They send me a broken angel!” it hollers in Enochian, laughing again. “I was waiting to eat the father for breakfast, but this will do!” it strains against the binds holding it to the bed.

They’re properly blessed, though, and not easy for a demon as weak as this to snap through without some motivation.

Deliberately, Castiel stands in front of Dean for a beat. And, deliberately, he then steps aside.

Nothing happens at first but more laughter.

Then a chill shudders through the room. Almost like a ghost gathering energy to manifest.

The demon loses control of the boy's eyes. They go black. Well, not black. A milky, muddy brown-grey. Telltale of a true first-year pledge as far as the demon hierarchy goes. He snarls. Instead of continuing to fight his bonds, he strains away from them both. “What is this??” he spits in English. “Who is that? That’s not—that’s not the Winchester.”

“’Fraid it is, pokey,” Dean sounds bored. “Sleepover’s done. No more Halloween flicks and sugary drinks for you. It’s a school night.” He uncaps a flask from his tool belt and splashes holy water across the bed.

The demon jumps, and does more than the usual amount of screaming and boiling.

Extremely weak. One of the bottom-tier ranks, newly-corrupted and unable to perform nearly as much magic as they’re used to.

The room goes from cold to sweltering in an instant. The temperature change makes the house groan. The furniture rattles as the boy screams. The door creaks behind them.

The demon zones in on Dean—
No.
Past Dean.

They turn, in synch, and spot a hand poking through the open door holding a phone.

One of the daughters or cousins or whatever. Recording everything.

Cas moves to snatch the phone but the demon gives a high cry and a wild laugh and pulls the whole bed to standing since it can’t get out of the binds.

He whirls to handle it and Dean grabs the phone. The girl jerks through the door, not letting go. He catches a glimpse of the screen.

She’s fucking livestreaming it.

He suddenly can’t make himself use enough force to yank the phone out of her hand for fear of breaking her arm.

He breaks the phone, instead. Entirely by accident.

His thumb goes through the screen and he crunches the phone, barely feeling himself do it.

“Dean!” Cas is wrestling the bed back to the ground so it doesn’t go through the floor or the ceiling as the demon bounces it around, cackling, making the whole fucking mattress and frame dance. “Get the—”

But the girl’s still standing there, wide-eyed, now.

Not at the demon. At Dean.

“DEAN.” Cas snaps his attention, slamming the bed back down to the floor. “FORGET.”

It sounds like an order. He doesn’t know why.

He doesn’t get—

Until he does.

He dumps the mangled phone in his raincoat pocket and just... does it. Just thinks the word FORGET and taps her on top of her head.

She crumples and he catches her by the shirtsleeve. Drags her out into the hall, away from the skittering bugs. She’s all of... who knows. She’s young. Younger than Claire was when they first met her.

He shakes his head and goes back into the room. Shuts the door, oblivious to the burning as he throws the lock.

He’s disoriented. The demon won’t fucking shut up.

He...
Can taste everything he just made the girl forget.

He can see his own horrified face in her stolen memory. Sees himself unintentionally cracking the phone like a saltine.

Cas touches his elbow. It doesn’t snap him out of it.

He isn’t breathing heavy. He’s processing. He’s shocked but not.

Not surprised any longer.

This is how it is and how it’s been staying and every ugly moment of it is making him feel more and more like the angel instead of the vessel. And there have been way more moments, more minutes hours and days, because he can’t sleep. He doesn’t sleep. Like someone without a soul doesn’t sleep. Like this creep crawling around in some teenager’s skin.

Cas draws him over. Pulls his hand over the demon’s head, to show him how to burn him out.

“Next lesson,” he says.

Dean shrugs him off.

He just says it. We exorcise you, every impure spirit, every satanic power, every incursion.

The old Latin still rolls off his tongue. The Enochian – he knows, because of Michael – would be faster. But he doesn’t bite off the unfamiliar words. Gets about six lines in before the demon flies from the kid’s mouth and gathers on the ceiling.

Dean tingles. Head to toe. Like goosebumps. A sense of wrongness. Like breathing in filthy air whipping past the town dump.

As he stares up at the mist, it swirls. Swirls. Goes nowhere but in a hurricane swirl, like it isn’t allowed to leave the room.

Dean keeps saying the rest of the exorcism.

It goes nowhere but begins whipping the objects around the room in a frenzy.

The energy fills him up, from toes to nose, now, all opposite. He feels a surge, too powerful, and he knows what’s happening.

Saw it in the mirror the last time he looked at the feathers charred into his side.

His eyes will be blue flame. Not as hot as Michael’s, but strong enough to crack a mirror, the wall behind it, the concrete outside the room.

He stares at the ash that makes up the demon, deep blue-purple and angry, unlike the pale, deathly grey he can’t scrub out of his arm in the shower.

He thinks about this ash dissolving and it does. Rains down gently to the rug.

The room goes instantly quiet. The boy is passed out in bed, but breathing.

Dean lowers his hand without remembering having raised it.

The energy fades from that point. From his fingers and backwards through him. Landing him in the room again. In a house in suburbia. With worried parents downstairs and haunted-house bloggers out on the sidewalk.

“Well. I wouldn’t have been able to teach you that,” Cas attempts to bring a little levity into the stone silence. Dean appreciates it, but can’t even react.

Cas looks around. Scoots the bed back into place. Pulls the binds off the headboard and heals the bruising at the boy’s wrists.

Dean’s more drained than when he finally wanted to sleep.

It’s a strange moment to get a little peeved that Cas still shaves little slivers off of himself, saving the world. Healing cuts and bruises while he’s never able to fly again. He’s had so much taken away from him but he doesn’t stop giving.

“Can’t I just. Like. Give this to you somehow. Can’t we just. Cut a hole in my throat or drain-”

“We should go,” Cas flips the sheets over the boy and heads to the door. Scoops the wasted rosary from the floor and tosses it in the bathroom trash can.

He wakes the girl up and tells her she hit her head. She’s too out-of-it to object. Not that she would. She doesn’t even look like she’s missing a memory. She looks accepting; unaware that there would be any alternative situation.

Cas speaks to the family and sends Dean out “for some air.”

Dean can hear him making up some... seriously flimsy, Cas-caliber tale. But ignores it and walks to the back gate and unlocks it. Steps out into the street. He parked the Impala a few blocks down, then hopped in the utility truck with Cas.

He just starts walking. He dumps the rain slicker and the vest in a garbage can he passes. He forgets about the phone in the coat pocket until he’s walking away.

Cas catches up to him a few houses down from where they’re parked and slows to walk with him to the car. Dean stops and drops to lean against it. Just breathe.

“We don’t know if the grace is all that’s holding you together. You took a mortal wound from an archangel blade. Nothing should withstand that,” Cas explains. “We can’t extract the grace. We don’t know what that would do to you.”

Yeah.

Yeah, he knows that. He knows but he still wants it out.

He wants to take back every stupid minute of this mistake.

He wants to reverse time and remember to stop celebrating after Lucifer’s dead and spit Michael out with a vehement NO as soon as he’s up from the floor.

Time travel would be an Angel Lesson. One he doesn’t want to learn.

He’s tapped as it is, just from... dissolving a demon or whatever it was he just did.

Cas reaches out again. Dean doesn’t dodge it.

This time, when he’s tasting a thought, it’s Castiel’s thought. A flavor and a sound he’s never heard before.

Like the low-level prayer he couldn’t escape while sharing space in the bunker. Only clear and. Decisive?

Cas likes to be this close to him. Cas likes it and he’s determined to use that comfort – no matter if it comes from grace or from their friendship – to make this easier on Dean.

“No angel lessons,” Cas says aloud.

Dean nods.

Cas squeezes his arm.

“When it saw me. I scared it? Didn’t I?” Dean gets that now.

“Yes.” He’s quiet for a while. “Demons are, typically, frightened at the sight of a Winchester.”

“But they don’t usually show it.”

“No,” Cas admits. He sighs. Lets go of Dean’s arm. Leans close to him on the passenger side. “That demon was new, of course. All of them, lately, have been much weaker than we’re used to.” He seems to realize something. “You know this, of course. You wanted to send it back to Hell instead of killing it?”

“No,” no, not that. “I just didn’t wanna.” He flexes his hands in front of him.

He just didn’t wanna burn it out of the child, painfully, with his own two hands.

Raising a palm and dissolving the demon? Yeah, still pretty fucking far from kosher.

But at least it wasn’t screaming when it happened. Dumb bastard died still laughing. Good for him.

“They may have been innocent, Dean, but-”

Well, that he definitely doesn’t wanna talk about.

He’s tired again, but he drives this time.


He dreams about it – or remembers it? Early the next morning, getting two more hours of sleep.

They were innocents. They were scumbags, in some cases, yeah, but they weren’t murderers, rapists, or molesters. They just didn’t have the proper respect for The Lord’s Great Works and Michael—

Michael, he.

Some of the fresh new angels were made to be reapers.

Michael fixed that problem right away. He gave Billie a new crop of reapers so there were no more vacant positions and he kept a few of them around him at all times.

He found devout people. He pressed them into service and eventual martyrdom.

He ensured they were sent to Heaven.

Then he found criminals and jerks and atheists and garden-variety rebels, people attending Lord God’s churches with less-than-pure intentions and made them run, scatter. Purged them from the pews. Scared them or tortured confessions out of them. The ones he just didn’t like, he ordered them to be escorted downwards.

Maybe not complete innocents, but Dean ain’t completely innocent. Sam isn’t. Mom ain’t.

He knows plenty of good people who wouldn’t qualify for paradise based on Michael’s selectively strict interpretation of purity.

And his hands tortured people. And his hands sent devotees into battle. And his hands sent people to Hell to learn how to rot for real. To become more twisted and mean and broken than they were on Earth.

Michael produced newborn angels in Heaven’s great machinery.

He produced newborn demons with bitterness, carelessness, and simple spite for humanity.

The newborn demons are clawing for their turn at fucking shit up, now. They can’t be appropriately constrained by a leaderless Hell. They boil up and appear in the weak – children, people of poor spirit, stressed-out moms, ill grandmothers – and get their jollies off tormenting priests and families.

Newborn angels are being wrangled by humans each day. Maybe folded into humanity or pulled off the ground by hunters or called home, trained and cared for by the last of the remaining Old Guard of Heaven.

Newborn demons are like middle schoolers left home alone with a case of Mountain Dew and dad’s loaded .45. There’s no stopping them. No dusting them off and teaching them how to act right. They’re just gonna cause havoc until they get their havocking right and the only thing that puts ‘em down is an angel blade to the skull.

Dean and his family, Bobby and his people, and the few remaining hunters and Men of Letters of Earth will be responsible for cleaning up a whole new, sweeping demonic mess.

Mike hopscotched all over the world, knowing he couldn’t focus on just one country if he wanted to have dominion over the whole planet. So he did this everywhere. And everyone, no matter how devoid their culture has been of demonic elements, will have to cope with it, from now on.

If his heart wasn’t broken knowing he’s basically not fucking human anymore, it falls to pieces when he remembers the torture.

Michael had an ugly brand of respect for how much Dean learned in the pit. He tapped into his knowledge to get a little creative with his handiwork.

And then Dean stabbed himself through, hoping to rid the world of himself and instead these idiots let him come back home and live there with the people he loves like he wasn’t just laughing in Sam’s face for wanting his brother back and laughing in Jack’s face for being wounded and weaker than his father and laughing as he threw kids into the pit just because mom made them go to church when they would rather be playing video games and that somehow made them defilers of the Houses of God.

Cas is there when Dean wakes up, doing specifically the thing he knows he isn’t supposed to do.

From his perch on the edge of the bed, he stares and just lets Dean feel his proximity.

His hand is close to where Dean’s is clutching the sheets, but he doesn’t take it up, open his fingers, or try to calm him.

“I know how much atonement sounds like complete sense, sounds appealing and right from the inside, and sounds like self-torture from the outside,” he says into the still, quiet room. “You and Sam taught me the difference and I ignored that every time it suited me to feel. To. To just feel awful,” Cas shrugs. He cocks his head in the dark and Dean can see it too well. “I have something to atone for, myself. I wanted an archangel to come back here and lend stability to Heaven. Help make new angels and keep Heaven from consuming itself.”

“Gabriel could have done that. Cas, you didn’t specifically bring Michael back over here.”

“But he did what I wanted, all the same. I feel guilty about that. For how much he exposed you to in the process. But I still got what I wanted and new angels fall to the ground every day. My... family, I suppose, is growing wider.”

“You suppose,” Dean repeats drily, because this is his best friend and, newbies or no, he is fully aware that Castiel’s angelic family will never be as close to him as it once was.

With angels comes Angelic Morality which says torture your family until they straighten up and fly right.

“Lemme say this just once,” he rolls to lie on his back and settles in. “Your name ends in ‘Winchester’ more often than it ends in ‘el.’ I ain’t about to let you start talking about going back to the mothership to settle your siblings in. If Heaven has its own angel-making machine, now, they can catch and train all they want to. But there’s one fucking angel they don’t get to order around anymore. Capisce?

“Ah,” Cas smiles. “So I take orders from this grouchy old bastard, but not my superior officers.”

“What fucking superiors??” Dean honestly boggles. “If there were only like four of you left, you’re all five-star generals, by now, aren’t you? The last survivors have gotta outrank all the friggin’ babies gnawing on the bars of the goddamn crib.”

Cas laughs a little. “It’s interesting that you have so much grace in you, but you still don’t understand how our species works.”

“I will never understand angels,” he promises, crossing his arms. Then he motions between the two of them, “This species, though? Well, I will fucking dictate how this species works, if I have to.”

“Species, um, Winchesterus Angelus?” he grins harder.

Dean decides to scoot to a sit, done sleeping for now. He knocks his elbow into the headboard and it dents the damn thing. He feels annoyed instead of like he just dinged the hell out of his funny bone.

He wipes at his nose and shrugs. Settles. “That’s us, I guess. Raise your hand if you ain’t had someone ride your ass—oh, nobody? Nobody here but us chickens.” He nods. “This is the right room. Remedial Autonomy Lessons.”

“Ridding Your Life of Unsexy Riding,” Cas adds, knowing that’s also a part of it.

“Ugh,” Dean shudders. “Don’t get me started. No wonder you’re all robots. I mean, I really am wondering when I’m gonna get my, you know, sex drive back and start acting like—-like,” he reels for a moment, not wanting to designate it aloud the same way he has in his head. But Cas recognizes what he means.

“Like you’re soulless?” He just does it. Just wraps his finger round the trigger and pulls, all in one unsubtle movement. And Dean accidentally meets his eyes, then, and can’t look away. Cas doesn’t do him the mercy of blinking. Even shifts to pull his knee up onto the bed and fully face him.

Waits.

If you think about the facts, it’s correct. It really is factually correct. Angels have grace in place of souls. And what Cas meant, in the first place, is that grace is pre-manufactured ahead of its angel, and then capable of fitting a set amount of human vessels on Earth. Higher ranking angels are made – they don’t learn anything or earn their rank. They come out as a specific type of warrior and their grace matches a certain bloodline for a few, specific types of humans on Earth.

Dean learned this as Michael stared into the Glare of the Great Machine, giving up some small part of himself to be copied and replicated and imitated in order to produce new angels.

More than one angel has fallen to the ground in front of Dean. He’d duck around a corner and walk calmly in the other direction. He’d melt into a crowd and away from the sudden onlookers.

Some of his grace magnetized to some of theirs. Like how he can hear any old person call him by his name and ignore it, but when Sammy calls out, “Dean,” full-throated and raging, like he does, it yanks at something deep in his guts and he knows the entirety of his brother’s mood in a single word.

They don’t have souls. They have some different, essential stuff.

Cas has got something even more different.

Unable to look away from his eyes, Dean sees the lightwaves of it, now, because it’s so very different from what Michael saw in any other angel.

Humans, Michael knew, in a book-learnin’ type of way, were made by God; an expression of Love made manifest. A type of Love angels can’t connect to and, though they may be obligated to their fellow creations in some way, it is all too easy for angels to turn their back on it.

And just as inevitable that others of their same breed should fall too hard in love with humans. The ones who created nephilim in the old days. The ones who land in a vessel and carry on their lives as if they were changed men. Loving their vessel’s wives and children deeper and more sincerely than the person was originally capable of.

Michael knows, from seeing Cas, that not only was a historically rebellious little commander advanced to seraph after a twisted chain of events, but he’s too deeply linked to a vessel whose soul was sent to Heaven to await its actual soulmate. So, naturally, Cas also knows what deep, abiding human love looks like and, as Jimmy Novak had it for his wife, Cas has it for the Winchesters. It disgusted Mike.

The Castiel of his world, the broken world, occupied Jimmy Novak as a young man broken by the war on Earth who had never known a wife or had Claire. A fitting house for an angel made mad by years of doing duty more capably than this version of Cas.

The other Castiel had no problem with torture.
This Cas remembers his own torture at Heaven’s hands and has many problems with it. He’s still capable, but it outright hurts and disgusts him.

If having broken grace, bereft of Heavens’ typical detachment, makes Cas contemptable, then Dean only wants the broken angels. The ones Michael wouldn’t approve of.

Michael hated Cas.

That was one of the deep, hot, piercing spikes that drove Dean’s awareness through Michael’s control of his vessel.

Watching Sam ragdoll across the room and into a wall was bad enough. Knowing that Michael was about to snap Cas out of existence was just as bad as that.

At the time of the fight, Cas was well protected by Jack, but Jack was still healing and couldn’t keep Sam conscious and heal his damage and protect Cas and hold Michael in the trap, all at the same time. Some of the control flew out of his hands and Dean just.

Just stopped Michael from raising his hand, bringing two fingers together.

That’s where the end started.

Cas doesn’t need to have a soul. Whatever he’s kneaded deep into his own makeup as a consequence of all they’ve been through together? That’s close enough.

Dean feels just so incredibly close to him right now. Right at this moment. This is the kind of thing you shake off. Get up, make a joke, walk away, carry on.

Only he doesn’t want to give his own limbs the control they took from Michael.

“I don’t ever, ever lump you in with that. You’re not soulless,” he says quietly.

“Practically and technically, I am,” Cas says, a whatcha-gonna-do shrug. An unspoken part of language he’s learned and is using fluently because he wants to communicate properly with them. With this family.

Already in the clutches of a feeling he can’t shake off, Dean aches to go home, now, too. It leaves him with shaky breath and he blinks away.

Cas leans forward quietly and gets up. Switches to sit on Dean’s right, up against the headboard with him. He sets his open hand on his knee, if Dean wants to take it.

Here in an empty room, in the dark, Dean wants to.

For all the times that Michael flew away from Sam and Cas when all Dean wanted was see them whole and alive, one more moment, he gives Cas his fingers to tangle and close up tight.

Cas shakes his head. “Your heartrate’s been too high since I got here. It’s worrying me.”

“Because if the grace fades, the sword wound might open me back up.”

He nods. “And like this, I can’t feel if there’s anything to heal. I can’t...,” he huffs, frustrated. “I can’t tell. It doesn’t feel like anything’s wrong with your structure. But I don’t trust Michael’s grace.”

“My heartrate might be too high just because you are here,” Dean admits, probably the most terrifyingly close he’s come to, you know. Saying anything.

It falls like a ten-ton steel support beam across their laps. Like there’s nowhere to go and no one to rescue them from being pinned down in the reality of it.

“I.” Cas starts but doesn’t continue for a really, really long fucking time. He swallows. “I know you said no more angel lessons, but it’s been reviving for me just to be around Jack and. And he has this new friend. Jack called her Jill because of the children’s rhyme. She’s one of the newborns and she’s stuck to him like... like Sam is to you. A protector and a friend and a sister. She’s chosen him and she’s chosen us. She—there are others,” he adds, not looking at Dean. Looking across the dark room and pulling Dean’s hand between both of his own. “Your mother found one who won’t leave her side, either. As did Bobby. He’s bothered,” Cas laughs a little, “but. They’re staying. Four of them, so far. New angels who decided, completely out-of-hand, that we were the right place to be. And I kept thinking. You know. When Michael was gathering ingredients and parts and moving the machinery of Heaven so that it would produce new members of the Host, Dean was within him.” Cas stops and looks to him. “You were in Michael when he gave of himself to the machine, weren’t you? You saw it.”

Goddamn. Did he ever. So bright he’ll never forget it. The power of it. He was shaken by it. Michael was, and through extension, Dean.

“Michael couldn’t keep you out of the mix, out of the ingredients. Once he started making angels, no matter what he wanted, many would be influenced by his make-up but some would also know what Dean Winchester knows. That humanity isn’t just to be loved in the abstract, as Our Father commanded, but in practice. Loved in action. Jill sounds a little like you sometimes. You’re going to love her. It’s going to annoy you,” Cas warns and they both laugh.

Cas doesn’t let his hand go.

He takes a breath. “So the lesson is this: angels are also designed for strength in numbers. And being close to this grace is good for me. Healthy for me.”

He goes silent. And Dean understands that he’s not going on. He’s sparing Dean, not saying it. Dean blows out a breath. “But you felt that way before.”

“But I felt that way before,” he admits, nodding.

Cas felt healthy with them. It’s both everything Dean wanted to hear and something he’s freaked out hearing about right now.

He’s so not ready to pull his big, ugly emotions out of the mess they’re in. Because he has big, ugly emotions about Cas that need to be spoken about and that’s hard work that he hates doing in the light of day. He usually does it in dark rooms like this, half-drunk and making love and wanting to find forever with someone he’s gonna have to dump without even a text when leaving town.

But they’re always in a mess. He always feels like he can’t be honest about what he’s thinking, feeling. He’s always gotta buck up and handle the mess first. The mess is always fucking first. Like he’s.

Like he’s putting the war, the battles, the fighting all before his family.

“Fuck,” he shakes his head. Just because it’s going to be overwhelming no matter how they handle it.

Through that connection of grace, Cas sends this I’ll be here, no matter when and no matter what kind of vibe. “Copy that,” Dean says aloud, just so he knows it isn’t being ignored.

It’s just that he can’t deal with it right now.

Cas lets it sit, because he’s Dean’s best friend and he wouldn’t do any less.

The room is quiet and there’s still a couple hours until sunrise, but Dean can’t sleep anymore. “You guys are built to cope with time, too,” Dean points out. “So much time on your hands for not sleeping and a brain full of all the history on Earth. You can handle that. I can’t. I get ants in my pants.”

“We could get a head start on driving. There have been omens by the coast.”

Driving’s good. Driving’s always good. “Where to?”

“Southern California. It’s a populated area,” he warns.

Dean flexes his fingers, still in Cas’s hands, and Cas lets go. “What kind of omens? Cattle slaughter and shit?”

“Mm. No. The other kind.”

Dean frowns. “Um. Weather?”

“No, I mean. Not demon omens. Biblical omens. There was a small plague of toads. A flock of storks fell dead from the air. A farmer’s entire heard of sheep and lambs has gone missing.”

“Like somebody didn’t want it to be possible for any locals to get ahold of some lamb’s blood to be spared the coming reign of Heavenly terror?” That hits Dean at his center.

That means another one of the beasts that Michael released from their cages.

Many were deep in the Earth or in Hell and it’s taking them a while to find their way to the surface to wreak havoc on the impure and non-believers. The ones that he retrieved from Purgatory have already been sent back by Dean or by Mom’s team.

But Dean knows some of what’s coming.

“We gotta move,” he says into the still room. “This is heavy shit.”

Cas nods, but they stay in one place. No longer pinned down by what they were trying to say to one another, but in that uncomfortable between-time, where they suddenly don’t know if they’re allowed to move on without comment. If it would be rude or hurtful or flippant or mean. The kinda thing where you end up giving each other an awkward pat on the back and wondering if you’ll ever have sexual tension again or if you just completely ruined it.

When Dean shifts his vision over to Cas, inch-by-inch, he finds out that.

That isn’t going to be a problem.

There were times, when Cas first rebelled and joined up with them, when his eyes would rake through Dean and Dean was sure he didn’t know that was normally the kinda thing you did to somebody you wanted to fuck so hard they wouldn’t be able to walk the next morning.

When Cas does it, these days, Dean’s pretty sure he was completely suckered into that angelic naïveté shtick way too hard.

Cas knows what he’s doing. That’s quite simply the look you give somebody you want to fuck so hard they can’t walk the next morning.

“Okay,” Dean accidentally says in the highest pitch he’s ever heard from himself. “Who wants pancakes?”

Cas fucking snorts and laughs at him. “You don’t want pancakes. You complained I was feeding you beer and you love beer.”

“Is there any way we can turn on a lamp and get off this bed without it being weird? I’m not ready for weird, man, I’m not ready,” Dean hears himself whine and can’t stop it.

“Hm,” Cas assesses him one more time, like he’s deciding if he has mercy in him this morning or if he wants to be a little shit. “Well. I can’t recall a time when I haven’t been weird,” Cas sighs and pulls Dean’s hand back out of the sheets, only this time, he doesn’t hold it. He cradles the arm in one hand and with the other, he draws his fingers lightly down Dean’s wrist to his palm.

And Dean twitches, going half-hard, thankful for the bundled blankets across his lap, but unable to conceal how big and round his eyes have gone.

“Yes,” Cas draws out, one nod. “We know you have a good bloodflow.” It’s making fun of him and also- also-

Also his next look pins Dean to the headboard. Before his eyes go soft once more and he curls Dean’s fingers into his palm and sets his hand back down, gently.

Willing to freak him out for fun.

But not for real. Not when there’s still going to be something happening between them when they turn the lights on and start packing the car.

“I am so fucking glad you lived,” Cas whispers. “I don’t care how. We’ll figure this out,” he says. The same assurance they’ve been giving one another regarding Mike’s grace since it all went down.

They’ll figure the other stuff out, too. He means that, as well.

Shit, they’ve been cobbling solutions together the whole time they’ve known each other. They always do figure it out.

“I’ll go to the ice machine and fill the cooler,” Cas says. It gives Dean a few minutes alone.

Dean hasn’t been sweating and gathering dirt like a human usually does, but still. “I’ll grab a shower.”

Cas nods and gets up and pulls the bobbing bottles out of the cooler, sets them in the sink. He steps outside and closes the door. Dean hears him toss the dirty water out in the parking lot and knows he’s heading across the complex to the vending area.

He hasn’t beat off since he’s been back in his vessel alone. It probably doesn’t make any sense, but it kinda feels like he’s still sharing his skin. Like he can’t do, you know, private stuff. Can’t jerk off slow and enjoy it.

But maybe he needs to, just as a function of self-control, today.

Maybe he’ll come in the shower and the tension will drain away and he can go back to how they were before Michael.

Before he saw how being a Winchester has changed Cas’s grace and made him so goddamn—

You know, really, you just have to fucking masturbate sometimes. It just makes you a nicer person.

Only, in the shower, he still isn’t alone.

Michael’s mocking tone wasn’t often directed at him. He had the right idea – don’t communicate with the hostage. He didn’t consult with Dean on anything. Barely spoke to him. Just used him. Didn’t pick on his shortcomings and yearning love and fucked-up emotions until it was clear that Dean was fighting his way out of the bindings and clawing his way to the surface.

It isn’t Michael’s mocking he hears, but he’s still not alone.

No matter when and no matter what, Cas had wanted him to know. Holding his hand, a hand that has struck him and helped him off the ground, has given him weapons and restrained him. While loving him and not forcing him to acknowledge that love, he wanted Dean to know that, no matter how it all panned out, he’d still be by his side.

Yes or no. We can or I can’t.

That’s in his veins, now, pumping too hard. Deafening as the pound of the shower on his neck.


“I do need one angel lesson,” Dean admits, as they exit the desert, whipping down the highway, pushing 85.

Cas rolls up his window, some, so they don’t have to shout.

“I um.” He suddenly struggles to put it into words. “Sometimes, when the fighting is fast, or when I’m really fucking rushing to get someplace, my body kind of um.” He cringes because he remembers the state of Cas’s wings. He’s seen how tattered and sad they are. Knowing how long he’s been grounded, Michael had laughed at Cas being broken, just because Dean had betrayed the thought. “I know I can’t fly, and my body knows I can’t fly, but the grace doesn’t seem to understand. Sorry,” he immediately follows it up.

“No,” Cas shakes his head. “No, I understand that. I didn’t get used to it very fast. I think the issue is that you’re tapping the grace for strength when fighting or running just because it’s an available resource and you’re in your late 30s,” he shrugs like it’s obvious. “Your body was slowing a bit before Michael. Now that it has the resources not to slow down, it takes any available option to do the job better. That’s just who you are. I’ve had my wings taken a few times. It’s strange to have to wait for things to happen, to do anything at less than light speed after a lifetime of it, but the limitations of the vessel are what pull on me. The power of the grace is what’s pulling on you. Sort of opposite effects. And flying is natural for grace. It just is.”

“Freaks me, man. I’m worried I’ll flash off in the middle of something like Jack did, only, reasonably, I know it ain’t gonna happen. But I don’t stop to think about that and I, like, trip and stagger. It’s a problem when I’m after somebody who bolted, you know?”

Cas blows out a breath. “I think the lesson is a human one, not an angelic one. I would say, ‘like riding a bicycle’ but—but maybe it’s like pressing the gas,” he decides. “When you run, on foot, you’re not thrusting the energy into one foot to hit the gas. Your body knows to send signals to both legs. The grace is trying to send signals to all of Michael’s wings. It’s happening faster than any function takes place in your human body. You simply have to press the gas on your heart and lungs and let your human feet do the running. I think that will work. Let the grace power your body to breathe and pump blood and absorb impact and repair you, but not to control your limbs.”

He shudders when Cas puts it that way.

He didn’t realize he was sort of letting Michael continue to control him in that way.

Really puts it into perspective. And he’s pretty sure it won’t happen again.

Dean shakes his head. “Damn, you’re as good at human lessons as angel lessons. The newbies are gonna need you.”

Cas ‘hmm’s and shifts and scratches his neck in an unnecessary way.

“I mean it is pretty fucking cool that we’re getting angels on the team,” Dean presses a little. “Some of your own people. Your own fam, a part of the rowdy pack. It’ll feel like home.”

“Dean. I honestly don’t know how else to say that this was home before. They’re newborns – and, while they’re welcome, of course – they’re not family. We’re family.”

Dean drives with that for a few quiet miles, the radio on low and hushing to fuzz between counties.

“My friends taught me what makes family. And they’re family,” Cas adds, like he’s not sure he was being explicit enough. “I think it was pretty damn clear when the most agonizing thing I’ve felt in recent memory wasn’t an injury or losing my wings or when I was poisoned and about to die. It was seeing Michael fly you away from me.”

See, he can’t escape this while driving a car. Out of bed, with all the lamps turned on. “Thought we weren’t gonna talk about this,” he mutters.

“Well, you thought wrong.” He stonewalls him across the small space for just a little while before throwing up his hands some. “If you’re really concerned about the grace staggering you, we can anchor you a bit. Or try to.”

“Anchor,” he shrugs. “Anchoring sounds good.”

“Alright.”

Dean waits for an explanation, but none comes. “And we do that... how??”

“When the time comes.”

Dean rolls his eyes.

He wonders, for a while, what anchoring entails. Considers it for a few miles. He tries to determine what things usually make him feel grounded.

A full belly, for sure. One too many baskets of fries after a bacon cheeseburger. But he guesses that’s more like being beached. Like a whale. Rolling around the motel bed and groaning that Sam shouldn’t have let him eat so much.

Sure as shit, that’ll keep you some kind of grounded.

But the goal isn’t to be incapable of running. It’s to feel more himself when he is running and gunning and ducking and fighting.

The tactics are in his head; the laws of physics and how divine bodies are capable of bending them. That’s the shit that doesn’t help him, now. He needs to be a human hunter. It would almost help if Cas could just take away the awareness Michael gave him so that he doesn’t even have to think about it.

He doesn’t know how they could manage that.

He knows Sam would whine about it. He would hate to see new knowledge go to waste. When they got Dean back home, to the bunker, Sam was being careful around him. Didn’t wanna push him too far or make too many demands on him. But he would hate to hear that Dean learned a whole new range of lore and tactics and history and all he wanted to do was throw it away.

Dean’s just got no space for that. Like, how is he supposed to talk any of this out with Sam, anyway? He’d be no good at writing it down. He can’t have this taking up his brain when he really needs to be thinking about how you bait a trap for a biblical monster. He can’t think about how Sam would probably be happy just to have him home, even if he did have Cas fry his brain and get rid of his new skills and a few millennia of knowledge.

Certainly can’t think about how Cas has changed from the last time he saw him at the bunker, to when he showed up the other day.

Sam was being careful with Dean after Michael.

Cas was-

Cas kept looking at him like he was seeing a ghost.

He’d chalked it up to having grace left in him. You know, like, Cas kind of is seeing a ghost every time he looks in Dean’s eyes and sees his dead brother’s grace.

Dean just can’t figure if that’s painful for him or what. If it’s painful, why would he hunt Dean down and be determined to spend this time with him?

He doesn’t look haunted, anymore. He looks like a little shit. He looks like when he’s made a decision and nothing is gonna change his mind.

Cas is immovable when he wants to be.

The words still feel like they’re echoing in the car, though. The most agonizing thing I’ve felt in recent memory.

Kind of a dick thing to say. Dean was there, when Cas was dying from the lance wound. Gasping and bloodied on the ground, scaring the shit out of Mom.

They always bounce back, right? Mom is still alive, here, on Earth. Proof. Proof that they always get their people back. Bobby is even here.

It’s just.

It’s just that each time Cas gets kicked through the veil without him, it’s not like it gets easier. It’s not like they shrug and say they’ll probably see him in a couple months.

No. It’s like having to keep walking around without a few of his fucking organs.

Seeing Sam drained by starving vampires and dragged backwards into a hole never to return? Dean doesn’t know how he was allowed to even see daylight after that, let alone leave the cave or hop back out of the apocalypse world.

This shit isn’t easy and it’s not fair and it’s really got him wondering if there’s some kinda drop-off point ahead or if it’s genuinely something he’s gonna have to pull the goddamn parking brake on, himself.

It was hollow. Not haunted.

If he thinks back, Dean recognizes Cas’s expression as something else. The grace isn’t haunting him. Cas just told him it’s not hard to be around the grace – it’s welcome.

So when he looked at Dean with that empty-eyed stillness, that was how hollowed-out he had been.

He ain’t lying.

It was agonizing fucking pain for him.

“You ever think maybe it’s time for a vacation?” he asks. “For you?” Dean adds. “Like. How long have you been working non-stop, dude? We don’t even let you die in peace.”

Cas settles against the seat like he isn’t gonna answer.

“Can we stop for coffee?” Cas asks after a while.

“Yeah.”

“There are things I enjoy. Like coffee.”

“Geeze. I know.” That’s not what he meant. He honestly wondered when Cas was gonna get tired of everything being life-or-death.

It’s not like Dean’s not tired. It’s just that life-or-death seems to know where he sleeps and what he likes to eat for breakfast.

“I understand if you don’t want me here, but I’m not going on vacation. I need to see that you get back home s-”

“I know! That’s not what I-” Dean pounds the steering wheel. “Nevermind. Forget I said it. Hey, I didn’t say that I don’t want you here. Don’t pretend that I did.”

“You’re not gonna leave me at the rest stop while I pay for the coffee?” Cas turns to press.

“No! Fucking of course not!”

Dean’s reading the signs and mile markers and exit numbers for a minute.

When he glances over, he’s—

He catches that look on Cas’s face again.

Yeah – hollow. Like he’s so fucking tired of losing parts of their family.

He’s gotta remember Gabriel didn’t come back. Michael is still in the pit. Lucifer is dead. Dicks as they may be, so many of the people he grew up with are all gone.

Maybe Cas really is just fucking tired of Sam and Dean dying on him. Maybe he really is here because he’s freaked out that Dean will instantly bleed to death if the grace wears off.

Dean blinks and it’s fallen from Castiel’s face again. It was a moment. A moment that wasn’t borrowed human expression or learned behavior or something he’s forced to do so that his human friends will interpret him right.

Sometimes Cas is just really fucking human because the rest of his family that counts for anything is fucking human.

He’s turned to watch the buildings and trees fly by. Dean doesn’t catch the expression again.

He blows out a breath and keeps his eyes on the road, blindly reaching out to snag Cas’s sleeve.

He gets batted away once.

“Would you come here?” Dean snags him again and doesn’t let go until he scoots over.

“You crammed yourself against the door.”

“I thought we weren’t talking about it,” Cas does a really unfair imitation of him.

“Nah. Nah, don’t do that. Don’t do the voice. We’re not making fun of each other with the voices,” he holds his hand out. “I wanna hold hands and you’re gonna make fun of me?” he wiggles his fingers.

Cas claps their hands together like Dean’s being ridiculous. Uses both hands to press tight. “Then don’t make fun of me for wanting to,” he demands.

“That’s gonna take me minute,” Dean admits.

This is going like, a certain way, and he’s eventually going to have to freak out about what that means, because Cas can’t see him die anymore and it’s possible that Dean physically won’t be able to handle Cas dying again, black-out drinking aside. But he can be a good part of Cas’s damn family until they hit zero hour.

Perspective is awful.

He knows what this has been doing to Cas. Michael could read him like he could any other angel. The memories are there for him to inspect if he looks too closely at them.

It would be helpful to just keep ignoring this. Keep being who they were.

“Or. You could not freak out,” Cas points out.

“Mind-reading was not part of the deal!”

“It’s not mind reading when you’re not shutting up,” Cas volleys back.

Thank god, Dean finds a fucking Dunkin Donuts.

Cas lets go of him. “Now you’re praying that I’m too busy with the coffee to talk about it or hold your hand.”

“Am not,” Dean spits because he’s lying. Hits the turn signal real quick and grabs his hand again before it can go too far.

He parks one-handed and turns the key one-handed.

Cas does feel a little fuzzy over the connection. Like it’s hitting him in the right places and he knows he should let go, but he’s been fucking lonely and doesn’t want to.

“Good shit, huh?”

Cas grumbles. Lets go. Sighs. “Take out your gun.”

Dean glances around the parking lot, but no one’s looking, so fine.

He reaches behind him and hands it over. Cas presses it back. “Hold it correctly.”

Okay. He keeps the barrel down, between his knees, aimed at the floor.

“You’ve had this gun for years.”

Dean shrugs.

“You know the weight of it. How it looks when it’s cleaned properly or hastily. You know the amount of grit it can take before it won’t fire properly. You know what the trigger feels like. How it kicks in your hand.”

He nods.

“Concentrate on that. Close your eyes. Michael wouldn’t know or care what this felt like to you. Ground yourself in that knowledge.”

Dean blinks but then.
Closes his eyes.

Sharp smell of the gun in the small space. The oil he uses on it and the gunpowder pounded into his jeans and shoes. He feels Cas lean over, dig for change in the glove box, and leave the car.

Dean tries to keep concentrating, but it feels better when Cas is back in the car. Over the coffee, he can’t smell it as much. But with this gun in his hand, and someone else he trusts keeping their eyes open, he thinks he knows what Cas was getting at. He holds the gun in both hands and drags his thumb over the inlay.

This is what keeps his people alive. He gets that.

He can handle an angel blade with confidence, by now. This is the weapon of choice, though.

Cas sits close and presses Dean’s coffee between their knees on the seat so it doesn’t go anywhere.

Neither of them would make a sudden movement that could spill it. Sometimes he thinks he trusts Cas in the car with coffee more than he does Sam. That’s a little... weird to realize.

He feels Cas reach over and take his gun from him and hold it on his thigh. “I didn’t tell you to use me to anchor the feeling in,” he says, too quiet and a little chiding. He takes the coffee and waits for Dean to open his eyes to press it into his hands.

Too late.


Dean can try to stop it, but he feels the focus enter him again, that night, when they’re pulling things out of the trunk and passing them to each other to bring into the motel room.

Old, familiar bags with the same weight of clothes and ammo in them. The cooler he’s had since forever. The box of salt for the windowsill nearly depleted. Cas hooks a strap with two fingers and Dean ducks under it for Cas to loop the duffle around him.

He must know it’s going on, must know that Dean’s still using him as a stabilizer, because his eyes are soft and calm, like when Dean lets him settle close to feel the glow of grace. He stays close enough, throughout the day, for little hums of prayer to cross the distance.

But he doesn’t tell Dean not to do it again.

In the small hours of the morning, Dean ducks into the fridge for a bottle of water and for some reason follows the lines of Cas’s slacks and shirt up to him as he rises.

His head cocks slow as Dean just stands there in front of him.

Dean remembers what it was like, in the early days, locked in Castiel’s strange focus, unaware of how close they stood or what they looked like from the outside.

Sometimes too-aware of it.

Sam once said, “You guys looked like you were gonna,” he reeled, “you know, like,” he couldn’t get the words out. “Sock each other. Sometimes you guys just.” He shook his head and let it go.

Do they really look like they’re always two inches away from throttling one another?

“You know, I don’t mean to get you pissed,” he mentions.

“I don’t think you do,” Cas nods, leaning against the counter, still.

“It’s just. We don’t. Like. You know.”

“N... no. I don’t know?” he looks lost.

Oh god.

Sam didn’t mean they looked like they were about to fight.

He meant they looked like they were about to fuck.

“Um.”

Cas looks a little amused. “This is why I wanted you to anchor yourself to your gun and your car and your... phone, or something.”

“Sorry,” Dean shrugs.

“No,” Cas whispers. “I would prefer it. I was just,” he shrugs, “giving you options.”

“Oh,” he agrees nonsensically.

His head cocks slowly the other way and he leans back on his ass to free up his hands.

They hover in front of Dean’s neck.

He remembers what’s on his neck. The feather. All the feathers creeping down the side of him. A moment of death permanently seared into his life.

Cas takes his neck. Draws him forward. Lets him lean in and rest his head under his chin.

It would be nice, Dean thinks, if he could stop being responsible for the most painful moments in Castiel’s life on Earth. Especially because this is Dean’s best fucking friend and he’d kind of like his family to just stop being in pain for a while.

Cas doesn’t touch the ashen mark. He pets the back of Dean’s head for a moment and doesn’t stop Dean from closing his eyes and feeling Castiel’s heavy presence, the scent of his jacket, the honesty in his movement. These things that were just the way they were before Michael. More grounding things, like the gun, like the steering wheel.

“Strength in numbers. We can blame the grace until it goes away,” Cas reminds him, giving him an out.

“Yeah. Until it goes away,” Dean agrees, wearily, muffled at Cas’s shoulder.


They don’t have to hunt or guess for long. There’s suddenly breaking news of an African lion let loose on a beach. It looks unusual. Like a genetic experiment. And no nearby zoos can account for a missing animal.

A heavy police presence near the boardwalk. People are being evacuated. Experts are being called in.

Dean swerves into a wild u-turn, nearly causing an accident, and presses the gas hard.

It’s not a lion. Not exactly. It’s one of Daniel’s Beasts. It’s a lion with wings that was locked in the ocean. It’s got poisonous fangs and claws and is almost twice the size of a proper lion.

Dean stutters, explaining to Cas how he saw Michael break it out of its chains in a trench.

The thing must have been swimming offshore, eating those sea lions and sharks whose parts have been washing up on the beach.

They gun it to the boardwalk only to hear that the animal disappeared.

“Wings,” Cas curses. “Pull over. Do you have paper maps?”

“No,” he yanks the steering wheel again, executing a quick turn to a beachware store. It’s advertised as being near a tourism center—

“Visitor’s center,” Cas points.

They blaze into the parking lot and Cas jumps out to rush in and find a map among all the brochures and pamphlets.

They don’t have the herbs needed to do a tracking spell. They can’t slice open their hands in the middle of a parking lot.

He struggles to find some sort of pendulum in the trunk that might fit the bill. Cas pops back over and drags him away from the trunk to slam it shut. Spreads the map out and holds Dean’s hand over it.

“Focus on what you saw. This is something Michael’s grace could accomplish. Focus on what you saw,” he demands. “Close your eyes.”

Dean tries to remember through the dark of the oppressive ocean. Snapping the chains. Michael’s grace illuminating the cave walls.

“No,” Cas says close at his ear. “Focus,” he sets one hand on top of Dean’s and presses it down to the paper of the map.

He can focus on Cas. The car ticking in the heat. But not the beast.

It’s poisonous. They hear sirens wailing towards the beach where the lion first climbed out.

“Good,” Cas says.

He has no idea what’s good about this.

“And the wings?”

Dean knows they look like the shadows that would darken the wall when Cas showed himself.

It was dark and heavy down there, even for Michael. The plan had been for each of the monsters to find their own way to the surface and eat whatever they liked. Restore the hoards of demons that Hell so foolishly fed into the grasping hands of hunters. Send the willing to Heaven, enriching the unstable walls with more souls-

Cas lets go. Grabs his face.

“Good. Open your eyes.”

There’s a scorch mark extending from the tip of his finger to a field across town.

He doesn’t question it, grabs the map and gets back in the car.

It isn’t a field. It’s a farm. Dean nearly crashes into an almond tree screeching the Impala to a stop at the side of the road. “Run!!” he starts yelling before even leaving the car. “Run!”

There are workers already scattering from the nearby fields, but out into the road, in a place easy to pick off. The trees shake, far into the grove, and the cat rips a growl. There’s a scream.

Cas is yelling at the others to get out of the road. To run. He’s ushering people out of the way. Forcing them to drop equipment and flee.

Dean moves to barrel over the fence, stops and dives for the front seat, first. Cas’s blade rolls there, where he was sitting. He snatches it. They have no idea how to combat this thing.

He rushes for the trunk, iron rounds and a shotgun. On a hunch, grabs a stoppered jug of holy oil.

He clamors over the fence with everything. Cas catches up to him and grabs the jug from him. Dean tosses his blade at him and he catches it one-handed. Dean points to the poison-black claw prints in one tree and motions. They split, crouching low, to circle around both ends of the lion.

They can hear it in the trees. The last moan and gargle of someone it’s eating.

One tick of a wing, stroking up against the branches.

Dean takes a knee. Takes a breath. Feels the shotgun in his hands and tries to remember the first time Dad trusted him to get his six on the way into a haunted house. Sweeping the corners.

It’s fresher to remember trying to teach Cas how to slam the barrel to the side of somebody’s head and pull the trigger fast. Something he got good at as his grace faded before Stull.

He blinks and keeps rounding the trees.

He sees it.

If they startle it, it can take off and fly.
They can’t. He’s gotta remember that.

The lion hears something behind it and its curved head rises to look in Castiel’s direction.

Aim for the wings, he thinks. Stay out of range of the claws. They’re rotting the ground right where the beast stands.

Cas says something in Enochian about God shutting the lion’s mouth to him and the beast drops the last of its kill from its jaw and paces to go on the offensive. Cas keeps talking. A prayer for Daniel. A prayer for the lion to be unable to open its mouth. It snarls and paws at the ground, drawing up dust and Dean pops up to nail it in the back with a shot.

It thrashes, but doesn’t whine or huff or growl, seemingly unable to open its mouth.

Cas keeps chanting the prayer and the lion is whipping to see both of them now. The iron didn’t work well; the left wing is seemingly already recovering.

Cas chucks the cork of the jug and circles Dean’s way, pouring.

As the beast lashes for him, he ducks, bolting over the line and into the half-circle, tosses the jug to Dean, which he catches.

The lion doesn’t like that. Whips back to Dean as he’s trying to continue the circle. It goes wide as he ducks around a tree and Cas gets in one good whack with his blade, then jumps the other way in the circle, bringing it to the edge.

He’s got a lighter. Flashes it to Dean.

So Dean rushes to hurry the fuck up, tries to find the end point at the same time so he doesn’t close Cas up into the ring of fire.

Or—
He steps over the line. Closes up the circle and blasts the shotgun at the beast’s back now.

Cas missed a beat in his Enochian prayer, so it’s back to rip-roaring anger, hot breath and fangs dripping poison in an increasingly small space.

Cas just lights the fucking circle and the lion is distracted by the flame enough for him to rush for its side.

Dean doesn’t finish the circle. Drops the jug and runs for it.

They don’t know if they’re immune to the poison, but by the way the rubber on his boots is sizzling, this is probably a dumb idea.

He taps the grace, this time. The hot flames of the incomplete circle licking their backs and making the lion flinch and buck out of the way.

But Cas grabs one wing – Dean grabs one wing –

It fucking tries to take off as they’re hanging on.

Dean’s feet leave the ground but he throws the strap of the shotgun over the upper curve of the wing to hang on, regardless. Grabs and tries to get his feet back on the ground—

Grabs and tears.

Cas is going for it on the other side with more instant success. The beast falls to its side, trying to smother Dean and roll Cas off, get him with a swipe of paws or sink its teeth into his arm. Snaps and rumbles in rage.

It snags the loop of material on Cas’s coat sleeve and he yanks away with a tear—
Of fabric, and another as he yells, pulling on the wing, snapping the bone and breaking it mostly away from the beast’s side.

On the ground, Dean’s got the powerful wing on his side twisted up like a wresting move. He plants his feet on the lion’s back and—

Gets rolled under pretty hard. Feels poison sear into the back of his jacket, transferred off the leaves and soil.

He hisses and kicks. The lion makes a noise of distress and Dean yanks the tangled shotgun strap, breaks it while breaking the wing.

It can’t take off, but now they’ve got to nail it before it heals.

It thrashes more than before, wounded and growling. Snapping at Cas who can’t get the blade sunk into it.
He gets hit by a paw and goes sprawling a little. Both of them, graced-up, is probably equal to two average men going at it with an average lion.

Dean still feels a drop of fear in his stomach as the acidic poison seeps through his jacket and sears him. It pushes him right over, though. Wrestles free, pops onto his feet and scrambles for Cas’s fallen blade. He nails it in the lion’s shoulder and it gives a hefty roar of pain. Cas is trying to stay out of range of the feet and Dean skids across the leaves to the jug, sluggishly leaking into the brush and grass.

He throws it, slamming it out across the beast’s back, breaking the ceramic across it, and Cas, the dumbass, reaches into the fucking holy fire to throw smoldering dry brush at it to make it catch.

The lion gets up, thrashes, tries to throw itself to its back to put the flames out. Cas can’t dodge a swinging paw, cradling his burnt hand to his chest in obvious, severe pain.

Dean runs for him, drags him away. Cas loses his feet and Dean has to drag him out of the break in the holy oil.

Kicks leaves into the gap until they catch and the lion is trapped inside a burning blue, uneven loop of flame. One of the trees catches and starts to go down over the lion as it roars and burns.

The tree’s top floods with flame and the Earth shudders.

The lion dies as the violent blue breaks the tree with a sudden snap of heat and Dean can hear something otherworldly in the breaking. It hurts his ears, straight through the grace and he cringes away, grabs blindly for Cas and draws him off further while some of the other trees begin to catch.

Sirens, far away.

It’s always the fucking dry season out here and Dean desperately hopes they didn’t just start a fucking wildfire that will eat more than the lion ever would have.

He stumbles away with Cas finally finding his feet. Pulls Cas to lean against a tree. Tries to pull his arm away from his chest so he can get a look.

Cas leans over it, won’t let him. So in pain that Dean grabs him by the head and shushes him. Hugs him in by the neck. “Alright alright, won’t make you. But you gotta walk now. We gotta get out of here – look at me,” he pulls back and orders.

Castiel’s eyes are too grace-lit when they open. Trying to heal himself and too close to the surface. “Okay.”

Dean realizes in that moment he might lose his fucking arm.

“Okay.”

Dudes hunt with one arm all the time. Accidents happen. Attacks and fucked-up firearms and explosions and field amputations.

As long as they get out of the field full of holy fire, Cas can survive this somehow.

Dean grabs him round the middle and marches him out of the trees, to the road.

The field workers have run. State cops are there. They call for an ambulance when they see Dean dragging Cas out. They point him off away but Dean ignores them and heads for the car. He packs Cas into the passenger side, pushing his head down so he won’t crash it into the ceiling. Shuts him in and practically leaps the hood to get in and drive. Fishtails down the county road as an ambulance screams opposite. Fire trucks hot on its tail, thank fuck.

“Talk to me,” Dean barks at him.

Cas breathes through his teeth, still hunched over hard.

Dean curses and finally fucking snaps his cell phone out of his pocket, dials Sam.

“Dean?” he’s alert down the line, not shocked. Like something in the universe told him this was a call for business not for catching up.

“Treating a burn,” Dean demands.

“Water, now,” Sam orders.

Well, yes, he knew that. Dean turns off the road down an empty dirt lane, opposite the side of the road that’s gonna be burning in a few minutes. Throws the Impala in park and climbs half-over the seat for the cooler for a bottle of water.

“Holy oil, though,” Dean explains while finally prying Cas’s arm from his own grip and extending it over the seat, saying fuck it and soaking everything.

“You??” Sam guesses, horrified.

“Cas. Help me,” he fucking begs.

God, it looks bad. Black and boiled. Not flesh like the vessel is harmed – it looks more like metal that’s been melted and misshapen. It’s fucking awful but he can’t say that. Cas can’t have a reason to panic. He doesn’t know if he’d go into some kind of shock in this state.

“Ah-shit-” he hears scrambling down the line. Books, the scrape of a chair. Rushing as Sam bolts from the room.

Cas’s thumb has fallen entirely out of place and-

“Burns. Jill. Holy oil burns,” Sam demands.

“What’s happened??” Dean can hear Jack, far-away.

“Uh. Ambrosia?” he hears an unfamiliar woman’s voice.

“What—like the food of the gods?” Sam boggles.

“Like a honey but, a—a brewed—” Jill struggles.

“Honey wine?!” Sam asks “Mead or honey wine or-- honey makes sense for humans. Honey wine for angels’ vessels-”

“Fine. Where do we get it??” Dean snaps. He’s drained one bottle and dives across the seat to snatch another.

“Fucking-” he hears Sam put the phone down, switch to speaker. “Where are you, now?”

“California. Near Lost Hills.”

“Uh... there’s a... liquor and deli. Head fucking south on 5 or 33 whatever’s closest.”

“Send me a link.”

“Yeah, got it. Drive. Call back.” Sam hangs up. Dean tosses the phone on the dash and empties the bottle on Cas’s arm.

“I got you, buddy. I got you. Don’t look at it, alright?” He reaches over and yanks a flannel shirt from a bag. Drapes it over and gets another water to soak the fabric. “Don’t look at it. Look out at the road for me, okay?”

Cas nods some.

“You tell me if you’re gonna pass out,” he throws the car in reverse.

“I won’t,” Cas’s voice is thin and broken.

“You heard of this? Ambrosia?”

He makes some kind of affirmative noise that doesn’t sound too promising. Whatever. Dean’s willing to go with it over nothing.

They blaze a 30 minute drive in 20, probably because the highway patrol and local LEOs are headed to the almond grove going up in flames. Nobody stops them.

Dean checks his phone a couple times for the right place and leaves the car running as he hops out to the liquor store and heads for the wine aisle. Someplace he is, admittedly unfamiliar with.

He’s also battle-worn and shitty looking right now so a woman stops and blinks at him and asks if she can help him.

He gets three types of honey wine and they demand his fucking ID of all goddamn things. He slaps down a Division of Forestry ID that identifies him as a ranger or something and they give him a weird eye, but it’s a Federal ID and they accept it.

Dean moves the car just so they don’t watch him crack one open right there in the parking lot and report him, then gets out to draw Cas to a sit at the edge of his seat.

One is thin, looking like a normal white wine. It’s probably overprocessed – it does nothing. Just about as much as the cold water had.

The second comes with some crazy snap-on, olde-timey cap and it’s darker. That does something. Cas gusts relief when it covers his skin. Dean helps him out of his jacket and gets it all the way up his arm and tears come to Cas’s eyes with the relief it brings.

They keep the third bottle on stand-by and use up more than half of the dark one.

Cas tilts forward after a while and breathes against Dean’s shoulder.

He puts the bottle down on the dusty ground and hugs him by the back of the neck. “I know I don’t have to fucking tell you to never do that again.”

“I thought—” Cas knocks his head into Dean’s shoulder once. “I dropped the lighter into the oil to light the flame. You always do that. It never occurred to me what would happen if I needed the lighter again after the flame was lit.”

“God. Genius. Tactical genius. I had one in my fucking pocket,” he grabs the back of Castiel’s neck and shakes him. “Don’t. Do it. Again.”

“Copy that,” he says, exhausted.

“We need more of this stuff. You think it’ll fix you, eventually?”

He takes a long moment. “I don’t,” he admits.

“That’s okay. I’ll get Sam on it. I’ll get Sam to research it. He’ll find something.”

“I likely won’t use it again. It’s deeper than the vessel,” his voice shakes. “Holy oil is meant to burn straight through all-”

“We’ll fix it.” In an absolute absence of mind, he kisses the top of Cas’s head. “We’ll fix it. I got you.”

A whine breaks out of Cas’s throat and Dean sits back to open the third bottle and see how it does. This one is just as good. Maybe a little better, or maybe the vessel is soaked through, because some of the black parts start to flake away from Cas’s hand.

It’s fucking torture to look at. Dude’s gritting his teeth hard. He’s gotta be in deep, dark fucking pain.

Dean goes to the trunk and finds a bandage to soak in honey wine and maybe keep it wrapped around the hand. He gets back on the horn as he digs.

“What happened?” Sam demands.

“The honey wine is kinda working. I think it’s a painkiller but it ain’t doing much.”

“Shit. I’m working on it, okay? There’s not much we can read through. Cas is the one who introduced us to holy oil in the first place.”

He knows. “What about the angels working with Mom? Cas said-”

“We’ll call. Are you okay? There’s some wild fucking news coming out of California where you are.”

“Ugh. Look up Daniel’s Lion or some shit. It was a present to humanity, love Michael,” Dean grimaces and shoves the trunk closed, shoulders the phone to start soaking the bandage. “I’m fine. We have to deal with this, now, you get me?”

“Yeah. Listen. I’m not on speaker, right?”

“No?”

“Jill says you can’t really recover from--.” Sam takes a deep breath. “Where was it?”

“His hand. His arm.”

“It might never work again,” Sam warns him up-front.

“That’s what he said. We’re ignoring that defeatist shit and looking for solutions, goddamnit.”

Sam sighs. “I’ll call every hour.”

“Thanks, Sammy.”

“You’re really alright?”

“As I can be.”

“Dean.”

“I’ve only got three hands on this end, kiddo, lemme hang up.”

“Yeah. I’ll call,” Sam lets him hang up on him.

Dean gets the bandage wrapped around. He takes a swig of the weaker honey wine and it’s not bad. He offers some to Cas.

Cas kinda nods, like, what the hell, and sits back in his seat with the bottle to take an occasional hit off of. Maybe it will help to drink it if it doesn’t help on his arm.

They find a bigger liquor store as they drive and Dean manages to buy half a case of good shit.

That will have to last them through to the morning. He heads back to the motel and thinks about driving home after this.

He may not want to, but Cas needs it. Jack and Jill can help with this. Maybe Jack even has the juice to do some physical therapy type shit on him.

As he drives, Cas sways over and scoots and crashes against his side.

The hand he would hold is wasted and painful-looking under those bandages. Dean wouldn’t want to hurt him.

Hell, maybe it’s a sign, right? Cas thought it was cool to get that close to him and the universe bit them for it. He could-

Cas locks the wine bottle between his knees and reaches over with his far hand to slug Dean in the shoulder. “Shut up,” he grouses. “I’m ignoring your ‘defeatist shit,’ too.”

Dean only flinches because it looks and feels like every damn movement hurts him.

Cas dumps himself back against Dean’s side and sniffles like he’d cry if he wasn’t clenching his jaw too hard, which is worse.

At the motel, Dean helps him get in and sit on the bed and props his arm on a stack of pillows.

He paws at Cas’s head for a second. “Burgers and fries. You want burgers?”

He looks tired. He nods into Dean’s palm.

“I’ll get burgers. I’ll get cheese fries. You want coffee?”

He nods again.

“You gonna sit still or do I have to threaten you with something?”

He rolls his eyes and rolls his head into Dean’s hand.

“Okay.” Dean grabs the tv remote and puts it in his good hand. Puts his wine within reach.

The blade he used was shoved into the beast when it was set on fire. Dean’s only got a spare gun in the room right now, so he puts it next to the wine bottle, no safety.

He locks the room up tight and Sam calls while he’s pulling out of the parking lot.

“Hey. Speaker?”

“He’s not around.”

“I don’t like how this looks, Dean. It isn’t like something another angel can just zap and clean up. I haven’t heard back from Mom or Bobby, yet. Do you want me to send one of ‘em to you with a newbie? See if maybe they can do something?”

Hell no. “I want you to hit the books. Find out if there’s a stronger version of ambrosia or whatever. The wine helps enough for right now, but I’m pretty sure it’s like Tylenol to him.”

“Dude, you know he didn’t even tell me he’d found you.”

Dean sighs. He doesn’t want to make his apologies, now. Not with fucking beasts still crawling out of the sea and shit. He’s still got work to do, still got Michael’s messes to clean up while he’s powered-up enough to do so. If Cas was anything less than completely dire, he wouldn’t be considering going back to the bunker right now.

In fact, if he thought he could leave Cas at the bunker and keep working, he’d do it.

But he wouldn’t do that to the poor bastard, now.

“You know what happened with the monster we cleaned up today?”

“Um. I’m guessing it’s in the middle of the wildfire they’re still trying to put out.”

He winces. “Fucking global warming. If this shit happened in Oregon, we wouldn’t have burnt down an entire state. Listen. We left an angel blade stuck in the back of the damned thing. What do you think the chances are that the holy oil melted it down so there won’t be evidence?”

“I’d say if holy oil was enough to kill the beast – and I did some research, you definitely went for the right weapon – not only will the corpse be incinerated, but the blade will be a puddle. An archangel blade might be made of the right stuff to withstand that kinda heat, but holy oil is kinda designed to keep a regular angel cornered in every way.” Sam hesitates. “I gotta ask. This was considered a beast of the apocalypse. Pretty sure Michael knew how to get to it because he released all of them on his world, but what about this one. Um. Do you... remember him getting all four unleashed?”

“Little brother, I think you want me to answer that question just about as much as I want to answer it.”

“Which is not at all,” Sam sounds tired. “Great. It’s possible they put one down in China about a week ago. We’ll make sure we’re on the lookout for the other two.”

“And keep your newbies out of the damn holy fire,” he mutters.

“We’ll fix it, Dean. I’m gonna work on it. Just stay with him, okay? Don’t run off when he’s down for the count like this.”

“I wouldn’t,” he’s a little pissed that has to be said.

“I know,” Sam lies.

“Ambrosia,” Dean presses.

“On it. Watch your ass.”

Dean hangs up.

He was just thinking about how he would drop Cas off at the bunker.

It’s growing dark and he catches his reflection in the windshield. “You are a piece of work, you know that, shithead?”


Dean itches with a weird impatience to get back inside the room. Drops the key card twice and has to set the food bags on the hood of the car and come back for them once he’s propped the door open.

Cas hasn’t moved. He’s sad-looking with his singed shirt still on and grass all on his pants. The wine bottle’s nearly empty. The news is on TV. “We burned down an entire tree nut industry,” he notes.

Dean takes the remote from him and switches it to Jeopardy.

He has to help him to the table and open his burger wrapper for him. Cas does pretty well being patient with himself, setting down his burger to focus on his fries, pausing to just pull his coffee close and carefully prying off the lid to inhale over it.

He looks like he could pass out, his eyes drooping. Looks like he wants to pass out, more like. “The bandages are drying.”

Dean has fresh ones in the kit, here. He sets his burger aside, lets some cloth soak in a shallow dish from the kitchenette, and switches them out when they’re done eating.

He makes sure to look at the hand and arm this time. Fully. Helps Cas out of his ruined shirt and sees that the burns only go up about a quarter of his forearm.

It reminds him of what Sam theorized. That there’s a molten puddle of angel blade out there somewhere, in the disintegrating bones of the beast, still consumed by flames.

He makes himself look at the broken and twisted flesh. It’s the first thing that’s turned his stomach of steel since getting rid of Michael.

“I should have known you’d have another lighter,” Cas shakes his head. “You always do.”

He watches Dean finish up and start packing things away.

“I’ll be fine fighting with one hand. I don’t think I’ll be completely useless,” he sounds like he’s pleading his case not to get left behind.

“Look at me,” Dean says plainly and just sits and waits.

Cas’s eyes wander from the uninteresting commercial break to their empty bags of fries and finally to Dean.

“We’ll fix it,” Dean blinks and makes it sound as simple as turning a page. “Everybody’s on the case. We always fix shit like this. Nobody’s grounding you. Think you been grounded hard enough in your life, right? And I ain’t gonna let it happen again. You get me?”

He taps the table with his good fingers. “I get you.”

Dean reaches for his hand on the table. “Does this one work just as good as the other one?” knowing it will.

Cas nods and his eyes go far-away. “I feel like I always neglect to thank you.”

“That’s you. One rude motherfucker.” Cas can’t do it this time, so Dean presses both his hands around Cas’s one.

“You don’t have to return to the bunker for me. I can take the bus,” Cas sighs.

Well, look. He doesn’t know how this works, but he knows Cas has overheard him enough times for it to be annoying. He thinks, deliberately, about how that will never happen. He would never send Cas home like that. When shit like this happens, Dean’ll always have his back.

He looks up, straight through Dean’s eyes again. Maybe amazed, but really too close to that hollowed-out look to make Dean happy.

“C’mon,” Dean stands and prompts him up and gets jeans for him. Helps him into a new shirt. Sits on the bed with him and falls asleep sitting up to Live PD.

He doesn’t know how it happens.

The line between being asleep and just being very still and remembering things is so blurred with the grace in him.

It’s just, he gets this idea.

About the zillion times Cas has healed him.

Dean hasn’t healed anyone. Zapping the memories out of that girl during the exorcism was a bad trip he doesn’t want to try again.

But he would try this for Cas.

Castiel is practically dozing against him. Probably as close as he can get to trying to sleep off some of the pain. Dean sits on his right side and still has his good hand.

He wonders something like, Can I heal you? Would that even work?

Cas must be in that weird in-between state, too, because he shifts a little but doesn’t answer.

The thought that it’s the pain keeping him shut up is what makes Dean decide he doesn’t need the fucking angelic tutorial on this one.

All he had to do was think FORGET at the girl and he stole what she saw.

So he closes his eyes and feels himself drift to that anchoring feeling he’d accidentally made. Looking up and clapping eyes with Cas. Unable to move from whatever it is that’s always been tethering them together.

He thinks LET ME FIX THIS and he thinks it real damn hard. He thinks FIX the hardest because it’s something he’s always wanted to get right.

Dean does this for a while before Cas jerks beside him. “What—” he pauses. “Dean. Dean, stop.”

“Does it hurt?”

“No. It’s not possible. Don’t grind your grace like this. You’ll be using it up for nothing.”

Dean doesn’t stop thinking FIX and so Cas actually detaches, pulls away from him. “I’m serious.”

“I get that you’re thinking I’ll use up the grace and my chest will crack open or something, but we’re damn well gonna figure that out sooner or later-”

“It won’t help, another angel can’t fix this,” he insists, moving to get up from the bed.

He puts pressure on his other arm to lever himself up and Dean scrambles over the bed to stop him because it puts him terrifyingly close to both slipping and whacking his arm against the headboard and putting too much force on his wounded limb. “No, hold the fuck up.”

“Then back off.”

“Backing off! Fine!”

He gets Cas to settle back on the bed. “I won’t be the reason you-”

“Backing. Off. Come here,” if he doesn’t believe it, Dean fucking funnels this one thought into his head. Takes Cas by the shoulder and tries to get him to sit down again.

He’s forced Sam to get better before.

That’s never gone too fucking well.

Cas clenches his jaw and hesitates, but he listens to the thought that Dean forces over. “I know that you just want to fix it.”

“Yeah, but I’m me and I’ve learned the hard way that you gotta trust me not to kill one of us in the fixing. So. Fucking just take the time to believe me, alright? Come on,” he repeats. He could force Cas back onto the bed, their strength still pretty well matched, but he skids his hand down past the t-shirt sleeve and hooks Castiel’s elbow. Skin-on-skin he closes his eyes and thinks about that accidental anchor he made out of them. The grace in its place along with his physical strength. His fucking brain knowing better, knowing that things are complicated and Sam has to do the research and they have to ask around and on and on.

Forcing his family to do things is where he goes wrong. Too damn often.

“I’m sorry,” Cas breathes.

Dean opens his eyes, still stretched out for him. “Sorry because you think you just sidelined yourself for the season? I’m telling you, we’ll fix this.”

“I think I should.” He doesn’t finish. “Maybe I should go.”

“No, you can keep limping around with me. Unless the pain is unbearable. You wanna go home? We’ll head for Kansas in the morning.”

“You don’t want to head back yet,” Cas finally shrugs him off, though not abruptly. He heads across the space to the bathroom.

Dean sits back and rubs at his eyes.

Gets up and starts packing.

Sleep isn’t a factor. He can start driving now.

He fills a laundry bag and pulls stuff out of the fridge, packing the cooler. He dumps the last of their ice bucket on top and stops himself from saying he’ll be back.

Getting the ice is kind of Cas’s job. It’s just what he does when they’re at the motels and he’s trying to make himself a functional part of the team. Dean isn’t going to start taking away his duties just because he’s dinged up. If he wants help, he knows he can ask for it.

Dean moves everything by the door. The last of it that needs to be packed up is the kit and the shit in the bathroom.

He comes to the doorway.

Cas has his arm unwrapped.

He’s holding some of his fingers like he wants to bend them back into place. They both probably have the same hesitation – will they bend or will they snap? It’s a pretty gruesome thought.

Dean wants him to keep the bandages on. Not so he doesn’t have to look at it, but because he’s clearly in pain without the ambrosia soaking in.

When he finally looks up at their shared reflection in the mirror, Cas isn’t fabricating a human façade of anguish. He really is fucking devastated. It’s the last time Dean ever thinks about it – Cas’s expressions, his movements, his words are all genuine. Maybe Michael had to fake it, but Dean finally drops the idea that Cas ever did.

Dean can live without the beer and water being cold. What if they just fill the cooler with honey wine and let Cas soak his arm in it the whole drive?

Aside from being busted for an open container, it’s a little unwieldy.

Maybe they’ll steal the ice bucket. It’s not too big, but it could do the job.

In the mirror, Cas’s eyes drift to the ash on Dean’s neck.

Cas’s own left side is marked, now, too. Only worse.

Dean has nothing to compare this to. He’s broken limbs before, but the last time he was incapacitated, it was because he was trapped inside his own skin by the owner of this fading fucking grace.

What good is this shit, anyway, if he can’t use it to make Cas feel alright?

He shakes his head and he wants to crack his neck and gear up for a fight.

Yes, he’s angry that Cas won’t even let him try. Especially because he doesn’t want the fucking grace. He’s a better hunter without it fucking distracting him and making him think he’s bigger than his whole soul will allow.

He’s angry at Cas for sticking his hand in holy fire. He’s angry at Michael for pulling the chains off the damn beast. He’s angry at himself for letting Michael walk around in a fresh, new world he felt free to ruin.

Angry that the ruin didn’t end when he threw himself on the sword.

He won’t say it. Maybe he’s still a little too pissed when he reaches out and touches Cas’s wounded arm.

Not leaving him alone in this is more important than how impure Dean’s thoughts are while he’s making sure Cas knows – knows – “If we can’t fix it? We’re never dumping you off at the side of the road. You’re not a part of our arsenal. You’re a part of our people.”

Cas’s eyes connect with him in their reflection.

It does something to him that it’s been doing, off-and-on, all the years they’ve been sharing too-tight motel rooms and ugly moments of truth.

He shrugs his jacket back off, and his flannel.

You can’t see it well enough, though.

He strips his shirt and tosses it to the bed, too. Lines himself up behind Cas.

At about the point on Cas’s forearm where the char turns to flesh, that’s where the burns start on Dean’s own arm.

He’s grey and shadowed all the way up his shoulder and far down his side. His body hair is finally growing back in, some places. In others, the skin looks more painful than it actually is. Black and ash. Ribbed in the feather pattern and pocked by singed pores or raised gooseflesh. It doesn’t hurt, which seems completely unfair considering how much pain Cas is in, right here in front of him.

Cas is in pain and Dean’s not. He wants to make that stop.

It’s slow, but Cas’s good hand crosses over and Dean leans in against his back so he can touch where the feathers are imprinted at the crook of his arm.

Dean can’t look away from his hand as it carefully takes in his new texture. He remembers folding Castiel’s hands into the cloth after he was stabbed by Lucifer. After he fell to the sand and dirt and his own wings printed the ground in death. He remembers these hands fighting by him, hitting him, helping him off the ground. And he remembers them lifeless.

He thinks he’d like them like this more often. Even if all Cas has to give, from now on, is just the one hand. Even if he wants to be close to the grace more than he wants to be close to Dean.

He’d still take it. Dean’s pretty much done running away from this.

Cas turns. Touches up his arm to his shoulder. To his neck. Back down where a feather fell across his collar. He tries to hold still for it. Cas is careful but not hesitant.

Dean watches it in the mirror when he can’t focus on his hand anymore. His flesh doesn’t respond right to the touch.

It’s almost loving. He wants that. Warm and caring and exploratory. But it feels like hell that he can’t hold Cas’s hand in his and make him feel normal again.

Dean doesn’t feel pain from the places Cas is worrying over, now. He didn’t mean to give him this – show him this – just to rub that in.

Cas’s fingers tap the back of his neck and draw his attention down and Dean makes the mistake of giving it. He has no idea that he’s never gonna turn away from it again.

Cas brings his fingers back down over the feather on Dean’s neck.

Dean doesn’t follow them with his eyes. Doesn’t look in the mirror. He doesn’t do anything with his eyes but lock Cas’s.

He’s dry-mouthed, suddenly. That still happens, since he got back.

Ain’t been like this, though.

The only natural thing to do is turn Cas towards him and carefully cup his elbow, moving his wounded arm out of the way if he’s going to do this.

And he is.

Step closer and settle him against the counter.

“Gimme a break, here, Cas,” he whispers.

“Nah. Don’t feel like it,” he goes serious again. “Don’t use the grace.”

“I wasn’t talking about that,” he’s looking from his eyes to his lips and this is probably the most tension the both of them have ever packed into a single room before so he had thought it was kinda fucking obvious what he was saying, here.

Cas shrugs. Looks off a little. “You can... kiss it better. If you think that will work.”

Dean’s totally being dicked around with and for no good reason. So he ignores the nervous jerk-off faux flippancy in Cas’s voice and ducks a tiny bit to get in his way. Because when Cas looks him in the eyes-

Straight in the eyes. After years of knocking each other off-kilter and giving answers that weren’t fucking answers and downright lying and wounding the fuck out of one another, more often with words than with anything else—

If you asked Cas right now, if the arm was more agonizing, or just the thought of Dean losing enough grace to bleed out and die?

Cas wouldn’t lie. And he wouldn’t be silent about it anymore. He would want to protect his family – protect Dean.

Dean kisses under his eye, first, to see that he won’t look away, before pressing at his mouth. Blows over the last resistance Cas left standing, stalks flattened in the winds of change.

He doesn’t need Cas to stand up to him anymore. Dean doesn’t need help pretending this isn’t happening.

What he didn’t do was give Cas credit for how much he’d been hoping to be kissed.

His good hand clutches so hard in Dean’s shoulder that it finally brings an ache on. Makes Dean press to him fully. Bite at him and feel teeth in their kiss. Before Cas makes a soft-sad noise and it’s exactly the kind of kissing Dean falls for hardest. Sweet and breathy; clinging to one another.

Cas pulls away panting before he does. Also unexpected.

He looks at Dean like he’s been smacked. Like he’s shocked to have heard-

“You won’t stop. And you won’t break.”

Dean doesn’t know what he means.

“The grace. It is fading. Not as fast as I thought. You were exactly as capable of breaking the lion’s wings as I was. But you still have.” He pauses. “It’s still an archangel’s grace.”

“So. What you’re saying is,” Dean carefully scoops up his arm again. “I got power to spare.”

Cas hesitates. “Yes.” He considers for another moment. “It might work. I still don’t want you to risk it.”

“It’s mine to risk.”

“We should do this—in case it does impact your wounds, we should-”

“Wait until we get home? Find a hospital so you can dump me right inside the ER?”

Cas frowns and looks tired again. “If you die two fucking minutes after finally letting us do this, do you realize how very many years I’ll be forced to confine you to the political boundaries of one, single, flat Midwestern state? Is that really what you want for your future, Dean?”

“Threats. Finally a reaction I expected,” Dean observes and holds Cas’s arm up, steady and even. “Ready?”

He looks freaked the hell out. His good hand clamps Dean’s neck.

“Piece of cake, promise,” Dean swears low, knocking their heads together and focusing on Castiel again.

“Do you know how it feels when you do that?” Cas asks, breathy and lost.

Dean’s confused until he gets that anchored feeling and he suddenly understands that it’s not just a meditation technique he was co-opting. The grace was reaching out to Cas and Cas reached back and it’s not just “normal for angels,” it’s bliss and he tried not to admit it.

Cas has done so much, gone on so many missions alone, fought so far away from home and with no one to help him. He wasn’t meant to have to do any of it alone. He needs his family. Some kind of family, even if he doesn’t have the added benefit of a connection through grace.

Without the grace? Dean will still be here with him, though. So that’s one problem fucking settled.

Here’s the next one:

Dean thinks FIX IT extremely hard. Follows that tangled-grace feeling back until he can touch where Cas is, on the other end of it. He taps it. He holds the wounded arm and he lets that feeling do its job. Knitting skin back together, and that ethereal stuff he’s really made of. Trying to fix him on both levels.

The stuff Dean saw churning away in the great big angel-makin’ machine in Heaven. He tries to envision it. Maybe if he remembers what it’s like, he can fix the massive weight of grace and cosmic waves that makes up Castiel’s true self.

That wild light, essence of existence, slicing shine of a distant star made manifest. The angels are tied together by untouchable stuff.

And when you look into Cas, to the angel wearing this body, he is denser, hotter stuff than the usual. The kind that light bends around. Conforming to nobody’s rules – yeah, he slams up against something and gets hurt and it leaves him banged up pretty good.

But he doesn’t rely on Revelation to recover. He doesn’t think God will pick him back up and throw him back out into the roiling world, again. He doesn’t trust those simple things. He trusts these complex, human things.

He’s always prepared, as a Winchester is wont, to have to pick himself up from the ground and make do.

When Dean can’t make the feeling come naturally anymore, he forces it, thinking FIX again. Again. Again.

Until he can tell there’s nothing more he can do.

Before Cas can look at his own arm, Dean lets go and twists his head up and leans in to kiss him deep and lasting.

Both of Castiel’s hands come to his sides to touch him.

Both.

Dean pulls back for breath.

They both look down at him to see that no wounds have appeared on Dean’s body.

Cas pries his stiff hand from Dean’s side and turns it over between them.

His hand is healed. His wrist, his arm.

There’s black, still set in there. As if deep bruising were left. But it looks like it might be the bones. Like they were charred black and won’t change. His fingernails remain grey. But the skin has healed. He can move his fingers. They’re each in the right shape and place.

Dean blows out a breath because, when you get away with something by the skin of your teeth, you sit still and appreciate the moment. Every troublemaker in the world knows that.

He thumbs up and down Cas’s arm, testing for integrity or even squirming.

“Hurt?”

“A bit. But.” Cas shakes his head. “Um.”

“But you can deal?”

“But I can heal,” he corrects, though hesitantly. “I think.”

“Shit.”

“Yes. Shit.”

Dean snorts.

“Mm. You know. If kissing does all that. Well. You gotta wonder what sex would be like,” he admires his arm in the low light.

Dean physically recoils. “So you’re just stealing my lines now? That’s how it’s gonna be?”

Cas grins at him. “Does that bother you?”

Dean sniffs. “Nah. Not really.” He likes it when Cas makes fun of him. When Cas nails the human humor in a situation. He likes that he’s a complete sarcastic ass. Ever since it first started happening it’s been hilarious.

He only lets Dean knead at the skin of his wrist for another moment, then reaches to steady him by the back of his head, his neck. “Dean.”

There’s a centering feeling, Cas calling his name like that and Dean letting him hold his attention. Eye contact that kinda blurs the periphery. Melts away what Dean doesn’t need to focus on, anyway.

“Do you feel tired at all? Has your strength changed?”

Dean shakes his head, not really positive, but not exactly caring.

Cas lets him get away with it. Pulls him close until their noses bump alongside one another.

“Dean,” he repeats.

There’s a settling between them. Dean wouldn’t mind having this for a good, long time. He could adjust to Cas firm against him and holding an unwavering draw on his attention. Letting Dean fix him, for once, is the cherry on top. Later he knows he’ll worry about the day Cas splits again to start taking cases on his own, train newborns, or maybe even head upstairs. All he can think now, though, is how there’s a possibility of having his steady, smart, staggeringly fucking loyal best friend in some sort of position that’s consistently, definitively closer to being his family.

A thrill sweeps him. He unhooks Cas’s arm from around himself and kisses from wrist to palm. Cas spreads his hand over Dean’s mouth. “When are you going to stop giving me chances?”

That’s like asking when Dean’s just gonna give up and purchase a car with cheaper parts and some cupholders. When what you’ve got is the best, you’d have to be an off-brand version of a total fucking moron to trade it in just for an easier day.

Cas lets him pull his thumb into his mouth. The honey wine still clings to him some. Dean’s gonna make him drink a bottle a day until his bones are better. When Cas pulls him in and kisses him again, Dean would trade the chest wound for Cas to be whole again. Bones and wings and without Metatron's garbage crowding his head. He would pass all the grace over in a heartbeat.

Sam went through an extraction to try and track Gadreel. He doubts either Cas or his brother would be up for attempting to help him do the same. He won’t stop wondering, though, what the remnants of an archangel’s grace could do to fix Cas up.

He pulls Cas’s hand to keep it curved around his own face. Leans into it heavily and keeps their eyes locked. He doesn’t need to see Cas’s pain to know he’s seen the idea and doesn’t even want to entertain it. Not after putting Sam through it. “I won’t even mention it if you just tell me you’ll—” It suddenly sounds like too much to ask for.

“Let you keep track of me?” Cas gets it.

He nods.

“And let you watch over me?”

“Yeah.”

“And stay. With you. With this, now?” he holds Dean tighter and Dean nods again, tucks in against him and holds him.

His hands spread out on Dean’s naked back and Dean does what he hasn’t had the guts to since deciding to do this.

He looks in the mirror again. His ashen arm over Castiel’s shoulder. Undressed and vulnerable to the harsh bathroom lights and the image of himself embracing someone else. Sees himself wrapped around Cas and the absolute fucking relief on his face as his head presses hard to Dean’s neck.

Long time coming. Yeah.

He made Cas wait forever. Died and disappeared and turned enemy on him. Dean said goodbye to him, too, so damn often. Without ever letting this just happen.

Just come out into the light where it was supposed to be.

Closest they came was in Purgatory, to be honest. And Cas wanted to atone so much he thought he would be an affliction on Dean instead of a benefit.

Just like... sustenance. Relief. Just a fuckin’ decree that they can and will do this for one another. The cold mirror and the motel room and the passing cars and the angels and whoever else can think of it however they want to.

They don’t have to care anymore. They paid the world by side-stepping this. Not making it a thing.

But they never did owe it to anybody to make them comfortable.

Dean and Cas are intense together. He’s always felt it and blown it off. Not just like with throwing the blade to one another and attacking the lion together. Not just with the intuitive way they’ve found of fighting with one another.

Dean’s focus breaks down without Cas. After they burned him on the beach, Dean felt his edges fraying again. If the punishment in this life ever fucking ends, maybe then Dean will get the point of Cas’s question. But as long as he’s got chances to keep pulling his family out of the universe’s teeth before it cuts them in half, Cas can spend the rest of their lives, from here on out, driving him crazy up close. Fuck it. He’ll take it.

“You gotta give me all your shitty missions of self-destruction. You gotta spend all your bad days with me.”

Cas turns, presses his face against Dean’s face, full-on, and just kisses where he lands.

“And I’ll take you with when I run away next time, huh?”

“Maybe I’ll go with no matter what,” Cas breathes against his cheek. “Maybe I’ll make sure you never need to run, again.”

“Good days, too. Spend all our bad days and all our good days like this, huh? Deal?”

“Deal,” he reaches up to move Dean’s mouth to his.


To hear Cas tell him about the feeling isn’t good enough. He isn’t getting a clear picture of what Castiel is describing. Instead, Dean sits him down and tries to feel what he’s talking about for himself.

He says his grace took a hit, along with his form, when the holy oil burned him. So it will be a few days yet before his self-healing kicks into gear and does anything about his blackened bones. He can’t even use regular magic to fix his coat and shirt and he paused over his jacket sleeve kinda mournful and pathetic. Dean packed it away in his bag and said he could borrow a suit, later.

They try – Cas tries to use the grace to show him, but Dean can’t see. He tries hard, but he can’t connect with the grace the way Cas does, even with his eyes closed.

“You weren’t built to,” Cas nods when he blinks back to the room.

“I wanna see what’s wrong. It doesn’t make sense.” He wishes he could see inside of Cas like Michael did. Mike didn’t fucking appreciate it. Dean just wants to see again.

Cas smiles and reaches to snag his shirt to hand it back. “Of course you want to see it. You’ll think you can fix it if you can see it.”

Yeah. Physical, human stuff.

So it’s non-physical stuff. “Is it... an illness? Or just something on a different plane?”

“Close,” Cas considers. “Like head trauma? I guess that’s near enough. You can’t see it, but if you had a... spiritual x-ray, you could.”

“Hm. Yeah. Spiritual shit. Not me, then.”

Cas doesn’t let that fly. “You have belief in things. Your belief in intangible things has changed me entirely.” He nods for a second. “I love you and your family. That’s the center of both of us, now, but you couldn’t point to it like it were a place. So.” He shrugs.

Dean pulls at the tag on the back of the shirt. Doesn’t put it back on yet.

“I wanted to say yes to you,” Cas whispers. “I wanted you to fix my hand, even if the grace was—I wanted to touch you with both hands. I didn’t want you to have reasons to hesitate anymore,” he admits. “We have been holding ourselves apart. In that respect my resilience is failing me. Dean.” He pulls the fabric and the shirt slips out of Dean’s hands. “I regret everything I didn’t say, every time we part. Let me say these things. I want to be able to say them all the time.”

Dean looks up. He has to snag Castiel’s hand again. Mash their palms together so he knows it’s real. Cas grips him back, threading their fingers tight. He closes his other hand around the bundle, like he’s soaking in the grace again.

Only he isn’t. Not just that, anyway. It was 10% about the grace and 90% about simply touching Dean.

He wanted to have both hands to touch Dean with.

This is still kinda fucking scary. The idea of just doing this and letting everyone think differently about him. He hates that people might focus on it and all the smart-mouthed shit that some unknown strangers might dare to say. Hates that he’d have to swallow his old words of ego and somehow act like this is normal around Sam and Mom and everyone they know. It’s weird and it’s freaking him out. He doesn’t want to betray a vulnerability, doesn’t ever want to be the focus of attention.

But on the other side of Michael's takeover, he hates the idea of Cas not ever fucking being comfortable in their family. Not ever getting what he wants and needs.

And Dean’s sick - sick - of trying to just survive. Of exclusively just holding on and hoping.

Cas lets him grab on and have him. It could change everything.

It sounds absurd after the life he’s lived, but it almost makes it feel like the death might stop.

“I love you,” Cas insists again. “I want to keep this outside of these moments, Dean. Not just here in this room. All the time.”

Not in secret, not just when they have time, not just in the throes of danger and distress, and not just as a casual thing.

Fuck. “This is exactly what I want. You mean... I actually get something I want and I can just have it and I don’t lose my best friend or my brother or my mom and the world doesn’t end and nobody hunts me down for it? Is this... really fucking happening?”

Cas sits up a little and considers him. Doesn’t let go as he stands and steps over and kneels up to straddle him on the bed. “Yeah. I think it is.” He waits, squinting and feeling the air, testing the vibes all around them. Settles on Dean’s lap and observes the room, then him. Takes his head in both hands and makes him open his eyes wide. Looks in both ears. Feels under his jaw and then says, “Say 'ah'.”

“Aah?”

Cas looks down his throat. Lets go. Puts a hand over his heart.

“No parasites, no demons, no influences, no imminent plagues, no sound of the Heavens crashing down, radiation levels within an acceptable range. I think you get to say it, now,” Cas nods.

Dean nods, too. Settles his hands on Castiel’s thighs and agrees. “Okay. I’m in love with you.”

They listen. The a/c kicks on and the world continues to not end.

Cas cocks an eyebrow. “Good.”


Sex is going to be a problem, Dean can already tell.

Cas spent a half hour making out with him and grinding on his lap until he gave up like he was under torture admitting, “I love you, this is perfect, you’re perfect for me, I love you,” rapid-fire, over and over, love-struck fool of the century.

This fucker has got his number. If it weren’t for mandatory check-out times, there’s no telling what would have happened. Dean’s still pretty damn graced-up. Between the two of them, sex could last all day and not have to stop until Dean is literally fucking passing out.

He would consider pulling over and rocking it out hard in the back seat if it weren’t for Cas resting against him, wrapped around his hand as he drives. He’s zoned.

But.
You know what he could’ve done?
Put another goddamn credit card down on the room and stayed on the coast until the bedframe broke.

Cas sighs.

On the other hand, there’s the hand.

He called Sam and said they worked it out, which was a misstep of a different kind. Sam wanted details Dean wasn’t ready to give. And Jack heard and he threatened to fly out to see for himself that Cas was okay.

They have to go home, now. For Cas. For Jack’s peace of mind. And so Dean can get back to Sam and get over himself.

Cas disentangles from Dean, but doesn’t move or stretch out.

His hand slides to Dean’s thigh.

And from his thigh up to the crotch of his jeans.

Literal years of having this bozo pop in on him mid-flight is the only thing that keeps him from jumping the car off the road entirely.

Cas holds him through the fabric, tightens his hand.

Dean needs both hands to grip the wheel now. He gulps. “You. Um.”

Cas presses his face to Dean’s shoulder. A hot breath through his shirts.

“Nn.” He can’t get an actual word out as the thumb starts working.

Cas sits up. Moves off of him. “Hand's still stiff.” He scoots, sits to his side, instead, and loops his arm over Dean’s shoulders. Sits half-facing him and sends his right hand pushing down Dean’s belly to the snap of his jeans.

Dean loses focus for a second, almost physically unable to look away when Cas is staring like he is.

Cas stares back. “Road,” he says lightly. Just in time for Dean to correct and get back in his lane.

He merges right so he can let up on the gas and maybe not kill the car when they crash or-

Cas has him undone, pushes his hand in and teases at the band of his boxers. Then fully gathers him up and strokes him once through the fabric.

“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Fuck,” he chants, pulling off the road and into the desert a ways to get shade beyond a big, rusted billboard. He doesn’t have the car in park before he’s reaching for Cas’s face, pulling kisses from him. Gets the car stopped, throws the e-brake, and shrugs his overshirt off, and—

He just wants to keep kissing Cas for the rest of his goddamn life. It’s so fucking sweet. “Don’t stop,” he pleads, low and breathy when Cas finally palms him and brings him out into the warm air. He means he can’t stop kissing him now that he’s paused to concentrate on touching him but Cas just seems to think he means he wants to be stroked.

Okay – he does, yes, awesome. But he yanks Cas back to kiss him and, combined, it feels so good he can’t bother breathing between kisses, just pleads for Cas to fuck him, fucking touch him, calls his eyes fucking beautiful (honestly?? his eyes??), wants to love him and never get left behind, wants to spend years like this, can’t wait to touch him-

Cas pulls back to laugh, probably because he won’t shut up, a gasping mess.

He lets go just to shuck his borrowed jacket and tie and unbutton. Comes to crouch over Dean’s right knee and ducks down to kiss him more.

Dean’s dumb ass just melts in the seat. Fucking embarrassing sound, like a nearwhimper. His hands press to Cas’s naked front and he does a miserable job of involving him. He doesn’t move. Just touches, a drenching disbelief immobilizing him. Cas’s hand moves down again. He fully exposes Dean and strokes hard.

He cannot fucking move. His hips don’t grind up. Under one palm, Dean feels Cas panting. Under the other hand, Cas’s hips start shifting, rocking, like this morning. He just loves to be kissed like this. He is powerless in it; wants to let go and feel Cas own him like this. Just press his hands to him and be this close forever.

Cas leans back a little and that’s when Dean tries to get with the program. Cas doesn’t let Dean chase after, though. Touches his neck so he sits still and looks down to lick his hand quickly and keep stroking.

Some sort of cut-off word dies in Dean’s throat and his hands linger down to Cas’s waist.

As soon as Dean’s fingers fall to the edge of his slacks, they seem to figure out how to move. He fumbles at Cas’s zipper and just presses at the hard heat of him once or twice, but eventually he gets in there.

Cas stops him, leans back a little more. Pauses everything so he can lift Dean’s hand, kiss the center of it and lick from heel to fingertip, slow.

Locking eye contact the whole time.

Dean almost hunches over trying not to come.

Cas places Dean’s hand around himself at the base and Dean ignores his own hard-on from there on out. Practically knocks Cas’s hands out of the way and draws him in to kiss him, jerk him hot and slow until he comes.

Cas keeps wanting to pull back and look.
Look. Look at Dean’s hand on himself and drop to his shoulder and make the fucking sweetest little cries.

It’s intensely hot in the car. The air never did go too cold and they’re rocking in the seat, Cas pressing up against the ceiling just to look down and savor this, Dean chanting, “Yes, like that. Like that for me. Yeah?”

Obviously not pornographic enough for everybody in the car. Because when Cas leans on his shoulder again he rips a moan and starts thrusting into his hand. “Dean,” not breathy or thin - almost commanding. “Dean. I have to come.”

“Fuck yes,” no idea what he’s waiting for—except, yes. How about this?

Dean does a little thumb magic and pulls him in tighter little jerks. Shallow movement that ratchets Castiel’s breathing up and has him clenching his teeth together. Tries to say Dean’s name again but stutters.

Dean’s insides swoop at the sight of him. Cas is usually in command of himself, but when he’s not, when messy humanity has him enthralled and curious and excited and pleasured is when he looks most amazing. He’s looking shocked, now, at what Dean’s doing to him. Like he thought he knew what he was getting into when he started fooling around with hands on dicks and feeling him up and kissing him distracted, but this isn’t like what he was prepared for.

“Good?” Dean makes sure in a whisper.

“Hn-” he’s shaking. Leans in to reach for him. Dean wishes Cas understood how much better it would be if they were kissing when he came. It’s always better that way. Cas seems to get a mental signal from that and crashes their mouths together.

Dean bites back enthusiastically, then lets him in. Cas stalls out at the next soft, wet kiss. His hips grind to a shaky halt, and he comes in Dean’s hand on a desperate cry.

He rips himself back to take a breath and Dean can tell how truly shocked he is. Eventually starts twitching and stops Dean by holding on to his forearms.

“Hey,” Dean calls out to him. Cas mindlessly nods and dips close. “Fucking break me, huh? Just look like that all the time. You look. God, Cas. You look-”

He looks more ethereal than when his eyes glow.

Or even the staggering memory of the soft-dark-dense truth of his angelic form.

Human and coming. Losing control of himself and grabbing for Dean desperately. Even now, swaying in to stare at Dean closely. Making little noises that mean he’s waiting for a kiss.

“Just knock me the fuck out,” Dean marvels.

This is it. He’s just never had someone this amazing trying, with every new scheme and all the power he’s made up of, to stay close. Be relied on. Be family. He’s completely gone on Cas. He wants myth to meet reality: every time Cas looks at him so intensely, it really should be followed by moments like this. Losing it hot up against each other; sex and concentrated, focused closeness. Never alone again. Always this pair.

Cas makes a sympathetic face and settles on him. Gathers him up in both hands, this time, and seems to make sure they’re kissing as he brings Dean off. It’s the easiest thing in the world – the simplest, most pure thing Dean has felt in years.

He feels loved, the way it happens. Like this was supposed to be the way of things for years and Cas is sorry it took so long.

Cas isn’t the one who kept this from them, though. He said he loved them, called them family. And proved, in so many individual acts, how much he’d give up specifically for Dean. Proved he wasn’t afraid that he’d fallen in love with him. It was just the way things were.

He tried so hard to fit whatever role Dean put him in and, because being close was too complicated, Dean didn’t take everything that Cas was ready to offer up.

It’s exactly what Dean meant this morning – he knew better. It was moronic to turn Cas away, pretend this wasn’t happening. Dean’s the one who deprived them of this – so now it’s time to change course, buy the expensive parts, spring for the premium gas, and get ready for daily maintenance.

Just like his sleek, rip-roaring baby, Cas is worth the work.

If he didn’t acknowledge that before, it’s impossible not to after seeing his grace, how different he is and how humanity as changed him; hearing his hesitation, knowing he’s wanted this a long time, but he’d been respecting Dean’s boundaries.

“You always let me push you around. You never made me go this far. I should have seen what you wanted earlier,” Dean kisses him slowly, afterwards, finally starting to sweat after the grace let him last long in Cas’s grip before he came hard, whole body shocking with how good it was. Relaxing, now. Indulging in this. “I owe you about a year of non-stop make-up sex.”

“Tempting,” Cas whispers, grinning. He’s touching under Dean’s shirt. Lifting it to lay hands all over him. Just connect. His smile drifts away after a moment. “Sex wasn’t like that before. I was—” he purses his lips and wavers. “I felt—I didn’t feel great after it. And then it turned out I had—”

Dean’s not sure how far Cas has gotten around. He thinks he knows some of what he’s referring to and isn’t exactly surprised that sex hasn’t knocked his socks off, before.

Probably should have thought of that earlier.
And they probably should have talked about this before it happened.

It has happened, though, and if it went better than Cas thought, that’s a good start.

They’ll get into it later. They’ll... maybe they’ll stop at another motel on the way home or.

Or Dean can bite the fucking bullet and walk into the bunker with an arm around Cas and let everyone get used to the idea.

They ain’t hiding in the bedroom. They aren’t cramming this in the back seat. This isn’t bad.

This is what Cas needs. Dean needed it more than he knew. This is a step into their future.

Cas skids up his front and cards through his hair at the back of his neck, getting sweaty.

Dean tucks him back into his pants, and touches his hips. “Still gonna feel like crawlin’ all over me when I run out of grace?”

“Well, I always did before,” he shrugs. “Yes,” he adds. “It’s a... bonus feature, right now. But if it fades out...” he hesitates.

“What? Second thoughts?”

“No. Another risky outcome. If your grace doesn’t fade, it may...” he clearly doesn’t wanna say it. Dean prompts him up and sits him to the side and pulls his jeans back together, giving him a minute. Then waits for it. “It may burn out. That could be. That could-” Cas shakes his head. “I don’t want to think about it,” he says softly. “But now that I do, I might rather risk that your wounds come back than that your grace burns you out until you... fade or combust or.”

“Something equally bloody.”

“Or, um, explosive.”

Hm. Dean considers this. The hits just keep on comin’.

“The extraction. I know it was more painful for Sam because of what happened during the trials.”

“But it might have to be an option,” Dean fills in.

“Either your chest opens and you’re in pain or we extract the grace and you’re in pain or we watch the grace take you supernova and you’re in pain or you fade away quietly just dissolving along with the grace.” Cas is starting to look hollow-eyed again.

“Yeah, or maybe the grace just dissipates one day and I’m none the wiser and I live happily ever after.”

Cas looks up at him sharply because that’s not funny. “The universe is a dick.”

Dean nods in agreement. “We taught you well.” He takes up Castiel’s hand and the sun has come up higher overhead. The light shines in and shows his blackened bones through his skin a little more. “I have a feeling we’re picking up a big fucking needle on the way home.”

“I don’t want to do this,” Cas sighs. “And not - not - because I just want you to have grace in you.” He turns his hand over and clasps Dean’s tight.

“We station everybody in the room. Have Sam there with a kit. Jack and Jill there with their mojo. And you take the grace out of me and we’re ready if the wound opens back up.”

“You have excellent aim, Dean,” his voice is pure fucking pain. “You didn’t miss your heart. We might not be able to-”

“Then you open up that vial and you swallow what’s left of this grace and you grow your wings back and you grab me out of the veil. Or Hell. Or whatever ticky-tack box they toss me in upstairs. Like I know you will.”

They sit for a while. “You shouldn’t have so much faith in me,” Cas says into the still air.

“Tough shit. I do.”

Cas stares for a while and Dean meets him there, where they make any space their own, locking eyes and coming to a silent understanding. Just like they have from the beginning. “Do not die on me Dean Winchester. We still have so much work to do.”

He’s lived by those words for years. In all serious consideration, Dean thinks hard on them. We have work to do. For once, in hearing this charge, he doesn’t immediately apply it to the next impending hunt or imminent apocalypse.

He thinks about this place they pass every time they head back to Lebanon from the west.

He can line them up on the right highway and hit it before they head to the bunker.

He can see what Cas makes of it. If maybe he wouldn’t mind a different kind of mission. A new type of work.

Mirroring his stare is another lovestruck moron.

Fuck it. He already knows Castiel’s answer.


At a diner in Nevada, Dean hears something high and strange. He looks around the joint for a moment before Cas drops his coffee cup, clunking it to the table.

There’s a sudden and colossal crash and an old Ford pickup out front folds in half on impact.

Screaming, running, instant chaos.

They’re out of their seats without a thought, Dean’s gun and Cas’s spare blade both drawn.

Even the people who haven’t seen what remains of the car are fully aware that it wasn’t a traffic accident. There was a ripple of impact through the ground under their feet and some old codger is hollering about bombs from where he’d thrown himself for cover.

When Cas pries him out from under a table, the guy mistakes him for VC and starts hollering for his life. Cas manages to shove him into the arms of some bystanders with his walker and the two of them make sure everyone is hidden in the kitchen or exiting through the back.

Dean heads outside, gun up, and finally hears the sound clearly over the ringing in his ears. Cas is beside him, step for step, and Dean tries for at least slight cover of Cas’s injured side by moving just in front of him.

They know what it is. But everyone has different reactions when they make it down.

The newborn angel in the cratered truck sits up from where he landed. He blinks at them.

Cas starts to say something but he blinks again and the angel collides with the side of a delivery truck. It instantly scatters the two people who were hiding behind it.

“Don’t move,” Cas warns him.

But he blinks again and cracks the building, roof to foundation, flying into the side of it, caged into the parking lot, confused like a bird that hit its head too hard on a window.

Cas whirls to follow and runs over quick. Skids to a stop in front of him.

He looks like a man in his early twenties.

But he’s carrying a heavy smell of ozone and a gagging scent of flowers and a subtle glimmer like he fell off the back of a truck that was carrying decorative sugar, wearing a pure-white robe like they do in olde-timey statues.

A newborn, freshly fallen from the machine.

From what Sam pieced together, it happens about two times in every 24-hour period and the landings are utterly random. In fact, these are just the ones that fall down when it happens. Dean saw the machine work through Michael’s eyes where about four more each day would simply appear in the halls or fall into a room in Heaven and be wrangled by the other angels. It made for about the only real comedy Dean experienced while possessed. One fell into Naomi’s lap during a really long strategy meeting and he lost it so hard Michael very nearly laughed with him.

The ones that fall to Earth are the lower ranks from what they can tell.

Michael immediately branded them “rejects” and had no problem stomping them where he found them.

Jack instantly became the opposite – protective to a fault.

Some don’t want his protection, though. Or their help. Occasionally a newborn will even get violent in their confusion.

This new angel has fallen to the ground from where he slammed, ass-first. He’s blinking, but it doesn’t seem to make him fly again. Cas crouches low and slowly closes in on him.

Dean didn’t stop training his gun around the parking lot as the kid pinged off of cars, and he’s not about to lose focus, now. When Cas raises his bad hand in a placating, calming motion towards the kid, his guts go tight. “Cas,” he snaps a warning and immediately gets closer up on his back, aiming over his shoulder at the kid’s head, taking no chances. A few taps would at least shock the angel and slow him up.

Cas doesn’t make a sound. Just reaches out to touch the newborn on the arm.

He doesn’t flinch. His eyes go wide and he seems to start accepting whatever new info is coming at him from angel radio or the grace or some combo of the two.

Dean desperately wants Cas to get his weaker hand out of the way. All he can picture is the kid twitching again and knocking the hand, flinching at Cas himself and grabbing him hard, using the arm to lash out and flip him out of the way,...

“Cas,” he changes his tone so the bastard understands he’s panicked and he doesn’t like this shit.

Instead of saying it’s alright or blowing him off, Cas offers his other hand out behind himself and Dean comes carefully forward until Cas’s hand meets the toe of his boot, moves up to his ankle. He doesn’t let the kid out of his sight, but he lets Dean slowly reach down and help him stand.

The newborn seems to use this as an example and leverages himself up on the broken pile of bricks. He stands and manages not to fly off.

“Good,” Cas says. And nods.

The angel nods, too. “Michael?” he asks.

Dean flinches, as if the prick would rise up from a slumber within him and fight back for control of his limbs.

He breathes. Centers his concern back on Cas and every move he’s making. Steadies his grip on his gun. Tries to keep track of only one thing: Cas will let him know when to lower the gun. He’ll let him know when he’s sure they’ve got a grip on the situation.

“This is Dean, a human. My name is Castiel. Were you given knowledge of your name?”

The majority who have landed on Earth, still forming their senses and sometimes completely uncomprehending of anything but fight-or-flight and Enochian, haven’t known their names. They rarely do.

This one speaks, first in his own language, then English. “No.”

Cas nods, enforcing understanding with the gesture clearly so the kid will learn. “Okay. That’s fine.”

The newborn nods in response.

Then flinches, clutching his head.

He hunches hard, like his ears are being blasted. Dean uses Cas’s jacket to drag him half-behind himself for a clear shot.

“It’s alright!” Cas grabs his sleeve but mercifully stays where Dean put him. “It’s the prayer. It’s just the prayer. They’re telling you how to get home.”

It lasts a long moment, then he blinks and steadies himself. “I tried to fly. I can’t—I need to go home. I can’t. I couldn’t fly correctly,” he doesn’t have human expressions yet. His words are freaked and scared but his face is murderous and determined. He has no idea what he’s doing here and only has a baseline understanding of the difference between Heaven and Earth – whatever comes standard with the angelic newborn package. He knows he fell. He knows he isn’t in Heaven. He knows Heaven is home.

Dean remembers that one of the first few angels Michael made came right out of the machine sharing his exact diagnosis of the world: that it was rife with sinners and needed cleansing to become righteous. It hated Sam on sight, was livid with Cas for even existing, corrupted as he was and a known rebel to boot, and he had a definitive opinion of anyone else who didn’t “glorify God with every action.”

Frankly, if it happens like that with any other newborn, Dean will put the little shit down before they have a chance to really develop their own opinions on the matter. He won’t risk it. Better for angels to remain an endangered species than to naturally be bent towards destruction. He’s saved this damn planet too many times to just give it a chance.

The kid suddenly lunges to grab Cas by the arm. “I need to get home! Castiel you must-”

Dean yanks his grip loose, bodies him back against the wall and presses the gun hard to his temple, “Back. Off.” he demands and doesn’t flinch.

“I do not understand this one,” the newborn says, “Castiel, what does this mean? I must return to Heaven! You must show me how!”

“You don’t make demands here, pal. Calm the fuck down and we can talk about it, but not until you chill,” Dean declares, keeping him a good distance in front of them. “Cas?” he just needs him to chime in at this point. Just give him an idea of what their next step is before cops start arriving.

His hand comes to Dean’s back. He snags the back of Dean’s flannel and tugs just a bit.

Dean backs away from the newborn one step and lowers his gun slightly.

“I can’t fly there with you, but we can take you to an opening. A physical gateway that’s easier to navigate.”

The newborn visibly calms down. And nods.

“Alright,” Cas says, taps Dean’s arm to lower the gun.

He does. “Keep your blade out.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Cas says like he’s sure.

The front window blew out when the angel flew into the side of the diner. Cas moves around him and steps up on the loose brick to reach through and snag the coffee carafe off their table. He takes a mug and dumps a piece of broken glass out of it, blows it clean. Pours himself a last cup. He takes an untouched to-go cup of soda from the booth behind and comes down, handing it to the newbie. “Try this.”

He takes the cup. Then stands there completely still.

“You drink it,” Cas prompts.

He stays there, confused, for a long while. Distantly, there are finally sirens.

The angel takes a hesitant sip. “Oh.”

“Good?” Cas asks.

“I like this,” he immediately decides.

“Good enough,” Cas decides. While he’s distracted with his first, sugary piece of human culture, Cas totes him towards the car. “Enjoy it. You must not let it spill. Alright?”

Dean rolls his eyes and curses. Before he turns to go unlock the car, he safties his gun and climbs up to snag his own mug off the table. Grabs the to-go box off the other table just because his sandwich wasn’t half bad, but it also wasn’t half-finished.

Cas carefully holds their mugs on top of the box while Dean listens for the emergency vehicles. They’re coming from the east, so he has to backtrack west before moving on north-east to the nearest sandbox.

He sighs when the car shifts as the newbie crawls to either side of the back seat to see out both windows. “Hey. Butt in the chair, kid.”

Cas actually has to translate that into Enochian so he’ll follow the direction.

“They got somebody standing by at the Twin Falls playground?”

“I’ll have to tune in and ask,” Cas shrugs. “We’ll probably hear it on the radio. They likely sent that prayer so he would know someone was standing by to welcome him home.”

“Well,” Dean just cuts back over so they can take 168 to 93. Then he reaches over and Cas places his mug in his hand. “We’ll have to fill the tank before we leave Moapa.” He steers with one hand to get a hit from his coffee. “When will he learn his name?”

“He might not.” Cas looks in the rear-view. “What would you like to be called?”

The kid looks like he doesn’t much care. Then considers again. “What is this called?” he raises his cup carefully.

Cas reaches over for the cup and sniffs at the straw. Hands it back. “7up.”

“I wish to be named Seven Up!” he nods, finally smiling.

Cas actually palms his own head and scratches at his neck. “Seven. Just Seven,” he sighs.

Dean elbows him lightly. “Speaking of which, what’s in the booooox?” he laughs way too hard at his own joke and Cas is stone-cold unamused which, weirdly enough, really fucking makes Dean want to kiss him.

Cas opens it.
And closes it.

“Unbelievable,” he shakes his head.

“What? What is it?”

He opens it again and leaves it that way until Dean’s done merging and takes a look. “Score.” It’s pie. When he rescues food from a bad situation he really always redeems the whole experience. It’s a nice talent to have.


He calls Sam on the second gas stop. He thinks maybe they’ll drive through the night. He’s got it in him. And the desert and mountains may be a little easier to handle when it’s cooler out here.

Cas and... Seven head into the station for some human lessons. Seems like they’re always gonna be big on cross-cultural education in the Winchester family. He smirks because if Dad could only see them now.

Sam laughs a lot at that idea. “Seven,” he considers the name. “Mom has one who tried to call herself Internet because she was really thrilled with the internet and Mom compromised her down to 'Net' and now she lets them call her 'Netty' so, I mean, I wonder what we would call ourselves in Enochian, you know? Like some guttural sound that means 'hamburger' in your case, and probably 'hair' for me.”

That’s hilarious. He dies laughing for a hot minute before he can focus and hang the nozzle back up at the pump.

Dean starts wandering the lot, glancing up a few times to make sure there’s no funny business inside the gas station.

“Paranoid,” he rolls his eyes at himself.

“You?” Sam asks, “Yeah. But not often.”

“I mean now. I just.”

He stops himself.

He’s paranoid that something could happen to Cas. He’s feeling fucked up and.

And.

Protective and like he might want to toss Seven in the back seat, close up the car, and circle the building to kiss Cas against a wall for a few minutes, in the quiet, just to center himself and calm down after the day’s excitement.

“I... aye-yi-yi,” Dean blows out a breath. “I gotta tell you something,” he admits.

“Um. ‘Kay?”

Dean kicks an empty coffee cup that’s rolling around the lot. Rips off the bandage. “When me and Cas get home, I don’t want to hear about it.”

“About what? About you running off and-”

“Not that part. Lecture me all you want. I deserve it. The, um. The.” Christ on a cracker. He clears his throat. “The-”

“Oh my god.”

Yeah. Sam got it before he could say it.

“Wow.”

“I don’t - do not - want to hear about it,” Dean orders.

“No. God no. And risk you sneaking around, acting like it’s not happening, and breaking Cas’s heart because you won’t talk about it? You’re both my family, Dean, I wouldn’t stand for that shit. You don’t—jesus. Don’t act like you have to lecture me not to make fun of you!! I’m not the fucking five-year-old who still thinks feelings are like cooties!”

“Hey!”

“Don’t talk about it. Yeah. Got that. Just acknowledge it and move on. See? Most of us are grown-ups and we don’t have a problem with it.”

“Except for you rubbing it in right now, you mean??

“Nobody’s rubbing it in! I’m just making the point that you’ve pulled your head out of your ass and it’s a long time coming. This is actually the same conversation we have all the time, just with the added benefit of you, you know, hopefully, no longer being a douchebag to your best friend just because of the cooties.”

Dean’s about to throw this phone. “Say cooties one more time you little shit.”

“Breathe. I promise- cross my heart that I don’t give a fuck. It’ll be nice.” Sam actually sighs like it really is a relief. “God. Maybe now you’ll stop waxing poetic about ‘the three of us having beer on the beach,’” he gives it his hoodoo voice. “‘Getting our toes in the sand,’” he snorts. “Everybody knows that’s not what you were talking about.”

To be fair, Dean did not know. Not really until just now.

And... now he’s thinking about cuddling in a hammock or something and he literally covers it with white noise in his head like he thinks if he makes the wrong sound, Sam will hear it in his gourd.

“So after you drop the kid off, you’re coming back to Kansas?” Sam confirms. “Mom kinda hinted she wouldn’t mind seeing us. She. You know, I think she wants to make sure you’re still in one piece. She’s kinda been following your trail of destruction for a month.”

Oh man. “Yeah. Yeah, we’re comin’ home.” He didn’t mean to make her feel that way.

“You know what I’ll do?” Sam decides. “I’ll tell Jack, just so he knows, but everybody else from apocalypse world is new. So we just pretend like it was happening the whole time and nobody will be the wiser. No weird introductions and stuff. Mom probably already thought you two were fucking.”

“GAH-HEr-k-yyy,” he grinds his teeth. Really does wanna throw the phone this time.

“It won’t be weird!! Seriously!! That’s how we make it not weird. That’s how we make sure nobody makes it the center of attention. We act like it was this way the whole time,” Sam says, like this is a no-brainer. “That’s all you want. That’s all it’ll take for you not to freak out about this. We just have a ‘duh, didn’t you know some people have two daddies’ moment and move on.”

“Oh god,” he groans at the phrasing. Turns to conk his head against the top of the car.

Ugh.

But he ain’t wrong.

“I know exactly what’s gonna freak you out about this whole thing, so. Just let me fabricate the reality, okay? Like, Dean. I sincerely don’t want you to just abandon ship because this is overwhelming for you, alright? You deserve this.”

Oh. Okay. Well. He’ll just stand here and burn with shame.

Because that’s a favor he never would have done for Sam.

“How did I become such a shitty human?” he moans.

“Oh, that’s easy. You’re a Chiefs fan and the Chiefs suck and you’re going down this year.” Sam hangs up.

Dean blinks at his phone.
The new normal is already baffling.

Whatever. He’ll take it.


Seven is a delight and by “delight” Dean means he has started to complain in Enochian about everything, not even letting Cas explain human stuff, and Dean can’t fucking wait to get rid of him.

Dean understands what he’s saying. It gets translated for him and he tries to ignore it until he can’t. Clearly Seven doesn’t understand that until he snaps, “Yes, driving is slow, too bad somebody couldn’t fly in a straight fucking line or you’d be home by now.”

Seven shuts up and goes back to his bag of gummy bears.

By the way, soda – not dumb.
Gummy bears – not dumb.

Gummy worms – very dumb.
Driving – very dumb.
Coffee – very dumb.
The car’s need for gas – very dumb.

The list goes on and on.

It’s quiet in the car for a while after Dean’s outburst. Cas turns up the Styx tape a few minutes later and scoots a little closer.

Dean taps the steering wheel and tries to work up a little remorse. He should say he’s sorry. Yeah, he’s a newborn brat, but all the newborn brats are Cas’s people, so. He should at least let the kid chatter on and be wrong about everything until they hit Idaho.

“I love her,” Cas says, low, right at his ear, before the song ends.

Dean glances away from the road to shoot him a bit of a confused look.

Cas just reaches forward to eject the tape and turn it to Side B for him. “When you can’t fly,” he shrugs against Dean’s arm a little, “you gain an appreciation for this.” He sighs and settles.

Dean smiles. It’s the kinda language you tend to develop for talking over a kid’s head.

He means the car. He means driving and gas stations and piss breaks and pounding coffee until sunrise and the trunk full of weapons and maybe even this life they’ve been sharing. He loves it.

Hm. “He’s young,” Dean allows.

And he means that this isn’t the kind of thing you develop a taste for right off the bat, but after you do, it’s a hundred times better when you’ve got the right folk in the passenger seat.

Cas nods. “San Jacinto,” he adds, pointing to an upcoming sign. And what he means is that they don’t have far to go, now.

“Praise the Lord,” Dean says, loud enough to be heard over the music.

“Mm,” Seven agrees, chewing.


There are a few new sandboxes and beach stations and dirt lots set up as passageways to Heaven now that so many newborns are dropping out of the sky.

This is their usual playground, though, so Dean isn’t sure he wants to be close by when Cas walks up and activates it for Seven.

Michael’s grace might announce them and he still isn’t sure what the last few angels in the Old Guard will think of him having killed their brother. Half-brother. Alternate-brother. Whatever.

They liked his command. They liked having an archangel there to crank the machine to life and repopulate Heaven. They liked the purity balls and parades Michael was gonna throw for himself. They liked having another shot at the apocalypse without the bother of having to fight Satan first.

But his instinct to cover for something when it ain’t gonna change the outcome is completely at odds with his need to back Cas up.

True, he’s bringing one of the kids home and letting him head upstairs, but there’s always been conflict between the angels on Castiel’s status – comrade hero or blasphemous rebel.

And then the nightmare scenario is that whoever’s running the outpost might snap Cas up and lock the door behind them.

They don’t know when the machine will shut down, but Dean remembers talk about closing and locking all but the main gate to Heaven after the new angels are inside and their ranks have been replenished. Souls would be able to get in, and Heaven could keep doing its job, but no more angels would be sent to Earth or allowed out. And, obviously, intruders would be turned around and blasted to Hell or Purgatory.

If they locked Cas up there somehow-

Like, look. It doesn’t even merit thinking about, he’s sure, but that doesn’t mean he would risk it.

From the parking lot they can see two angels. It looks like they’re passing a bottle of wine and swaying on the swings. Like two college students messing around on a playground at night.

“It’s nice to see Indra that happy,” Cas notes with surprise. “Having new siblings around seems to have brightened his spirits.”

“I can hear them,” Seven says, leaning over the seat. “They’re angels, too. Will they take me home?”

“They will,” Cas nods. “Are you ready?”

He looks to his bag of bottled sodas and snacks like he’s concerned they won’t be allowed.

“Let’s go,” Cas nods at him but lets him make the choice to take it or leave it. He gets out of the car and Seven hesitates again. Then grabs the bag and carefully opens the door like he was taught.

Dean decides to get out and sit on the hood. He realizes he might look a little like he’s waiting for a drug deal to go down at 4 a.m. in a fucking playground, but the kid is wearing a robe, so they’ll have more explaining to do than any cop is prepared for before a shift change, regardless.

The angels sway to a stop on the swingset and get up to greet Seven.

He embraces them hard. Happily. And one of them takes him directly to the sandbox.

Cas speaks to the other guy at a bit of a distance.

Their body language says it all. Seven was expected. They were thrilled to have him.

Cas was a bit of rain on their parade. They’re gonna go have a family reunion without Cas because that’s how they like it.

It’s shitty of them to treat him like that, but Cas’s movements betray even more.

He side-steps away from the sandbox as they’re talking. He motions graciously, but impatiently with his hands, as if he’d love to stay and chat, but places to go, things to do, you know?

Which is bullshit. He just wants to get away from there.

Cas turns. He doesn’t watch all three angels ride the light fantastic. They just disappear behind him as he comes back to the car.

He shoves his hands in his pockets as he approaches. Walks up and steps to either side of Dean’s knees when he doesn’t move.

“You look tired,” Cas says. “We can sleep before we head back.”

“You gonna drive for me?”

“I’d like to. I wasn’t kidding. She’s one of our more reliable family members.”

Dean laughs a little.

Just a little. And looks up at Cas. Straightens up and stands to take his hips and press up against him.

Which Cas just lets him do, completely matter-of-fact. Which is a little bonkers.

“Bed,” Cas says quietly, and kisses him. “I can drive another day.”

“Well, I can drive another day. You’re still the relief pitcher, Cas.”

“Pitcher is a sexual term,” he notes, like he’s suddenly the Urban Dictionary app or something.

“Lots of things are sexual terms. I think what you mean is that ‘bed’ was also a sexual term. Am I right?”

Cas smiles beatifically as if he’s proud Dean caught on to his slick wordplay. He’s a geek. He’s a dork. Dean would rather not make out with, like, anyone in a playground, so, yeah, they’re gonna have to get a motel. And. And stuff.

Dean loves that he’s not even gonna look back wistfully at the sandbox. Cas only wants to look forward with them.

He still wishes Cas wasn’t so snubbed and ignored and downright hated by his own people. He’s better than them. He deserves to stand taller. To not give a fuck about them.

It should be a relief, contributing as it does to the frequency of Cas’s visits and how often he stays. Cas could have some sort of mission, instead, to reform Heaven and kick everybody back into gear. But Cas doesn’t lust after power or command and when people wanna act fucking stupid, he lets them screw around and fail.

Yeah. Dean’s happy that Cas isn’t wrapped up in Heaven’s politics and whatever. It would... just be nice if Cas were whole and happy.

Dean doesn’t have any delusions that this relationship is gonna do either of those things for him.

His guts are scrambled. With Cas here, leaning into him and concentrating on the two of them, quiet and a little sexy and a whole lot scary, Dean’s entire plot has gone out the window.

What if this doesn’t last?
Jesus – what if it lasts forever??

He had no plans for pushing this past friendship. And he figured out basically yesterday morning that it’s okay that he digs Cas – only he already knows that he wasn’t honest enough.

He isn’t in love with Cas - the bridge has collapsed and the rapids pulled him ten miles downriver. Far deeper into the wilds than he was ready to admit. He doesn’t want to wait to have the exclusivity talk or the moving in talk or the innermost trauma talks. He’s there, already.

Dean can admit the way he loves people is deep, instant, and probably fucking unhealthy. If Sam’s lectures are anything to go by.

But Dean’s helped Cas learn how to wash socks and picked his drunk ass off the ground, taken beatings from him and wept over his goddamn ashes. The compromising shit Cas has on him is equally deep and dirty.

He loves Dean after Dean got him killed how many times? Yeah. And Dean has crushed him by dying on him. Getting the Mark in his arm. Getting arrested and locked away from him. Getting possessed and running from him. They’ve done all this horrible fucking shit to each other and Cas closes his eyes and lets Dean hold him.

Dean isn’t just in love.

He loves Cas the way Cas loves him. Stupid-scary and incredibly final. With the same certainty that drove Dean running across Purgatory for a year and drove Cas to try to run even faster.

Dean presses his head to Cas’s shoulder. “I just.” He sighs, exhausted from a whole life of goddamn running. “I can take you at your word about this? ‘Cause if we start kicking the shit out of each other, now, it’s gonna hurt ten times worse. A hundred times worse.”

His hand comes up to the back of Dean’s neck holding him there, swaying just slightly. “It will hurt. If we keep up that habit we let grow: the lying. The... not saying what we mean. And not saying all we meant to. Trying to save one another without letting on what we’re doing.” He pauses. “I like to think I’ve learned better. That we’ll do better. Hopefully we’re through our introductory phase.”

There’s a smile in his voice and Dean straightens up just to see it.

“Hello, Dean,” soft and happy. The steel and divine surety and self-righteousness that he started out with has washed away. He’s folded into this form that, for as human as it’s become, is still the total weirdo that’s rattled and amazed and amused Dean the whole time.

He feels this smile grow and grow on his own face. Absurdly, feels himself go red and gets kinda fucking flustered. His mouth works over a response for a few seconds and. And. “Uh. Hey.”

Cas laughs at him a little and holds him still to kiss his mouth. An inch too charming and in control of the situation.

He’s just been waiting on Dean, hasn’t he? It’s as simple as that.

Dean grabs him tighter.

Ready to give; ready to get.


Jack calls because he’s tired of waiting. He asked Cas if he could fly in on them and Cas said he could be patient.

They did have to get a motel, after all.

Dean had to catch two hours sleep.

Dean had to give Cas head until his eyes flashed with grace and he started babbling the same nonsense about love that Dean had been pouring out on him.

Additionally, seeing as how they had to detour up to Idaho, it was a whole different approach coming home.

The direct route was no good.

Dean had to side-track them again. He has to drive there and put Cas in front of this place because Cas just keeps turning the looks on and Dean keeps failing to put things into words.

He’s sure that Cas has read it in his mind, by now.

There’s no difference between a heart and a mind and a spirit and a soul in an angel. Grace encompasses all that and he’s maybe starting to understand how Cas has just connected to him the whole time.

Sincerely – it’s not just because of how Cas pulled him out of the pit, or how many times he’s healed them. It’s not even about sweating and bleeding and sacrificing together.

It’s just time – the sheer amount of time together. It’s just that grace is used to connecting with grace, and where Dean didn’t have that within his body so it could reach out to Cas, he'll damn well pour his soul into the people he’s with. That’s what Cas’s grace has reacted to and that’s why this will keep happening even after Dean has lost Michael’s grace.

He can feel that, now. Cas might want to hold his hand and marvel that his best friend has this essential component that he’s familiar with on the cellular level or some shit, but Cas has been reaching out to Dean the whole time. Not just a package containing something inside Dean’s own being.

Heavy thoughts for long drives. A soft, deeply-cutting realization leaving I-80 for a detour back down to 70.

He wants to make this trip more than he did an hour ago. A half-day ago.

He’s hijacking the plot on his own, now. If Cas is alright with this, he’s not just driving hours out of their way to an old Kansas dust lot. He’s also changing how this family works. Changing the future from what he figured it would be. From what he was resigned to.

Might not die with his boots on. Might not suffer some dark, sudden end. Might not just fade into a bottle and tune out of a world that’s simply kicked him in the nads one too many times.

The grace will keep getting weaker by small increments. He can tell now, as, an hour after he starts to get really nervous, his palms finally start sweating, too.

He still can’t decide if he’s gonna blow out like a lightbulb or if the grace is gonna slide away quietly or if he really needs Cas to perform major surgery to separate him from it.

Still can’t decide. Still just doesn’t know the right course of action.

And that’s scary, you know? Because he might show this place to Cas and say this stupid thing that – in all raw and frightening honesty – he is dying to say... and then he could croak. Or fade out. Or get consumed by the grace going supernova.

He could have died a million times, though. And sometimes he did. And sometimes he didn’t.

And there’s something more powerful about saying this kinda shit to somebody you love, regardless of what could drive the nail into your coffin, than even stopping to say, “I love you.”

“Thank you,” Cas responds. “You don’t have to say anything, yet. It feels like you almost want this to be a surprise. I haven’t gone looking for it in your head.”

“I—thanks. I kinda figured.” Cas has always known his boundaries better than Dean has. Dean always had to peek in the wrapping paper and tape it back up before anyone noticed. He’s flipped to the end of books and put them down because he doesn’t want to feel the tragic fucking ways they’d drag him to the epilogue.

Cas is full of patience, though. Eons of patience. So much so that if they were still just holding hands, if Dean didn’t move for more, didn’t kiss him or touch him, Cas would have quit holding his hand by the time they got home and let Dean move on with his life, no commentary at all. No rubbing it in his face. No grasping, trying to get it back for himself. He would never take what wasn’t on offer.

He feels Dean’s clammy hands, now, and tactfully moves to reach over the back for a drink and cracks it open while Dean steers with both hands, airing his palms out. They share the cool bottle and Dean wipes the condensation on his jeans.

“I- just. Um. Tell me if you’re sweating because of this or because you feel feverish, because I’m still trying to gauge symptoms of-”

“I’m not gonna explode,” Dean promises. “I’m gonnnnaaaaa... puke, maybe, but it’s not grace-related. I’m, like, positive of that shit.”

“You could always,” Cas shrugs. “Breathe. And not panic about it.”

“I’m over here trying that, yeah,” he literally rolls down the window a ways to get some more air circulation in here.

He thinks for a while, as Cas gives him a little more room on the front seat.

Dean immediately wants him closer. He doesn’t want Cas to assume he isn’t wanted or desired. He doesn’t want to wrestle with this or have Cas treat him with caution like he’s waiting for him to freak out.

He will freak out if they make this more complex than it actually is. Sometimes people just fucking find somebody and it doesn’t have to be a conflicted, emotional mess. Just. Good emotions. Why not just the good emotions??

“This isn’t the kinda shit that gets better on its own,” Dean finally puts it into words. “You can’t let me just keep my distance and be, you know, typically me and hold myself away from this for my own bullshit ego. How is that gonna help you? How am I gonna figure out what you need and what you like and how much I should do for you?” He holds his hand back out across the seat. “Don’t spare me the pressure. I think we both know you gotta kick my ass to get a message across. I need the pressure.”

Cas nods and takes his hand again. “Pressure does produce change. If you want to change, that’s one-”

“I have to,” he insists. “Look, agree or disagree, it’s me who just risked starting a whole new apocalypse, alright? People are in Hell because of me, beasts are on the loose because of me. I watched-” Fuck. “I watched Michael beat you and Sam with my hands. We put Sam in front of Lucifer again – a few times, now. We keep risking everything in the same damn ways. It’s us. We have to change – I have to change. And. Maybe that means I stop hunting but maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe I give my focus back to my family and stop making the entire world’s problems my problems.”

Cas huffs a laugh which stings a little. “It’s not like you’ve been challenging the world to a fight at every opportunity, Dean. It’s the world that keeps knocking people over and forcing you to stand them back up on their feet.”

Dean sighs. “You know I’m gonna have to tell Sam you just basically said he’s a victim of repeated cow tipping.”

“For as ruthless and bloody as you often need to be. Dean? It’s because you’re saving people. Doing battle in the ways they can’t. I know you want the cycle to stop – I do, too. But I don’t think you’re going to stop all evil by... effectively ignoring it?”

“No! I know! I’m just saying—look. All I’m thinking. Aw...” aw shit. He realizes. “Fuck. It sounds stupid,” he unconsciously decreases speed, not even sure why he’s pushing the point. Just suddenly sure it was a dumb idea.

“It’s not a dumb idea,” Cas heaves a sigh and rolls his eyes with his entire head.

“You said you weren’t looking in my head!!” Dean practically squawks.

“You want to love someone in a house. A home. A place without memories of torture. You don’t want to resign yourself to living in the foxhole you’re fighting from. Dean. That’s perfect. That’s something you deserve. You love the bunker and you love your life – as hard as it is. You’re allowed to change your mind and be with me and you’re allowed to want a home again. It’s not a dumb idea,” Cas repeats.

If he stares down the road and lets that sink in, if he can accept that Cas loves him and wants this for him, it really does sound less and less absurd.

He wants it to make sense. Wants something in this damn, whacked-out life to make sense. Have something be intuitive that isn’t weapons maintenance or hand-to-hand combat.

Cas is intuitive when it comes to them fighting together. He can toss a knife and know Dean will catch it. Time used to be where Dean could trust Cas to fly at the exact right moment, too. He ain’t as good a runner as he was a flier, but his human fighting skills still match Sam’s or Dean’s for aim and efficiency.

It just fucking feels like there’s no good reason why this can’t be natural and equal, too. A fresh start in the same place would be-

“I could show you,” Cas says, just loud enough to be heard. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, though, so soon after you had Michael blinding and choking you. But I could show you how good this is, Dean. How it feels and what it means to me and how much I want to experience with you. If you actually want to see the images so that you know, then I will show you,” he offers.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. They’ve got destiny in a stranglehold again. Cas wasn’t even supposed to be slumming it down here for so long. Dean was supposed to let Michael have him years ago and duke it out to the death with Lucifer after Sam said ‘yes.’ Jack was never meant to be. If Amara didn’t owe them big-time for her thousand-year rage, Mom wouldn’t be here today.

On and on. Punching destiny in the gut round after round.

Dean wasn’t meant to have this kinda shot with anybody, probably. Least of all Cas.

“You want coffee, Cas?” Dean breathes and squeezes his hand.

“Last time we stopped to eat, the universe tried to force another newborn on us,” he wavers. “But. Yes.”

“Still a hell of a drive,” Dean warns him.

“I don’t mind.” He squeezes back. “I don’t ever mind.”


It’s a ways past the Colorado border. And the sale sign on the property has only changed twice. The current sign is falling off one side of the post, sun-baked and teetering.

Maybe there’s something wrong with the soil, for farmland like this to sit overgrown and unclaimed for so long. That or a land dispute. Maybe an estate tied up in a good, old-fashioned family feud.

The house was white, once. Between freezes and thaws and all the latest record-breaking summers, it’s baked out, too. But Dean stopped here once, to breathe and think. A long time ago, when the Mark was fresh in his arm and he was genuinely frightened for himself. He wandered the broken old rooms, some of them microcosms of the grassland outside, in all directions, far as the eye can see to the north, east, and west; Wheeler to the distant south.

He wandered through the wood and rot and the vines sneaking through the cracks and he saw the good old bones of the house. He didn’t dare to fantasize about fixing it up and slapping paint on it and living there. Not until he was loaded up with souls and about to go nuclear.

He said goodbye to it all, to Cas and Sam and went to do the job.

He never thought it’d be possible to stand in front of this house and ask anyone to call it home with him.

“I always thought,” he swallows. “I always thought it was one of two things, you know? I always thought it was gonna be, like me and someone I lost my shit over. Someone I had a one-night-stand with, maybe, and there she is, knocked up, and there I am saying, ‘alright, let’s do this, I’m ready,’ and, you know - never being ready but doing it anyway.” He takes a deep breath. “Or. Me and Sam in the bunker. Driving back the evil in the world. I slip one day and get my ass kicked. Or I lose Sam and can’t handle it and eat a bullet the day after. You know.” He shakes his head.

They stand just outside of the house’s shadow, the summer morning starting to buzz and hum. Cas presses his lips together and nods once. The worry on his face is borderline sadness and so Dean’s just gotta plow on through this.

“So. I don’t think it’s either of those things, now,” Dean admits.

“No?”

“No, Cas,” he loses his voice and loses his new plot and loses all the words he was gonna say. Just steps in and presses their heads together. Kisses him and decides to say this all at once. “I think we should live here. I think we rebuild the place. I think you live here with me and I give you a home up until the day you can’t stand being in a home with me.”

“So until we’re both ripped out of existence, then, is what you mean,” Cas whispers.

It sounds so good Dean wants to lick it out of his mouth.

“Can I call you my dear, grumpy old husband?” he smiles a little.

“You can call me anything. Up to and including ‘pookie,’ dude. I’m not in a position to put conditions on this shit. I’m asking you to fucking stay and not ever go.”

He loses all hint of humor, and Dean didn’t want that.

“Cas-”

“I apologize for making you think you had to ask.”

“I wanted to ask,” Dean grabs his collar and almost shakes him. “If I do this hard stuff, it might actually fucking work. If I put in the work, maybe it’ll work. Do you understand?”

“That doesn’t mean you have to rebuild a house and start mowing a lawn and start living in a farming community for me,” he shakes his head. “I want you to have what would truly make life fulfilling for-”

“Good. Fine. Cool. Then we’re also getting hitched. Don’t offer me more because I’ll take more,” he mashes their mouths together before he can say they’re also getting cats or bees or any other damn thing Cas wants. His own car. A dishwasher and a Keurig. Underground irrigation and a relationship with the neighbors. Blowjobs every night. Mandatory snow day cuddles.

Cas wouldn’t ask for any of those – it’s just what Dean knows you get when you skip over the angst and read the epilogue.


Walking into the bunker is a lot less petrifying when Jack meets them in the garage trailing a tall, dark, lean woman he can only assume is Jill. She hides around corners and Jack has to turn back and drag her to follow each time. He hugs Castiel hard enough to hurt and takes his hand to inspect it.

When he concentrates, the last bit of grey fades from Cas’s fingernails. But then he steps back and shakes his head. The bones are still blackened in his wrist. You can see it at the joints and knuckles, too. “This will take time.” He clearly doesn’t like that. “I can’t believe how far it’s come, though. What Sam described was-” too disturbing for words, evidently. Jill squeezes Jack’s arm in sympathy.

“I can try,” she offers in a bright voice. “Jack has been teaching me.”

“That’s alright. Given time I should certainly heal.” He allows Jack to hug him again and then Jack passes to Dean looking equally devastated. Doesn’t give him a choice, just collides with him and hugs hard.

“We missed you. Where have you been?!”

“Okay, alright,” he tries to pry Jack from his stranglehold. “We’re good, now, kiddo.”

Cas helps drag him back. “We met a newborn called Seven,” he explains.

“Really?! Seven – I like that,” he nods. “Where are they?”

“Um. He took the invitation to go to Heaven and stay there.”

“Oh,” Jack’s face falls again. “Well. That’s good, I guess, if he wanted to go.”

“Sometimes they just do,” Cas nods and starts ushering them back upstairs.

Jack babbles on his way up, about Mom and the other newborns and all they’ve been doing.

Cas falls a step behind and takes one of the bags from Dean’s shoulder.

It sounds weird – the bunker sounds strange with Cas’s grace and Jack’s low vibe and Jill’s high, new strain. It’s nothing like Seven's. It’s excitable and noisy. Jill doesn’t seem that way, herself, but maybe she’s just bursting at the seams with curiosity. It would explain why she stuck here with Jack.

He tries to remember the annoying ramble of Seven’s grace. He can’t recall it exactly, but he knows it was as boorish as Seven was.

It’s easy to filter out Cas’s – probably just because they’ve been sharing close quarters for days. Or maybe Cas is muting it so he doesn’t have to hear so much.

But when he tunes back into it, real careful...

“Dean.” Sam crosses to them, a little what the fuck? in his voice, but pure relief in his body language as he snags the rest of Dean’s bags, drops them and bear-hugs him. He slaps Sam’s back and lets him.

Of course, the longer he stands there, the more he realizes he was ready to come back a month ago.

And the less he wants to just leave Sam here and stay in a house without him.

But that only means that Sam shouldn’t spend the rest of his life down here, either.

This big kid was made for the sunshine.

Maybe he can mow the goddamn lawn.

True to his word, Sam makes sure nothing feels weird. Jack pulls Cas aside and he must say something about it, but Jack is careful not to act differently, either.

Actually, he isn’t. He’s not careful about it. It doesn’t even seem conscious. Just a matter of fact.

Dean is the only one on edge. The only one making it weird.

So he corners Sam in his bedroom as soon as he can.

“I’m flipping out, dude.”

“Woah-kay,” Sam pushes him further into the room and closes the door. “Why? You’re just fine, Dean. Nobody’s gonna-”

“I know! But I can’t keep it in my pants—I- I mean, you know what I mean, I couldn’t, like, shut my big fucking mouth!”

“Look,” Sam pauses. “I know none of that was meant in a perverted way, but-”

“I told him I want him to-to-to-to MOVE IN with me and when he said ‘fine okay’ I said, ‘oh, and also, we’re getting married.’ I can’t do this, man! I keep looking into his eyes and saying romantic shit! Am I the fucking biggest imposter that ever lived? What the hell am I doing??!”

Sam walks up to him deliberately.
Grabs him by the arms.
Shakes the fuck out of him.

Or tries his damnedest to.

“Hey. Breathe,” he commands. “Guess what. I got some bad news.”

His heart drops. “What?”

“You’re literally the only one who doesn’t know you’re a complete fucking romantic moron.”

Bitch!!” he objects.

“Swear to god,” Sam shakes him one more time. “Buck up, jerk, this is your wheelhouse. This is your boat. This is the big wet ocean you belong in. I have been catching you two staring at each other for years. Cas is heartbroken every time we lose you. I am so,” he clamps his eyes shut, “incredibly ready for you to embrace the hearts and flowers side.” His eyes flash open and he begs: “Please. PLEASE. Please, if it brings you any amount of happiness, just fucking let it happen. I’m saying this as someone who loves you, alright? Nobody’s gonna make a big deal out of it. I’ll black-bag ‘em and sit ‘em in the dungeon for some reprogramming if they do. Like, at this point, that’s seriously what I’m prepared to do. Please stop kicking yourself down every flight of stairs that the world builds in front of us.”

He keeps staring.
Okay???” he asks forcefully.

“Okay! Alright. Fine.”

“You got this,” he slaps Dean on the shoulder. “You killed a fucking archangel. Two archangels.”

“I got this.”

“You’re my fucking hero, you know that?” Sam stops him.

“Shut up, this is hard enough.”

“Wow, Dean, seriously?” he drops his arms, appalled. “Killing the devil? No bigs,” he frowns, shrugs dramatically. “Making out with your best friend? Torture. Having your family tell you they’re proud of you? Agony. You ever consider maybe you’re fucked up and you need to shut your mouth and let us straighten you out?”

He struggles with this. “Uh. Yeah, no, not exactly. Not until now, I guess?”

Sam rolls his eyes. “Alright, you know what?”

Dean sighs.

He snags Dean’s collar and looks at the burns down his neck.

Dean flinches. But lets him. For a few seconds before trying to dodge out of the way.

“Cas texted me about your exorcism.”

“Um. Yeah. Yeah that wasn’t cool.”

“So. He’s moving in with you?” Sam lets go of his collar.

“But, well. Not here. There’s this... this place near Wheeler.”

Sam nods, “Good.”

He blinks. “But it’s a haul. It’s like two hours, plus.”

“That’s not a haul. You’ve driven further for Cajun peanuts. So this is the plan: Ready?”

“Apbh-” he reels for a second. “Do I have a choice?”

“No, you have to shut up and let us straighten you out,” Sam completely blows him off. “First we’re gonna do some experiments. I’ve been reading – I’m not sure I trust Michael’s grace, still, you know?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know about it, either,” he finally turns and crashes to a sit at Sam’s desk. “Experiments?”

“Jack has some ideas. And if I don’t like what I see, we’re gonna have to think about extracting the grace somehow.”

He grimaces. “Cas was sorta thinking the same thing.”

Sam nods. “Great minds. After we figure that part out, I think you and Cas step out and do an experiment, too. See if you can live three hours out without pinging off the walls. Maybe we start making Men of Letters out of these newborns and the folks Bobby’s running with. But our style – our rules. No torture, no shortcuts. Build ourselves some reliable back-up. Hit the road when we want to and hang back when we don’t,” Sam settles to sit on his bed. “Imagine it, Dean. What if we...” he takes a deep, cleansing breath. “What if our names don’t die when we die? We killed the devil. We’re sorting this shit out one massive problem at a time. You were always right about that – we’re leaving this place better than we found it. But, Dean – what if we stopped and took the credit for it? Just a little,” he motions. “I wanna see that, truthfully. Man, I want everyone to know what you saved them from. It was big. It was the biggest thing in my life to see that...” he flinches and shakes his head and his eyes skitter away because it will never not be hard to remember what he’s seen. “To see that happen. To know that we’re safe, now.”

Dean nods. He understands that. But, “I guess I don’t exactly know what you’re gettin’ at though, Sammy.”

He shifts and nods and takes a second. “We operate under the radar, right? Against the law and spend so much fucking time justifying ourselves to a world that needs to be saved from the big-bads, but has no idea why. Look, I’m not saying everybody has to be grateful for what we do, but why does somebody like Claire have to live under the radar?” he challenges. “Jody shouldn’t have to break the law to keep protecting her town from what they don’t acknowledge is there. Mom should be able to live her life out in the sun someday, right? So should you,” he points out. “You and Cas, Mom, Bobby, all of us. We deserve to put the guns down and leave work at work like everybody else. So I’m saying. Just. Thinking out loud, here.” He shrugs. “Sorta been thinking about it for a while, um.” He hesitates one more time. “What if we started coming out of the shadows? What if we clue the world in? Publish the texts that hunters have left for us and show the world what we know and make it alright for future generations. Make it so this life isn’t harder than it needs to be. I mean, Dean. Most every country has an organized military. They get praised for sacrificing themselves for god and country whenever they sign up. You saved the world. Maybe I just want people to recognize what we’ve done for them. What Mom and Dad sacrificed. What Cas has given up for us. What our friends have died for.”

That’s strange coming from him.
But maybe it shouldn’t be.

Sam never wanted to live in hiding, crawling through the gutters doing the work that the normies didn’t know how to do.

Where are the monuments to people like Ellen and Jo, who gave too much of themselves for the fight against Lucifer? Like with Dad and Bobby - they give their people a hunter’s funeral when they can and an unmarked grave or a stone pile or a shoddy stick cross. They have to mourn these people in silence while the world only remembers them as rogues and criminals.

He shouldn’t have had to just move on when Sam flung himself in the cage. He should have been able to mourn him and tell his story. He knows it as a fact, but has never claimed a right to put it into practice.

Maybe Dean gets himself a house and Sam gets the sunshine back.

“Tall order,” he has to say it. They have to acknowledge that. “And I don’t necessarily want people in my business. I mean. You have to consider, maybe people are better off not knowing how bloody it can get. That’s all I’m saying.”

“But, Dean, they’re getting newborns dropped on them all over the planet, now. Michael made miracles or plagues or chaos happen in almost every country. Whipped up a following that still won’t be denied – there are still nutjobs out there trying to cleanse the world in his name.”

“Fuck.”

“No – I know. Dude, it’s got nothing to do with you, you gotta believe me. These people had their cups at the ready. Mike just poured the Kool-Aid, he didn’t mix it. My point is, that there are undeniable facts all around them, now, so I just feel like, even with Michael gone, there’s still a risk that the whole world could come to this realization without preparation. They did on the other Earth – the apocalypse world. Bobby told me about it. It snuck up and bit them in the ass. Now, we’ve got the archangels out of the way, but we’ve got new angel stock. A lot of them are sticking around and we can teach plenty of ‘em how to act, but there are still—like the guy you took to the sandbox.”

“Seven. A bunch of jerks ready and willing to join the prick army.”

Sam points. Exactly. “And with Lucifer, Asmodeus and Crowley down, we still don’t know how the ranks have shifted in Hell. We find out the hard way, and...” he trails off. An infinite set of horrifying possibilities. They don’t know how many more kings and dukes and knights are down there, clawing to get out of their cages with nobody there to check the locks.

“You’re saying, maybe a few new hunters, a few new Men of Letters isn’t gonna be enough if we don’t know what’s coming.”

“We don’t know, Dean. We really fucking don’t. It strike you that it’s a little too quiet out there, since you started sweeping up?”

Everything they bumped into was a product of Michael, so yeah. The weak demon, the beast, the newborn. The demons and creatures he was putting down before were byproducts of the Glory Tour, too. Frenzied vampires who were suddenly worried about their food supply running dry if an apocalypse should rain down. Different ranks of demons taking susceptible people whose lives had been crushed in Michael’s wake. Ghosts that were angry Michael’s new reapers were forcibly ending their extended stay on Earth.

Other than that? Yeah. No normal cases to be found.

Sam’s probably right. Hell is the big missing piece out of this puzzle. They have no way of knowing if the asshole who wears the crown will be a devil they know or a devil they don’t.

“Seems like I ought to stay powered-up, if that’s the case,” Dean rolls the heel of his boot on the floor. “If I can get away with it.”

Something in Sam’s face says he doesn’t think so. But he nods and he says, “Maybe. We’ll see.” He’s quiet for a moment. “Not gonna let you die on me again. Not ever again. In fact? I think I’m gonna force you to go home at the end of the day. I think I’m gonna watch you get old and get fucking mortified when you geezers flirt in front of me.”

Dean’s gotta grin.
‘Cause that part of the plan he’s suddenly damn sure he can get on board with.


So, the Epilogue:

Sam got his experiments. And now they’re in a tiff because Dean doesn’t like what he’s concluded.

To be fair, he said something stupid and drove the three hours out, making it in two and a quarter he was so fucking annoyed.

He feels like a dick about all of it, too.

Dean’s working on the property again, today. He was before, too, but New Charlie has a different set of magic than Original Charlie and she used it to charm the landowners into giving up their claim over the estate and letting Dean buy it for a pittance.

Rowena was involved and he doesn’t want to know how. In fact, he doesn’t want to know how any of that works between them, but another thing he gets to be pissed about, today, is that they’re gonna start getting hourly updates from her and her new little witch crew.

They’re going to infiltrate Hell to find out what kind of chaos currently reigns. It could get messy and Jack is worried about everyone; the kid doesn’t care where their original allegiances lined up.

He’s fucking annoyed because Sam wants to take the grace.
He’s fucking annoyed because Cas wants that too.
He’s fucking annoyed because Cas wants him to have the grace removed, but he won’t take it to repair his wings and finish fixing his burned bones.

And Dean’s really fucking annoyed with himself for leaving Cas at the bunker with Jack and Jill and not telling him where he was going.

He sends out a prayer. And shortly after hears a car outside.

It’s not like Cas didn’t know. But he’s out there hesitating because he isn’t sure Dean wants to see him yet.

Motherfucker is gonna learn, someday, that the problem was never with wanting to see him. It was with not wanting to let him leave, afterwards.

Dean and Cas have stripped and rebuilt and walled in and completely fixed the rooms in the house. They’ll steadily work on the rest of it, the looks of it, the porch and the wild yard and all that extra stuff. He wanted the front door painted, today, though. Just so it looks like there’s some life in the place. He puts his paintbrush down and grabs a towel to wipe off his hands as he walks out front. Comes to open Cas’s car door.

“C’mon,” he nods towards the house.

He hesitates, circling his keys around his finger because he doesn’t want to say it again. That if they have the grace in hand, he won’t take it. He won’t use it to fix himself.

Dean comes around the car door and reaches in and unbuckles him and takes his hands and fucking stands him up. Crowds him against the side and holds him tight. Kisses his head and his mouth.

Uses his hands to think at him real hard. Thinks about what he won’t say out loud and how he’ll never-ever be so fucking bent out of shape that it’ll make him need distance.

They had years of distance. Fuck distance.

“Sorry I didn’t grab you before I left. I’m sorry,” he makes sure to say it to his face. He makes sure to say it and mean it and take fucking note so it’s not an apology he has to give again.

“You’re stressed, I understand.”

Dean shakes his head and waits.

Cas takes a breath. “Thank you. I’d appreciate a warning from now on.”

“Okay.” He gets another kiss and kinda wants to just collapse against him, but it’s only noon and he’s gotta start getting his sleep schedule back on track, now that he’s sleeping four hours a night, finally.

It’s been a few months. He can’t help but worry that there won’t be enough left when they pull the grace from him. If they even can. He’s started to wonder if maybe it’s too deeply embedded.

Or that it all could be wishful thinking.

Really, he’s still fucked up about it. Still not sure if he’d prefer to keep the grace and stay strong for his family as long as he can, or if he’d rather yank it out and beg Cas to take it.

He’d beg. He’s leaning towards begging.

Castiel tugs his hand to stop him at the top step, high up on the porch. “Dean,” he starts, hesitant. “I don’t think the grace would do what you hope. We can’t know that it would do anything for my wings or my... rank or my own grace or my strength. We just can’t know.”

Dean blows out a breath and looks out across the yard to the shoddy old road. “Yeah. Can’t know a lot of things. Can’t know I’ll stay alive.”

“You will.”

He shrugs. “If you insist.”

“I do.”

Cas doesn’t add anything to that and the wind takes a sharp turn. Blows warm over them. Blows the hum of insects away, blows in the great-big outside smell like the mountains out west are all settled in and ready to shed the heat, settle into their snow caps again.

When they first rolled up here so Dean could show Cas the hollowed-out old house, he was just starting to feel this way. His heart was just starting to fall into Cas’s grip where it now sits entirely.

He would give anything to this one person. This one being. He would give anything.

Sometimes Cas just won’t take what he thinks he can spare. What he thinks he should give.

The house, from how it looks here on the porch, tattered and worn and in need of some serious love – that’s how Cas’s wings looked when Dean saw them through Michael’s eyes.

Every inch of Cas’s self was incredible, anyway.

He carries all they’ve done to him. All they’ve done for each other. All he’s learned from humanity. He’s let his love for all this be reflected in his form. His body.

Cas said I do, as in he is very fucking serious about keeping him kicking.

Dean knows what that was and how loaded the words were, but he’s gonna kiss him on the front porch like they just got married, anyway, because they live under the law and he just always wanted someone to say “I do” to him.

Done fucking warned him already they were as good as hitched so it just serves him right. He’s now officially participating in Dean’s happily-ever-after fantasy.

He’ll get used to it.

“We should talk it through,” he says, because he wants to give Cas all of himself, even the thoughts and words he’s reluctant to voice.

It takes him a slow moment to give a full grin. To hear everything through their pressed skin and conclude that there really isn’t gonna be an argument or final, my-way-or-the-highway declaration.

Compromises. Figuring out what they can live with and what they can’t abide by.

He turns Dean to take his overshirt off. To pull his hand down his ashen arm and take his hand. Draw him into the hall and head inside with him.

Dean lets Cas convince him that it’s time to let Sam try to extract the grace.

Cas lets Dean swipe the paint roller over his nose and doesn’t even blink.

Then he lets Dean convince him to take some of the grace and seal the rest up. Just a taste to see what it will do.

A little give, a little take.

Cas presses in to kiss him and swipes his wet nose over Dean’s cheek. “You just want to give me my wings back.”

He does.

That ain’t all he wants to give, though. He always wants to give more.

But if he gives it to Cas, from here on out, he knows the world won’t eat it up and waste it.

A real home, then. Him and Cas lifting walls and doing impossible shit until he starts accidentally having a full sleep schedule and his body rests and rights itself.

Cas will let him have that one thing. Plant that kernel of archangel grace in him and see if his wings grow back. Maybe it will take a decade or more, but that just gives them time to recognize that they aren’t going anywhere – not anywhere – without one another.