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Adventures in Love and Grieving

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“Lame.”

“No, man, it’s not. And I really think it’ll help.”

“Pouring my heart out to strangers who are probably the same age as Grandpa. Do you even know me? Fuck, Sam.”

“Dean, this is different. I talked to the guy who runs it, and he seemed really cool. No one is the same age as Grandpa.”

“And what’s the point of all this?”

“The point is to be with other people who understand what you’ve been through.”

Dean scoffs. No one understands what he’s been through. “What’s the use in that? We all gonna cry in a big circle? Meditate? Maybe Ouija our dearly departed?”

“Dean.” Sam rubs his face in irritation. “Just look.” Sam shoves a flyer from his doctor’s office in his face.

Adventures in Grieving

A group of people who gather to challenge each other to live every day to the fullest. Group members meet to discuss and then implement their own adventures, large and small, with the support of others.

If you are grieving and would like to feel like you’re living again, join us.

FMI: Take a phone number below and give Cas (he/him) or Charlie (she/her) a call.

“Adventures. So, what, field trips to the graveyard or some shit?”

“Dean.”

“Well I don’t know, Sam!”

“According to Cas, the guy I talked to, they set up things that members want to do and then go out and do them. Like, sometimes it’s camping or going to a restaurant or whatever, and other times it’s, like, bungee jumping.”

Dean’s forehead wrinkles. “Bungee jumping?”

“Yup.”

“So when do they actually talk about the dead people or how sad they are all the time? There’s gotta be talking if you want me to do it.”

Sam sighs. “They talk, but he said they don’t force it to happen. He said when it does, it’s...organic. Like it just happens naturally. It’s not forced.” Sam hunches forward, his giant upper body supported by his elbows on his thighs. “I’ll go with you. I really think this could help.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine and we both know it. I think it might be helpful to be with other people who get what it’s like and can help you get through it, you know?”

“What, am I not getting over it fast enough for you? Should I go and get laid, maybe invite someone to live with me?”

“Dean, just—just think about it.”

“I’m fine with you and Jess.”

“You barely even talk to us anymore. Besides, we haven’t been through this the same way you have. We loved her, of course, but it’s not quite the same for us. We didn’t lose a spouse.”

“I didn’t ‘lose’ her. She died.”

“Sorry. Dean, come on. Please. I just want you to feel...better than you do, I guess. I miss you.”

Rolling his eyes, Dean says, “I’ll think about it.” He shoves the flyer aside. “Are we done the heart-to-heart yet?”

“Yeah.” Sam stands, a resigned look settling in his eyes and the set of his mouth. “But please, please think about it? Don’t just say you will?”

“Yeah, yeah, fine.”

“Thanks, Dean,” Sam whispers as he leans down to give him a hug.  

“Whatever,” Dean grumbles, squirming and pushing out of his brother’s arms.

This has been their relationship for a while now—Sam pestering him about “getting over” his wife’s death and Dean avoiding him as much as possible because he’s sick of hearing it. Sam pesters him about this group too, of course. Dean has to threaten to forget the whole thing for Sam to leave him alone. When he drops it with one final plea, Dean thinks that maybe that’ll be the end of it. And it is, from his brother. But it’s not the end of it from the little voice in his mind.

It’s not healthy. You know it’s not. She wouldn’t want to see you retreating into yourself.

Yeah, well, she’s not here, is she?

Retreating into himself is the thing he’s done best over the last nine months. Nine months. Enough time for us to have a baby, and instead she’s dead and I’m alone. He works, of course, because he has to and because, frankly, it helps him forget. Plus, he does enjoy his work. It’s ironic, he supposes, that he helps others decorate their houses to make them feel like home when his own house feels like anything but.

The damn flyer stares him in the face, taunting him. Every time he makes to throw it away, though, something stops him. Whether it’s a sense of guilt, self-preservation, or maybe even hope, he’s not sure. But he keeps it around. And finally, he decides fuck it because he can say he tried, at the very least, and he won’t feel guilty every time Sam stares at him with those damn puppy eyes. According to Sam the group usually meets on Thursday nights, so on Thursday morning he texts him, secretly hoping maybe he won’t be available and Dean can put this off (he sure as hell isn’t going alone—if Dean has to suffer, so does Sam).

To Sam 9:33am: I’ll go

To Dean 9:33am: Tonight?

To Sam 9:35am: I guess, if you’re available

To Dean 9:35am: Yes. I’ll pick you up at 6:30.

So much for Sam not being available. Dean sighs and agrees, then gets back to work, absorbing himself in various shades of chintz curtains. The time passes much too fast.

“Kind of dressy for a grief group, isn’t it?” Sam comments when he arrives, looking at Dean’s tan suit.

“It’s this or that,” he snarks, pointing to the worn track pants and threadbare Rolling Stones t-shirt draped over the chair in his bedroom.

“Ugh, no. Those reek.”

“Do not.”

“Dean, you wear them all the time when you’re not dressed for work.” He sighs. “I know you own jeans and nice casual shirts. You don’t have to rotate between the ‘sleek professional’ and ‘slovenly pothead’ looks all the time. You can dress the way you used to. Nice. Comfortable.”

He doesn’t know how to explain that he hasn’t felt ‘nice’ or ‘comfortable’ in a long time, and that the only way he’s going to feel okay with these new people is if he feels a little above them. The suit helps him with that. “Sam, I’m dressed. What more do you want? Let’s go.”

They pull up to a coffee shop called Wing and a Prayer. The atmosphere is cozy and calming, yet it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. It’s filled with pottery, photos, and other stuff from local artists that get Dean’s mind turning. Some of this stuff would really speak to some of his clients.

“Hey,” Sam greets the shorter man at the counter. “Um, we’re looking for, uh...” he glances at Dean uncertainly, then back at the man, who’s wearing a black apron with a golden wing embroidered on it. “Well, um. We’re here for—”

“Looking for Cas and Charlie?” the man asks kindly.

“Yes,” Sam smiles with a sigh of relief. Dean rolls his eyes and stares at the floor as he stands with his arms folded.

“Straight thataway,” he points. There’s a colorful, beaded curtain between sliding panel doors that leads to what Dean assumes is a private room, and there’s a lot of laughter coming from the other side. He raises his brows and looks at Sam, who has the same look on his face. “Anything to eat or drink? I’ll bring it back for ya. No obligation, though. You can go in without buying anything.”

The brothers order coffee (black decaf for Dean because caffeine is bad for the body) and Dean orders apple slices to go with it—it’ll be good to have something in each hand so that if they call on him to share his feelings he can stuff an apple slice or ten in his mouth. They pay the man, whose name tag reads “Gabriel,” then head toward the curtain. Taking deep breaths and one final glance at each other, they part the curtains and step inside.

Multiple heads turn their way, and Dean already feels like he wants to crawl back under the rock he’s been hiding under. “Hi! Welcome!” a young woman with bright red hair calls out, coupling her greeting with a huge smile and an enthusiastic wave. They receive more smiles and waves from the others, and a dark-haired guy stands to get them chairs.

“Hello,” the guy says. He’s tall, though shorter than Sam (everyone is), with striking blue eyes. He’s wearing holey jeans and a gray, faded Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse t-shirt. “I’m Cas. Come on in.”

“Sam,” his brother says, offering his hand, which Cas takes. “This is my brother, Dean.”

“Hey,” Dean says, nodding while keeping his hands tucked in his pockets. It doesn’t seem to faze the guy.

“Hello Sam, Dean. Have a seat. We’ll do introductions. Pay attention, because there’s a quiz at the end.” The corner of his mouth quirks into a smile. They sit just as Gabriel comes in with their order, his disdain for the apples clear in the arched brow he gives Dean. Dean scowls in return, then takes a grateful sip of his coffee, happy to have a distraction from what he’s sure will be an awkward round of “Hi, my name is blank and my dead loved one’s name was blank.”

The redhead starts. Her name is Charlie. Next to her is a dark-haired, middle-aged woman named Linda. Next to Linda is a tough-looking, mustached guy named Cesar. Next to him is an equally tough-looking but not mustached woman named Jody, who also looks middle-aged, and next to her is a younger blond woman named Donna. They sit close together. Next to Donna is an even younger man with dark, close-cropped hair named Max, next to him is another redhead, this one older and named Rowena, and next to her is Cas, who seems to be the leader. All of them simply give their names, which is a relief. When it comes around to Sam, he goes into his life story, telling them about his wife and his job. They sit politely and listen. When Dean’s turn comes, he’s not sure what to say. Is he supposed to spill his guts since he’s the new guy, or not? Since he doesn’t want to spill his guts, he simply gives his name. No one seems to expect more, so he relaxes minutely.

“Okay, so for your benefit, Sam and Dean, and as a good reminder for all of us, I’ll go over the basics,” Cas starts. “One, this is not a therapy group. None of us are therapists or pretend to be. We are simply a group of people who have the death of someone we loved in common. Two, you never have to talk about the death of your loved one or how you’re feeling, ever. Three, if you do want to talk, you’re free to do so. You can also let us know what, if anything, you want from us. You can let us know if you welcome questions or sharing, or if you just want an ear. Four, although we do set up adventures for ourselves, you’re not obligated to go, nor are you obligated to set up your own challenge or adventure. And finally, we ask that whatever is said here stays between us unless someone’s in danger. That’s it.”

Dean’s muscles relax a bit more. He, for one, is relieved that he doesn’t have to say a damn word about, well, anything. Sam looks a little more doubtful, but whatever. He can suck it.

“So,” Cas continues, “does anyone have anything they want to talk about?”

“Ooh, me!” the younger red-haired woman cries out way too enthusiastically for someone who’s grieving their dead loved one. “I became Queen!”

The group cheers her enthusiastically, clapping as she stands and dances in a circle, pumping her arms up and down. Dean looks at Sam and tries to communicate What the hell did you get me into? with only the power of his mind. It works well enough for Sam to shrug.

“For our newcomers, Charlie?” Cas smiles at the redhead, tilting his head toward Sam and Dean.

“Oh! Right! Well, I accomplished a very important life goal. I became Queen of Moondoor.” When they give her blank stares, she elaborates, “It’s for a live-action role-playing thing I do.”  

“Ohhh,” the brothers say together. Dean’s heard of LARP (LARPing?) but never met anyone who does it. He’s curious, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to act interested. They might start asking him questions. He does nod politely, though, and that seems enough for her.

A few of the others share mundane things they did that week—making a meal for one, going to a grad school class, listening to five minutes of country music—and they’re met with more encouragement and enthusiasm. Jeez, does everyone get a gold star just for living?

“Alright, so we have an adventure coming up…” Cas looks at the short-haired woman. Josie. No, Jody.

“A trampoline park,” she clarifies. She smiles, tight-lipped, and the blonde takes her hand and squeezes it.

“Great. Jody, would you like some support?” Cas asks. She nods. “And what kind of support would you like us to offer?”

“Just...well, if some of you don’t mind coming along so I don’t look like a damn fool bouncing around all by myself with a bunch of kids, I’d appreciate that.”

“When do you want to go?”

“Saturday. No, Sunday. Sunday afternoon. Just for an hour. Three o’clock.”

“Alright. Is anyone available and able to support Jody?”

Almost everyone’s hands, including Cas’, go up. Even Sam’s goes up. The lady next to the Queen of Whatever is the only person other than Dean and Jody whose hand is not up. “I’m sorry,” the lady apologizes, followed by a sharp inhale and a hand to her mouth.

“Oh no, no, you take care of you, honey,” Jody says in response. “No guilt.” They offer brief, stoic nods to each other.

Cas thanks everyone, and Jody offers up the location of the trampoline park. With that, the meeting breaks. The rest of the group gives hugs to each other, Jody and Laina—no, Linda—Jody and Linda holding on longer and tighter than the others, and the older redhead joining in for a three-way embrace. Dean wonders what the story is there.

Each of the members of the group approach Dean and Sam to thank them for coming by and with hopes to see them next time. Dean is fairly certain their sentiments are genuine, though he has no clue why.

The Queen with the dude name and Cas are the only two left by the time they talk to everyone else. “Hey, I’m Charlie! So glad you guys could make it!” the Qu—Charlie squeals as she approaches. He’s glad she introduced herself again. So many names. “Is a hug okay? You’re welcome to say no.”

Sam agrees easily. Despite her size, Charlie dominates the hug, wrapping her entire tiny body around Sam. It looks...nice.

“How about you, Dean? Again, totally okay to say no, even if I am the Queen, which I know is intimidating.”

Dean can’t help but smile at her cheekiness, which he doesn’t do much of these days. “Sure,” he says, opening his arms. She claps her hands in delight before enveloping him in a hug so comforting, he almost forgets to let go. She doesn’t seem to mind. He finally does, loosening his grip and stepping back.

“You guys give the best hugs!” she squeaks. “Thank you both for coming. Here’s my number if you ever need it”—she hands them business cards—“and don’t be shy about using it! I’m totally down with chatting about anything! Oh! Here comes Cas! I have to run, but I’ll see you on Sunday at the trampoline park, Sam, and hopefully I’ll see both of you next week!” She bounces away as Cas approaches, the two of them slapping hands as they pass.

“She has the energy of eight toddlers, doesn’t she?” Cas grins, looking after her before bringing his attention back to the brothers. “I just wanted to thank you both for coming. We were happy to have you, and I’m certain I speak for everyone when I say that we really appreciate you not asking all the details about our grief today. It’s kind of strange to tell others we just met about something so personal to each of us.”

“I’m sorry, but isn’t talking the point?” Sam asks at the same time Dean swats his brother and says, “See? Told you that shit’s awkward!”

“Learning how to feel alive is the point,” Cas answers Sam, then turns to Dean and agrees that yes, that shit’s awkward. Dean’s relieved that this guy Cas seems pretty cool. “Although I will tell you, Sam, that on Sunday you may see some sharing of emotion. I don’t know about words. Or there may be no emotional expression at all. Grief is funny like that.”

“Oh.” Sam seems baffled, though Dean’s been trying to explain this to him for months. He’s never lost anyone significant to him, except for Mom, but he was just a baby and doesn’t actually remember her, so maybe he doesn’t get it. Dean feels validated by Cas’ response, glad that someone else seems to understand.

“Just roll with it. Jody will tell us what, if anything, she needs from us. Sometimes just being there is enough. We’re there to witness the adventure that the person in mourning is undertaking and support them in whatever way they need. We’re not there to fix their grief and ‘make them better.’”

“Oh,” Sam says again.

“I know it might not seem like it works, but it does.” Cas smiles and nods as he picks up his mug, tucking it into Sam’s and stacking them both into Dean’s, which he then places atop Dean’s plate before leading them toward the beaded curtain. Dean, still thinking about how different Sam and Cas are in their understanding of grief, realizes too late that the group leader is picking up after him. He grabs the bowl of creamers and the jar of honey left on the table and hurries to follow.

“So thank you again,” Cas says after accepting the contents of Dean’s hands with a smile and walking them to the door. “I hope to see you again, but if I don’t, I wish you all the best. Also, if you have any questions about the group or just want to connect, here’s my card.” He hands them business cards, as Charlie did. “Reach out anytime. Sam, I will see you on Sunday. Please, please call me if you decide not to come. People not showing up when we expect them is kind of a big deal for us. Dean, if you change your mind about the trampoline park, feel free to stop by.” He smiles as he waves goodbye to them, then locks the door behind them.

As he gets ready for bed that night, Dean pulls the business cards from his jeans—Charlie’s, a drawing of her with nerdy glasses in front of an old Tandy computer with the words Wham! Bang! Pow! in starbursts floating around it, and Cas’, a cartoon of him at some sort of drawing table—and stares at them for a while. He puts them down on the end table next to the framed photo of him and Missy at Sam and Jess’ wedding a year and a half ago, then picks them back up and hovers them over the trash can next to the bed. “What do you think, Miss? Should I go back or just forget the whole thing?” he asks the photo. He smirks a moment later. “Yeah, of course you’re on their side. Night, Miss.” He tosses them in the trash and climbs into bed.

But he can’t deny that, for once, he feels something other than emptiness in his heart.

Chapter Text

Cas finishes cleaning up from the Adventures in Grieving meeting and heads upstairs to his apartment above the shop his brother owns. Some days he loves living above the bakery, especially when he can smell the pastries baking when he awakens. He also hasn’t paid for coffee or tea since he moved in. That’s been nice. Other days the space feels too small, like all the walls are closing in. But the house felt huge, like the walls yawned into a vast nothingness. That was probably worse. And the smell in the house, once something called “plumeria,” eventually became chemical and toxic, as if it seeped into the walls. He still can’t go into the cleaning products aisle without a significant urge to vomit.

The meeting went well tonight. He’s happy for Charlie, his close friend and now the newest Queen of Moondoor. He knows that she put off a lot—everything, really—when her mother was dying. Her mother was in the dying process for some time, kept alive only by machines. Charlie herself was kept alive only by her brain’s automatic functioning and her need for an income and sustenance. Getting back into gaming and the role play activities she enjoys has been one of her goals, and she’s taken it one adventure at a time. He and the rest of the group went to her first LARPing event when she decided to go back, and it was an interesting experience. It was fun to dress up and be someone else for a while. Everyone seemed to get into it, on some level. Rowena almost seemed to be in her element, wearing a long velvet dress and acting as a witch. She was very convincing, and her lovely Scottish accent captivated those around her, like she set a spell on them. He’s happy for Cesar, Max, and Donna, too. Their smaller yet meaningful actions they took this past week were tiny triumphs in the war against despair. None of them win every battle, but all of them are determined to win the war.

Cas wonders what their newest members thought of the meeting. The two men—brothers—were both tall and classically handsome, but otherwise couldn’t be more different, at least on first impression. Sam, the one he spoke to on the phone and the taller of the two, came in with fire and optimism. His brother Dean was more icy pessimism, and quite reluctant to engage. Cas expected that. Sam mentioned that someone in Dean’s life had died and he wasn’t “coping well.” Whatever that means. As the meeting progressed, Sam seemed less convinced of the helpfulness of the group, while Dean seemed to melt ever so slightly. The poor guy looked scared to death, no pun intended. At the end, Sam still didn’t seem quite convinced. Cas got the feeling he was the kind of guy who didn’t mind talking about his feelings and didn’t understand why others couldn’t. Maybe this was just because he’s a natural emoter, or maybe it’s because he’s never felt the kind of feelings that have no real name. Dean, though, Dean knows those feelings. The evidence of them is in his clenched hands, his lined face, his dull eyes. Dean knows, and Dean, he suspects, doesn’t talk. Not easily. He hasn’t found the words yet, or he hasn’t dared to speak them, thus making them real. Dean could appreciate a group like AIG if he gives it a chance.

It’s not that the members of AIG don’t talk. They do, and sometimes that talk is of such significance, the emotions leagues deep, that it takes all of them to bring the person back to the surface. But sometimes the feelings have no words. Sometimes the feelings are so deep they can’t even be felt. They’re just there, hanging out like a virus that leaves you vaguely malaised until you’re whammied by it. That’s the purpose of the adventures—they access the unspeakable through action rather than talk. It’s probably why some people do better with art therapy or yoga. He hopes Dean will come back, and Sam too. Sam has at least agreed to come on Sunday, and he hopes that the man will not back out.

Cas undresses and turns off the lights, then slides to the middle of the bed that’s smaller yet has more room than the one he used to sleep in. He’s used to sleeping alone, though. Well, not quite alone. He has Goose, his faithful and sweet King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, who curls up between his legs. But he hasn’t slept with another human in a long time. It’s reality, at least for now. Though he’s not in a rush, he does hope to share his life with someone once again. With a pat on the head, he says goodnight to Goose and lets himself drift into sleep.

Friday is a work day, so after his one cup of coffee Cas settles at his drawing table with a mug of tea and honey (he shares that in common with Rowena, and he’s convinced it’s the only reason she stayed beyond the first meeting, her connection to the other grieving moms coming later). He spends time on his regular commercial work, then dives into a special project he loves: his Adventures in Grieving Instagram page. Though it has the same name as the group, it’s something he does alone. It’s his own way of processing the grief he still feels, or helping others identify and honor the grief they feel. Sometimes it’s educational, sometimes reflective, and sometimes it’s even funny. He has a lot of followers and has connected with some great people. It was never really meant for others, but after he posted some drawings on his own Instagram page as he was doing some anticipatory grieving and those were shared with others and became something that others appreciated, he made a separate account and it became a regular thing. It’s pulled him from the dark over and over again, the pictures speaking the thousands of words he couldn’t say.

“Hmm, what’s on my mind today?” he mutters to himself. He inhales a full breath into his lungs, then releases it as he allows his eyes to close and his mind to meander. He thinks of the brothers who came to the group. “Yes.” He puts pen to paper and starts drawing. When he’s finished, he smiles. He holds up his drawing and reads the caption to himself: Your grieving is your journey, and no one can take that from you. Yet be open to many paths, for a closed mind is a closed road. With the caption is a drawing of a man with many paths before him, some more appealing and welcoming and some less so. He suspects it speaks to both Sam’s and Dean’s issues, though he doesn’t know what they are specifically. He just recognizes Gabe and himself in the pair of men, a brother desperate for his grieving brother to be okay, and a man desperate to figure out what “okay” is anymore.

When the work is done for the day, he calls the trampoline park and speaks to the manager, who by good fortune will be there on Sunday. As often as he can, he tries to warn people that they’re coming, particularly if they may look out of place, as several adults at a trampoline park might. He asks about a private space they can occupy for a few minutes if necessary. Some places are more understanding than others, but when they realize that they might be dealing with emotional people in their places of business and that such emotion might be better expressed privately, most tend to cooperate.

Saturday is errand day. He does these alone, as usual. He’s used to this, too. Gabe has offered his support and presence, but Cas has refused every time. He doesn’t need a babysitter. Gabe seems less skittish about this than he used to be, less likely to look at him with that look. In the evening, he curls up with Goose, a movie, and a bowl of popcorn. Watching movies makes him a little melancholy sometimes. He still avoids all the damn musicals. God, he hated the musicals. He always put up with them, of course, but if he has to see Mamma Mia! one more time…. He’s never offered the few scattered dates he’s had the option of a movie, because he doesn’t want to take the chance of getting roped into a musical. He may become murderous. Or sad. Probably sad. That’s often scarier for people.

Sunday is an overcast day, which means the trampoline park is going to be mobbed. That could be good or bad, but Cas was hoping for fewer people. So many children might be tough for Jody, who will already feel a bit overwhelmed. But as they all know, life doesn’t always give you what you want.

At 2:45, he arrives at the obnoxiously bright yellow and lime green building and heads inside. He connects quickly with the manager, then waits in the parking lot for the others to arrive because he doesn’t want to look like a creep waiting at the door of a place marketed toward children. Cesar arrives first, and they chat amiably until Rowena arrives. It’s comical enough to see her in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, since for her profession she’s usually dressed to the nines, but he can’t wait to see her add the bright green socks with the grippy tread on the bottom. He tells her so and she scolds him playfully, perhaps the same way she scolded her son when he was a child. He wonders if it brings her comfort or not. Max comes next, and then, to his surprise, Sam arrives with Dean, who hadn’t been planning to come. He’s glad the man changed his mind. He just hopes it was Dean’s decision and not his brother’s.

“Welcome to your first adventure,” Cas greets them. “Thank you both for coming. Dean, you changed your mind.”

“Yeah, well,” he shrugs. He’s wearing linen shorts and a tailored, short-sleeved shirt. They look designer and much too dressy for the activity. He shifts around and tugs at his collar.

“Well, we’re glad you’re here,” Cas says when Dean doesn’t elaborate. He flashes him a quick smile and moves on so that Dean isn’t scared off by the attention.

Charlie arrives next, followed by Donna and Jody. Jody is wearing a grungy cap that might’ve been Owen’s.

“Okay,” Cas says once everyone’s assembled. “Jody, is there anything you’d like to say before your adventure?”

“Um…” She takes a slow breath and blinks rapidly, absently pulling on the bill of the cap. “I feel like I need to help myself get used to being around kids again. I love kids, but I just.... Anyway, Owen, my son, loved this place, and I was always too busy to come as often as he wanted to. I wish I had come here more. If I’d known....” She trails off and sighs.

“Are you open to conversation?” Cas asks after a moment.

“Sure.”

“I wonder about letting go of that guilt.”

She smiles, and he shoots her a knowing smile in return. They’ve had this conversation a few times. “Yeah, that too.”

“We’re here for you, Jodes,” Donna says as she rubs her arm.

Not hearing from anyone else, the group waits until Jody starts for the door. Everyone follows. Cas hangs back a bit to check in with the newer members of the group. “How are you doing?” he asks the brothers.

Sam says he’s doing fine and seems to be taking his role as support person seriously, while Dean looks uncertain and sad. He doesn’t say anything, and Cas doesn’t push.

The group pays for their admission and socks, then walks together to the trampolines. They’re all in use, though the one toward the end seems to have fewer children. Jody leads them there. She climbs up, the rest following suit. Cas keeps his attention split between her and Dean. He knows this might be difficult for Jody. He doesn’t know how difficult this will be for Dean. He doesn’t know who Dean’s grieving, and he doesn’t know how Dean handles his grief. And though it’s not a therapy group and he’s definitely no therapist, he’s driven to watch out for everyone and take care of them. It’s in his nature, and since he started the group he thinks it’s his responsibility. Dean seems okay—uncertain still but engaged to some degree, seeming more curious than anything—so Cas moves to Jody’s side.

Jody stands on the edge of the trampoline, her eyes scanning the area and stopping on children who are boys and children who are the same age her son was when he died. She watches for some time, the group simply standing with her. “What if this doesn’t help?” she murmurs.

“Then it doesn’t. It’s a leap of faith,” Cas says.

“I don’t know if I have that faith anymore.”

“You can borrow some of the faith we have in you.”

“It’s one step at a time, dearie. That’s all you can do,” Rowena says from behind her, rubbing her back.

“We can leap with you. You don’t have to be alone unless you want to be.”

Jody stares blankly in the distance. “I don’t want to be, Cas, but I am. I am alone.”

“Yes. And just for today, just for right now, you don’t have to be.”

She nods. “Right. Okay. Um, yeah. Leap of faith.”

“We could make it an actual leap, you know.” She raises a brow at him, and he shrugs. “We can. And whoever wants to take that leap with you can do that. We all need to take those leaps sometimes. I mean, coming to this group is a leap of faith. Hey, it could even be our thing.” He nudges her with his elbow.

Grinning, Jody says, “Yeah. I like that.” She holds out her hand to Cas, who takes it.

“Alright,” Cas calls around him, “for those of you willing to take a leap of faith with Jody, join us.” To his surprise and delight, everyone joins in, even the newcomers. Sam looks rather pleased about it (glad, perhaps, that they’re doing something that seems vaguely therapeutic), while Dean has an interesting mix of doubt and hope on his face. Cas is even more surprised and delighted when am unexpected but familiar face joins them.

“Sorry I’m late,” Linda calls, climbing onto the trampoline with Sam’s assistance and approaching the group. “I was sitting in the parking lot convincing myself to come in here.” She steps gingerly to Jody, and the mothers embrace and whisper something to each other. When they part, Cas explains what they’re doing and Linda nods. “I think I need to take a leap of faith, too,” she says, taking Rowena’s hand.

Looking across the trampoline’s surface, Cas sees several interested children peering at them. Cas explains, in simple terms, what they’re doing, and some of the children join them, thinking it a fun game, no doubt. He watches the joy and sorrow play across Jody’s features, eventually settling into a smile. She asks him to lead the way, so he calls, “Leap of faith on three. One, two, three!”

The trampoline bends and recovers when they jump onto it, sending all of them in the air before they land on their feet again. The children continue bouncing, and after a moment, the adults do, too. Cas watches as Rowena, Jody, and Linda form a circle, jumping and laughing with shiny eyes.

“This is, uh, not too bad,” a voice rumbles behind him.

Turning to Dean, he jumps hard, unbalancing the man. “Yeah? You think so?” he asks with a little grin.

Dean regains his balance and eyes Cas, perhaps trying to figure out if he unbalanced him on purpose (which he most certainly did). “Except for the leap thing. That was a little hokey.”

“Good. Sounds like it’s worth continuing, then.”

“The leap thing?”

“Uh huh.”

Dean rolls his eyes and Cas unbalances him again with another bounce. “That’s for making fun of my idea,” he teases, drawing a small, reluctant smile from the sandy-haired man before he turns his attention to his brother. Cas can’t help but feel a little proud of himself.

The hour passes. Jody wipes at her eyes sometimes. Linda wipes at hers, too. Even Max does; Cas guesses he’s thinking of his twin. When their time is up, they gather at their vehicles to say goodbye. As always after an adventure, the hugs are extra long. Cas sees Dean step up to Jody and speak to her; she smiles and gathers him in her arms.

“Thanks,” Sam says when Cas approaches to check up on him. “It felt really good to be part of it.”

“I’m glad. Thank you for being here.”

Dean approaches and the brothers exchange looks; Sam says goodbye and heads to his car. Cas assumes Dean has something he wants to say, so he waits as Dean shifts on his feet and jams his hands in his pockets. “So. Her son died,” he finally says.

“Yes.”

“She’s brave.”

“Yes, she is. We all are.”

“Not me, man. But her, wow, she’s trying to do something about how bad she feels.”

“We all are, including you. That’s what makes us brave.”

“I’m not doin’ shit.”

“You’re here.”

“Not for me. I came for her.”

“Hmm,” he says, scrutinizing him and making no secret of it. “Well. Thanks for being here. For her.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Will we see you on Thursday?”

Dean shrugs. Cas follows his gaze to the mothers. “I told her she was still a mom even if her son died. Was that okay to say?”

“Was it okay with her?”

“Um, I think so. She hugged me.”

Cas grasps his shoulder and gives it a quick squeeze. “Then it was okay. I hope to see you next Thursday.”

“Maybe. I dunno. Probably not. I was just gonna do this thing.”

“Okay. Whatever you need. If I don’t see you, I wish you all the best. Feel free to reach out to me or Charlie anytime.” Dean gives him a curt nod, then turns and strides quickly toward Sam’s vehicle and climbs into the passenger seat. Cas watches the car pull away.

“He okay?” Jody asks, leaning on Cas’ right shoulder.

“No. But I’m hoping he’ll come back, and maybe eventually he will be.”

Chapter Text

To Dean 11:37am: You going tonight?

Dean glances at his phone screen and sighs. He’s been debating that all week.

To Sam 11:38am: I guess, but only because I’d feel like shit bailing on Jody after she spilled about her son. I’ll go to this one and say goodbye.

To Dean 11:39am: That’s fine. It’s probably not what you really need, anyway.

Dean grows irritated. As if his brother knows what he needs.

To Sam 11:40am: WTF is that supposed to mean?

As he waits for Sam’s response, Dean gets online and orders the fabric for the outdoor furniture at his clients’ beach house. The husband wouldn’t budge on the navy-colored fabric with the anchors on it. He wonders why they even bothered hiring him if they weren’t going to take his suggestions.

To Dean 11:55am: I just think you need something different. You need to talk about what you’re going through. That won’t happen if you never have to talk in the group.

He doesn’t respond, too pissed off at the same message he’s heard over and over for months about his grieving: You’re doing it wrong.

The ride to the meeting is silent, Sam finally figuring out he should be keeping his mouth shut. They head in and Gabriel (or Gabe, that guy Cas called him Gabe when he brought the food in last time) seems to remember them. They order coffee and Dean orders the apples again, just in case. When they step through the beaded curtain, the rest of the group members are standing around and talking casually. There’s a lot of energy, bordering on rowdiness. They’re greeted with lots of smiling faces. It’s...kind of nice, he supposes.

Cas invites everyone to sit so their meeting can start. He’s dressed in shorts and a white t-shirt with an old Far Side comic. Dean smiles at the shirt, which depicts the “Midvale School for the Gifted” with a student who is pushing on a door that clearly says “Pull.” That one was always one of Dean’s favorites. He spent hours looking at the Gary Larson books his dad had. Cas notices Dean looking and smiles, pointing to the kid on the t-shirt and mouthing “me.” Dean laughs, surprising himself with his first genuine, spontaneous outburst in some time. He quickly clamps down on it.

“Okay,” Cas says, his deep voice grabbing everyone’s attention. “First, I’d like to check in with Jody about her adventure. Jody, anything you wanted to say?”

“Uh, it was good, good.”

The group roars with chaotic noise, a couple of them shouting “liar” with smiles on their faces. Dean is utterly confused, and Sam doesn’t look so good, either. In fact, he looks kind of pissed.

“Are you choosing to Gump this one?” Cas asks.

“For now, yeah.” She glances toward Dean and Sam. Dean wonders if she’s uncomfortable around them. “I’m still figuring it out. I did like the leap of faith, though. That really was good.”

Cas smiles. “No problem. Anyone else want to say something about their experience?”

Linda speaks up. “I felt...really fine about the whole thing, honestly.” Dean’s surprised by her response, and even more surprised when both Max and Jody give her hugs as her mouth trembles. “But I did it, and I was there for Jody,” she finishes with a small smile.

“I remembered doing that kind of stuff with my sister,” Max says when he returns to his seat. “At first it felt good to remember, and then I got mad because I have no one to share that with who knew her. No one talks about her anymore, like she’s some fucking secret. Everyone’s afraid of me falling apart.”

“Right?” Charlie chimes in. “Like, yeah, I might, but so what? Are my tears, like, vipers or something? Afraid they’re gonna bite you?”

“More like they’re contagious,” Max scoffs. “I swear, people would rather get measles. Or head lice.”

“Well, my grief does tend to make people itchy,” Charlie jokes, making several people laugh.

“Oh, and here’s a good one—when people tell you that you’re not grieving ‘right,’” Donna adds. “Like, ‘oh, you should be over it by now’ or ‘oh, can’t you keep it together, it’s been over a year.’ Just heard that today.”

“Right?” Charlie says again.

“Amen,” Cesar pipes up, mimicking the voice of a Southern preacher. “Can I get a ‘fuck you’ from the congregation?”

“Fuck you!” the rest of the group yells, middle fingers stuck up in the air. Dean snorts, surprised and delighted. Sam seems lost and uncomfortable.

“You ever get that, Dean?” Donna asks.

“All the time,” he replies, caught off-guard both by the question and by his honest response, especially next to his brother, who’s one of the culprits.

“Then give us a ‘fuck you,’” Cesar encourages him. “Come on, nice and loud.”

“The shop is closed. No one else is here,” Cas assures him.

“We’ll do it with ya. On three!”

The group counts, and on three, Dean gets out all of his pent-up anger at his well-meaning family with a loud “Fuck you!” into the air. It feels damn good.

Cesar turns to Sam. “How about you, Sam?”

“Um…” Sam shifts uncomfortably. “Maybe next time.”

“Part of the problem, aren’t you, dearie?” Rowena eyes him with a kind but shrewd look. He shrugs. Dean kind of feels bad for him. Kind of.

“Anyone can learn to be a better support to a grieving person,” Cas says gently. “But I will say that our teaching methods are...unconventional. And blunt.”

“If you expect us to use kid gloves, you’re in for a surprise,” Linda comments. “We’re angry motherfuckers.”

The vulgarity from the small but mighty woman makes Dean smile. HIs brother squirms and runs his hands through his hair, clearly gearing up to say something.

“I just don’t understand what’s happening here,” Sam says. “Good is bad, fine is...bad, I guess? People don’t want to process. I just don’t understand.”

“I should explain, Sam, and I’m sorry I didn’t,” Cas intervenes. “We use a lot of ‘code,’ I guess you could say. For this group, ‘good’ usually means we’re not doing that well. It’s a bullshit term we use to get people off our backs, like ‘How are you?’ ‘Good.’ If you say that, people leave you alone. That’s why we were calling Jody on that. She chose to ‘Gump’ it, which means—”

“That’s all I got to say about that!” several of the group members shout, imitating the famous movie character down to his accent.

“Yes. It means we don’t want to talk any further right then. And ‘fine’ for us usually means F.I.N.E.—fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. It means...well, exactly that. It’s also sometimes used as another BS word to get people off our backs.”

“I see,” Sam says, though Dean sees he has his “perplexed Sam” face on. “How do you get better if you don’t talk for real, though? How do you get over your loss?”

“You don’t ‘get over it,’” Dean growls, allowing the familiar anger to come to the surface. “I’ve told you that. You don’t.”

“But Dean, I got you into this group to—”

“Yeah, to fix me, I know.”

“No, just, you aren’t yourself, and I want you to be.”

“So this is about what you want. Let’s make sure Sam is comfortable.”

“I don’t mean it that way, Dean. It’s just, you’re not you. I know you miss—”

“Stop. Now. Damn it, I knew I shouldn’t have done this.” He stands. “I don’t know how to do what you’re asking me, Sam. I don’t know how to ‘get over it,’ like you and Jess and Dad and Kate want me to do!” He flees the room and strides through the empty bakery and outside, where he gulps lungfuls of warm, humid air. “Fuck,” he croaks, wiping his face. Sam follows him out, and the ride home is even quieter than the ride to the bakery.

At home, Dean forces himself to stay awake until he knows he’ll drop off from exhaustion. It’s the only way to guarantee he won’t fall apart.

In the morning, having overslept, he rubs his bleary eyes and groans at the squeezing pain surrounding the top of his head like an octopus. As he ponders whether he can at least get some cardio in before he has to work, his phone buzzes with a text from an unknown number.

Unknown 7:48am: Hi Dean, this is Cas Novak, from the Adventures in Grieving group. I got your number from Sam when he signed the two of you up. Safety thing. Anyway, I just wanted to check in with you and see how you are today. Everyone was concerned. So, how are you today?

“Probably concerned I’ll come back,” he mutters.

Dean 7:50am: I’m fine. Don’t worry.

Unknown 7:51am: Don’t tell me how to feel.

Unknown 7:51am: And we all know what fine means.

Unknown 7:51am: :)

Dean chuckles despite himself.

Dean 7:52am: You guys are a bunch of ball busters, aren’t you?

Unknown 7:53am: Many would say so.

Unknown 7:55am: You haven’t answered my question.

Dean sits at the table and rubs his face. How does he answer, exactly?

Unknown 7:58am: Coffee?

He frowns at the tangent, then decides to poke a little fun back at the guy.

Dean 8:00am: A drink, typically served hot, made from roasted coffee beans. He adds a Wikipedia link.

Unknown 8:01am: I knew I liked you. Would you like to meet for coffee, smartass?

Dean huffs a laugh and replies sure. He regrets it as soon as he hits the send button. “Sure?” he mutters to himself. “What the hell are you thinking? Talking? To people?” Too late now, he thinks as Cas says to meet him at Wing and a Prayer as soon as he can get himself over there. He looks at the clock. He decides to shower and dress for work so he can just leave from there, since he has a meeting with a client at 10:00.

His shower is quick, his dressing quicker since he sets up his outfits for the week on Sundays and hangs them in the closet. Nearly identical lightweight suits. Not much thinking involved that way. He grabs Friday’s suit and throws it on, combs his hair, and brushes his teeth, then he snatches his keys from the hook and makes his way to the coffee shop.

“Hey there!” Gabe waves as he comes in. It’s much louder today, people milling about talking or waiting or looking at the art pieces and craft works all around the shop. “Get you something?”

“Uh, yeah, but I’m actually meeting Cas here, so let me text him and see how close—”

“Oh, no need to text. He’s right upstairs. Go on up.”

“Go…” Dean asks uncertainly, pointing to the ceiling.

“Yeah. My brother lives upstairs. Go ahead. I’ll get you whatever you want, and you can head up. He’s probably face-deep in his drawing. Wipe the ink off him, will ya? Oh, and be careful of the vicious dog.”

“Uh, yeah, okay…” Dean blinks. He orders a large, black decaf. Gabe hands it over, along with one for Cas that smells cinnamony, and points to a door. Moving through, he heads up a small stairway, its walls filled with a colorful mural of clouds shaped like pastries. It’s whimsical. Charming. He wonders who painted it. At the top, he knocks.

“It’s open!” Cas yells.

Dean enters into a tiny alcove, where he’s greeted by a small, silky-furred dog with huge brown eyes who yips as if she’s saying good morning. “Hey, cutie pie,” he coos quietly, crouching down so she can acquaint herself properly. She leads him into a kitchen with painted white cabinets and old laminate countertops. There are a couple of dishes in a drying rack, a white side-by-side refrigerator with a water dispenser on the door that’s yellowed with age, a scarred, round table, and a shitload of art on the walls. The kitchen opens to a living room with more art, plenty of natural light, a microsuede couch with paint stains that looks like it’s from a thrift store, a worn-in recliner, a glass-topped coffee table on casters made from a painted wood pallet, and a large table and stool where Cas sits. He’s in loose cotton shorts and a black t-shirt that says This shirt would be more creative, but we stopped funding the arts.

“Oh! Hello, Dean. I expected Gabriel. He’s the only one who comes up here besides Charlie and my friend Bal. Did I miss your text?”

“No, uh, Gabe said to come up, I’m sor—”

“Oh no, it’s fine. I’m clearly underdressed, though.” He wags his finger between them.

“Oh, ha, no, I just have to meet with a client after.”

“Ah, I see. What do you do, if you don’t mind answering?”

“I’m an interior decorator.” He waits for the inevitable and unwanted opinion of his job, usually one of derision.

“Nice. Oh, thank you, you’re a saint among men,” he says as he stands and accepts the coffee from Dean’s hand, taking a sip. He’s pleasantly surprised at Cas’ nonplussed reaction about his work and feels his shoulders drop. “So, do you want to stay up here or go downstairs? My place doesn’t have the ambience of the shop, but it is quieter.”

“I don’t know,” Dean says, looking around. It’s small and dated, but...cozy, somehow. Not that bullshit cozy that real estate agents try to sell you on, but truly comfortable. “It has a pretty nice ambience.”

“Is that your professional opinion?” he grins.

“Well, you could probably replace the counters and cabinets, get a nicer kitchen table. Maybe slipcover your couch.”

“Ah, look at me. Pulled that professional advice out of you for free. I’m so wily.”

Dean smiles, amused. “And what do you do so maybe I can pull some free professional advice from you?”

“I’m an artist.” He waves his hand around at his desk and the art on the walls. “An illustrator. A cartoonist. A painter. Et cetera. So my advice would probably be unsuited to most real-world dilemmas.”

“I dunno,” Dean says with a thoughtful frown, “maybe you could teach me how to draw those black holes that I can lay on the road for people to fall through.”

Cas laughs, brightly and easily. He used to be good at making people laugh. He made Miss laugh all the time. “Deal. So I see you met Goose.”

At her name, the dog stands on her hind legs. Dean scratches her head. “Goose? That’s cute.”

“I think so. She hasn’t told me what she thinks about it.” He smiles and gestures to the chairs at the kitchen table. “Have a seat. You like bacon and eggs?”

“Do I,” Dean moans. It’s been so long since he’s let himself indulge. “But I don’t eat bacon anymore. I watch what I eat.”

Cas shakes his head, some strange shadow flickering through his eyes. “Yeah, me too. Watch it go straight into my mouth. So, you want some or no?”

He finds himself saying yes, which was not the plan, but he forgets to regret it when the buttery, cheesy fluff hits his tongue. The salty, perfectly crispy bacon accompaniment is like nirvana. Even the toast is special, thick and slathered in strawberry preserves. He just barely keeps himself from drooling, but he must be doing something with his face anyway because a corner of Cas’ mouth is quirked in amusement, though he says nothing. He seems pleased.

They talk about their work, and Dean is impressed by how passionately he talks about it. Dean mentions the pieces in Gabe’s shop and Cas tells him about some of the artists he knows personally. A few of the pieces are his. He even made his own business cards, as well as Charlie’s. “I do a little of everything,” he explains. “It fills my time. Bury the grief and all. That’s what people tell me I’m doing. Maybe they’re right, to some degree. But they forget that I’ve always kept myself busy. Just, for a while, something else kept me busy instead of my work. Now it’s work again. And I love my work, so it doesn’t feel unhealthy to me. Besides, all that work fills the bank account, too. Not for long, but hey.” His shoulders bounce and he grins.

Dean smiles. Cas seems like a nice guy, one he could hang out with. If he ever hung out with anyone anymore. He checks his Fitbit. “Oh shit, I’m gonna be late. Thanks for this.”

“Of course. Anytime. It was nice to hang out. Nice to fuck off from work for a while, too.”

Dean smirks as Cas stands and stretches. “So it’s not all work and no play.”

“I try to remember the lightness in being alive. Sometimes it’s tough. That’s why I started the group.” He smiles softly and walks Dean to the door, that smile widening as he adds, “Hope to see you on Thursday. Drop by here anytime. We’re usually around. And eat more bacon.” He waves and closes the door. Dean shakes his head in amusement. He lets his hand glide over the mural in the stairwell that he’s pretty sure Cas did, now that he’s seen some of his work.

It only occurs to him on the drive to his client’s house that he never did tell Cas how he was doing, nor did he ask.

Chapter Text

Cas readies the tables and chairs for tonight’s group. After Dean and Sam left last week, Max talked about taking on an adventure; they’ll likely discuss that tonight, if he’s still up for it. He mentioned wanting to do something theatrical, since that was his sister’s thing. Cas is a little nervous as to what, if anything, that will entail for him. But his nerves remind him that he’s alive, so when he feels nervous about something, he’s that much more likely to push himself to do it. He needs those reminders that he didn’t wither away and die like Sylvie did.

People start arriving, and Cas makes sure to greet everyone. Each of these people has had an impact on his life. He’s cried, raged, and laughed with these people. He trusts them as much as he’s trusted anyone, probably more. They have helped him feel comfortable in his skin again. He’s not “back to himself” in that he's the same as he was before—that would be impossible—but he’s back in that he’s living again, and wiser for the fight.

And speaking of fight…“Um, hi,” Dean says from the doorway just as he is starting the meeting. He’s dressed in a suit (again—what’s with that?) and looks as nervous as a bird in a roomful of cats. The group members greet him with smiles. His shoulders, riding near his ears, drop minutely.

“Come on in, Dean,” Cas beckons. “Have a seat.”

“Um, nah, I’m not staying. I just...um, felt like I should come back and apologize.”

Cas looks to the group, whose members murmur in confusion. He’ll let them take the lead on this one. “For what?” Donna finally asks.

“You know, disrupting the group when I fought with Sam.” He fidgets in the doorway, wringing his hands.

“You mean by having feelings and expressing them?” she asks.

“Not being in perfect control?” Cesar chimes in.

“Not being a ‘good’ griever?”

“Getting mad in front of us?”

“Thinking you made us uncomfortable?”

Dean’s eyes dart around as the group members call out different questions. Cas’ chest swells with pride as he listens to his friends. He knows where they’re leading him.

“Uh, well, yeah, all of it, I guess,” he finally stammers.

“Oh, shove your apology and sit down,” Charlie chirps. His eyes widen. “Do you think we care that you had the same fight we’ve all had with our families or friends? Do you think we care that you were pissed off about the same thing all of us have been pissed off about? Or that you were pissed, period? That’s what the group is for, Dean. Raw honesty. Feeling what you’re feeling without apologizing or feeling bad about it. Being who you are. Living. That’s it.”

Dean sits.

They continue on. Donna shares that she cried so hard thinking about her best friend—her work partner of ten years—at her desk earlier this week that snot ran down her nose, prompting Cesar and Max to sing the line from the song “Aqualung” loudly and making everyone roar with laughter. Donna, when she calms, tells the story of the day her partner died in her arms during a domestic violence investigation. She’s told it a few times, but no one minds. She cries, and many cry with her, just because she’s their friend. Jody hugs her, likely understanding more than the rest since they’re both police officers. After Donna, Cas reminds the group that Max had wanted to have an adventure and asks him if he wants to discuss it.

“I want to do an improv night. This Saturday if possible,” Max says, his voice loud and clear even if his eyes look terrified. He was always shyer than his outgoing sister, he’s said before, so for him this is a big step.

“Do you want support?” Charlie asks. He nods. “What support would you like from us?”

“I could use some friendly faces at the show.”

“Okay. Is anyone able and available this Saturday night to support Max on his adventure?”

Most of the people in the room raise their hands. Cesar doesn’t but explains that he’ll be gone all weekend. Dean doesn’t but is shifting in his seat. Cas notices. “Dean? What’s up?”

“Um, should I...I mean, would it be okay if I, um…”

“You wanna come?” Max asks.

“Um, well, I don’t do socializing, but, you know, I wanna support you, ‘specially after how I was at the last group.”

“Don’t come out of guilt. Come because you wanna support me, or because there’s something about it that would make you feel alive, but don’t come ‘cause you feel guilty.” Max leans forward. “Guilt suffocates, man.”

Dean nods but still looks uncertain.

“Dean. Come if you want to.”

His chin drops to his chest. “I...I don’t know…”

“Dude, don’t decide now if you don’t want. See how you feel that night. How’s that?”

Cas is impressed with Max’s advice, though not surprised. They’ve talked a lot in group about how some people who are grieving don’t like to plan ahead. They never know what kind of day they’re going to have. It’s been one of Cas’ own struggles. With Sylvie’s illness, there was never any planning ahead. Well, other than that kind of planning ahead. The death kind.

Dean seems to latch onto Max’s idea. He nods, a small, relieved thing that sets his body lower into his chair. “Um, yeah, okay. Thanks.”

The meeting continues a bit longer, everyone chatting about how the week has been. At the end, they hash out the details of the improv night. Just before they break, Dean speaks again.

“So, uh, I still wanted to say sorry about last time. Not ‘cause of my feelings or whatever, but because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.” No one speaks as he gathers his thoughts. “Um, so yeah. Thanks for, um, not being judgy.”

“We have your back,” Jody says. It brings a little smile to Dean’s face. It almost looks unnatural—or rather, like something forgotten. Cas has a hunch Dean hasn’t felt whatever he’s feeling in a while.

When everyone leaves, Dean lingers and helps Cas clean up. Something’s on his mind, but he keeps quiet. He looks lost. Cas stays close by. The man doesn’t speak until they finish up and Cas walks him to the door.

“So, Saturday. Um, do you really think it would help Max if I was there or was that just inclusive bullshit?”

“Well, I suppose that’s Max’s judgment call. But he did invite you.”

“Not exactly. He said I could come if I wanted to.”

“Do you feel like you’re not really welcome?”

Dean shrugs and stares a hole into the floor. Cas waits as Dean squirms but says nothing further. “I could go with you. We could go together. If you’re nervous.”

“I’m not.”

“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, Dean.”

Dean huffs. “Yeah, okay.”

“Meet me upstairs at 6:30. I’ll make you dinner.”

“I don’t…‘do’ dinner with people.”

“Fine. Then come at 6:30 and watch me eat.” He claps him on the shoulder. “See you then.” Dean stares at him for a moment before turning away, shaking his head as he goes.

It was a bold move, and he wasn’t sure that the guy would go for it. He even thought Dean might beg off. But it’s 5:30 on Saturday and he hasn’t heard from him, so he takes a leap of faith and gets started on dinner.

He chops the onions and jalapeños into large chunks and drops them into the food processor along with some garlic and green chiles, then drains the tomatoes he boiled for his homemade salsa. He loved making it with the tomatoes Sylvie grew. The tomatoes from the store are okay, but hers were the best. Tomatoes were one of the last things she stopped eating. He pauses, takes a deep breath to steady himself, and continues, turning back to the ingredients and dropping the salt and lime juice in. The original recipe also calls for cilantro, which he hates, so he always omits it. Finally, he drizzles the honey in, then tops the processor and blends the ingredients until the salsa is chunky, but not overly so. Finishing that, he sprays a glass dish with oil, then lays four chicken breasts down and sprinkles taco seasoning on both sides of the pieces. He spoons salsa on top before sliding it into the tiny oven. He could never do a Thanksgiving meal here, he muses absently, but that hardly matters now. As the chicken cooks, he prepares a box of Mexican rice. It would be better freshly made, probably, but he doesn’t mind taking shortcuts when he can. Cas rounds out the meal with a fresh fruit salad of mangoes, melons, pineapple, and strawberries. Checking the clock, he sees he only has a few minutes to get ready, so he dashes to his room to find something to wear. Cas has never been picky about his clothing (he’d wear the same thing every day if he didn’t constantly get ink and paint on himself), so he thinks about tonight’s weather (hot, as usual) and their activity and settles for a pair of navy blue cotton beach shorts and a t-shirt, this one saying That’s a horrible idea. What time? He slips his feet into a pair of TOMS slip-ons that Syl always called ugly and he always called comfortable, runs a hand through his hair, and jogs back into the kitchen with five minutes left on the timer. He opens the oven and sprinkles the cheddar cheese onto the chicken, and as he closes the door, the smells of the chicken and salsa bring back a memory of their kitchen, him making this very dish.

“Cilantro is good for your libido, baby.”

“I’m not putting it in. And would you like to lodge a complaint about my libido?”

She shook her head and grinned mischievously as she grabbed at his sides. “It makes you taste better, too, if you catch my drift.”

“I catch you,” he smiled, “but no. And how do you know that?”

“Conjecture.”

“Conjecture yourself.”

“It’s more fun to conjecture with you,” Sylvie teased as she pulled him away from the salsa and into a handsy kiss against the counter.

Later that night, they fought, the first fight of many where food was concerned. He braces himself against the counter, hot breath puffing from his nose as his eyes spill over. God, he hates these. They’re fewer these days, but still happen more frequently than he’d like or expected. He did so much crying before she died, and again right after, that he thought eventually his body would simply dry out.

The timer goes off as a knock shakes the door. He yells for Dean to come in as he hurriedly wipes his face and grabs an oven mitt. Dean greets Goose, then steps past her and into the kitchen. “Hey, Cas…” he starts, but his face falls as he takes Cas in. “Dude, you okay?”

“Yeah, sorry. Grief burst,” he explains.

Dean nods with a grim set to his jaw. “Smells good in here,” Dean says, letting the moment go. Cas isn’t sure if Dean’s uncomfortable or is just being respectful, but he appreciates Dean moving on rather than attempting some platitude.

“I figured I’d try to make you something healthier than bacon, since you seemed so aghast at it last time,” he jokes. “You seem to eat better than I do. Not that that’s too hard since, living alone, I mostly eat microwave meals for dinner.”

“That shit’s full of sodium and fat,” he says, making a face. “Send you to an early grave.”

“I’m aware.”

The slightly taller man peers down at him, pursing his lips. “You doing that on purpose?” he asks carefully.

Cas is taken aback by the show of concern. “No,” he assures him softly. “I promise. Just...it’s not much fun cooking for one, and healthy eating, paying attention to fats...I don’t like to obsess. I figure as long as I’m eating, I’m doing okay. There are a whole lot of people out there who try to ‘eat right’ and they die anyway.” Or they take it too far and die.

Dean seems to ponder that, his eyes darting around Cas’ face as Cas stares back. “Guess that’s true,” he concedes quietly.

“Well, enough doom and gloom. This is really good. I haven’t had it in a long time. That’s what this was about.” He indicates his still-soggy eyes. “Well, part of it. Anyway, sit.” Dean does, but pops right back up to help Cas with plates and drinks. Cas pours them both margaritas over ice and they settle in mismatched kitchen chairs.

It’s easier than he thought it would be. Dean eats without resistance, even praising the flavors and asking for the recipe when Cas explains he made the salsa himself. Like last time, they stick to safe topics that aren’t likely to make them too vulnerable. This time, it’s pop culture. Dean enjoys horror and action movies, while Cas shares his love of animated shows (obviously) and psychological thrillers. They find common ground with comedies, and seem to think they could successfully watch something together without one feeling like they’re giving in. They also agree that the original Star Wars movies are the best in the franchise, despite the horrible special effects. Dean makes a joke about LARPing Star Wars and Cas tells him it’s actually a thing, which blows Dean’s mind given his confused, intrigued eyes. Cas finds himself telling Dean about the LARP event they attended with Charlie, and he listens with great attention as Cas explains his role as a rebellious leader against the foul monarch.

Cas glances at the clock, a boring, plastic white circle with black numbers and hands from the dollar store, and declares that they need to get ready to head out. Dean’s a great help cleaning up, and he even tries to convince Cas that they should do the dishes before they leave. Cas rolls his eyes and tells him they don’t have time, but when he comes out of the bathroom Dean has the sink full of suds and the sleeves of his suit pushed up. He gulps down the twinge of unease stuck in his throat. “Come on, Miami Vice,” he teases, grabbing Dean’s arm and hoping he won’t put up a fight about the dishes being left there. Syl could never leave dirty dishes.

“Miami Vice?” Dean asks with raised brows and a frown that’s trying to look offended but looks more amused. Cas is pretty sure he knows the show, even though it aired before they were born. Every Florida resident knows it.

“You and your suits,” Cas grins, pulling him toward the door. Dean chuckles and doesn’t resist, and Cas is relieved.

The motley crew meets them inside the comedy club. Max looks like he wants to throw up. “Anything you want to say before your adventure?” Cas asks.

“This is in memory of Alicia,” he says in a shaky voice. “Alicia, even if everyone else forgets, I won’t.” He pauses. “I’m so scared.”

“We know, honey,” Jody comforts him as she takes his hand. “But you’ll be glad you took this leap of faith, okay? Come on, let’s do one.” She pulls him to his feet and they jump in place. It makes Cas smile. “I didn’t know Alicia, but I wish I had,” she says when they sit.

“Tell us about her,” Donna encourages him.

And until the lights dim, that’s exactly what Max does. Cas watches him with pride and a stroke of sadness for what Max is missing. He can’t imagine losing a twin. Out of the corner of his eye, Dean leans forward, soft and engaged. Despite the argument they had recently, he senses that Dean is close to his brother. He wonders if he has other siblings.

The show begins, and soon everyone is sucked into the energy of the performances. Whenever they ask for volunteers, Max raises his hand, and he’s finally chosen. They need another volunteer, and Dean raises his hand, much to Cas’ surprise. They get to the stage and the game is explained. Max still looks petrified. Dean glances at him and then looks at the ceiling and points up. “Who’s this for, Max?” he calls to the young man across the stage, loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Alicia,” he answers, voice small but steady.

“Who’s Alicia?” asks the man Max is paired with. He holds a mic to Max’s face.

Max clears his throat. “My twin. She died this past spring. I’m doing this in her memory, so no one forgets her.”

The performers nod and give the young man a hug, and then one of the performers not in the game leads the crowd in foot-stomping and chanting Alicia’s name until they dissolve into cheers and clapping. The grin on Max’s face is priceless. Charlie is recording the entire thing; Cas is grateful that Max will have this moment—the moment when his sister’s name was spoken once again—forever.

They perform some sort of skit involving props, and Dean is quite good at it. He’s funny, creative, and quick on his feet. Max seems lost, but the man paired with him helps him out and he manages to get some laughs from the audience. When they leave the stage, Max has a smile on his face, and the audience screams in appreciation. Jody pulls the young man into her lap and hugs him, much like she probably did for Owen when he needed it; his gangly limbs surround her and he laughs and cries and laughs a bit more. The group congratulates Dean on a job well done, and he takes the praise and engages in conversation, seeming more comfortable and relaxed around the others and vice versa. It’s a good night.

Cas is too amped to sleep when he gets home, so he pulls out his pens and draws. It’s something he’ll use for his next Adventures in Grieving post. He smiles as he appraises the final product: A picture of a beautiful female spirit in the thought bubble of a young man, their hearts tied together with a length of string as the man walks a path with a small smile and closed eyes; the caption reads I will remember you. He slides the drawing away from him so that his tears don’t stain the page.

 

Chapter Text

It’s 4:33 in the morning, and Dean wakes from a dream. It was Miss, in her favorite cut-off sweats, laughing as Dean made a lewd gesture toward her with the kebabs he was grilling. Their friends and family were mingling around the yard. He still feels the kiss he planted on her lips.

Dean sighs. It’s going to be a long day.

He swigs some water from the bottle he keeps on the nightstand, then slides out of bed and stumbles into the bathroom before hitting the workout room. There, he gets onto the treadmill and starts running. He had argued against the treadmill when they moved here, but Missy insisted, saying she wanted to be able to work out year-round and it was too hot to be outside by the time she got home from work. She was right (she always was) and she won (she always did).

As he runs, he lets his mind wander to last night’s improv night. He’s surprised at how much he didn’t hate being out. He didn’t feel great, obviously, but he didn’t feel achy and empty, either. It helped that he had a mission to fulfill—to support Max, who looked scared out of his mind. He feels like he did a good job helping him out. The rest of the night went okay, too. Yeah, Max got emotional, but of course he did. And that part was only a small part of the night and it passed without a whole big deal, and then they talked about normal things. He learned more about everyone and he shared a little about himself, and it felt sort of okay. Maybe a little more than okay. Maybe even good.

But that’s done now. He did what he told both Sam and the group he would, so he can go back to being by himself, dealing with shit on his own. He doesn’t need those people, and they don’t need him.

When he’s done on the treadmill, he glances at the clock. 5:21. He huffs and positions himself at the contraption advertised on TV that lets you do a full-body workout all with one machine. Listlessly, he stares straight ahead and puts his mind on autopilot as he moves through the same exercises he does day after day.

He thinks about breakfast at Cas’ when he wanders into the kitchen near 6:00 to make his first meal of the day. Well, not a true meal, really. He pulls out the ingredients for his health shake, something he drinks every day. As he adds the kale, he smirks to himself as he remembers Cas’ encouragement to eat more bacon. Then he frowns as he remembers his words from last night—eating right doesn’t make a difference, or something like that. The man had been crying when Dean arrived. A grief burst. Dean’s familiar. For him, they’re often triggered by songs (Miss loved singing to Top 40 music, which Dean hated), though sometimes it’s stupid shit, like some woman wearing a similar scarf as one she had. For Cas, food seemed to be the trigger, or at least it was last night. He thinks back to his first meeting with the group, when some of them talked about mundane things. One of them was listening to country music, he remembers. Another was going to a class. He wonders now if those things they talked about were things that had triggered them at one time or another. That would make them more significant. He feels bad about his flippant thought on the topic at the time. He wonders if he should ask how they’re doing on those things, if they’ve gotten easier or if they’re just as shitty.

Not that it matters. He’s not seeing them again.

His shake tastes funny.

Dean decides he needs coffee, and he doesn’t want to make it himself. Maybe he can get an egg white scramble somewhere, too. He’d have to get it to go, though, because he doesn’t want to be around people, especially if he has to eat alone. You get stared at if you’re alone, the subject of scrutiny as people try to figure out why you’re by yourself. Because of his age, they probably wouldn’t guess that Dean’s alone because his wife is dead and he has no friends anymore. Maybe they’d just conclude that he’s a pathetic loser. Not so far off, really.

It’s Sunday, which isn’t a suit day typically, but it isn’t a going out day typically, either. He wore a suit last night. He could always put that back on. If he did end up having to eat somewhere by himself, most people wouldn’t think the guy in the suit is pathetic. He’d look like he has it all together. It’s important to keep up appearances, because no one asks questions that way. But it’s stupid, too, to put on a suit at six in the morning just to get a coffee at a drive-through. He knows, realistically, that he’s not going to sit by himself anywhere. He grabs his Rolling Stones shirt and his favorite track pants and does a quick sniff test—see, Sam, they don’t smell that bad—and throws them on. Rounding out his efforts with deodorant, sneakers, a ballcap, and sunglasses, Dean grabs his keys in a search for coffee and an egg-white something.

He can’t make himself go to a fast food joint, so he drives around until he ends up at Wing and a Prayer. There are lights on, but the door is locked when he tries it. It gets the attention of the person inside, though, who turns out to be Cas. He opens the door. “Good morning,” he greets, his morning voice deep and rumbling, like the purr of a mountain lion. “Come on in. Gabe’s not open yet, but I’m happy to make you coffee.” He moves over so Dean can enter, which he does with only the slightest hesitation.

“Thanks, man. Do you work here on the weekends?”

“Nope. I just help myself to drinks and leftovers. It’s part of my rent.” Cas grins widely, dimples piercing his cheeks, and Dean can’t help but chuckle.

“I see. Perks of being the brother of the owner, huh?”

“You got it. Black coffee?”

“Please. Decaf.”

“No bacon and no caffeine?” He steps into his space and studies him with a tilt of his head, his blue eyes serious and piercing. “Are you okay?”

Dean snorts as a smirk breaks across Cas’ face. The guy is teasing him. He shakes his head as his own smile widens. “Sometimes I wonder. So, is Gabe your only sibling?”

Thus starts a conversation about their families that lasts until Gabe arrives. “Uh, you guys have a sleepover? You dogs, you,” he winks, eyeing both Dean’s and Cas’ clothes. Cas is in long cotton shorts and the same t-shirt with the funny saying as last night. Dean suddenly realizes what he’s wearing and feels self-conscious, but neither brother seems bothered by it.

“Gabe, you’re ridiculous. Dean came by for coffee. Because, you know, you sell coffee. And for some reason, he thinks it tastes good.”

“You drink it, numbnuts.”

“Free coffee always tastes good,” he says, raising his cup in a salute.

“Whatevs. You love my coffee. Breakfast?”

“Yes. How about those bacon and egg muffins you do?” He looks to Dean for the okay, and Dean gives it with an enthusiastic nod. God, he can still taste the bacon from last time.

“Cool. I’ll whip ‘em up. Alfie and Mandy should be ‘round soon. In the meantime, resume whatever’s going on here. No shame, peeps.” He points finger guns at them as he goes.

Cas rolls his eyes. “Please excuse him. Mom always denied it, but my sister and I suspect he was dropped on his head as a child.” Dean snickers as Cas folds his arms and smirks, his eyes sparkling with mirth in the early light.

Once Gabe delivers the muffins, a refill of Dean’s coffee, and tea to replace Cas’ empty coffee (apparently he limits himself to one coffee a day for some reason), Cas invites him upstairs. Dean, still self-conscious about his clothes, is grateful he doesn’t have to show himself to other people in his current unkempt state. They settle onto the cheap but surprisingly comfortable (if lumpy) couch, Goose between them, and eat as they talk about this and that.

It becomes a thing.

AIG group on Thursdays, because he can’t make himself leave. Dinner (with Cas or the group) and sometimes an adventure or social event on Saturdays, because he wants to be supportive. Breakfast with Cas on Sunday mornings in their rattiest clothes, because...well, just because. Cas shows him some of his work not hung around the apartment, along with his AIG Instagram page, which is really cool. Dean shows Cas some of the pictures of his work on his business’ Facebook page, which Cas seems to appreciate and take a genuine interest in. Cas makes him bacon everything. Dean makes Cas healthy shakes. And even though they don’t talk about their dead loved ones, they talk about nearly everything else, and Dean realizes he doesn’t feel quite as lonely and hopeless as he did. Sometimes he even wants to be around people. Well, not just any people. Mostly just the group, especially Cas. It’s easy to be around him and the others. They get it.

But he knows he can’t hide from the rest of the world forever, and when Cas asks him about Sam, he realizes how much he misses the kid. He hasn’t spoken to him since their fight. Cas suggests calling him to see how it goes. So he does.

“We haven’t talked in, what, a month, more?” Sam asks after the obligatory phone pleasantries.

“You could’ve called,” Dean grouses.

“Figured you were still pissed.”

Dean twirls the pen he was using to write down some décor ideas for his clients’ new project, a huge addition to their house. He wishes he could’ve helped with the outlay of the space itself—he thinks his ideas would’ve made more sense and given them better flow—but he doesn’t have the degree for that. “I’m not anymore,” he admits. “Cas said I should try calling you.”

“He did? You’re still going to the group?”

“Yeah, actually. But he mentioned the call thing at breakfast the other day.”

There’s a silence on the line until Sam asks, “Breakfast?”

“Yeah. Cas and I have been having breakfast on Sunday mornings.”

“Oh. Wow. Cool.”

Dean rolls his eyes as he doodles on the page. “I can hear you trying not to pee yourself with how excited you are that I’m ‘getting out.’”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine. You were probably right,” he concedes.

“I was? About what?”

“Not keeping to myself.”

“Ah. So, you guys talk? You and Cas? And you and the group?”

Rubbing his temples, Dean lets out a sigh. He knows what his well-meaning, pain in the ass brother is asking, and clearly, he still doesn’t get it. “I haven’t talked about that.”

“Oh.”

“Could we not do this, Sam?” Dean asks as he stands and paces. “I don’t want all of our conversations to be like this, okay? Tell me how you’re doing. Talk to me about your life.”

“Okay,” Sam says after a beat.

It’s awkward at first, but as Sam talks it gets easier. When Sam asks about how he’s doing, Dean doesn’t talk about his feelings, as he’s sure his brother would like him to, but he does talk about the most recent group outings to Ruby Tuesday’s (an adventure for Donna, since it was her partner’s favorite place to eat) and to the driving range to hit golf balls (just for fun—he almost begged off because he’s horrible at it but Cas pleaded with him to come “so I don’t look like the only idiot”). He tells him about work. Then he tells him about Cas and his work and his dog and his apartment above the bakery and funny things he said recently.

“You’ve been busy,” Sam comments.

“I guess I have.”

“You and Cas are becoming good friends, huh?”

“I guess we are,” he says. He hadn’t thought about it, but he supposes it’s true.

They talk about other things, but the friendship question (and that other stupid question Sam asked, ugh) is still on his mind long after they hang up. That night, still thinking, he texts Cas:

To Unknown 5:32pm: Can I ask you something?

To Dean 5:35pm: I don’t know, can you?

To Unknown 5:37pm: You suck a dick.  

To Dean 5:38pm: Actually, I’ve never done that. Is that what you wanted to ask me?

Dean looks back at his texts. Fuck.

To Unknown 5:40pm: *You’re such

To Unknown 5:40pm: Fuck me

To Dean 5:41pm: Now you want me to fuck you?

“Goddamnit,” Dean mutters as he dials Cas’ number. The sound of Cas’ laughter answers him. “Fuck you, you knew that was a typo!” he snipes, though his own laughter dilutes the effect.

“How would I know that?” Cas asks with mock innocence.

“Shut up. You’re such a dick.”

“So you were trying to tell me when you propositioned me.”

“I was not propositioning you!”

“Should I swipe right on you?”

“I don’t even know what that means!”

“Tinder, Dean!”

“What the hell is Tinder?”

Cas screeches, and their banter dissolves into breathless, snorting laughter. “Well,” Cas wheezes after explaining what Tinder is, “if I was into men, I’d swipe right on you in a heartbeat. That means I’d accept a date with you. I think that’s what it means. That’s what Gabe told me.”

“Ohhhh,” Dean says. He feels like an idiot, but he’s been out of the dating game since high school and never paid attention to those things. “Well, same, dude, if I was into guys.”

“Wow, I feel like our friendship has really moved to a new level,” Cas says in a sincere voice, then snickers.

Dean snickers, too, then muses, “I guess that answers my question.”

“About sucking dick?”

“About whether we’re friends, asshole. I was going to ask if we’re friends.”

“I really wish my friends would stop calling me an asshole.”

“Then stop being an asshole.” Dean tucks an arm around himself and smiles, feeling warm and tingly at Cas’ answering laughter and at his confirmation. It’s nice to be able to tease each other, to really connect with someone. It’s nice to have a friend again. “I called Sam.”

“Yeah? How’d it go?”

“Not bad, I guess.” He hesitates, the stupid question Sam asked him now invading the space in his brain that the friendship question left. He’d rather avoid it, but he knows Cas is being sincere and, what’s more, he’ll understand his reluctance. “He asked me to come over to have dinner next Friday night with his wife and our dad and stepmom.”

“Are you going to?”

“I don’t know. Said I’d call him tomorrow.” He ruffles his hair and paces around the kitchen that’s so picture-perfect it makes him want to puke. “I know they’re gonna be on me about the usual, you know?”

“Mmm. Well, you could take it as an opportunity to set your boundaries, like we’ve talked about in group.”

“Or give ‘em the one-finger salute, like we talked about?”

“Or that,” Cas laughs. “Baby, you want your harness and leash?”

“Now look who’s propositioning,” Dean jokes, listening to Cas talk to Goose, the dog’s collar and tags jingling over the line.

“You didn’t say no,” he says smoothly, voice deep and suggestive, before he bursts into laughter. “I’m taking Goose out to the bird sanctuary. You wanna join us?”

He does, so he tosses on a pair of shorts and a fitted royal blue t-shirt and meets them. He’s dropped the suits, both for Cas and the group, no longer feeling the need to hide behind them (though Cas still calls him Vice sometimes, even without them, and Dean won’t give Cas the satisfaction of admitting it aloud but he’s grown fond of the nickname). “I still don’t know about this dinner,” Dean says, continuing their earlier conversation. “I always feel like when they get me alone, they gang up on me like some type of friggin’ intervention.”

“So don’t go alone. Bring a friend.”

“I don’t have any friends.”

“You have friends. You have those guys Benny and Cole, and you have everyone at AIG.”

“Told you I haven’t talked to them in ages. Don’t think the first thing I want to say to them after all this time is ‘Hey, wanna come to dinner with me so I don’t have to be confronted by my family?’ As for you guys, yeah, I know, but I feel funny asking.”

“It’s what we do, Dean. Make it an adventure.”

Dean pauses. Yeah, maybe he could do that. “You, um, would you come to support me?”

Cas pauses. “Uh, well, Friday isn’t good for me. It’s really, really bad, actually. If it was Saturday...no, better make it Sunday. If it was Sunday, I would.”

Nodding, Dean says, “Sunday. Okay. Sunday dinner with the family. Idyllic, ain’t it?”

“Like a Norman Rockwell painting,” Cas grins.

They continue their walk, Dean peering at him from time to time and wondering what Friday is and whether his friend will be okay until then.

Chapter Text

To Cas 7:55am: I have your coffee waiting.

To Cas 8:28am: Coffee?

To Cas 9:15am: Coffee, you slug.

To Cas 9:27am: Cas?

The knock doesn’t surprise him. Nor should it surprise Gabriel that he’s in his underwear, lying on the couch with his faithful Goose by his side. “What are you doing, buddy?”

“Wallowing. Did you bring the coffee?”

“So you did get my messages.”

“My phone works, so yes.”

“Cassie—”

“Don’t fucking call me that. You know I hate it.”

Cas feels a cup pressed into his hand. He removes his arm from his eyes and sits up, careful not to disturb Goose too much. He leans against the couch and sips the coffee. It’s cold. He grunts as he gets to his feet and walks to the kitchen. He stands there, trying to decide whether to warm up the coffee or pour it down the drain. He’s still standing there when Gabe presses another cup into his free hand. “Brought you tea, too,” he says. This cup is hot. He’s suddenly too exhausted to decide whether he wants the coffee or the tea. He walks forward and opens his hands, dropping both drinks, cups and all, into the sink. The lid for the tea pops off and he feels a few hot droplets splash his arm; he finds he couldn’t care less.

“Cas—”

“Gabe, I love you, but I swear to God if you try to tell me what I should be doing or how I should be feeling, I will rip your head off and shove it down your neck stump.”

A wet sniffle reaches his ears. “What I can do to help you?” he asks tearily.  

Cas cranes his neck toward the stained ceiling. Shit. “I’m sorry, Gabe. I’m sorry. Just...answer me if I call. Other than that, leave me alone. Okay? I won’t neglect myself or Goose. I just need to be alone.”

His brother’s arms wrap around his waist from behind, and his head rests on the middle of his back. “Okay. I love you. I miss her.”

Cas’ throat constricts. “Me too,” he whispers.

When he’s alone again, he texts Charlie:

To Charlie 9:59am: Run the group w/o me tonight

To Cas 10:04am: Okay. Love you.

To Charlie 10:04am: Love you

He puts his phone on silent and falls asleep.

He doesn’t sleep long enough (48 hours would’ve been better), but he feels okay enough to walk Goose to the patch of grass in the median just outside the back door of the shop. When he comes back in, he glances at text messages from Bal and Gabe. He sends them each a quick hello to tell them he’s okay (avoiding snarky, dark comments like “don’t worry, I’m not dead” because they’ll get all “concerned”), then goes to his drawing table. He told his clients that he’d be off until late next week, since he wasn’t sure how he’d feel. So far, so bad. He sighs and pushes away from the table, deciding to start a movie instead; it’s easier to watch movies now, since Dean came around, but he still avoids musicals like the plague. This one is one Dean recommended to him. He wonders if he should text him just to tell him he won’t be there tonight. He decides against it, not wanting to talk about why he’s not going and not wanting Dean to miss out just because Cas won’t be there. He’s pretty sure Dean won’t go if he knows Cas isn’t going. He starts the movie and stares at the screen, not taking anything in, until he falls asleep again.

He wakes at 7:05 to a knock. The AIG meeting has started, so it can’t be them. He told Gabe and Bal to leave him alone, so it can’t be them. His parents and sister live a little far to just drop by, and they always call, anyway. He drags himself to the door. It’s Dean. With...everyone. “Um, hi?”

“Hey,” Dean says. “Gabe said you want to be alone, but can I challenge you?”

Cas leans heavily against the edge of the door. “What is this fuckery, Dean?”

“It’s an adventure I want you to try. All you have to do is give us ten minutes. If you still wanna be alone after that, we’ll go.”

“That’s not how the adventures work. They’re not challenges.”

“I know, but please. Ten minutes.”

His eyes float over each of his friends. “Fine.” He opens the door and lets them in. They shuffle to the living room. Cesar rolls the coffee table out of the way and Rowena, Jody, Linda, and Donna toss cushions onto the floor, where everyone sits. Cas settles between Cesar and Dean, leaning against the front of the couch.

“Okay,” Charlie says as she opens the meeting. “Anyone have anything they want to talk about today?”

“I accepted an invitation to eat with my family,” Dean acknowledges. It’s the first time he’s really spoken about himself in group without guilt or apology. “Nervous as hell, but I’m doin’ it. Cas is coming with me.”

“Are you open to conversation?” Charlie asks.

“Depends,” he answers guardedly. “I don’t wanna talk about...um, my person.”

“That’s okay. Just curious as to why you’re nervous.”

“I don’t wanna be bombarded with their loving care given in the form of shit advice.”

Heads bounce almost in unison around the circle.

“Good on you, man. Jesse’s sister is trying to get me to come over, and I haven’t yet,” Cesar admits to the group.

“I’m not saying this is gonna be a good idea,” Dean laughs, the others joining him. “It’ll probably suck, but I’m glad Cas is gonna be there to help me out.” Dean’s leg presses into Cas’. The contact feels nice. “Gotta start somewhere. They’re still my family, you know?”

Cesar nods in contemplation. “Maybe I’ll try, then. If you are. I took a ride on Jesse’s bike the other day.”

Cheers erupt from the group. Cas points his thumb up, which takes a considerable amount of energy. Cesar drapes his arm around Cas’ shoulders and squeezes.

“Monday was Sean’s birthday,” Jody says of her deceased husband. “I went out and picked a bunch of oranges from our tree. Then I made the orange cake that I used to make for his and Owen’s birthdays.”

“How’d it go?” Cesar asks.

“It sucked, so I ate the whole damn thing. The whole thing. And then I felt like shit and had a stomachache.” The rest of the group laughs. Even Cas manages a smile. He always marvels at Jody’s strength, living through the simultaneous losses of both her husband and child.

“My mom bought Chinese food for us the other day,” Max says. “It was something the three of us used to do, order food and watch a movie. She cried the whole time, but it was still nice.” Cas smiles again, happy for his friend that his mother emerged, at least briefly, from her fortress of grief. The group chirps their happiness and support for him.

Linda speaks up. “Chinese food. Here’s a story for you. When my husband left our marriage, I cried for three weeks, trying to figure out what I did and how I could get him back. When I realized I couldn’t, I bought a bunch of food from Golden Palace, ate what I wanted, and hid the rest throughout his car. He couldn’t figure out why his car stunk so much.”

“He never found it?” Max asks.

“I was gooood,” she purrs.

A wave of laughter fills the room once again. It’s almost too much, this camaraderie, this friendship, this love Cas feels. Too much and so needed. He leans forward until his face is pressed to the floor, body folded onto itself, and the tears leak from his eyes. Hands fall to his shaking frame—Dean’s, Cesar’s, Charlie’s, Donna’s, Jody’s, Max’s, Rowena’s, Linda’s. For a while, the room falls into silence, only his stuttered keening filling it. When his body is wrung out, the voices pick up again. Cas feels himself moved onto a pillow in someone’s lap. He sleeps.

Cas is woken by wet, gentle strokes washing his face. “Goosey Loosey,” Cas murmurs. The dog bows, hoping her dad will play. “Sorry, baby. Not in much of a playing mood. Gotta get you out, though.”

“I’ll do it,” his pillow says.

He rolls over. “What are you doing here?”

“Letting you sleep? C’mon, Goosey girl,” Dean rumbles.

While Dean takes Goose outside, Cas drags himself to the couch and sits. He’s slept most of the day and feels groggy. He glances at his phone and sees it’s 9:30–way too late for Dean to still be here. “You could’ve woken me,” he mumbles when Dean returns.

“Nah. You were comfortable. Movie?”

They restart the movie Cas tried to watch earlier, but he can’t pay any more attention to it now than he did before. He’s too preoccupied with thoughts of Sylvie, both good ones and bad. He shivers.

“Tell me all of your favorite food. For tomorrow,” Dean says after wrapping a blanket around the both of them.

Tomorrow is Friday. The anniversary. He’s not sure how Dean knows—perhaps from the group, or perhaps he gleaned it from Cas’ refusal of Friday dinner. The thought of food makes his stomach churn. “I don’t know if I’ll feel like eating.”

“Then you can watch me eat all your favorites and live with your regret.”

Cas glares at him by the light of the TV screen. “Wow. With friends like you—”

“I know, who could ask for anything more, right? Now, list ‘em.”

Cas lists scallops, French fries, pizza, watermelon, and of course, bacon. “Oh, and pie.”

“Pie?” Dean asks. His eyes get large and misty, like a cartoon child with a too-big head who lost its puppy. “God, I remember pie.”

“It still exists…” he says slowly, watching Dean with the first real spark of amusement and life he’s felt all day perking his lips.

“Yeah, but I gave it up.”

“Bummer for you.”

“Damn right.”

“So, are you saying you’re going to be here tomorrow to eat all this food?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Dean, you have to work. And I don’t think I'm going to make good company.”

“I have the day off. And since when do you ever make good company?”

“Clearly you are one of us now,” Cas smirks. Dean grins, all toothy and dimply. Weirdo. “I don’t know, though,” he continues softly.

“Let’s see how you feel tomorrow, okay? Simple.”

And it is, indeed, simple. It’s simple because in the morning he’s too tired to argue about Dean having spent the night on the couch after getting Cas to bed, too busy teaching Dean the tricks of using his temperamental old oven, and too selfish when Dean disappears with Goose for a while so he can cry without having to worry about upsetting her. It’s simple because in the afternoon he’s too hungry to pass up pizza and fries, too sick when a commercial for Lysol comes on TV, and too curious when Dean tells him stories about growing up with Sam and Adam, his half-brother. It’s simple because in the evening he’s too tempted by the broiled scallops, buttery corn, and watermelon, too amused when Dean tells him that at age seven he made Sam believe he could get pregnant with a watermelon by eating the seeds, and laughing too hard when Dean literally drools over the lemon pie Gabe leaves at the door.

“Dude, pie is, like, in my blood,” Dean groans when he unabashedly cuts himself a second slice. “It keeps me alive.”

“And yet you’ve been denying yourself.”

“Yeah,” Dean sighs. His eyes begin to lose focus.

“Is that on purpose?”

He shrugs and shakes his head.

Cas hums as he regards Dean. Yes, he’s going to do this. He needs to. “Sylvie,” Cas says. Dean turns toward him, his attention fully in the present once again. “My wife. She died a year ago today.”

“Fuck, man.”

“Yeah. Um, she had anorexia. She’d always been pretty preoccupied with, well, lots of things, but especially germs and food. She always wanted to be super healthy—or what she thought was healthy. But things went too far, and she couldn’t turn it around, and she starved to death. Essentially.”

Dean says nothing, but rests his hand on Cas’ forearm.

“We grew up together. She was one of my best friends. She was weird, by other people’s standards, but I liked her, maybe because I am, too. When we were little, we dreamed of working at Disney as illustrators and having huge aquariums in our house. She didn’t want pets with fur, even then—too much to clean, she said. Sucked for me, because I wanted a dog really badly, but whatever. We were kids. I figured she’d change her mind. Anyway, we grew up. We both dated, but it was always easier to come back to each other. We got each other. I was comfortable with her, and that comfort developed into attraction, and I’d never felt that attraction to anyone else, ever. We fell in love, and we married, and I lived with her excessive cleanliness and gave her lots of reasons to obsess.” He gestures around the living room and kitchen, which are in their usual state of comfortable disarray. “I could reason with her at first, but eventually everything was disinfected to death. It always smelled like chemicals in our place. Then the trouble with eating started. It was there when we were teens, but at the time I sided with her and thought her parents were worrying too much, that she was just naturally thin and didn’t eat a lot. She always ate what I made, so I figured there was no problem. After a while, though, her eating dropped off enough for me to notice, and she started being more obvious about counting calories. She went on ‘diets’ constantly. I started to get worried and pissed off and told her she had to eat what I made, so she did. I thought we were out of the woods. And then I found out she was making herself vomit. That night you and I ate the salsa chicken for the first time? I was crying because I remembered we had that dish the night I caught her doing it.”

“Wow. That sucks. I’m sorry.”

Sighing and stretching his neck, Cas says, “Me too. We tried everything, Dean. Me, her parents, my parents. We got her into hospitals, eating disorders programs. She blew them off or she wouldn’t cooperate. Eventually, there was no repairing the damage.” Cas stabs his fork directly into the pie dish and scoops a large bite. “That’s why it bothered me to see you wanting to do my dishes and eating the way you do, at least at first. It scared the hell out of me.”

Dean finishes chewing his bite of pie and grimaces. “You want to hear the truth about that? Um, you may not want to, today, but...”

Cas watches, fascinated, as that grimace becomes a nervous pressing of lips. This feels like something big. “Yeah,” he says. “Today is fine. Right now is good.”

Taking a deep breath, Dean blurts, “Miss...um, Missy. Melissa. I called her Miss. She was my wife, and she died, and it sucked ass.” He fiddles with his fork, then takes another bite and chews thoughtfully. “Miss—shit, this doesn’t go beyond here, alright? I—I don’t talk about this with people.” Cas nods, so he continues, “Miss and I met in high school. We dated around, too, before, but once we got together, that was it. We were class couple, everything. She got me to straighten up and fly right. Got married after she was done college. I didn’t wanna go at first—I was so damn sick of school—but I was gonna go once we got on our feet. I started up the decorator thing, first working for someone else and then on my own, so that delayed that. She was a marketing manager, and she rose up the ranks pretty fast. She was good at what she did. We had this happy little life, you know? We had fun, we bought a house, we started talking about kids. Then she was killed in an accident. She left the house, stopped for her coffee, started her commute, was hit by a truck, and died. Boom. Done. Gone.”

Cas covers the hand that’s still on his arm and squeezes. They let the silence sit for a while.

“Guess I turned into your wife,” Dean observes eventually. “I mean, not really, but sort of. I used to be way more relaxed, but after that I just had to control everything I could—my schedule, my food intake, my exercise, my housework, even what I wore. You know I wear almost the same suit every day? In fucking Florida?

“It didn’t escape my notice, Vice,” Cas smiles, tight-lipped and wry. Dean glances at him and mimics his smile.

“Yeah, well, that’s some control freak stuff right there. I thought if I did all the right things, made life predictable, then maybe...I dunno. Wasn’t gonna bring her back.”

“You just needed to have control over something,” Cas reasons.

“Yeah, I guess that’s it. But we don’t, do we? None of us has control over any of it, and trying to control it is exhausting.” He reaches into the pie dish and starts eating from it, as Cas is.

Cas huffs. “True. And where’s the adventure in life if you don’t let yourself lose control sometimes?”

Their eyes meet over the nearly empty pie dish. Cas grows warm, almost too warm. The connection between them winds through his ribcage. It’s like breathing in sunshine. They share tiny smiles before Dean raises his fork and rumbles, “For the last bite of pie. En garde.”

Their forks wage an epic battle until Cas scoops the bite up with his other hand and shoves it in his mouth.

“Cheater!” Dean shouts, then lifts the glass dish and starts licking it. His tongue and nose are pressed against it; it distorts his face and makes Cas giggle, then snort when Dean accidentally inhales some through his nose.

“Wow, pie really does give you life, doesn’t it?”

“Pie is life, Cas.”

Cas avoids the obvious symbolism of the pie as life and Dean finally partaking of it again, even diving in with gusto. Instead, he offers him a towel and says, “Thank you for eating with me, Dean. And everything else.”

Dean’s smile is soft when he answers, “Thanks for giving me pie again, Cas. And...everything else.”

The inspiration for his next AIG post is easy.

 

Chapter Text

Dean is still tickled by it.

“Dude, I'm totally getting a frame for it.”

“It’s just a doodle. I can make you something nicer.”

“No. I like it just the way it is.”

And he does. He loves it.

He left Cas’ on Saturday afternoon, after having spent nearly 48 hours there. He hadn’t planned to spend that much time there—he hadn’t even brought a toothbrush or a change of clothes—but he hadn’t really had a plan to begin with, anyway. It was rare these days (unheard of, really) for him to do something that he didn’t plan out in advance, that he wasn’t totally ready for. But that’s what hanging out with Cas has done for him. He’s slowly loosening the routines that have ruled his life since Miss died. It feels less scary than he thought it would.

After Cas told him about Sylvie and he told Cas about Miss, something between them changed. It was as if they’d been on opposite sides of a screen door—they were able to see and hear each other just fine before, but when the door was opened they realized how much clearer it was with nothing between them. It was a strange feeling, but a good one. The rest of the anniversary night, they alternated between talking about their “before” lives and their “now” lives. Dean was shocked to realize that he didn’t hate absolutely everything about his now life. When they weren’t talking about that stuff, they were nursing bellyaches (too much pie) and giving each other shit. They slept in late on Saturday morning and went downstairs to grab some breakfast pastries. Gabe gave them a once-over and got them coffee. He smirked at Dean and winked, but also said ‘thank you’ and gave him a slap on the back. Weird. The rest of Saturday was spent playing outside with Goose and fooling around with Cas’ art stuff. He used to really love doing art, and he was good at it, but then he met Miss and got absorbed in a different way to pass his time. That afternoon, Cas made him the comic. And Dean‘s been smiling ever since.

On the way home last night he picked up a frame, so today he’s hanging it up. He takes a picture of it first so he can make it his profile pic on his personal social media accounts, then presses one of those removable strip hooks up on the wall and hangs it in the foyer. His eyes roam the picture once again.

It’s Dean, bedheaded and smiling, lying in a hospital bed wearing a johnny. Connected to his arm is an IV. On the IV stand, instead of a bag, is a pie with a lattice crust—pie giving him life. It’s the cutest damn thing he’s ever seen. Cas is just so talented, and funny, and relaxed, and has such a cool outlook on life, and he’s really, really nice, probably nicer than any guy (or anyone besides Miss, maybe) he’s ever met, and he can’t stop smiling as he traces every line his friend drew. He finally pulls out his phone, snaps a picture of the framed comic on his wall, and sends Cas a text:

To Unknown 9:48am: Hung.

To Dean 9:50am: Are you making a comment about me or yourself?

He looks at the text. He forgot to send the picture. Fuck my life.

To Unknown 9:51am: Sorry. And me, if you really want to know. [1 photo]

To Dean 9:54am: Not sure I wanted to know, but thanks anyway.

To Dean 9:55am: I posted mine on IG. I can’t believe you actually framed that.

To Unknown 9:55am: Of course I did. Pick you up at 11:30?

To Dean 9:56am: Sounds good.

Dean scrolls backwards and reads over a few of their older text messages just for fun (they have the craziest conversations that always make Dean’s day or night a little brighter) and realizes he still hasn’t paired Cas’ name with his number in his phone. He didn’t think he’d be texting him that long, he supposes. He fixes that, then remembers he wanted to see the picture Cas posted, so he taps the Instagram icon on his phone and scrolls until he finds Cas’ AIG account. He didn’t let him see it when he was drawing it, so he’s curious. When he spots it, he’s glad he’s alone, because his eyes well up a little.

It’s Cas, in a hospital bed just like Dean is in his comic. It’s almost as if you could put the pictures together to make a larger picture, like they’re roommates. Cas is sitting up in bed, a rolling tray of food across his lap—bacon and eggs, watermelon, pie, pizza, and a big cup with a straw, probably meant to be the shakes Dean makes for him. But that’s not what’s giving cartoon Cas nourishment. Rather, he has an IV, too, and it’s connected to...a large ear. Unlike Dean’s, Cas’ has a handwritten caption: The best medicine is someone who will listen. Under that is the typed caption Thanks D and my AIG fam. He blinks rapidly a few times to clear his eyes. He knows how much Cas was hurting, losing his wife and best friend all at once, and he’s happy he could help him out. He wonders if he’ll have the same kind of reaction when the anniversary comes up for him. He isn’t looking forward to it.

Dean pushes that thought out of his mind for now. It’s strange not hanging out with Cas this morning, since they’ve been spending their Sunday mornings together, but they did see each other most of the weekend and they’re hanging out again later today. Because of that, they agreed to skip breakfast, but truthfully he would’ve been happy to go over and have their usual Sunday breakfast, and in fact he would’ve gladly spent last night at Cas’ without thinking twice. Cas’ place is comfortable, and he misses having someone around, someone to hang out with at night and wake up to in the morning. Not that he woke up to him like that, though that’s definitely something he misses, too. It’s just nice to start the day with someone else. Goose is an added bonus.

He shakes off the thoughts like Goose shakes off her wet fur. He has to get ready. He showers, then pulls out some cargo shorts and a t-shirt. He wonders what kind of funny or crazy t-shirt Cas will wear today. He slips his feet into a pair of designer leather huaraches and frowns. They’re nice, but they don’t really go with the more casual shorts and tee and he doesn’t want Cas to feel self-conscious about his own casual wear. He trades the sandals for a pair of worn boat shoes he’s had for years. Better. He fixes his hair, but not too much (it’s just his family), slaps on some aftershave for a little light fragrance, and brushes his teeth before heading out the door.

Goose’s happy barking greets him as he enters the now-familiar apartment. When Cas steps out of the bedroom a moment later, Dean does a double-take. He’s...dressed up. In slacks. And a white shirt. And a tie and dress shoes. He looks so different. Polished and handsome—objectively speaking. He has trouble thinking of words for a few seconds.

“Now who’s the underdressed one, there, Mr. GQ?” Dean finally comments, smirking.

He looks down and smooths his hands over his chest. “Oh, I...maybe I should’ve asked. I wasn’t sure how formal your family is for Sunday meals, and you dress in a suit so often for work I thought maybe…”

Cas sounds…nervous. It’s strangely endearing and makes Dean a little warm (because it feels good that Cas is nervous too, of course). “Hey, it’s fine. I mean, you look great, but they’re not formal and it’s hot as balls out and we’ll probably be out on the lanai, so...um, yeah, you might be too hot.”

“Oh. Of course. I’ll change. What would you suggest?”

“What’s wrong with what you normally wear?”

“I’m told it doesn’t always make the first impression it should.”

“Says who?”

“My mother.”

Dean huffs. “Moms. Anyway, like I said, we’re not formal. ‘Sides, I like how you dress. I was just wondering earlier what funny shirt you were going to wear today.”

“Oh,” he says with a pleased smile. “A funny shirt? That would be okay?” Dean nods, raising his brows hopefully. “In that case, I guess I’ll be right back.”

He returns a few minutes later, and Dean is happy to see him in his more relaxed wear—cargo shorts like him, those TOMS shoes he seems to favor, these in gray, and a black shirt that says Do not read the next sentence. You little rebel. I like you. He holds his hands out by his sides. “This okay?”

“Awesome,” Dean grins.

“Good, because it was either this or the Sorry I’m late, I got caught up enjoying my last few minutes not being here shirt. I thought perhaps that wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“I don’t know. Personally, I love it.” They laugh together before heading for the door. Goose whines. “Let’s take her with us,” Dean suggests. That makes Cas smile widely, which makes Dean smile, too.

The two men and a dog take Dean’s car to Sam’s place, a pink ranch-style house they haven’t gotten around to repainting yet. It’s homey and perfect for expanding their family someday. Dean tries not to think about that. He’d hoped for children. They bought the damn cookie-cutter house he’s in because it had four bedrooms, a great neighborhood for riding bikes in, and it was in a desirable school district. Plus Miss liked the idea of living in one of those gated communities (“It’s what we’ve always dreamed of, babe!”). It cost more money than they could afford at the time, but she wanted it and he would’ve done anything for her. Now he’s able to pay for it comfortably, but only because she died and she had life insurance. What irony, or something. She’s the only thing that made it home to him, and now she’s gone. There’s no happy life together, no tending to the scraped knees and homework of their children, nothing but walls and empty rooms.

“You okay?” Cas asks. He must’ve been staring into space, getting lost in his memories.

“No,” he sighs.

A warm hand lands on his shoulder. “Take your time.”

He smiles at Cas, who smiles back. No explanation is needed. He takes a long breath. “Thanks. C’mon, let’s go play Dodge the Awkward Questions.” Cas snickers and they head inside with Goose.

“Dean, sweetie!” Jess gushes as they enter the familiar home. “Look at you!” She wraps him in a hug, her stacked sandals making her nearly as tall as him. “You look great!” She grins, holding him back so she can look at him better. “We’ve missed you. Come in. And you must be Cas!” she adds, peering behind him. Cas affirms this and shakes her hand with a smile. She laughs at his t-shirt and then coos at Goose, who prances around her.

“Hey, Dean,” Sam says, approaching behind his wife as she turns to lead them inside. “Haven’t seen you in those clothes in a long time.”

Dean shoves him. “Shut up. Out of my way, you giant moose.”

“I’m going, jeez. Hey, Cas, nice to see you. Ooh, a dog!”

“Goose.”

“Funny, Dean.”

“That’s her name, dumbass. She’s Cas’. I felt bad leaving her behind. You were gonna be lonely, weren’t you, Goosey?” Dean crouches down to scratch the pup behind her ears. “Yes, it’s no fun being home all by yourself, is it? No. No, it’s not.” She kisses his face in agreement.

“Dean’s going to spoil you,” Cas rumbles, squatting next to him and petting her flank.

They reluctantly draw their attention away from the dog as Dean’s father and stepmother come to the entryway. “Hey guys,” Dean says, offering a wave. John waves and says his usual “Hey Champ,” while Kate goes for the hug. Dean finds he doesn’t mind so much. It doesn’t feel cloying or hypersympathetic; it just feels like a nice greeting, like they used to do. Maybe he can do this. “Guys, this is Cas,” he says belatedly; Cas graciously shakes hands with them. “Adam come with you?”

“Yes, he’s on the lanai,” Kate smiles. “Come on, I made some kebabs I think you can eat.” She drags them all to the shaded lanai, where Adam, his 16-year-old half-brother, is tapping on his phone. He raises a hand in greeting but doesn’t take his eyes off the gadget. Adam, eleven years his junior, had been a surprise, but not necessarily an unwelcome one for his father and stepmother. His father became softer, more attentive, and that benefited them all.

They gather around the table, upon which appetizers are spread, and everyone digs into the food (one of the best social lubricants, in Dean’s opinion). The kebabs are tasty—fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and basil leaves drizzled with balsamic vinegar—and it’s sweet that Kate was being thoughtful of his recent diet, but when the bacon-wrapped crackers come out, he can’t resist. “Bacon,” he whispers to Cas with a grin. Cas mirrors his grin, and they reach out simultaneously for the greasy treats and pop them into their mouths. They’re each three deep when Sam asks, “You eat bacon now?”

Through the food stuffed in his mouth, he answers, “I’ve always eaten bacon.”

“No, but, I mean...again.”

The air feels stuffy, humid. He swallows. “Oh. Um, yeah.”

“It’s just...you haven’t. Since.”

Ah, there it is...the 800 pound gorilla, the convict clanging his tin cup against the bars, the child that won’t stop screaming in the store. Dean sweats. The eyes of his family land on him, then away. It’s awkward, the last several months hanging in the air, until Cas chimes in, “I told him it was very important for his healing to eat more bacon.” And with that, Cas befriends the gorilla, quiets the convict, soothes the child. He immediately follows it up by bringing the attention back to himself with, “My healing, too. So that last one is mine, Winchester.”

Despite the audience and the awkwardness, they easily fall into their usual banter. “I think the fuck not.”

“I will fight you.”

Dean quickly snatches the last cracker. “Your move,” he taunts as he pops it into his mouth and holds it out on his tongue.

Cas sighs. “See, I was actually going to give it to poor Goosey over here,” he says, gesturing to the dog. “Look how left out she feels.”

Dean glances at the pup, who looks hopeful. “Oh. Okay.” He takes it out of his mouth and reaches toward the dog, but Cas stops him.

“Hold up. Give it to me. I need to peel off the extra fat and take the cracker out.” Dean pulls back and hands it over, to which Cas’ mouth spreads in a Cheshire grin. “Sucker,” he rumbles, standing and backing away as he slowly brings the treat toward his mouth.

“Asshole!” Dean yells, leaping to his feet and charging at Cas, who turns away, laughing. Cas doesn’t run far, merely jogging to the lawn, so it only takes a moment for Dean to wrap his arms around him and attempt to pry the cracker from his hands. He drops it and Goose takes advantage, grabbing it before it even hits the grass. They separate, and Cas winks at him as he squeezes his arm with a greasy hand. His little stunt broke the tension and steered the conversation away from what should be a happy, relaxed day with his family. Dean, touched by the gesture, smiles in thanks and nudges Cas with his elbow as they stroll back to their seats. “Sorry, guys,” Dean says to their amused, bewildered faces. “Bacon is serious business.”

“You should see what we do for pie,” Cas adds in a serious tone.

Nobody says a word, but Dean doesn’t miss them glancing at each other. Maybe he really did get them worried. He’s been so sucked into his own grief that he really didn’t give a shit how they were feeling, both about her death and about his behavior. “Hey guys,” he starts, soft but sure. “Listen, I don’t want to talk about this for the rest of the day, okay? I want to just be with you guys and not worry about shit coming up out of left field. But I guess maybe you’ve been worried, so I want you to know I'm doing a little better, okay? I’m doing a little better.”

Relief spreads across the faces of his loved ones (except for Adam, who doesn’t seem to see the big deal). His eyes, scanning the table, stop at Cas’, whose blue ones are warm and bright and already focused on him. They share a small quirk of the lips.

The rest is relatively easy. Cas fits in with his family well. They don’t bring up any delicate topics for either him or his friend, and Cas is his affable self, toning down the snark he usually has with those to whom he’s closer. There doesn’t seem to be any strain between him and Sam after the last meeting Sam went to, so that helps Dean breathe easier. Lunch is healthy but still tasty, and he helps himself to both the fresh fruit and a slice of pie (and notices that Cas eats both, too). The time passes easily, and by the time the party starts to break up, Dean realizes he actually had a good time. Fun. It’s almost a foreign concept.

Sam calls him a few days later, asking him to breakfast, and Dean has enough good leftover feelings from Sunday to say yes. Dean picks a place that has a good variety of options, and after they order and get their coffee, he notices Sam smiling—genuinely smiling, not that tight-lipped, tense sort of smile. “What?” he asks.

“You really are doing better.”

Dean shrugs a shoulder. “It’s up and down, but...overall, yeah.”

“It’s nice to see, Dean.”

He rubs his face at Sam’s earnestness and tells himself to breathe. Pushing down his typical prickliness about the topic, he says, “Thanks. It’s nice not to feel like I'm drowning 24/7.”

Sam nods and they’re quiet for a while. In the past his brother’s jumped right on these kind of statements when all Dean really needed was quiet acknowledgement. Dean appreciates Sam’s silent, solid presence and tells him so. “I know this has been hard on you, and I appreciate you sticking with me and trying as hard as you do. Sometimes all I need is for you to listen, you know? So, thanks. I guess you’re learning,” he jokes to temper the sentimentality of his words.

“I guess,” he chuckles lightly. “Sorry I’m not better at this stuff.”

“It’s alright. There aren’t guidebooks for this shit. Well, there are, but most of ‘em are shit.”

“Yeah. Cas and the others taught me that pretty quickly.”

Dean snickers as he takes a sip of coffee. “They’re good people. Good friends.”

“Yeah. Cas especially, huh?”

“Mmm.”

“He knows?”

“He knows. He’s the only one who does, but, yeah. He gets me.”

Sam blinks. A soft, thoughtful smile plays at the corners of his mouth. “He gets you?”

It’s Dean’s turn to blink. “It, Sam. I said he gets it. The dead wife thing.”

Raising his eyebrows and nodding, Sam replies, “Oh. Right.”

Dean squints his eyes at his brother, who clears his throat and glances at the waitress gratefully when she arrives with their food. The tiny smile never leaves his brother’s face, and Dean isn’t quite sure why.

Chapter Text

The weather is shaping up to be absolutely perfect for their adventure weekend. It should give all of them a good challenge, something they can sink their teeth into.

It’s something Cas sorely needs. He’s felt restless—full of energy, with no outlet. He’s caught up with his work to the point of being ahead, and right now there’s not much else he can do besides wait for responses to his pitches and for his clients to call him back with confirmations or revisions. It’s a good time to take a break, even though he just gave himself one (or tried to give himself one) three weeks ago. He didn’t feel as lousy as he expected to after the anniversary of Syl’s death, so he didn’t bother using all the time he’d given himself. His family and Bal thought he was nuts, but he didn’t have anything planned beyond moping around the house, so why not work? And hey, he did take that one day in Boca Grande. He went out with Dean to one of his consultations and they hit the beach after. That was a good day. Any day with Dean is a good day, he supposes, but that was an especially good day. He got to watch Dean work, and Cas even got a job out of the deal because the couple liked his portfolio. Afterward, they swam and combed the beach for shells, which he’ll use for...well, who knows? They just made him feel happy, and that’s no small thing.

“I think that’s everything,” Cas grunts, lifting the cooler into his old SUV and tossing his duffle bag on top.

“Your boyfriend goin’ on this one?” Gabe asks as he nestles a smaller cooler into the backseat.

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” he grumbles exasperatedly. “And yes, Dean is meeting me here shortly.”

“You knew who I was talking about.”

“Because you refer to him as my boyfriend constantly, which I don’t even understand considering I’m not gay.”

“Didn’t say you were gay. Obviously you’re not. Bisexual or something else, probably.”

“Gabe. Wouldn’t I have some sort of clue that I’m attracted to men?”

His brother shrugs. “Lots of people figure it out later. You were with Syl a long time. Prime exploring-your-sexuality years.”

Cas rolls his eyes. “She was the only person I was sexually attracted to.”

“So?”

“So doesn’t it stand to reason that, if I’ve only been attracted to her and she was a woman, that my sexual attraction is to women?”

“Maybe it’s not the gender; maybe you just gotta get to know people. That’s a thing.” Gabe raises his hands as if trying to appease him and continues, “Look, I don’t want you to be mad about me suggesting that you might be into guys too—”

“I’m not mad—”

“I’m just saying that, you know, consider it. ‘Cause the way you and Dean are…” He trails off and shrugs. “It’s just, you’re close. Really close.”

Cas squints at him and shakes his head. “And?”

“And it’s...closer than friends usually are.”

“We’ve been through the same sort of traumatic experience.”

“And I’m not denying that. But you and Charlie have, too, and you and Cesar, and Jody, and everyone in AIG, and I’m telling you, it ain’t the same, man.”

“Whatever. Don’t make me feel weird about this.”

“I’m not trying to. I’m just saying that the dating you’ve done hasn’t worked out—”

“Gabe, I haven’t done that much. Besides, you don’t strike gold the first few times you’re in the mine.”

“Yeah, well, to me it looks like you and Dean have already struck gold but you’re calling it aluminum.”

The brothers turn toward the sound of Dean parking next to them. Cas squeezes his eyes closed and shakes his head. “Okay, I don’t—whatever, whatever, I gotta go.” He focuses on his dog, his mind swimming in deep waters he’s never considered swimming in before. “Bye, my little gosling,” he murmurs, kissing Goose’s head and ruffling her ears.

Dean drops down beside him, their hands bumping as Dean says his own goodbyes in sweet baby talk. Cas allows himself a peek at Dean’s smiling, relaxed face, but quickly turns away and up at Gabe’s pursed lips and wide, pointed gaze. He turns away from that, too, giving Goose one more kiss before hoisting himself up and grabbing Dean’s things and sliding them into place in the cargo area, then taking his spot in the driver’s seat. Dean plops into the passenger seat, and they wave at Gabe’s double finger guns as they pull away from the building.

The ride is as easy as spending time with Dean always is, and he’s quite helpful setting up the large tents and inflatable mattresses. “Share a tent?” Dean asks hopefully.

He thinks of Gabe’s insinuation, then dismisses it. “Sure,” he smiles.

The only goal for their first day is to set everything up and hang out together, so after everyone’s tents are pitched to maximize cross-ventilation, tarps are strung for shade, mattresses are inflated, food they’re not eating is tucked away in cars, and camp chairs are set in a circle, the nine friends sit around a small campfire with marshmallows on sticks and bottles of beer and water.

“Tomorrow is going to kill us,” Rowena whines in her Scottish lilt.

“And we won’t even die with good liquor in our systems,” Jody notes, throwing back a Corona.

“That’s for tomorrow night, when we’ll really need it,” Cesar laughs. Donna clinks her beer to his.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Cas comments, to groans. “What?”

“You would,” Dean teases with a friendly pat to his arm.

“None of you had to come,” he pouts.

“Yeah, we did.” Dean squeezes the arm he’s still holding. “We had to save you from yourself.”

Cas blows a raspberry at him.

The next day doesn’t kill them, but it comes damn close. They do a ropes course, which triggers something for everyone—Cas can tell, though no one talks about it then. By the end of the day they are raw, physically and emotionally. No one speaks on the way back to the campsite, and Cas thinks it’s a toss-up as to whether everyone will actually stay. But they all do, though they retreat to the tents, everyone doing their own thing. Cas naps. So does Dean.

After some rest and a dinner of beef stew, the nine are gathered on the sand, eating Hostess chocolate cupcakes. The silence is strained, each person seeming to have something on their minds but no one willing to share—no one until Rowena, that is, who finally breaks. She has been a stoic member of the group, freely giving comfort and words of wisdom but not revealing much herself except that her adult son suffered a deadly heart attack just when they were starting to have a relationship again. Rowena stares into the sky, her eyes reflecting the setting sun. “Did your mums cook for you?” she asks the group. Without waiting for answers, she continues, “Because I didn’t cook for Fergus. No. I gave him canned foods and wrapped foods and frozen foods, and I worked twelve hours a day and gave nary a second thought to it. I should’ve done better, I should’ve seen he was lonely. He told me, just before he died, that he’d been lonely as a child. I thought I was doing the right thing, working to give us a decent life, but I failed him. I failed him and I will never be able to make that up to him.” She stands, crushing the package of cupcakes in her fingers, the cellophane expanding with air until it pops. “I will never”—she rips the package in half—“be able”—the cakes ooze between her clenched fingers—“to be the mother he deserved!” Rowena drops the cakes onto the ground; she follows on her knees, rubbing the mess into her face and hair. “I was a horrid mother, horrid!” She gurgles as her breath catches on a sob; she stands and paces toward the water.

Linda approaches her and there’s heated discussion and fierce hugs. Jody follows, the third member of the stolen sons triumvirate; they clutch and wail and curse. When they settle a bit, Dean and Charlie approach, the two in the group whose mothers were taken too soon. They embrace the mothers, holding them for a long time and letting themselves be held, too. Max’s mother is not dead, but in her own grief he has lost her, so he goes to them, too, and is absorbed into their circle. Hands folded as if in prayer, Cas watches with Cesar and Donna. He takes a moment to feel deep gratitude that his mother still walks the Earth, still calls him, still criticizes his clothes and hangs his art in her home, still, as always, loves him.

As the sun sinks toward the horizon, Jody calls, “We’re taking a leap of faith into the water! Come on!”

They join their friends at the shoreline, Cas to Dean’s right, Donna and Cesar tagging onto the end of the line. “I’m a bloody mess,” Cas hears Rowena sniffle to Dean, followed by Dean’s warm “Aren’t we all” as he flicks a chocolate crumb from her eyelashes.

“I feel like I’m getting ready to be baptized,” Cesar jokes. Clearing his throat, he affects the exaggerated Southern preacher accent that always makes them laugh (the preacher has almost become another group member) and cries out, “Now everyone who has made shitty decisions, please approach the water.” Everyone takes a large step forward. “And everyone who has felt regret and paaaain, please approach the water.” Another simultaneous step. “And everyone who wishes they had one more chance, one more time, enter this cleansing water now.” They all wade in until the water level is mid-leg. “And now I say unto you, turn your bodies to the shore and join together, for we are alllll living this life the best we can, we alllll fail, and we are alllll walking that Earth we see, and when we walk to that shore again, we will be reborn by the choices we make from this point on. We clean ourselves of the guilt, the pain, our mistakes, and our past, and emerge from this water anew. Now congregation, can I get an amen?”

“Amen!”

“And can I get a fuck you to all that shit we’re leaving behind?”

“Fuck you!”

“Let us faaaallll into the water!”

And with that, the nine of them drop, trust fall style, into the water. Cas has the tiniest thought about alligators as he descends, but the water wraps him into its cocoon before he has time to panic. They emerge almost simultaneously, sputtering but smiling, wiping their eyes. Rowena’s face is clean of the dessert smeared on it earlier. She is surrounded with loving arms as they wade back to shore.

Cesar makes a campfire, and they let themselves dry as they talk about what the ropes course brought up for them—for Dean and Max, a fear of heights; for Jody and Donna, memories of their adventure-loving loved ones; for Cesar, guilt for his attraction to one of the course instructors; for Rowena, bitterness and self-hatred over a missed opportunity to be a more hands-on parent for her deceased son; for Linda, regret for not letting her child be more of a child; and for Cas and Charlie, vivid reminders of how much their loved ones suffered as they suffered through the heat and the strain of the course. The talk, like the water, is cleansing. Cas finds he feels mentally and physically drained, like earlier, but with a sense of relief instead of overstimulation. The others’ faces tell the same tale.

After that, they drink. It’s not the healthiest coping mechanism, but they are safe and among friends. Jody, in charge of the camping cocktail for the trip, does not disappoint with a drink called a Maple Leaf. “Bourbon, lemonade, and maple syrup,” she explains. It goes down much too easily, Cas thinks as he sips at his third. He’s very loose and relaxed. Dean, Mr. Eat Healthy, is also on his third and is orange-fingered from the Doritos that Max brought. Cas flashes a grin at him, and Dean reflects it. It’s crooked and sloppy and toothy.

“Let’s play Charades!” Donna yells.

“Strip Charades!” Jody adds.

Everyone bursts out laughing and looks at each other, shrugging before they split into teams of three. They’re all too drunk or too comfortable to care whether they get naked in front of each other.

It was a set-up, Cas is convinced a while later, because how else would Dean, Cas, and Cesar be losing so badly now? Cesar’s completely nude, while Cas and Dean each only have their underwear left. And one failed turn after that, Cas and Dean are arguing about who’s next to show their goods.

“You are a horrible guesser!” Dean accuses him.

“If your clues were better, we wouldn’t be in this mess!” he accuses right back. “How was that flailing around supposed to be a horse, for fuck’s sake?”

“I was galloping!”

“You were having some sort of medical emergency is what you were doing.”

“You just don’t want to take yours off, you sore loser. Got something to hide?”

“Nothing to hide,” Cas says, taking a mouthful of Maple Leaf and swallowing. “People who point fingers are often hiding their own”—he giggles, the alcohol making him fuzzy—“insecurities.”

“Nothin’ here, man,” Dean drawls, a hint of a Texas accent laced in his words. He moved to Florida with his family around the time his half-brother was born, Cas remembers him saying. Then his mind processes Dean’s sentence and he throws his head back and laughs, pointing at his friend.

“Nothin’ there, huh? Yeah, that’s what I was saying, too,” Cas jokes. He laughs harder, thinking of all the times Dean has messed up what he was trying to say in text messages. Apparently he messes up his words when drunk, too.

Dean’s brows pinch together, then he scowls. “You...knew what I meant!”

“Okay, time’s up. Majority says you both shut up and strip!” Jody hoots.

So they do. Dean even makes a show of it, walking a short path like he’s a model. He could be, Cas thinks absently. He’s a very attractive person. “Some of us don’t need to flaunt it to prove we got it!” he says (or maybe shouts; the bourbon is kicking his ass).

“And some of us can’t keep it contained, Sweet Cheeks!” Dean crows, slapping Cas’ bare ass on his way by. Cas flushes and rolls his eyes, knowing somehow in his fuzzy brain that they’re going to regret this tomorrow.

And regret it they do. “Oh God, sun,” Dean whines, a tiny sob passing through his lips.

“We seriously should’ve thought this through,” Cas moans. They’re doing a mud run today in town. Why did they decide to do both the ropes course and a mud run in the same weekend, Cas wonders before remembering the run is for charity. The Grieving Families Network, or something. It had been Max’s idea. He might have to kill Max. He turns his head toward Dean to devise a plan for murder, and then realizes Dean’s naked. And he’s naked, too, though at least he’s covered with a throw he brought from home. “What in God’s name?” he mutters. “Dean, why are we naked?”

“No idea,” he murmurs, rolling over. “Jesus,” he gasps, quickly finding his sweatshirt and covering his crotch. Despite his headache, Cas cackles until Dean throws something—a pair of shorts, conveniently—at him.

The pair of men dress facing away from each other and stumble outside. Everyone else is already up, and they look suspiciously more alert than Cas feels.

“Hello, boys,” Rowena smiles. The others smile and wave. Cas squints and Dean scowls, but neither of them is coherent enough to parse out their suspicious behavior.

The mud run is better than Cas thought it would be, because he gets to lie down a lot. This is because he falls down a lot. He’s comforted, though, by the fact that everyone else falls at least once. Nobody escapes the mud. At the end of the run, there’s a pit they can roll around in, just for fun. Dean and Cas are the last ones of their group to arrive (because they got the most sloshed last night, apparently), and the rest of AIG cheers them on as they slide into the pit, Dean slamming into Cas’ side. Cas marvels at Dean, who’s covered head to toe and laughing so hard that mud is dripping into his mouth. He’s so different than the scared, buttoned-up man he met just a few months ago.

“It’s alive!” Dean moans, sitting on his knees and holding his arms out as if he’s a character in one of those horror movies he likes. It might be a crude joke for a grief fundraiser if they thought about it, but they don’t think about those sorts of things. Instead, they laugh as a photographer comes by and offers to take their picture. They all drop next to Dean and sling their arms around each other, smiling through their exhaustion and exhilaration. It’s alive, Cas thinks as Dean tugs him close, beaming. We’re alive.

Chapter Text

He’s not doing this today. He’s not doing this tomorrow, either, or the day after. Just like he didn’t do it yesterday, or the day before that, or two weeks ago.

The anniversary came and went, and Dean’s buried himself in work and Doritos (damn it, Max). He’s pretended he’s too busy to go to AIG, or to have Sunday breakfast with Cas, or to answer his brother Sam’s calls with more than an “I’m fine, just got a lot of work for a client.” But the truth is that he just can’t face it. A year. A year that the woman he loved has been dead.

And the worst part? He’s starting to forget.

Her smell. Her touch. Her laugh. Slowly the details are slipping away, being left in the dust as he establishes a life without her. It isn’t right. So he’s spent most of his free time doing everything he can to keep her memory fresh. It’s working. But at what cost? a small voice in his mind that sounds suspiciously like hers asks. He ignores it.

It’s Saturday at 5:45 in the morning and he’s on the treadmill. The doorbell rings. “What in the hell?” he mutters to himself as he stops the machine and catches his breath. He wipes an arm across his forehead and peeks through the peephole. It’s Cas. He frowns even as panic grips his gut. Cas has never been here before; he’s never even told him where he lives. Dean swings the door open quickly. “What’s wrong?” he asks worriedly, his eyes roaming over his friend.

“You stole my line,” Cas rumbles pointedly. His clothes look slept in, his hair’s a rat’s nest. He’s leaning on the door jamb and his eyes are boring into him. Dean feels exposed. “Are you going to let me in or do I need to create a scene and wake your neighbors?”

“How did you even get in here? It’s a gated community.”

“I parked outside the gate and walked around it. Clearly your HOA fees aren’t enough to build a fence to keep out pedestrians. A design flaw, really.”

Dean shakes his head. He hates the reminder of the ridiculous community he lives in and how much he pays to live in it. He moves aside to let his friend in and leads him to the kitchen. “How’d you find me?”

“Well, where you lived was a true mystery, so I called in the Scooby gang to help me solve it.” Dean rolls his eyes as Cas shoots him a piercing glare. “I called Sam.”

“Why? I’m fine.”

“I know you’re fine. That’s why I’m here.”

“I’m—not that fine. I really am fine. Good.”

“Uh huh. Thus the return to the nasty track pants and Stones shirt I can see through.”

Dean frowns. He’s not wear—oh, yup, he is. But he hasn’t worn it every...well, maybe he has worn it every day. At least he changes for work. “You didn’t have to come. I can take care of myself.”

“Clearly.” He glances around the perfectly neat kitchen and great room. “Hospitals aren’t as clean as this house. And I should know.” Arms folded around himself, Cas wanders by the coffee table and glances at the open photo album. “When?”

Dean sighs. No bullshitting a bullshitter. “The thirtieth.”

“Your last AIG group was the week before that.”

After the camping trip, he’d been feeling good...until the meeting after the trip. There was a sense of moving forward at that meeting, like they’d all broken through a wall of sorts. It felt great—until Dean realized what it meant. That he’d forget. That he was moving on without her. He shouldn’t. What kind of a person did that make him? So he ran, and he buried himself in his grief and his routines and his memories once again. But even the grief didn’t feel the same, didn’t feel like enough. He couldn’t explain it, and he couldn’t make his friends feel guilty for moving ahead in their lives. They deserved that freedom, that happiness. He didn’t want to drag them down his rabbit hole. “Yeah, well. Just better for me to handle all this...this stuff alone.”

Cas arches a brow. “I see. Well, thanks for throwing everyone into a bad place.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“We care about you, Dean. We knew something was wrong at the end of that meeting. And if you didn’t want to talk about it, fine. We get that. Obviously. But to bail on us, to just drop off the face of the Earth—you had to know what that would do.” Dean shakes his head, brows pinched in confusion. Cas rolls his head and huffs an exasperated breath. “You scared us, Dean. You can’t just disappear. It does things to us. People we loved dropped out of our lives. Get it?”

He gets it, and guilt mixed with anger consumes him. The anger wins out. “Yeah, well, someone dropped out of my life, too. Shit happens. I’m not responsible for taking care of everyone.”

“No, you’re not, and yeah, shit does happen. But it hurts when you push us away and disappear. We’re here to take care of each other, to support you through the shit, Dean. We get it. It happened to all of us.”

“Not like it happened to me.”

Cas’ face scrunches in disbelief. “Are you fucking kidding me right now? Do you think you’re that special?”

“None of you had what I had, so none of you have experienced what I have.” He knows he’s being stubborn, but he’s raw and frightened and he can’t help it.

“Yeah, okay, you’re right about that. No one knows about anyone else’s specific, unique pain. That doesn’t mean we don’t know pain, Dean. We all know pain. We all know what it’s like to have someone we love die.”

“Yeah, well, not like me.”

With a sweeping hand, Cas commands, “Explain it to me, then. Explain your pain to me, ‘cause I think, of all people, I’ll get it.”

Dean’s head and heart are spinning. Cas is getting too close. He can’t do this. “No, you won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because you can’t get it!” Dean shouts. “Your wife wasn’t here one minute and gone the next! You had time to say goodbye! It’s different!”

“So your pain is unique and worse than everyone else’s because you didn’t get to say goodbye.”

“Yes!”

Cas marches up to him, his eyes alight with blue fire. “You’re being a self-absorbed, arrogant prick. You think your pain is so much worse because it hit you suddenly? How about being in pain for years? How about arguing with your wife constantly? How about feeling anxious every day about whether she was going to eat, something so fucking basic that no one should have to worry about that? How about not being able to be intimate with your wife? How about watching your wife starve to death, wondering if today will be the day, as you stand by helplessly while all her organs shut down? Huh? And guess what? There was no Lifetime movie goodbye, Dean. There was only fear and doctors and that goddamn antiseptic and dealing with family and a big ‘fuck you’ to Sylvie at the end, because she said sorry to me for her illness. She said sorry, and I said, ‘Fuck you, goddamnit, Syl,’ in front of her family and mine, because her apology was too damn late and I was pissed that I was losing her. Those were the last words she ever heard me say. That was my goodbye.” Cas bends down and away with a strangled sob. Dean, stunned and sick, reaches out to Cas, who bats his hand away. “So fuck you, too, Dean, goddamnit. I think I know what pain is. I came here to be with you because I knew you must be hurting to avoid us all like you did, but you’re so damn stuck on wanting to be alone in your pain...so fine. Have it your way. But let me tell you, you’re gonna lose yourself this way if you keep doing this. You’re gonna be the walking dead. Take it from someone who knows. Oh wait, I can’t possibly know how you feel.”

Dean watches as Cas wipes his face and spins on his heels, heading for the door. He finally gets his feet moving under him and grabs his shirt just as he’s stepping over the threshold. “Cas, stop. Don’t go out like that. Let me help—”

“Don’t help me, Dean. Help yourself.” He rips his shirt out of Dean’s grasp and stomps down the street, pulling it off about three houses down and flinging it into the standard-issue hibiscus plant in the yard. Dean stands helplessly, frozen to the spot, until Cas disappears around a corner. Slowly and without regard for his appearance, he walks to his neighbor’s house and picks up Cas’ shirt. It’s still warm and a little damp, and it smells like Cas’ deodorant. Dean unconsciously holds it to his face and inhales the scent, adding to its moisture content with his own tears.

“You okay, sweetheart?” a voice asks him. It’s an older woman in a jogging suit, out for her morning walk.

“No,” he answers, his voice breaking.

She glances at the shirt, then at Dean’s face. When the kind stranger opens her arms, he falls into them. She rubs his back as he sobs. “Give him some time to cool off, then talk to him,” she advises. “I’m sure you two will be able to figure things out.”

“I hurt him,” he whispers. “He was just trying to help and I hurt him.”

“Well, then, you have a responsibility to make it better, don’t you?”

He nods. “Yeah.” He separates from the woman and thanks her, then makes his way home to his perfect, achingly empty house. He sighs, knowing what he has to do.

An hour later, he’s entering Wing and a Prayer, since the back entrance that leads directly to Cas’ place is locked. Alfie says hello as he enters and asks if he wants coffee. He declines, then thinks better of it and gets one for himself and a tea for Cas. Gabe exits the kitchen and whistles at Dean’s appearance. “The hell, man? You look like someone ran you through a meat grinder.”

“Thanks,” he grumbles as he shifts the bags in his hands to accept the beverages in a carrying tray.

“A little lovers’ spat with my bro?”

“Not today, Gabe.” Dean’s gotten used to the man’s ridiculous, unwarranted teasing, but he’s not in a jovial mood. He closes his eyes and wipes the heel of his hand across his brow.

“Okay, sorry, sorry. He’s upstairs, I assume.”

“Thanks.” Gabe opens the door for him and he heads up the narrow stairs to the apartment he’s come to love like—no, better than—his own home.

Staring at the door, Dean ponders his options. He could just knock, but Cas probably won’t answer. He could walk in—it’s likely unlocked—but he’s been rude and presumptuous enough today and he won’t cross Cas’ boundaries. He could call, but again, Cas probably won’t answer. His way in comes when he hears little feet trotting toward the door. “Goose,” he says under his breath. He sticks a finger under the door but it gets stuck, so he pulls it back. Goose whines and the door jostles, as if the dog is resting her front paws on it. He speaks quietly to her in hopes that she’ll whine enough to get Cas’ attention, but she loses interest. Dean sighs, wondering what to do next, until he thinks of just the thing that will keep her attention. He digs the plate, still warm, out of his bag and pulls out a strip of bacon. “Here, baby,” he murmurs as he breaks it in half, then slides the piece under the door. The dog immediately investigates, and a moment later, the piece is gone. He hears her snuffling under the door, then her paws scrabbling for the next piece he’s keeping just out of her reach. She yips. He pushes it just a little closer.

“What are you doing?” Cas mutters on the other side. “Wha—” The door swings open. Dean looks up at him through thick lashes. The spaniel grabs the meat and runs. “Are you bribing my dog with bacon?”

“Maybe?” He puts on the cutest face he can muster. It used to work wonders with Miss. Cas raises an unimpressed brow. Mental note: it does not work with Cas.

“What are you doing here?”

“Begging your forgiveness,” he admits. He points to his bags. “Bacon. Pie. Tea.”

“I haven’t had coffee yet.”

“You can have mine.”

Cas scoffs. “Decaf? No thanks.”

“Nah, it’s the real stuff. Figured I’d need the boost. Courage and all.”

“That’ll make you jittery as hell.”

Dean shrugs. “Yeah. Listen, Cas, I’m sorry. I was an asshole.”

Cas studies him, then nods. “Okay. You coming in? I’ll make eggs to go with the bacon.”

Nervously, Dean studies his face in return. “You...that’s it?”

“Yeah?” Cas sticks out his bottom lip and throws his inky hands up. “You want something grander?”

He shakes his head and stands, taking his bags in hand. “Just didn’t think it’d be that easy.” He shuffles in behind Cas, toeing his shoes off and kicking them toward the pile by the door. Goose dances around him, likely looking for another handout.

“Life’s short. Clean slate.” He turns to the pup. “No more, Goose. That groveling bacon is for me.”

Cas hums and scrambles eggs while Dean sits awkwardly in the kitchen. His easy, complete forgiveness isn’t right. Cas shouldn’t’ve offered such forgiveness, for Dean’s slate isn’t truly clean. He feels compelled to confess all of his sins, the ones that lie in the shadows of his heart and prick him with their needle-like appendages. “I’m forgetting her,” he admits in a tiny voice.

“No, you’re not,” Cas says breezily, confidently. He slides the eggs onto two plates and grabs a few strips of bacon from the plate in the middle of the table. He scoops them each a dollop of cottage cheese to round out their meals. Dean stares at him, incredulous. “You’re not,” he says again around a mouthful of eggs. “You’re forgetting insignificant details, maybe. What her pillow smelled like, or the exact color of her eyes, that shit. That stuff fades because that’s how our brains work. But you’re not forgetting her. Her essence. Who she was as a person. How you felt about her. How she felt about you.”

No. No, he wasn’t forgetting those things. Still… “I forgot what her voice sounded like.”

“Of course you did. You’re not hearing it anymore. But you haven’t forgotten how you felt when you heard it.”

“Yeah. But—”

“Listen, here’s the thing. You’re going to beat yourself up over something you can’t control, and then you’re gonna try to go all super-control on it and it’s gonna happen anyway, and you’re gonna make yourself miserable. Been there, done that, except for me I did some of it when Syl was alive, because she changed so much right before my eyes. By the end I couldn’t remember what she looked like when she was healthier. I couldn’t remember her not having that weird hair that fetuses have on her body, or hollowed eyes, or blue fingertips. I couldn’t remember the sound of her laugh, or what color her hair was supposed to be because it was all dry and falling out. But you know, I remembered that she did laugh, and I remembered the love between us, and I remembered that she was an amazing person, so creative and fun until the illness robbed her of all that. I still remember those things, the important things. Once in a while I’ll have a memory or a dream that’s really vivid, and I remember all the details that you’re mourning. It’s nice. But strip all that away, and I still remember her. I’ll never forget her. And you won’t forget Miss, either. Even as you move forward.”

Dean sniffles, tears perched on the edges of his eyes. “So you’re saying I’m normal.”

“I’m saying you’re not alone. What you’re feeling, all the things you’ve told me and probably the things you haven’t, too...they’re not unique to you. Many people experience them. They’re typical. Expected. Normal, if you want to call it that.” Cas glances at him with a gleam in his eyes. “Now, I’m not saying you’re normal, because let’s face facts, Vice.”

“You’re such a dick,” Dean huffs with a smile, blinking rapidly as he picks up his fork.

“I am. I’ve come to a place of acceptance about it.”

They finish breakfast, then Cas tugs Dean to the couch. Goose jumps up and sits beside Dean. “Alright, we’re gonna play a game called Is It Normal? You tell me all the stuff you’ve been dealing with, and I’ll tell you if it’s normal. Okay? Go.”

Dean hesitates, not sure if he wants to share—not because he doesn’t trust Cas, but because, well, he’s not sure he wants to know. He’s not sure what it’ll mean about him. “I don’t know. Isn’t that kind of judgy? And I thought I didn’t have to talk if I don’t want to.”

Cas’ smirk softens to a gentle smile. “You don’t have to talk. But this isn’t group, either. It’s just me. And it’s not judgy. No ‘shoulds’ are gonna come out of my mouth.” Cas clasps his shoulder gently. “Listen, normal was your word. We both know there really isn’t any such thing as ‘normal,’ okay? And this is not about judging. It’s about letting you know you’re not alone. And there’s something more you’re worried about, I can tell. Let me help, okay?”

And so Dean finds out just how ‘normal’ his grief is. Forgetting details? Normal. Panicking about forgetting details? Normal. Wondering if she knew how much he loved her? Normal. Blaming himself for her death because he didn’t keep her long enough at home or he kept her too long or he should’ve/would’ve/could’ve done something to stop it? Normal.

Being pissed off at her for answering the text that led to her death? Yup, that one’s normal, too. But it hurts.

“I blamed her best friend for that text, Cas. I wouldn’t talk to her after, didn’t talk to her at the funeral, haven’t talked to her since. But the truth is, she answered it. Miss did that.”

“And you’re pissed at her for it.”

“I don’t want to be pissed at her,” he tells Cas. His face aches from the strain of holding back his tears, his pain.

“I know. But you are.”

Dean nods. “If she hadn’t answered that text, she wouldn’t have drifted into the other lane, and that truck wouldn’t’ve hit her, and she wouldn’t’ve died.”

“She did something stupid, and you’re pissed.”

“We argued over that shit all the time!” he bursts. “I told her not to text while she was driving, that no text was worth what could happen, and she’d always say, ‘It’s fine, relax, God.’ But it wasn’t fine, and I fucking told her that, and she didn’t listen. And now she’s gone, because it was so much more important to answer her friend than to stay with me.” His lip trembles with barely-contained emotion.

“People don’t think, Dean. People say things and do things and they don’t think through the consequences. Bad things happen to other people, not them. They assume that things will be fine, because they usually are. They aren’t trying to be careless or choose one outcome over another. They just think they’re safe.”

“Miss thought it would be fine,” Dean murmurs, eyes downcast.

“If Miss knew that answering that text would’ve led to leaving you, I’m sure she wouldn’t have done it. She just didn’t think it through. She assumed she’d be fine.” Dean feels Cas’ hand on his arm, and he turns his eyes to him. “She made a mistake, and it cost her her life and it cost you your marriage to someone you loved very much. But she was human, and it was a mistake. She can’t give you an apology, but if she could, I’m sure she would. I’m sure she’d do anything to see you happy and at peace, because she loved you.”

Dean’s anger leaks from his pores, washed away by the tears he’s finally allowing to fall. He feels Cas’ arms wrap around him and it feels good, so good. He sinks into them. “I feel like a bad husband for letting myself be happy,” he weeps.

“I know,” Cas murmurs soothingly as he strokes his hair. “The first time I dared to feel happy, it depressed me for days after. The first time I realized I didn’t think of her all day, I had a panic attack. My friend Bal had to talk me down.”

“Oh God,” Dean cries. “How do people move on, Cas? How do people date again, fall in love, get married again? How?”

Cas is silent for a while. When Dean’s tears subside, he listens to his friend’s heart beating. “I don’t know,” Cas says eventually. “I guess we just make the decision to live in the present instead of the past. Forgive ourselves and our wives. Be grateful for what we had. Remember that our wives would want us to be happy, just like we’d want them to be happy if the situation was reversed. Let go of the guilt. You know, shit like that.” Cas ruffles his hair when Dean chuckles. “It’s not easy, and you won’t be perfect at it. I know I’m not. Just gotta keep trying every day, I guess.”

Dean smiles. “Thanks, Doctor Cas,” he murmurs. He realizes how exhausted he is, weeks of poor sleep and self-isolation finally catching up to him. “For that. And for forgiving me for being an ass.”

He expects him to say “You’re always an ass” or something like that, but instead he holds him a little closer. “I knew where it was coming from. Sleep, Vice. I’ll watch over you.”

He sleeps.

Chapter Text

Dean sleeps most of Saturday and doesn’t really want to talk when he wakes in the late afternoon. Instead, they draw. Cas is a bit embarrassed that he sees the latest AIG doodle he was working on before Dean arrived—a picture of an island that looks like a blindfolded man announcing “I am an island; there is no one but me,” though he is surrounded by other islands. “Way to call me out, Cas,” Dean says, though there’s no anger. They get lost in doodling (Dean various flowers, Cas various body parts) for some time. Dean glances over and asks, “Do you have scissors?” He cuts up his flowers and places them on some of the body parts Cas has drawn, making fantastical flower people. It makes Cas very happy that Dean is being playful. After that, Dean draws other things and Cas takes each of his pictures and adds to them, creating larger scenes together. This makes Cas very happy, too. As fun as the process of creating art on his own is, it’s even more fun when shared. He remembers the hours he and Syl spent in each other’s presence, each in their own artsy cocoon but feeling very much together. They never did create something together, though. Cas thinks it might’ve been nice to do.

They have a light supper of homemade chicken fried rice that has Dean drooling (“That’s it, I’m coming here for supper every night”) and eat some of the chocolate cream pie he brought (“Dude, this was your apology pie, I didn’t think you were gonna let me have any of this”), then they settle in to watch a movie. Dean flips through the selections. “Hmm...oh, hey, this is one of Kate’s favorite movies. Don’t tell, but I actually like the music.”

Cas looks up from texting Gabe just as Dean presses play. “Oh, hell no,” he says, grabbing the remote.

“What?”

“You can choose literally anything but Mamma Mia!

“Why not?”

“I hate musicals. Sylvie forced them down my throat like a parent giving a kid cough syrup. She actually sat on me once to keep me there.”

Dean arches a brow. “You’re telling me you couldn’t get her off of you.”

Cas remembers the incident, early in their marriage. She sat and squirmed on his lap until he was hard, which didn’t take much, so he responded by lifting her shirt and sucking on her nipples until she forgot about the movie. “Oh, I got her off,” he smirks softly.

“Not above using sex. Nice,” Dean jokes. He holds up his hand for a high five.

“She started it,” he replies, but slaps his hand anyway. “Never let me get away with it after, though.” They both seem to lose themselves in memories for a minute, until Cas says, “So, did Miss make you do things you didn’t like?”

“Ugh, the fucking Homeowners’ Association meetings,” he sneers. “She loved it, but man, I couldn’t stand it. I mean, I get having cleanliness standards and shit, but telling me what I can plant in my damn yard or telling me I can only have my house be one of five shades of beige? Bugged the shit out of me.”

“I don’t think I could live in that kind of community.” Cas shudders, his sense of creativity insulted at the thought.

“I hate it,” Dean admits, surprising him. He peers at him, encouraging him to continue. “She wanted the house. She loved the idea of living in this big, fancy place. It was her dream. I did it because I loved her. But they all just lack character, you know? She liked that—she liked things neat and uniform. I had so many ideas, but she didn’t want to be too different than everyone else, so we really didn’t do a lot of decorating once we bought the place.”

“But...decorating...it’s what you do,” Cas frowns.

“Yeah, I know. Don’t get me wrong, she liked my stuff. She just liked things a little more neutral, and I like things a little more colorful and comfortable. Like this place. So there’s that. Plus, you know, it’s lonely there, so, I don’t really like it.”

Cas lays a comforting hand on Dean’s shoulder. “I get it. I couldn’t stay at our place after Syl died. It was too much house, too big, and I needed something that didn’t have all the memories. Well, and the medical bills added up, so I couldn’t afford it, anyway, even though we were just renting. Now I wouldn’t exactly call this paradise—I’d love to have more space for Goose and I’d love to have a real studio, that sort of thing—but I like it for now. It probably could use a decorator’s touch, though.” His eyes scan the space. “Your poor heart is probably breaking over the IKEA bookshelves.”

“I believe in working with what you have, but...it wouldn’t be my choice.”

“Hey, we can do a Trading Spaces kind of thing. You can give my place some flair and I can splatter paint all over your beige walls and hang a chandelier made of rocks and sticks in your gigantic living room/dining room...thing.”

Dean laughs, which makes Cas feel warm and settled. “Great room,” he says. “I bet you’d do an awesome job. I really like this space you have here. It’s lived in and unpretentious.”

“It’s messy and cheap, you mean.”

“It’s you. It’s colorful and comfortable and you have a dog and dishes in your sink and your art on the walls and cushions all over. It’s the kind of place I love being in.”

Cas smiles. “You’re welcome here any time, you know. Even if I’m not here. If you just need to get away from...whatever.”

And so, Dean stays the night, because he needs to get away from whatever. They never do start a movie, talking instead about art and their houses growing up and what makes a house a home and more annoying things their wives made them do. Dean sleeps on the couch. In the morning, Cas wakes to the jingling of Goose’s harness and leash. “That was a good run, huh, girl?” Dean coos quietly. He makes kissing sounds that make Cas smile. He’s quite cute sometimes. Well, not cute...though he’s an attractive person...those freckles are darling… He makes a face and shakes his head at his train of thought. Next he hears Dean call out a breathy oof. He is, no doubt, on the floor, with Goose standing on him as if she’s conquered him. He lets her get away with a lot. That’s pretty cute, too. Well, not cute...well, yes, it is cute. It’s sweet, endearing. That’s what he means. He shakes his head again and peeks around the corner. They are, indeed, hanging out on the floor, which Cas notices probably needs to be swept.

“Getting on her good side?” Cas teases. Dean grins. “Thanks for taking her out.”

“My pleasure. So, how about I make you breakfast? You know, since you actually keep food at your place now.”

“And now you’re trying to get on my good side. Well, I am not against a little buttering up. Go ahead.” He tucks his hands into his robe and smiles at Dean. From this angle, he looks a little pink, perhaps from the exertion of the run.

Dean looks comfortable in the kitchen, even happy, bopping his head to some tune in his mind. Cas runs downstairs for coffee, bumping briefly into Gabriel, who smirks at his robe and the two cups. Cas shoots him a glare before heading back up the stairs, where breakfast for two is waiting at his little scarred-up table. It’s nice. Really nice. They’ve done this before, of course, but it strikes him differently this morning. It occurs to him that maybe he’s been lonelier than he thought. Having such a good friend around—someone he fought with, then made up with, someone he likes spending time with, someone who likes spending time with him and being in his home—it fills a space, of sorts. He doesn’t know what to call that space. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it does. “Thank you,” he says to Dean, “for this, and for being here.”

“Thanks for letting me stay. Letting me back in in the first place. Think the group will be okay with me coming back?”

Cas tilts his head from side to side, considering. “They’ll give you shit, but only because they love you and you worried them. Then it’ll be right back to business as usual.”

“You sure?  I know I was an asshole, disappearing like that.”

“Yes, but you’re our asshole.” Dean snickers softly, and they eat quietly for a while. Cas notices Dean’s smile drop with every bite. “What’s up?”

“It occurs to me,” Dean says slowly, staring blankly across the table, “that I’ve been an asshole to a lot of people in all this.”

“Mmm, probably.” Dean glances at him; Cas shrugs. “Sometimes grief makes you an asshole. Of course, for me, being an asshole is part of my personality.”

“You’re not an asshole.” Dean pushes his shoulder gently with his fist. “Anything but. You’re a great guy, Cas.”

Dean’s sincerity makes his face heat. “Aw, shucks,” he says sarcastically. “So, what do you want to do about it, if anything? Being an asshole to other people, I mean.”

“Well, I guess talk to people.” He shudders theatrically. Cas laughs.

“You could do what I did. I made cards that said ‘Sorry I’ve been an asshole’ and delivered them to my family and friends.”

“You did not.”

“I did.” Dean chuckles at him, clearly not believing him. “Seriously. One day I had a major blowout with Gabe, and I just started painting. I painted for three days, stopping only to sleep, eat, and piss. When I was done, I realized how far gone I was.” He picks up his phone and flicks to photos of the paintings he did. They’re red and black and brown and a putrid yellow. “This is me. Was me. I couldn’t get anyone to understand that this was how I was feeling. But when I looked at it, it scared me. It actually scared me. And then I realized that people didn’t know this. They couldn’t see inside me, couldn’t see the whole picture. They only saw what I was throwing at them, all that red. The anger. So I took photos, and I printed them and wrote the ‘Sorry I’ve been an asshole’ message. Later that day, Gabe left something at my door. It was a heart-shaped cake with a big hole in the middle of it. It came with a note.” He leans on his hands and takes a breath; it still chokes him up. “It said, ‘Sorry I didn’t understand.’ I felt like shit. When I lost Syl, he lost me, and he was heartbroken, and I didn’t understand that any more than he understood what was happening with me until then. After that I decided I had to be responsible for how I was treating people just as much as they had to be responsible for how they treated me.”

“Wow,” Dean murmurs.

“You wanna try?”

“Try what?”

Cas wipes his mouth and tosses the napkin in his plate. “Give me a minute.” He places the plate on the counter, then goes into his closet in his bedroom. He stores his extra art supplies here, since he doesn’t bother with a lot of clothes and he only takes up one side, anyway. He pulls out a couple of large canvases and a bucket to carry the supplies they’ll need. Dragging them to the door, he turns to Dean. “Painting. Come pick colors and brushes.”

“I’m not really a painter…”

“Everyone’s a painter. Come on. I’ve seen you drooling over my supplies. And I know you’re talented with a pencil. I bet you’re a good painter, too.”

“Yeah, okay,” he says with a bashful grin.

He leaves Dean to peruse the selection while he sets up the easels and canvases outside. He wishes he had a larger canvas to offer, but 16x20 would have to do. Dean and Goose join him, bucket filled to the brim. Dean’s face is serious but glowing, too, lit up by the prospect of expressing those nameless feelings in a way that is wordless. “Ready, Teach,” he teases.

“I’m not teaching you anything. I’m simply providing the medium.”

“Taught me more than you know,” he hears him mutter. Cas doesn’t respond, keeping that gem and the feelings that it evokes to himself.

Cas sets them both up, then closes his eyes and breathes, allowing a vision to take shape in his mind. He doesn’t know what he expected, but the vision that comes, with its accompanying hurt, guilt, anger, and sadness, isn’t it. He tries to push it away. It wouldn’t be right to paint about everything that came up for him when they fought yesterday while Dean works out his own pain right next to him, especially when he’s already forgiven him. The vision, though, stays stubbornly stuck in his brain. So Cas paints. Petals of lavender, leaves of cream-olive-café au lait. He wants to make the flower healthy and pert, but it wilts a bit instead, like its water ran out. A petal falls. Cas frowns. His hands never allow him to hide. They force the truth, no matter how much it hurts. Rather than fight a losing battle, he breathes and lets his emotions splash on the page—a riot of color like noisy static surrounding the single blossom in the middle of the canvas.

When his body feels empty, he stops. Dean has already stopped and is staring at Cas’ painting. “Wow,” he murmurs. “This—you—it’s—whoa. Is the flower you?”

“Mmm.”

“Did—is this how you’re feeling right now?”

“Mmm.”

Dean hesitates a moment, then asks, “Did I do that? Make you wilt? Make you lose petals?”

His eyes flick to Dean’s. What can he say? “Yeah. I tried to let it all go, but…” He shrugs. “You ignoring me the last three weeks, what you did yesterday, what you said… it hurt, and it brought stuff up for me. I forgave you quickly because I knew why you did it, and I really do think life’s too short to hold onto things. But I guess it was still on my mind because I brushed off the hurt a little too fast.”

Dean touches the flower; the paint is already setting because of the heat. “I can’t wipe it away.”

“No.”

He nods. “Here’s mine.”

Cas appraises Dean’s painting. A lone, faceless figure in a muddy gray-green hue stands in the middle of the canvas. It’s Dean, Cas supposes. Above him are huge storm clouds. On the left side is a pile of dirt. On the right, people in various colors—yellows, reds, blues—with a huge wall separating them from him. It’s painful to see his friend feeling so disconnected in his grief. “I owe you an apology, too, you know,” Cas says. “I wasn’t as understanding as I could’ve been when I came to see you yesterday. I went right to my own grief and shot my mouth off. Sometimes I lead with my heart instead of my head and speak before I think.”

Dean shakes his head slowly, dismissively. “You don’t owe me an apology. You were right. We both loved, we both suffered. No better, no worse, just different. I was wrong to compare them.”

Cas lays his arm across Dean’s back and his head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry about Miss.”

Dean loops an arm around his shoulders and rests his head on Cas’. “I’m sorry about Syl.”

They stand for a while.

“How can I make it better?” Dean whispers, staring at Cas’ picture but asking something deeper, perhaps. He turns to Cas. He points to the wilted flower. “How can I make it better? What I did? I want to make it better.”

Cas senses that he shouldn’t argue. “Well, how about a vase of water?”

Dean’s brows pinch together.

“You could make it better by providing a vase of water.”

Nodding, Dean picks up a brush and selects a shade of blue from his palette. Cornflower. He paints a simple curved vase over the stem. “It doesn’t change the rest of the picture,” he moans quietly. “I’m sorry. Sorry my pain—no, I’m sorry I did this to you. Sorry I broke what we have. Had.”

Cas, pleasantly empty and at peace now, takes the brushes he used earlier and applies a few strokes onto the canvas, then several more. “You didn’t break it. You just couldn’t see the whole picture.” He feels Dean behind him, gazing at the thriving flowers Cas added to the vase. Dean wraps an arm around him from behind, his muscular arm spanning across his collarbone. He squeezes once, a long, lingering touch, before he shifts away.

“I want my picture to be better, too,” Dean rasps, touching his canvas.

Cas stands back and hums, then asks if one of the figures is him. At Dean’s confirmation, Cas paints over himself in the same color as the background, then replicates the blue figure at the wall, opening a door he paints into it. “There,” he says. “No wall is unbreachable as long as there’s a door.”

“Yeah. That’s how I make it better,” Dean murmurs. “I open doors. I closed them, so I’m responsible for opening them and dealing with whatever’s on the other side.”

“Maybe so. I kept slamming doors in people’s faces,” Cas shares. “I had to be the one to open them. Maybe it’s the same for you, or maybe you just need to let people know you’re home and open to visitors.”

Dean glances at him a beat too long before licking his lips. “Help me with an adventure?”

“Of course,” Cas answers. “But maybe after you shower and change. You’ve been wearing those same track pants and t-shirt for a couple of days now.”

Dean looks down at himself and laughs. “Yeah. Longer, if you don’t count changing into work clothes.” He pauses, then reaches for his palette and dips a finger into the cornflower blue he used for the vase. He streaks the paint across his shirt, the faded tongue on the famous logo severed. “Maybe two adventures,” he murmurs.

“I’m happy to help you open whatever doors you need to,” Cas says, smiling at his unfurrowed brow, the lines finally relaxed and smooth. Dean beams at him, a lightness palpable in his breath.

With Dean’s permission, Cas posts his next Instagram picture for AIG: a close-up of Dean’s painting, focused on the opening door, with the typed caption If we build walls, we can also build doors.

Chapter Text

“Shit,” Dean mumbles to himself. He’s really going to do this, and he really doesn’t want to. But in order to heal, to move forward, he has to. He thinks. There’s no road map, really, but it feels like the next step. And, it occurs to him with some guilt (but not as much as he expects), there’s a part of him that wants to heal, to take a few steps forward. It felt good when he did. Then it felt awful, but only because he beat himself up over it. Chances are, no one else would beat him up over moving forward. Not even Miss. She even told him once, he remembers, after they watched some feel-good Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel about finding love again after the main character’s husband died. She meant more in the romantic sense, but he thinks it applies.

“Honey, if I die first, I want you to find someone else.”

“Don’t talk like that. Besides, everyone knows that guys always die first. Just like in the movie.”

“Well, just in case,” she said. He nuzzled her neck to distract her, but she wouldn’t be distracted. She was annoying like that. “I mean it. I want you to have a good life, and I want you to get married again and be happy. Find yourself a great woman. Or guy.” She winked at him and he rolled his eyes.

“I’m not bi,” he defended himself against her teasing, once again.

“Yeah, tell that to Dr. Sexy, or Ryan Reynolds, or Vin Diesel, or…”

“They’re just cool!”

“Yeah, okay, hon. So, promise me. You’ll find someone.”

“Yeah, okay, whatever. You too, since I’m going to kick it first.”

“Oh, honey, I’ll be trolling your funeral for my new guy.” He shook his head at her as she laughed and drew him in for a kiss, the light from the TV making her face glow like an angel.

“Such a brat, Miss,” he smiles as he dons the track pants and t-shirt one last time. He washed them when he returned from Cas’ on Sunday night (knowing he had to go home but not really wanting to), and he hasn’t worn them since. But tonight, for his AIG friends, he will.

He drives to the familiar shop and parks in his familiar spot. He hears Goose barking brightly as he reaches the top of the stairs, scrabbling at the door. “It’s open,” he hears in response to his knock.

He enters and Goose is on him immediately, paws resting on his knees and big, brown eyes radiating joy. “Goosey, baby,” Dean coos, scooting down for dog kisses. “Man, why don’t you greet me like Goose does?” he calls to Cas as he stands. He pretends to be disgruntled as he continues, “I work hard all day long, and yet when I come home, the dog gives me a better greeting.”

Cas, who’s at the oven, turns and runs toward him. Dean barely catches him when Cas flings himself into Dean’s arms, his legs around his waist. “Oh, baby”—he lays a hand on Dean’s cheek and kisses his own hand loudly and repeatedly, as if he’s supposed to be kissing Dean—“I’m so glad you’re home. I’ve been waiting all day”—more hand kisses—“for my big, strong man to sweep me off my feet!” He finishes his ridiculous display with a long, noisy kiss against his hand. He hops out of Dean’s arms and rests his hands on Dean’s shoulders. Fluttering his lashes, he says in a falsetto, “Your dinner is almost ready, the housework is all done, and I picked up your suits from the dry cleaner. We still have a few minutes before dinner, so would you like a cocktail, or maybe my hard-working man would like to relax with some fellatio?”

Dean chokes on any response he was about to mutter as his face burns; Cas laughs with delight and slaps him on the arm. “Come set the table, asshole.”

It takes Dean a solid five minutes to settle the warm squirminess in his chest that he can’t quite identify. He can’t dismiss it as his anxiousness about tonight’s group, because he knows it isn’t that. It’s what he tells Cas, though, when Cas asks what’s wrong. They talk, Cas reassuring him with that way he has, and though his heart doesn’t stop wriggling like a puppy in the grass, he’s able to focus on what’s ahead.

Cas reassures him once again when they arrive in the back room of Wing and a Prayer. “Cas,” Dean smiles quietly, looking at the drawing Cas (it had to be Cas) did on the portable whiteboard in the corner of the room: a simple door, ajar. His friend says nothing, but he squeezes him on the shoulder.

As soon as people start arriving, Dean is bombarded with hugs and kisses. He’s overwhelmed with the support and acceptance that Cas assured him he’d get but he still didn’t really think he deserved. When the group begins, Dean says, “So, I owe you all an apology—not for having my feelings or needing to be alone, but for not communicating with you about what I was doing. Cas said you guys were worried, and I would’ve been too if one of you guys just disappeared. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t do it again, ya little butt,” Donna says. The others nod. Dean closes his eyes and nods, too.

“I won’t. Um, so this is what’s been going on with me a little.” He grabs the painting he did outside with Cas from its spot on the floor, against the wall. “The anniversary of my—my person’s death happened recently. Didn’t know how to handle it. Felt like I was moving on without h—them, and that I was bad for doing that, so I built up my wall again. I’d been taking the bricks down one by one, but I put it back up because I just…felt safer, I guess, or something. Um, this wall here is one I’ve had up between me and other people for a while now, especially some of my friends and family. But it’s, uh, lonely, by myself. So...doors.” He points to the door that Cas painted. “The cool thing about doors is that I can open and close them when I want to, unlike a wall. So, I'm trying to make some doors.” He sighs and puts the painting aside. “Fuck it. Opening doors, right? So, my wife, Miss, is my loved one who died. I never planned to tell you guys. But that’s just keeping the wall up. So. There. Now you know.”

His group—his friends—gaze at him with what can only be love, respect, acceptance. Relief floods through him like a long drink of water down his throat, cooling his frazzled nerves. It wasn’t so bad, saying all of that. “Um, so I'm gonna Gump that for now, but, uh, thanks for listening and for not asking questions or whatever. I’m okay, though. Cas helped me out a lot, even though I was an asshole to him.” He glances at Cas, still feeling so guilty, but Cas just purses his lips and shakes his head, giving him the softest, sincerest eyes he’s ever seen. And there goes his rolling puppy heart again. Dean clears his throat. “So, the other thing. I want to do something. A little personal adventure.” He glides his hands down his torso. “These are my mourning clothes. I’ve been wearing them way too much. So, uh, I wanna transform them.”

“Would you like some support from us?” Cas asks, those warm eyes still fixed on him. Dean nods. “And what kind of support would you like?”

He points to the streak of blue across the tongue on his shirt. “I want you guys to paint my clothes. Now, if that’s cool. If anyone’s willing.” He nudges his head to where Cas set up supplies and a dropcloth earlier.

“Okay. Is anyone able and willing to support Dean on his adventure?”

Every one of his friends raises their hands, all smiling. Dean bites his lip and smiles, too.

The group relishes the chance to paint all over their friend. Everyone laughs as they turn Dean into a living canvas, painting faces and fairies and rainbows and, in Cas’ case, a set of lapels on his shirt, complete with a ruffled flower in a buttonhole. “A boutonnière, because you’re so fancy, Vice.”

“You’re a dick,” he grins. Cas grins back. Dean can’t quite pull his eyes away, and Cas isn’t moving, either. Luckily, Max saying he’s going to paint “Kiss This” across his ass gets the attention of both of them, and everyone has a good laugh. “It’s like you’re the wall now,” Max says, “and we’re the graffiti artists.”

“I like that idea,” Dean comments.

He sees Cas wander to his painting and add something to it. He holds it up for Dean and the others to see: a tiny blue heart has been added to the wall. “Graffiti,” he explains. The puppy squirms under Dean’s rib cage. His friends add hearts, and the squirming puppy becomes a puppy pile.

When they’re through painting, the time is nearly up. Dean carefully removes the wet shirt and pants (to catcalls) and slips into shorts and a t-shirt while Cas hangs the clothes on hangers he brought from his apartment and suspends them from a pipe near the ceiling. It’s like an art installation. “No more mourning clothes,” he says, nodding at the shabby clothing twirling lazily. It feels good.

His other adventure is not one he shares with the group, other than Cas. “I’m nervous as hell,” he says to his friend as they arrive at a cookie-cutter house in a cookie-cutter neighborhood just a few streets from his own house. “I know I'm supposed to be opening doors here, but I’m kind of afraid I’m going to get punched in the face when I do.”

“Possible,” Cas says matter-of-factly. “But not probable. She might be angry, though. Or she might cry.”

“Please let her be angry,” Dean sighs. Cas lays a supportive hand on his shoulder. They get out of the car.

Tonia’s house is heartbreakingly familiar. Dean didn’t go there a lot, but when he did, it was always with Miss, who treated it like a second home. Tonia was her best friend, the person whose text she answered. He blamed her for so long for that. He smooths his suit down and knocks.

Pete, Tonia’s husband, answers, surprise written all over his features. Surprise turns into a scowl. “Dean.”

“Peter,” he nods. “May I please speak with Tonia for a minute?”

Before he can answer, Tonia rounds the corner. “Pete, who’s—Dean?”

Despite him not wanting to see her cry, he feels his own tears welling up. “I came to apologize for how I treated you after Missy’s death,” he spits out in a rush, not sure he can get the words out otherwise.

Tonia switches places with her husband. “Oh. Um, thanks.”

“I mean it,” he says, not certain he’s convincing her. “My grief...I didn’t know what to do with it. I needed someone to be mad at, and I couldn’t be mad at her. I just couldn’t. It was easier to be mad at you, so I was. But you didn’t deserve that. It wasn’t your fault.”

She nods mutely.

“So, anyway, I’m sorry I was an asshole. Um, I brought you something.”

He didn’t know what to do with Miss’ jewelry after she died, so he’d shoved it in a drawer and ignored it. Now, he pulls out a piece from her collection: a birthstone ring, given to her by Tonia, who she called her “birthday buddy” because their birthdays were in the same week. Tonia recognizes it immediately and begins to cry.

“She would’ve wanted you to have it.” Dean coughs as his own tears begin to fall; he feels Cas’ hand on his back. It helps. “She loved you. She loved you a lot.”

Tonia wipes away her tears with a tissue her husband hands her, then slides the ring onto her finger. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me.” She glances at the ring, then at Dean. “How’d you do with the anniversary?”

“Pretty shitty,” Dean answers with a wry, sad smile. Cas rubs his back. He glances back at him gratefully. “But I got through. You?”

“‘Bout the same,” she says with a wry smile to match. “Sucks.”

“Yeah. So, um, you doing okay otherwise?”

“Yeah, actually. Job is good, other friends are good. We’re expecting.” She rests a hand on a belly that’s just starting to swell. “You?”

“Been hard. But, getting there. Work is good. Made some good friends. Family’s good. Sam and Jess are trying for a baby.”

“Oh, that’s great.” She peeks behind Dean. He wonders whether he should introduce Cas or not when she asks, “Um, are you dating?”

Dean shakes his head. “Not, uh, not yet, no.”

Tonia offers a sad smile. “I understand.” She doesn’t, not really, but he gets what she’s trying to say. “She’d want you to be happy, you know.”

“Yeah.” They stand in silence for a while. Miss was their only connection to each other; without her, there isn’t much left to say. “Well, thanks for talking to me. I’m really happy you’re doing well. Congrats on the bun in the oven.”

“Thank you. And thank you for the ring, and for coming over. I appreciate it.” She pauses. “It was good to see you.”

He accepts the hug she offers. It’s stilted, awkward, but it’s something. “You too,” he says. “Take care. Um, if you need anything, my number hasn’t changed.” He’s not sure if she has his number and she doesn’t ask for it. They say their goodbyes. He walks away from the house in a daze, tired and feeling strange.

“How are you?” Cas asks when they’re in the safety of the car.

“Okay.” He inhales deeply. “Went better than I expected.” He pauses, then adds, “She’s having a baby.” The bitterness in his voice surprises him.

“I heard.”

“Yeah.” He wipes a hand across his face as he feels a grief burst coming on. He wipes it again, harder. He doesn’t want to cry over something so stupid, something that has nothing to do with him.

Cas’ hand lands on his arm. “Do you want children, Dean?”

“I did.” He sniffles.

“You still can. If you want.”

He shrugs. His eyes water.

“Me too. I really wanted them. Still do. She said she did, too, but....” He pauses. “You wanna know something I’ve never told anyone?”

Dean glances at his friend. “Yeah.”

“I, uh, I knew, deep down, that she didn’t want kids, even though she said she did. I knew, before we even got married, that I wouldn’t become a father if I stayed with her, but I chose her anyway.”

“You knew?”

“Yeah. I mean, not because she said it. Just a gut feeling. We’d talk about it and she would say things like ‘Fine, but I’m not giving birth to them’ and ‘Okay, but let’s adopt older kids. Little kids are so messy and so much work.’ She had a hard time with the germ thing, I think, or maybe it was the idea of having to give so much of herself when she was already so preoccupied, I don’t know. Then the anorexia messed with her period and hormones and stuff, so she couldn’t have kids anyway, at least as long as she was unwell. She almost seemed relieved when the doctor told her that.”

“I’m sorry.”

Cas nods. “I think my family would’ve tried to talk me out of marrying her if they’d known. They knew how much I wanted to have kids. I loved her, though, I really did. And somewhere in my head, I hoped maybe she’d grow out of it, I guess, or maybe love would change her mind or at least she’d do it for me, but...well, she didn’t.” He blinks rapidly, then stares out the window stoically. “I felt pretty resentful sometimes, but it was my fault, I guess.”

Dean knows the feeling. He asks, “You wanna know something I’ve never told anyone?”

“Sure,” Cas replies, turning back to him.

“I don’t think Miss wanted kids, either. Like, really wanted them. I think she liked the idea of them, I think she thought she was supposed to want them, and she knew I wanted them and her family wanted her to have them. But she kept putting it off. She wanted to get ahead at work and I totally understood that. Or I tried to, anyway. Put on a good face.” He smiles thinly. “She said we had plenty of time.” Dean huffs and shakes his head.

“You still do,” Cas says.

“Yeah.”

“Me too. This time, though, I want to find someone who wants kids.”

“Me too. But that would involve dating, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that.”

“Not necessarily. You could adopt on your own. Although you might find you want to date eventually.”

“Maybe.” Dean sighs, staring at his twiddling thumbs. “Feels good to start moving forward, but...just feel so fucking guilty. And clueless. Dating, man...it’s a lot. Whole new world.”

“Well, don’t build a wall, Dean. Just close the door for now.”

The corner of Dean’s mouth ticks upward. “Yeah, yeah. Walls bad, doors good. You wanna go get some pizza?”

They head to one of Cas’ favorite places, which is becoming a favorite of Dean’s as well since modifying his diet. Cas rushes to the door and opens it. “After you. I figure you’ve opened enough doors today.”

“Dork,” Dean says, affection and gratitude tumbling in his chest. He grins hard as he passes him, his heart and spirit both lighter than they’ve been in a long time. The puppy yips and jumps under his breastbone.

They compromise on one meat and two veggies (Cas being the reasonable one this time), and they keep the conversation light as they wait. After their meal arrives, Cas asks, “So, which door is next?”

“Family, I guess, maybe. Things are pretty okay there, actually. Maybe Benny and Cole. I mean, I haven’t seen Cole in a long time, even before Miss died, but we were tight at one point. Figure it’s good to reconnect with as many friends as possible.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I think. I dunno. I feel bad because I’ve basically blown them off.”

“I hope they’ll understand. I admit, I lost a few people because of all this. Most of my friends, actually.”

“That sucks.”

“Yes. But I’ve gained some, too. I guess it’s shown me who my friends are.”

“Yeah. Least I’ve gained some good friends in all of this. One awesome friend in particular.” He glances up at Cas, who’s focused on his plate but smiling shyly. It’s funny, but not funny ha-ha or funny strange. It’s a funny-in-the-belly sort of funny, a feeling he doesn’t quite have words for. Like pink champagne.

“I was thinking of a new couch. Would you help me choose one?”

“Huh?” He realizes both that he got lost in staring at Cas and that Cas has totally changed the subject on him. Cas looks at him expectantly. “A new couch?”

“Yes.  My couch is boring. I could use your designer eye.”

Dean shifts into professional mode. “Okay. Anything in particular you’re looking for?”

“Something with a sleeper in it. I have this awesome friend who likes to hang out at my place, and I want him to have a comfortable place to sleep.”

Puppies rolling, champagne flowing, ears flaming, Dean laughs. “You’re such a dork.”

“You call me a dork the same way you call me a dick. I'm not sure how to take that.”

“You’re a dorky dick. Or a dicky...dork.”

Cas bursts into those squealing, nose-scrunching giggles he does sometimes, the ones Dean’s always trying to pull out of him because they’re pink champagne funny, too. He whips out the black pen he always seems to have on him, then grabs the paper placemat under his plate and keeps giggling as he hides what he’s doing with his arm. A few minutes later, he grins at Dean as he holds up the scalloped placemat. “A dicky dork.”

It’s a cartoon of a man that looks like Cas, but with thick glasses and a turtleneck dickey over a bare chest. The guy also looks like he’s well-endowed under his jeans, but he’s not sure if Cas meant that as part of the joke or not. Either way, the cartoon is hilarious. “I’m keeping this,” Dean declares as he whisks it out of Cas’ hands, to his cry of protest. “And I’m calling you Dicky Dork from now on.”

“I hate you,” Cas declares, tossing a piece of ice from his glass onto Dean’s plate, then bouncing another off his forehead. Dean can’t stop smiling. He’s really glad he opened his door to Cas. It’s good to have someone.

Chapter Text

Cas would really like to strangle the guy in front of him, but they’re in public and he doesn’t feel like going to prison over this douchewad. He’s been nothing but a piece of shit since they met at the restaurant for dinner and, within ten minutes, loudly commented to Dean, “Wow, you guys are...close.” Dean gave him an unimpressed look and brushed it off, but the man’s attitude gnawed at Cas. The guy kept going all through dinner and now here at the bar, inserting snide or cutting remarks he frames as “jokes,” mostly about their sexuality and the nature of their relationship. Instead of committing homicide, he fantasizes about all the ways he could torture the man...driving his paintbrush handles under his fingernails...pouring paint thinner in his eyes...siccing the neighborhood’s cranky stray on him...that sort of thing. He’s pompous, entitled, and apparently, a cheater.

“I’m tellin’ ya, she was a nice piece of ass,” the guy, Cole, says—and as a piece of shit, he should know something about asses, Cas thinks.

“Man, brother, I dunno,” Dean’s other friend, Benny, mutters. He looks uncomfortable.

“Aren’t you married?” Bal asks him with a disgusted sneer. God bless Bal—he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind, no matter who he thinks he might piss off. Cas is grateful he’s here. He says what Cas wishes he could right now. He won’t, because he doesn’t want to upset Dean.

“Engaged.”

“It’s practically the same.”

“So? You’re not my woman, limey. What’s it to you?”

“Get your slurs right. I’m not British.”

“Maybe you should keep your mouth shut before I feed my dick to you, cocksucker.”

The table erupts in admonishing noises until Dean says, “Let’s talk about something else, okay?”

They do, for a while. Benny manages to distract everyone with funny anecdotes from his restaurant. Cas likes Benny well enough. The Cajun chef seems devoted to his wife, speaks kindly, and clearly still holds feelings of respect and friendship toward Dean. He hugged him tightly when they met up, the year’s distance seemingly forgiven and forgotten. Benny seems a little uncertain about Cas himself, but that’s not important to Cas. He’s here to support Dean, and as long as Benny treats Dean well, that’s all that matters to him.

When Benny’s stories begin to wind down, Bal chimes in with some stories of his own. The polyglot travels everywhere for his job as a wildlife photographer, and his stories are often so beyond the scope of their everyday lives that they seem made-up, but Cas has seen the evidence of some of his adventures. He’s not so sure what Bal sees in him, but Bal has stuck around and has been a true friend. He spent many nights with Cas when Sylvie was struggling, or when he was struggling with her. Toward the end, as Syl’s body began shutting down, Bal canceled a trip just to be by his side. He’ll never forget how he helped him deal with Syl’s family when he decided to take her off life support and when it was time to make funeral arrangements. And Bal has been there since, whenever Cas needs him. Like right now, when Dean starts talking and piece-of-shit Cole (heretofore known as POS in his mind) bulldozes over him and begins some self-aggrandizing story from his time in the military. Bal grabs his wrist under the table and squeezes, something he used to do to remind Cas to stay cool when he wanted to explode. Cas finds himself doing the same to Dean, except when he grabs what he expects to be his wrist he gets his hand instead, just above his wrist. He grips it tight and squeezes anyway. He meant it to be a quick thing, but when Dean curls his fingers over Cas’ fingertips, he leaves it. He’s not going to act up over sort-of-holding a man’s hand under the table, not when it seems to bring his friend comfort.

“So, man,” POS turns his attention to Dean when he’s done talking about himself, “ready to party tonight? Those hotties are checking us out.” He nudges his head toward a couple of women at another table. “A few more beers, some boobs, yeah?”

Dean shifts in his seat—probably not enough for POS to notice, but Cas does. “Uh, nah. Thanks anyway.”

“What, you grow a pussy or somethin’? What’s the deal?”

Cas restrains a sigh and wipes his forehead with the wrist Bal had been holding.

“Just haven’t thrown my hat back into the ring, man.”

“Well, throw it, dickwad! What’re you waitin’ for?” He swats him in some sort of attempt to be playful.

Dean shrugs, trying to make it look nonchalant. “I’m easing into things.”

“Easing—” he huffs. “Dude, the only thing you should be easin’ into is some girl’s wet—”

Cas cannot stay silent. “He’s already said no to your lewd suggestion. You’re being quite disrespectful toward him as well as toward womenkind.”

“Oh, well, excuse me. Hey, Dean, your bitch is whining. Think he wants you to feed him.” He makes a jerking-off gesture with his hand as he snorts a high-pitched cackle.

Before Cas (or Bal, who’s tensing up next to him) can retort, Dean stands. “Shut your damn trap about him,” he growls, pointing his finger at the man.

POS stands, too. “What, can't take a joke anymore, Winchester? You all pissed that I insulted your boyfriend? Fuck you, man. You called me, you wanted to hang out. You used to be fun, and now you’re just another snowflake with a snowflake bestie you wanna fuck up the ass and marry under a rainbow flag—”

Cas jumps to his feet to defend Dean—against what, he’s not sure. He only knows that the piece of shit’s body language is threatening, and he’ll be damned if he lays a hand on Dean. His fists are clenched and his teeth are gritted as he steps around Dean to protect him, even as Dean is staring daggers and looks ready to pounce himself. POS’ eyes flash as he steps toward them.

“Out! All of you! Or I’m calling the police!” the bartender shouts, shooing them from their table as he approaches. Benny takes the distraction and leads Cole out the door, with Bal, Cas, and Dean paying the tab hurriedly and following after.

“I oughta kick your ass!” POS yells as Benny urges him into his car.

“You try it and I’ll have you arrested for assault!” Cas yells back. He’s not sure whether he was talking to him or Dean, but Cas’ response is true either way. The guy flips them off and leaves with a screech of tires. Next to him, Dean sags. Cas smooths a hand over his back.

Benny trudges back to them, and they stand in a quiet circle until Bal claps his hands. “Well! Almost had a fistfight and got arrested! That’s a hell of a night in my book. Shall we go celebrate our continued freedom with a drink? Maybe at Cas’ place?”

Thank God for Bal.

Things are much easier at Cas’—mostly because POS isn’t there, Cas guesses, but perhaps in part because it’s home for Cas and home-like for Dean and Bal. Even Benny seems to relax. Bal makes the drinks and Cas throws some chips into a bowl and warms up the leftover spinach-artichoke dip Dean made the other night when he was over. He peeks surreptitiously into the living room, where Dean and Benny are talking quietly. The friends seem to be at ease, which brings Cas comfort. He knows Dean was nervous about this.

“What’s with you?” Bal asks him softly, curiously.

Cas turns away from watching Dean. “What?”

“You’ve got a look.”

“What look?”

“Like...I don’t know.” His eyes search Cas’ face, contemplating. “Just...a look.” He glances toward the living room, then back at Cas, squinting. He smiles.

“What?”

Bal chuckles to himself. “Nothing.”

He’s being annoying—not in a malicious way, but more in a knowing way, like he knows something that Cas doesn’t. It’s making him uncomfortable. “Carry the drinks,” he orders his friend, deciding that it’s too much for Bal to be looking at him like that and he’d much rather join the men in the living room, even if they are interrupting. Luckily, they don’t seem to mind. Dean flashes him a smile as he lowers himself next to him. It’s a real smile, not an “I’m F.I.N.E.” smile or a “Help me, I'm drowning” smile. He seems present, settled, like he so often does here—not quite as much as usual, but closer than Cas expected, truthfully.

“So, Dean, I have to say my opinion on your friends is split 50/50,” Bal declares as he takes a sip of his bourbon. “Benny, good. Cole, well, I’m not impressed.”

“You and me both,” Dean mutters, shaking his head. “What a dick.”

“Well, now I’m going to be suspicious of what you’re really saying next time you call me a dick like you always do,” Cas teases him.

“You’re the best kind of dick, Cas. I mean, wait, that didn’t come out right, I—” There’s too much laughter for him to continue, so he covers his face.

Cas tugs at his wrist, laughing but only because Dean is turning red. His wrist is thick and warm in his hand; he keeps it longer than necessary, staying connected to him as Dean’s hand falls onto the couch. “I knew what you meant,” he murmurs. “Thanks.”

Almost shyly, Dean nods. “Yeah, of course. You’re nothing like him.” He clears his throat and they separate, as if by unspoken agreement. “Uh, so seriously, you guys, sorry he was a jerk. I don’t know what his deal was.”

“Deep-seated homophobia, for one,” Bal observes.

“Huh. Yeah. Didn’t know he was like that.”

“Maybe something triggered him.”

Dean’s brows knit together as he looks at Bal. “Such as?”

Bal glances into the distance, thinking, then back at Dean. “I don’t know quite yet.”

“Jealousy, maybe?” Benny suggests. His eyes bounce between Cas and Dean. “I mean, maybe he felt threatened or somethin’, ‘cause you guys used to be close and now you and Cas...you know.”

Cas isn’t sure what he means, and Dean doesn’t seem so sure, either. He shrugs a shoulder as he takes a sip of his drink. “I dunno. I mean, we were close in high school, but...man, I don’t remember him being that much of an ass. Put him in the military for a few years, and boom. Asshole.”

“Bettin’ he was an asshole before, brother. Just showin’ his true colors now.”

“I guess. Won’t be calling him again.”

They move on to other topics, sinking further into a comfortable camaraderie that Benny is slowly warming to. After a couple more drinks, Cas glances at Dean, who seems to be falling asleep. He pokes him in the shoulder. “Vice.”

“I’m gonna miss this couch, Cas,” Dean says drowsily as he adjusts himself on the cushion. “So lumpy. So stained. So taupe.”

Cas chuckles. Dean is a bit of a goofball when he’s had a few. “We can send the other one back when it arrives.”

“Don’t you dare. The new one is blue velvet.”

“Don’t forget the mattress in it,” Cas reminds him.

“Can’t wait. This thing kills my back.”

“So sleep at home on your ‘memory foam,’” Cas says mockingly, complete with air quotes, starstruck eyes, and dreamy voice. Dean gives his knee a half-hearted shove.

“No. Goose likes having me here.” Dean sticks out his tongue.

“Good thing, ‘cause I can’t stand you.”

“That’s not true. I brighten your days.” Dean grins at him, and Cas shakes his head fondly. He glances at Bal and Benny to suggest wrapping up the evening and catches them exchanging glances of their own. It makes him feel squirmy.

Dean spends the night, because that’s another thing that’s become a “thing,” and the next day they hang out at Sam and Jessica’s. Dean talked with them and his father and stepmother last week, the day after talking with Tonia, and it went well—everyone agreed they were assholes in their own way and decided to make a fresh start, so it was quick and relatively painless, all things considered—so the day is relaxed, the tension between the brothers nonexistent. Cas remembers when things finally felt this way between him and Gabe. It was a huge relief to both of them to be brothers again, stupid and teasing and irritated over inconsequential things. Dean is quiet, though. Not in the way of words—he has plenty—but in mannerism, and in what he doesn’t say.

That evening, they sit on Cas’ couch and draw—Dean, some sketches for work, and Cas, a commentary about the death of friendships for AIG. “Sucks,” Dean says without preamble.

Cas notices Dean gazing at his drawing and frowns. Is he offended? “What?”

“Cole. What a shitshow that whole thing was last night.” Oh. Cas can’t disagree, so he offers a noncommittal grunt as Dean continues, “Like, I know we didn’t hang out like we used to, first with his military stuff and then me with getting married and then with Missy’s death, but I didn’t think he would’ve changed that much. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe I didn’t really know him.”

“Mmm. Maybe.”

“I feel bad for dragging you guys into that.”

“Don’t. It’s not your fault.”

“Well, I’m definitely closing that door and throwing away the key. Building a fucking wall.” He pauses and shakes his head. “What he was saying. It bugs me.”

It bugs Cas, too, but he isn’t sure why, other than the guy’s general attitude toward gay people and women and...well, everything. A cold dread clutches his stomach, though, hearing that Dean is bothered, too. What bothers him about it? Is it the same as Cas, or is it something deeper, or something more personal...like the insinuation that he was partnered with Cas? Not that that should bother him, but maybe it does. Is that it? The idea of being rejected? Again, not that it should matter. “What, specifically, bothered you?” he finally asks to quiet his mind.

“Just, his whole thing. I mean, all his trash-talking shit. It pissed me off. Like, all his shit about women and gay people, you know? Can’t believe any woman would wanna be with him. And it was fuckin’ wrong for him to bash other people just because they wanna be with another consenting adult who happens to be the same gender. Asshole.” His fiery tone quiets as he shrugs and says, “I mean, I’m not gay, but...it’s a human issue, you know? Just...wasn’t right to me.”

Cas relaxes and again, he’s not sure exactly why. “I agree with you. His treatment of women was abhorrent. And it’s always bothered me when people use homosexuality as an insult or joke, or harbor negative feelings toward others for feeling sexual attraction or love for someone of the same gender. Feeling attraction, falling in love, maintaining a relationship—all that’s hard enough without putting more limits on it.”

“Exactly,” Dean agrees emphatically. They nod and gaze at each other for a while, until Goose snuffles in her sleep and rolls onto her back. “She agrees, too,” Dean snickers, grinning softly as he rubs her belly. Heat swirls in Cas’ chest and he’s still not sure why. But there’s something, something in the folds of his gray matter—a nerve touched, a synapse fired. Something.

They change the subject. They make huge club sandwiches with bacon and bean sprouts. They watch Deadpool and drink beer. But the something remains.

“Did you and Sylvie have lists?” Dean asks out of the blue as Ryan Reynolds fires off some cocky remark.

“Lists? Lists of what?”

“You know, like, who you were allowed to bang. A freebie list.”

“What?”

Dean huffs and turns away from the screen to explain. “A list of people that, if you had the chance, you could have sex with and it wouldn’t be cheating. Fantasy stuff. Like, you were allowed to bang Mila Kunis if you had the chance, because she’s on your list.”

“Ohh, gotcha. Um, not really. I mean, she had some notable crushes, but...we didn’t talk about it that way, I guess. Did you and Missy?”

Dean chuckles. “Oh, yeah.”

Curious, Cas asks, “So who was on your list, Vice?”

He rattles off a not-unexpected list of attractive women, but then shocks him at the end when he throws two men on the list. “‘Cause every guy has a guy crush, Cas!” he proclaims with a swat to Cas’ arm. “Dudes you’d go gay for ‘cause they’re that cool, you know? So, who’s on your list?”

Cas can tell Dean is covering up his nerves with loud bravado. It’s a little sad, because he doesn’t want Dean to feel uncomfortable with him, but it’s also...cute, because he cares so much about Cas’ opinion of him, and because he does that lip-licking thing when he’s nervous. “I don’t know who’s on my list,” he admits, breezing right by the fact that Dean has two male celebrities on his hypothetical list and admitting something that’s uncomfortable for him instead. “I’m not really attracted to people very easily.”

Dean studies his face, perplexed. “Your motor doesn’t rev up when you see a good-looking woman on the street? Or it didn’t? I mean, I don’t know how you do with that stuff now, since, you know.”

“It’s not that, I just...I don’t find myself attracted to someone’s appearance first, generally speaking. I have to get to know them before...my motor revs into high gear.”

“Never say that again,” Dean laughs, knocking Cas’ foot to show him he’s teasing him. “Okay, but people are objectively nice-looking, though, right? So, say, Gal Gadot is the nicest person ever. You get to know her, you guys have a lot in common, whatever. Would you be attracted to her then?”

“Possibly. But not merely because she’s physically attractive, though I do admire all sorts of beauty. I’m an artist.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay, I get that. They have to be, uh...emotionally attractive, or something. So, okay, what if someone isn’t physically attractive, but you really like them as a person?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Emotional attraction is just part of it. I do get physically attracted, too, once I know someone, so if I don’t find them physically appealing then I suppose we would be friends.”

“Huh. Okay, then. So you wouldn’t really have a list.”

“I suppose not.”

Dean frowns in thought. “Okay. That’s cool.”

To be that accepted for something that most of the world scoffs at, something he hardly understands himself, is a relief. “I suppose, though, that Gal Gadot and Mila Kunis have a certain appeal.” He smirks at Dean, who laughs. He turns to the movie they’ve been ignoring. “And Ryan Reynolds is a riot on Twitter and pretty badass in movies, so would he count as my ‘guy I’d go gay for’?”

“Counted, but you’d have to fight me for him.”

“Sorry, but I’d win. I’m hilarious. Everyone wants someone funny. And I'm quite cute.”

“Who told you that?”

“My mom.”

“She has to tell you that.”

“Ugh, the abuse I take. That’s it, you’re not making it on my list.”

Dean laughs, and it sets Cas’ heart and brain crackling with heat. He doesn't know why, but he is certain it’s something.

Chapter Text

Cas’ new couch arrived six weeks ago, just a couple of weeks after their outing with Benny, Cole, and Bal. It’s awesome, in Dean’s opinion. It’s a peacock blue velvet, and it’s long—perfect for not only the comfortable mattress it contains, but also for a six foot man to lie on to watch TV without cramping up. The vibrant color is well-suited to the art-filled space. It probably cost more than his friend would’ve ordinarily spent, but since Dean got a deep discount with the retailer on top of the item being on closeout, it was a good deal and Cas told him to go for it. It was a little big for the room, so they had to get rid of a couple of things (see ya, IKEA bookcase), but all in all it worked out well. At least Dean thinks so. “I’m in love,” Dean murmurs yet again as he snuggles into the cushions. He’s fairly certain he’s told Cas this for forty-two days straight.

“I know,” Cas always responds patiently, and this time is no exception. “It does make the rest of the place look shabby, though, doesn’t it?”

He hasn’t said that before. Dean opens his eyes. “I mean, who’re you askin’ here? Dean the interior decorator or Dean your friend?”

Cas glances around. “The decorator.”

“Oh.” Though he’s never thought of Cas’ place as shabby (except maybe when he first saw it), now he glances around with Cas and tries to see it through his professional eyes instead of the eyes of someone who’s become comfortable in the space. “Well, I wouldn’t call it shabby. I mean, you have a lot of different styles in here, though. That’s not bad when it’s done purposely, but when it’s just a mishmash without much thought, it can look...um…”

“Shabby.” He sighs. “I’m bored with it. You know what I really want?”

“What?”

“Something that feeds my creativity. Something repurposed. Like, have you ever seen those TV shows where they feature unusual homes? Like homes converted from old factories or something? I’d love something like that.”

Dean smiles. It’s about as far from cookie-cutter as someone can get, and he loves it. “Tell you what. You find that place, and I’ll help you decorate it.”

“I probably can't afford you.”

“Free of charge, doofus.” He throws a pillow toward Cas’ head, which Cas deflects. “You think you’re ready to move from here?”

“I don’t know,” Cas says, growing quieter. “I’m restless, but I’m nervous.”

“About?”

“Affording the payments. Leaving the security of this place. Being alone.”

Dean frowns. “You’re alone now.”

“Yeah, but I have Gabe downstairs most of the time, and the noises outside, and the place is so tiny that I don’t really feel alone very much. In a larger place I might feel...very small and solitary.”

“I get it,” Dean says. The feeling of his house not really being home hasn’t gone away. He’s still reluctant to have anyone over, not wanting them to be infected with the same sort of unease he has. His days and nights at Cas’ have grown more frequent.

“And I wonder if I should wait until I find someone,” Cas adds.

“Hmm. Well, you don’t know when that’ll happen. Or if. You have to live for you, Cas. Besides, knowing you, you’ll find someone who’s cool enough to like living in a funky place. I mean, I think it’d be awesome.”

“Well, you are the coolest person I know, Vice.”

Heat blooms in Dean’s cheeks. He’s never thought of himself as cool, but Cas seems to think he is. He wonders, not for the first time, what Cas would say if he suggested living together. Cas is easily the best friend he’s ever had besides Miss. He’s fun, considerate, and a surprisingly good cook for the crap he eats. Used to eat. They’ve lent a lot of balance to each other in their relationship, and they have a great time together. Cas is just...the best. But he’s dating, albeit sporadically. It’d be his luck that Cas would find some woman who also thinks he’s the best and he’d be out on his ass. He doesn’t want to take that chance, so he doesn’t mention it.

As if reading his thoughts, Cas asks, “What about you? Ever thought about moving? Or at least making your place more your own?”

Dean shrugs.

“Nothing’s tying you down but you.”

It’s not the first time he’s had that thought, either. About a lot of things. “Shut up, I know.”

At group on Thursday night, he has the thought again as Cesar announces, “I, uh, had a date last night.” The group stays expectantly silent until he adds, with a smile a mile wide, “It was great. So weird, but...so great.”

Cheers rise along with people as several stand to give Cesar hugs. “Are you open to conversation?” Charlie asks when everyone’s seated again.

“Yeah.”

“You said it was weird. What did you mean?”

“Well, I mean, it was strange to sit across from someone who wasn’t Jesse and feel...those feelings. Excitement. Butterflies. Connection.” He glances at his feet. “Lust.” He laughs as several ooohs float into the air. “I mean, nothing happened, but yeah. I thought I’d feel guilty, but I didn’t. And now I don’t know if I should feel guilty about not feeling guilty.”

“Uh oh, you said the ‘s’ word,” Jody teases with a squeeze to his shoulder. He smiles in acknowledgement, rubbing his forehead.

“What are ‘shoulds,’ Cesar?” Cas asks gently.

Cesar rolls his head, stretching his neck. “Joy killers.”

“And this group is about feeling alive.”

“Right.”

Do you feel guilty about not feeling guilty?” Linda asks.

At the shake of Cesar’s head, Cas says, “Let’s sit with the idea that we can want something that gives us happiness without feeling any negative feelings to destroy it.”  

They breathe for a while. Some group members close their eyes. Dean stares into the distance until his eyes focus on Cas, who’s sitting quietly except for his hands, which are gliding over each other. Some sort of nervous tell, maybe, or perhaps just the energy of a man who thinks in pictures rather than words, by doing rather than staying still. His t-shirt says Carpe the hell out of this diem. Dean takes a deep breath. Cas is talking about moving. Cas is dating, even though it’s really not his thing. Cas is trying. Cas is living. It’s been over a year since Miss died. Does he really want to carry this guilt forever? Does he want to be alone? People do this all the time. His dad did. Cesar is. Cas is. I guess we just make the decision to live in the present instead of the past, Cas told him once when Dean asked how people date again. Maybe Dean can.

“I want to have an adventure,” Dean announces, abruptly breaking the silence. No one’s bothered by it.

“What would you like to do?” Charlie asks.

“Well, I’ve been thinking. I think I wanna...try again?” He glances at Cesar, then swallows as he flicks his eyes to the ceiling.

“Go on a date, dearie?” Rowena asks.

“Yeah. I guess.” His body trembles as the words come out of his mouth. Cas leans over and rubs his back. His warmth and weight are soothing and give him the courage to continue. “I...don’t wanna do it alone, though. I’m not ready.”

“Perhaps you could do a double date? Do young people still do that?”

Dean chuckles at Rowena’s question. “You’re asking the wrong young person, Row. I have no idea.”

“Well, do you have anyone in mind?”

Dean shrugs and shakes his head. He looks at Cas for comfort or maybe help as he flounders; Cas looks back with a soft smile. In his periphery he sees his other friends exchange glances and he has no idea why. Damn, do they think I’m some sort of Casanova? For chrissake, I don’t do anything outside of AIG and work except hang out with Cas, or sometimes Benny or my family.

“No one?” Donna asks. “Huh. No one you know?”

“Are you volunteering, Donna?” Cas teases.

“No!” she laughs. “I have Doug, but thanks.”

“Maybe start at a bar? Just to practice?” Cas suggests. “You can charm them with your extensive knowledge of lightweight suits.”

That punches a laugh out of Dean. “You’re such a dick.” They shove at each other playfully, Dean forgetting about everyone around them and his anxiety about this new adventure.  

Charlie pipes up, loudly, “Okay, well, if there’s no one you’re interested in right now”—she clears her throat, grabbing their attention—“how about we all go dancing? That way you can talk with people but still hang out with us. You won’t be alone and you can bail if you’re nervous.”

Dean nods slowly. “Yeah, I like that.”

They plan an outing for Saturday. A half-hour before he’s supposed to leave to meet everyone, Dean is still fretting in front of his closet. “What am I supposed to do, Miss?” he asks the framed photo as he sorts through his clothes. It doesn’t feel right, though, asking his dead wife for advice on how to date someone else. He swallows and frets some more, until the doorbell rings. Dean jogs to the door and opens it, thinking it’ll be kids selling something. He’s struck mute by what’s on his doorstep: six feet of wow.

Cas stands there, relaxed as can be, in aviators, a tight, plain white v-neck t-shirt, pink jeans, and a brown pair of TOMS (seriously, how many pairs of those things does he have?). His eyes float back to the jeans—they’re a distressed, dark rose color, and they stick to his thighs like they’re painted on, bunching up as they taper to his ankles. They’re one of the sexiest pieces of clothing he’s seen on anyone, and it strikes him how Cas they are. He doesn’t take his eyes off of them until Cas’ hand untucks itself from the pocket and glides down his thigh, and then his eyes focus on that, the contrast of Cas’ tanned skin against the fabric a glorious distraction. “Too much?”

Dean startles to attention. “What?”

“Are the jeans too much? I bought them on impulse but really haven’t had an occasion to wear them.”

“No, they’re...they’re awesome. I was just admiring them.”

“Yeah? Most people will probably think they’re too feminine, but I thought maybe your artistic mind could appreciate them, like I do.”

“Yeah, man. You rock those.” And Dean notices, with a little discomfort, just how much appreciation he has for them as his belly leaps. Whoa. He’s never had this reaction to...jeans...in real life. He licks his lips. “Um, come on in. I haven’t figured out what I’m wearing.”

“I figured. That’s why I'm here.” He pulls something from behind his back. “For you.”

Dean smiles, surprised. Their hands brush as he takes the gift, and blood buzzes through his body just like the bees that pollinated the blossoms in his hands. “Flowers?”

“To celebrate your adventure. Aren’t flowers a traditional gift on a date?”

“Well, I mean, if we were the ones going on the date, yeah.”

“Eh, whatever. It’s sort of a group date. Everyone in AIG is taking you out.” He grins and Dean laughs. What he did to deserve this weirdo, he’ll never know, but he’d do it a hundred times a day to keep him around.

Cas helps him find a pair of jeans, a collared shirt, and his huaraches. He playfully messes Dean’s carefully-styled hair and spritzes him with cologne, then pretends to choke on it. He stands him in front of the full-length mirror and slaps at his biceps. “There. Check yourself out, Vice.”

Dean does. He looks pretty good. He feels pretty good. Cas stands next to him, looking effortlessly cool. He’ll have to beat the women away with a stick, Dean thinks absently.

“You ever wonder if actors laugh when they have to do those poses for promotional stuff?” he asks as he stands with his feet apart, staring seriously at the mirror. He squints his eyes and purses his lips. Dean joins in, doing his best “steely-eyed tough guy” look, and they move through various poses—fists at their sides, fists up, squinting into the distance, sneering—until Cas gives the mirror a sultry look and licks his lips exaggeratedly. Dean bursts into laughter, Cas following and slapping him on the back. “Come on. I don’t really want to tell our friends we were late because we were making faces in the mirror.” Dean shrugs. He thinks it’s a perfectly good excuse.

They make it to a late dinner, then to the club. Donna and Charlie bring their partners, who are pretty cool. Cesar’s new guy meets them at the club, and he’s pretty cool, too. Dean’s having a great time. The only trouble is, he’s not actually talking to anyone besides them.

“Have you changed your mind about your adventure?” Cas asks when several of them take a break together, downing beers.

“Just haven’t seen anyone I’m interested in,” Dean says with a half-hearted wave.

“Maybe just start somewhere, anywhere,” Charlie suggests.

So he does. He talks to a blonde who’s a little too aggressive. He talks to a redhead who sounds like she’s on the rebound. He talks to another blonde who seems promising until she starts talking about how her ex is stalking her. He gives his sympathies and moves on to a brunette, who’s confused when he asks if he can buy her a drink. “I thought you were with him?” she asks, pointing out Cas on the floor. He watches him fondly—the guy can’t dance for shit but looks hot as hell anyway and where the fuck did that come from?—until the woman brushes by him. So much for that. He rejoins his friends, teaching Cas a move or two so he doesn’t thoroughly embarrass himself. Thoroughly embarrassing himself doesn’t seem to bother him, though, so he keeps dancing like a squirrel on acid and Dean laughs and gives up. Cas doesn’t seem concerned about looking for anyone tonight, so Dean doesn’t bother looking any further, either. He brings Cas another drink and dances with him, deciding to find someone to date another night.

Once he confides in his family that he’s going to date again, they’re hooking him up left and right. Ramona. Katie. Kristin. Shelley. Cassie (that one made him laugh when he told Cas about it). Cas dates, too, more than before—even finds a couple he takes out more than once—but he doesn’t really seem into it, and Dean...well, he can’t seem to get into it, either. It’s fun, sort of. It’s nice to get to know people, and the women certainly are attractive, but there’s something in the way, a barrier he can’t seem to get around.

“Maybe they’re not who you want to date,” Sam suggests one night, a couple of months into his dating adventure. “Maybe you’re looking for someone else.”

“Well, clearly they’re not who I want to date, Sam,” Dean grumbles. “I haven’t gotten past first base.” And man, even getting to first base had sucked, Dean remembers—his first kiss after Miss, with Kristin, he bolted and went directly to Cas’ in a cold sweat, his guilt pushing the words out of his mouth as if he was confessing his sins. It was even worse than the first time he forgot to say goodnight to Missy’s picture and remembered the next morning. Cas was kind and understanding both times, more recently making him tea and holding him tight until he felt calm again, then tucking up close to him when they watched a movie. It helped Dean feel grounded, like his world wasn’t spinning off its axis. He’s kissed a few since, mostly just to get over himself, but he hasn’t been able to get past kissing—or past the guilt.

“So, there’s no one else you might feel really close to? Someone you may not have considered?” Sam stares at him, as if Dean will magically know the answer if he stares long enough.

Jess is more direct. “Cas. He’s talking about Cas.”

Dean scowls at them in confusion. “Huh? I’m not gay.” The couple sneaks a peek at each other. “Hey, what was that look about?”

“Missy seemed to think differently.”

He stares at Jess. “What do you mean?” he asks carefully.

“Not gay. Bisexual.”

He can’t believe he’s going to have this conversation. “That’s—she joked about that, that’s all. It was a joke.”

Jess grimaces. “She believed it, Dean. She didn’t want to make a big deal of it, because you guys were married and neither of you were going to be looking outside of the marriage, but yeah. She didn’t think it was a joke.”

His stomach swoops. He thinks of all the times she brought it up, thinks of certain fantasies and activities in the bedroom… “Oh.”

“Are you?” Sam asks, much too soft and sweet for Dean’s liking. “It’s okay if you are.”

Dean winces at his tone, then shakes his head. “I am not talking about this with you when I can’t even get past kissing a woman. It’s stupid,” he retorts before taking a swig of his bottled water.

But he can’t stop talking about it to himself.

A few days later, he calls up Benny, who’s been busy trying to open a second restaurant. They meet there, and Dean asks Benny for dating advice as they sip on Sazeracs. He seems confused. “Wait, what’s with all the women? I thought you were dating Cas. Unless you guys aren’t exclusive or something?”

Dean goggles at him. “Are you fucking serious? What gave you the idea that I'm dating Cas?”

Benny holds up his hands. “Whoa, hey, sorry. Don’t be pissed, brother. Not a big deal.”

“No, I’m not pissed, I just—seriously, I wanna know what made you think I’m dating Cas. I need info.”

With a considering nod, Benny starts, “Well, you’re together all the time.”

“Friends hang out.”

“You spend half your nights at his house.”

“I don’t like mine. It’s too empty.”

“You don’t stop talking about him.”

“‘Cause we hang out all the time! What else am I gonna talk about?”

“You’re all mopey when you guys can’t hang out.”

Dean pouts. “I am not.”

“You look at him like…” Benny pauses, glancing away for a moment. “Like he’s special,” he finishes.

To Dean, it feels like he didn’t say what he really wanted to say, and suddenly he’s not sure if he wants to know. “You guys are all nuts,” he mutters instead.

“Lemme ask you this, Dean. You ever feel what you feel for Cas with anyone else?”

It may not be what Benny was going to say, or maybe it is, but it hits Dean square in the chest. He doesn’t talk anymore, because he doesn’t have words.

But he thinks, and thinks, and thinks.

Chapter Text

Cas is lost in his thoughts. His mind, on a good day, is often swirling with them, but usually he can wade through the seaweed without getting tangled. Today, he’s stuck.

Not just today, to be honest. He’s been stuck for a few weeks now—stuck creatively, stuck emotionally, stuck in his head. Today, he’s stuck in his seat at Wing and a Prayer, sitting alone at 5:30 in the morning because he couldn’t sit in his apartment anymore. “Damn,” he mutters as he doodles in his sketchpad until he’s filled the page with what looks like a picture from his brain—a mass of strange shapes that don’t make much sense, but want to, and would with just the right something added. He has no idea what that something is.

He huffs and grabs a banana from the bowl on top of the counter. Gabriel thinks selling fruit at a bakery is ridiculous, but it sells, so he keeps selling it. He remembers the first time Dean came to AIG and the disdain on his brother’s face when he brought the apple slices to him, like Dean was the worst kind of criminal. Remembering the look on Dean’s face in return makes Cas smile. Beyond the fear he’d seen when Dean walked in for the first time, he saw a certain pluck in him that he admired, the choice of apples being the manifestation of that pluck. He knew that if he stayed with the group, Dean would work his way through his grief journey just fine.

Dean is moving along, Cas muses. He’s dating, though he doesn’t seem all that happy about it. Dean tells him that he’d usually rather hang out with him and Goose, which is fine with Cas. He’d rather hang out with Dean, too. In fact, he’d rather be with Dean than anyone else.

He peels the banana and holds it absently in one hand while resuming his doodling with the other. In addition to feeling stuck, he’s been feeling...strange. He’s having...curious thoughts. Gabe sent him an animated short called In a Heartbeat that he’s watched twenty-plus times. He loves the animation, but even more, he loves the sweet story of a boy whose heart jumps out of his chest to chase the person it longs for—in this case, another boy. His own heart leaps every time he watches, just as the animated heart does. The boys look a little like Cas and Dean, strangely enough (the Dean look-alike even has hs darling freckles, though the eyes are the wrong color and the hair’s a bit off). That video led him to search other videos like it, and recently he’s found himself watching more mature movies with LGBTQ characters and connecting with them. The universal desire for love, to be someone’s someone, tugs at his very soul. He wants that again. That emotional connection. And perhaps the sexual connection, too.

He misses that connection. He doesn’t make it the way others seem to, but he’s not indifferent to sex. He likes it. Loves it (well, loved it with Sylvie, when they were still sexually active). Cas lets himself daydream about sex with someone special. What would it be like to be with someone new, with someone who wouldn’t be afraid of germs, who wouldn’t be afraid to be a little messy? What would it be like to try something new?

His curious mind wanders further. What would it be like to have sex with a man? That would certainly be something new. He focuses on his banana, which he hasn’t eaten yet. He always liked oral…. He huffs at himself about where his brain went, but he doesn’t stop staring at the banana. It’s just harmless curiosity, right? He takes a small lick. It tastes like banana, obviously. He rolls his eyes at himself, then swirls his tongue around it. Hmm. He eyes the length of it, then sinks down onto it as far as he can go, focusing on the fullness in his mouth. It’s different than a clitoris. He pulls back and suckles on the tip. It softens in his mouth, and he thinks with a chuckle that that’s the opposite of what’s supposed to happen. As he takes the banana fully in his mouth again, he lets his eyes droop closed, imagining flesh under his tongue instead of fruit. His mind floats to Dean. He has “guy crushes.” Does he imagine this? Does he wonder what it would be like to be with someone new, to try something new? He’ll never ask, but.... He breathes through his nose, allowing a strange little thrill to race up his spine as he imagines asking Dean...Dean saying yes...sitting with Dean on the couch he loves, talking intimately with him about their secret thoughts, their knees meeting as they lean toward each other, as they always seem to…

“An English cucumber works better,” a voice says. Cas bites down in surprise and chokes on the fruit in his mouth. “Ouch, dude. You gotta get better control of that startle reflex.”

Cas spits the mashed banana into his hand. “Gabriel! What the hell are you doing here?”

“Uh, I own the joint? What are you doing deep-throating a banana in my shop?”

“I—I wasn’t! Don’t be stupid!” Flustered and deeply embarrassed, Cas shoves away from the table and throws the fruit in the trash. He snatches a napkin from a dispenser and wipes his mouth and hands.

“Sorry. Making sweet love to a banana in my shop.”

“Shut up! I was not! Don’t be an asshole.” He grabs his sketchbook and tries to skirt past his brother, but firm hands halt his progress.

“Hey. Relax. I’m not judging you. Sit down with me.”

“Gabe—”

“Cas, sit. It’s time to come to Jesus.”

Gabriel isn’t going to let this go, so Cas sits and pouts. “I wasn’t pretending to suck a dick.”

“Listen, I don’t care about that. I want to have an honest conversation with you.”

He squints. Gabe’s using his serious voice. “About?”

His brother sighs and ruffles his hair. “Cas, you’re attracted to men. Or one man, at least—”

“This again? Come on.”

“—and you don’t wanna be. Why? What’s going on in that noggin? Because this”—he pats the illustrations in Cas’ sketchbook—“is Cas-speak for ‘something’s got me fucked up.’ What you’ve been telling me isn’t the whole story.”

The hum of refrigerators and the steady ticking of the clock above the espresso machine are the only noises in the quiet of the bakery. They’re not enough to muffle Cas’ clamorous thoughts. “I don’t know what’s going on,” he murmurs.

“Start with the banana. What was that?”

“Curiosity. About...um. Fuck.” He swallows tightly, his face flushing.

“About oral sex with a guy.”

He answers in the tiny whisper of a child who’s done something wrong. “Yeah.”

“Okay. It’s okay, you know. It’s not bad. People who want that aren’t bad. People who do that aren’t bad.”

“I know,” he shrugs. He’s always been indifferent to the sexual orientation of others.

Gabe leans in. “Cas, it’s okay for you to want it, if you do. It’s okay for you to do it, if you want to.”

He stares at his lap and says nothing.

“Hey. Would you think I’m bad if I told you that I’ve done that?”

Cas looks up. “What?”

“Would you? Gimme your gut answer.”

“No. No, of course not. Have y—”

“Okay. So why now? Why is this curiosity coming up for you now, do you think?”

He exhales shakily. “I...I don’t know. Well, I guess because I’ve been watching movies and stuff about….” He stops with a huff. “It’s your fault.”

Gabe raises an amused brow. “Oh?”

“You sent me In a Heartbeat and I watched it and I started watching other things and it made me feel things and...I blame you.”

“Feel things? What things?”

Shit. “Um. Just...things. Can we not do this? I’m fucking embarr—”

“Romantic things? Gave you good feelings?” Cas rolls his eyes, but doesn’t deny it. He softens when Gabe adds, “You want that again. You miss that.”

Cas chokes back the longing that swells in his throat. “Yes.”

“Okay. You want that romance again. The connection with someone. And that led you to think about sex.”

Logically, he’s correct, so Cas agrees.  

“So, why do you think you didn’t think about being with a woman, then? If you want that emotional and sexual connection, but you’re not attracted to men, then why wouldn’t you think about a woman? Why would you be curious about sex with a man?”

“I—I don’t know.”

Gabriel presses his lips together and takes a breath before he says, “Have you considered that your brain went there because it knows you already have that emotional connection with someone? A man? And maybe you’re curious about whether it could be more?”

Panic and some innate sense of truth slam around his ribcage, making him sweaty and breathless. “I...no, he...he’s my friend.”

Gabe smiles knowingly. “Syl was, too. Your best friend, as I recall. Like Dean is.”

Cas drops his face into his hands. “No. No, it can’t...it’s not that.”

“What if it is, Cas? If Dean was okay with it, would it be okay with you?”

Speaking is difficult. A tiny, wavering “I’m not gay” is all he can manage.

“Does it matter?”

He raises his face from his hands. “Did you...did you really have sex with a man?”

Gabriel smiles softly. “Does it matter?”

“I—no. No. But—”

“Then why does it matter if you do? If you want to? If you care enough about someone in your life to want that, why does it matter?”

He can’t find words, so he doesn’t speak. His brother stands and pulls him out of his seat. “I love you, Cas, no matter what. I want you to be happy.” Gabe tugs him into a hug. It’s good that his brother is holding him, because he’s not sure he can hold himself up. He trembles. He feels dizzy. “Think about it, okay? Life’s short, bro.”

That he knows all too well.

Cas heads upstairs and changes into running clothes. He doesn’t have as much stamina as Dean yet, but Dean’s been exercising longer than him and he has a treadmill to use when it’s too damn hot to run outside. That’s not the case right now, in the middle of winter. It still gets warm as he runs, though, because it’s Florida, so he dons shorts and some sweat-wicking long-sleeved shirt that Dean told him to buy. He leashes Goose and takes off, running until he stops thinking about anything except the ground pounding under his feet. It takes a long time.

Later, he sits at his drawing table. He works, but his work is uninspired. He puts it aside for a while and pulls out his paints and a canvas, moving the painting Dean’s working on off of the easel in the corner. He lets his eyes unfocus as he considers the colors before him. He picks several through the blur and squirts them onto his palette, then lets his hands do his thinking for him.

“Hey,” a deep voice says in greeting. Dean is here. Has that much time passed? As if answering his question, Dean continues, “I brought dinner.” His friend rests a warm hand on the nape of his neck as he leans in. “Whatcha working on?”

“I don’t know,” Cas answers, and he really doesn’t. It’s a swirl of colors. He vaguely remembers trying to contain them in figures and landscapes, but they wouldn’t be tamed.

“Sounds familiar.” He nods at his painting, leaning against the couch. “Can’t make heads or tails of what I’m doing with it.”

“Me neither,” Cas admits, gesturing to his canvas.

Dean shrugs. “Does it really matter?” Surprised at the echo of his brother’s words, Cas whips his head around to Dean’s smiling face. “I mean, you know. It feels good, so, you know, if it works for us, it works for us. It’s about feeling. It doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else. Right?”

Cas wets his lips, his mouth having gone dry. “Yeah. Right.”

“Ha! You admitted I'm right!” Dean nudges Cas’ cheek with his knuckles. “Gonna have to write that down.”

“You probably should,” Cas agrees, his insides fizzing like shaken soda trapped in a can. He forces a friendly smile on his face, not wanting Dean to know anything about how close he is to spewing foam everywhere. Dean smiles back at him, and now Cas’ mind is supplying labels to what that smile does to him, and he snatches the boxes of chow mein in Dean’s hand before he does something ridiculous.

Every moment between him and Dean for the next couple of weeks is carefully catalogued and analyzed. What does he feel when Dean squeezes his shoulder? When they sit pressed together at his drawing table or on the couch, co-creating? When Dean texts him throughout the day, sharing his ups and downs? When he catches Dean’s warm green eyes on him?

He needs to test himself to see if he gets these weird feelings with his other male friends. He invites Bal to dinner. They share plates at their favorite Vietnamese place and Cas analyzes their interactions. Bal touches his arm. Bal sits close when he’s showing him photos of his latest trip. Bal tells him about his week, a lot of which Cas already knows because they text frequently. Bal’s eyes and smile are warm and friendly. But all of these, as similar as the actions are to Dean’s, don’t make him feel the same rush that Dean’s do. “Do you think we’re still close?” Cas asks suddenly, wondering if maybe they’re just growing apart and that’s why he doesn’t feel the same things.

Balthazar looks at him as if he’s sprouted another eye on his forehead. “Yes? Is there something I should know?”

“No, no, everything’s fine, I just...wanted to make sure. We haven’t spent a lot of time together, that’s all.”

“Well, not as much, but it hasn’t been that different. You’ve been with Dean more. I understand.”

“What do you understand?” Cas blurts with an edge.

“That you and Dean are enjoying each other’s company?”

“And that’s not unusual to you? It’s not unusual for friends to hang out like we do?” He doesn’t answer, and it sends Cas into overdrive. He leans forward urgently. “Bal. Is my friendship with Dean strange? I need to know.”

“Your relationship with Dean isn’t strange.”

Cas swallows the saliva pooling in his mouth. “I asked about our friendship. Is our friendship strange?”

The blond man across the table purses his lips. “Why are you asking me this?”

“Answer the question!”

“Jesus, Cas, settle down. What is your issue?”

“I’m freaking out and I need an answer and you’re evading!”

The way Bal looks at him sends prickles of ice down his spine even as his face is set aflame. “Cas. You don’t need to ask me. You know the answer.”

“I—no, I don’t!”

“You do. You just don’t like it.”

Not satisfied with his talk with Bal, he has lunch with Cesar. Cesar is a gay man. Will it feel different? They’re not as close as him and Bal or him and Dean, but he figures he needs some sort of change in variable. Or something. He analyzes their interactions and finds nothing different. “How are things with Joel?” he asks, if only to refocus himself since his mission seems to be a bust.

“Great. He’s fantastic. I’m really having a good time.”

“That’s wonderful.” And it is. He’s very happy for his friend, who’s found joy again with another person. Another guy.

“We’ve, um, even been…” He stops and grins. Cas gets the message.

“Ah, good for you. Seems like you’re happy about that development.” Cas bumps his arm as the man before him blushes. Dean blushes sometimes, too. He doesn’t have the same reaction to Cesar’s that he does to Dean’s. “Was it difficult?”

“Not really. I mean, I was ready, I guess. It felt good, being with him. I wanted to be with him, and I didn’t let myself feel guilty about it. It’s about living, right?”

Cas smiles. “It is. How does your family feel about him?”

“Eh, my parents try to avoid thinking about it, honestly. They don’t like that I’m gay. There was no celebration when I got married to Jesse, even though we’d been in a civil union before that and they liked him well enough. I think they preferred to think of him as my friend. It made it easier for them. So when we got married, with the suits and everything, it was hard for them.”

Cas thinks of how his own parents might react if he were ever to bring a man home. A deep sadness fills his chest at the thought of the rift it could cause. “That must’ve been hard for you.”

“It was.” Cesar sips at his beer. “A mess, really. But I loved him. It was worth it. My parents raised me, yes, but my husband was my future, you know? I couldn’t live under my parents’ rule and deny who I was. What kind of living is that?”

Cas nods in contemplation.

“They always said they wanted me to be happy. So I did what made me happy. Which didn’t make them happy,” he laughs ruefully. “But that was their problem.” Cesar leans back, beer in hand. “How are things with you, Cas?”

What a complicated question. “Not bad.”

“Your posts have been angsty.”

He thinks back to the last few Adventures in Grieving posts. Yes, he supposes they have been. “My hands don’t lie,” he says.

“Something on your mind?”

He sighs. “Yes.” He ruffles his hair tiredly. “Dating is hard. Things aren’t clicking.”

Cesar offers a sympathetic hum. “You, uh, barking up the right trees?”

“Apparently not,” he snorts.

“How’s it going for Dean? He seems to be having a tough time, too.”

“Yes, I think he is.”

“Hmm. Maybe you guys should try a double date. Misery loves company.”

He laughs, but thinks it’s not a half-bad idea. He even remembers Rowena suggesting it once. He thinks that maybe, if they can give each other feedback about why they’re bombing at the dating thing, they can get themselves back on track. And, if he can get back on track, all these other feelings might disappear. When he mentions it to Dean over text later, he can practically see the man jump out of his seat.

To Cas 2:46pm: Yes! Why didn’t we think of that? You’re good at lubricating me. Better than alcohol.

He knows what he means because he knows Dean so well, but Cas’ eyes still widen and his mind goes where he doesn’t give it permission to go. He pulls on the leash to tug it back.

To Dean 2:48pm: Wow. Lubricating you.

To Cas 2:49pm: I talk better when you’re around! You’re like social lubricant! You know what I mean!

To Dean 2:50pm: I feel like you say these things on purpose sometimes lol

There isn’t a response for a while. He assumes Dean had to get back to work. Several minutes later, he gets:

To Cas 3:04pm: Maybe I do

Cas’ heart jumps. He’s kidding, right? This is what they do. Just two guys, kidding about lubrication. His phone buzzes.

To Cas 3:05pm: You just make it easier to slide into conversations.

Cas shakes his head. Jesus, he’s just provoking me. Ass. He smirks and crafts his response.

To Dean 3:06pm: You can slide all by yourself. You have plenty of practice with that. One-handed.

To Cas 3:09pm: You're such a dick.

Cas laughs, feeling back on solid ground again.

That Friday they find themselves sitting at a restaurant across from two lovely women, Lee and Rosa. They’re friends of Sam’s and Jess’ that Dean and Cas met at their New Year’s party last month. Sam had let them both know that the women were interested, so they figured it would be easy. Being “together,” though, is proving challenging.

“So tell me about you,” Rosa says.

Cas tenses. He hates small talk with strangers, and it irks him even more tonight than usual. What does he say? It all seems so...meaningless. Who cares about where he lives or what he does for a living or whether he likes pop music? What matters is why he lives where he does, why he’s an artist, why he listens to music. But people don’t care about that. Most people, anyway. Dean cares. Cas refrains from sighing and keeps it simple. “I’m an illustrator,” he answers.

“You’re not just an illustrator,” Dean says, cutting into the conversation. “He has an Insta that he does all the art for, and he paints and sculpts and sketches these incredibly detailed drawings and he made his own coffee table. He’s always downplaying his stuff. Look, I have pictures.” Cas’ face heats at Dean’s gushing. “See? I mean, he can do anything.”

Lee jumps in. “What’s that one?”

“Oh, that’s a painting we did together.”

“Yes. These are some of the parts that Dean did. He also ‘downplays his stuff.’ He’s a very talented artist and decorator. He has a fine eye for beauty.” Cas side-eyes his friend. Dean rolls a shoulder, as if he can knock the compliment off of it. “Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“Shrug it off.”

Dean shoves him lightly. Cas shoves back. They grin, daring each other to try to push off the compliments they’ve given once again.

And so it goes. Despite his best effort at being charming and interested in his date, it’s so much easier and more pleasant to talk to Dean. When the server brings the dessert menus, the ladies excuse themselves to the bathroom, and they assess their efforts.

“What do you think?” Dean asks.

“Care to clarify, Vice?” Cas tugs playfully at the lapel of his suit. Dean grins and lets him.

“The dates. Do they like us? You think it’s going well?”

Cas’ mouth twists into a half-frown. “Hard to tell. You seem to be doing well. I don’t think I am.”

“I think you’re doing fine,” Dean assures him with a nudge to his chin that warms his entire body. He tries to ignore it. “‘Sides, it's more important to figure out if we like them, huh?”

“Right.”

They focus on the menus until their server returns. She looks at them with a grimace. “Um, the women you were with wanted me to give you this.” She shoves a note at them and skitters away.

Cas unfolds it, letting Dean read it with him. “Guess that answers that. We’ve been ditched. Well, at least they wished us a ‘happy life together.’” Cas shakes his head and tosses the note across the table.

“Eh, fuck ‘em, Cas. I think we’re great. Let’s finish our plans. I didn’t get dressed up to go home early.”

Cas laughs. Dean, once freaked out if things didn’t go exactly to plan, is nonchalant about being ditched and ending up dateless.

They eat dessert, then go to a local gallery, something they love doing. Dean pulls him close at one display for a selfie, keeping an arm snugly around his neck. “We need to show Sam and Jess that we had a great time even if their friends bailed,” he says. “Smile.”

Smiling’s easy with Dean.

They walk around downtown, taking inspirational photos for Dean’s latest project and Cas’ next book illustration. It’s easy, effortless. Every so often they stop to send more photographic evidence to Dean’s brother and sister-in-law that their stupid friends didn’t ruin their night—sticking up their middle fingers in one, making sneering punk rock faces in another, and laughing in a third when they knock their heads together too hard.

They drive to a local beach, deserted because the temperature is only 50 degrees and falling. Stars prick the black velvet night. They sit in contented silence in Dean’s car, perusing their phones. “This is what I miss,” Dean murmurs after a time.

“What’s that?” He peers toward Dean’s phone, thinking he found something on it—a picture of him and Miss doing something fun, perhaps. But Dean is looking at him. He meets Dean’s eyes with raised brows.

“Just...being. You know? Just being able to sit with someone and do our own thing, but together. Just, you know, into each other’s company. No expectations or pressure. Not performing or whatever. I don’t know. You know what I mean?”

Cas knows exactly what he means. “I get you.”

Dean’s face pinches in thought for a brief moment, then smooths into a tiny smile. “Yeah, you do.”

Cas’ heart beats a rapid tattoo in his chest. He swallows, as if it’ll help his pulse slow to something reasonable. He wants to say something to break the thick air between them, something funny, something them. “You’re a good date, Vice,” he says, his mouth curling into a wry yet affectionate thing.

“You too, GQ,” he teases, though his eyes and voice are much too soft for the words to be anything but tender.

Hands fidgeting, Cas analyzes. And then, he stops. This is what he misses, too. Being understood. Just...being. With Dean. Does it matter what this is? He decides that, tonight, it doesn’t. He lets himself want something that brings him happiness. He lets himself just be.

Chapter Text

Dean decides that relationships are bullshit. And death is bullshit. And guilt is bullshit. And people are bullshit.

Except for Cas. Cas is not bullshit.

It’s been a bad week and a half. He’s missed Missy a lot, for some reason. His last two lunch dates were jokes. And now this.

He feels so helpless. He knows he probably should be at Sam’s right now, but he has no idea what else to say and he...just can’t.

That’s why he’s here at Cas’ door at midnight. He unlocks it with the key Cas gave him and sneaks in, both not wanting to wake his best friend and wanting to desperately. He floats to the living room and stands there, lost as to what to do.

A soft pitter-patter makes him turn. “Hey, pretty girl.” He leans down and scratches Goose on the head, letting out a shaky breath.

“Dean?”

He straightens and stares at Cas, illuminated by the slatted streetlight from the blinds. He’s afraid Cas will ask what’s wrong, because he doesn’t know what to say if he does. It’s all so bad. He feels so bad.

But Cas doesn’t ask. Cas opens his arms.

Dean launches himself at his best friend, not minding Cas’ bare skin under his fingers. He hangs on for dear life. The floor squeaks under their feet as Cas rocks him from side to side. He shakes as tears start to fall; he tries hard to hold them back but he can’t stop them, he can’t stop them.

Cas seats them on the folded-out sofa bed, still disheveled from his stay on it last night. It stays out more often than not, now. “Do you want to talk? Or draw? Or do you want to just sit? Or maybe lie down?”

Dean slides down the bed, taking Cas with him like a favorite stuffed animal. He sniffles into his neck. Chances are he’ll be embarrassed as hell tomorrow, but right now, he needs this. He lets Cas sit up only long enough to help Dean with his shoes and coat and to rearrange the blankets so they’re covered. When Cas lies down, Dean burrows into his side. Cas, the angel, wraps his arms around him and asks no questions. A moment later, Goose joins them, tucking herself behind Dean’s back. He’s warm and secure. His world feels right.

Early sunlight has replaced the streetlight’s bright white glow through the window. He didn’t realize he fell asleep. Goose moved to their feet sometime in the night. Cas is still sleeping, his lips parted slightly. He takes in his long lashes, his prickly stubble, his bare chest. Damn, that’s a lot of skin. He’s seen him shirtless—naked even, he’s told, though he doesn’t remember—but not this close, and definitely not with his own hand curled around Cas’ hip. Dean’s sluggish mind thinks that he should remove it, but he doesn’t. Instead, he lets himself notice the way it molds around the bone, the perfect curve of his cupped hand creating an aesthetically pleasing effect he could stare at for hours. Or maybe it’s not so much aesthetically pleasing as it is...otherwise pleasing. He gulps down the heat racing through his sternum. Jesus, this is his friend. His straight friend. And Dean is a straight guy. Yes. Uh huh.

“He’s super cute,” Missy said as they walked by a cop during Mardi Gras.

“Ooh, check him out,” his wife cooed about the man down the bar from them.

“Damn, that’s a nice ass, isn’t it?” his dirty spouse smirked at the guy on the beach.

He’d always humored Missy’s little fantasies, knowing there was no harm in them, and he had always agreed that the men in question were...aesthetically pleasing. Shit. Maybe he wasn’t the only one humoring their spouse’s little fantasies. Maybe his “guy crushes” were more than he was willing to admit. Maybe…

Maybe he’s just being an idiot.

Dean unsticks his hand from its position just in time for those long lashes to flutter open and reveal dark eyes, their pretty blue color not discernible in the dim sunlight—though he knows it so well, he could see it with his eyes closed. “Vice,” Cas rumbles. His voice is even huskier than usual in the mornings. Dean’s always thought of him as some kind of leading man in a movie when his voice does that, James Bond or a superhero or some suave detective who would surely have women dropping their panties as soon as he said their names. “Dean.”

He breaks out of his trance and realizes how foolish this must all seem to Cas. “I gotta get ready for work.”

“Okay.”

But neither of them move.

After a minute of staring, Cas asks, “What happened?” It’s a gentle question, leading man fantasy gone in favor of trying-his-best Cas. He likes this one better, though it still makes him...feel...things. When he doesn’t answer because he’s not sure he wants to get into all of it before work, Cas cups the back of his head and starts rubbing, and ohhhhh…that’s nice. He closes his eyes and melts into it.

“You want some bacon?”

Startled from the relaxation of his neck massage, Dean opens his eyes. He frowns, then chuckles. “Do you think everything can be fixed with bacon, Cas?”

“Well, it doesn’t make things worse. Unless your problem is high cholesterol. Or heart disease. Or a pork allergy.”

Dean’s body quakes with laughter and restrained tears, the tension of everything lessened a little with each hitch of his breath. He rolls into his friend. God, this is what he needs with someone again. He needs this so badly. “It’s been a shit week, Cas,” he says into his shoulder.

“Must be bad. It’s only Wednesday, and just barely.”

“Yeah, well, last week, too.”

“Ah.”

Cas holds him close until Dean feels a little too comfortable with the arrangement and pulls away. “So, uh, bacon. Yeah. And eggs. I’ll make the shakes?”

Dean digs out the eggs, bacon, and shake ingredients from the refrigerator. Cas wanders away for a minute, returning with a shirt on. That’s good for cooking, Dean supposes as he watches Cas grab a skillet, but he finds himself mildly disappointed for reasons he doesn’t want to examine. Instead, his mind turns to his brother. All of the shock, confusion, hurt, and anger from last night come rushing back. Dean preps his ingredients as he considers what to say. He decides to be blunt. “Sam thinks he and Jess might separate.” He pauses and takes a deep breath. Thinking about it is one thing, but saying it aloud is another.

Cas pauses, too, a bacon strip dangling from his hand. “Oh, wow. I didn’t even know they were having problems.”

“Me neither.”

“That must be horrible for Sam.”

“Yeah. He’s kind of a hot mess.” They stand in silence until Dean resumes his task, Cas following his lead. “So yeah, anyway, I tried to talk to Sam about it but he doesn’t want to talk. He just cries or gets irritable. I asked him what was causing all of it and he said things have happened but he wouldn’t say what, just that they were both upset and didn’t know how to handle it. But if they’re both upset, they should be pulling together, you know?”

“Don’t ‘should’ them, Dean. It won’t help. You know that.”

“I’m not, not to them. Just between us, though, shouldn’t they help each other through whatever’s fucking them up?”

“Well, something’s very upsetting to them, and you know when people are upset it fucks them up sometimes. Maybe they just can’t right now. Doesn’t mean they won’t.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I know.” He blends the ingredients, then pours the mixture into glasses and turns to watch Cas work. “It just kills me, you know? It kills me. They have each other, Cas. They can at least try to work things out. Ugh, I hate seeing people just tossing their relationship aside like it’s disposable, no big deal. If they knew...how precious that is to have...shit.” He white-knuckles the counter and stares at the back of Cas’ head.

Cas doesn’t look at him as he stirs the eggs, but Dean feels his soul-piercing attention anyway. “It’s bringing things up for you.”

“Damn right. They don’t get it and it pisses me off. I’m over here busting my ass trying to get that feeling again, that...Cas, I’d kill to have someone to fight with. If I had that someone, I’d go to the ends of the Earth to make things work. They love each other. How do you just throw that away?”

Cas drains the bacon onto paper towels and covers the eggs to keep them warm. He turns to Dean with a small, sad uptick of his mouth. “We aren’t made like that, are we?”

“No.” He shakes his head and wanders to the living room, food forgotten. He traces the blobs on his latest painting, the one he still hasn’t figured out...or hadn’t, until this moment. “I really need to be with someone again, Cas. I can’t do this. I’m weak.”

“Hey.” Cas, standing beside him, turns Dean’s face with a finger. “You’re not weak. You’re human. Humans...they need love. They need companionship. You don’t have to feel guilty for that.”

Dean wipes a hand down his face. “I...know, up here.” He points to his head. “I can’t seem to get past this...blockage or something. I’ve been trying, and no one clicks, no one makes sense.” He touches the burnt orange and pea green scribbles on the canvas. “Like, I feel this war, or turbulence, or...okay, so you know when you have to throw up, and while everything’s in your body you feel like shit, like there’s this pressure and this nausea and urgency—but you don’t really wanna throw up because that sucks, too? But then you do, and whoa, you feel a thousand percent better? I need...something to force that outta me, I guess. Can’t seem to get myself to let it all go. I stay stuck and sick.”

Cas takes his forearm in his large, warm hand. “That was...graphic.” Dean smiles crookedly at Cas’ gentle teasing. “Come on. We’ll eat and think.”

And though they think, it doesn’t seem to go very far. “I’m sorry I’m not much help. I’ve been feeling a little stuck myself. Maybe the group will know,” Cas says eventually.

“Yeah. Maybe. You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.”

“Fine, huh?”

Cas smiles thinly.

“You can tell me.”

Cas contemplates him with soft eyes, then shakes his head. He sighs and places his fork down. “You ever just think about a situation so much that you don’t even know what to believe anymore? Everyone tells you things, but you’re not sure if they’re right, but then you wonder why they would be any more wrong or right than you are, and you talk yourself in and out of some answer until nothing seems real? And you don’t know how to make heads or tails of it?”

Dean huffs, meeting Cas’ eyes. He has no idea how much Dean gets it. “Yeah, man.”

“Yeah. I just...it’s so confusing. It’s like...I don’t even know. I can’t even think about my thinking. I feel gross.”

“Gross?”

“Like I’ve been rolling around in thoughts and they’ve made me dirty and I can’t get them off.”

Dean chuckles. “Like the mud pit thing we did.”

“Yeah, but the mud was so much better because it was physical. I could feel and hear and see and smell and taste the mud. I could have fun in it, and I could wash it off after. I could solve it easily. It got me out of my head. With the damn thoughts I feel like I’m trapped in my head, covered in some invisible film or slime or something.”

“Yeah. Had that feeling a lot lately, too.”

The men stare at their plates, not even bacon helping their melancholy. “I don’t know,” Cas says finally. “Whatever. It’s where we’re at right now, I guess. We’ve survived worse.”

“Hmph. Yeah.”

“Stay here tonight, okay? I mean, if you want. We can watch bad anime or something.”

Dean flicks his eyes to Cas’, that pink champagne feeling bubbling in his chest. “Yeah. Sounds like just what I need.” Cas smiles, and Dean helplessly smiles back.

On Thursday, Dean shares his angst with AIG. “I need to get past this block,” he laments about his dating woes.

“Are you open to conversation?” Charlie asks.

“Yeah.”

“All right. Why?” she challenges him. “Why do you need to get past it?”

“Because it’s uncomfortable.”

“So?”

“So I don’t like feeling like this!”

“Maybe that block is there for a reason.”

Dean stands and paces. “I finally want to live, Charlie. Like, really live. I don’t feel like I’m living and...and I want to, and it’s in the way.”

Charlie and the others nod, small smiles adorning their faces.

“I feel like I’ve tried everything I can think of.”

“Maybe thinking isn’t working,” Jody says. “Maybe you have to do something instead.”

“I’ve been doing things. I’ve been going on dates.”

Cesar speaks. “Maybe it’s not going on dates that’s the problem. Maybe it’s the guilt about moving forward.”

Dean shrugs. It seems to make as much sense as anything else he’s thought of. “Yeah. How do I...I dunno, counteract that?”

They sit in thoughtful silence. “Maybe you have to do something more uncomfortable,” Max suggests. “Like, maybe your system needs to be shocked or something. Remember when we bungee jumped?” he asks the rest of the group. Dean wasn’t with them yet.

“That was so scary!” Donna squeaks.

“But it helped us, even if we soiled our knickers,” Rowena adds with a chuckle.

“I think we all got an appreciation for life out of that,” Cas muses.

“What it did for me,” Max continues, “is it made me face my fear of death after Alicia died. I took control of my fear. I made my fear come true, sort of. There’s nothing that makes you feel more alive than watching yourself hurtle toward the Earth.”

“Everything else seemed easy in comparison after that. Or at least not so daunting,” Linda notes.

“What scares the piss out of you?” Charlie asks.

Dean thinks. What...oh. Oh no. Not that.

“Whatever you just thought of, Vice, that’s what you have to do.”

“Cas, I am not jumping out of a plane.”

They “gently encourage” him (their gentle encouragement being more of a thump on the head than a guiding hand) and he resists, but the more he thinks about it, the more it makes sense. With five minutes left in the meeting, Dean announces, “Okay.” His friends turn his way.

“Do you want to have an adventure?” Cas asks with a small smirk. The dick.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“And what would you like to do?”

“I’m gonna jump out of a plane.”

Cheers rise around him. He’s scared as hell, but maybe that’s the point.

“Would you like any support from us?”

Dean draws in a breath. “Yeah. If all of you could just, uh, be there when I’m done. I think I gotta do this jump alone, but I’m probably gonna need you all after.”

“Okay. And as long as it works with everyone’s schedules, who’s willing to be there for Dean?”

Everyone’s hands rise. It never ceases to amaze him how supportive the group is.

Just so he doesn’t chicken out, Dean pulls out his phone and schedules the jump online. It’ll be a week from Saturday, giving him nine days to stew on it. His friends place it in their schedules, too. Dean raises his eyes to Cas’; he hides his face behind a curled hand, Cas’ soft, proud eyes too much for him to take.

As predicted, he stews for the next nine days. Cas shoves pens and paintbrushes at him every chance he gets. “Stop thinking. Do something,” he says. So Dean does. It helps, and he breathes easier than he has in a while. He feels like he’s going to get some relief, finally, from the oppressive weight of his guilt or whatever it is that’s clutching his heart every minute of every day.

The first Saturday of March is cool and sunny—perfect, he’s told, for risking one’s life by jumping out of a metal death tube. Dean arrives at the parking lot, only to find everyone waiting there for him already.

“We figured we’d do our pre-gaming here,” Charlie smiles and grabs his clammy hands. “Figured you’d need it.”

Dean is overcome with affection for his friends. “Yeah.”

“Good. Cas has a song for you. Cue inspirational music!”

A song that he thinks is R.E.M. plays from Cas’ phone. It’s bright and bouncy, the lyrics rapid-fire. His friends sing along poorly, only capturing a few phrases until they yell out the chorus as one:

It’s the end of the world as we know it

It’s the end of the world as we know it

It’s the end of the world as we know it

And I feel fine

They add frenetic, graceless dancing to their song. Charlie swings him around by his hands and he can’t help but laugh. By the second chorus, he’s singing along. By the third chorus, he’s dancing without Charlie’s puppetry and they’re all screaming out the words.

“I’m questioning your song choice here, Cas,” Dean grins at his flushed best friend when it’s over. “Not sure I wanna think about the end of the world when I’m about to jump out of a plane.”

“It’s not about the jump. It’s about your grief.”

Dean shoots him a doubtful eye. “Seems a little upbeat for a grief song, man.”

Cas shrugs. “The world ends every day, in big and small ways, doesn’t it? A loved one dies, or the way we see ourselves changes, or we eat bacon again, or drink weird health shakes that are actually pretty good.” He shrugs again shyly. “And for me, sometimes it’s the end of the world and I feel F.I.N.E. fine. Other times it’s the end of the world and I really do feel okay, because it’s the end of one thing and the beginning of another, and that’s a good thing. I thought it fit for today. For you.”

A warm something he can’t name fills his chest. “Thanks, Cas. I think you’re right.”

He smiles. “Is there anything you want to say before you undertake your adventure?”

Dean closes his eyes. “Nervous as hell. Hope this gets me unstuck.” He feels a beefy hand in his and opens his eyes again. It’s Cesar.

“Let us pray,” Cesar says in his Southern preacher accent. They form a circle and grasp hands. “We know our brother Dean has been ill with all those negative feelings that eat him up from the inside out, sucking the life from him. So let us ask that, by flying in a metal bird, with the birds, he gets the answers he seeks. May he not splat on the ground like bird shit.” The group, including Dean, laughs uproariously. “And let us take in the breath of life and release it, so that we are reminded that, at least for now, we are alive.”

They inhale, hold, and chant “fuuuuuuuuuck” as they exhale. For Dean, it’s better than that ohm shit.

“Moment of truth,” Cas smiles, looking at Dean’s Fitbit when it buzzes. “Leap of faith.” He hops. Dean shakes his head affectionately and heads inside, alone.

See, piece of cake. Or pie, he thinks later as he runs through the instructional session. He thinks of how Cas promised him a pie upon landing, but refused to tell him what kind. He can’t wait for the sweet surprise. If he feels like eating, anyway.

By the time he’s stepping on the plane, he’s pretty sure that’s a no. Ten thousand plus feet into the air? And then just...step into nothing? What the hell were you thinking? He taps his feet, closes his eyes, and breathes as he thinks about what the hell he was thinking.

“Dean, baby, I know you can do this,” his girlfriend assured him when he absolutely, positively needed to pass that English test or risk not graduating.

“Dean, baby, I know you can do this,” his fiancée encouraged him when he was freaking out before their wedding.

“Dean, baby, I know you can do this,” his wife cheered for him when he started his own business.

“Dean, I know you’re scared, but you know you can do this, and I know, too,” Cas told him last night. “It’s about deciding to live. You got this, Vice.”

“Yeah,” Dean whispers to himself as they reach altitude.

He follows the instructor’s directions. It’s so fucking windy. You can do this, he thinks to himself. Leap of faith. And then, he’s falling.

But it’s not really like falling. There’s no stomach drop, no flailing around. It’s more like...hovering. It’s loud, and clean, and beautiful. He imagined his mind would be racing, but it’s blessedly blank as his senses take over and he just...feels. Lives.

He can’t get the smile off his face.

At the direction of his instructor, Dean pulls the parachute open. He floats and still, he doesn’t think. It’s too serene, thousands of feet in the air, to think.

And then, it’s over. He’s on terra firma again. He laughs, and laughs, and laughs some more.

“Great job, bud,” his instructor says as he disconnects them. “Was it everything you hoped for?”

“And more,” Dean grins like a fool.

His friends, watching from picnic tables near the drop zone, rush the field with hoots and hollers once they see he’s free. He jokingly kneels on the ground and kisses it, then stands and runs toward them. These people, with him in the depths of his grief, are witnesses to his resurrection. “Fuck yeah!” he yells as he pumps his fists in the air.

Soon he’s surrounded by his second family, trading hugs and kisses...but if he’s honest, he really wants his best friend, who’s standing outside the circle recording everything, wearing a t-shirt that says Great things never came from comfort zones in Dean's honor. He’s smiling and his hair is messy and his eyes are sparkling, cobalt cut glass and he’s so... Cas, and Dean doesn’t think as he presses forward into his space, into his arms, against his lips. He just feels.

Chapter Text

What in the fuck is...is…

Castiel Novak’s mind has never been so blank.

In all his years, he’s always had something rambling around in his brain. He likens it to an ant farm he had as a kid, some new trail always being dug by tiny creatures who never seemed to need rest. But right now, now...all of time has been frozen down to this one moment, this one point of contact upon which new worlds are created, a Big Bang on soft, dry lips.

Perhaps that’s dramatic. But Cas certainly feels like his own time, his own world, are being forever changed.

It takes his meagre human brain a moment to catch up. But when it does, he surges into the contact, only feeling guiding his way. And when it breaks, the thunder and lightning of his firing neurons ceases and only a whimpering echo remains. He wonders if this is how a nebula feels after scattering stars, or a mother feels when her baby is separated from her womb—small and floaty and vaguely lost.

They stare at each other, and then Castiel huffs a short laugh, and Dean follows with a longer, staccato burst of nervous energy. “Um, hi,” Cas says.

“Hey,” Dean giggles self-consciously. He pinches between his brows. “Um, I—I don’t know what that was.”

“Seems like you threw up on me, Vice,” he jokes, because now, now he’s thinking, and those thoughts are screaming at him.

Dean seems to understand Cas’ reference to his disgusting analogy about feeling stuck. “Uh, yeah, sorry. Heh. Got a little on ya there.” Trembling fingers wipe a spot of saliva on Cas’ lip.

“Yeah, well, what’s a little emotional vomit between friends?” He swipes a thumb across Dean’s chin, even though there’s nothing there but a little stubble. “Um. Should probably get your video and stuff, huh?”

“Oh! Yeah! Yeah.” He points at Cas. “And I was promised pie.”

Cas smiles. He can’t help it. “Of course, Dean.”

They all make their way to the office, where Dean picks up a thumb drive containing his dive video and photos, then move as one back to the picnic tables for pie. Dean laughs at the card Cas drew for him, a cartoon of a starry-eyed Dean smiling comically as he skydives toward a drop zone covered in pies of all kinds.

Dean talks excitedly about his experience, and the others join him in his enthusiasm, but Cas can’t seem to stay focused. He hopes he puts on a good face as his mind floats back to the kiss. He analyzes the hell out of it. Why did Dean kiss him? What did it mean? What happens now? He comes up with nothing.

“You’re asking the wrong questions, man,” Gabe tells him after Cas shows up at his house unannounced. Dean was having dinner with Sam after the skydiving event, so they said goodbye in the parking lot with awkward waves, pretending nothing had changed.

“I think I’m asking very valid questions.”

“Yeah, they’re valid questions, but not the right questions.” Cas raises a brow, and Gabriel shakes his head at him exasperatedly. He grabs his shoulders and jiggles them. “The right questions are: How’d it feel? What do you want to happen?”

“I—I don’t know. I mean, I—it felt—” He closes his eyes and exhales harshly. “It felt—”

“Don’t think about it, Cassie. Feel it. Like you’re painting it or something, however you artist types do things.”

Cas forgives the nickname and breathes. He takes himself to the moment of the kiss, the anticipation he felt just before it all happened. He knew, somehow, that the way Dean was approaching him was different, and he was...excited, scared, hopeful. He didn’t know he would kiss him, but he knew that whatever block was stopping Dean had been stopping Cas, too, and in that moment it was gone. When Dean took him in his arms, leaned into him, slotted their mouths together...it felt natural. Right. Like he’d been traveling and finally came to a place where he understood the language. And it felt so, sooooo good...the heat, the slide, the flavor. Jesus, it had been so perfect. If his thoughts hadn’t gotten in the way, he probably would’ve dived right back in.

“That smile right there is the answer to all your questions, Cas.”

He opens his eyes. “What?”

“That. This.” His brother points to his face, then pats over his heart. “That feeling’s the only answer you need. You’ll figure the rest out.”

Cas rubs his forehead. “That’s not the only answer I need, Gabe.”

“What else do you need to know?”

“Why he did it? What he’s thinking? And what do I do now? What was I really feeling? Was I just into it because I haven’t been kissed like that in so long? I’m not gay, Gabe, I—”

“Holy shit, Cas, you gotta get off your ‘I’m not gay’ thing, because the facts are: you like Dean, you liked being kissed by Dean, and Dean has a dick. Denying it just causes you grief, and haven’t you had enough of that? Are you not gonna let yourself be happy because of a body part? That’s stupid and shallow.”

“I—” Cas stops. Considers. Opens his mouth and stops again. “I...have no good argument for that.”

“Good.” Gabriel leaves for a moment, returning with a couple of Angry Chair German Chocolate Cupcake Stouts. “So. Mind blown much?”

“Like fucking confetti.”

“Rainbow confetti?”

“Fuck you.”

Gabe’s foot shoves his calf as he cackles.

Cas stares at the ceiling and exhales in a rush, making his lips flap. “So. I’m gay. Or something.”

“Bi. Or something. Maybe even pan.”

“Pan?”

“Attracted to people regardless of gender.”

“Oh. Shit, don’t confuse me. I can only take one revelation at a time.”

“Yeah, well, you’re probably demi, too.”

“What the hell’s that?”

“That thing I told you about a long time ago. How maybe you aren’t attracted to someone sexually until you’re attracted to someone emotionally. Like, intensely.”

Cas sighs. “I didn’t realize that had a name. I thought I was just weird.”

“You are. But that’s irrelevant to this conversation.”

“I hate you.”

“I know.”

They trade smiles.

Cas swigs a gulp of beer to ease his tightening throat before he says, “Mom and Dad are gonna kill me.”

“Nah. They’ll be fine.”

“Gabe, they whisper about their gay neighbors down the street. They get all weird about rainbow flags. They watch Fox News. Fox News.”

His brother snorts. “I know, I know, but they’re just stuck in their ways, Cas. They’re older and they don’t know anyone personally who’s in a relationship with someone of the same gender. They haven’t been exposed to it as much. It’s a generational and an educational thing. But they love you, Cas. They want the best for you. They want you to be happy.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“They do. So. What’re you gonna do now?”

“I dunno. Hang flags? March in a parade? I don’t—”

“About Dean.”

“Oh. I don’t know.”

“Hmm. Well, guess you guys will have some stuff to talk about.” Gabriel’s face softens. “Was it weird? ‘Cause of Syl?”

Circling the mouth of his bottle with his thumb, Cas thinks. “Honestly, I didn’t even think about her. Is that bad?”

“Nah, of course not. I mean, I’ve never been in that situation, but I don’t think it’s bad. Widows or widowers or whatever move into new relationships all the time. I would think they don’t spend all their time thinking about their...um, previous relationships.”

“Yeah.”

“Was he goooood?” Gabe asks in a teasing lilt.

“Shut up,” Cas laughs, hating the blush in his cheeks and loving the fact that he feels like he’s breathing for the first time in a long time.

Cas decides that he’ll talk with Dean on Sunday morning, when they get together for breakfast. He needs to get an idea of where Dean’s head is. Dean did the jump to help himself get over the guilt of being with others, of wanting to be with others. Now that he’s done it, he might want to continue dating other people. Women. Or he still might not feel ready for anything. Or he might...maybe with Castiel. And the more Cas thinks about that, the more he thinks he’d be open to it.

“Your brother gave me a weird look,” Dean says as he lets himself into the apartment on Sunday. Goose scampers around his legs until he gives her the attention she demands.

“How is that different than usual?”

“It just...was. I don’t know how to describe it.”

“It’s probably because I mentioned the kiss to him.”

Dean freezes, and Cas freezes. “Oh.”

Maybe the nonchalant approach isn’t the right approach. He decides to go for humor. “I mean, I haven’t gotten lucky like that in a while. I had to tell someone.”

Dean laughs, his body instantly relaxing. It helps Cas relax, too. A little. “Right. Yeah. Heh. That was wild, huh?”

“It was.”

They stand in the kitchen, staring at each other. Anxious and exhausted from lying awake most of the night, Cas feels all the nerve he’d built up for this conversation drain from his body. “S-so, I decided to try a new recipe. Poached Egg and Avocado Toast.”

“Ooooh,” Dean says with a boyish grin that looks very, very relieved. Okay, then. No discussing the kiss this morning. Maybe later.

But it doesn’t happen later, either. Or the next day. Or the day after that. They resume their usual routines, and with each day that passes, it seems more ridiculous to bring up. Maybe it’s not worth discussing after all, Cas thinks. Maybe it was nothing.

Yet the kiss, in Cas’ mind, at least, seems to be the elephant in the room—not a giant beast sitting in the middle of everything, but a small, polka-dotted thing that follows them wherever they go. It stands on the salt shaker at breakfast. It adds squiggly lines to their artwork. It snuggles between them when they watch TV. It prances around the room at the AIG group. It walks the tightrope of tension between them, leaping to eyes and mouths and hands, drawing them closer and further apart all at once.

Cas draws furiously. His AIG posts are as mixed up as his mind, some days spouting off about the joys of growth and self-discovery and other days questioning everything he’s ever known about anything.

He should talk to him. He knows he should.

Instead, he asks him if he’s going on another date any time soon. Dean says he probably should, since that’s why he jumped in the first place, and so he does. It hurts, but at least he knows where Dean stands. He won’t push.

Too bad (or maybe really good) that their AIG friends don’t mind pushing.  

“So, what the frack?” Charlie asks when Dean relates his latest dating disaster, explaining that he’s back to feeling stuck. “We didn’t wanna say anything while you were working things out—nearly killed us, by the way—but after that smooch a few weeks ago, we figured you and Cas would finally be a thing.”

Dean’s nervous tells are out in full force—he rubs his neck, licks his lips, looks away. “Uh, well, you know, um, we...aren’t.”

“Why not?”

“Charlie…” Cas warns.

“Sorry. Are you open to conversation?” Charlie asks with an exaggerated sigh and a roll of her eyes that clearly says she’d rather proceed than ask.

“Nothin’ to discuss.”

“Seems like there is.”

“Charlie…”

“He’s not into guys. Nothin’ to discuss.”

Cas’ breath catches in his throat. Is that why Dean’s been avoiding this conversation? “And if I am?” he asks quietly.

Dean turns slowly until they’re face to face. “Um. I...I guess we should talk, then.”

“Yes. Okay. Not here.” He scowls at the disappointed mumbling of the group. “Shut up,” he chides them with a smile. All of them laugh, even Dean.

When group is over, they lock the doors and head upstairs quietly. The air is thick and hot, like being trapped under a blanket. Cas feels like he’s suffocating. After properly greeting Goose, they stand in the kitchen and alternate staring at each other with staring at their feet. Finally, Cas claps his hands. “Well! Let’s talk about me being into guys!” he nearly shouts with false cheerfulness. He heads to the couch, hoping Dean follows. He does, and he sits. Cas folds his arms and looks at Dean, willing the words to leave his mouth. They don’t. He picks up a pencil and starts twirling it, then twisting and bending it in his hands. He doesn’t notice the pressure he’s putting on it until it snaps in half and one piece flies into the air. He huffs. “Fuck.”

Dean snorts, Cas covers his face, and they burst into giggles, breaking the tension. “Shit, why is it so hard?” Dean groans, wiping under his eyes with the heel of his hand.

In keeping with the awkward moment, Cas makes a stupid joke. “Well, I know why it’s so hard for me.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I’m into guys, and here you are.”

When Dean understands his double entendre, he socks Cas in the shoulder. “Oh my God.”

“Listen, I’ve driven myself crazy with this shit. I have to find a way to laugh at it.” He peers at Dean, who’s eyeing him warmly, then averts his gaze, uncertain if he can take whatever passes through Dean’s eyes next. “Um, okay. So Gabe and I talked, and…” He stops, breathes through the buzzing in his head, and tries again. “Okay. This is weird to say to you, but I am, apparently, able to be attracted to men, too, if I find the right one. And you are, apparently, the right one. I think it’s, um, because we’re so close in other ways. That’s how I get attracted to people, I guess, like we talked about before. So, um, yeah. That kiss was...yeah.”

He hears Dean’s amusement when he repeats, “That kiss was...yeah?”

“Shut up. You talk now.”

“Well, which is it? Talk or shut up?”

Cas’ face flushes in embarrassment. “Talk,” he says softly.

Staring at his own lap, he sees Dean’s hand slide toward his until their palms touch and their fingers link loosely. “That kiss was...yeah, for me, too.” Cas looks up at Dean, whose eyes shine even as his breath stutters. “Um, I guess I got a kick in the pants, too, where the whole being into guys thing is concerned. Apparently, Miss had me pegged as bisexual and I didn’t even know it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Who’da thunk it?”

Cas sees an opportunity to tease Dean, just as Dean teased him a moment ago, and he takes it. “Well, I mean, it makes sense. You’re an interior decorator, after all.”

Dean regards him with confused, hurt eyes until Cas can’t contain his laughter anymore and Dean realizes he’s being jerked around. “You’re such a dick,” he snorts as he shoves him. “You’re a fuckin’ artist. You guys are probably the gayest after theater majors.”

Now Cas snorts and shoves Dean. “Ass.” Worry creeps in, and he rubs a hand across the back of his neck, a nervous habit he picked up from Dean. “Um, you know I was kidding, right? You know I respect your work, and your career has nothing to do with your sexuality. I’m, uh, I’m sorry if I took it too far. When I’m uncomfortable I don’t always think things through before I say them. I—”

Smiling softly at him, Dean interrupts his rambling. “Hey, I know you were joking. It helps, actually.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t want you to stop giving me shit just because we...you know.”

Cas swallows down the butterflies in his throat. “You never have to worry about that, Vice.” Without thinking, he thumbs at the scruff on Dean’s jaw affectionately. Dean captures his hand in his and lowers them into Cas’ lap to rest next to their already-joined hands. By the shimmer in Dean’s eyes and the bob of his throat, Cas thinks Dean might be swallowing butterflies, too.

“Um, so the block I had when I was trying to date. I mean, part of it was probably the sexuality thing I wasn’t getting through my thick skull—”

“You weren’t the only one.”

“Yeah.” Dean quirks a smile. “But I think that maybe the guilt I was feeling wasn’t so much guilt about Miss, but about you. My feelings about you.”

“Oh?”

“‘Cause it was almost like I was cheating on you or something.”

“Oh. Yeah, I...I know what you mean.”

“Yeah.” Dean holds Cas’ eyes as he squeezes his hands. “So.”

“So.”

“Now what?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t done this before.”

“Yeah. Me neither. I guess...we could try?”

A shaky breath whooshes between Cas’ lips. “Try?”

“I mean, you know…” Dean shrugs and swallows. “See how we like it.”

Cas is taken back to his early years with Sylvie—the stolen looks, the shy touches, the flirtations that became bolder as they navigated from friends to lovers. Those feelings that he remembers so strongly are a bubbling brook compared to the ocean in his chest—the depth, the breadth, the power are so much more. Perhaps it is because of maturity, or because of tragedy, or because of the newness and taboo of it all. Or perhaps it is just because it’s Dean. He leans forward. “Yeah. Let’s try. Let’s see how we like it.”

This time, there is no rushed, heat-of-the-moment crashing into each other. Instead, there is slow, deliberate movement, every inch a decision made. Cas licks his lips and Dean licks his; hands move to rest on each other’s elbows, knees bump, then slot together. Their noses touch, and they let them get acquainted as they nuzzle softly. Cas licks his lips again, and Dean exhales across them, and then they make one final decision and close the space between them. A leap of faith, Cas thinks—or rather, feels. He’s not doing much thinking.

One kiss becomes two, then three, until they’re indistinct enough that it’s hard to tell just how many there really are. They experiment with pressure and position, but keep the pace unhurried, exploratory. Dean’s thumb caresses Cas’ cheek. Cas’ hand settles in Dean’s hair. When they finally separate, Cas bites his lip shyly.

“I like it,” he whispers.

“I like it, too,” Dean smiles.

It’s one of the biggest Big Bangs of Cas’ life—a new world, a new adventure. He smiles and dives back in.

Chapter Text

Dean comes up for air.

They’re swimming at the YMCA, an activity that he’s done with Sam a lot lately. Sam wanted to join a gym, but he didn’t want to spend a ton of money and he wanted to support a nonprofit, so here they are. Membership is month-to-month, so Dean figured he’d buy a month and, by then, things between Sam and Jess would be smoothed out, their thoughts of separation long gone.

It’s almost time to buy another month, and things are not smoothed out.

She’s staying with her parents while they “sort things out”. They see each other, at least, but things are up and down. Sam is stressed. So he swims, and lifts, and cycles, and drags Dean with him. He’s sad these days—grieving, in a way, Dean supposes.

Dean, on the other hand, is happy. Really happy.

It’s been just over four weeks since Dean and Cas decided they liked kissing each other. It turns out they like kissing each other a lot. Surprisingly—at least to him—he took to the whole kissing guys thing without a lot of fuss. Perhaps it’s because he had a lot of time to get used to the idea. He'd been thinking about it consciously since Sam and Jess called him out on his apparent-to-his-wife-and-everyone-else bisexuality back in January, but he’d probably been thinking about Cas unconsciously since way before that. He knew that the way he felt about Cas—how much closer he felt to him than anyone, how he liked being with him more than anyone, the thrill he felt in his presence—was different, special. Profound, really. He’d never fallen so hard and fast for anyone—not even in the romantic sense, but in the you are my person sense. The romantic and sexual attraction...well, those are bonuses, and very good ones.

They’ve hesitated to move beyond kissing, both of them wanting to take the physical part of their relationship slowly. What they have is too precious to ruin with rushed, reckless sex. Neither of them have had sex with anyone since Miss and Syl, and call him old-fashioned, but he wants it to be special when it finally happens, and he’s pretty sure Cas feels the same. Cas seems like a take-it-slow sort of guy, anyway. Plus, sex with a man...even if Dean’s comfortable with kissing one, sex with one is something new, for both of them.

Not that they don’t joke about it. Just the other day he worked out with Sam, who pushed himself so hard that Dean had to push just as hard. He’s the big brother, after all; he couldn’t have his little brother working harder than him. He felt it after, though, and sent Cas a text:

To Cas 8:02am: Received an ass kinking at the gym this morning

To Dean 8:05am: An ass kinking, huh? I thought we were waiting on ass kinking.

Dean looked back at his message and groaned. He’d done it again.

To Cas 8:06am: *kicking

To Dean 8:06am: What does an ass kinking entail?

To Cas 8:07am: Kicking!

To Dean 8:07am: Did you take notes for me?

To Cas 8:08am: Dick

To Dean 8:08am: I thought that might be involved, yes.

To Cas 8:09am: I meant ass kicking and you know it

To Dean 8:09am: Hands don’t lie, Dean.

To Dean 8:10am: [1 video attachment]

To Dean 8:10am: I bet your hips didn’t lie when you were receiving your ass kinking.

The attachment was Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” video. Dick.

To Cas 8:15am: [1 video attachment]

To Cas 8:16am: [1 video attachment]

To Cas 8:18am: [1 video attachment]

To Cas 8:19am: [1 video attachment]

To Dean 8:21am: Stop sending me Shakira videos.

To Cas 8:22am: Not until you admit you know I meant ass kicking

To Dean 8:24am: Fine, I admit I know it was a typo

To Cas 8:24am: Thank you

To Dean 8:26am: You’re welcome. By the way, should I be jealous? Do I have to kink some guy’s ass now?

To Cas 8:27am: Don’t you dare. Unless it’s mine. ;P

To Dean 8:27am: ;)

God, that whole exchange still makes him laugh.

Instead of focusing on sex in their relationship (despite a goofy or suggestive text or two), they date, occupying their time with art festivals and exhibits, dinners, movies, walks with Goose, and hanging out at Cas’. It’s not much different than the way they spent their time before, except there’s an undercurrent of attraction that he finally recognizes and acknowledges. He’s even been staying at his own house every night, at least for now, so they can date properly.

Dean finally feels like he’s living, like he’s come up for air after holding his breath far too long.

“Hey.” Sam meets him at the end of the lap lane. Dean shakes the water out of his hair and wipes his eyes. “You wanna get dinner tonight?”

Shit. “Uh, actually, Cas and I were gonna do something.” Sam doesn’t need to know that the “something” is sitting their asses on the couch, bare legs entwined, sipping margaritas and eating their weight in nachos while they trade ideas for each other’s latest work projects and continue the search for Cas’ unique home. And maybe make out. Probably make out. Definitely make out.

“Oh. Okay.”

Guilt gnaws at Dean, seeing his little brother struggling. He did his best to be there for Dean when his grieving was at its worst; Dean feels like he should be there for him, too. “Hey, um, maybe you can join us. We can hang out at Cas’.”

Sam lights up. “Yeah, that’d be great.”

Cas will probably kill him, but seeing that smile on his brother’s face is worth it.

“It’s okay,” Cas says when Dean stops by his place between clients. He tries to cover it with a smile, but Dean knows when Cas is upset. It’s in his eyes. Sam’s smile may have seemed worth it at the time, but Cas’ disappointment makes him wish he’d pawned his brother off on his father and stepmother.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve asked first.”

“Would it have changed what you decided?”

Dean shrugs. “Maybe.”

“You’re damn lucky you’re cute, Vice. And that I’m such a saint.”

With a smirk, Dean pulls Cas closer. “Saint, hmm? I dunno, I’ve had your tongue in my mouth, and it’s pretty sinful.” He leans in and kisses the fond, forgiving smile off Cas’ face. Cas hums into his mouth as he opens for him, and soon Dean forgets what they were talking about or why he’s even here other than for what they’re doing right now.

“You’re such a good brother,” Cas murmurs with affection as they separate. “It’s too bad, though. I was hoping maybe we could have a little...adventure.”

“Adventure?”

“Mmmhmm.” He walks his fingers up the button placket of his crisp, white shirt until they reach the open collar, where he circles the dip in his neck. “I was hoping to take a walk.” His fingers leave his neck and smooth over his shirt until his thumbs stop directly over his nipples. “Check out your landscape.”

The whine that escapes Dean’s throat is embarrassing. “Thought you wanted to...do…” Cas latches onto his jaw and nibbles. “Hmmmm. Fuck.”

“You like that?” He rubs his thumbs lightly across Dean’s nipples as he plants open-mouthed kisses along his neck.

“Fuck, yes.”

“Hmmmm.” Cas stops suddenly. “Well. I’ll make enough for three tonight.” He pats Dean’s chest and steps back.

Dean’s cock is hard and his head is soft and fuzzy. “You’re such a dick.”

“You cockblock me, I cockblock you.”

“Damn it.” Dean bangs his head gently on the wall Cas had backed him up to. “He’s killing me.”

Cas’ smirk softens. “I know.” He wraps his arms around Dean and Dean returns the gesture, feeling warm and content...and frustrated.

Later, Dean picks up a downtrodden Sam from his house. Jess is just leaving; they give each other sad little waves. She looks as pathetic as he does. Dean doesn’t understand it. Why, if they’re so miserable without each other, can’t they work it out? It’s a mystery he’s yet to crack.

At Cas’, Sam seems to perk up a little. He likes Cas. Cas likes Sam, too, and despite his earlier irritation about the interruption to their plans, Cas seems content to entertain Sam and keep his mind occupied, if only for a while. They take Goose out to the nearby park and let Sam play with her to his heart’s content; Cas watches Sam with a smile while Dean watches Cas with a bigger smile. He wants to kiss him, but they haven’t worked their way up to public displays of affection yet.

Back at the apartment, Sam gets mopey again, and Cas lets him talk. Dean tries hard to be attentive and sympathetic and all that, but he’s heard it all before and Cas is sitting across from him looking like a delicious, manly wet dream (that he can finally admit to himself weren’t just embarrassing flukes when he was a teen). He’s wearing those distressed rose jeans Dean loves; his tobacco brown v-neck has a graphic of his own creation on it, the words Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? superimposed in a deep raspberry hue over a sepia sea. It has no right looking as hot on him as it does. He curses out his brother silently as Cas sprawls out on the recliner, body open in an invitation that Dean has to decline. Cas catches him staring more than once.

When Sam pauses, Cas stands. Goose, having been curled beside him, drops to the floor. “Go see Sam, baby,” he says to her, then, “I’m going to prep the nachos. Dean, wanna help me make margaritas to tide us over until the food’s ready?”

Dean is more than eager to follow, both because he’s itching to get away from Sam’s drama for a minute and because he gets to watch Cas’ ass as he ambles into the kitchen. The show is too short, thanks to the size of the apartment, but it’s something. Dean grabs the mix from the fridge, handing Cas the vegetables and cheese for the nachos while he’s there, then grabs the alcohol from the cabinet above the fridge. “I have plastic margarita glasses and a serving platter in my bedroom closet,” Cas says, which doesn’t surprise Dean. There isn’t a hell of a lot of storage space in the kitchen. It’s high on Cas’ must-have list for his new place. He disappears for a minute, then calls out, “Dean? Help me out?”

Dean wanders toward the sound of Cas’ voice. “Hey, here comes your knight in shi—”

Cas is on him the moment he steps into the bedroom, lips firmly sealing on his. Dean moans into his mouth. “Fuck, Cas,” he rasps when they part for air.

“I called you in here to make sure you were okay. But I got distracted.”

“You get distracted all you want,” Dean growls as he dives in for another kiss that makes his heart pound. “Next time I’m stupid enough to invite someone over, remind me of this.”

“Gladly,” Cas murmurs against his lips. “Are you okay, though? When you weren’t staring at me, you seemed bummed out.”

Dean nuzzles his nose. “Yeah. This whole Sam thing’s thrown me for a loop, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I know.” He pecks Dean’s lips. “It really was good of you to invite him. He needs you.”

“Yeah. What really sucks is that I know what I could be doing tonight instead.”

“Oh? You mean this?” Cas sneaks his hands under Dean’s shirt; he stills one hand on his back and lets the other explore his chest slowly.

“You’re torturing me on purpose,” Dean whines as he helplessly leans into the sweet agony.

“Isn’t all torture on purpose?” Cas asks as he traces around Dean’s pec. “Nobody tortures someone by accident.”

“You’re a dick.” He sneaks his hands under Cas’ tee. Cas hums. He’s not sure whether it’s in agreement or in pleasure at Dean’s touch until he sighs into his collarbone, thumbing Dean’s peaked nipple as his hand continues its stroll. Dean gasps at the sensation of skin on skin. It’s been so long, sooo looong…and Cas’ hands are huge but just so fucking perfect...

“You guys need a hand?” Sam calls from the living room. Or maybe closer.

Cas clamps his hand over his mouth to muffle his laughter as Dean makes a disgusted face. “Nah, we got it. Be right out.” He shakes his head at the interruption. “Brothers. Between him interrupting and you starting all this, I don’t know who’s the bigger dick.”

“Me,” Cas whispers, pulling Dean against him by the hips and muckling onto his mouth once again. Dean feels a distinct pressure against his crotch and oh...oh, that’s...oh fuck. Cas breaks his hold and their kiss.

“Definitely you,” Dean whispers, lust edging into his voice. Cas smirks before grabbing the platter and glasses and tugging him toward the kitchen.

Cas shoos Dean out after he makes the drinks, telling him to do something with his brother while he makes the nachos. When Cas brings the nachos out, they’re in the middle of a second episode of Bob’s Burgers. “Looks good, sweetheart,” Dean says.

The endearment seems to take Cas by surprise, even though they started using them almost immediately. “Thanks...hon.” His face is red and Dean isn’t sure why until his eyes flick between him and Sam. Oh. They haven’t used their pet names in front of other people yet. They’ve gone very slowly as they both adjust to a relationship...a relationship with a man. Coming to grips with both one’s newly acknowledged sexuality and with having feelings about someone else after the death of one’s spouse is a lot all on its own, never mind with other people. He gives Cas his warmest smile, and Cas’ shy grin in response makes Dean want to wrap him up and cuddle with his sweetheart on their blue velvet couch. Cas’ blue velvet couch.

“This looks good, Cas,” Sam interjects, loudly and too enthusiastically. It breaks the hand-holding, skipping-in-the-park moment they were having with their eyes. Cas turns to Sam.

“Thank you. It’s a new recipe. Two Cheese Veggie Nachos.”

“No cilantro, I notice,” Dean grins with a wink. Cas told him all about his cilantro aversion and Sylvie’s innuendo about oral sex.

“I left it out.” He sticks his tongue out at Dean.

“Hmm. Too bad.” He’d only meant it as a joke, but Cas blushes furiously, and as Dean extends that train of thought to the two of them, he feels heat rise in his face as well. “Oh God, sorry. I didn’t mean...I mean...yeah. Sorry.”

“It’s—it’s fine,” Cas assures him, eyes closed and body shaking, until he sprays spittle on Dean as he begins to cackle. Seeing Cas lose it makes Dean lose it, too; he throws his body back, pink champagne giggles bubbling out of his chest.

Sam stares, utterly confused.

The couple settles themselves down, Cas resting a hand on Dean’s thigh and keeping it there. It’s a tentative move; his boyfriend eyes him, questioning. Dean smiles and rests his hand atop Cas’, then curls his fingers around his. Cas smiles, too, and picks up a nacho with his left hand. Toppings fall off as he brings the food to his mouth gracelessly with his non-dominant hand, but he doesn’t make any attempt to take his other hand back, so Dean doesn’t offer. Instead, he pulls them to the floor so they’re closer to the table, in case Cas loses any more toppings. He’ll be damned if the sofa gets stained, and he sure as hell will be damned if he’s letting go of Cas’ hand.

When the nachos are gone and Dean and Cas are on their second margaritas, Sam’s lips loosen (he’s into his fourth and a shot). “You guys are disgusting,” he comments, glazed eyes fixed on the men’s hands. They’re on the couch now and Sam’s in the recliner.

Dean glances at Cas, who’s already side-eyeing him, unsettled. His fingers tighten around Dean’s, and it pisses him off that his brother’s made Cas uncomfortable. “The hell do you mean, Sam?” he growls.

“I mean, look at you, all in love and shit.”

Dean freezes. In love? He mentally curses his brother. It’s way too early for that talk, with everything they’ve been through and how new this is, and he’ll kill Sam if he scares Cas off when they’ve barely begun. He doesn’t want to lose him. But Cas’ hand slackens and his thumb caresses Dean’s. He’s clearly relieved that Sam doesn’t actually think they’re disgusting or wrong, and since Cas is relaxed and doesn’t seem bothered by the whole in love thing, Dean relaxes, too. “What’s your point?” he asks.

“I had that. With Jess.”

Ah. Dean barely contains his sigh. He feels bad, yet being with Sam lately does “bum him out,” as Cas put it. He wonders if being with him after Miss died was the same way. Of course, there is a major difference. “You still can. You guys need to communicate.”

“I’ve tried!”

“Well, maybe you need to try something else! Maybe your talky-feely-huggy shit isn’t helpful!”

“I don’t know what else to do, Dean! How do you talk besides...talk?”

“Sam, what’s the issue between you?” Cas asks calmly. Dean’s grateful for his interference.

“It’s...a lot of things. We fight over everything.”

“But you didn’t at one time. So what started it?”

“I can’t...you know what? Fuck it. We were gonna have a baby but Jess miscarried, and now everything is shit.”

Dean feels like an anvil has landed on his chest. He has no words.

“Oh, wow. I’m sorry, Sam. That’s horrible.”

Sam shrugs. “It’s not a big deal. She even said so. It’s not like she was very far along, you know? We just, you know, try again.”

“Is that what she wants?”

“Yeah.”

“And do you?”

“I don’t know,” he moans, rolling his head against the chair. “I mean, I guess. We went for it again after the first one, so, yeah.”

“Wait,” Dean says, finding his voice, “you mean this has happened more than once?”

Sam holds up two fingers as his lids droop.

The room goes silent for a while, until Cas says, “Sam, maybe...maybe you guys are having more feelings about the miscarriages than you realize.”

“I dunno. Maybe,” he slurs.

“How would you and Jess feel about coming to the group?”

Sam’s face twists in confusion as he opens his eyes. “Your group? The grief group?”

It annoys Dean that Sam calls it that. Yes, they’ve all experienced grief, and “grieving” is in the name of the group, but he prefers to focus on the “adventure” part—the living part. Now’s not the time to pick an argument, though, because he sees where Cas is going with this and he agrees one hundred percent.

“Yes, our group.”

“Why?”

“Listen, my sister had a miscarriage once, and she tried to blow it off, but it was more devastating to her than she let on. Maybe it’s the same for you guys.” Sam shrugs, and Cas continues, “I’m just thinking that maybe it could help. Maybe you need to approach your problems from a different angle.”

“It’s not like they were…” Sam trails off, losing his thought.

“I’m just saying. Come if you want.”

After a minute, Sam nods. “What the hell. They won’t mind me coming after what happened last time? And Jess? They don’t know her.”

“I don’t think they’d mind. They’re not mad at you or anything. Grief does crazy shit to people. And as for Jess, I think they’d be happy to let you guys in without an issue. I mean, they let you and Dean in, and we weren’t even an open group anymore.”

Frowning, Dean turns to Cas. “You weren’t?”

“No. We figured we were big enough. I thought I took down all the flyers, but I missed one, apparently. The one that Sam found.”

Dean marvels at this new information. He may never have met Cas or anyone in AIG. Where would he be now if he hadn’t?

“I’m glad you crashed the party, though,” Cas says, breaking into Dean’s thoughts with a gentle smile and a press of his fingers.

“Me too,” he murmurs to his boyfriend. Boyfriend. So much would be different if he hadn’t joined the group. “They’re great people,” he says to Sam while gazing at Cas. “Life-changing.” He and Cas exchange slow, easy smiles.

Sam agrees to talk to Jess and then begins to mutter incoherently. “You should probably get him home,” Cas suggests with an amused yet concerned glance at the drunk man across from them.

“Yeah.” He stands. “Come on, Sasquatch.” Dean and Cas each take an arm and support him down the stairs and to the car, letting him flop across the backseat. He slams the door shut, then turns to his boyfriend. He can barely see him, the security light having gone out and not replaced yet. It adds an air of secrecy to their parting.

“I’ll see you soon, hon,” Cas says.

“See you tomorrow, sweetheart.” By the ambient light around them, he reaches for Cas’ face and cradles it in his hands. He wonders if he should kiss him—they’re outside, but they’re in the back and no one would see them unless they happened to pass by, which was unlikely at this hour. He takes a chance and leans in, giving Cas plenty of time to stop him if needed. Cas holds his gaze as his hands slink around his waist, and soon their lips meet. He feels so right, so...well, maybe his brother is on to something. Maybe. “Night, sweetheart. Sweet dreams.”

“You too, hon.” Cas presses another kiss on his lips. They both sigh into it, opening up for something deeper, until they each pull back with a smile.

“The sweetest,” Dean winks as he strokes a finger down Cas’ cheek. It’s a promise he can keep, because he’s already living the sweetest of dreams.

Chapter Text

Sam and Jess haven’t shown up for a group since Cas mentioned it to Sam a couple of weeks ago, and while Cas is concerned, it’s hardly his biggest concern right now.

His biggest concern is actually two concerns: one, he has a date with Dean tonight, and two, his parents are coming to town for the weekend. The concerns aren’t related, but they’re both making him sweat.

He’s up early and figures he should at least earn his sweat, so he takes a run with Goose. He’s gotten better at running, and Goose loves the exercise. When he returns, he feels a little more focused. He gives Goose some water, then strips and jumps in the shower, figuring he’ll do a quick rinse now and save the longer shower for later. Why he’s taking a longer shower later pops into his mind, and just like that he’s back to thinking about his date with Dean. He grunts as anxiety creeps back into his body, the benefits from his run made null. Damn it, Cas thinks as he lathers soap over his skin. Bare hands over bare skin. His hands over Dean’s skin. Mmm. He blinks water out of his eyes as he peers down at his erect penis. Hemming and hawing for a moment, he decides Why not? and strokes himself a few times. The glide feels good, so he keeps going. Random thoughts pop into his mind… Memories of shower sex with Sylvie, when they were still having sex. Memories of jerking off in the shower alone, when they weren’t having sex anymore but he still wanted to. Memories of jerking off in the shower alone, when they weren’t having sex anymore but he needed something to take the edge off his loneliness, his pain, his longing. Memories of jerking off in the shower alone because he was alone. Wow, this is the saddest jerk-off ever, he thinks miserably.

As if taking mercy on him, his mind floats to Dean...his laugh, his full lips, his hard body underneath him when they made out shirtless last week. His eyes, the shade of a fairy glen. His honeyed twang, calling him sweetheart. The way he gives him shit. His obsession with blue velvet couches. The way he moans over pie. The way they work together so effortlessly. And his hands...oh God, his hands… Cas cries out as he spills over his own hand and onto the shower floor. He smiles crookedly, no room left in his mind for anxiety, not even of the “I jerked off about a guy” variety. He’s coming to terms with that, finally able to answer Gabe’s question Does it matter? with No, it doesn’t matter. It matters in the grand sense of how he defines himself as a person, but in terms of a value judgment? It doesn’t matter. If he wants Dean, he wants him. He can’t control that any more than he could control falling in love with Sylvie. Love is love. Love. Oh dear. They’ve only dated six weeks. He decides to guide that thought to the waiting room of his brain while he does other things.

Those “other things” are working—he’s feeling productive and clear-headed now—and messaging Gabe. His brother helps him decide on a menu for his candlelit dinner and, after lunch, he shops for the ingredients. He loves cooking since Dean’s been in his life; Dean appreciates everything he makes, and it’s way more fun cooking for two (and cooking for someone who will eat it). He’s found balance again, too, caring about what goes into his body. Cas smiles at the cashier, who notes his purchases with amusement.

“Someone’s going all out,” she observes. She runs the Glade candles through the scanner—Blue Odyssey (marine and citrus and sort of the color of his eyes, which Dean is a little obsessed with) and Sultry Amber Rhythm (a black candle of dark rum, arctic mint, and black leather, scents that remind him of Dean and seem “masculine” enough to take the edge off a candlelit dinner)—and follows those up with the bouquet of flowers he grabbed on a whim. “Making a romantic dinner?”

“Yes.” Cas fumbles shyly with his debit card, feeling warm and happy.

“Lucky girl!”

At once, the warm feeling disappears, turning into self-consciousness. Does he correct her? He doesn’t have to. He’ll never see her again, probably, and it’s not her business, anyway. Does it matter? Does it matter?

“Lucky guy, actually,” he replies, because it does matter—not to her, but to him. He needs to become comfortable with this. He meets her eyes. “I’m making dinner for my boyfriend.”

She purses her lips. “Oh.” She finishes ringing up his purchases perfunctorily and gives him the total with much less warmth than she had for him a minute ago. He fumbles his card again, distressed this time. He can feel her judgmental eyes on him, and he suddenly feels the weight of coming out—the fear, the self-doubt, the defensiveness…the anger. He feels angry. But what is he to do?

She averts her eyes, handing him his receipt and saying “Have a good day” robotically as she moves on to the next customer. There’s nothing he can do now. Nothing that’s worth anything, anyway. He sighs and collects his bags from the man at the end of the counter.

“Have a great dinner with your boyfriend,” the man, maybe four or five years younger than his own twenty-nine years, says with a grin. He follows it up with an appreciative sweep of his eyes and adds, “He’s definitely a lucky guy.”

Cas stares. The man winks. Cas, blushing, shakes his head. “Thanks,” he smiles with a little wave of his fingers through the bag handle. “I’ll be sure to tell him so.”

“You’d better!” he says, throwing another wink before focusing on his job once again. Cas chuckles as he leaves the store. Not everyone is a homophobic jerk, he reminds himself. He heads home to prepare—mentally and physically—for their date.

“Damn, it smells amazing in here,” Dean declares, kicking off his huaraches at the door. He approaches Cas, who’s stirring risotto at the stove. “What’re you making?” he asks as he wraps his arms around him.

“Broiled Bacon and Bleu Cheese Steak, Mushroom Risotto, and steamed green beans.” Cas leans into the kisses Dean’s planting on his neck, then giggles and squirms when those kisses turn ticklish. “Stop it. I’m going to burn the risotto.”

“Burn, baby, burn,” he murmurs into his neck.

“You’re insufferable. Take Goose outside for me?”

“Yes, dear.” He leaves with a loud lipsmack to Cas’ neck. Cas can’t help but smile, thinking about how happy he is. Fuck that woman at the grocery store. Fuck anyone who says this isn’t right.

When Dean returns, he tidies up after Cas’ dinner prep, despite Cas’ protests that this is date night and Dean should be relaxing. “I’d rather be with you,” he shrugs as he dumps the trash and scraps into the garbage can. “Uh, Cas, something wrong with the cuke?” he asks, showing him the whole, partially-peeled English cucumber that Cas already knows is there.

Cas’ face heats furiously. He prays Dean doesn’t notice. “Yeah, wasn’t any good.”

Dean frowns. “Which recipe called for cukes?”

Fuck… “Um, not these. I was gonna make a salad, but the cuke wasn’t good and I forgot that I didn’t have croutons, so I just said ‘fuck it’ and didn’t bother.”

“Oh. Just call me next time, I’ll pick some up on my way home. Um, I mean on my way here.”

Since Dean kindly didn’t notice or chose to ignore Cas’ reddened face and awkward stumbling, Cas kindly ignores Dean’s flushed countenance at him calling this place home. It sort of is like home to him, anyway, and it pleases Cas that Dean thinks of it that way.

Dean moans in pleasure all through dinner and into dessert. “You’re doing that on purpose, smartass,” Cas grins.

“Is it working?”

“The things I put up with,” he mutters with an air of suffering. “I’ll have you know, the man at the grocery store said you’re a lucky guy to have me.”

“He did, did he?”

“Mmmhmm. And then he winked. Twice.”

Pretending to be jealous, Dean folds his arms and asks, “Do I have to go kick someone’s ass for flirting with my boyfriend?”

Cas chuckles. “I think he was just trying to make me feel better about the woman who rang me up.”

“Why, what was her problem?”

“She, uh, commented on the candles and flowers—”

“Which I love, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, hon. She called my date a ‘lucky girl’ and I corrected her, and she wasn’t impressed.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “People are assholes.”

“Some.” He pinches the space between his brows. Feeling a hand on his thigh, he opens his eyes to find Dean gazing at him, fierce but sweet.

“Hey. Good for you for standing up and saying something. She had no right to assume, and no right to be a bitch. Don’t let her get you down, okay?”

“I’m trying not to. It was so strange. Just before I told her she was all happy for me, and as soon as I said you were a guy, it’s like I shit in her coffee.”

“Should’ve,” Dean mutters. Cas grins and takes his hand.

“I’m glad I told her, though. It was a little adventure for me, you know? That’s how I’m trying to see all of this—every new thing we try, everything I do to understand and accept my sexuality, all of it. Adventures.”

“I like that, babe.”

“I like it, too.” He leans in and gives Dean a salty-sweet kiss flavored with the Chocolate and Bacon Sea Salt Cupcakes they just ate. Dean smiles into it, and they make out at the table until Goose barks her unhappiness at the lack of acknowledgement she’s getting.

The air has finally cooled from the day, so they open every window in the apartment to the breeze that is promising rain any time now. They bring the candles into the living room and place them far above Goose’s reach, then snuggle into the couch for a Scrubs marathon. Despite their mutual fondness for the show, though, they’re far more fond of each other, so their attention sways from the TV and they resume the makeout session they started in the kitchen. It gets hot and heavy, and soon shirts are off and mouths are roaming. Just like intrepid adventurers, Cas thinks. Well, time to explore uncharted territory.

“Dean,” Cas rasps. “Dean, I...can I?” He gestures to Dean’s pants. Dean’s eyes widen, but he breaks out into a smile and nods. Cas pecks him on the lips, then sits back and places a hand on his fly. Dean gazes at him in anticipation. He takes a moment to run his hand up the hard column under his zipper, delightedly watching as Dean’s eyes flutter closed and his head tips back. His boyfriend’s obvious pleasure steadies his nerves and even emboldens him, so he takes a chance and presses his face to the front of Dean’s dress pants, which leave little doubt as to Dean’s current level of arousal. He rubs and nudges like a cat, but Dean’s the one who purrs and digs his claws into the throw underneath them. God, Cas has missed giving pleasure this way. “Do you want to go to my bedroom?” he whispers.

Instead of answering, Dean tugs him into a heated kiss, stumbling as he pulls them both to standing. Dean affords him a few seconds to blow out the candles, then is back on him like a magnet. Cas walks backwards, guiding Dean without breaking their liplock, to his room. “Clothes,” Dean mumbles against his mouth when they cross the threshold. They kiss as long as they can while they strip, and when they can’t anymore they part and finish until they’re laid bare, physically and emotionally, before each other. The nerves return as Cas’ eyes travel Dean’s body by the light of the streetlamp through the blinds.

Dean looks as nervous as Cas feels, at least. “Never thought I’d be lookin’ at a dude’s naked body outside a locker room,” he quips.

“That makes two of us.”

“Yeah. Um. Light?” He gestures to the bedside lamp. Cas nods, so Dean flicks it on, and now their bodies are even more exposed. They gape at each other, neither making any attempts to hide their nervousness or interest. It feels...honest.

“Can I touch you?” Cas asks.

“Yeah.” Dean steps forward until they’re inches apart. He raises his hands to his hips, but hovers. “Can I touch you?”

“Yeah. Otherwise I’ll feel like I got naked for nothing.”

Dean snorts and tugs them together by his hips. The sudden sensation of their cocks pressing together is shocking for them both. They gasp in unison. “Okay?” Dean asks.

Cas considers the question seriously. He’s holding a naked man, and a naked man is holding him. Their dicks are touching. How is this for him? It’s certainly a situation he never pictured himself in...before Dean. “Okay,” Cas smiles. “Because it’s you.”

“Me too. You’re so beautiful,” Dean whispers, brushing a wisp of hair from his forehead. “Can I say that to a guy?”

Cas shrugs. “You can say it to me.”

“Then that’s all that matters.” He leans in and kisses him until their anxiety disappears and excitement fills in the empty space. Dean’s heat is mesmerizing, tantalizing, and leaves him wanting.

“Dean,” Cas gasps, “Bed. Please.”

They fall to the mattress, Dean under Cas. Tangling tongues and limbs, they trade positions over and over until Cas stops them, straddling Dean’s legs. His cock is filled to bursting, and Cas doesn’t think he’s seen anything like it in his life. “You’re beautiful,” he murmurs, an echo to Dean’s words. The nerves return, just for a moment, as he contemplates holding someone else’s cock in his hand. But this is Dean, he reminds himself. He reaches out and grasps Dean’s cock for the first time.

It’s strange, but not that strange, really. It’s just firm flesh, not all that different than touching other parts of Dean’s body. When his thumb slowly circles the head, though… “Oh,” he whispers as a bead of clear, shiny liquid appears. He reaches for it; its slick glide eliminates the dry friction he felt under his thumb before. “Oh, oh, ohhhhh…” Cas thinks, just for a moment, that he could come right here, right now, with that glorious fluid under his fingertips. It’s different when it’s not his own body, his own fluid, his own pleasure. He grasps his own cock firmly as he coaxes more of the clear nectar from his boyfriend’s body...his boyfriend who is in a state of utter bliss. Love washes over him at that moment—not arousal, not lust, not even fondness or affection, just something he knows is love with everything he has, though the feeling is so deep that the label seems ineffectual.

“God, Cas...gonna...gonna…”

Giving him a hand job wasn’t his plan tonight, but Dean is so into it (and he is, too) that Cas dismisses his original plan and keeps up the pace until he brings Dean over the edge, his sweet cries filling the room as he explodes. Cas watches, fascinated, when the first spurt of come lands on Dean’s skin like a Pollack painting, and he nearly loses control of his faculties at the sight. When Dean is wrung out, painted to his chin, Cas stops fighting the urge and swipes his hand through the viscous fluid. His other hand rests in the mess on Dean’s chest as he strips himself with Dean’s come.

A moment later, Dean sits up on his elbows. “Let me, babe. Wanna touch you. Been dreaming of this.” They adjust until they’re comfortably seated, Cas in Dean’s lap. He wraps long, thick fingers around Cas’ cock. “Mmm, God, it’s even better than I imagined,” he moans. Cas agrees. The sensation, so good already when Cas was jacking himself, is ten times better when Dean is doing it.

“Use...use…” Cas stutters, already on the edge, “Use your...to…”

Dean gets the message, and Cas can’t take his eyes off him as he sweeps a hand through his own come and resumes jacking him off. He crushes an urgent kiss against Dean’s lips, only long enough to get a break from the visual stimulation, before he watches again. The sight of Dean’s hand surrounding his cock, lubing it with his own come, is too much to resist. Dean dips his head to watch, too, and as Cas feels the familiar build of orgasm, he holds Dean’s head to his own to brace himself. With another few flicks of the wrist, Cas bursts; he closes his eyes instinctively against the surge, but forces them open to watch himself erupt between them, intensifying the sensation and making him clutch Dean desperately. Overwhelmed, he closes his eyes once again as he rests against his lover.

Heavy breathing fills the space between them until Dean plants soft kisses to his mouth. Cas opens his eyes to see Dean already gazing at him; his shimmering eyes make Cas’ prickle, too. They’ve been through so much, and yet here they are. Feeling alive. Cas strokes his boyfriend’s face. “Be right back,” he whispers. He fetches a warm, wet cloth from the bathroom and cleans them both up. “Stay with me?” he asks. It feels like a bigger question he’s asking.

“Yeah,” Dean smiles. Cas hopes it’s a bigger answer.

They can’t determine how they want to “spoon,” so instead they negotiate sides and face each other in the dim light while Goose joins them at their feet. The rain adds a pleasant white noise to the air. “Was that okay?” Cas asks.

“More than okay. It was…” He licks his lips. “It was...yeah.”

“It was yeah?” Cas chuckles.

“Shut it.” Dean presses a kiss to his nose. “I just...don’t have words, I guess. It was amazing. Wanna do that again, for sure.”

“Me too. For sure. It was...soooo yeah.”

Dean barks a laugh and pulls him closer. They snuggle into each other and grow quiet. “Been a long time since I’ve slept with anyone. Since Miss,” Dean confesses, though Cas already knows. “Gotta admit, when I thought of this I was pretty scared I’d say her name by mistake. Stupid, huh?”

“It’s not stupid. You were with her a long time.”

“Yeah. But I should’ve known not to be freaked out by that. Can’t ever get you out of my head.”

“Dean.” Fireworks bloom brightly in Cas’ chest, warming his entire body.

“It’s true,” he whispers.

“Me too,” Cas whispers back.

The men trap their legs together as they begin to drift. “Meet my parents this weekend?” Cas asks drowsily.

“Mmmhmm.”

“‘Kay.” Cas floats into slumber, unconcerned about what a meeting with his parents will bring. Love is love.

Chapter Text

Dean wakes to a Cas-less bed, which doesn’t trouble him because one, the other side is still warm, and two, Cas can’t do a fuck-and-flee from his own apartment. He gives Goose a scratch behind the ears, then stretches and flicks his eyes to the ceiling, thinking about Cas and smiling.

Last night was...soooo yeah, as his dorky boyfriend put it. It was incredible. There were awkward moments, but he expected that. He also expected to be scared and to feel bad somehow. Those didn’t happen. His mind flips back to when Cesar started dating again, and the group talked about wanting something that gave them happiness without feeling any negative feelings to destroy it. He lets himself feel happy that he loved every minute with Cas, and that there are no ill feelings after.

But what if Cas is having second thoughts? What if he feels bad, what if he’s unhappy and he’s curled in a corner somewhere, miserable? Stirring himself into a panic, he flings the covers off the bed and goes in search of his boyfriend, Goose following. Seeing the door that leads down to the bakery ajar, his heart starts to slow. He’s probably getting them coffee. He slips on shorts he keeps there for lounging and Cas’ t-shirt, leaves Goose in the apartment with a bowl of food, and pads down the stairs.

The bakery isn’t open yet. It’s probably earlier than either of them planned to be up the morning after their first sexual encounter, but old habits die hard, or something. Plus, they have to work today, he reminds himself with a frown. He’d much rather lounge around with Cas all day and have a repeat performance (or several) of last night. The thought makes him both excited and nervous again, bringing him back to his darker thought that Cas may have some regrets this morning. He stops in the shadows of the stairwell to watch Cas through the open door; he’s humming as he waits for the coffee to brew, a tiny smile playing at the corners of his mouth. Dean sighs in relief. He sees him place a couple of day-old cinnamon rolls and bananas onto a tray, now singing along to the chorus of some ‘80s song. He must’ve turned on Gabe’s sound system for him. And speaking of, Gabe chooses that moment to breeze through the door. He stops, stares at Cas, and points, breaking into a huge, shit-eating grin.

“You got some.”

Cas raises his head. “Got some what?” He's trying to pull off innocence, but a giddy grin sneaks onto his face. Fucking adorable.

“Ha haaaaa, you can’t even pretend, man!” Gabe slaps him on the back. Cas shrugs, eyes darting to the coffee makers as they burble. Gabe leans against the counter. “So? How was gay sex?”

Dean knows he should probably announce his presence, but he loves watching Cas like this, seeing another side to him as he interacts with his brother, just the two of them. Plus, he’s really curious about Cas’ uncensored answer.

“Gabe.”

“Hey, come on, you owe me details. I practically made it happen.”

“Funny, I don’t recall you being there.”

“Gross. Seriously, though.” Gabe’s lecherous grin softens to something fonder, more sensitive. “I know you were nervous. Did it go okay?”

Cas’ bottom lip rolls between his teeth. “Yeah. It was very...yeah.” He giggles to himself, his nose scrunching, and it makes Dean smile stupidly.

“It was yeah?”

“Mmm. Very, very yeah.”

Raising his brows, Gabe appraises his brother for a moment. He fetches a mug and places it next to the two that are already on the counter. “So. Happy?”

“Yeah. Really happy.” Cas pours the regular coffee into his brother’s mug, then into his own, mixing a little sugar and cinnamon in. He then pours Dean’s decaf. He explained once that he always pours Dean’s last so it will stay warmer longer. The warmth in Dean's chest from Cas’ considerateness could keep his coffee hot all day.

“Glad you did it, then.”

Cas grins shyly. “Yeah. It was great.” He shifts on his feet. “I invited him to dinner with Mom and Dad.”

Oh, he does remember that, Dean thinks. He wasn’t sure if Cas would, since he was blissed-out and sleepy when he said it.

“Really? Sure you’re ready?”

A shadow passes over Cas’ face; he inhales deeply. He looks nervous, and Dean decides to interrupt. It doesn’t feel right to listen in anymore, both because they think they’re having a private conversation and because he’s not sure he wants to hear his response. Being happy about having sex is one thing, but being happy about your relationship is another. “Hey,” he calls as he pokes his head through the door. “Thought I’d find you here.”

“Dean.” The smile on his face could power the entire building, maybe the whole city. Dean’s worries disappear. Whatever passed over Cas’ face a moment ago, it wasn’t about Cas’ feelings for him. He can’t resist wrapping his arms around him—at least until he realizes they’re doing this in front of Cas’ brother, who apparently is cool about their relationship but still, they haven’t been physically affectionate in front of anyone except Sam when he was over a couple of weeks ago. Before he can worry too hard, though, arms wind around his neck and a kiss is pressed onto his lips. “Good morning.”

Dean’s smile splits his face in two. “Morning, sunshine. Want some help?”

“Sure.”

“Ugh, my eyes! I’m already starting to regret getting you two together. Now I’m gonna see this all the time!” Gabe rubs his eyes in mock-disgust.

“Yes. And just think of what you’ll hear.” Cas wiggles his eyebrows and smirks at his brother as he twists out of Dean’s arms to grab the tray. Gabe and Dean both stare at him, slack-jawed, then shoot each other impressed looks.

“Look at what you did to my brother,” Gabe reprimands him. “One roll in the hay and he’s a sassy, loud-and-proud bisexual man.”

“The loud part in particular,” Cas notes with an amused glance toward his brother that turns into a laugh when he gets the reaction Dean’s sure he was fishing for: Gabe squeezes his eyes shut and yells “La la la la!” as he clamps his hands over his ears. Cas pats him on the shoulder as they pass. “Revenge for every time I had to hear about one of his exploits,” he explains to Dean as they make their way up the stairs.

Breakfast is quiet, their stolen glances saying more than words can. When they’re finished, Dean glances at the time on the microwave and frowns. “I have an 8:30 consultation. That big one I told you about,” he mutters forlornly, nervously. The meeting could really help his business, if it goes his way.

“Okay. You take the first shower. I’ll grab one once you’re gone.”

Insecurity rears its head. “Don’t wanna go.”

Cas plunks himself into his lap and playfully thumbs at Dean’s pout. “You’re gonna do great. And I’ll be right here when you’re done work.”

“Yeah, but I wanna be right here with you.”

“I know. You want something to take with you?”

Dean smirks. “What, like your favorite t-shirt that has your scent all over it?”

“Not quite what I had in mind. Maybe just my scent all over you. Direct from the source.”

Cas’ hand finds the bulge in Dean’s shorts, and Dean isn’t smirking anymore. “Oh fuck, Cas,” he moans as his boyfriend nips at his jaw and massages his cock.

Cas is the one smirking now, a devilish thing that makes his blood pulse in anticipation. “Is this okay?” he asks, though he should know damn well by Dean’s reaction that it’s okay. He growls in response, taking charge as he picks his man up and carries him to the bedroom.

Well, that’s how it goes in his head, anyway. What actually happens is that he tries to pick him up and finds out he’s pretty damn heavy. He scrapes his knuckles against the table, then collapses back into the chair because he can’t get his feet under himself properly. Cas shakes in his arms. Dean pokes him in the ribs. “Stop laughing, I’m trying to be manly here!” he whines in the manliest whine he can muster while turning ten shades of red.

Cas’ face twists in question. “Why? I know you’re a man.”

He pauses, searching for an answer he doesn’t really have. It was just an impulse, a need to...to what? To be the man? It’s stupid, and yet... “I don’t know,” he says softly.

Cas’ expression softens in response. He stands, pulling Dean with him, and attacks his mouth hungrily, walking them to the bedroom without separating. He hurriedly strips them both down but slows when they’re naked and vulnerable. Nudging Dean to lie on the bed, Cas hovers above him. “Damn, you are manly,” he purrs, stroking his thumb from Dean’s scrotum to the tip of his erect cock.

Dean laughs, dismissing his insecurities as he pulls Cas on top of him.

It only takes a few minutes of sweaty writhing to make them both impossibly hard and wanting. As they pleasure each other with firm hands wrapped around each other’s cocks, Cas pauses. “Can I tell you something?”

Dean wants to say “Now?” or something equally smart-assed, but Cas sounds hesitant, nervous. He stops and takes his hands. “Anything, Cas.”

“I, uh...I don’t know how you’re going to take this or even how I feel about it, honestly, but...um, when you came. Last night. I...I loved making that happen, watching you make a mess all over yourself because of me. And I...I loved making a mess, too, with your come and mine. Loved it all over us. I just...I feel a little weird about telling you, and I don’t know what it means about me, but it’s me and...it’s something about me that I figured out with you.”

The proverbial light bulb goes off above Dean’s head. They may be in a romantic relationship, but they don’t have to fit into some notion of masculine/feminine, of normal/weird, of gay/bi/demi/straight/who the hell knows. They can just be who they are, together.

“Means you’re sexy as fuck,” Dean declares. Cas instantly relaxes and Dean takes him in his arms. They smile into each other’s skin before his hot-ass boyfriend grasps his cock again.

Moments later, Cas is on his back and Dean is above him on his hands and knees; Cas relentlessly pumps him with lubed hands until Dean’s arms are shaking. “Come on me,” Cas whispers, part command and part shy request.

Dean opens his eyes and smiles. “Anything,” he says. He moves Cas’ hands to his own cock so that he can take himself in hand, then leans down for a hot, open-mouthed kiss as he jerks himself off. Feeling himself crest, he pulls away from his lover’s mouth in time for both of them to watch him shoot his load all over Cas’ chest and belly. Pleasure tears through him as he experiences not only his own orgasm, but the rapture on Cas’ face as Dean’s come coats him.

He leans down to indulge in several deep, breathy kisses as Cas continues to jerk himself off. His chest ends up in his own spunk, and it gives him an idea. Sitting up and straddling Cas’ hips, Dean lays his hands flat on Cas’ chest and rubs the come all over, paying special attention as he thumbs at his nipples. It breaks him.

“Oh God, oh Dean, oh fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!” he chants before he arches and adds to the drying canvas of his chest. Cas, flushed and shiny from their combined spunk, shakes and shudders deliciously under him as he rides out his orgasm. It’s one of the hottest things Dean has ever seen in his life. And yet, afterwards, when he gazes at Dean with his ridiculously blue eyes and a small, intimate smile just for him, it’s somehow even hotter. He smiles back and lies atop him, uncaring of (and maybe even delighted by) the mess.

“Thank you,” Cas whispers.

“For what?”

“For going with it. For not laughing. For indulging me.”

“I wouldn’t laugh at you. Well, not about that.” Dean grins as Cas rolls his eyes. “I loved it.”

“Yeah?” Cas swipes his thumb through the mess and massages Dean’s nipple until it peaks. Dean licks his lips and huffs a short, shallow breath, a moan chasing it.

“Damn it, Cas, cut that out.”

“Mmm...no.” They laugh as Cas stops, despite his words. “I, uh...everything was...different with Syl. Not bad, just different. I couldn’t explore this sort of thing with her.”

He knows what Cas means, and he doesn’t want him to float into potentially painful memories, so he jokes, “Well, no, I guess you probably couldn’t explore the gay side of yourself with your wife.” He cringes internally then, thinking of the little things that made their way into his sex life with Miss…things that he thought were just fun, but were maybe her way of opening him up to everything he is. He’s simultaneously embarrassed that he didn’t see it before and grateful that she was open-minded and perhaps even gave him some experience he’ll be able to draw upon later.

Cas doesn’t see his internal freakout. “Asshole,” he mutters. “Anyway, just...thanks.” He grows quiet, averting his eyes.

Dean lifts his chin until their eyes meet. “Hey, you don’t have to worry about freaking me out or something, okay? We’re in this adventure together. I’m here for this. I mean, hell, I'm meeting your parents.” Cas exhales, smiling and nodding, and Dean presses a gentle kiss to his lips. “You ready for that?”

“No...and yes.”

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I want to. I need to. I’m here for this, too, you know.”

There’s a depth to his words and his gaze that draws Dean in; relief and warmth swirl in Dean’s chest as he seals their lips together. It begins to get heavy until Cas pulls away. Dean chases his lips as Cas rasps, “Time, Dean. What time is it?”

Dean peeks at the digital clock. 7:49am. “Fuck! My meeting!” He rolls out of bed and darts to the bathroom, taking the quickest shower of his life. He slicks some of Cas’ product in his hair and slaps a little aftershave on his face, despite not shaving. Cas has left clothes on the bed—his own jacket and pants from yesterday, but Cas’ boxer briefs and one of his silk t-shirts in lavender (a gift from Balthazar, Cas mentioned when he wore it on a date, and wow did it look great on Cas). The shirt doesn’t quite fit right, though—even on Cas it’s a little snug, which is why it looks so hot—so he glances around the room until he finds Cas’ self-designed tobacco v-neck with the “wild and precious life” quote. Guess I’m wearing his favorite t-shirt after all, Dean muses as he inhales Cas’ clean, subtle scent on it. He throws it on, figuring he can cover the words with his jacket, and hurries to slip into his shoes, left at the door last night.

“Car is running, A/C is on, here’s your decaf and something for lunch.” Cas hands him a small, insulated lunch bag and a cup from Wing and a Prayer. “You got this, Vice. Go. See you tonight.”

He’s stunned, touched, overwhelmed with Cas’ thoughtfulness. Despite the rush he’s in, he pulls Cas into a long kiss full of everything in his heart. Then, with a lingering look and touch of his hand, Dean clatters down the stairs and out into the already-stifling Florida morning.

He makes it with a minute to spare.

The consultation is for a new, exclusive community. He doesn’t usually do large projects like this, but a client recommended him to this mega-millionaire investor guy, and it could mean a lot for his career. He just hopes the guy has a little more vision than the buff tile floors and ivory walls that are ubiquitous in Florida these days.

A wiry, goofy-looking dude waits on the sidewalk, leaning against a pickup that would never be allowed in the neighborhood they’re building. Dean wonders if he’s one of the construction guys taking a break. He looks like a stiff breeze would blow him over, though, so maybe not. Maybe he’s the code inspector. Another guy walks up to him, this one much more polished and intimidating. Probably the guy he’s looking for. Dean approaches. “Good morning, I’m Dean Winchester. I’m meeting with Garth Fitzgerald?”

“Dean! My man!” the wiry guy says as he comes in for a hug. This is the guy who’s in charge of all of this, who’s backing it with his own money? Well, shit. So much for preconceived notions. “Thanks for comin’, man. This here’s my interior designer, Vic.”

“Victor Henrikson,” the man introduces himself, initiating a handshake that Dean’s much more accustomed to.

“Pssh, so professional,” Garth laughs, slapping Victor on the shoulder. The lanky man’s energy reminds Dean a lot of Charlie. His nerves start to settle, though he’s still on alert with this Victor guy. “So, yeah, well, welcome! This is the place!”

The men take him into a model home. Dean’s impressed. It’s not like most of the planned community homes in the area. It has style, a unique fingerprint, a personality. “I like it,” he says sincerely. “It has feeling.”

Victor preens a little, and his scowl softens.

“That’s what I wanted! I hired my friend here because that’s what he’s about, you know?”

Dean nods, though he has difficulty imagining that this design originated from the stiff dude next to him.

They see the next two houses, and Dean’s pleasantly surprised to find that they also seem to have their own personalities and feelings. “It’s like they have their own DNA,” he muses, admiring a curved handrail. “Like they’re family, but each are their own unique selves.”

“Exactly!” Garth squeaks.

Victor nods, his mouth upticking minutely. “So, tell us what you’d do,” he challenges.

“Well, I’d want to capture those personalities,” he explains. “People choose their clothes based on their personalities and what they love, what makes them happy. I’d do the same.”

“Do they?” Victor quirks a brow at him. “And what does your suit say about you? Do you have a Don Johnson fetish?”

Heat rushes into Dean’s cheeks as he thinks about the Miami Vice reference, which makes him think of Cas, which reminds him of the t-shirt he’s wearing underneath the dressy suit jacket that’s hot as hell, which reminds him just how little the suits he wears every day really say about him. “Says I’m not really being me,” he answers, shrugging off the jacket to reveal the untucked t-shirt.

Victor appraises him. “Well, that was unexpected.”

Before Dean can respond, Garth jumps in. “Hey, I like that, mi amigo!” he enthuses, pulling at the shirt so he can read it properly. “I wanna get me one of those! She’s my favorite poet! And the graphic! Awesome!”

Pride swells in his chest. “Thanks, man. Only one of its kind, though. My boyfriend designed it. He’s an artist.”

Pride turns to panic. He just outed himself. To a potential client.

Garth grins. “That’s balls, man. Talented guy.”

Dean relaxes and matches his grin because yeah, Cas is talented and yeah, this is his life now and he’s not going to be ashamed, despite that temporary flare of fear. “He is.”

“So, then, Mr. Winchester. How would you capture the ‘personalities’ of these homes?” Victor interjects. His words are businesslike, but his tone is a little kinder.

Dean describes his vision for each of the houses. Garth is enthusiastic and supportive, while Victor is pointed and challenging, but when he’s finished, they’re both smiling. “Well, Garth, what do you think?” Victor asks with a squint.

“I think you were right on, man! He’s great!

“I vetted you well, Mr. Winchester,” Victor says to Dean’s confused look. “You’re an up-and-comer, getting a reputation for your vision. That’s what we need here.”

“So, you want the job?”

Dean’s eyes widen at Garth’s offer, and a tiny laugh escapes his lips. “Yeah.”

“Right on, man!” Garth pulls him into a hug. Dean looks helplessly at Victor, who watches in amusement. “Let’s go get some coffee and sign some papers, alright?”

Dean agrees happily. He thinks he’s really going to get along with this guy. He follows them to a quaint coffee shop that fits with the seaside vibe of the area. They deal with business first, then chat about how Dean got into interior decorating, their families, and their partners—for Garth, a wife named Bess, and for Victor, a bevy of boyfriends and girlfriends, no one capturing his heart just yet. Since both guys seem accepting, Dean finds himself opening up more and more about Cas—sharing his AIG page, photos of his work, and his interest in a unique property for his new home, which intrigues the men. They part with plans to meet up next week to begin work and with a promise to see if he can get Garth one of Cas’ t-shirts.

That night, their AIG friends tease them about their “first time.” They’re merciless in the way that only friends who have seen you at your worst and love you anyway can be. Cas’ ruddy cheeks more than make up for any self-consciousness Dean feels, and when he takes his hand and Cas doesn’t let go, an incredible joy he never thought he’d feel again wells up in his chest and leaks from his eyes, just a little. He’s never been so happy, so...yeah. Oh yeah.

The future is bright.

Chapter Text

Tonight you’re going to suck a dick. And tomorrow, you’re telling your parents that you suck dicks. Easy.

The pen slips from Cas’ hand as his palms sweat. He’s really going to do this.

Maybe he’s rushing things, but he really wants to suck Dean’s cock, has since he wrapped his lips around that banana some time ago. He’d planned to do it last week, but they found other ways to give each other pleasure instead. Maybe it was better that way, starting with hands instead of mouths.

Maybe, too, it was better that his parents couldn’t come to town last weekend as planned because his father was called into work unexpectedly. It gave him more time to get used to the idea of telling his parents he’s...well, whatever he is, and to psych himself up to introduce Dean. Of course, it also gave him more time to freak out about the whole thing.

Dean’s been great. They haven’t talked about it, but Dean seems to sense that he’s stressed. They’ve been spending time in artful pursuits (when they haven’t been all over each other), and that’s helped. Dean’s having a wonderful streak of success, too. He’s starting his project with that guy, Garth, who wanted his t-shirt. Cas happily got one made and sent to him. Dean told him that Garth and the other guy were “cool” about their relationship. That helps, too, knowing that others don’t frown upon it. Most people so far have been quite accepting, in fact.

Of course, those people aren’t the people who raised him.

It doesn’t matter right now. Tonight, he’s focused only on Dean and what he’s going to do to him. For him. He hopes it’s a pleasant surprise. He hopes he doesn’t fuck it up royally.

He wipes the sweat from his hand and draws.

Later, Cas cuddles with Dean on the couch after a dinner Cas made him promise not to invite Sam to. He likes Sam, of course, but they’ve spent a lot of time together lately and there are certain things for which he needs his boyfriend all alone. Like the things he’s about to do. As he gears himself up in his mind, Dean snuggles closer.

“I liked your post today,” Dean murmurs. The Adventures in Grieving post was a drawing of Cas standing at the edge of a precipice, eyes lit up in excitement and anxiety. Dean probably thinks it has to do with telling his parents, or maybe even with Dean’s own experiences with his job this past week, and that’s fine. He won’t tell him that what he was seeing with his cartoon eyes was Dean’s naked, erect cock, glistening with precome that he intended to suck clean off him. Probably a little TMI.

Cas smiles and presses his lips to Dean’s in thanks. That never fails to get things going, so he doesn’t have to wait very long to undertake his next adventure. When they’re down to just boxer briefs, Cas grins at him mischievously. He hooks his index and middle fingers in the waistband and encourages Dean to lift his hips. He slides them off and tosses them aside, then pushes the coffee table out of the way, pulls a throw pillow onto the floor, and kneels in front of his boyfriend. Just like a cucumber, he says to himself as he runs his hands up Dean’s thighs, the rest of his body following until he’s hovering over his cock. He breathes gently across the head, then looks up to find his boyfriend staring at him with the most hopeful look on his face he’s ever seen.

“You need to tell me if I’m doing it wrong, okay?” Without waiting for a response, Cas licks a stripe from balls to head. Even without the glorious gasp of pleasure, Cas would’ve known he was affecting Dean by the way he’s clutching the throw beneath him (spreading that out earlier had been a strategic move). He does it again. It’s musky and almost sweet until he gets to the head, which tastes saltier. He does it again, and again. With each lick, he feels more confident, more curious, more turned on. By Dean’s quivering lip and pinched brows, there seems to be no objection to his technique. But Cas wants more, so when his tongue’s path reaches the head again, he seals his mouth over it and sucks.

“Oh God,” Dean sobs, falling onto the back of the couch. His cock presses against Cas’ palate with the movement.

Cas’ mouth feels so full, and he hasn’t even deep throated yet. He sucks on the head as the precome beads out like a faucet with a slow drip. He dips lower, experimentally, and is rewarded with a moan and a buck of Dean’s hips. The unexpected movement chokes him, just briefly. Dean mutters apologies, but Cas finds he liked the fullness. He urges Dean’s hips forward a few inches, repositions himself, and takes Dean as deep as he can.

“Fuck!” Dean shouts. “Oh God, fuuuuck!” It sounds compelled, like he can’t not cry out. A thrilling shiver courses through Cas’ body. He does it again, a little deeper, and gets those same sweet sounds.

It’s strange, Cas thinks—dicks are bigger, aren’t nearly as juicy as pussies, and they taste different—but he likes this just as much as he liked oral with Sylvie. Hearing Dean whine so desperately, feeling the vein under his tongue, tasting his salt, smelling him—it’s all so... yeah. So very yeah. He’s achingly hard, but he ignores it in favor of sucking Dean. Dean clutches his hair, like Syl used to do, and it’s even better. He bounces up and down his shaft, saliva pouring from his mouth every time he takes a quick breath, and soon he feels a little twitch, just a little…

“Cas!” Dean cries, pulling out suddenly. He doesn’t even have time to register what’s happening before he feels spurts of hot come coat his face, and holy shit. He moans as he pulls on Dean’s still-spurting cock and lets it spill all over him until Dean is spent. Panting and dazed, Dean offers an apology with hazy eyes as he attempts to wipe Cas’ face with his hands, but Cas is having none of it.

“Don’t apologize,” he growls as he yanks Dean by the back of his head into a bruising kiss, smearing his come between them. He swallows Dean’s moan with his desperate mouth and thinks he could come just like this, untouched; he’s never been this turned on in his life.

And then Dean licks his face.

“Dean,” he whines in the highest pitch he’s ever heard from himself.

“Mmmmmm,” he answers, and Castiel is lost.

Dean immediately takes over as Cas surrenders to his touch. He pushes Cas to the floor, then licks long stripes all across his face, his neck, his chest, until he reaches his underwear. He tugs them off without ceremony, then pauses. “Gonna make you paint me, Cas,” he rumbles, voice warm with the dirtiest promise. They lock eyes for a moment before Dean surrounds his dick in wet heat.

Cas thrusts hard into his mouth. He doesn’t mean to, but it’s just so good and he’s already embarrassingly close. Dean doesn’t seem to mind. He hums and swirls his tongue and varies the pressure of his sucking, and if he didn’t know any better Cas would swear he’s done this before. “You’re a fucking natural,” he pants.

A laugh breaks the seal of Dean’s mouth and the thick fog of arousal. “I really don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Then God help me when you really do.”

Dean laughs again, and a tension Cas didn’t even realize was in Dean’s shoulders releases. “You’re awesome, you know that?” His face softens as he strokes a finger down his chest. “Taste good, too,” he smirks, thumbing at his cock as another bead seeps from the head. “Is it okay if...if you come in my mouth? Wanna taste all of it. Used to love that feeling when Mi—um, I mean, sorry, I—”

“When Miss came during oral? It’s okay. I’m not upset that you thought of her.”

“It’s not that I was thinking of her, you know, it’s—”

“Dean. Shut up and suck my cock so I can come in your mouth.”

“God, you’re such a dick,” Dean smiles fondly. He leans in for a kiss before continuing his mission.

Two minutes later, it’s mission complete as Cas fills Dean’s mouth to overflowing, hips bucking wildly between cries of pleasure. Dean moans through it all, and kisses Cas open-mouthed when he’s done. “That was...yeah,” Dean giggles, collapsing next to him.

Cas snuggles into Dean’s side, sated and sleepy. “I couldn’t agree more.”

“That cucumber really helped.”

Cas gulps. “What?” he asks with faux-innocence.

“I knew it!” Dean crows. “I saw another one in the trash!”

“I buried that one!”

“I, uh...may have dug a little after finding the first one that time…”

“You’re insufferable.” Cas turns away and hides his face behind his hand, embarrassed. “I did it for you, you know.”

“Hey, hey, don’t turn away, come on.” Dean laughs as he coaxes his hands away from his face. “If it makes you feel better, I practiced, too.”

“You did? With what?”

Now Dean looks embarrassed. “Uh…with a...” He mumbles something Cas can’t understand.

“What?”

“A dildo,” he mutters.

“You have a dildo?”

“Yeah, yeah. Long story.”

Cas arches a brow and smirks. “How long a story? Six, eight inches?”

“Shut up!”

Peals of laughter fill the room as the men slap at each other playfully, then as Goose joins in the fun and nips at them both.

Cas keeps the joy of the night before in mind as he gets ready to meet his parents on Saturday. They couldn’t come to town this weekend, either, so Cas and Dean, along with Gabe, are going to them. Anna will be there, too. Cas is happy about that; he can tell everyone at once, and he hopes that Anna will be at least somewhat supportive. He dons dress pants, a nice shirt, and a jacket, even though it’s hotter than Satan’s balls outside. How he wishes he could be in his t-shirt, shorts, and TOMS. At least then he’d only be sweating because of his nerves, and not because of his nerves and his clothes.

His phone buzzes.

From Gabe 4:26pm: You ready for this?

From Cas 4:26pm: No. But I’m doing it.

From Gabe 4:27pm: Proud of you. I got your back, okay? See you there.

He texts a quick thanks before giving his outfit a last look as Dean arrives, having gone home to run some errands, check in with Sam, and change his clothes. He groans when he sees his boyfriend. “How do you always look so good?”

Dean frowns at his outfit, his typical work wear. “I wear this all the time.”

“And you always look so good.”

“I didn’t think you actually liked the suits. You made fun of me for them when we started hanging out.”

Cas straightens his lapel. “That’s because I was so wildly attracted to you, Vice. I just didn’t know it yet.”

Dean smiles and plants a chaste kiss to his lips. “You look great. How are you feeling?”

“Like I’m going to puke up my intestines.”

Dean nods, lips pursed. “I’m gonna follow your lead, okay? If you don’t bring it up, I’m not gonna say a word. We can be whatever you need us to be in front of them.”

Cas sighs his thanks and holds his boyfriend tight.

The hour drive (with an extra half-hour for traffic) is made longer with the stress of anticipation and the unknown. When they get to the restaurant, he sees his parents’ car already there, empty. His sister’s is there, too, also empty. Gabriel steps out of his along with Rowena, who’s a surprise. She waves and heads to the door while Gabe heads straight for Cas. Dean follows Rowena, giving the brothers a moment of privacy.

“Rowena?” Cas asks with an amused tilt of his head.

“It’s new,” Gabe shrugs.

“She has a least a decade on you. Probably two.”

“Does it matter?”

Cas shakes his head. “No. Not if you’re happy.”

“And you? Tonight? Does it matter?”

Cas glances at Dean, who smiles gently at him. “It doesn’t matter,” he tells Gabe. “But he matters. A lot.”

Gabe smiles and steers him toward the door with an arm across his back.

Bill and Jackie Novak are reasonable, pleasant people, no one to be afraid of. Yet Cas feels himself shaking in his sensible shoes. He loves them deeply, and he doesn’t want to disappoint them. Yet in all his thoughts on the topic, he’s failed to determine how he could disappoint them simply by being happy, by being in love. Dean doesn’t hurt him, doesn’t have any horrible or unhealthy habits, is a fine, upstanding citizen. He is, in short, a wonderful partner that any parents would be proud of their child dating.

Well, any parents of a daughter, they might think.

The customary greetings are given—hugs from Dad, hugs and kisses from Mom and Anna. Anna brought her husband, Mark, but not the kids. Probably just as well for everyone involved. He introduces Dean by name, and Gabe does the same for Rowena. They’ve heard the names before, as Cas has talked about both of them (Dean more extensively, of course). Mom says that she’s happy to meet her sons’ “friends”. Yikes.

They make the typical small talk through drinks and appetizers, Anna and Mark filling them in on the goings-on of their family and Gabe and Cas doing the same about themselves, minus comments on their love lives. Their parents update them on the latest news about distant family members they barely know, work, and the latest neighborhood gossip (which doesn’t include the gay neighbors, thank God). By the time their entrees arrive, talk turns to Rowena and Dean—their jobs, their families. Nice, safe, surface stuff. Feelings are good. He’s not sure how to bring up that polka-dotted (or rainbow-striped?) elephant, and he thinks that maybe he shouldn’t. Maybe he should just let them get to know Dean, until they’re so enamored with him that they’ll be thrilled when Cas finally tells them someday. Yes, perhaps that’s the way to go. Decision made, he lets Dean work his magic, charming his parents one dimpled smile at a time...until his mother makes things awkward.

“So, you know the boys from the group Cas runs?” Jackie asks.

“I don’t run it, Mom,” he mumbles, but Dean and Rowena both give him gentle pats on the arm and confirm his mother’s statement.

“That’s so nice. So you both lost people.”

“Mom—”

“Aye. My son passed,” Rowena answers. There’s less pain in her voice today, he notices.

“My wife,” Dean answers, and there’s less pain in his, too, which warms Cas to his soul.

“I’m so sorry,” Jackie tuts. “Well, I’m very happy to see you both out and about. Cas had such a difficult time when his wife died, but I think he’s finally getting over it. Through it, sorry, honey,” she corrects herself. Cas nods. They’ve discussed this before. Sometimes she forgets, but she makes the effort, so he lets it go. “Anyway, he’s so much happier now. I hear it every time he calls. And can’t you just see it in his face?” She reaches across the table to pinch his cheek.

Rowena smiles and nods. “Oh, he’s very happy. The happiest I’ve ever seen him. It’s lovely to see our children happy, isn’t it?”

“It certainly is,” his mother agrees, his father nodding along.

“It’s what every parent wants. Certainly not something to take for granted.” Rowena glances at Cas and winks. He smiles gratefully.

“Oh, yes, I agree. All we’ve ever wanted is for our children to be happy. I understand you might have something to do with that, Dean,” Jackie says.

Cas’ gut spirals wildly, like it’s on a rollercoaster. What? How does she know?

Dean’s eyes dart to Cas before mumbling, “Um, I guess?”

“He talks about you all the time. I think you might’ve even taken Bal’s place as new best friend.”

Oh. That’s what she thinks.

“Cas is definitely mine,” Dean smiles, swallowing. They exchange a pregnant glance. If they were out, this moment would have culminated in a kiss. Earlier, he would’ve held his hand between courses, or brushed a hand up his back when he was talking about his work, or ran his thumb across the droplet of water along his stubble, left there when he took a drink. It sucks that they can’t have that, especially when they’ve been through so much already.

Fuck it. There’s never going to be a better time. His gut reaches the pinnacle of the rollercoaster when he says, “Dean is my best friend, but actually, he’s more than that.” And now, as seven sets of eyes watch him expectantly, his stomach jumps as the coaster plunges down the long, nearly vertical drop.

His father, usually a reserved man with little to say, asks, “What do you mean, exactly?”

Cas peeks at Dean, whose face doesn’t move but whose eyes say everything—I got you, I trust you, I’ll follow your lead. He licks his lips. His mouth is suddenly parched and doesn’t want to form words. But he has to, because this matters.

“I mean...Dean and I are dating. We are a couple.”

Silence envelops the table, his stunned parents, sister, and brother-in-law too overcome with the news to speak. Nobody moves. He thinks Dean is looking at him, but he’s not sure because his own eyes are trained on his parents. When the silence becomes louder than the static in his ears, he whispers, “Say something.”

Dean reaches out to him then, under the table. Cas rests his hand on top of the hand Dean placed on his leg.

“What do you mean?” his mother finally asks.

“He means what he said, Jackie,” his father answers for him. “He’s dating a man.”

“Dean,” Cas interjects. “Not just any man. Dean.”

“What’s the difference?”

“There’s a big difference, Dad. I’m not attracted to just anybody. There’s more to it.”

“But you’re not gay,” his mother says, confused.

“I’m...no, I’m not. Not exactly. But I am attracted to Dean.”

“But how can you be attracted to him if you’re not gay?”

“Well, obviously he’s somewhat gay, Jackie.”

“How can he be ‘somewhat gay,’ Bill? You are or you aren’t.”

The words and voices start flying, overlapping each other, from “That’s not how it works” to “But you were married to Sylvia” to “Jackie, the point is he’s dating a man” to “Why didn’t you tell me? I’m your sister!” until Gabe breaks the cacophony.

“Guys, give Cas a chance to explain! Jesus!”

That quiets everyone down. Cas nods to his brother in thanks. “Um, listen, I’m sorry it feels like I’m springing this on you, okay? I didn’t plan this, I didn’t even know myself, I just...Dean and I grew close, and I developed feelings for him, deep feelings that I couldn’t ignore. I haven’t been this happy since Syl. He’s really important to me, you guys.”

His mom does that worry frown she does before she’s going to try to explain why she thinks her children are wrong. “Castiel, I think you might be confusing friendship love with relationship love—”

“I’m not confused, Mom.”

“But you’re so young, and you’re grieving and lonely—”

No,” Cas growls. “No, that’s not what this is. I’ve experienced more than people twice my age, okay? And I know what friendship is, and I know what grieving is, and what loneliness is. This isn’t any of that. I’m not dumb. I’ve thought this through. I know what I’m doing.”

“He’s not confused, Jackie. Our son likes men, and he’s been lying to us. How long have you been hiding your homosexuality? Did your wife know? Was she a cover?”

Cas’ jaw drops. “Excuse me? I loved her! I wasn’t lying to anybody; I’m just figuring this out myself! And I’m not homosexual, I just like people! Specific people that I get to know well! One was Syl, and Dean is the other. That’s it!”

“Keep your voice down!”

“Then stop accusing me of things!”

“I don’t even know what to think,” his mother mourns while his father shakes his head and stares at the table.

Doing this in public was probably a bad idea, in retrospect. Cas buries his face in his hands. He feels hot tears of frustration and pain swell in his eyes, which he sure as hell doesn’t want right now. Dean rubs his back.

“Well, this has been an enlightening dinner.” Bill stands. His wife follows her husband’s lead.

Gabe stands as well. “Where the hell are you going?” he asks.

“We are leaving. I think it’s safe to say that the evening is over.”

“Are you fucking serious?”

“Gabriel Michael!”

“No, Mom, don’t! Not five minutes ago you were saying how happy he is, and how that’s all parents want for their kids, and now you’re gonna bail on him? On your kid. Because he cares about someone. Did you hear him? He has deep feelings. He hasn’t felt this way since Sylvie. He isn’t fucking around. Cas doesn’t do that. This is your problem, and you need to figure it out, not bail on your son.”

They’re quickly drawing a crowd, and Cas wants nothing more than to disappear into the woodwork. His father seems to notice the curious eyes, too, because he tells his brother they can continue their “discussion” outside. His parents and Gabe leave hurriedly, followed shortly after by Anna and Mark. “I’m gonna make sure they don’t kill each other,” Anna says to Cas, reaching across Dean to hug him. “I love you. I’m glad you’re happy.” Mark slips behind his wife and shakes his hand, giving an extra squeeze in support. They say goodbye to Dean, and Cas thanks them as they trot toward the exit.

“I’ll be checking on your brother, too. Hate for my new beau to land in jail,” Rowena teases. She draws him into a long hug. “You’re an angel, Castiel. Anyone is lucky to have you as a son. I’m lucky to have you as a friend.” Her words, in her lovely accent, wash over him and give him comfort.

When Rowena’s out of sight, Cas turns to Dean. “That went well.” He sighs and gives his credit card to the server, who has been hovering anxiously nearby. She swipes it through a machine she’s carrying. He signs the screen, making sure to give her an extra-large tip.

“Hope your night gets better,” she says sympathetically.

“Thank you.” He gives her a tired, apologetic smile, and offers the same to the many people who look their way as they pass. Most of them are smiling, at least.

In the foyer, he stops and takes a long breath, steeling himself to go outside and face whatever is waiting for him. Dean wraps him in a hug, and Cas doesn’t even care that they’re in public.

“I’m sorry if this screwed things up with your parents.”

Against his chest, Cas says, “Don’t be. You’re worth it.”

“I dunno about that.”

Cas pulls back. “You are.”

Tears cling to Cas’ lashes. Dean thumbs them away. “Still. I’m sorry. Hate seeing you in pain.”

The sentiment is so sweet that more tears collect on his lash lines. “Let’s go eat pie. I have some at home.”

“Man after my own heart,” Dean grins. He bumps their foreheads together, then takes his hand. They turn and nearly collide with a man striding into the foyer—Cas’ father.

“I…” He clears his throat. “I was just coming to pay the bill.”

Cas’ voice hardens. “Already done. I figured I ruined dinner as well as your lives, so I might as well pay for it.”

His father’s face crumbles. “You didn’t ruin our lives, Castiel, just...give your mother and I some time, please? This is very...surprising, and confusing, and...we just need time.”

“I wish you didn’t. I wish you could just...love me…” Cas’ voice breaks and Dean releases his hand to pull him close to his side, an arm around his shoulders.

“We do, Castiel, it’s just...please give us time. This isn’t easy for us.”

Not easy for you?! Cas thinks, but says, “Yeah, okay.” He pushes past his father before he can say anything else, and doesn’t even look at his mother as he makes his way to the car. He’s glad Dean’s driving tonight.

Someone raps on his window, and he rolls it down. “Hey. I’m sorry it went sideways. For what it’s worth, though, I think they’ll come around. And if they don’t, fuck ‘em.”

“Easy for you to say, Gabe.”

“Yeah, well, I told ‘em you’re still their son, and you’re no different than the person who walked into that restaurant that they were so excited to see.”

“Thank you,” he says softly. He’s so tired.

“I also told them that maybe I’ve been with guys, too, maybe not, and how would they know? Planted some seeds of doubt in there.”

Cas smirks as he shakes his head. “You’re going to kill them.”

Gabe shrugs. “They should be grateful you’re in a committed relationship. I’m promiscuous as hell and they know it. Who knows how many dicks I’ve had in my mouth? That’s the question they’ll be asking themselves tonight.”

Dean snorts, and Cas does the same. “Good night, Gabe.” He adds, quietly, “Thank you for everything.” Gabe winks at him and messes his hair before walking away toward Rowena, who probably had no idea what she signed up for tonight. Or maybe she did.

At home, Dean warms pie, plops ice cream on top, and cuddles him and Goose on the couch as they watch Cops, or as Dean likes to call it, “The Shirtless Criminals Show.” The A/C hums, the dog snuffles, and Dean is planting tiny kisses on him every few minutes.

“I’m glad I did it,” he tells Dean, and he is.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. It was an adventure worth undertaking.”

“You’re an adventure worth undertaking.”

Cas smiles at Dean’s remark. “Oh? And are you taking me under?”

“You betcha, sweetheart,” he purrs as he climbs on top of him. As Dean kisses him with apple-vanilla lips, Cas thinks that, even with the bumps in the road, this adventure with Dean is the best adventure he’s ever had.

Chapter Text

It’s strange how someone can be having the best time of their lives while someone else is having the worst, Dean muses. He remembers thinking that when he was in the thick of his grieving for Miss, watching incredulously as people had the audacity to live and laugh while his world was shattered in pieces he could never put back together. He thought it when Sam and Jess first started having problems. He thinks it again as he sits across from Sam now. 

Sam and Jess were still newlyweds when Miss died. They toned it down when he was around, but he could tell how happy they were, how much they relished being in each other’s presence, how down he brought them with his darkness when all they had between them was light. It was hard to be around them.

He wonders how Sam feels being around him and Cas.

Dean’s had lunch or dinner or done something with his brother at least three to four times a week since this whole business with Jess started, and though he loves his brother, it’s starting to wear on him. Lunches are just the two of them, but dinners are generally at Cas’, both because he doesn’t want to go broke going out all the time and because Cas helps keep Dean sane. He’s not sure how Sam is taking it, but Dean has to do something to keep himself grounded through this mess. Plus, he only gets so much time with Cas, and less now that he’s spending more with Sam, so he’s going to make it up where he can. 

It’d be different if they lived together, maybe. Or maybe it’d be different if he didn’t yearn to be around his boyfriend all the time. He’s pretty sure he and Cas have reached the magnitude of “sickening.” Though they’re still fairly reserved in public, since their unsettling dinner with Cas’ parents a month ago they’re no longer afraid to hold hands or peck each other on the cheek when they’re out, and they definitely don’t hold back when in the presence of friends and family. Well, Dean’s family, and Cas’ siblings. 

They’re still working on things with Cas’ parents, but it seems that they’re coming around, now that the initial shock has worn off. They’ve had a couple of Facetime conversations (which were hilarious—since Cas’ parents are much older than average, they’re not quite as savvy with the technology and half of one conversation was spent staring up their nostrils), and Cas and Gabe have both spoken with them separately as well. He got a little choked up when he arrived at Cas’ one evening and Cas was wiping his eyes, saying that his parents told him they went to their first PFLAG meeting. 

Dean’s coming out to his father, Kate, and Adam was way less of a thing than he expected it to be. The day after they talked to Cas’ parents, they had lunch at Dad and Kate’s and told them (talk about an emotional weekend, but they figured they’d rip the Band-Aid off). He’d been nervous, like Cas had been, but it turned out there really wasn’t much reason to be. His father had suspected he was bisexual since his childhood—apparently he didn’t hide those “guy crushes” when he was younger as well as he thought he did—and had already gone through his denial-bargaining-whatever he had to do a long time ago. He confessed that he thought maybe he’d “grown out of it” when he and Miss married, but when he brought Cas around he could tell it hadn’t really gone away. He and Kate learned as much as they could, and Adam, who wasn’t flummoxed at all, was a big help. The difference in generations in terms of knowledge and acceptance was astounding.

So the parent stuff is good, they’re out more and more in their day-to-day lives, and his relationship with Cas is going strong. Overall, Dean’s feeling great right now, really happy. His sky is clear and bright...except for the storm cloud always hovering in the distance. Sam. 

“We’re talking about divorce,” Sam laments tonight. They’re at Dean’s house, nursing beers after Dean grilled steaks on the barbecue he hardly ever uses anymore because he’s rarely at the house, preferring to spend as much time as possible at Cas’. Cas is meeting with Laura, a client Dean referred to him who could only see him after business hours. Dean teased him that maybe Laura wanted to get a little action with her art. Cas was horrified, which made Dean laugh. Dean thought that she was very nice and quite attractive, but he knew Cas didn’t operate that way, either business-wise or relationship-wise. He never had to worry about Cas’ loyalty.

“Divorce? Seriously? You’ve only been married, what, two-and-a-half years or something?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, that just seems like a bad idea.”

“Well, I don’t like it, either! We just...can’t seem to work things out.”

“You guys love each other. You said forever.”

“I know! But we didn’t anticipate all these problems, Dean!”

Dean rubs his face. He’s trying hard not to judge, trying to remember that their situation isn’t the same as what Dean has experienced. People divorce. People die. The issues, and the feelings they bring up, are different. But it still pisses him off.

They fight, and Sam storms out. 

Dean sighs as Sam squeals out of his perfect neighborhood. He won’t be surprised to receive some sort of nasty note about the noise ordinance. He picks up from their meal and tidies the house, which doesn’t need a whole lot of tidying. He considers a run outside, but it’s too damn humid, so he wanders aimlessly around the house, looking at things he can change, or at least infuse with his designer touch. There’s so much he could do, but it feels...wrong to make any changes, almost like they’re not his to make. This house belongs to someone...just not him. 

He grabs his keys and heads to Cas’.

Cas isn’t home, of course, but Goose is more than happy to accept Dean as a substitute for her dad. She greets him on hind legs, tongue in his face. “Goosey Loosey, how’s my girl?” he coos. “Yes, I love you, too. Okay. Hop down.” 

Still hungry despite eating a steak, he makes himself a plate of cucumber spears (he will never look at cukes the same way again) and carrot sticks. He shares the carrots with Goose as he kicks his bare feet up on the couch and glances around the room. This tiny space, with its mismatched furniture, ratty area rug covering a warped floor, and art everywhere, is more home than his own. He knows now that the space itself has little to do with it. It has everything to do with Cas, with everything he is that’s imbued in the place he calls home. It’s not the space that’s home; it’s Cas that’s home. 

Miss used to be home to him. Cas is home to him. 

Miss used to be his best friend. Cas is his best friend.

Miss used to be his everything. Cas is his everything.

Miss is his past. Cas is his future.

“Whoa,” he mutters under his breath. It’s heavy to think about, but only because it’s so profound. He feels no guilt about it. Yes, he’s sad that Miss is gone, and always will be, but Dean isn’t dead. He is alive, and he is with Cas, and it’s the best goddamn feeling in the world. He’s happy, and nothing can take that away from him.

He props a canvas onto Cas’ easel in the corner, and he paints.

An hour later, Goose runs to the door as Cas opens it. “Hello, little gosling,” he says, smacking a loud kiss on the top of her silky head. Dean watches his boyfriend interact with his pup and thinks about Cas wanting children. About himself wanting children. About what great dads they’d both be. He rises just as Cas notices him in the living room. “Hon,” he says with a questioning lilt. He squints. “How are you?”

It only takes a few strides until he has Cas in his arms. “Better now,” Dean answers. Cas pulls him into a deep kiss they both sigh into as they rock on their feet. 

When they part, Cas’ attention is immediately drawn to the new art on the easel. “What’s this?”

“Sunshine,” he answers simply. The streaks of yellow, white, and gold burst from the canvas, framed by black curtains. 

“I love it.” Cas regards him quietly. “Wanna post it to AIG?”

Dean’s smile is nearly as bright as his painting. “Yeah. Give people some hope, huh?”

“Go ahead.”

Cas had given him the username and password some time ago, encouraging him to add his own art or thoughts, but he hasn’t done so until now because he didn’t feel he had anything important enough to add. This, though, this feels important. He snaps a picture and posts it with the caption If you open the curtains, you might see the sun.  

“Perfect,” Cas smiles, pecking his cheek.

Dean turns and gazes into his lover’s sky blue eyes, a sublime backdrop to the rays of sun on his canvas. “You’re perfect, Sunshine.” He captures his lips and guides him to the bedroom.

“I didn’t expect you tonight,” Cas murmurs against Dean’s mouth while Dean undresses him. “Thought you’d be with Sam. What happened?”

He frowns involuntarily, then tries to hide it. “Nothing.”

“Don’t lie. You’re all tense in your shoulders.” 

Dean sighs heavily as he stops unbuttoning Cas’ shirt. “Fight.”

“Sorry, babe.”

“It’s okay.” Dean nuzzles into Cas’ neck. He’s more tired than he realized.

Cas gently steps away with a kiss to his cheek. “Be right back.”

Dean hears the water turn on, and soon Cas is undressing them both and guiding him into the bathroom. The shower is small (“intimate” and “cozy” in his business), but it fits both of them, albeit tightly. They drop to the floor, where Cas pours shampoo into his hand and works it into his hair. Cas’ quiet presence and magic fingers lull Dean into openness, and he talks about his frustration with Sam. 

“It’s gonna be too late pretty soon,” he moans. “They get divorced, that’s it, you know? No coming back from that.”

“As long as they’re alive and both want it, there’s hope, Dean.”

Dean sighs as Cas moves the massage to his shoulders. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just...I still don’t get it. If you love someone, how do you let go so easily?”

“It’s probably not easy, hon.”

“No, I know, just...I know they lost their babies, and I can’t imagine, honestly...but why isn’t it pulling them closer?”

Dean feels Cas shrug behind him. “I don’t know. Maybe they’re afraid.”

“Of?”

“I don’t know. I just find that when people do stupid shit, they’re usually afraid.”

“Hmm. True.”

The water cools, so the men finish washing and step onto the tiny, thin bath mat to dry off. “Dude, you need a bigger one of these if we’re gonna shower together.”

“Mmm. Maybe at the new place. Ooh, did I tell you Garth found something promising?”

Dean brightens. In the sludgy mess of the afternoon, he’d forgotten about Garth’s e-mail. “He e-mailed me but I haven’t read it yet.”

“I stopped by to see him after I met up with Laura. Thank you, by the way. She was very nice and she commissioned a couple of pieces.”

“Awesome, babe. Glad to hear she knows talent when she sees it.” He kisses Cas’ damp forehead as he wraps his towel around his waist. 

“Of course. That’s why she hired you in the first place.” Dean knows he must be blushing and hopes the heat of the room hides the fact, but judging by Cas’ grin, it doesn’t. Mercifully, Cas doesn’t comment. “So yes, the property is actually a decommissioned church.”

“Really? That’s cool.”

“Doesn’t it sound incredible? All the openness...so much light...I asked him if we could see it tomorrow morning.”

We? His heart leaps. Oh, right. I'm his interior decorator. He knows he shouldn’t feel disappointed, that it’s way too soon to feel as strongly as he does, to want as much as he wants, but he does. He is happy for Cas, though, and he knows he’ll be there almost all the time, anyway. “Can’t wait, babe.”

He stays the night because he wants to, and because a part of him needs to. Cas curls against his back, the two of them having figured out spooning. In the morning, he wakes to find himself facing Cas, who’s snoring lightly. He kisses him on the nose, that pink champagne feeling tickling every nerve as he watches him sleep. When blue eyes blink at him, he coaxes him out of bed to get in their run with Goose, then Cas makes him breakfast and Dean does the dishes after. The domesticity—something he loved with Miss and wants with Cas, something Sam and Jess are throwing away—is killing him, and he clenches his jaw shut to muffle his sudden sobs as he scrubs egg out of a skillet. 

Wordlessly, Cas winds his arms around Dean’s waist and holds him.

“Sorry. Grief burst,” he croaks.

“No need to be sorry, sweetheart.” 

Dean turns in his arms and embraces him, hands making wet spots on Cas’ t-shirt. Cas, as usual, doesn’t care in the least, merely drawing him in. They sway, circling in place. Dean’s reminded of when Miss would spontaneously dance around in the kitchen and drag him into it. Usually the dancing was bouncy and silly, but sometimes they danced just like this, comforting or romancing each other. He pulls Cas closer because he needs him as close as possible and, in his anxiousness, tangles their feet, causing both of them to stumble and Cas to bump painfully against the counter. He wonders whether he should interpret that as some sort of horrible metaphor when Cas chuckles and hops onto the counter, then pulls Dean close to him with legs and arms and smiles at him with sunny eyes and lips, foreheads and noses pressed together. And it is a metaphor, he realizes. No matter how much he stumbles along, Cas stumbles right along with him...and he smiles and holds him the whole way. A swell of bright emotion fills his entire being. Dear God, I love him, Dean thinks—or rather, feels so deeply it’s as if his heart supplies the words to his brain rather than the other way around. He smiles back and closes his eyes, letting the exquisite, miraculous moment wash through him as Cas’ fingers thread through his hair. Dean has a little more hope in him as they separate and ready themselves to tour the decommissioned church.

The small church is beautiful...and Cas is even more beautiful in it.

“Oh, Dean, look at the beams! The arches! Oh, look at that stained glass medallion! And oh, what if this area was a studio and this one an office? Would it get too hot up there if we made a second floor for living?”

“There are ways to work with that,” Victor offers. He and Garth met them at the building, one that Garth bought on a whim. “You have unlimited potential here. And a good portion of the work is done for you.” He draws his arm in a wide arc around the empty space, cleared out and patched by a previous owner but not developed.

“The world is your oyster, mi amigo!” Garth adds cheerfully. 

“It’s gorgeous. So much space, but not overwhelming. I love it.” 

They wander throughout the former church, Garth and Victor making comments about how to use the space efficiently and creatively while Dean is lost in his own thoughts of how much this already feels like home—not some abstract concept of home, not Cas’ home, not even Dean’s home, but their home, together, them and Goose and their children. Their home, their dog, their childr—  

“What do you think, Dean?” Cas asks, breaking into his thoughts.

“Um.” He gathers himself together, scratching the nape of his neck as he looks around. He’s supposed to be offering a professional service here, damn it. “There’s a ton of potential here. You can go with just about any decorating schema, but I’m thinking pops of color everywhere, a lot of whimsy, but throw in some richer elements and textures to ground things. And you can go really big and bold in here, depending on how you break up the space.”

Cas regards him with a cocked head, a look similar to Goose’s. He’s not sure who got it from who. “I mean, what do you think? Do you like it?”

“I think it’s really you, Cas. I can see you working right over there, overlooking the flower garden. Might want to change out the window, though, get better light...” He stops at the shake of Cas’ head.

“No, I mean do you, Dean Winchester, like this house? Does it feel like home to you, personally?” Cas clutches Dean’s hips. “Would you be happy here?”

“I’m happy wherever you are,” he says only for Cas to hear.

“Me too, but I don’t want to be in the apartment forever,” he chuckles. “I was thinking maybe you could have an office here, too. For your business. We could work side by side. The location is perfect, right in a residential area but still close enough to everything to be professional. You could showcase your work here, give tours if you wanted. As long as we kept things clean, I guess.” He rolls his eyes and smiles. 

“Yeah. Yeah, um, that would be really great.”

“And you can’t beat the commute.”

“Uh, yeah, I mean, it’s a little farther from my place than your apartment is, but, you know, it’s still fine.”

Cas’ face falls. “Oh. Oh, we’re still doing that, huh? Okay.”

Dean frowns. “What do you mean?”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed, it’s just that you’re always at my place so I thought maybe…” He averts his eyes and shrugs, dropping his hands from Dean’s waist. Dean catches them as he catches on.

“Wait...You wanna move in together?”

“Well...I mean, I know it’s fast, and it’s not like I’d ask you to take on the mortgage, I just—”

“Oh my God!” He laughs giddily and squeezes Cas’ hands. “Dude, I had no idea!”

“Seriously?” he asks, confusion and hope warring on his face.

“Seriously!”

“Is that why you’ve been less than enthusiastic about this place, or—”

“Yes! Cas, I—I love it, I love this place. I love—” He almost puts the words to those huge feelings in his heart out in the universe, in the space between them, but he doesn’t. They’ve only been dating three months, he reminds himself. Moving in is one thing—and even Cas said that was fast—but these feelings...he can’t put that pressure on Cas. Hell, he and Miss didn't say those words until they’d been dating a year...so no. Not yet. One thing at a time. “I want it. Wanna be with you. Here.”

Hopeful eyes meet his. “You...Yeah?”

Dean doesn’t let go as he nuzzles Cas’ nose. “Yeah.”

“Oh…” He closes his eyes briefly, then opens them; they’re glistening. Dean tugs him into a blurry-eyed, wide-smiled kiss.

They tour the home again, with eager eyes trained on the future. Dean can’t stop talking about everything they can do to the place—how they can set up their “work zones” and “home zones,” how well the peacock blue couch will play off the whitewashed walls and dark wood floors, how they can create a huge painting together to nestle in a large, empty space between windows. Garth and Victor trail them, offering suggestions but mostly letting the couple dream their dreams.

Since deciding to live together, they haven’t been able to keep their hands off each other (though managed to keep it relatively clean for the rest of the house tour), and it’s with desperation that they burst through the door of Dean’s house, the closest of their abodes. Dean doesn’t pay attention to the lifelessness of his surroundings, which usually bothers him. He doesn’t pay attention to the neatness, the few stylized, tasteful photos of places he’s never been, the carefully curated, bland balls of twigs from Pottery Barn. He doesn’t pay attention to the house at all, because it may as well be a hotel or a stadium or a recycling plant, for all he cares...it’s not home. Home is Cas, and all he wants is to be home. 

They make it to his bed, the one he hasn’t shared with anyone since he shared it with Miss. He thought it would feel wrong to bring someone here, to sleep with someone in this bed, to want to be with anyone other than his late wife. But this is Cas, and nothing’s ever felt more right than wanting Cas—to sleep with, to wake up to, to fight with, to do dishes with, to cry and laugh with, to create with, to make love with. He wants him in every way possible. Every. Way. 

“Cas,” Dean whispers, pausing their hands as they scrabble with each other’s clothes. His boyfriend meets his eyes, waiting so patiently, watching him so sincerely it makes him certain of his next words in a way he’s never been certain until now. “Cas, make love with me.”

Chapter Text

What does he mean? What does he mean? Does he mean… “Make love with you?”

“Yeah. Please.” Dean’s eyes are soft, almost glowing. “I want you. I want everything with you, Cas.”

Hand jobs and blow jobs are one thing. But if Dean wants what Cas thinks he wants...well. He’s not entirely sure about that. They joke a lot, of course, but if he has to be honest, he’s been a big baby about it ever since he started thinking about it. He’s afraid it’ll hurt. He’s not sure about all the finger action that’s required and where it’s required (yearly physicals are awkward enough, thanks). He’s afraid that something embarrassing will happen. 

But he’s done the research, too (and typing in how to have anal sex into his search bar was an experience, inducing shame and titillation all at once). He knows that it shouldn’t hurt too much, as long as things are loosened up. He’s certain Dean will be gentle with him, and that he’ll make it as pleasurable as possible. He knows that the likelihood of something embarrassing happening is low, given that he...oh my God...evacuated today. He’s confident Dean will stop if he asks. This is a way they can be as close as possible...and he has read that there are lots of nerve endings...and then there’s the prostate, which sounds promising...and Dean wants this. He wants everything. They’re together and making a life and a future and—

“Okay,” he whispers.

“Okay?”

“Yes. Okay.”

Dean draws him into a kiss, but not before Cas notices the gigantic smile break across his face. Worth it. But… “Don’t you have to work today?”

Soft hands caress his cheeks. “Yeah, but I don’t have client appointments until 1:00. Was just gonna do some orders and stuff this morning. This seems like a hell of a better way to use my time.” 

It’s 11:15 now. Cas hopes that’s enough time. “Okay.” He pastes on a smile to mask his nervousness. “So, according to my research, it’s usually easier to be face-down the first time.”

“Research? Nerd.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Cas snaps. “I’m willing to do it, but I’m not going into this blind.”

A concerned frown mars his boyfriend’s otherwise perfect face and Cas instantly feels bad for his tone. “Hey, babe, I was just teasing you. You okay? We don’t have to do this.”

“No, it’s fine, I’m just...this”—panic rises, causing his body to tense and his face to heat and prickle—“this isn’t something I’ve done before, and...I just…” He stops, shaking his head helplessly. “I’m fucking nervous, that’s all. You’ll stop, right? If I want you to stop? If it’s too much for me to take? I haven’t even practiced on myself, and I—”

“Sweetheart, wait, hang on. We haven’t even talked about who’s where.” Dean brushes a damp lock of hair out of his face. He’s already broken into a sweat. “I don’t mind receiving.”

Cool relief floods Cas’ body. “You don’t?”

“No. I actually have...uh...experience. A little.”

All of Cas’ focus zeroes in on that statement. “What?”

“Um…” Dean fiddles with the hem of his boxers, the only item of clothing he’s still wearing. “Miss and I...remember the dildo I said I had?”

“Uh huh.” He waits, but now Dean’s sweating and looking uncertain. Cas lifts his chin. “What, hon?”

At the affectionate name, Dean seems to gain courage. “Miss and I used to play with it. Sometimes I used it on her, and sometimes she…” He licks his lips and meets Cas’ eyes, and Cas understands. 

“Oh. And it was...good?”

“It was great,” he answers with a shy chuckle. “Probably not as good as the real thing, though. I mean, you know.” 

“I...cannot guarantee you a good time. I can most certainly guarantee that I will stumble through the whole thing.”

“We’ll stumble together,” Dean smiles, so sweetly that Cas’ soul explodes with color and light. Fireworks against a velvet sky. A million cherry blossom petals on a warm breeze. The Gulf of Mexico on a brilliantly sunny day. Cas falls into his embrace, his mouth, his very being. His heart helplessly chases after Dean, and even though he’s afraid, saying yes is easy.

They start with what they know, and Cas’ nerves settle as he pleasures Dean with each stroke of his cock, each swirl of his tongue. When it comes time and Dean is begging him to open him up, though, Cas freezes. He’s going to stick his fingers into...into that. Hmm. 

“You want me to do it?” Dean asks kindly. 

Cas flinches, a different sort of shame settling into his bones. He can’t even nut up and give Dean what he wants. Dean wants him, is trusting him to give him everything, and he can’t even…

“Cas. Honey. Don’t. It’s okay—”

“It’s not okay! God, if you can do it I should—”

“Hush with your shoulds. What are shoulds?”

Cas’ head hangs. “Joy killers.”

Dean lifts his head and brushes their lips together. “It was weird when Miss and I started, too.” Cas nods and tries to avert his eyes, but his chin is caught between Dean’s thumb and index finger. “Hey. Watch me.” He plants another kiss on Cas’ mouth, then smiles and winks as he shimmies out of his boxers. “It gets messy.”

With interest and curiosity winning out over his shame, Cas observes as Dean coats his fingers generously with lube, then starts circling his hole. He swallows the saliva pooling in his mouth at the sight of Dean’s shiny fingers. He’s reminded of pottery work, and of painting. When Dean inserts a finger with a tiny gasp, Cas gasps, too. The motion is like dipping a paintbrush. The movement is mesmerizing as his finger swirls, then dips, then swirls again…

Hot arousal and want surges in his veins. He can do this. It’s almost like fingering a woman, isn’t it? Oh, and the glistening...he’s reminded of how responsive Syl’s body was to his fingers, how much she glistened when he was doing a particularly good job...his eyes float to Dean’s cock, its tip also glistening, confessing Dean’s arousal. He wants. And Cas wants, too.

Screwing up his courage, he lubes one finger. Dean’s hole seems loose, and he doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable (the opposite, actually), so Cas stares at his own finger and watches, detached, as it joins two of Dean’s.

The response is immediate. “Oh Cas, fuck, babe,” Dean pants. “Holy shit, holy shit.”

Cas is no longer detached. He’s fascinated. He catalogues the sensations: the slide of his finger against Dean’s, the slide of his finger in Dean. It’s hot. Tight. Soft. Artificially wet rather than naturally wet (which he wouldn’t want in this instance, he thinks with more amusement than disgust). And most importantly, Dean loves it. He responds so beautifully. This man wants everything with him, he thinks again—and by God, he’s going to give it to him.

He lubes up two more fingers and chases Dean’s hand away. Copying what Dean was doing, his erection throbs as Dean’s pleasure fills the room with luscious sound. He uses his free hand to stroke his own erection for a little relief, then switches his attention to Dean’s cock, which jumps for joy at the touch. As he opens him, he remembers what some of his research said. Two inches up… His furrowed brow smooths as he finds the walnut-sized bundle of nerves that makes Dean unleash a litany of profanities that sound like prayers. He remembers that he has to experiment with what sort of stimulation of the prostate will bring the most pleasure. Cas tries tapping...circling...applying steady pressure...it’s an art, he realizes, and he’s the artist. He smiles to himself, feeling more confident, especially when he finds just the right stroke and Dean’s face contorts in unadulterated bliss. “Hmm, like that, Vice?” he purrs seductively. 

Dean opens his eyes and smiles softly. “You’re enjoying this.”

Dropping the bravado, Cas admits, “Yeah. I love making you feel good. I love...I love that you trust me with this. I want everything with you, too.”

“Me too. I’m ready, Cas.”

“Really?” He looks down and sees that he’s four fingers into his lover, but still… “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Come on.” He eases off his fingers and flips onto his belly, then shifts to his nightstand and starts opening drawers. “In here somewhere...oh, wait! I’ll be right back!” Dean kisses him lightly before hopping off the bed and skittering out of the room. Cas waits, thinking about the items he noticed when Dean was shuffling through his nightstand. In one was what looked like the dildo he mentioned. In another was a framed photo of Dean and Missy. He only caught a quick glance, but he remembers seeing the photo the first and only time he was in this room before today, when they went dancing with the AIG crew and he helped him pick out clothes. He remembers that Dean told him he used to say good night to it. He hasn’t mentioned that in a while. Cas notes that a photo of the two of them is now sitting atop the table. It’s one of the selfies of them from the night those women ditched them. A warm honey feeling coats his insides. Just then, Dean returns, a small package in hand. “In my wallet,” he grins. “Forgot I put it there just in case, since, you know, we’re always at your place.”

“Very forward-thinking of you, Dean. And hopeful,” Cas grins back.

They get back to business, Cas lubing and stimulating Dean again before Dean grows impatient. “Stick your feathered pen in my inkwell,” he teases, shaking his ass as he leans against a stack of pillows. 

Cas shakes his head at the bad line that reminds him more of writers than artists, but pulls his fingers out (“Slowly, Cas!” “Sorry!”) and rolls the condom over his cock. He’s grateful he remembers how. He lubes it generously, then, carefully, he pushes into Dean and waits. He’s not sure how this works with anal, only being familiar with vaginal penetration, but he figures slow and easy makes the most sense. “Dean?”

“Sorry,” he puffs, “just...adjusting.”

“Do you have enough lube?” he asks worriedly. “Should we have gotten a lube injector?”

Dean snorts. “A what?”

“I read that it can be helpful if you can’t get enough lube in with fingers, and it—stop laughing at me!”

“It’s...I’m not…” he claims even as he shakes while he tries to stifle himself in his pillow. 

“You are a brat,” Cas growls with humor. The laughter has loosened them both up, so he pushes and waits again. He smooths his hands over Dean’s back as Dean adjusts to the intrusion. Dean wiggles his fingers forward, and Cas inches in further. Dean wiggles again, and Cas advances again; they repeat this until he’s seated fully into his boyfriend for the first time.

It’s incredible.

“Fuck!” Cas gasps. It’s all he can manage, more eloquent, heartfelt words escaping him. He’s inside his boyfriend. Dean is so warm and snug around him, the sensation much like when they cuddle in bed, but decidedly more orgasmic—a little too orgasmic. He pants like all the women in labor he’s seen on TV, staving himself off as much as possible. It’s been so long since he’s felt this way—and he’s not just talking about the heat surrounding his dick. 

“You okay up there?”

“Yes, yes, just…” He blows a hard breath over Dean’s back. “Just need a minute.”

Dean smirks over his shoulder. Cas leans forward to smush his face playfully and they both groan when it makes him shift inside Dean. 

“Please, Cas. Need you, want you, please.”

His skin is flushed and damp, and he’s craning his head to meet Cas’ eyes. Cas does him one better and meets his lips tenderly, then slowly moves his cock out an inch, in an inch, gradually lengthening his thrusts until Dean is meeting him thrust-for-thrust and asking him for more, faster, harder.

Cas focuses on Dean’s pleasure, remembering in his research that if he angles them just right, he can hit his prostate. He tilts Dean’s hips up a bit more and visualizes where his prostate is hiding…

Dean cries out and clutches the sheets. Found it.

Cas is ruthless then, sweat dripping off him as he attempts to nail his lover’s prostate every time, or something close. He tries to take Dean’s cock in hand as he thrusts, but can’t seem to coordinate the two. “Dean, babe,” he starts, but Dean seems to understand and takes himself in hand instead, allowing Cas to rebalance himself and find Dean’s prostate again. Dean alternates mewling and growling. Cas guesses the dual sensations are overwhelmingly pleasurable...or maybe just overwhelming. “Dean? Are you okay?” he asks.

“Yeah…yeah, yeah, yeah, fine,” he wails, high-pitched and breathy. 

Cas smiles, amused; Dean’s waving him off dismissively even as he presses the side of his face against the pillows and bucks back and forth. Clearly, Cas’ question is distracting him from his buzz. He keeps smiling as his hands grip Dean’s slippery skin. Glistening. Mmm. And then, suddenly, Dean spews another string of prayerful profanities as he tightens around Cas’ cock and comes hard, gasping into the pillow as he keeps coming and coming. Cas forgets to move as he watches his lover peak. He silently mouths words of love, not meant for Dean to hear just yet. 

“Babe...you too,” Dean croaks when he starts to descend, patting Cas’ thigh. “Come in me, c’mon.”

He’d sort of forgotten about himself as he focused on Dean, but now that he’s satisfied, Cas can’t resist the invitation. He pulls out a bit and drizzles more lube over his sheathed cock, then resumes his thrusts as Dean calls out words of dirty encouragement. Cas had been worried that some Puritanical thought of anal sex with a man would creep into his mind and he wouldn’t be able to enjoy this sort of thing with Dean. Clearly not a problem, he thinks as he thrusts hard enough to move Dean up the bed. It’s his last coherent thought as Dean cries out, “Yes, fuck, Cas!” The cry is motivation; he clutches onto slick skin and pumps his hips until he stills and comes with stuttered cries, then collapses on top of Dean and rolls them to their sides. He hugs him and kisses his neck before sliding out of him slowly and sitting up to discard the condom. Dean takes it from his hand and tosses it toward where Cas assumes the trash can is. He pulls Cas down until they’re lying face-to-face.

“Did I do okay for you? For not knowing what I was doing?” Cas asks.

“Did you—” Dean gives him an incredulous look. “Uh, yeah, Cas. God help me when you actually know what you’re doing.”  

It’s almost verbatim what he said to Dean when Dean gave him a blow job for the first time. A long, loud laugh bubbles out of him, the last of his nervousness and fear escaping and dissipating in the humid air. 

Dean laughs, too, but his laughter is quieter, more thoughtful. He strokes his face. Cas leans into his warm, sticky palm. Ugh. Sticky. They should shower. They… “Dean! What time is it?” He sits up like a meerkat. “It’s 12:26! Don’t you have an appointment at 1:00?”

“Shit! Not again!” he groans as he flings himself out of bed and onto the floor, searching in his pants. He pulls out his phone and scoots into the hall, presumably to call his client. How romantic, Cas thinks as he stands. He sighs, shaking his head at their horrible timing. They really have to stop having sex before Dean’s client appointments. He hears the shower start and sighs again. No enjoying the afterglow. No time to even fool around in the shower. 

He wipes off perfunctorily and wanders to the kitchen, finds a reusable bottle, and gathers just enough in Dean’s poorly-stocked refrigerator (and he dared to make fun of Cas at one time for the same damn thing) to make a decent health shake. Cas hopes it’ll be filling enough to get Dean through his appointments, since they didn’t have lunch. 

“Just what I like to see,” Dean grins from across the room, appraising Cas’ naked form. 

“I’m sure,” Cas replies drolly. “I’ll assume you’re talking about me and not the shake.”

“Well, yeah.” He steps into Cas’ space and fixes a loud smooch to his mouth. “I’m sorry I gotta go. Want me to drop you off?”

“I won’t be ready in time, and you’re already running late.”

“Told my client I was stuck in traffic.”

Cas chuckles. “It’s okay. I’ll get an Uber or something. As long as you don’t mind me being here when you’re not. I would like to take a shower.”

“Course I don’t mind.” He kisses him one more time, soundly, and takes the shake Cas offers him. “Thanks, babe. I’m so sorry about this. I’ll make it up to you, okay? See you tonight.” His hand lingers on Cas’ hip as he steps away and strides toward the door gingerly, more bowlegged than usual.

“Gee, I feel like I should be apologizing to you,” Cas observes with a wicked smile.

Dean turns. “Fuck you.” It’s said affectionately, with a sparkle in his boyfriend’s eyes.

Cas ponders this. Now that it’s happened, now that he’s seen how it goes in real life and how much Dean enjoyed it...“Maybe,” he says. He laughs at the hopeful gleam in Dean’s eyes as he points to the door. “Go.”

Once he’s gone, Cas putters around the house. It doesn’t have the sort of energy that Cas equates with Dean. Not everyone sees houses that way, and most people feel at least okay living wherever, as long as it’s safe and habitable. This house is definitely on the upper spectrum of habitable. It’s attractive, in an airbrushed supermodel kind of way—showy, but without flaws that hint at the personality of it, what’s underneath, what makes it special. Homes like this are made to be seen and not heard. His apartment is plenty flawed and plenty loud enough to hear, and his new place—their new place—is just waiting to sing its song, even if it’s off-key.

He wonders if Dean will bring anything from here to the new place. Probably not. In fact, he’s not sure he wants him to. And Cas doesn’t want to bring much, either. He wants a fresh start, with new furniture and art, to start this new chapter of his life. He wants things that are theirs, things they choose together, things that don’t have the ghosts of others living in them. Perhaps Dean will want something sentimental from here, but as Cas looks around, he can’t imagine what, save for photos and that sort of thing.

He takes a shower, which he admits is very nice (the double showerheads are really something), then dries off with a fluffy towel and pads back to Dean’s bedroom. He wonders how it was for Dean to be in here, making love with someone else. Making love. That’s what he called it. It certainly fits for Cas. He breathes a gusty sigh. Maybe they should have talked about that first. Too late now. He glides his hand over the bedspread that looks more expensive than his entire bedroom set (which he bought third- or fourth-hand at a yard sale) and wonders if Dean chose it or Miss did. He frowns slightly, feeling insecure all of a sudden. Dean loved Miss, that he knows. They’ve spent many nights talking about it. He wonders if Dean will ever truly love him like he loved her. Well, not just like her. He knows it won’t be the same, and he doesn’t want that. He wants Dean to love him in a way all their own, with an intensity and a specialness just for him, one that’s deep and sacred. It’s not a competition, either. He respects and understands that Dean loved his wife, just like Cas loved his. It’s just...sometimes he’s scared. He thinks he’ll feel more secure once he hears those three little words. 

Cas takes the photo out of the drawer and traces the couple’s features with his eyes. They are lovely, for sure. Happy. Clearly in love. He shifts his eyes up to the photo of the two of them. They look happy, too, even though they weren’t dating yet. Just to be sure, though, he picks up his phone and flicks to the most recent photo of the two of them. He compares Dean’s face in this one with the photo of him with Miss. He looks happy with Cas. Maybe even in love. He hopes so. He did say he wanted everything with Cas. 

Cas decides that he’s overly emotional from the day. He puts everything away reverently and orders an Uber. While he waits, he sketches a picture in a pad he finds in Dean’s great room—in one panel, a bird in a nest, by itself, with other birds beckoning it to their large nests and lush trees, and in a second panel, the single bird joining the other birds, singing with them. He captions it We could never have new adventures if life stayed the same. He snaps a photo, then leaves Dean with the drawing. At home, he posts it to AIG and smiles, thinking about the new adventures that await.

Chapter Text

Life is good.

It’s not something that Dean would’ve believed before meeting Cas and AIG. That Dean would’ve told you that life sucks, that it’s meaningless and empty and full of nothing but pain and loneliness and fear. That Dean would’ve told you there was no hope for the future. 

This Dean has hope. This Dean sees a future.

Cas made Garth an offer on the old church, and Garth countered with a lower price, which of course Cas accepted. He would owe the man many t-shirts, Cas had joked. Garth told them to go ahead and get started while all the paperwork was sorted out, so Cas and Dean hired the team that would make the structural changes they wanted. 

Dean is pleasantly surprised that Cas lets him have so much input. He’s not on the mortgage or anything, yet Cas keeps saying it’s their place “and why wouldn’t I let you have input? I’m getting more free advice from you, Vice” with a sparkle in his eyes that Dean adores.

He’s also excited that he gets a larger hand in designing the home, rather than only decorating it. He feels the personality of this home, like they’re old friends, and he wants to help it be the home it wants to be. He sort of feels like a life coach, helping the home find its true potential. Victor rolled his eyes at that one, but he caught him using that phrase just the other day with a client. It made Dean chuckle. Victor has taken him under his wing, coaching him and helping him learn more about building codes and space planning. It’s been awesome so far, and Victor says he has a natural talent for design. “Go back to school and stop wasting your time choosing placemats,” he‘s told him, gruffly supportive. 

It’ll be awhile before the house is ready, but he and Cas squeeze in a little time there every day, working or observing progress or just talking and walking Goose around the neighborhood. Curious neighbors have come by, and they give them tours and chat with them. They find some new places to eat and a new park for Goose, and the new house is closer to Charlie, so they sometimes meet up with her. 

In short, the house is great.

His relationship with Cas is great, too. They don’t see each other as much as they’d like these days, but when they do, they’re having a fantastic time. Of course, sex is awesome. Their first time having penetrative sex was life-changing, no doubt about it. In the month since then, they’ve had it a few more times, and each time gets better and better. Cas finally figured out how to keep his balance when he’s thrusting in Dean and jerking him off at the same time. Dean’s tried riding him, too, and he really likes the control that gives him. Plus, he loves seeing Cas’ face contort in pleasure. They still do the other stuff, too, obviously, but this has added a layer of intimacy they both seem to enjoy.

Things are getting better with Cas’ parents. Just last weekend they drove to their place to help his dad lay a circular brick patio with a water feature for the birds his mother loves to feed, and they invited them to stay for dinner. Cas and Dean kept the PDA to a minimum, and his parents didn’t flinch when Cas leaned against him to rest after a particularly backbreaking hour in the sun or when he drank water out of Dean’s bottle and then they argued when Cas finished it with a smirk. His mom made pie and gave them a whole one to take home. They recently had dinner with Dad and Kate, too. Dean laughed way too hard when Cas admitted to John that he didn’t know the first thing about cars and John recoiled in horror, and then his heart turned to mush when John took him out to the garage to work on his beloved Impala and Cas changed her oil while John looked on with pride.

The only thing that isn’t going so well in his life are Sam and Jess, who are still on the verge of collapse. Their see-sawing is exhausting to Dean, who has borne the brunt of both Sam’s grief and anger and their family’s sadness and confusion over the last few months. The emotional stew and the secret-keeping are exhausting and, frankly, have triggered a few grief bursts. He’s managed them, though, with Cas by his side. 

“Hope this helps,” Dean mutters to Cas as they get ready for the AIG group. “I don’t think I can take much more.”

“I hope so, too,” he replies, rubbing Dean’s arm before pulling him into a hug.

They finally convinced the couple to commit to trying the group. Jess arrives first, early. Dean gives her a long hug, followed by Cas. They’re not mad at her, only sad. They really like Jess. Dean, in particular, has developed a soft spot for her over the years. He would always choose his brother, if forced, but he loves Jess too and he hates that this is happening. Cas pulls her aside to talk with her for a bit. He can’t hear what they’re saying, but he assumes it’s something about how the group will go, that sort of thing. He smiles at Cas’ kind concern, then greets his friends as they enter.

Sam arrives just as they’re about to start. He’s followed by Gabe, bringing drinks and treats for those who ordered them. Gabe places an iced coffee and a muffin in front of Jess, who looks surprised. He nudges his head toward Sam; she gives him a quick smile in thanks that he acknowledges with a nod before averting his gaze.

“Hey, everyone, welcome,” Cas starts. Like Dean’s first time at the group, Cas lays down the ground rules, and everyone introduces themselves. Jess keeps her intro brief, so Sam does, too. Besides, they’ve heard his life story already. The group runs as it normally does, and Sam offers comfort and encouragement to others but Jess merely watches silently. It happens the same way the following group. 

The Saturday after that, the couple joins AIG on anadventure, which the group dubs “The Tour of the Could Have Beens.” It’s the day after the second anniversary of Sylvie’s death, and isn’t that just fitting? He’d worried about Cas doing this because of that, but he seems okay. Yesterday was subdued, yes, but it didn’t seem quite as tough as the year before. Cas spent some time by himself and some calling family, including leaving a message for her parents, which surprised Dean. According to both Cas and Bal, her parents had been pissed at him, slapping the blame on him for her eating disorder spiraling out of control and for taking her off life support. Misdirected grief, Cas called it, and though he intellectualized the process, Dean could tell that the rejection and blame from people he loved and had known most of his life still hurt him. The rest of the day they spent together, doing little things like visiting their favorite museum and eating pizza at the new house after the workers left. They talked about the pool they’d install, the gardens they’d improve, and the fence they’d put up for Goose. It was good for both of them to talk about the future.

The tour first visits the spot where Jody’s husband and son died. The house is gone, consumed by fire, and the rubble has been cleared, but the empty lot speaks volumes. “People think it’s stupid, but I grieve the house, too,” Jody says. “They say I shouldn’t, that it was just a house and I can always buy another house. I did buy another house. But I still grieve that house. I grieve what could have been, what should have been. We had dreams for that house.” Dean gets that. He looks at Sam, who’s lost in thought. Maybe he gets it, too, or maybe he’s somewhere else entirely.

They stop at one of the colleges in the area and walk the campus, Linda and Max leading the way. They both talk about the potential of their loved ones, how Kevin was going to win the Nobel Prize and Alicia was going to lead the world in song on Broadway after being discovered at a college production. Following that, they sit in the park, where Cesar shares how he and Jesse used to talk about adopting troubled teens and Rowena watches a son assisting his elderly mother on a walk, smiling fondly at her. Dean follows Sam and Jess’ eyes to a group of young moms with baby carriages. He turns to Cas to say something, but loses his thought when he sees Cas’ soft blue eyes focused there, too. Cas flicks his gaze to Dean and smiles slowly, fondly. Maybe even hopefully. He smiles back, thinking of how that hope could be fulfilled, how “could have been” can become “will be” and, eventually, “is.” His heart thumps against his ribs, reminding him of how alive he is. His fingers curl around Cas’.

At the end of their adventure, most are quietly reflective. As usual, they hug each other extra tight. When Jody offers a hug to Jess, she nearly jumps into her arms. They hang on for a long time. Sam gets the same treatment. Dean watches and thinks that his assessment of Jody at that trampoline park a year ago was right on—she’ll always be a mother. 

Whereas Sam and Jess are somber when they leave, Dean and Cas can’t stop smiling and touching each other. They stay at the park once everyone leaves, stopping at the shaved ice truck and walking with their shoulders bumping every few steps. When their treats are gone, they drift to Cas’ car and drive home hand-in-hand. At Cas’ place, staying the night isn’t even a question. They twine limbs and tongues and hearts until they peak, their physical satisfaction rivaled only by their emotional satisfaction.

On Sunday morning, Dean sneaks down to the bakery to procure coffee and day-old danish, which he warms in the microwave. He digs out some leftover fruit salad from the fridge while he’s waiting, and grabs a peanut butter treat for Goose. It takes two trips to make sure he doesn’t spill anything, but he manages to serve breakfast to Cas in bed. He pacifies Goose with the treat so the men can share their food and a few kisses in relative peace. They talk about last night, about their adventure and Sam and Jess. They talk about the babies in the park. They talk about their dreams—not in the past tense, but in the future tense. All of those dreams are wound around each other. There’s an overwhelming rightness to it, like there always is with Cas. It’s too soon to tell him he loves him—he knows he shouldn’t feel this deeply this quickly; it took him a long time to love Miss this deeply, young as they were and with the baggage they both had, and hell, Dean and Cas are older and wiser and have plenty of baggage themselves—but it feels wrong not to say something, even if it is too soon.

“I want you so much.” He presses the words against Cas’ lips. “I want everything with you.” He’s said this before. It’s inadequate, really, but it’s what he has.

Cas shifts against the cotton sheets. “Everything?” he asks with a shaky breath, looking at Dean in a way he hasn’t before. 

Dean nods, and Cas bites his lip before darting forward and plunging into Dean’s mouth. Dean moans, surprised and already aroused. Cas is dominant, pushing sheets and plates (and a startled Goose) out of the way as he ravishes Dean’s body with the same concentration and complete focus and dedication he uses when he’s lost in his art. Castiel the artist. Castiel the sex artist. Dean can get on board with that.

“Make love to me,” Cas whispers once he’s rendered Dean stupid, his brain floating on a sea of hormones. 

Dean opens his eyes to the pools of blue he adores. There’s adoration and a little trepidation on his face. “You su—”

Cas interrupts with, “Yes, I’m sure.”

So Dean takes over then, rolling them over and covering Cas head to toe in kisses and caresses and words of worship. He does all the things Cas likes until he’s begging for his fingers. He coats them in lube (the one Cas bought because it was specifically designed for anal play, the nerd, and yet he has to admit he was right on with that purchase) and circles Cas’ hole until he thinks he can get a finger in. He distracts Cas with a deep kiss and inserts his finger, just the tip.

It’s so good. He hasn’t had his fingers inside someone (other than Cas’ mouth that really fun time in the kitchen) in a long time. He’s practically drooling with pleasure as his finger explores, and Cas’ little gasps and moans make it even better. It’s even more gratifying when he feels Cas’ body relax around him and even push back. He grants Cas’ silent wish, inserting his finger deeper and then, eventually, a second finger.

He searches hard for his prostate. It’s a different angle than when he does this to himself, and he never could do it with Miss, obviously. Cas wiggles a little, and Dean palpates his inner walls, until “Oh fuck!” flies from Cas’ lips. Dean watches him, slack-jawed, as Cas’ pelvis thrusts, and his brows shoot to his hairline as his lover grabs his own cock and begs Dean to “find it the fuck again, holy shit.” 

Not able to bear the sheer hotness of his boyfriend after that, Dean leans over and tugs Cas’ face to his in a searing kiss as he targets Cas’ prostate, relentlessly rubbing it until Cas is near tears. He’s already three fingers deep now, having added as Cas was focused elsewhere, and just adds a fourth finger when Cas says, “Now, babe. Please.”

Dean won’t deny him a damn thing. While Cas flips onto his belly, Dean preps himself with a condom and lube, noticing just how hard he is after ignoring himself for a while, then settles behind him. He knows to go slow, and he talks Cas through it as Cas transitions from the sensation of prostate stimulation to the stretch of Dean’s cock. Just as the widest point of Dean’s head is preparing to breach the ring of muscle, Cas begins to tense up and his breathing quickens. 

“What’s wrong, babe?”

“Is it supposed to feel like this?” 

“Like what?”

“Like I’m gonna take a shit all over you?”

Dean stifles a chuckle. “You’re not gonna, sweetheart.”

“But what if I do? I’m so sorry if I shit all over you, oh my God—”

“Babe, I swear you won’t.”

“But what if I do?”

The chuckle he can no longer restrain hisses through his teeth. “You won’t. It’s just pressure. I promise it gets better. I swear. And hey, if you do, we’ll just clean it up.”

“I don’t want that! Oh my God, what if...fuck, I’m freaking out—”

As Cas begins to panic, Dean tries to calm him. “Hey, you’re doing great, Champ. Just gotta keep calm, okay? Relax.”

Immediately, Cas stops panicking and turns his head. “Did you just call me ‘Champ’ like you’re my Little League coach? Or like—oh my God, your father calls you that!”

As soon as he realizes that yes, he did call him that and that’s exactly what his father calls him, Dean face flares with heat. He bites his top lip. “I’m so sorry, I—”

“Oh my God, never again!” Cas shouts. He blindly thwacks Dean’s flank, telling him that he’ll kill him if he ever thinks about calling him that in bed or anywhere else again. He’s laughing the whole way through, though, and Dean understands that Cas isn’t really angry. 

“I’m sorry!” Dean says anyway. He plants kisses up Cas’ spine until he stops laughing and settles with a hum.

“Do it,” Cas whispers when Dean reaches his neck. “Go. One shot.”

So Dean, without hesitation, presses smoothly into Cas until his head is past the muscle. There, they both still until Cas asks him to go the rest of the way. It’s not what Dean would have chosen, but Cas knows himself, so Dean trusts him and does what he’s asked. There’s a lot of heavy breathing of the unsexy kind, but then he feels his boyfriend’s body relax and sees the muscles in his face slacken. Dean reaches for his hand, and Cas smiles. “Okay. Move. Slowly.”

Dean moves slowly. Too slowly, if Cas’ grunting and “it’s okay, Dean” are to be believed. He quickens the pace as he takes Cas’ cock in hand. He finds he has the same balance problem that Cas once did, so Cas swats his hand and takes over. When he moans in that sweet, unmistakable sound of pleasure, Dean’s finally able to allow himself his own pleasure. He pistons his hips, lost in the feeling of Cas’ warmth and in the dreams they shared this morning. He wants to come, he’s going to come, but he needs Cas to come first—

“Dean, Dean, fill me up!”

—and that’s it, he’s gone. He explodes in the condom, the sensations still so good even if dulled by latex. Cas gasps a moment later, shooting come all over the fitted sheet and clearly not giving a fuck about it. Cas has never cared much about that sort of thing. He doesn’t even change the damn sheets most of the time.

Dean pulls out carefully, Cas hissing through it. He drops the condom in the trash can and stands to grab a washcloth, but Cas stops him with a hand to his forearm. “Just lie with me for now,” he mumbles drowsily. Dean drops back into the bed facing Cas, taking him into his arms. “Okay, maybe clean me up a little. Lotta lube there,” he says a moment later, wiggling his ass and frowning with pursed lips; Dean snickers and kisses his forehead, then remembers the wet wipes in the drawer and uses those to clean them both instead of leaving the room. Cas winces through it and Dean offers him an apology in kisses as soon as he settles back into his arms. 

“What’d you think?” Dean asks carefully. He doesn’t want to pressure Cas into any particular answer.

“It was...pretty yeah,” Cas grins. “I liked the dual sensation. That was very yeah.” 

Dean laughs. “Was it yeah enough to do again?”

Cas screws up his face in thought. “I would like to try again without being called Champ.”

“You’re such a dick.” Dean laughs again—he can’t help it, he always does around Cas—and nuzzles his nose. He knows there’s something Cas isn’t saying. “It gets better, you know. With practice.”

“I assume by your reaction every time that it does.”

“Brat. Listen, I know it wasn’t what all the pornos lead you to believe—”

“I’ve never looked to porn to be an accurate representation of anything.”

“I know. Just, I can make it better for you, okay? If you give me a chance.”

Cas smiles softly. “You make everything better.” He chuckles and kisses Dean’s cheek, which Dean knows must be bright red. “Being with you is all I need, no matter what we do.”

“Me too, Cas.” Dean bites his lip as pink champagne bubbles over in his chest, those words he’s felt for so long, tried to show Cas for so long, on the tip of his tongue.

Dean almost tells him, but it’s still so soon. It has to be too soon.

And yet, too soon, he’ll wish with all his heart that he had. 

 

Chapter Text

They haven’t talked about what happened on Sunday since...well, Sunday. 

Anal sex. It had been...different. There was a hell of a lot of pressure. And though they say (“they” being all those articles he read) that you shouldn’t feel any pain, he had felt a bit, despite Dean’s cautiousness. He figures he probably tore a little, or something. Whatever they say can happen. It’s nothing that turns him off; like he told Dean, he’d do it again because it was good, it helped him feel closer to Dean, and he’s certain that both of them will get better with practice (he’d really been hoping that Dean would hit his prostate during intercourse, but no such luck). Still, he wants to wait a bit, until he’s healed up and they have a good chunk of time to be indulgent. Dean’s not pouting about it. At least not that Cas knows of. He hasn’t seen him very much.

Sam and Jessica’s situation has blown up. The two of them have been on and off—reunited briefly, then on the brink of divorce—for months. Dean has been spending most of his free time the last few days with his brother. Whatever happened for them on Saturday during the Tour of the Could Have Beens, it was big. All Sam will say is that the lines of communication shut down abruptly; he can’t get her to call him back, can’t get her to talk to him, can’t get her to do or say anything. Cas’ heart hurts for the both of them, and if Dean needs to be with his brother, then that’s what he needs to do, and Cas can spend his extra time catching up on work that he, admittedly, has fallen behind on thanks to his time with Dean and time spent at the house. He works happily, secure in the knowledge that things will settle down eventually and Dean will be back when things aren’t so bad.

At AIG on Thursday, he sees just how bad things are.

As Charlie starts the meeting by asking about feedback from their last adventure, Cas glances at the young couple. They’re wrecked. Jess sits, stone-faced yet anguished, while Sam is so bug-eyed it looks like the orbs are going to fall out of his head. They could stop this, he thinks. An itch to tell them off burns under his sternum, and he’s not sure how much longer he can keep it in. If he scratches that itch, he knows he’s going to say something horrible that he can’t take back. He’s pissed, and though he’s usually patient, the secret-keeping is going to kill them. It is killing them. And their pain is killing Dean. He sees the stress of the last several days (and months), has felt it in the brief, clinging touches they’ve managed to squeeze in during the few minutes they’ve had together. That pisses him off even more. 

But in a stroke of divine intervention or intuition or just plain luck, Linda Tran saves them all.

“It struck me, when we were walking on that campus, that I never gave Kevin much choice,” she starts, voice cracking and chin quivering. “College was my dream for him. Everything he did was my dream for him. I controlled so much of his life.” She inhales and releases a large gulp of air. “I’ve thought a lot about why he tried that drug, why he took enough to overdose, why he was even at that party. It wasn’t like him to go to parties. But maybe it was like him, I don’t know. Would he have done that in college?” Linda shakes her head; Rowena takes her hand. “I held on so tightly because I wanted him to become something ‘great.’ But I never let him become who he actually was. Who he could have been if I wasn’t controlling his life. And all of that, everything I did, was because of children I never got to meet.”

The entire group watches and holds a collective breath. Linda has never spoken of other children. 

“My ex-husband and I tried so hard to have children. We lost three babies. When I carried Kevin long enough for him to survive, it was a miracle. He was premature by months, but he made it. Our miracle baby. I knew I wasn’t going to have any more. I couldn’t lose any more children. But Kevin would be the one to make it all right. He would be the one to fulfill all those hopes I had for the houseful of children we didn’t get to have. I put the expectations of four children on one child. I thought he wanted it; I thought he was handling it well. He wasn’t.”

The group is silent. People often rush to fill in these spaces of unbearable pain, but they sit with it until Cas stands and approaches the whiteboard on wheels across the room. He sketches four babies, wrapped in receiving blankets, in Linda’s arms. Around them, he draws a large heart. “What were their names?” he asks. 

Linda stands and approaches the board. “We didn’t officially name them, but in my heart, Waverly was the first. Then Thomas, Charlotte, and then Kevin.” 

Cas nods and writes their names on each little blanket. 

“Waverly, Thomas, Charlotte, and Kevin,” Max says behind them. He stands next to Cas. “They all deserve to have their names said out loud, by as many people as possible.”

“Waverly, Thomas, Charlotte, and Kevin,” Cas repeats.

“Waverly, Thomas, Charlotte, and Kevin,” Dean chimes in, approaching and settling on Cas’ other side. He’s followed by Rowena, Charlie, Jody, Donna, and Cesar, who repeat the names and form a circle around the grieving mom. They stand in silence once again, Linda gazing at them gratefully with a crinkled smile and tears in her eyes, until hitched breaths draw the mother’s attention to Jess, staring at the board and crying openly. 

Linda leaves the circle and approaches Jess, kneeling in front of her. “Honey, do you want to say anything about how this is affecting you?”

“M-my ba-...my babies,” she stammers as she clutches her abdomen. “My babies, my babies…” Jess collapses into Linda’s arms, heaving great, nasally breaths between sobs. The circle moves from the whiteboard to Jess and Sam, who’s pulled into it by Jody with the explanation that they were his babies, too. 

“What were their names?” Cas asks when quiet has permeated the room. 

“They were gonna be...um, well, we weren’t sure yet,” she says with a tiny smile and a warm glance at Sam, the first Cas has seen in a long time. “But we were thinking of Taylor and Carson.” Sam nods, his eyes welling up. Cas draws the couple with their babies and their names on the whiteboard. “Taylor and Carson,” he says. Dean repeats them in a broken whimper, and the names echo around the circle as each person in the group repeats them.

“Thank you,” Jess whispers wetly. Sam closes his eyes.

The next week, Cas brings Goose to the meeting. His gut instinct is confirmed when Jess holds her the entire group. Charlie asks her how she’s doing since the last group and she says, “Fine,” which everyone rides her on. When the term is explained, she laughs—Cas doesn’t think he’s heard her laugh in months—then admits she’s more of the F.I.N.E. variety. She talks about her desire for another child, then about her anger that her grief (outside of the group) is unrecognized and invalidated. “That’s why I didn’t want to tell people. I didn’t want to relive it every time I lost a child, and when I did finally tell my mom she said it just “wasn’t meant to be” and I could have another one. If I got that from her, what would I get from other people?”

“What fucking bullshit,” Linda pipes up. 

“For all those people and their shitty philosophical platitudes, can I get a ‘fuck you’ from the congregation?”

“Fuck you!” the group shouts to Cesar’s exhortation, much to Jess’ delight. 

It takes until the following week for Sam to open up, and when he does, it’s not what Cas expects.

“I’m always losing people I never get to know. My mom, these babies...it’s not fair.” Sam remains composed, but Cas guesses there’s a maelstrom beneath the surface.

Dean, in contrast, is a mess after his brother’s admission. “Cas, I—I didn’t even think about that. I feel horrible,” Dean rasps the next day when he stops by between clients for lunch. Dean is haggard; the stress of his brother’s problems and everything they bring up for him have stretched him thin, making his skin sag. “It sucks, you know? Maybe it is better to have loved and lost.”

“It’s a different kind of pain,” Cas says, covering Dean’s hand. “Hey. How much time do you have?”

Dean glances at his Fitbit, then lifts his head to meet Cas’ gaze. “About an hour before I have to leave. What’d you have in mind?” 

“Draw with me.”

His eyebrows raise hopefully. “Is that a euphemism?”

“No,” Cas laughs, “I mean do art with me. I miss hanging out with you.”

Dean’s face softens, the stress fading a bit. “I do, too. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I know Sam needs you. I just”—need you, too—“think it’ll take your mind off things.”

They spend most of the hour drawing what turns out to be their new backyard—flower and vegetable gardens surrounding the screened-in pool, paths and statues, and two large chairs with glasses of lemonade on the arms. Cas takes a risk and draws a smaller chair; he lets Dean decide whether that chair is supposed to represent Goose or a child. Either way, his boyfriend smiles. “We should put this up at the new place,” Dean comments. Cas thinks it’s a perfect plan. 

When Dean goes (late, of course, since they got caught up in making out right before he had to leave), Cas snaps a picture of their idyllic backyard and posts it to AIG with the caption: It may not feel like it now, but someday you just might have those could-have-beens.

If only he’d known.

Like he’s been doing for the last couple of weeks, Dean spends Friday night with Sam. Late Saturday afternoon, Dean surprises him by showing up at the apartment, asking if they can skip their planned AIG movie night and spend time with each other. “Sam’s gonna be at a friend’s house,” Dean explains, but Cas doesn’t care what the explanation is, only that they have each other. He texts Charlie to let her know, then happily sets about making dinner. Goose is thrilled to have her buddy back, and monopolizes his time and attention so much that Dean can’t even help with making the salad. Cas doesn’t mind. He’s happy to have his family together, to have a peaceful night. 

His unfettered happiness is dampened once they sit for dinner. Dean seems melancholy, out of sorts. He knows the anniversary of Miss’ death is coming up in less than two weeks, and that he’s been spending a lot of time with Sam, which is pretty depressing these days. “Dean, honey,” Cas says when Dean twirls his pasta lethargically. He doesn’t respond. “Dean.” When he still doesn’t respond, Cas throws a piece of spaghetti at his face. Dean’s head jerks up, surprised, and Cas realizes that he accidentally stumbled onto just what his boyfriend needs—some good, messy fun

“Cas, what the—hey!” he shouts when Cas flings more spaghetti at him.

“What?” he asks, chucking a chunk of tomato from his salad at his nose. 

“Dick,” he growls, lobbing a cucumber at his head. Cas deflects while flicking another piece of spaghetti at him, which lands on his shoulder. With a determined sparkle in his eyes, Dean squints at him. “Oh, it’s on like Donkey Kong,” he vows before dipping his own hand into his pasta bowl and flinging a mess of noodles at Cas’ face. 

The mature, adult men fling pasta, bread, and salad at each other, Goose happily picking up after them. They circle around the table, ducking for cover when a particularly large glob is launched their way. When the food is gone and they’re breathless, Cas pins Dean against the wall and teases his lips with his tongue until Dean opens for him. They exchange sighs as their bodies relax against each other, their curves fitting perfectly together. 

“Shower, then bed,” Dean begs against Cas’ lips.

They keep the shower businesslike (though Cas is not a strong enough man to resist running his hands down Dean’s wet, naked body), then make their way into Cas’ bedroom, still damp. Cas leaps into Dean’s arms, something that started as a joke but has sort of become a thing they do sometimes, and they topple onto the bed, where they collapse into a giggling, happy pile of entwined limbs. 

Making out with Dean is something he’ll never tire of; he never realized he’d love having someone bulky and muscular rather than slight and soft under him, but he does. Oh, he does. He loves that he can place his full weight on him, loves that they can wrestle for dominance and that they’re evenly matched. Maybe the body type doesn’t matter, though; maybe it’s just because it’s Dean that he loves it so much. Whatever it is, it’s perfect. The playfulness from the kitchen returns in the bedroom; they pounce and dive and bite and slap each other’s asses as they tumble over the cheap, scratchy sheets. “Wanna try again,” Cas moans when Dean is teething at his nipple as he dry-jerks him. Dean looks up, and Cas takes advantage, flipping him onto his back and grabbing at the lube in the nightstand. He takes his lover’s fingers and pours lube over them. “Me on top this time.”

Dean swears as he pulls Cas down onto himself and fucks his tongue into his mouth while he fucks his fingers into his ass. It seems easier this time, maybe because he’s facing Dean, or maybe because he already knows what to expect, or any number of things. Whatever the reason, he’s enjoying it more. When Dean’s four fingers in, Cas rolls a condom over Dean’s cock and lubes it. “Go slow, babe,” Dean warns, and Cas melts at the tenderness in his voice. 

Cas feels a lot more control this way, and doesn’t panic quite so much when Dean’s cock is stretching his hole. He breathes and maintains eye contact with Dean, who strokes his face with the softest light in his eyes. Cas bites on his lip and takes the head all at once; after a few moments to adjust, he slides down, inch by inch, until he’s flush against Dean’s thighs. It’s exquisite in the fullness, splitting him in the most intimate way, the intimacy rivaled only by the look Dean gives him, awash with reverence and, he thinks, with love.

“Sweetheart,” Dean whispers, awestruck green eyes locked with his as he thumbs at Cas’ stubble.

It is love. It has to be. No one else treats him this way, looks at him this way, cares for him this way, does the things that Dean does. He moves, and Dean moves with him, one hand on his hip and the other hand around his cock. Once he adjusts to the sensation, it’s easier, and even fun. He smiles, relaxing into it and becoming more confident. Dean smiles, too, caressing his thigh and rolling his thumb just right over his cockhead. Castiel feels...transcendent. As he slides along Dean’s shaft languidly, watching him as Dean watches right back, he can honestly say that everything that’s led up to this moment, to this joy he’s found with this man, has been worth it. With that thought, orgasm becomes imminent. Quickly, he grabs both of Dean’s hands and links them with his, holding them suspended in the air as he uses them for support while he rides Dean harder and faster. With the stimulation Dean’s already given him coupled with the grazing of his prostate he’s getting this time around, Cas climaxes untouched, his cock emptying all over his love’s chest even as Dean reaches his own climax. It’s so much, so very, very much, though even the physical connection is no rival for the emotional one he feels between them.

Cas sleeps soundly, Dean in his arms.

When he wakes with their positions switched, Cas smiles and brushes a feather-light kiss on Dean’s chin. The man doesn’t stir. He extricates himself from Dean’s arms and dresses in shorts and a t-shirt. After a quick clean-up of the mess from last night’s food fight, he makes Dean breakfast—a simple omelet with bacon, red pepper, and mushrooms—and grabs coffee from downstairs. When everything is ready, he walks into the bedroom, where Goose is curled up in the crook of Dean’s arm. Smiling, he kisses them both and strokes their heads. “Breakfast,” he says softly as Dean opens his eyes. At the word, Goose scrambles wildly out of bed, waking Dean a little more abruptly than Cas had intended. “Sorry,” he grins, kissing Dean’s forehead again, then his nose. “Come and get it before Goose does.”

Dean’s eyes look bloodshot, like he didn’t get much sleep despite the fact that they were in bed early. He tucks that away for the moment, knowing Dean’s had a lot on his mind with Sam and some work things and the house. Instead, he chats about the weather, Goose’s antics, finding the relish Dean likes at a farmers’ market near their new place, and his latest client, an eccentric author who’s self-publishing a poetry book after years of writing murder mysteries. Dean listens, but with every word he draws closer to the edge of crying. “Hon? You okay?” Cas asks.

“Fine,” Dean answers, but his voice cracks and he’s blinking away tears.

“Dean.”

“I—I can’t…” He wags his finger between the two of them as his eyes spill over. “It’s so hard, it’s so much, I...I can’t…”

Cas feels gutted. “What?” he asks, panicked. “You can’t...us? You...what?”

“Every day, I...and it’s so much, I dunno how I can…”

Dread curdles in his stomach. “Are you fucking serious?” he asks, quiet but frantic. “Are you...are you breaking up with me?”

Dean stares at him, unmoving, unblinking.

Dread turns to white-hot agony, filleting him with a blade of anger. “Are you fucking serious?” he yells. Cas shakes; his fists clench. “You’re leaving me?” When Dean says nothing, mouth agape, Cas stops thinking. He just feels, and the words, uncensored, follow.

“Fuck you, Dean, goddamnit!” he screams, pushing away from the table to stand. “Has all this been a game to you? Did you get into this with me just to fuck me, to live out some fantasy? Was I your gay experiment? Did I not cut it for you? Was my dick too short? My ass not tight enough? Well? Which is it?”

Dean shakes his head. “No, it’s not...It’s you, and me, and…Oh, Cas, I can’t...” He trails off, wagging his finger between them again before he leans on his elbows and weeps. 

For a moment he wants to reach out and comfort Dean, until he realizes what he just said—It’s you and me. Clarity punches him in the face, numbing it like that one time Buck Fleming nailed him with a lacrosse ball to his nose. It takes him a moment to move. “Oh God,” he mewls. “You’re still married to her. I’m the other woman.” He paces the kitchen, avoiding his dog’s concerned brown eyes and attempts to interact. “You...you still love her...you’re never going to leave her.” Cas wipes furiously at his eyes, but the tears won’t stop; they burn and itch and he’s so pissed, so pissed. Or he wants to be, at least, but the truth is that he’s so much more than anger could ever encompass. He’s dying inside. 

Cas turns his head to the ceiling, his eyes roaming the grease spots and water stains. “I fucking hate her,” he rasps, trembling all over. “I hate her, because she’s beautiful and perfect and...and because she gets to have you and I don’t. I can’t compete with her, not even when she’s dead, for fuck’s sake!”

Dean stands. “It’s—it’s not, Cas, it’s...I can’t—”

“You could’ve told me a lot sooner that you were done with me.” He paces a few more times before meeting Dean’s eyes. “You could’ve told me before all the sex and the coming out to my parents and the house and the art and the stupid health shakes and the baring my soul shit! How could you do this to me?” He folds into himself and sobs as his heart falls out of his body, limp and lifeless on the floor. He almost collapses right next to it. He wants to vomit. Instead, he straightens and screams, “How could you do this to me? You let me fall in love with you!

His own voice echoes in his ears, though otherwise the world feels muted. Dean doesn’t move; his face is some caricature of grief, like a tragedy mask. But what the fuck gives him the right to grieve this? This is his choice. “Get out,” Cas whispers. He stumbles on shaky legs to his bedroom, where he fits his feet roughly into socks and sneakers. When he returns, Dean hasn’t moved. Cas takes Goose’s leash and harness from the wall. He readies Goose without a word and closes the door behind him, leaving Dean alone in his kitchen. He’s not sure why he didn’t insist he leave, or why he didn’t haul him out bodily himself. Maybe he didn’t really want him to leave. Maybe he just hoped it was all a nightmare. Maybe he hoped Dean would change his mind, that they would work it out somehow, that he would magically love Cas the way Cas loves him. He thought he did, just last night. Just this morning. 

When he returns from his run, Dean is gone.

Chapter Text

Dean is a dead man even as his lungs expand, even as his blood flows, even as his heart beats. He must be dead, because he feels nothing. Or, to be more precise, he feels everything, which overwhelms his senses to the point of numbness.  

It was that damn phone call that set everything in motion.

Dean had been feeling shaky for a while. Sam’s grief about his breakup and his children was triggering and exhausting, even though he knew Sam had every reason to grieve. His brother’s admission that he grieves what he never had got to him, for many reasons. He felt sad for his brother, of course, but he also felt hurt that Sam never shared the pain of losing their mother with him, a pain they had in common, and angry that Sam knew what grief could do to a person and still was a dumb fuck about how he treated Dean after Miss died. But it was what he said in that phone call that shook him to his core.

He was woken by his brother’s distinctive ringtone that Saturday night that he spent with Cas, after the food fight and making love. What a night that had been. Dean felt centered and whole for the first time in a while, and it was all because of Cas, because of what they shared. He almost silenced the phone without answering it, but because Sam was calling and he was supposed to be at a buddy’s house, Dean though it might be serious, so he picked up.

“Hello?” he whispered, leaving the room as quietly as he could.

“It’s fucking baaaaad,” Sam droned. Drunk. Great.

“What’s bad, bud?”

“Jess wants to get back together. For real. Real real.”

That was the first Dean heard of that development. “Sam, that’s awesome!”

“Yeah, but she still wants to have a baby, and I don’t wanna have a baby anymore, and if I don’t want one we’re gonna be done. It’s a dealbak—a dealbreaker.”

Dean’s brow furrowed. “You don’t want a baby anymore?”

“They diiiiieeee,” Sam moaned before making some disgusting noises. Dean held the phone away from his ear until they ceased.

“They don’t all die, Sammy. I still think Jess could have a healthy pregnancy, and if she can’t, you guys can adopt. Somehow you guys can raise a child, and—”

“Nooooo, that’s wooorse!”

Pausing to make sure he heard correctly, he said, “Raising a child is worse than a miscarriage?”

“Yeees, don’t you get it? You should get it.”

“No, Sammy, I don’t get it.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. 

“Dean,” his brother whispered, as if telling him some sort of big secret, “If you raise them, you get to know them.”

“Well, yeah.” 

“It makes it worse when they die!”

Sighing, Dean said, “Listen, Sam, I know your experience proves otherwise, but the truth is that kids don’t usually die. You’re probably gonna die before them. Most people die when they’re old.”

“Miss didn’t.”

That one hurt. “No, she didn’t, but that was an accident.”

“You don’t know, Dean. You don’t know. Like, Jess could die. Cas could die. You want Cas to die? You love Cas, a lot. Cas could die tomorrow. Or it could be worse. Cas could die, like, ten years from now, or twenty. You know him all that time, like, you love him all that time and then poof! Gone. And it’s like, you already did that and it almost killed you, dude. Like, same thing here. I’m already fucked up ‘cause I lost two kids. Can’t imagine losing another, ‘specially one I get to know. Scary to love someone so much and then...then lose them. Doesn’t it scare you? Like, how do you do that?”

“You make the decision to live again,” Dean answered, though his voice shook and he didn’t quite believe the words. Deciding once had been hard enough.

“Yeah, only to be stabbed in the heart again...stupid…why...” Sam faded, likely falling asleep or too intoxicated to finish his thought. When Sam didn’t answer after Dean called his name, he figured it was the former and hung up. 

He crawled back into bed with Cas, but he couldn’t sleep. Staring at his prone form stretched over the mattress, his throat tightened. He couldn’t lose Cas. He just couldn’t. Yet he knew, more than most, that death is unstoppable.

He got up and paced the living room, standing and sitting in turn as he tried to rationalize the mess that Sam had made of his emotions. He knew that Cas probably wouldn’t die any time soon. But he knew he could, and Sam was right that Missy’s death nearly killed him. Could he do that again? With Cas, who yes, Dean loved just as much as his wife? And could he do it after being with Cas for years and years, maybe more years than he got with Miss?

He finally slunk into bed around 4:00 a.m. after thinking for much too long, hoping that the light of day would calm him and make the panic stop. 

The panic didn’t stop. It grew. It grew bigger when Cas snuggled into his arms in his sleep and Dean held him, blinking away pained tears. It grew bigger when Cas woke him with a kiss to the forehead and a stroke of his hair, so much affection in those tiny touches that he would miss terribly if Cas was gone. It grew bigger still when Cas talked about the little, everyday things, things that would build between them with every passing day, every passing year, until he had to face the mountain of little things all alone, no one to share them with, no one to remember them with, the lone holder of their shared history. The panic became huge, Dean knew, because the love was huge, and thus all he had to lose was huge, too. He wanted him so much, so badly, and he wanted him forever, and he wasn’t naïve, not anymore. No one is promised forever. No one is promised anything. 

He couldn’t, he realized as the panic reached a fever pitch. He couldn’t lose Cas. He’d survived Miss, but he didn’t think he would survive Cas. Not with everything they’d already shared, and everything to come—a house they already loved, kids he knew they both wanted, new things they’d discover, every day a day he fell in love with Cas that much more. Sam was right. It would make it so much worse, yet he didn’t want to lose Cas. He couldn’t, and he didn’t want to. But he didn’t know how to stop the panic, the pain. He didn’t know how to stop death. He was so, so scared.

He didn’t know how to say all of that when they had their fight. Words wouldn’t come, no matter how much he tried. He couldn’t tell Cas that there was so much between them that the thought of losing him was overwhelming him.

Then Cas assumed he wanted to break up. At first he was stunned, and then he didn’t know what to do. Try to explain? Take the out? Would it be easier to leave now, before it really hurt?

Joke’s on him, because it hurt anyway, and still does.

The worst part of it all wasn’t when Cas accused him of using him for experimental sex, or of Dean making Cas “the other woman,” or even when he said he hated Miss. The worst part was when he said that Dean let Cas fall in love with him. Cas loves him, and he doesn’t think Dean loves him back because Dean was frozen with fear, and love, and shock, and he couldn’t get his goddamn brain and mouth to fucking work

It’s Sunday, exactly one week after what Dean assumes was a breakup. Sam comes to Dean’s house with Benny, both uninvited. “Go away,” he mumbles, his memory foam mattress and the pillow atop his head muffling the words.

“Dean, you’ve been MIA for days. We’ve been texting, Dad and Kate and Adam have been, everyone in AIG has been, and you’re not answering anyone. Cas isn’t answering anyone, either. What is going on?” Sam asks.

“On vacation.”

“From life?”

“Yes.”

Benny gently lifts the pillow off his head. “Brother, what’s goin’ on? Somethin’ happen with you an’ Cas?”

“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Oh shit, what happened?” Sam asks, turning Dean over. “You stink.” He waves his hand near his nose. “Whose shirt is that?”

“Cas’.” He never gave him back his That’s a horrible idea shirt after they fought and he flung it in the hibiscus shrub. 

“Don’t do this to yourself again.”

Dean sits up and yells, “I’ll do what I damn well please! ‘Sides, this is your fault for getting into my damn head!”

“The hell are you talking about?”

“You know what? Fuck you.”

“Hey, I don’t even—”

“Guys,” Benny, the voice of reason, grounds them, planting thick hands on their shoulders. “Let’s get a beer or somethin’, calm down.”

“Don’t got any.”

“Well, we’ll see whatcha got, then.” Benny leaves and Sam, wisely, follows. “The hell, Dean? What is oat milk?” he hears from the kitchen.

That pulls a little smile out of Dean, followed by a tightening of his throat and tears clawing at his eyes. Cas would totally make fun of him for his “plant milk” (“Plants don’t create milk, Dean”), yet would go along with it while also making sure Dean balanced the oat milk and salads with some bacon and pie. Not that he’s eating much of anything lately—he doesn’t even know how old the milk is, and his salad stuff is probably rotting. He wanders into the great room reluctantly, where Sam and Benny are already seated with glasses of ice water. He flops onto the couch, a plain thing that still cost way more than it should. 

“Now, why is this whole thing Sam’s fault?” Benny asks. 

“Because he got those stupid ideas in my head, all those—”

“What ideas?”

“About losing someone being even more painful the more you get to know them.”

“What? When did I say that?” Sam interjects.

Dean tells him the entire story of the drunken call, his freakout, and the blowout. 

Sam admits, “Shit. I don’t remember any of that conversation.”

Dean shakes his head as he wipes a tissue across his eyelids. It feels like sandpaper across his thin, irritated skin. “Well, I sure as hell do. Fucking sucked. And now I’ve lost the man I love over it.”

“You could get ’im back, brother. That man loves you, too. I’m sure he’d understand that you were scared.”

“But I’m still scared, Benny. I can’t—I love him so much. I—I don’t know how to not be scared of losing him. Death is unstoppable, man.”

They sit silently until Sam asks, “Have you talked to Dad?”

He’d thought of talking to his father many times, but never screwed up the courage to do it. Dean isn’t great with words, and his father isn’t, either. He knows how painful the loss of a spouse is, and he never wanted to make his father relive it, especially not when he’s moved forward and is happy. Besides, he wasn’t that great at dealing with the grief thing when Dean was having a tough time, wanting him to get over it as much as Sam wanted him to. “No.”

“He might be able to help. I mean, he’s been through it too, and—”

“Nope, nope, nope. Drop it.”

He kicks them out shortly thereafter, citing “plans.” They don’t need to know that his plans are to stare at Cas’ picture and cry.

On Monday morning, he can’t ignore work any more. He put off all of his responsibilities for a week, and despite the fact that he’s a shell of himself, he has to do what he has to do. The feeling and the pep talk he gives himself both feel hauntingly familiar. He runs through his old routine—exercise, shake (well, just milk, as the produce was questionable), and his suit. He needs coffee, he decides, and drives over to Wing and a Prayer to grab a decaf. He only realizes what he’s doing when he walks in the door and sees Alfie at the counter. “Shit.”

“What is ‘what my brother and his dumbass boyfriend both look like’? Correct? Great. I’ll take Idiots in Love for $1000, Alex.”

“Gabe.” He looks down at Gabriel’s hand, which is clutching his bicep. 

“That’s me.” He drags Dean to the group meeting room and slides the panel doors shut, then draws him further into the back.

“Gabe, I—”

“Did you actually break up with him, or is he being overdramatic?”

“I—I didn’t, actually. I never said that, I just—didn’t not say that.”

A confused sneer alights on Gabe’s face. “Well, that was clear as mud. Do you love him?”

“Yeah, of course I do. I—”

“Then what the hell are you guys doing?”

“I don’t know, Gabe, I don’t—”

“Well, you sure as hell better figure it out, because this shit?” He turns Dean around to see a large canvas. It’s smeared with the same red, black, brown, and yellow colors that the painting on Cas’ “sorry I’ve been an asshole” cards was, the painting that Cas said scared him. “This shit I am not doing again with him. Not over a stupid misunderstanding because you can’t use your damn words. Figure your shit out.” He walks away in a huff as Dean stares at the painting and swallows back the bile that’s creeping into his throat.

They don’t figure their shit out, because Dean still can’t get his stupid brain to form the words he wants to say and, worse, doesn’t think that Cas will listen, anyway. And besides that, he’s still scared out of his mind that death will take his love, just like it did once already.

Friday is the second anniversary of Missy’s death, and his plan for the day is to wallow. What surprises him is that he doesn’t end up wallowing about her. He tries. He pulls out albums and thinks about the things they did together. He does cry over her a little. But his mind floats back to Cas, and he cries a lot more.

During one of these crying jags, he’s interrupted.

“We’re going for a ride, Champ,” John says without preamble (or even knocking) when he shows up after lunch (or after the lunch hour, anyway; Dean didn’t actually eat lunch). Dean grumbles but complies, though he refuses to change out of Cas’ t-shirt and the basketball shorts he’s been wearing when he’s not working, merely slipping a beat-up pair of Tommy Hilfiger flip-flops on his feet. His dad tosses him his keys. “You drive. Show me those places you’re working on.”

It’s nice to drive the Impala. It’s John’s baby, and Dean still hopes it’ll be his someday. He thought maybe after high school graduation, and then again when he got married, but no dice. He figures now it’ll be when his father dies. They drive out to Garth’s project, where he shows him several homes he’s decorated. His dad tells him he’s done a great job, and he seems genuinely impressed by Dean’s work. His father has never been one to talk much about feelings, so when he tells Dean how proud he is of him, it feels like a great accomplishment. His heart swells at the approval, though it shrinks immediately when he thinks about how proud Cas was of him, too.

They grab coffee at the shop down the street, then John takes over the wheel. He has no idea where they’re going...until he does. “No, Dad.”

“Son—”

“I can’t go there. It’s not...it’s not gonna be mine.” His eyes well up and he squeezes them shut. 

John pulls in front of the decommissioned church. “What happened?”

Figuring Sam told him anyway, Dean spills everything—not just about that horrible fight, but about the stress with Sam, about his love for Cas and how scared he is to love him the way he does, and about his fear that Cas will die. His father listens without interruption, and then there’s silence before he pats Dean’s knee and steps out of the car. Dean follows him into the backyard. They sit on a low stone wall surrounding a raised flower bed.

“I love Kate like that,” John says. Dean turns to face him, but doesn’t know what to say. After a pause, he continues, “Your mother’s death was the worst thing to ever happen to me. The only thing that I could imagine being worse is losing one of you boys. Over time, I healed, though you never really get over it, do you?” 

Dean’s lips twist in resigned agreement, but the petty, hurt part of him can’t help but say, “You seemed to think I could. After Miss died.”

“I know. I didn’t handle it well. It was...I just hated seeing you suffer, and I was trying to break through to you, tell you that life wasn’t hopeless, you could still have a good life, even be happy again. Just...didn’t have the words, I guess.”

Dean snorts. “Yeah. I come by that honestly.” 

Father and son share a rueful smile. “Sorry about that.”

“S’alright.” 

“I was afraid, too, that you were gonna slip back into yourself and stop talking, like you did after Mom died for a while. Better to have you pissed at me than silent.”

Dean stares at him. “I did that? I don’t remember.”

“You did.”

It explains a lot about his sudden inability to find the words with Cas, he thinks. “Huh.”

John nods, then continues his previous train of thought. “Anyway. Your mom died and I thought that would be it, until I met Kate. Meeting Kate was the best and worst thing. I fell pretty hard. I’d been alone a long time, and she’s...well, she’s great. You know. Anyway, I fell in love with her, and it was fantastic until I realized it was just as likely that she’d die of an aneurysm as it was for your mom. I almost ended it, because I didn’t think I could go through the grief again, or put you guys through it, and I thought it might be easier to be alone. But my father set me straight. Know what he told me?”

Dean shakes his head.

“Told me I was being a stupid son of a bitch,” he laughs. “Told me that I was choosing a life of misery, and asked me why the hell I would do that. ‘Life’s shitty enough,’ he said, ‘and you wanna go and make it worse?’ He said that maybe it would’ve been different ‘if you hadn’t gone and fallen in love with her already, but now that you did, you’re gonna be more miserable if you leave.’”

“Boy, was he right,” Dean mumbles. They’ve been apart less than two weeks, and Dean has only felt excruciating pain. “I think it’s worse than death,” he admits. “I don’t remember grieving like this before.”

“Maybe it is, in some ways. You can’t control death, and it’s permanent, so you’re forced to face that reality. This, you can control, at least your side of things, and he’s right there, so close. You can have a different reality, but you’re choosing not to.” Dean follows his father’s eyes to the house. “I’ll tell you the truth, okay? You’re not gonna stop being scared that he’ll die. You won’t. But is your happiness worth the fear? That’s what you gotta ask yourself. It’s worth it, for me. It’ll hurt like hell if she goes first, but I know it would hurt more if I’d decided not to be with her. If she’s going to die first, she’s going to die first, and that won’t change whether I’m with her or not. I just know that I would’ve regretted it if she died and I wasn’t with her, if I hadn’t spent all the time I could with her.”

Those words ring in Dean’s mind that night as he lies alone in his empty bedroom. Ordinarily, when the feelings are so huge, he’d talk to his best friend. His best friend would get it and would know just what to do, or would at least stumble along with him. But Cas is his best friend, and he can’t find the words. So he talks to his other best friend. “Miss, what do I do?” he asks the darkness. “I screwed up big time. What the fuck do I do? How do I talk to him?”

There’s no answer, but he feels driven to scroll through the Adventures in Grieving Instagram page. He hasn’t looked at it since their split. 

It’s dark. Every single picture is dark. Things like “Whoever said ‘tis better to have loved and lost is a fucking liar,” a cartoon of a man clinging to the left side of a grave that looks like a marital bed (meant to be Dean’s side, he guesses, since that’s his usual side and he knows Sylvie slept on the right side), and that same painting he saw in the group room, getting darker and darker each time, fill the page. He hugs his phone and stares into the dark. The tears won’t come this time; instead, a choking numbness settles in his body, forcing his eyes closed.

“Fuck, Miss,” he wails, his near-whisper loud in the emptiness, “I wanna see him. Got no idea what I’d say, but I wanna go over there and fling open the damn door and hold him and never let him go. If I thought he’d answer, I’d march right up to the door and—” Dean stops and sits up, the oppressive weight on his chest and mind suddenly buoyed. “Door. I can open the door. Holy shit!” He yanks on the drawer of his nightstand and picks up the picture of him and Miss. “Cas said no wall is unbreachable as long as there’s a door! Thank you, baby!” he cries, kissing it before tucking it away. 

He hardly sleeps, but not because he’s upset. In fact, he’s downright hopeful. When 4:30 comes around, he can’t wait any longer. He gets up and exercises, then showers and makes himself breakfast—Wheat Thins and cheese, two of the few things he has left in the house. He makes a mental note to go grocery shopping. If this goes well, he might just get his appetite back.

To Gabe 6:32am: You gonna be in the shop today? I need to get into the group room without Cas seeing me.

To Dean 6:40am: You’re lucky I am, because I’d strangle you otherwise for waking me on a Saturday. I’m here now. Working on a big order. 

Dean heads to Wing and a Prayer. The shop is just opening its doors. “Cas been here yet?” he asks when he makes eye contact with Gabe.

“Hasn’t been coming for anything in the last couple of weeks, except to paint when I’m not around,” he answers with an arched brow. “What’re you doing?”

“Opening a door. Can I go in?” He gestures to the meeting room.

Gabe shrugs and moves the beads aside to slide the panel doors open. The dark, soul-wrenching canvas is where it was before, toward the back and faced away from the group area. “Thanks, man.” He opens a tube of cornflower blue paint—the same blue he used on his Rolling Stones shirt, he thinks. 

“What are you—Are you gonna paint on his painting?” Gabe asks haltingly. “I don’t know if—”

“Trust me. This is what we do, how we talk. Cas will understand.” 

“Hey, it’s your funeral.” He pauses. “Uh, sorry.” He dusts his hands and backs out of the room, leaving Dean to it. Dean rolls his eyes and turns to the canvas.

His work doesn’t take long, but when he’s finished, he hopes it’ll go a long way toward getting them back where they should be: together. He smiles and snaps a picture. Death may be unstoppable, Dean thinks, but so is love.

Chapter Text

Goose whines as she nudges Cas’ arm. When he moves it off his face, she licks his cheekbone, no doubt tasting a lingering saltiness from his tears. She whines again when he offers no response to her efforts. “Yeah, I know Daddy’s been a miserable fuck. I’m sorry, little gosling.” He rubs her head, which gives her enough hope to crowd into his face and lick at it until he has to pull away from the assault. 

Cas groans as he sits up. Sleeping on the floor is horrid, but his bed and his couch are painful reminders of what he had and he just...can’t, yet. He rolls over and stretches his back. He stands with some effort and shuffles to the bathroom, then takes Goose out to do the same. When he returns, he checks his phone and frowns.

There are several text messages from family and friends about this morning’s AIG Insta post—a post he didn’t make. He opens the app and stares at the new post, just a couple of hours old.

In the middle of his misery, there’s a door. A simple blue door with a gray knob. 

Dean.

His heart jumps and twirls in his chest like an excited child, and his brain reprimands it like a stern parent. How is he supposed to feel about this? What does he do about it? 

He doesn’t know how to respond. So he doesn’t.

The next day, there are three small lines. Noise lines. It’s a knock.

Dean is knocking.

He still doesn’t know how to respond. So he doesn’t.

There’s nothing the next day. But the day after that, there’s another set of lines. Another knock.

The day after that, another set.

The day after that, a person—Dean—curled up on the floor in front of the blue door.

He still doesn’t know how to respond. So he doesn’t. But his heart curls up right next to him and mourns.

His AIG friends, who he’s avoided since his breakup with Dean, kindly and gently offer their support as only they can.

“Ah, you are alive. Get your ass downstairs,” Charlie says when Cas answers her knock at 6:55. “Or meeting is happening up here.” She kidnaps Goose as she strides out, closing the door with a resounding slam. 

Cas sighs heavily as he slips into a pair of TOMS and drags himself downstairs.

He’s confronted immediately with the painting when he enters the room, and he turns on his heels to flee. Balthazar stops him. He’s puzzled by his presence. “The hell?”

“Cas, hear us out.”

Panic twists his gut. “Move.”

“You don’t have to say or do anything,” his longtime, trusted friend says. “But please stay.”

“Please, Cas,” Gabe says from somewhere behind Bal.

“Fine,” he relents, folding his arms. “But if this is some sort of grief intervention shit—”

“Just sit your ass down, Novak,” Cesar pipes up.

Cas scowls at Cesar but sits and takes in the group—there’s everyone in AIG, of course, Bal has stayed, and Gabe is sitting with Rowena and...Anna...and... Mom and Dad. Holy shit. No other additions—though these additions are mind-blowing enough—and one notable absence. Despite the gathering of people who love him, the one he loved— loves —isn’t here. He’s confused by his muddled emotions about it. He tries not to cry yet again.

“So, anyone have anything they want to talk about today?” Charlie asks.

“I do,” Donna says. “I’m really sad about two of my very good friends who are having a hard time in their relationship.”

Cas’ hands squeeze into fists on his lap. “Donna...” he warns.

“Hey, I’m not talking about your grief, I’m talking about mine,” she retorts. “Shut up.”

They have a rule that, while they won’t make anyone talk about anything they don’t want to, anyone else can talk about their own experiences or feelings in relation to that person’s issue. He retreats sheepishly. “Sorry.” 

“Thank you. Now, as I was saying…”

She talks about how their situation is triggering her own insecurities in her relationship with Doug, with whom she’s been having a difficult time recently. Jody and Linda add their feelings about their recent hopelessness in finding new relationships. Rowena and Gabe talk about the stress of watching someone you love suffering, then give the discussion a bright moment when they realize they’re not just talking about Cas and Dean; they tease each other cheekily about their off-the-cuff expressions of love for each other. 

Charlie, in between girlfriends, laments that she “had just started believing in fairy tales because of you guys,” and that she’s saddened and frustrated by Cas’ stubbornness. 

“He hurt me, Charlie.”

“I know, but he’s reaching out to you, Cas. I don’t know about you, but I never take the chance to talk to someone I love for granted.” Cas is reminded of her mother, unconscious for many years before Charlie took her off life support, and feels both guilt and the wisdom of her words. 

They’re all tough to listen to. Cas hates knowing that his situation has caused this sort of grief. The group isn’t done, though. And the toughest ones to hear speak next.

“When you guys came out, you gave me hope,” Max shares. “I know it wasn’t all smooth, but you guys have been so happy together that it inspired me to finally come out to my family, ‘cause I wanted that chance to be as happy as you guys. Didn’t go so well, and now, I just...I thought that it could be okay, that it would be worth it, but now I’m not sure.”

“Oh, Max…” Cas starts, putting his own feelings aside as he remembers how hard coming out to his family was for him. His eyes fall to his family briefly before flitting back to his friend. “Are you open to conversation?”

“Gonna Gump that one,” he answers. “Not today. Soon, though. When there’s less of an audience.”

After several nods and hugs for Max, the room stills until Jess says, “You guys were so happy, and I just feel horrible that you’re hurting so much.”

“And it’s my fault,” Sam adds. The group turns their eyes toward him, waiting. “I said some stupid things while I was drunk. Well, not stupid, exactly, but they messed him up, I guess.”

“What did you say?” Jess asks.

“That I didn’t want kids because I was afraid of them dying,” he explains. “That I was scared to raise them because it would hurt worse if they did. I reminded him of how bad it hurt to lose Miss and how much worse it would be to lose Cas. Stupid.”

How much worse it would be to lose me? Cas thinks as Jess says to Sam, “I didn’t know. Why didn’t you tell me that?”

Sam shrugs. “Guess I didn’t know, either. Not consciously.” He turns to Cas and continues, “You gotta know how much he loves you. Don’t you?”

Cas swallows back tears. He thought he knew, but Dean never said it. Still, if his brother is saying it… He shakes his head and stares at his ink-stained hands, not yet daring to hope.

The room quiets once again.

“You two are me and Jesse,” Cesar says simply, voice soaked with grief. Cas meets his bloodshot eyes. “That’s what gets me. Me ‘n’ Jess, we weren’t much for words, either. I mean, you know, we had to learn to, but we really spoke through action. Believe it or not, as much as it’s hurt sometimes, it’s also been really great to watch you two fall in love. Reminded me so much of us it’s crazy. I guess seeing you guys struggle is makin’ me wanna throttle the both of you, to be honest.” The corner of his mouth ticks into a small, sad smile. “I don't know what happened between you, but the kind of love you have, I just can’t imagine giving it up without a fight. I mean, if Jesse had pulled that shit, I’d’ve kicked his ass. Well, maybe not, because I didn’t get it then. I didn’t appreciate how short life is and how much we have to grab onto all the love and happiness we can and never let go, you know?”

Cas is reminded of conversations he’s had with Dean. One, in particular, stands out, the one they had the morning after Dean showed up at his apartment in the middle of the night. He closes his eyes as the memory floods him:

“If they’re both upset, they should be pulling together, you know?”

“They have each other, Cas. They can at least try to work things out.”

“I hate seeing people just tossing their relationship aside like it’s disposable. If they knew...how precious that is to have....”

“Cas, I’d kill to have someone to fight with. If I had that someone, I’d go to the ends of the Earth to make things work. They love each other. How do you just throw that away?”

“We aren’t made like that, are we?”

We aren’t made like that. That’s what he told Dean. Maybe the door he painted is Dean’s way of going to the ends of the Earth. 

“Parents hurt when their children are hurting,” Cas’ mother says quietly. “I know he hurt you, and I’m not happy with him for that. But you were married, so you know that people who love each other sometimes hurt each other unintentionally. You and Syl had times like that, times of misunderstanding and hurt feelings that you had to work out.” 

Cas nods, remembering. He stares at his knees.

“When you told us about you and Dean, your father and I didn’t know how to take the news at first. We hurt you, and we had to work that out together. And we all did that, even though it was hard, because we love each other. I think you and Dean could do that, too.” Cas looks up as his mother sniffles. “We wanted you to be happy, and you were. You came back to life with him.” Cas sniffles along with his mother as Anna and his father nod in agreement. 

“I’ve seen you hurt like this, darling,” Bal says gently, grasping Cas’ forearm and rubbing his thumb across the skin. “I know he hurt you, but I think you’re hurting more because he’s gone, and even more because you want him back but you’re afraid to take the risk. Castiel, darling, you can run, but you can’t hide. You know that. That’s why you started this group, isn’t it? To remember how to live? To stop hiding? You have the choice to live, Cas. So does he. Maybe you need to remind each other.”

Cas can’t find the words to express his grief, his fear, his gratitude to everyone. “Knew you assholes were doing a grief intervention,” he grumbles instead, to laughter. 

They move on to discuss an adventure someone’s asked for, but he doesn’t know what or who or where or when. He only knows that Dean is a few brushstrokes away. He crawls out of his seat and to the canvas, where he curls up just as Dean is in the painting. His fingers caress the bent figure. He hears Charlie’s voice drawing nearer. “And who is able and available to go on this adventure?” she asks as she lowers herself next to him, her small hand rubbing circles on his sweaty back. Several more join it on his back, his hair, his arms and legs. It’s just like last year when they supported him the night before the first anniversary of Syl’s death—the same anguish, the same support of people who understand and love him. They were there for him when all he wanted to do was push them away, and they’re here for him now. He raises his hand to join the adventure, not knowing what he’s agreeing to but knowing that he will be there for them, just as they are for him. 

The night ends with hugs, kisses, and a brush in Cas’ hand. In the quiet that follows, with a cup of tea and a plate of sliced apples, Cas paints his answer to Dean—himself, looking at the door with hesitation—and posts it to AIG.

In the morning, he’s working when he sees Dean’s reply: nothing has changed, except Dean’s hand is now resting against the door. His breath catches in his chest. Dean responded. He could be downstairs right now. The paint looks wet. 

That night, Cas paints himself a step closer.

In the morning, Dean’s face is turned up. There are tears dripping from closed eyes.

Cas paints himself another step closer. 

Dean stands and stares at the door.

Cas steps closer.

Dean knocks.

Cas leans against the door but doesn’t open it. Tears stain his cheeks. 

Dean leans on the other side, mirroring Cas, his hands pressed together as if praying or pleading. There’s a heart painted on his sleeve.

Cas paints a small window in the door, large enough only for his eyes. He looks through it at Dean.

There is no answer the next morning. Cas isn’t sure what it means. He thought they were having a conversation, of sorts, and it’s Dean’s turn to speak. He waits. 

The following morning, he sees the reason for the delay. The scene is completely different, at least on Dean’s side of the door. In the background, left of center, is a woman with red-blonde hair facing away from the rest of the scene, her head turned toward a blue sky. She sits on the ground, surrounded by flowers. Miss. In the foreground, also on the left but much larger, a little church—their house—is bathed in sunlight. Two large and two small chairs sit, glasses of lemonade and brightly-colored sippy cups at each, along with a dog bowl in the grass. On the right, a gravestone stands in dark shadows under a tree. In the middle is Dean, arms stretching toward the door and the idyllic scene next to it but caught in a dark, ugly tornado, the tail of the tornado digging the grave it clearly wants to pull him into. The word FEAR is woven through the swirls of the twister.

Cas scrutinizes the scene. He thought he knew why Dean broke it off, thought that maybe Dean couldn’t let go of Miss. But perhaps it was something else entirely. He’s not heading toward her in the picture. He’s heading toward their home, their chairs with the smaller chairs. And fear is pulling him away. But fear of what? Fear of losing Cas, as Sam suggested? But he pushed me away! Fear of his own death? Fear of...he can’t wrap his mind around it. But one thing is for sure—he can’t not answer, because Dean looks terrified, and he’s reaching for Cas. 

He doesn’t wait until night. He runs downstairs, weaving through a busy Thursday morning crowd in only a pair of running shorts. He closes himself up in the meeting room and picks up a brush, washing over everything on his side of the door with sunrise colors: yellow, pink, orange, blue. Promise and hope. He opens the blue door with the gray knob. He places himself on the other side of it, on Dean’s side. Biting his lip, he ponders one last addition and finally decides to add it: a rope tied between Cas’ hand and Dean’s, a red heart dangling from it like a pendant. It’s a risk, sending Dean his heart once again. But what is life—what is love—if not a risk? He snaps a photo and posts it.

Sending out the artistic lifeline makes Cas brave enough to go to AIG tonight (without Charlie coming by to harass him about it). Maybe he’ll even talk about his grief about Dean and the uncertainty of their relationship. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll get the balls to call him. They need to talk. He throws on a clean pair of shorts and his Great things never came from comfort zones t-shirt he wore when Dean skydived, the day he kissed him for the first time. He hugs himself before slipping his shoes on and trotting downstairs.

His friends greet him enthusiastically. He’s missed them so much; just being in their presence soothes his tattered heart. Nobody comments on the painting that still faces the group, having been added to but never moved after last week’s group, but he notices that each of them glances at it and smiles. At 7:00, everyone takes their seats.

“Hey,” Cas starts the meeting. “Thanks for being patient with me. I—” Cas stops at the wide eyes of his friends and the noise of the beads parting behind him. He knows without looking who is here. His heart beats wildly; his breath is shallow. Dean steps in and sits across from him, clean and neat and far too beautiful. Anger sparks in his chest—has all this been some sort of manipulation? Is Dean not nearly as miserable as Cas thought?—until he meets his eyes, which are tired and dull, much like the first time he met him. There’s something else, though, something beyond words...a feeling there. It echoes in Cas, and his anger is extinguished, replaced with apprehension—What will happen now? Why is Dean here?—and a bit of hope. “Um, anyway, welcome everyone. Does anyone have anything they’d like to talk about or share?”

“I do.” Cas is sure his heart will give out as Dean fiddles with the hem of his shirt. “I wanna talk about Miss.” 

And there goes his heart on the floor. Splat. It’s lived there a lot recently. He wonders if he should buy it a second home there. Despite his feelings, though, this group is first and foremost for its members to express whatever they need to, and Dean is no exception to that. “Of course. Please. The floor is yours.”

Dean clears his throat and sighs. “Most of you don’t know much about Miss. I’ve kept pretty mum on her. Um, so Miss was my wife. That you all do know. She was my high school sweetheart. We got married right after she got out of college, and we were married for four years. She was my best friend, my confidante, and I loved the hell out of her. She knew me in a way no one else did. I couldn’t picture life without her.”

Cas swallows the cocktail of pain, empathy, fear, and sorrow in his throat. 

“And then I had to, ‘cause she died. She was texting, and she drifted into another lane of traffic, just enough.” He stops and breathes, then continues, “It was the worst thing to ever happen to me. I became someone else after that, someone no one else recognized—not even me. I figured I’d always be that person. And then my brother came along and gave me a stupid flyer for a stupid grief group where I’d have to talk about stupid feelings.” Soft chuckles make their way around the room. “But to get my brother off my back, I came. It was just gonna be once, and then I was gonna go back to being who I was, because I thought it was easier to be in pain than to heal, you know? But guess what? Once you experience something, you can’t go back to being who you were. It’s true for bad stuff like the death of a loved one, but it’s true of good stuff, too. Here I had something I hadn’t had before: people who got me, people who knew that you don’t get over it and you don’t go back to being who you were. But even then, I was gonna ditch it. And no offense, but I probably would have if not for the dick who made me eat bacon again.”

Both Cas’ eyes and his heart abandon their focus on the floor and focus on Dean instead.

“He made me bacon, and he made me salsa chicken, and he gave me a nickname and we had breakfast on Sundays in crappy clothes. He talked to me about everything except grief. He let me show him how to make healthy shakes and he actually drank them. He made fun of my texting and he helped me with my family, and he called me on my shit and we did art together. He let me change his life. And he changed mine. He became my best friend, my confidante. And then I fell in love with him.”

Their eyes meet steadily. Cas’ heart, as if strengthened by the news, leaps from the floor and into his hand. Cas grips it tightly. Not yet, he tells it as it wiggles.

“And then Sam and I talked, and I got scared. Not scared about loving a man, and not scared that he wasn’t Miss, because he couldn’t be and I didn’t want him to be. I got scared because I had everything I wanted with him, and I could have so much more with him than I ever got to have. I loved him in a way that I couldn’t before, a way I never could have loved Miss. And I thought of how much it would hurt if he died...if he was...was ripped from me, and I just...I...well, this happened. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. All I had was this fear that beat me and dragged me around. It was all I could see, all I could feel.” He gathers a breath. “We had it so good. So...yeah.

Dean’s voice catches on a sob; Cas presses his hand against his mouth to restrain his. 

“I love you, Cas,” Dean rasps. “We haven’t dated that long and I was afraid it was too soon to feel as much as I do, but I should’ve told you anyway. Never been good with words, though, I never… I couldn’t explain it, how much l love you. Didn’t wanna scare you off. You were with Syl forever, and I was with Miss a long time, and... We’ve both lost so much, been through so...so much. I was terrified to lose you. Honey, I love you so much now; I couldn’t imagine the pain of losing you after falling in love with you more and more every day. Because I do—I fall in love with you more every day.”

For a few moments they simply stare at each other as tears slip down their faces. 

“When I freaked out I—I didn’t know how to say everything. It’s like my mind just didn’t know words anymore. I just had all these feelings, and I—how do you describe a feeling, you know? Anyway, I’m so sorry. I’m still scared that you’ll die before me...but I already know the pain of losing you, and it’s bad. It’s so bad. I can’t—I don’t want to be on this adventure without you. Not if I can have you. Even if it might hurt in the end.”

A million words, a billion feelings...and the only thing Cas can do is stare.

“Say something,” Dean pleads.

“You hurt me,” he manages.

“I know, sweetheart, and I’m so sorry.”

“You broke up with me.”

Dean shakes his head. “I didn’t. I just...I didn’t disagree.”

“You—what? Yes, you did.”

“No, you assumed I did, but Cas, I hardly said two words. I couldn’t.”

“But you—you did, you must have—”

“No, I—actually, you sort of broke up with me.”

Indignantly, Cas snorts, “What? No.”

Dean rolls his shoulders. “I was fucked up, you asked me if I was okay, and I’d gotten almost no sleep and I was trying to figure out how to tell you about what Sam said and how it fucked me up in the head but my goddamn mouth wouldn’t work, and then you freaked out and it freaked me out, and you asked me if I was breaking up with you and I fuckin’ froze and then you started yelling.”

“You said it was about you and me!”

“I didn’t—”

“You did!”

“Well, I didn’t mean it like that! Not like us us, I meant, like bigger, like, I’m so fucking in love with you I don’t know what to do with it all us, you know? But I couldn’t explain it, and then you went off about being the other woman and then you were crying and you told me you loved me and that just...just made it even worse because...because knowing you loved me back and that I could lose that, too, I just...I was petrified, like, literally. And then you told me to get out.”

“That wasn’t—I didn’t break up with you,” Cas asserts, then adds weakly, “but I can see how you thought I did.”

“And I didn’t break up with you,” Dean replies softly. “But, yeah, totally see how you thought so, when I didn’t say anything.” He stands and wanders to the painting, tracing the tornado. “But maybe part of me wanted you to think so, to make it easier on me. Pacify the fear, you know? But it didn’t pacify it. Just gave me different fears, and it hurt so fucking bad not to have you in my life. I want you in my life, Cas.” He turns away from the painting to face him. “I love you and I want you back.”

Cas’ grip on his heart loosens, but doesn’t release completely. Not yet. “I fly off the handle sometimes,” he admits. “When I’m overwhelmed emotionally. I think you know that. Remember I told you that Syl apologized for her illness? And what I said? I was so fucked up by then, run through the wringer. I loved her so much, more than I could ever express, and that whole experience just crushed me. It was too late; I was losing her, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. So instead of saying what I was really feeling—‘I love you’, ‘I’m scared’, ‘please don't leave me’, ‘I can’t do this without you’—I said ‘fuck you’ like an asshole, and then she...you know. This, um, our situation...reminded me of that. I was losing you, and it hurt so much, and I couldn’t think, either. All I could do was feel, and these words just came out of my mouth. If I could’ve thought it through, maybe this wouldn’t’ve happened.”

“Words aren’t our forte,” Dean shrugs with a tiny, wry uptick of his lips. He faces Cas squarely, planting his feet firmly to the floor. “I’m gonna fuck up again, probably. There are gonna be times when I stumble, and I’m gonna need you to help me up. I'm scared of how much I love you, how much I want you in my life, of what could happen, but I want you. Let me show you. Please.”

Cas stands and steps outside of the group circle, but hesitates. “I’m scared, too.”

“Leap of faith.” Dean’s eyes shine as he takes a large leap forward, then holds out his arms. 

Dean is wearing a t-shirt Cas has never seen that says Kiss slowly, Play hard, Forgive quickly, Take chances, Give everything, And have no regrets. Cas purses his lips and nods. Good advice, he thinks, then breaks into a smile and a run. He leaps into his boyfriend’s arms. “Leap of faith,” he whispers as their foreheads meet. Dean smiles through his tears. “But hey, you need to know something.”

Dean’s smile fades a little. “What?”

As sincerely as he can muster, he gazes into his boyfriend's eyes and says, “You ever do this to me again, Vice, and you won’t have to worry about me dying first, because I’ll kill you.” 

Dean and everyone else burst into laughter, and Cas grins before pressing his lips to Dean’s. His heart, finally free, snuggles next to Dean’s, where it belongs.

Chapter Text

More than most, Castiel and Dean know that life is short. So they don’t waste any more time.

As soon as the last group member leaves, Cas collars Dean and plunges his tongue into his mouth. Hands claw at his back, and Dean’s pretty sure Cas is going to take him right here and now as he grinds into Dean’s crotch. Dean is certain he’ll let him.

“Need you,” Cas’ voice rakes across Dean’s ear, rough and raspy. He bites at his neck and pulls at his shirt until Dean takes the hint and lifts his arms. Cas removes it hastily, then rips off his own shirt before diving back into Dean’s mouth, clashing their teeth in his zeal. Dean moans when his boyfriend’s fingers grip his hair so tightly it tingles his scalp and gasps when those fingers pull his head back after some scorching tongue action. “Never again, unless you’re leaving me for good,” Cas pants. “I cannot do this again.” His tone is stern but his voice wavers. Dean has never seen Cas so vulnerable. 

“Never again, Cas, I swear to you. I swear,” he promises before tugging Cas to him once again. 

They mouth at each other fervently, desperately, until Cas pulls him to the floor, lying him on the dropcloth near their shared canvas. He strips Dean first, then himself, and sits back on his haunches to watch him. Dean’s not sure what the scrutiny is about, but there’s a softness behind it that makes Dean long for the man who is right there. He sits up and onto his knees, then rubs his head along Cas’ shoulder and his hands over every inch he can reach. Cas seems to get the message; he copies Dean’s movements until he lies them down once again, then drapes himself over Dean as if their bodies are one, and yes , that’s just what he wants, what he needs. It’s not even sexual, this touching, though they’re nude. It’s confirmation that they’re alive and here and in this moment together, that they love and are loved in return, that they need to feel that which cannot be adequately described within the limits of verbal language. Dean tries to describe it anyway. “Cas, I...oh God, Cas,” he whimpers as he holds him closer, intoxicated and overwhelmed.

“I know,” he answers. He rolls them and the pressure on their bodies is exquisite; Dean rolls them again and they bump into chairs, so he rolls them back. To an outsider it would look silly, this rubbing and rolling of two grown men with no particular drive toward a goal, but like grieving, love is unique in its expression, and it doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else. 

Though their movements don’t have the goal of sexual release, Dean feels it coming anyway. Cas gasps, and by the look in his eyes, he feels his own. They rut, Cas on top of Dean, until Cas’ breath catches and his release soaks their bellies. The lubrication heightens Dean’s pleasure, and he follows with a choked curse. 

As they bask in the afterglow, a peculiar sensation crawls up from Dean’s gut, through his chest, and into his throat. It’s familiar, but shocking, because it’s out of place. Dean frantically works to slow his breathing as it tightens his throat, then works itself into his nose. He presses his lips together until they whiten, hoping the sensation will be arrested, but to no avail. His eyes flood and his chest hitches despite his best efforts. Why? Why is this happening now? He doesn’t understand, because he has everything he wants—he has Cas. 

Cas turns Dean’s face to his and rests their heads together, not saying a word, as Dean follows up his physical release with an emotional one. When the tears dry and the aching stops, as always happens eventually, Cas kisses him sweetly and smiles. 

“It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?” Cas whispers, resting his hand on Dean’s heart. 

Dean nods and cups his boyfriend’s face. “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

They rub noses and Cas plays with his hair. Dean practically purrs. He’s missed this so much, though it’s only been a few weeks since he had it. “Did you see all the comments on the AIG page?” Cas asks. 

“Not today. When I saw your post I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.”

Cas smiles and brushes his lips against Dean’s. “Be right back.” He returns a couple of minutes later with wet paper towels and his phone. “Sorry. Had to grab these from the bathroom down here. Didn’t want to run upstairs and get Goose’s hopes up.” Dean takes the towels and cleans them both, laying a kiss on Cas’ face with each stroke. It takes much longer because of his distraction, but Dean wants to take as much time loving Cas as he can. Life is short.

After they’re clean and dressed, Cas settles between Dean’s legs and they lean against a support pole to look at the Instagram page together. “Wow. Look at them all,” Dean murmurs against Cas’ temple as he peers at some of the comments over his shoulder:

You have given me so much hope.

I’m cheering for you!

Yes! Get it, boy!

Your love story is beautiful. 

What an adventure!

I get where the other man is coming from. There’s so much fear when you fall in love again, especially when you love someone as much as he must love you. Thank you for sending him the rope.

These have all made me cry, but this one most of all. 

I’m so glad you haven’t given up on each other.

“I’m glad we didn’t give up, too.” 

Cas’ words rumble pleasantly through his chest, but the feeling behind them touches that nerve again. Dean channels that eye-prickling feeling into kisses along Cas’ neck. “I love you,” he whispers when he reaches his ear.

“I love you,” Cas repeats, leaning into Dean’s touch. “I’m never going to stop telling you now.”

“Good. Me neither, sweetheart.” He swallows against the swelling in his throat again and presses his lips to his love’s neck once more.

“Wait until the next painting we give them.”

Dean tilts his head to peer at his boyfriend. “Next painting?”

“Well, we have to tell them what happened next. They’ve been following our story.”

A soft smile alights on Dean’s face. “Weird that they’re following a love story on a grieving page.”

Cas chuckles. “Maybe it should be called Adventures in Love and Grieving. Lot of both happening on there.”

Dean hums in agreement. “So what’s our painting look like now?”

“Hmm. I have some ideas about that.”

Over the next few days they discuss and squabble, add and subtract, until they have the picture they want to present to the world: Two cloud-shaped hearts dotting an otherwise clear blue sky. Family and friends sitting on grassy hills, heart-shaped petals floating in the air around them. A river that intersects the hills, with a basket filled with fears that can be placed in the river to be carried away as needed. Two large chairs, two small chairs, and a dog dish. A house that looks like a church. And Dean and Castiel, front and center where the door was, smiling and gazing at one another. When Cas deems the painting complete, Dean frowns. It doesn’t feel quite complete yet, though he can’t put his finger on it. “Or complete for now, anyway,” Cas says, and that feels better. 

Complete comes three months later. 

It’s December, and they’ve been in the new house for a month. It’s everything Dean ever dreamed of and more: huge workspaces, a gorgeous open concept living area that’s funky and comfortable, four bedrooms, including a master suite they’ve broken in and then some, plenty of bathrooms, including one attached to their suite with a huge shower that Cas insisted on, and a fantastic fenced-in yard, where they’ve already hosted a couple of barbecues. The yard is where Dean spots Cas through the kitchen window when he returns home from a job site; he’s finishing up a Christmas gift for Dad and Kate. Today’s temperature has been typical southern Florida almost-winter—warm, but not excessively so, and now it’s starting to cool off as the sun drops lower. Cas is wearing a pair of beat-up beach shorts and nothing else. Dean breaks into a wide smile at seeing him. He still can’t believe this is his life, can’t believe he almost lost this over words (or lack thereof). They still often communicate without words, but they’ve learned to use their words a lot over the last three months, too. There’s an art to learning someone else, and to learning yourself, and to being together, and Dean thinks they’ve both become pretty good artists in all this. He smiles as he runs to their bedroom to grab Cas a shirt, then makes his way outside.

“Brought you a t-shirt, babe,” he says, startling his boyfriend. “Sorry. Thought you might be getting cold.”

“It’s okay.” Cas turns to take the shirt from him. “Thanks, hon.”

Dean holds it back as he takes in his adorably mussed hair and the flecks of paint across his chest and hands. “Feel free to leave it off, though,” he grins with a wiggle of his brows.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” 

“Yes, yes I would.”

“And who can blame you?” Cas teases, laying affectionate hands on his chest and face as he brings him in for a soft kiss. “Uh, sorry,” he says when he pulls back. 

Dean looks down at the paint on his shirt, then touches the paint on his face. “I liked this, Novak.”

Cas shrugs, his concern forgotten (or at least masked). “I think it’s improved,” he says, staring pointedly at his face. “Your shirt is improved, too.”

“Dick,” he grumbles, shoving Cas lightly. It was the wrong (or maybe the totally awesome right) thing to do.

“It’s like that, hmm?” Before Dean can react, Cas smears his hand onto his palette, then onto Dean’s face.

“Oh, that is it,” Dean retorts. He opens a tube of paint and squeezes a dollop into his hand, then goes on the attack. They chase each other around the yard, shouting and squealing as they play a grown-up game of Tag. Dean finally catches Cas, only for the man to grasp his shoulders and tackle him to the ground.

“I always wanted to cover you with paint,” Cas confesses in a low growl. Dean’s cock immediately takes notice. “I always wanted to get you naked and cover you in all the colors I see in you, all the colors you make me feel.”

There’s a sweet sincerity behind the lust, and that pink champagne feeling that never seems to go away when he’s with Cas bubbles in his chest. “Do it,” he whispers. 

Cas smiles ferally.  Dean is grateful for privacy fencing as Cas strips him bare, then streaks gold, blue, pink, purple, orange, and yellow across his chest and down his arms and legs. It’s strangely erotic, Cas marking him this way as he presses a handprint onto his shoulder, but also intensely intimate as he removes the rest of his clothes and lies himself on top of Dean, transferring the colors onto himself. “You are my sunrise and sunset,” Cas whispers against his ear. He turns Dean’s face to his with a purple finger. “The greatest work of art I will ever have the privilege to call mine.” 

“Cas,” he says, or thinks he does; his lips move but his senses are too full of Cas to really know for sure. He falls into his boyfriend’s eyes, his mouth, his soul, clinging to him as he rocks their bodies together. Release comes with Dean’s hand wrapped around them both, their orgasms nearly simultaneous (and hopefully not too loud, given their location). Their hearts bounce against each other when Cas collapses onto him.

“Fuck,” Cas pants; he pecks Dean’s jaw, then he backs away a few inches. He props himself on an elbow as Dean gazes up at his wide blue eyes. Dean wants to laugh a bit at how Cas is staring at their combined come on their torsos, but any laughter that may have escaped his lips is blocked by the absolutely reverent and lusty look and touch Cas gives him as he streaks his fingers through the mess of come and paint. He swirls color around Dean’s chest, the artist in him perfectly balanced with the awe of a man in love. It makes Dean shiver deliciously. The fear of losing Cas rears its head, as it does sometimes when he’s overtaken by how much he loves him. He sits up and takes Cas’ hands in his, kissing the speckled knuckles.

“So, that was okay?” Dean asks with a teasing grin, trying to balance his sheer joy and melancholy with humor.

“Mmm. A solid six.”

Six?!

“Six million,” Cas clarifies, meeting Dean’s eyes with love and humor dancing in them. “We’re doing that again. With lube close by. And I’m going to lie you on this tarp and stand above you and splatter you with paint and come, and then I’m going to ride you while I spread it all over your body until you come inside me.”

Dean wishes his refractory period was a hell of a lot shorter. “Fuckin’ yeah, babe.”

“Fuckin’ yeah, sweetheart,” Cas grins, then laughs. “With washable paint, though. This is going to be very difficult to get off our skin. And your clothes are ruined.”

Glancing at their joined, painted hands, Dean finds he doesn’t really care too much about any of that. He shrugs to say as much, then kisses Cas’ hands again. He notices a stripe of blue on Cas’ finger, in just the spot that makes it look like a ring. Dean thumbs at it. It doesn’t come off, and that stirs up all kinds of feelings in him. “Looks like a ring,” he murmurs. “Looks...looks good.”

Cas licks his lips; his warm breath washes over Dean’s face. He says nothing, but leans to his right and grabs a tube of paint. Dean’s breath catches as Cas squeezes a small dot onto his finger, then circles Dean’s ring finger in red. “Our love’s been an adventure, hasn’t it?”

“Sure has.” Dean’s eyes roam the art on his finger. 

“Come on another adventure with me.” He nudges Dean’s face up until their eyes lock. “Marry me.”

Stunned, Dean stammers, “M-marry you?”

“I don’t want to waste any more time. I love you, and I want to spend my life with you. Marry me, Dean.”

Everything they need to say is exchanged in a look—all the joy, the fear, the never thought I’d do this agains, the I loved hers, the I love yous. 

“Yeah.” 

“Yeah?”

Dean’s never been more certain. He grins. “Yeah.” 

“Yeah!” Cas squeals and pulls him into a crushing hug. Dean crushes him in return, as happy as he’s ever been in his life. It’s true, what he said months ago: he falls in love with Cas more every day.

“When?” Dean asks when their mouths separate after a hard, laughing kiss. 

“Whenever you want.”

Now, he thinks as he cradles Cas in his arms. “I have an idea,” he says instead.

The next night, they step into Wing and a Prayer, where Gabe is just finishing up filling orders for everyone in the AIG group. Cas asks him to come into the meeting room, a grave look on his face. Dean can hardly keep his own serious look on his. They greet everyone as usual, then Cas asks Charlie to start the group. Good friend that she is, she doesn’t ask questions, maybe assuming that the holidays are getting to Cas. She opens the group with greetings, then asks, “So, does anyone have anything they want to discuss or share?” 

“I do,” Dean says. “I, uh, I’d like to have an adventure. On New Year’s Day, around lunchtime. At the house.”

“Okay. Do you know what you’d like to do?”

“Um, I’ve been thinking about the New Year, and I, uh, I wanna make a resolution. A public resolution.” He doesn’t look at Cas, because his serious demeanor will collapse into a lovesick dopiness if he does. 

“Okay.” She flicks her eyes toward Cas, then back. “And would you like some support?”

“Yes. All of you, please, if possible. This is a really important adventure to me, and I want all of you to witness it, and to have your support.”

“Okay. New Year’s Day, lunchtime-ish, your place. Who’s available and able to support Dean on his adventure?”  

Everyone’s hands go up, even Gabe’s, though he’s not a regular member. 

“Awesome,” Dean says. “Thanks, guys.”

“I’d also like your support with an adventure,” Cas chimes in. Charlie asks him the usual follow-up, and he says, “I want to do something with the wedding rings.” 

Dean chews on his tongue and closes his eyes. To their friends, it might look like he’s stressed about Cas alluding to their former relationships by bringing up the wedding rings, but he knows Cas is talking about their wedding rings, and he’s trying hard to contain himself.

“Okay. What would you like to do, and when and where?”

“New Year’s Day, at our place. Um, and I’d just like to place the rings where they belong. Make a new start.”

“Okay. Well, seems like a formality, but are you all able and available to support Cas on his adventure?”

Again, everyone’s hands go up. 

“Thank you,” Cas says. Dean finally dares to look at him. His mouth spreads into a wide, sparkling grin that turns into a giggle. Dean, already giddy, joins in, and the group catches on.

“Oh my God, you guys are getting MARRIED!” Jody shouts, followed by a high-pitched “Eeeeeee!” he’s pretty sure is from Charlie. The room erupts with cheers and shouts of congratulations, and they’re inundated with hugs and kisses and laughter. Dean melts into it. Unexpectedly, he thinks about Miss, but only for a moment, and only with a smile. 

On New Year’s Day, their home is filled with family and friends. Everyone in AIG is there, with their partners if they have them. Cas’ parents and siblings are there, along with a few supportive aunts, uncles, and cousins. His former in-laws are not there, but did send a card offering their congratulations and apologizing for the bitterness of the past, along with an offer to take them out for dinner after their honeymoon. It’s a start. A woman he hasn’t met is there. She hugged Cas for a long time when she arrived. Bal is there, of course, and another couple of friends who have come back into the fold since Syl’s death, as well as a few friends from his work-related pursuits and Alfie and Mandy from the bakery. Dean’s father and Kate are there, along with Adam and his girlfriend, and Sam is there with Jess. Things are not resolved, but they’re in counseling and have put divorce plans on hold while they try to work things out. His father’s parents are there, but his mother’s are not; they don’t approve, sadly. His mother’s sister is there, though, and that’s comforting. Benny is there with Andrea, and Garth, Bess, and Victor are there, as well as some of Dean’s closer work contacts. Miss’ friend Tonia is there, with her husband and child. Miss’ parents and brother are there, too, having driven from the Panhandle to make it. He hasn’t seen them since the days after the funeral. They’d stayed for about a week after, but had to get home to Tallahassee. Those are the visitors that get to him the most. He presses his lips together. 

“You okay?” Cas asks, squeezing his hand. Everyone is waiting for them to arrive in the backyard to start the ceremony. 

“Yeah. Those are Miss’ parents and brother.” He points them out.

“Ah. That’s Carrie, Syl’s cousin. She was the closest to Syl besides me.” He points to the woman he hugged earlier.

They both take deep, cleansing breaths. Cas breaks first; he blinks tears out of his eyes. Dean laughs as his own come. It only lasts for a moment, and then they’re kissing and swaying in each other’s arms. “I love you,” Dean whispers.

“I love you, too. Let’s have an adventure, okay?”

He pulls back and smiles. “Let’s.”

They walk the path together, taking a large leap when they arrive at their destination. They recite simple vows about commitment and love, knowing just how much is behind the promises they’re making, and say “yeah” instead of “I do.” Soon they’re pronounced husbands by a notary with a thick Southern accent, which makes them smile. There’s not a dry eye anywhere as Castiel James Winchester-Novak and Dean Joseph Winchester-Novak return down the path hand-in-hand as husbands. Bal takes the photos and accuses them of being wilder than the animals he photographs when they cannot take one serious picture; they stick out their tongues at him and Dean dips Cas before kissing him deeply. 

There are, perhaps, a few more tears than one would normally associate with a wedding, from both the new spouses and the guests, but it’s okay with Dean. They’ve all been changed by everything that’s brought them to this point, and the tears are honest. They take a break to change out of their suits (which is regrettable because damn, Cas in a suit) and into shorts and matching black t-shirts that say Let’s have an adventure, and they hold each other as the emotions of the day sink in. 

The most memorable part of the day is when they take a break from the background music and Charlie sets up her karaoke machine. Everyone has a few drinks in them, so the crowd is more enthusiastic about letting go and getting into the fun of singing, either goofily or surprisingly well. 

“We have a gift for you,” Cesar announces as all of their AIG friends stand together. Cas and Dean exchange a curious look. “We’ve been working on this since you guys told us you were getting married, so not very long”—he squints at them—“and we hope you like it. You guys have inspired all of us so much, and we couldn’t be happier for you.” Cas and Dean grin at them as they begin.

It’s a song Dean’s never heard, and Cas doesn’t seem to recognize it, either, but as Cesar sings the first verse, Dean already knows it’s perfect. Like the song says, he thought love was over for him, that his broken heart would never be mended, but Cas came into his life with friendship and understanding. He takes Cas’ hand and they stand, wrapping their arms around each other as Cesar sings:

Love is all around you

Love is knockin' outside your door

Waitin' for you is this love made just for two

Keep an open heart and you'll find love again, I know

The chorus repeats, and Dean sings it to Cas this time, chuckling when he sings the line about the door. It breaks into a soaring electric guitar, which he doesn’t expect, and he laughs when Cas backs out of his arms and plays air guitar. He joins, of course, to cheers. The words pick back up again and the entire group sings to them together, loud and smiling. Dean tugs Cas to their friends, who wrap their arms around the men and sway them. When Cesar sings the last lyric softly, Dean repeats it, just for Cas: 

Love’s gonna find its way back to you, yeah…

I know

Today is proof of that—their family and friends, a smile on his face, his husband Cas—Yeah, I know, for you and for me, he thinks as they’re surrounded by their friends in a circle of love.

Chapter Text

Five years later

Cas sets up for the Adventures in Grieving group. This isn’t an official group, of course—those stopped a few years ago—but rather, their monthly get-together. Usually it’s at someone’s house or a restaurant. Occasionally they even do an adventure. Today, it’s at Cas and Dean’s, and for a very special reason. 

The doorbell rings. “I’ll grab that,” Dean says, grabbing Cas’ ass as he passes. Cas turns; Dean shoots him a smirk and a saucy wink. He shakes his head as he sets out the plates, a grin spreading across his features.

The smell of Chinese food fills the house when Dean returns a couple of minutes later. They set everything out on the long dining table they commissioned from one of Dean’s friends in the industry. Cas thought the living room would be a more casual place for them to gather, but Dean said they can settle there after—he is not risking their peacock blue velvet couch, one of the few things they brought from either of their former homes. Moments later, a familiar, welcome commotion tells them that their friends have walked in. Goose confirms this with happy barking. Excited voices fill the space as the friends greet each other enthusiastically. Dean holds a finger to his mouth with a smile, and everyone lowers their voices to a dull roar. The happy friends grab chairs and plates and elbow each other to get the food they want.

This hustle-bustle is just what Cas wanted when he started AIG. He needed life where there’d been death, hope where there’d been despair, friendship where there’d been isolation and loss. The group gave him all of that and more. Everything has a season, though, and eventually Cas felt the seasons changing.

He was afraid when he first brought up the idea of ending the group, but it seemed that everyone was in a pretty good place to do so. Charlie had a new girlfriend, Thea. Cesar and Joel were going strong. Donna and Doug were going through a divorce, but Donna felt good about it. Jody was dating and looking into foster care. Linda went back to her nursing career. Max graduated with his Master’s degree and was dating a great guy. Rowena was still going strong with her career, and she and Gabe stuck with each other. Their last members, Sam and Jess, weren’t in the group by the time they ended it. Today, Charlie and Thea are married and live even closer to Cas and Dean. Cesar and Joel are married, too, and Joel got Cesar into raising horses. Donna’s happy with a new Doug, and has a great relationship with her current work partner. Jody is still dating and has no interest in getting married again, but she has taken in several foster kids, all teenagers, and loves it. Linda is the head nurse in the maternity unit at the local hospital and is happily single. Max is teaching high school math and is engaged to the same great guy, Caleb. Rowena retired from her career and is now working as a consultant, indulging in her love of the mystical on the side with a little holistic gift and healing shop. She sells some of her items in Wing and a Prayer, which is going strong, and Gabe in turn helps her with her shop. Their romance faded, but they remain great friends. Sam and Jess’ romance faded, too, but with much more upheaval and pain for those involved. Through counseling, they figured out that they wanted different things in life beyond the question of children, and always had. Today, they are close friends. Jess and her fiancé are expecting, and Sam is truly happy for her. Sam is married to a lovely woman named Eileen. The two couples often have dinner together. Cas loves that, several years after starting the group, these people are still some of the best friends he’s ever had, and he’s thrilled about how their lives are turning out. There’s been pain, of course—it’s part of life—but all in all, everyone’s managed to create something good for themselves.

“Hey, Dreamy,” Dean says as he tickles his chin. Cas turns, not realizing that he’d been daydreaming (not that it’s unusual for him). Dean grins and pecks his lips. “I love you.” 

Yes, they’ve created something very, very good.

When they’re finished, Dean allows them to take dessert to the living room (“but keep it clean, you filthy animals,” he barks, to Cas’ eye roll) and they reminisce about past adventures, then catch up on current events. “How’s business?” Max asks Dean.

“Awesome. Got two new design clients this week.”

Dean went to school the autumn following their wedding and completed his bachelor’s degree in interior design. With the degree, he’s been able to expand his business offerings. Work has been steady, particularly since Victor often offers him referrals, and they work in partnership on big jobs. His office is at the house, and he often will take clients around and show them what he designed. It never fails to impress. Cas is so proud of his husband, even if he does have to keep the house a little cleaner than he’d be inclined to otherwise.

“And you, Cas? How’s the art biz?” Donna inquires cheerfully.

“Colorful,” he jokes. “Never better.”

Cas’ studio in the house has made him incredibly happy. He has a light-filled, inspiring, separate space to do his work, so that when he comes home he can be home . He’s still illustrating, but also teaching drawing and painting classes right in the studio. 

“And how are your families?” Jody asks.

“Awesome. Adam’s acing college, Sam’s doing great, and Eileen’s keeping him in line,” Dean laughs. “They just got a dog, and I’ve been running with them a couple times a week. Dog kicks our asses, but at least I can still outrun Sam.” 

Castiel joins the others in cheers and high fives. They all know—Castiel more than anyone—how hard Dean has worked to have a good relationship with Sam again. Through the upheaval of Sam’s divorce, the brothers had a lot of heart-to-hearts. Sam matured, Dean set boundaries, and each of them were able to better express what they needed from the other in relation to their grief and their relationship. They even came up with a code word to use when one of them wasn’t feeling understood or was starting to get irritated— Poughkeepsie, of all things—and when one of them said it, they agreed to take a break. It left both of them feeling more in control and positive, and though Cas knew that Dean had always been close with Sam, he thinks they’re even closer now. Eileen helped, too—she knew how to put Sam in his place (and Dean in his).

“Oh, and Dad and Kate are driving Route 66 next month.”

“Bet he wishes he hadn’t given you the Impala,” Cesar grins.

“I’m letting him borrow it for the trip out of the goodness of my heart,” Dean smiles. 

When they married, John gave Dean his 1967 Chevy Impala as a gift. “You were gonna have to pry it from my cold, dead hands,” he’d joked, “but I want to see you enjoy it while I’m still around.” It had been bittersweet, Cas surmised, because he’s pretty sure the tears in John’s eyes were both joyous and wistful. Dean, of course, was thrilled, and has been enjoying it immensely ever since. It’s even become part of his “brand,” along with his fitted t-shirts and jeans (though the Vice jacket still makes an appearance sometimes, and he breaks out the entire suit once in a while).

Dean glances at his Fitbit and excuses himself with a wink at Cas. “My side’s good, too,” Cas picks up where Dean left off. “Folks are good. They were just here visiting us last weekend. Anna’s pregnant again. That was a surprise.” He smiles when he thinks back to Anna calling him, both panicked and elated. “Gabe’s second shop just opened.”

“I told him he should open his next one on the beach, next to mine,” Rowena jumps in.

“He’d be wise to consider that.”

“That’s what I told him, but you know your brother.”

Cas and the others chuckle. “And of course, our little family is doing well.” He turns his head and his heart balloons as he watches Dean approach from the bedrooms with a small bundle in his arms. 

“Ooh, gimme!” Jody chirps, jumping out of her seat to take the baby from Dean. “Oh, precious, we missed you!”

Cas takes pictures as everyone gathers around their six-week-old daughter. She’s already so much bigger than the last time they saw her. Cas and Dean used donor eggs and a surrogate—Bess, Garth’s wife—to carry their child. This time around, they used Cas’ sperm. Next time, they’ll use Dean’s. Not that it would’ve mattered to Cas—either way, he’s completely in love with Azure Faith Winchester-Novak. It’s a big name for a little girl, but Cas is sure she’ll grow into it. He joins Dean in the kitchen, where he’s warming her bottle, and they lean into each other as they watch their daughter work her magic on their friends, filling them all with warmth and light and hope for the future. New beginnings tend to do that to people, and babies are the ultimate example of being alive and in the moment. 

Dean nibbles at his ear. “Know what I’m thinkin’ about?”

“What?” Cas asks, side-eyeing the man he loves.

“Bed. With you.”

“Oh yeah? And what would you like to do in bed? With me?”

“Mmm.” He nuzzles Cas’ neck and whispers huskily, “Sleep. For, like, two years.”

Cas chuckles. He turns and lifts his husband’s face, looking into his tired eyes. “We wanted this, let’s remember.”

“I remember. But I remember sleep, too, and I miss it a lot.”

“Me too, babe. Me too.” He plants a kiss onto Dean’s lips, sneaking his tongue out to tickle the seam of his mouth.

“Mmm. Maybe we can do something else in bed besides sleep. I miss that, too.”

“Good luck with that. You’ll probably fall asleep.” Cas laughs as Azure starts to wail for her bottle. “Or that’ll stop us.”

Dean pouts and shakes his head like he’s sorrowful, but Cas knows he’s quite happy with his lot in life. “Doesn’t mean we can’t try.”

“You’re right,” he smiles, kissing him lightly before grabbing the bottle and making his way to their baby. “Okay, highest bidder gets to feed her!” he calls to their friends.

After her feeding, the group gathers around their panoramic painting, featured prominently between windows in their living room. The men decided to keep adding to the painting they created together years ago, the one that brought them back together. They’ve added wedding rings and new friends, and made small changes to the house. Cas loves that it’s a living piece of art, changing as they do. “Ready?” Dean asks their friends, a hand on the sheet covering the painting. At their enthusiastic yes, he pulls off the sheet to reveal the newest addition—Azure in her parents’ arms, and her name on one of the chairs. Applause and cheers erupt from their friends and startle the baby, who doesn’t know what all the fuss is about. Rowena, now holding her, calms her easily.

Once their friends disperse, Cas and Dean spend a quiet evening cuddling Azure. He doesn’t miss the heated glances his husband keeps shooting him, though, and he’s not surprised at all when Dean pounces as soon as they’re certain their daughter is asleep. “Want you,” he growls against his neck. 

Despite his new baby fatigue, he can’t deny he wants Dean, too; he misses the fun and connection of their intimate times. “Want you,” Cas replies, whimpering when Dean’s teeth nibble against a tendon. “Let’s go.”

They kiss their way down the hall. When they hit the bedroom, though, Cas sees the laundry he didn’t finish folding strewn across the bed. There’s so much laundry with little ones and it’s a constant chore to keep up, especially since they want to spend as many of Azure’s waking hours focused on her as possible. Guilt and a sense of responsibility poke at his brain. “I should probably get this taken care of first,” he sighs. 

“You should, hmm?” Dean says, leaning a hip against the footboard of their bed as Cas starts picking through the pile. “Thought we didn’t do shoulds.”

“I know, I know, but if we don’t get it done when we have the time, it’ll get worse.”

“Okay,” Dean agrees, much too casually. “I can see you’re busy. I’ll just save a little time and...start now.” Cas hums as Dean’s mouth finds his neck again, then moans as his hands slide down his pecs and abs, around his balls and cock, and back up via his ass and back. “You just keep doing what you’re doing, sweetheart.”

Cas tries, but it’s no use, really—he doesn’t love folding laundry, and the alternative is just too wonderful to resist, anyway. “Dean,” he rumbles, leaning into the hands that feel like they’re everywhere all at once. “Gotta get the laundry off the bed.”

“I thought you were folding it?” he asks with an innocent lilt as he presses his cock into his ass while tweaking his nipples. 

“Fuck it. It can stay messy.”

“You like it messy.” Dean turns him and yanks him into a fierce kiss, holding his shirt with one hand while clearing clothes off the bed with the other. Cas climbs backwards onto the bed and pushes the rest of the clothing to the floor, then drags Dean down. They tear clothes off hurriedly and make out until they’re breathless and incredibly aroused. “Hey. Got an idea for you, something I think will make you come really hard. Been thinking about it for weeks. Wanna try?”

Cas doesn’t think he’ll have any trouble coming hard after six weeks of new parent celibacy, but he nods anyway, staring at Dean with hooded eyes. Dean gazes back with both arousal and adoration before planting a kiss on Cas’ open mouth. He reaches into the drawer and pulls out a beaded, silicone cock ring, sliding it onto himself. “Should give you a little prostate stimulation, right?”

Cas looks at the ring with some hesitation. Dean has placed it just below his cockhead. Cas is pretty sure it’s designed to be worn only at the base of the cock, but he doesn’t have much experience with these things—they’ve only gotten into toys in the last year or so—and he figures Dean’s done his research. He considers that there may be some potential payoff, too, for both of them. Plus, he doesn’t want to hurt his feelings or dampen his enthusiasm. He nods and doesn’t say anything. 

Dean opens him up with tongue and fingers, and Cas clutches the sheets as he moans quietly. He’s missed this; even though his preference is to top, being with Dean like this is such an intimate, exquisite experience. After several minutes, Dean pulls back and lubes up, then slides into him. It’s tight at first, even though Dean’s opened him, because it’s been so long. He whimpers and pants as he gets adjusted. Dean, patient as always, waits until he gives him the okay. Once he does, Dean starts slowly, gazing at him with love. Cas wraps his limbs around his husband and pulls him closer. They giggle and kiss as Dean picks up the pace, thrusting harder. Cas feels the ring bumping his prostate, and it does indeed feel good...until…

“Um, hang on,” Dean says, pulling out. He looks under and around them. 

Cas looks at Dean’s penis and puts two and two together. “Did you lose the ring? Inside me?”

His husband looks a little paler than he did a moment ago. 

“You lost it in me?” He does the same check Dean did around the bed. Getting frantic, he whisper-shouts, “Fuck, Dean! Get it out!”

“Okay, don’t panic, hang on!”

“Don’t panic? Shit!” Embarrassingly, he feels tears at the corners of his eyes. “It’s stuck in me!” 

“Sweetheart, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he says over and over. Dean rubs his back as Cas falls on his belly to the bed. “I’m sorry. Don’t panic, okay? Don’t panic.”

“Don’t panic,” Cas mutters as he thinks about the fact that there’s something jammed in his rectum. “Get it out, Dean,” he whines, breaking into a cold sweat. 

“Okay, okay. Here, I’m gonna get it out.” Dean rubs his leg in reassurance as he sticks a finger inside. The rooting around is decidedly unsexy. Cas tightens and squirms. “I can’t find it,” Dean mumbles. 

His anxiety rises as he thinks about having to wake the baby and go to the Emergency Department. Or worse, going alone and having to explain himself. Oh God. “You have to find it!”

“I’m trying, hon. Stop tensing up.” 

Cas tries to ease the tension in his muscles. “I know, sorry,” he whispers.

Dean’s hand lands on Cas’ neck, massaging it gently in comfort. “Maybe we need gravity.”

“Okay. Gravity. Okay.” Cas gets to his knees, draping himself over Dean’s shoulder with a shuddering breath. Without the benefit of the arousal they were enjoying just moments before, Dean’s ministrations feel more like an exam. Cas has never been comfortable with this part of his annual physical. Breathing takes effort. He bites his lip.

Gravity doesn’t seem to help, so Dean helps him lie down again. After a minute of unsuccessful attempts, Dean muttering “I can’t…” followed by grunting, he says, “I think I’m gonna need a second finger.”

Cas frowns and Dean says he’ll keep trying with one. He keeps poking, making Cas lift himself off the bed in discomfort. “Damn it, I keep trying to grab it. It’s there, but I can’t get it. Hang on. I’m so sorry.”

He pulls out his digit and adds more lube, then works his finger in again. Cas makes a conscious effort to relax, and after another thirty seconds of finagling, Dean pulls his finger out and something lands on the bed. “Oh, thank God,” Cas cries breathlessly when he sees the ring. 

“Well, that was a horrible idea,” Dean groans. “Pretty bad when I can’t even keep it on.” 

He looks so sad and guilty, and even with his self-deprecating deflection, Cas can tell that Dean’s heart is hurting at having made him uncomfortable. “I don’t think it has anything to do with girth,” Cas smiles. “It’s just not made for that, I guess. We were a little too vigorous.”

“I guess. I feel terrible. I’m so sorry.” He rubs his face. “So much for something new. Got such limited time now...shoulda stuck with the classics.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it. We tried. It was an adventure, right?”

The corners of Dean’s lips tick up. “Yeah, but I still feel bad. I made you uncomfortable and ruined everything.”

“It’s okay, babe.” Now that the crisis (and the potential for a mortifying hospital visit) has passed, Cas is calming down, and with that calm, he sees the humor in the situation. “Only us, I swear.” He laughs until Dean joins in, then they laugh together. Cas loops his arms around Dean’s neck and plants a kiss on his mouth. “It was worth a try.”

“Yeah, I guess. Should’ve thought it through more. Guess we’re all done, huh?” He glances at both of their flaccid cocks, then at his face. 

Cas pats his leg. “Yeah, sorry. Somehow I’m not in the mood anymore.” He kisses the pout off his husband’s face. 

“Yeah, I know. But we could—” Azure’s hunger whine pierces the quiet of the night. She’s early, probably out of sorts with the hubbub of the day or maybe having a growth spurt. “Never mind,” Dean sighs as he throws a shirt and boxers on, then goes into the bathroom to wash before he tends to the baby. 

Cas watches after him with a fond look. He throws on his own t-shirt and boxers before washing up and making a bottle, then bringing it to Dean. While he waits for Dean to be finished the 12:00 a.m. feeding, he sips on water and looks out their living room window at the neighborhood, covered in a cloak of dark and quiet. 

Sylvie comes to mind, vibrant and healthy under a starry sky. 

“You know what I want out of life?” she said as they held hands, making their way back from the park where Cas just proposed on the swings they played on as children.

Cas didn’t know what she wanted, but he was sure he’d give her everything it was in his power to give. “No. What do you want?”

“I want to have adventures. I want to see the world, you know? Go to the Louvre, visit the Sistine Chapel, see the Pieta.” 

The Pieta, Cas remembers, is a statue of the Virgin Mary holding her dead son, Jesus, in her arms. She saw it as a great work of art. He thought it was a little morbid. Now he identifies with Mary’s anguish.

“Yeah? Well, I’ll have to save some money, but for you, I’ll find a way.”

“Aww.” She stopped and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. “What adventures do you want to go on?”

“Whatever adventures come my way, I guess. The best ones are unplanned, aren’t they?”

He didn’t know then how right he was. “Hey, Syl,” he says to the stars. “It’s been a while, huh?” He sighs and touches the pane of glass. “I wish I could’ve given you all the adventures you wanted. I’ve had plenty I never expected, that’s for sure. Maybe if I can get Dean on a plane someday, I’ll take him to all the great works you wanted to see, and you’ll get to see them, too. You’ll be with us, because you’re always right here.” He pats his heart. His throat tightens and his eyes water. “It’s all been a hell of an adventure. I still miss you, but I’m so happy, Syl. I’m so happy, and that’s in part thanks to you. Thank you for loving me well, and teaching me how to love well, too.” He smiles as the stars twinkle back.

“She wants to be a party animal,” Dean says, turning on a small light as he enters the room. “Wouldn’t eat. Too damn busy looking around. I tried to get her back to sleep, but no dice.”

Cas turns away from the window and takes in his little family, filled with so much love for them it hurts. “It’s okay.”

Dean scrutinizes him for a moment before his face softens into understanding. “You all right, sweetheart?”

“Yeah.” He urges Dean onto the couch, snuggling into him and wrapping a protective arm around the two of the greatest loves of his life. Three, he thinks with a grin as Goose walks into the room and joins them on the couch (with some help from Cas thanks to arthritis in her hips). “We won’t have many moments like this, you know. We should enjoy them.”

Dean agrees with a hum. “Later in life she’s gonna keep us up all night worrying.”

“She will. She’s going to have so many adventures.”

“I hope so. Lots of awesome adventures.”

“Yes. And I hope she’s lucky enough to have this kind of adventure.” Cas tilts his head up and captures Dean’s lips. They talk to their daughter and place kisses on her cheeks and each other’s until Azure’s asleep and Dean is almost so. Cas takes her and places her in her crib with a kiss. She’ll be up again soon, he surmises, as she was too busy being busy to eat much. He tucks Dean in bed soon after with a kiss and a promise to get Azure next time so he can sleep. Goose follows, and she gets tucked in with a kiss, too.

Alone once again, Cas settles on the couch and draws in his sketchbook. He finishes the picture by the time Azure wakes, and he puts it aside to feed and cuddle with his tiny sweetheart. When she’s back in bed and all of his loves are dreaming happy dreams, he takes a picture of the drawing of his dream-come-true. It’s his little family, snuggling on the couch. He posts it to his Instagram page, renamed Adventures in Love and Grieving, with the caption: Grieving is an adventure, but it’s only a part of the greatest adventure of all—love. With a smile, he crawls into bed with his husband and dreams his own happy dreams.