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A Judicious Application of Free Will

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For all intents and purposes, the day that Dean met Castiel was the day he made his first delivery to the McArthur house.

According to Dean, almost every town had its own landmark of the like: that building that was more often uninhabited than not, and around which local imagination and legends circled persistently. In this particular corner of Lawrence, that place was the McArthur house, into which one Castiel Allen had moved in a couple of days earlier.

Not that it looked newly occupied when Dean drove his Impala up to where the house was partially hidden by the trees of its compound.

The sight was as Dean remembered from the couple of times he’d been there over the years; kids daring each other for kicks and teenagers looking for privacy could do worse than an abandoned house. The rusty old mailbox was still old and rusty, the pathway leading up to the front door still broken in places, the wooden boards on the windows still sealing them shut.

Dean picked up the fax he’d left on the passenger seat.

The address was correct. Castiel Allen’s name was printed neatly in block letters, declaring him the tenant of the house. Underneath that was a list of Items #1-14 that had been ordered from Winchester Hardware, along with a confirmation that the buyers accepted the store’s terms, conditions and direct delivery service charges. The McArthur estate lawyer’s signature signed off the request, making it all neat and by the books.

Dean turned back to the house.

He wasn’t a superstitious person, but he’d watched Psycho and The Amityville Horror enough times to be wary of buildings that loomed quietly on a hill. The house had once been an attractive product of the Baby Boomer era, but time and neglect had turned it into a shadow of its former self, and it didn’t help that its new tenant was, as of that moment, completely uninterested in making it more welcoming.

There was no bell, either, when Dean finally made the trek up to the front door. “Hello?” He knocked a little harder. “Hello?

Dean was just starting to think it was all an elaborate prank when he finally heard movement on the other side. The door creaked ominously when it opened, pulling inwards just far enough to reveal a gloom-filled maw, in which Castiel was wrapped in unfriendly shadow.

“Thank you,” were Castiel’s first words to Dean. “You can leave those there.”

“You need to sign for ‘em,” Dean said, pulling out a clipboard. Multiple blinks didn’t help his vision much, so all he could see of Castiel was the pale hand that reached out to accept the paperwork. “You Castiel Allen?”

“Yes.” When the clipboard came back out Dean could see Castiel’s thin wrists, around which loose sleeves dangled. “Thank you.”

“Uh, wait,” Dean said, foot catching the door when it started to close. “You good with Monday for the next delivery?”

“I’ll be here. You can leave the items at the door then as well.”

“Actually, no,” Dean said slowly. “You ordered a fridge. I’ll be installing it for you.”

“Oh.” There was a pause while Castiel considered this. “Is that necessary? Won’t it come with instructions, that I may install it myself?”

“It’s all signed and paid for, dude,” Dean said. “Better to go with it.”

Castiel sighed. “Very well. I’ll see you on Monday.”

That was all Dean got before the door was shut in his face.

Dean stared at the wood paneling for a brief, shocked moment, and then muttered, “You’re welcome.” But his irritation didn’t last long, and by the time he’d returned to his car, he’d brushed it off as the forgettable behavior of another forgettable customer.

Dean Winchester, born of John and Mary Winchester, was in the prime of his life. He was in charge of the family business, thought highly of his perky nipples, and owned what was, in his opinion, an awesome set of wheels: a ’67 Impala, purchased by John before Dean had been born.

It wasn’t a glamorous life, but big cities made Dean nervous, the family store provided a helpful service to the community, and Dean was more than glad to wave his fist in the face of anyone who implied that he was a loser for having decided to stay in the town of his birth. By Dean’s standards, Lawrence was fucking awesome, so he held on to the age-old word of wisdom that there was no place like home.

All things considered, Castiel’s arrival in Dean’s life was merely a catalyst for the inevitable.

The McArthur house wasn’t interesting in and of itself, but it was the setting for what was to follow.

Sam, Dean’s younger brother, once asked Dean about that house. He’d been five at the time, curious and full of questions, so Dean had gleefully told him that the house had been built by Old Man McArthur on the bodies of family members he’d killed after a fatal Thanksgiving get-together, and that every year onward, on that exact date, his victims would knock against the town’s pavement blocks from the underneath, begging for help.

Mary had ripped Dean a new one for making up that story, and then explained to a wide-eyed Sam that the house had been built back in the late 60s by an architect named Paul McArthur. The only sinister thing about the house was the family drama that had led to it being abandoned, its current owner living elsewhere and disinterested in returning to Lawrence.

Even after Sam grew up and left — and Dean grew up and stayed — the McArthur house and its penchant for drawing the imagination of the locals remained a constant. Castiel’s setting up camp there set tongues a-wagging, for who would want to move there now, after the house had been abandoned and left to rot for so long?

Dean, however, had chosen to believe that Castiel’s business was only relevant where it gave Dean’s store business, and that was that. Not that it stopped his employees from asking when he returned to work after making that first delivery.

“So it’s true?” Tiff asked from where she was minding the cash register. “Someone’s really moved into that spooky ‘ol place?”

Dean rolled his eyes at the predictable question but said, “Yep, guess so.” Mickey, who was supposed to be busy stocking the shelves, turned his head to listen in. A couple of customers browsing the shelves had, too.

“But did you see him?” Tiff pressed. “What does he look like?”

“Not a clue,” Dean said, a small part of him gleeful at Tiff’s scandalized expression. “No, really, I couldn’t see his face. What was I supposed to do, force my way in just to get a picture of the poor guy?”

“He didn’t let you see his face?” Tiff exchanged a quick look of intrigue with Mickey. “That’s suspicious. He could still be a vampire and didn’t want to get exposed to sunlight.”

“Yes,” said Mary Winchester, who slid up to the counter and into the conversation with the ease of a veteran. “A vampire that ordered a vacuum cleaner because he was getting annoyed with all the dust getting into his coffin.”

“Hey, that’s what I thought, too!” Dean said gamely, which made Mary snort and Tiff huff with annoyance.

“But surely there’s something else?” Mickey blurted out. “Even if you didn’t see his face, you must’ve heard his voice. Did he sound suspicious?”

“What the hell does suspicious sound like?” Dean asked. “He was a dude, he sounded like a dude, that’s all I got. And get back on inventory, I’m paying you by the hour.”

Mickey peeled away with a sheepish grin, and Tiff took the hint not to press any further.

Dean didn’t blame the others for being intrigued, as a big-news day in their part of Lawrence was when someone started their spring cleaning a week earlier than usual. Everyone found their entertainment where they could.

The funny thing here was that Dean thought of himself as a superior being who was above all of that, which was why he’d dismissed the inquiries on Castiel with a good-natured eye-roll. In reality, Dean was just as much a gossip queen as the rest of them, though the difference lay in how Dean compartmentalized that behavior. To Dean, he didn’t get up in other people’s business, he was just having friendly humanitarian interest.

Dean displayed that exact brand of humanitarian interest later at home, while talking into the phone wedged between his chin and shoulder. “Yeah, man,” he said, flicking his remote at the TV, “Either that guy’s getting a really good rate or a really shitty one. I can’t see any other reason why anyone’d want to move up there. It’s a pretty sweet location, but damn, it’s a fixer-upper.”

On the other end of the line, Sam made a thoughtful sound. (It was almost always Sam on the other end, when it came to Dean’s phone.) “And you’re sure it’s all green-lit by the owners. He’s not a… I don’t know, a con-man bumming a stay, or something?

“The paperwork looks legit, I’ll give it that.” Dean stretched his legs out in front of him, resting his heels on the coffee table. “Mom got the call from that creepy lawyer of theirs before he moved in. I just don’t see the point, you know what I mean? If you’re just passing through, why not stay at a motel?”

Why are you assuming he’s only passing through?” Sam asked. “It’s not a bad place to live, and the location’s pretty good. Quiet and private, like you said. Maybe he is going to fix it up, but just hasn’t gotten around to starting on it yet.”

“I guess,” Dean said reluctantly. “It just doesn’t quite add up, you know? Quiet guy, been here over a week, no one’s seen him anywhere around town? What’s up with that?”

Don’t look at me, you’re the one who called to tell me all about this breaking news,” Sam said, laughing softly. “Hey, does the house look the same?”

“Oh yeah, it’s all there, right down to the creepy curving road that used to freak you out.”

Sam gasped. “Hey, it did not—”

“No need to be embarrassed,” Dean said, the easy tease having Sam predictably bristling. “It’s not like I told anyone ‘bout how you used to go all Charlie Brown imagining that the house was alive. Well, besides Jess. Is she there? Say hi, if she’s there.”

Sam said, “Yeah, she’s—” just as Jess chimed in with a cheerful, “Hi, Dean!

“Nice to know you share man time with the love of your life, dude,” Dean said.

Jess’ voice was louder when she said, “Oh, I see, ‘man time’. Is that like when you guys argue about who Dr. Sexy should be making the moves on this week?

Dammit, Jess,” Sam said, the protest coming out as an embarrassed squeak. “You know I don’t watch that, that’s just Dean—”

“Oh, so you’re selling me out to Jess now.” Dean grinned at the sounds of Sam and Jess tussling on the other end. “I see. That’s how it goes, thanks a lot.”

Shut up.”

Dean leaned back against the cushions, gaze drifting up to the ceiling, and thought nothing strange about the fact that Sam, who was far away and living his life elsewhere, was the only person he had to talk about frivolous things.

Monday brought with it the arrival of John Winchester and his truck.

Winchester Hardware didn’t have its own vehicle since there was rarely the necessity for it. Deliveries and pick-ups for their business were few and manageable by Dean’s readily-available Impala or, previously, his father’s truck. But in this case, Castiel Allen’s home order included a refrigerator. It had been Mary’s idea to call John, though Dean had been the one to do the actual calling to ask if it’d be okay for John to drive out here and help out.

John had said yes. So there he was, on the agreed day, parking his truck in front of the store as though nothing had changed.

Dean remained behind the counter, watching over the rim of his coffee cup as Mary stepped out of the store to greet him.

It wasn’t, in Dean’s words, a goddamn show for people to gawk at, but he bit his tongue and ignored customers and employees that slowed down to watch Mary and John converse in public. Their hushed whispers of what’s he doing back and awkward, much and well, this is interesting made Dean hate each and every one of them — but only a little bit, and only for a little while.

Mary’s body language was neutral, her arms lax by her sides. John matched her stance, though his hands were pushed tight into the pockets of his leather jacket. Their greetings were professional, their conversation short, and they entered the store with a buffer of air between their bodies.

Dean, knowing what was expected of him, smiled. “Hey, Dad.”

“Dean,” John replied. There were new lines around his eyes and mouth from the last time they’d seen each other, and his shaving wasn’t quite as neat. “You good?”

“Yeah.” Dean glanced to Mary for the appropriate cue. He wasn’t as subtle as he thought. “Yeah, we can, uh…”

“All the stuff’s out back,” Mary said, her smile just a little stiff as she glanced at John. (Mary and John, with their years of words and complicated affection between them, were now reduced to polite reserve.) “Juan’ll help you load up.”

The awkwardness only got worse by the time they’d loaded the fridge and Dean got into John’s truck with him. Dean was glad to see his father, but familial loyalty was a thing in Dean’s head (and heart) that couldn’t be spliced. Mary and John sliding into separate places wasn’t something Dean was well-equipped to handle.

The theory had been: do not choose, for there is no choice. But Dean had chosen anyway; he was still living in Lawrence, still helping out his mother at the house, still helping with the store. John knew it and Dean knew it, so being together — even if only for a few hours’ work — was a matter of navigating delicate ground.

“Uh, so you got the list?” John asked.


There were plenty of things Dean could talk about with John before, and goodness knew there were plenty of things to update each other with since John’s moving, but this was tricky territory for both. There was a painful near ten minutes of silence before John finally sighed and turned on the radio.

The music only relived a little pressure. Dean caved, and tried not to feel like a child wandering where he wasn’t allowed. “So where are you staying?”

“I got an apartment,” John said. “Just, you know, renting. It’s not far from the workshop, so it’s good.”

“Oh, okay,” Dean said weakly. “Good.”


And that was the extent of suitable conversation.

As John drove on, Dean had the idle thought that it might’ve been good if Sam were there since he was better at filling up empty spaces like these. At the same time, Dean was glad Sam wasn’t there because he’d have a hell of a lot more opinions to share with John on the matter.

“Dean,” John said, “I hope you know I—”

“I get it,” Dean said quickly. “Look, Dad, it’s only… Can we just do the job today?”

“Sure.” John nodded, a little guilty in his relief. They drove for a while in mutually-accepted silence, John tapping on the steering wheel in time with the music on the radio before saying brightly, “So! The McArthur place, huh?”

“God, yeah, I know,” Dean groaned. “Talk about completely random.”

The only change at the house since Dean’s last visit was that a couple of boards had been removed from the first floor windows. The windows themselves remained closed and the curtains drawn, so it was hardly any friendlier now than it had been then.

“Well, shit,” John said, whistling softly. “Someone actually lives in there now?”

There was no way Dean couldn’t smile at that. “Don’t look at me. I only work here.”

There was a notice on the front door, written in neat script: ATTN: D. WINCHESTER, THE BACK ENTRANCE IS OPEN.

Castiel wasn’t there when they drove the truck around, but the back door was indeed open. The lawn was just as unkempt as it been in the front, but there had been some crude attempts to cut down the grass closest to the door.

Leaving John to unload the truck, Dean walked up to the open door. It lead into the kitchen, which was worn down but clean, with recent rudimentary steps taken to make it livable. The tabletops and floor were as shiny as they were ever going to get, plates and cups arranged neatly on the counter, some recently washed things hanging on the strainer. The mop that Dean had brought over the last time was leaning against the wall, recently used.

It wasn’t bad at all, considering Castiel had only moved in a week prior.

“Hello?” Dean called out, knocking on the door frame. “Castiel Allen?”

“Yes.” A shadow stepped around a corner, solidifying under light into human shape: Castiel Allen, he of thin wrists and large clothing. When Dean’s eye drew downward, he mentally added: and of the bright orange slippers. “Thank you for your prompt delivery.”

“We do pride ourselves on excellent service.” Dean beamed a bright Winchester Hardware grin, which only earned him a blank stare. “Right. We’ve got your stuff, can we bring it in?”

“Please,” Castiel said, backing away to let them pass.

Though busy setting things up, Dean found his thoughts hooked on the randomness of Castiel’s bright orange slippers. They were the fuzzy kind that covered almost his entire feet, and clashed with his somber clothes and somber still expression. Dean guessed that they were a gift from someone beloved, figuring that that was the only reason anyone would want to wear something so hideous. (In this particular case, though, Castiel’s poor fashion sense was to blame.)

“Dean,” John said sharply.

Dean jumped. “Right.”

They worked together unloading and wheeling the fridge into the house while Castiel hovered nearby. Dean had had plenty of customers who liked to make sure the job was done properly, but Castiel’s watchfulness went above and beyond that. He followed their every gesture and movement as though there was going to be a test afterward and anything less than an A+ was unthinkable.

“I’ll unload the rest of the stuff from the truck,” John said once they were done. “You got the paperwork?”

“Sure,” Dean said amiably, heading over to Castiel. His customer had taken out a highlighter which he then used to mark the invoices, warranties and manuals with a personal filing code. Dean watched him have at it, amused. “The place looks nice. A little sparse, but nice.”

Castiel made a non-committal sound. “Thank you. I suspect I’ll be needing more things from your store in the coming days. Your online catalogue has been most helpful.”

“You don’t need deliveries for the small stuff, though,” Dean said. “Our place really isn’t that far. Since you just got here you might not have noticed, but it’s pretty safe to get around. The weather’s only been really crazy closer to the coasts, but here we’re pretty snug and it’s an easy walk. I can draw you a map if you want.”

Castiel’s head slowly tilted up, meeting Dean’s gaze straight-on.

This was the moment that Dean made the not-entirely conscious decision to get up in Castiel’s business like it was going out of style. Castiel had been dismissive of him earlier, but he now acknowledged Dean with the full extent of his consideration. All Dean could do was stare back, frozen and trapped. He’d thought that Castiel had been intense before, but being under this new brand of penetrating glare was like being skinned alive.

This wasn’t like Mary, or teachers Dean had had, or bartenders who could tell what drink you needed from a glance. This was being unable to breathe for fear that that breath would betray your secrets. It felt, incomprehensibly, like something old and ancient had stepped down from the heavens to peer at a rock, and that rock was Dean.

After a blink, Castiel was back to being an average Joe with nimble fingers, a bow-shaped mouth and impossible eyes.

“I was told that you do deliveries,” Castiel said, sounding normal and human. “Mary Winchester said precisely that on the phone.”

It took Dean a moment to find his voice again.

“Well, yes, but you don’t need a delivery for everything.” Dean’s awkward chuckle died quickly when Castiel’s expression didn’t change. “I mean… Look, this town’s pretty cool. There’s not a lot to see but what’s there’s not too bad, a lot of people’d love to meet you, and a little exercise never did anyone harm.”

“I get plenty of exercise maintaining this building,” Castiel said coolly. “And the garden will occupy me afterward.”

“I can imagine,” Dean said, looking around. The kitchen was in good shape, but he could see where the cabinets needed working and the stove needed scrubbing. “I still can’t believe you just up and popped in here. It’s livable, but—”

“Is this part of your customer service?” Castiel asked, perplexed. “These inquiries, are they necessary? I don’t think they are.”

“I’m just—” Dean trailed off. “Dude, I’m just being neighborly.”

“You’re referring to the fact that we live in the same town, but I don’t live here, I’m merely…” He shook his head, upset at having unintentionally said that out loud. When Castiel spoke again, he was calmer, back to being impersonal. “Thank you for your prompt delivery and excellent service. I believe payment is all in order, and I’ll contact the store when I need more things.”

Dean could see the hint for what it was, yet he found himself saying, “Wait.”

“Mary ensured me that delivery would be acceptable,” Castiel said quickly. “She told Zachariah that it wouldn’t be a problem. We can pay for it.”

“I’m not talking about money.”

Castiel scowled. “Then what are you talking about?”

Dean’s mouth hung open for a moment. “You’re — this — the house—the wiring.” He looked around rapidly. “This place’s been abandoned for years. The wiring’s got to be shot to hell.”

“I’m not a fool. There have been professionals over to inspect and repair the wiring and water.”

“The lawn,” Dean said. “You going to deal with it by yourself?”

“Didn’t I just say that?”

“I can do it for you. The grounds aren’t that big but you have to cut the grass down before you can mow it. The lawnmower you just got isn’t made for that, but I know what to do. Maybe fifteen bucks an hour? One weekend should do it. And it’ll leave you free to do your other things.”

“Fifteen dollars an hour,” Castiel echoed, still watching Dean for signs of trickery. After a long moment, he said, “That would be acceptable. If I can get a receipt.”

“Of course,” Dean said, nodding. “With a stamp and everything.”

“Very well. I’ll see you on Saturday.”

“Okay.” Dean turned to leave, feeling a little like that time in fourth grade where he’d gotten up on stage to make a speech and ended up garbling through the entire thing because the letters on his cards had gone blurry.


“Huh?” He turned. This close, Dean could see Castiel’s eyes were blue, not the dark color he’d thought they were before.

“Is this going to be typical of you?” Castiel asked warily. “The others weren’t this pushy.”

“Oh, that’s totally my bad,” Dean said quickly. “I know I can be a bit, but it’s, you know, it’s cool, I’ll totally pull that back, zip. How about I trim your trees for you at a discount?” He flashed his brightest smile, but let it fall when Castiel’s expression didn’t change. “Am I fired?”

“Uh.” Now Castiel’s stare was one of befuddlement. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Thanks, man,” Dean said. “I better go.” He made his exit quickly, hoping to avoid saying something else random and stupid.

John started up the truck as soon as Dean got in, and saved his comment of “What was that all about?” until after they’d driven away from the house. “Making friends, Dean?”

“Hey, someone’s got to be the welcome wagon,” Dean said with what he thought was a casual shrug. “Might as well be me, right?”

John snorted softly. “Better you than Flanigan and her meatloaf.”

Dean barked a laugh at that.

Mary Winchester’s advice, when Dean told her about the unplanned lawn-mowing appointment, was: “Don’t forget your sunscreen, keep hydrated, and don’t be an ass and just ask for use of the bathroom if you need it.”

“Well, obviously,” Dean replied. He picked the plate she’d been waving at him out of her hands, and wiped it down with a cloth. Post-dinner clean-up at the house was always a shared chore no matter who did the cooking beforehand, which in this case was Dean’s fettuccine in white sauce pleasantly settling down in their stomachs.

“You know you forget your sunscreen,” Mary said matter-of-factly. “You know how unpredictable it’s been lately. We’ve been lucky so far, but don’t you come crying to me when you have more burns than freckles.”

“Burns have more personality,” Dean said.

In his mind, Dean could still see all the dry grass of the McArthur lawn, long abandoned and ready to wreak havoc on anyone with hay fever. He could also see Castiel standing on the back porch, frowning at the weeds as though offended at their inconveniencing him.

“Dean,” Mary said warningly.

He started. “What?”

“I know that look.” She contemplated him for a long, harrowing moment, and then turned back to the dishes. “Just don’t mess around where you’re not invited.”

“I know,” Dean replied.

“I mean it.” Mary hushed his defensive protest, adding gently, “I know you like to help, which is a good thing but… be mindful of your welcome. Just a word of advice, that’s all.”

“It’s just a goddamn lawn,” Dean muttered, which made Mary roll her eyes. “Hey! C’mon, I’ve got this and you’ve got your… whatever scrapbooking thing it is you’re doing these days, like that’s anything to proud about.”

“Don’t you get snippy on me,” Mary said, flicking water drops at him. “Nature photography is an art form, my SLR lenses would make grown men weep, and you should just consider yourself lucky I haven’t learned how to sic Powerpoint on you. Yet.”

“Of which I am very grateful,” Dean said solemnly, which earned him another small splash of water. “Hey, I’m not judging.” He didn’t have strong thoughts about Mary’s newest hobbies, or that she’d only recently decided to dedicate more of her free time for them. Dean was never meant to inherit Winchester Hardware so quickly, but it wasn’t as if they’d expected the current situation with John.

Mary was quiet as she focused down on suds and silverware. Dean watched her for a while, noting the way her mouth went tight around the edges and then said, “You okay?”

It was a real question, not a metaphorical one, and the wonderful thing about Mary was that she could always tell the difference. Her responding smile was soft, not as brittle as it sometimes could get. “Not too bad.” For all that Dean loved his mother, he couldn’t trust the accuracy of that answer.

He leaned in, touching Mary’s shoulder with his own. He would never get used to the fact that he towered over her now, but she leaned back against him, natural as anything. If Sam were here he’d probably know what to say to make her feel better, but since he wasn’t, it fell on Dean to do something, and this was what he could do: dinners at the house, humoring of her hobbies, no questions where they weren’t wanted.

Mary pulled away, clearing her throat. “No, I mean it, Dean. Don’t forget your sunscreen.”

Dean didn’t forget his sunscreen. Neither did he forget the implication Mary had made that he was in this solely to meddle in Castiel’s affairs. That wasn’t entirely true, as Mary had not witnessed the way that Castiel and Dean had brought each other pause the last time they’d met.

“’Sup,” Dean said, when Castiel opened the front door to his knocking. He couldn’t help looking down, stifling an inappropriate snort when he saw that the orange slippers were still out in full force. “I’m not too early, am I?”

“This is fine,” Castiel said.

They regarded each other. Under sunlight, Castiel looked like any other regular guy Dean could’ve walked past in a grocery store or down a street without thinking twice about.

“I’ll get on it now, okay?” Dean said brightly, pulling his gloves out from his back pocket. “We’ll both time it, how ‘bout that?”

Castiel nodded slowly, cautious and uncertain, though Dean hadn’t done anything particularly suspicious yet. “Just shout if you need anything,” he said, retreating into the house. “The back door will be open.”

“Will do.” Dean’s salute earned him another one of Castiel’s apprehensive looks, and then he was gone.

Dean made good time working on the yard. He’d been doing tasks like these for years, ever since he’d learned how easy it was to supplement one’s allowance if one knew where to look. He worked across Castiel’s lawn in lines, and once in a while he’d stop, take a breath, and look up at the house. The windows were still dark, but now it was just a house, a harmless man named Castiel puttering around inside it, minding his own business.

Things would have stayed this way — with Dean outside and Castiel in — if it weren’t for the new arrival. His name was Zachariah, and he arrived on the scene while Dean was having a short break, sitting on the house’s back step and drinking from his water bottle.

“Hello?” Zachariah called out, the sounds of his approach getting louder as he came around the house. “Yoo hoo, is anyone there?”

Dean tried but failed to place the voice. It didn’t belong to anyone from town.

“Well, hello there!” Zachariah exclaimed, once he saw Dean. He had a smile that was too broad to be anything but fake, and despite Dean’s upbringing not to judge someone based on appearances, his hackles were up immediately. Zachariah zoned in on Dean as though gearing up for a sale and Dean was the lucky customer. “You a friend of dear ‘ol Castiel?”

“Are you?” Dean countered.

That got a booming, condescending laugh. Dean smiled, but not in good humor. He knew the type: intelligent but not smart, with a persistent attitude of looking at the rest of the world down the end of their nose.

Behind Dean, the door opened. Castiel’s smile was no more genuine that Dean’s. “Zachariah,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I just wanted to see how you’re settling in,” Zachariah said, brushing past Dean to clap Castiel on the shoulder. Castiel wasn’t a small man, but he shrunk a little under Zachariah’s attention, head dipping forward in an unconscious show of subservience that made Dean frown.

“I have made a few adjustments,” Castiel said, “But it’s hardly suitable for visitors.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Zachariah insisted. “And who’s this?”

The flare of panic in Castiel’s eyes made Dean speak up first. “Dean,” he said, stretching out a hand. “Winchester. I’m just helping out.”

“How very good Samaritan of you, Dean Winchester.” Zachariah gripped Dean’s hand between both of his, shaking firmly. “Now how about all of us go inside for some refreshments? I’d really love to see what you’ve done with the place, Castiel.”

“I’ve,” Dean glanced briefly at Castiel, who was still mildly freaking out, “got stuff to do—”

Zachariah didn’t let go of Dean’s hand. “I insist.”

The kitchen had been improved a little from the last time. Now there were a few cookbooks resting in a small pile on a counter, yellow post-its sticking out from the pages. The stove looked like it had been both used and cleaned recently. Everything else was kept away in their proper places, making it very much the kind of kitchen Mary would have liked.

Despite his earlier comments, Zachariah wasn’t interested in any of these details of Castiel’s housekeeping. That was just an excuse, and now he watched Castiel rummage around the fridge, something eerily sharp in his gaze that made Dean uneasy.

“Iced water will be fine,” Zachariah said. “That okay with you, Dean?”

“Sure,” Dean said.

It was an odd little tableau: Dean drinking his water and not knowing what the hell was going on, Castiel hunched defensively against a counter, and Zachariah having a quiet blast for perverse reasons of his own.

“So…” Zachariah glanced back and forth between Dean and Castiel, “How’d Castiel blackmail you for this one?”

Dean started in surprise. “What?”

“Oh, please. Our Castiel here’s crap at making friends,” Zachariah cooed, slyly winking at Dean. “You can tell me, c’mon.”

“Hey man, that’s—”

“When I let him have the house,” Zachariah continued, “I told him he simply could not stay cooped up inside it 24/7, though I knew that was going to happen anyway. He doesn’t like crowds, do you, Castiel?”

Dean’s frown deepened. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep to yourself.”

“Oh, there’s plenty wrong with that.” Zachariah mock-punched Castiel in the shoulder, nothing kind in the gesture. “As they say, all work and no play!”

Castiel didn’t respond as he was too busy scowling at the floor and clenching his fists.

As strangely as this little episode started, Zachariah suddenly said, “Well! I suppose I should be going. Nice to see you again, Castiel, keep up the good work, I’ll show myself out.” And with that parting shot, he sauntered straight out the door, his exit as sudden as his arrival.

Dean watched him go, mouth agape.

That episode felt completely random and bizarre, so it took Dean a while before he could manage an incredulous, “What the hell was that? Do you normally get random visitors out of freaking nowhere like…” He trailed off, noticing that Castiel had slumped against the counter. “Hey, you okay?”

Castiel mumbled something. His shoulders were trembling.

“Hey.” Dean chanced a step forward. “You say something?”

“I said I hate this place,” Castiel snapped, knuckles pale where they clung tight to the counter behind him. His face was flushed red; he was shaking in anger. “I hate this house, I hate this town, I hate being stuck here like a — like an invalid.” He laughed, but the sound was broken, humorless.


Dean stood back and took it all in.

He knew this much: Castiel had bristled at his suggestion of going to town personally, and as far as Dean knew, hadn’t been there at all. From the questions Dean still got occasionally at the store, he was still practically the only person in town who’d seen Castiel up close and personal. Even Janine’s welcome meatloaf had been met with a closed door, which had apparently rendered him dead, dead I tell you, to their brand of Lawrence hospitality.

Zachariah’s barbs cut deeper than Dean could see.

In Dean’s book, Castiel was okay. He was just a little quiet, but not dangerous in the way that mattered. Dean’s people instincts were top-notch, which he liked to think he’d inherited from Mary because they’d never served him wrong.

“Are you agoraphobic?” Dean asked. When that got him a glare, he added, “I know it’s none of my business—”

“No.” Castiel brought himself up to his full height, chin jut out stubbornly. “It is none of your business, and I don’t appreciate you making such accusations. I could leave this house if I wanted, you don’t—” In making a gesture his hand hit Zachariah’s glass, sending it flying.

It was just a glass, nothing important, but Castiel stared at the fallen pieces like they represented the state of his life. His face — already not that expressive to begin with — had gone eerily blank, like something had snapped out of place behind his eyes. He slowly slumped down to sit on the floor.

Dean searched the kitchen cabinets, finding a small broom and dust pan set that, like almost everything else in the house, was mostly new. He set to task cleaning up the pieces of broken glass, wrapping them up in some newspaper and putting them in the garbage.

Through it all, Castiel remained silent, face hidden behind his hands.

Once the clean up was done, Dean sat down next to Castiel. Not enough to touch, but certainly close enough that they could hear each other’s breathing.

Eventually Castiel said, voice a little muffled behind his fingers, “Who are you?”

“Dean,” he said. “Dean Winchester. I work at a — at my family’s hardware store which my parents started up when I was a kid.”

Castiel drew his hands down, letting them rest on his knees. He had long fingers, calloused and pale against the dark of his jeans. Solemn eyes turned to regard Dean, as if the next question would define everything: “Do you like it here, Dean Winchester?”

Yes, was the automatic answer on Dean’s tongue. He’d spent practically his entire life in Lawrence, his family was there (except Sam, who was away and making a new life elsewhere, and John , who’d moved out and would never stop betraying them), his fondest memories of youth and growing up were there, almost everyone he knew lived within fifteen miles. This was the place Dean had long ago figured he’d spend the rest of his days, and eventually die.

“I don’t really know anything else,” Dean ended up saying. “I travelled a little a while back, but none of it stuck. It’s not the same, anyway. Don’t know if that answers your question, but, yeah, this is it for me.”

“It must be nice,” Castiel said without sarcasm, “To know your place in the world like that.”

It was a strange thing to say, but Dean was too busy thinking about Castiel living like this, in a sanctuary that wasn’t even of his own making.

“Zach probably means well,” Dean said. “He sounds like he cares about you, even if he goes about it in a… fine, a douchey way. This is a nice place. Hell, I’d stay here if I could afford it.”

“He’s the one paying for…” Castiel trailed off. “Never mind.”

“It’s cool,” Dean said, waving it off. “You’re doing a bang-up job with what you have, did I mention that? Because it is. I’m actually in the business, so I know what I’m talking about. But you know what’s really important? Plumbing. How’s the plumbing?”

Castiel blinked rapidly, startled. “The plumbing’s… acceptable?”

“That is indeed excellent,” Dean said. “You know what else is important? Food.”

“I…” Castiel stared at him. “Food?”

“You need plenty of it.” Dean gestured over at the brand new fridge, which was humming along nicely. “Good to see you’re getting mileage out of that. Liz from the grocer’s helping you out?”

“And internet shopping,” Castiel said. “The internet has been a boon.”

“Okay, how about this.” Dean turned to face Castiel. He’d let the other man’s caution define how this was to go, and Dean figured that if his pushing wasn’t wanted, Castiel was more than capable of kicking him out on his ass. “I’ll call it a day for now, but I’ll be back to finish the rest.”

“If you like.”

“There’s a place in town that does great ribs,” Dean continued. “I can bring some over tomorrow with me. How about that?”

At first Castiel didn’t know what he was saying, but then surprise smoothed his face. Even this shallowest of gestures was something unexpected, and now Castiel cast new eyes upon Dean, understanding replacing through his previous suspicion.

“There are some other things that I may need help with,” Castiel said slowly, warming up to the idea. “Around the house.”

“Great idea,” Dean agreed. He pushed himself up and off the floor, ready to bow out and give Castiel his space. “So, we’ll call it a day, and I’ll see you again soon, Mr. Allen.”

“It’s not…” Castiel winced and ducked his head sheepishly. “Call me Castiel, please.”

“No prob, Castiel,” Dean said, enunciating the syllables of his name carefully. “You take care of yourself, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

For the briefest moment something that was almost a smile passed over Castiel’s face and Dean knew he’d done something right.

There were worse things in the world for Dean to do than spend a second afternoon in a row at the McArthur place.

As Dean expected, his arrival with a bag of Sean’s honey-roasted ribs was treated with apprehension until Castiel actually tried them and his eyes damn near rolled up into the back of his head. Dean made fun of him for doubting his taste, and was gratified to receive another mild glare from Castiel over a full fork.

“Eating for pleasure is something I rarely indulge in,” Castiel admitted, though he was not at all penitent as he licked his fork clean. “The preparation time alone…”

“Dude, cooking is so freaking satisfying, you don’t even know.” Dean regarded Castiel’s brightly-colored recipe books with all the skepticism they deserved. “It’s not just about throwing stuff on the fire, that’s like throwing all your tools in a mix and hoping it turns out okay. It’s about the individual parts and conditions and balances coming together just right and then mixing ‘em up where they’re needed and then it’s… practically magic.”

Dean grinned, not at all bothered by the way Castiel had stared at him all the way through his rant of sheer mundane cheer. Castiel’s head was tilted in quiet contemplation and Dean decided that whatever mental image Castiel was developing of him in his head, it had to be an awesome one.

“How about I show you around?” Castiel said, once they were done. “You may give me advice on what else may be improved.”

“Sure, I’m game,” Dean said.

In touring the house beyond the kitchen, Dean quickly learned that what Castiel found acceptable wasn’t always the case, starting from the fact that the kitchen Dean had admired turned out to be the most visitor-friendly room in the house.

A man’s home was more than a place to sleep. Dean had a lot of opinions on this matter, and as he stood in the middle of the area that had been designed as the house’s living room, he gladly shared a whole bunch of them with Castiel.

“But I don’t need any of that,” Castiel protested. “I am one person and the ground floor is enough for my needs. Moving any of my things to the first floor would be unnecessary.”


Dean reluctantly gave Castiel points for maximizing space use, since the living room had been converted into something not unlike a studio apartment, with a cot and personal items at one corner, a large table work station and computer at another, and absolutely nothing useless or personal littering up the place at all. In other words, nothing to indicate he was going to be there for anything longer than a brief sabbatical.

“It’s just—” Dean bit off the word wrong. “Cramped.”

“You say cramped, I say convenient,” Castiel retorted. “Everything I need is within my reach.”

“Okay, point.” Dean’s apartment was much smaller than Castiel’s house, and he was content with that. His apartment fit all of his things, was easy enough to maintain, and thanks to the status of his social life meant that he wouldn’t be hosting cocktail parties any time soon.

“Zachariah’s allowance is generous,” Castiel said, “But I would prefer not to dive into it too deeply.”

“I seriously doubt he’d mind if you got yourself some decent shelves. Just look at that.” He gestured at Castiel’s work station shelf, which was only chest high and already filled from end to end with books. “You seem like the kind of person who appreciates good organization.”

“I do.”

“Then, you need better shelves,” Dean said firmly. “And a decent bed, come on. If you can afford it, be kind to your goddamn back, okay?”

“Um.” Castiel eyed Dean apprehensively. “My back is fine?”

“Well, it is now,” Dean said, having no clue how bossy he sounded. “In ten years’ time? Twenty? Geez, really. Look, Cas, you do your own thing in here, right? Might as well make the place as comfortable for yourself, and for whatever it is you’re doing. Tell me that ain’t logical.”

“I…” Castiel shrugged, the thought never having occurred to him. “I suppose it could be beneficial if I were to make things a little nicer.”

“There you go,” Dean said, satisfied. “And how about you let me get you some chairs, and maybe a coffee table. Not fancy ones, just, you know, so that people other than you can sit in here.”

Castiel turned in a slow circle, observing his temporary home through someone else’s eyes. “That could be useful, but I don’t have… Oh.” He looked at Dean, his only visitor standing perfectly at ease in the middle of the living room. “Yes, I see.”

“Trust me, it’ll be great,” Dean said.

“Don’t you have work?” Castiel blurted out. “You run a store, you must have responsibilities.”

“I run it, yes, but it’s not like I’m manning the cash register,” Dean said. At the flash of irritation on Castiel’s face, Dean added, “I do this all the time, it’s no big. We’re a close little community, lots of people need help for small things, and if the store needs me for anything important, they know to call. Otherwise there’s, you know, the phone and the internet and stuff. I put in more hours than it might look.”

“But you…” Castiel trailed off uncertainly. If he were better at articulating what he wanted to know, he would’ve asked if Dean had a life, but as it were, he didn’t, and couldn’t. “I suppose you know better than I do. It’s your family business, I should respect that.”

“Thanks, that’s cool.”

“I do work for Zachariah in return for his sponsoring my stay here,” Castiel said, brushing off Dean’s protest that he didn’t need to know. “You may help me, but I will pay you back, as is right.”

“Sure.” Dean narrowed his eyes at Castiel. “Will you let me get you some decent cookbooks, too?”

Castiel sighed. “Why am I already regretting this decision?”

“Because you know it’s an awesome one,” Dean said. “So, yes or no?”

“Fine,” Castiel said, but his side-eye was less skeptical and more curious. “Though if I set my newly rehabilitated kitchen on fire, it’ll be your fault.”

Dean snickered. “I’ll take those odds.”

So one visit turned into another, Dean’s agenda shifting from dealing with Castiel’s garden to dealing with his furniture, to other new reasons he would need to come back again, and again, and again — from fixing cracks in the drywall, to minor retiling in the ground floor bathroom, to redoing the kitchen cabinets.

But those were just excuses.

The real point of all of this lay in the moments between, where Dean would take a break or share his food (eventually including some of Dean’s own concoctions), and say to Castiel, “Dude, take a breather, all that staring’s not gonna do anything good for your eyes.”

“I don’t need glasses,” Castiel would protest, but he’d still stop and leave his computer, if only for a little while. (Dean never asked about or tried to steal glances at Castiel’s work. He could tell that Castiel appreciated the gesture as he’d stopped trying to push his things away every time Dean drew close.)

Then they’d talk, conversation awkward and impersonal but not cold, Dean taking care not to wander where he wasn’t wanted. He learned things about Castiel anyway, such as how he liked chocolate but not strawberries, how he knew a couple of languages but refused to specify how many, and that he’d never seen a single Star Trek film (that last part of which Dean set out to rectify immediately, starting up a fairly regular movie-night habit).

It was nice, in a way that merely being in another person’s company with no expectations was nice. Dean usually spent his free time alone in his apartment; this just meant a change of venue for when he wanted to catch up on his reading or whatever.

There were far worse things in the world that Dean could be doing.

So, what’s going on with this Castiel guy?

“What?” Dean dropped the laundry he’d been sorting on to his bed. “How do you know about that?”

Mom, dumbass,” Sam said, in a such way that Dean could practically hear the eye roll. “She said you’ve skipped out on a couple of dinners to see that guy for whatever. I wasn’t even asking, but apparently she felt like sharing.

“Nah, it’s just…” Dean tried to think of a way to shrink down the past couple of weeks into something that wasn’t fodder for immediate mockery. “He’s just some guy. A bit of a loner, but I don’t think it’s because he wants to be.”

What do you guys do together?

“We chill.”

Chill,” Sam echoed flatly. “What, watching movies? Dr. Sexy?

“Believe it or not, Cas doesn’t have a TV,” Dean said, smiling at the thought. “He doesn’t see the point since he can watch whatever he wants to on his computer. Not that he watches much of anything for fun unless I suggest something. Though he’s started forwarding me youtube clips of puppies, I guess that’s a step in the right direction.”

Do you guys go out?”

It was an innocuous question in a series of innocuous questions, but this one made Dean pause. There was an undercurrent in Sam’s voice he hadn’t noticed earlier, his brother building up to a point. “No, he’s not into that. I just go to the house.”

Oh, Dean,” Sam said quietly.

“What?” Dean said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

No, Dean, I meant…” There was another pause, as ominous as pebbles before an avalanche. “Is that really you?”

Dean sat down abruptly, one hand clumsily shoving his pile of fresh-scented laundry aside. He knew that he should have seen this coming because this was Sam, and even hundreds of miles away, he would always be predictable. “I get what you’re trying to say—”

It’s not right, Dean,” Sam said, worried in a way even Mary and John hesitated to be around Dean. “I’m sorry I can’t be there, but you’ve got to know you can talk to me. Remember when Dad gave you the Impala and you made that promise to drive her into every State? What happened to that?

“What, a guy can’t take a break from a break without someone getting on his case now?”

Yeah, but it’s been — wow, it’s been over a year now, Dean. A year, and you’re still… there. Not going anywhere, not doing anything except running the store, spending time with Mom and now ‘hanging’ with this guy who’s apparently just like you? When’s the last time you had fun? Gone out?”

“Sam!” Dean barked. “I already have a mother. You might remember her, I think you’ve met.”

Please, just — just listen, okay? Dean, I know you. You probably think you’re helping him. Just like you think you’re helping Mom.”

“Don’t you bring Mom into this.”

God, it’s true, isn’t it? It’s exactly like that. You think Mom wants this for you? You think she’s happy that you feel you need to stay in Lawrence because of what’s going on with Dad?

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Don’t I?” Sam said angrily. “Tell me that you’re not staying there because of Mom. Tell me that the reason you haven’t dropped the store and gone back on your damn road trip is because you think it’s your fault.”

Dean’s head hurt.

You’ve always been like this,” Sam said, voice thick. “Your whole life you’ve been like this — with me, with just about everyone we’ve ever known — and it’s gotten worse since the accident, like, just because you got out of it okay, you owe the world something now. It’s not your job, Dean. You don’t have to take responsibility for other people’s problems.

It wasn’t quite like that. Sam was very, very close, but in this particular case he was just a little off the mark. Not that Dean was in any mood to explain.

“You’re happy where you are, Sam,” Dean said, proud of how much steel he put in his voice. “No one’s begging you to come back if you don’t want to. You know that I respect your choice. So the least you can do is respect mine.”


“I can’t talk to you like this.” Dean was thankful for small favors, such as not being able to see Sam’s face at that moment. “I know you mean well, but you don’t know shit.”

You think it’s okay to spend time with this Castiel out of pity? Is that really fair to him, Dean?

“It isn’t—” Dean shuddered, bile in his mouth. The thing with Castiel wasn’t pity. Dean knew what pity tasted like. “I’m hanging up now.”

Sam sighed but didn’t argue, remaining silent while Dean ended the call.

Dean sat back, jaw tight, and cast his gaze around his apartment. It was usually a place of pride and comfort, every corner of it having something of his personality embedded in it, but at that moment, it felt smaller and more cramped than it usually was. This was Dean’s life, four corners in an apartment in Lawrence, while his brother was busy doing things and being someone.

Dean grabbed the TV remote and turned the volume up loud. Then he started sorting his laundry in earnest, glad to have something to keep himself occupied.

“Hey,” Dean said when Castiel opened the door. “I, uh… baked.”

Castiel looked thrilled, which is to say, his eyes widened a fraction.

“It’s my Mom’s recipe.” Dean pushed the container towards Castiel, who took it and wandered over to the kitchen table while Dean closed the door behind them. “She made me learn how to make it myself when I wouldn’t stop bugging her about it. This one’s blueberry, by the way.”

The container tilted dubiously as Castiel studied its contents. “I concede to your knowledge on the value of taste and aroma, but the nutritional value of this is suspect.”

“Suspect away, Cas,” Dean said. His efforts to expand Castiel’s culinary education would not be denied, even if it was a testament to Dean’s life that he’d come to visit with guilt-baked goods.

“Dean?” Castiel paused in the act of cutting the pie, watching him. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” Dean said automatically.

Castiel nodded, and set about getting some plates out. Dean left him to it, wandering further in dropping into his regular chair, which was positioned at an angle from Castiel’s computer desk and had somewhere over the past couple of weeks developed an indentation of Dean’s ass.

“Thanks,” he said, when Castiel put a plate in his hands. “Though I can already give you an in-depth review on how it actually tastes.”

“Let me guess,” Castiel said, “Awesome?”

“Got it in one.”

They ate in silence for a while. This in itself wasn’t unusual for them, but typically Dean would not be scowling at his plate, or Castiel concerned as to why Dean hadn’t yet made an easy-going quip or tried to convince Castiel to try something new.

“You can tell me, if you want,” Castiel said. “There was no need to bribe me with pastry, though I do appreciate the effort.”

Dean snorted, unsurprised by Castiel’s directness. He could be oblique at times but frighteningly sharp at others, though one thing that had always remained constant was their caution of each other’s boundaries. Dean would never push Castiel to unearth what he didn’t want to share, the man having obviously come to Lawrence for reasons of his own that weren’t Dean’s business (yet).

The odd thing was — and Dean was only just at that moment realizing it — the peace Castiel had found for himself at the McArthur house, Dean had been sharing in as well. It was nice up there, and not as inexplicably claustrophobic everywhere else could be at times, with other people’s well-meaning questions twisting things just a little bit tighter.

Thanks to the phone call with Sam, Dean now knew that his brother harbored the impression that Dean was there, at least partially, out of pity for Castiel and his condition. But to Dean, between the two of them Castiel wasn’t the one to be pitied.

“I had an argument with my brother yesterday.” Dean set his plate down on the table. “Nothing big, just… you know, throwing words. But it still wasn’t fun.”

Castiel considered Dean’s statement with his typical brand of gravity. “Your brother loves you.” He’d come to that natural conclusion from the stories of Sam that Dean had so far shared with him. “Whatever the topic may be, the conflict would have come from his concern of you, and you of him.” That was an opening, Castiel’s calm expression an unspoken hit me, as if there was anything Dean could possibly say to shock someone who had no context.

“My parents are separated.” Dean swallowed around a too-tight throat. “It’s just one of a lot of things going on, but that’s the main… thing. My father had an affair. It was a while back, during one of the times that my parents were having trouble, and a…” he choked, the words sour in his mouth, “…a kid came out of it.”

Castiel put his own plate down, all of his attention now on Dean.

“He didn’t tell us for a long time, but, recently, we found out,” Dean said. “There was a huge blowout. The only thing I can be grateful for is that Sam wasn’t here when it happened. He was angry enough when I told him about it on the phone.”

“You were here,” Castiel pointed out. “Weren’t you angry?”

“Sure I was,” Dean said, startled. “But that’s my parent’s marriage, right? I’m just their son.”

“So you don’t care what happens to them?”

“Of course I care!” Dean snapped. Castiel remained unfazed by his outburst, watching Dean pensively as he ran a frustrated hand over his face. “You can’t just say shit like that, Cas. Of course I fucking care what happens, don’t you dare suggest that I don’t. But it’s not my place to get in between.”

Castiel regarded him. “And Sam would?”

“Yeah,” Dean said reluctantly. “Maybe… I don’t know. He’s got opinions and ain’t afraid to tell them to anyone.”

“Ah,” Castiel murmured in revelation. “That’s why you’re upset about an argument you had with him. He had opinions, and he told them to you.”

There Castiel was, sitting across from Dean and listening to him attentively, as if every single thing that came out of Dean’s mouth was worth listening to. It was novel, disconcerting, aggravating and — once Dean noticed how the clench in his chest was starting to unwind — a relief.

“Sometimes I just get so angry, and I just wish…” Dean took a steadying breath. “Sometimes I wish it could go back to when it was good. When Sam was here and he thought that Lawrence was the whole world. When Mom and Dad were… not like this.”

Even as he said it, Dean knew it was bullshit. Sam had always looked to greater things, which was only right because if anyone deserved greater things, it was him. As for John and Mary, they’d had their problems for almost as long as Dean could remember — though ‘problems’ was a poor descriptor for their passionate, volatile relationship. Dean’s memory was faulty, lingering on the good and discarding the cracks in between.

“I admire that,” Castiel said.


“Your deeply-rooted concern for your family.” Castiel was studying him again, but Dean had gotten used to it and by now even expected this level of scrutiny. “I’ve seen affection and caring, but your dedication is… different, somehow. I can hear it in the way you speak, see it in the way your face changes, as if there’s no pride greater in the world to have such a family.”

Dean was unsure what the appropriate response was to such a statement.

“I hope they know you care for them this much,” Castiel added, a stern edge in his tone. “It would be a shame if they didn’t.”

Dean’s mouth opened to righteously defend them but he found himself pausing, uncertain.

Mary certainly knew, John understood in his way, and Sam was attentive enough to read between the lines. They weren’t a perfect family but they could be so much worse. Though it had been a while since all of them had been in the same room together, that was an ache Dean could dismiss for the moment. They were salvageable, manageable, and words weren’t as important as actions.

When Dean caught Castiel’s wistful expression, a thought occurred. “Do you have family, Cas?”

“This isn’t about me, Dean,” Castiel said. “I’d love to know more about yours.”

“So you won’t tell me anything?” Dean hadn’t meant for that to come out bitter, but even respectful boundaries could be stifling.

So, naturally, Castiel surprised him by saying, “My family kicked me out.”

Dean stared. “Oh.”

“It’s all right, Dean,” Castiel said. “You don’t need to feel sorry for me.”

The advice came too late, because Dean’s thoughts were already careening down that path: Castiel’s family, his own flesh and blood, had thrown him out. They’d discarded one of their own, forcibly removing him from their lives, and by choice.

For all that Dean hated the fighting and the yelling and the Cold Wars in between, he couldn’t imagine not having Mary, John and Sam in his life at all.

Just the thought of it was—




Dean jumped. Castiel had moved clear across the room, his hand on Dean’s arm and worry breaking the usual placid calm of his face. Dean had the slightly hysterical thought how hilarious it was that his not-real problems could compare with Castiel’s.

“Cas, I’m so sorry,” Dean said.

“What for?” Castiel said, irritated and worried at the same time. “You had nothing to do with it.”

Dean made a face at him. “It’s an expression of sympathy.”

“That is unnecessary,” Castiel said, exasperated. “I doubt I’ll ever stop missing my home, but I can’t exactly long for the company of those who threw me out. You’ve shown me more kindness and you barely even know me.”

“Aww, shucks,” Dean muttered.

“It’s not flattery, it’s simple fact,” Castiel said firmly, daring Dean to declare otherwise. “Regardless. You have a wonderful family, Dean. No matter how difficult you think it is now, it isn’t. Not when you know in that all of you still love each other underneath the bullshit.” He turned away, sighing a little. “I envy that a great deal.”

Dean swallowed, throat clicking dryly. After a few false starts, he managed to say, “Better finish that pie. I slaved on that, you know.”

Castiel smiled. “Of course, Dean.”

It had become a normal part of Dean’s routine that, at around 3-4 o’clock on his working day, he’d start wondering what to do for the day’s dinner. Either he’d cook, or buy something, or call Castiel to let him know it was his turn to be creative. Maybe Dean would bring a movie over, or try to convince Castiel to give Risk another chance (Castiel didn’t do well with board games as he had a competitive streak that could rival Sam’s).

Dean was in his store thinking precisely about those things when an unfamiliar young woman walked up to his counter. He always noticed new faces, and in this case said unfamiliar face had a bright smile that automatically called up a responding smile of Dean’s own.

“Hi,” she said. “I was wondering if you could help me.”

“Sure, you looking for something?” Dean said.

“Kinda.” Her eyes were bright with speculation, and she was twirling a strand of her blonde hair around a finger. “But I was wondering more like… maybe you could tell a girl if there are any places to have a little fun around here?”

Dean grinned, flattered. Of course he was flattered, here was a young woman with beautiful eyes and an infectious smile being bold as brass, and he could barely remember the last time he’d gotten scoped. Still, it was easy as pie for him to turn on the old charm.

“A guy could know a couple of places,” Dean said, relaxing into a slouch against the counter. “You passing through?”

“Yeah.” She canted her head just so, a touch of wickedness at the corner of her smile, the girl knowing exactly what she was doing. “The name’s Jo.”

“Mine’s Dean.”

“Nice to meet you, Dean,” she said. Her directness was refreshing, and made Dean think of good memories from when he had been more adventurous, willing to go anywhere and try almost anything new for the sake of it.

It had been so much fun that Dean had thought it’d never end, that he’d always be like that: invincible and awesome forever.

“Sure, I can—” Dean stopped.

He had plans. He was going to Castiel’s that night, as he’d been going every other night. They weren’t cool plans, but they were still plans.

Jo was watching him expectantly. She was gorgeous, friendly, only passing through, and perfect. In Dean’s head he could hear Sam’s admonishment that he hadn’t done anything fun lately, and for all that Dean wanted to squirm and say that fun was subjective, he knew what Sam was talking about. Sam was talking about before, when Dean’s brand of fun had its distinct flavor and didn’t involve being a fucking hermit, and where he hadn’t ventured since the accident made him lose the taste for driving and other things.

Dean was lost in thought long enough that Jo pulled back. “Oh, I’m sorry, if you’re not interested…”

“It’s nothing personal,” Dean said apologetically. “It’s just…”

“It’s okay.” Jo winked at him anyway, not offended. “It happens.”

“There’s a bar ‘bout two and a half miles down that way,” Dean said, pointing. “Callaway’s. It only picks up around 10, but you should check it out.”

“I think I’ll take you up on that.” Jo cast him one last sun-bright smile before saying goodbye and moving away from the counter.

Tiff was on Dean in a heartbeat, leaping out from her hiding place with no subtlety whatsoever. “I don’t believe you!” she exclaimed. “You turned her down? What’s wrong with you?”

It was friendly teasing but the crucial phrasing — what’s wrong with you — set Dean’s teeth on edge.

“You don’t get to comment, and don’t you have something to do?” Dean didn’t usually pull the boss card like that, so Tiff took the hint and slinked off, casting the evil eye at Juan and Mickey so they knew not to pick up the slack where she’d left off.

Dean watched as Jo got into her car and drove off, and realized that he wasn’t at all sorry that he’d turned her down. What he did feel sorry for was the gnawing in his gut that this was Castiel’s fault.

Oh, Castiel had never asked for Dean’s time. That was entirely Dean’s doing; he was the one who decided to make Castiel’s new life in Lawrence comfortable, and took payment for services rendered by borrowing a little bit of that comfort. If Dean ever canceled on Castiel or started doing other things, Castiel wouldn’t have minded.

Yet the fact remained that a girl as attractive as Jo had come into Dean’s store, and if it had happened one or two months earlier, he wouldn’t have hesitated.

So this was Castiel’s fault.

In Dean’s mind, the only way to deal with that was to face it head-on. That meant keeping the night’s appointment at Castiel’s place, this time armed with something more than a blueberry pie.

Only, when Dean got there after logging off from work, Castiel wasn’t alone. The kitchen door was open, as usual, but as he marched up to it he could hear raised voices inside.

“I’ve given you everything and this is how you repay me?” Zachariah was yelling.

Castiel replied a defense, though Dean couldn’t make out the words.

“No!” Zachariah shouted. “You don’t talk to me like that! You owe me, Castiel, and I deserve to get something back…” He trailed off when he noticed Dean in the doorway, his expression shifting into something more pleasant. “Hello… Wesson, was it? Or some other brand, I always confuse them.”

Over Zachariah’s shoulder, Castiel was glaring a hint at Dean to get the hell away.

“Hey, Cas.” Dean stepped into the house with all the confidence of someone assured of his welcome. “Didn’t know you had a party going on tonight.”

Zachariah guffawed. “Where did you find this one?”

“He’s a friend, Zachariah,” Castiel said, polite but with a quiet warning. “He’s been very helpful.”

“Not that I have any idea why!” Zachariah shouted, hand deliberately slamming into a bowl on the counter and sending it falling to the floor. He shot an impatient scowl at Dean and for a moment he wasn’t just a dick with a receding hairline but someone far more dangerous. “You’re wasting my time. You’re an ungrateful, useless little waste of space who is this close to making me regret ever bothering with you. Get me something I can use, or I’m throwing you back to where I found you.”

Dean watched, speechless with disbelief yet again, as Zachariah strut out the door.

“Why do you let him talk to you like that?” Dean asked. “I know you can stand up for yourself. Why do you take it?”

“It’s his house, Dean,” Castiel sighed, dropping down to the floor to clean up the mess. His shoulders were drooped with resignation, body language all tight like the last time Dean had been around for Zachariah’s visit. “You know that I work for him.”

“Then stop,” Dean said. When Castiel glanced at him dubiously, he added, “I have employees of my own, you know. Being their boss don’t give you the right to talk to them like they’re less than human.”

“I think it does, in this case.”

Dean stared at Castiel’s hands, now moving steadily in wiping up the spilled chilli. They were elegant hands, and he’d seen them dance across a keyboard and slide across pages and gesture wildly whenever Dean had been successful in provoking him about something or the other. Now they were cleaning up Zachariah’s mess, as though that were all they were worthy of doing.

He could feel his irritation boil over into actual anger. Castiel — stubborn, sharp, frank Castiel — turned meek when faced down by Zachariah, and that didn’t sit well with Dean. How could it, when it made him wonder about the hold Zachariah had over him.

“I don’t get you,” Dean said. “I don’t get this. I don’t get any of this.”

Castiel shrugged helplessly, still scrubbing the floor. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“You could…” Dean trailed off, hands clenching around air. “You could so something.” That came out poorly, and Dean realized that what he really wanted to do was demand that Castiel tell him how to help. But to do that would be to ask for things Dean had no right to have.

Realization winded him, making Dean exhale with surprise.

He’d come here to understand, and now he did. Dean thought back to the sheer joy he’d had the few times he’d been able to steal a smile from Castiel, convince Castiel to try one of his suggestions, to make Castiel treat his house as more of a home. He should have known that each of those rewards would only make him greedier for more.

And now what Dean wanted was the rest of the gaps in his knowledge filled. He wanted to know Castiel, in ways the other man wasn’t yet prepared for.

Castiel was watching him. “Dean—”

“I’m going home.” Dean winced, he didn’t meant for it come out that harsh. “Look, I just… I’ll see you later, Cas, okay?” He made a swift exit, and attempted to ignore the worried frown of Castiel’s face as he watched him go.

Dean’s thoughts settled somewhat by the time he arrived back home.

There was some mail waiting for him, so that gave him something to do for a few minutes, sorting them into piles of bills, rubbish and other. Following that was the difficult task of deciding what to have for dinner, since the original plan of drumming something up at Castiel’s place has fallen through. Dean ended up nuking some leftovers from the most recent dinner at Mary’s, and then settled in.

The television was left on for noise — the newscaster was only going on about out-of-season tornados — while Dean’s mind meandered elsewhere.

He thought about Mary, who’d always kept to herself and had never wanted to worry her boys when things got tough. He thought about John, who’d always tried so hard except when he didn’t, and how Dean’d always had the vague feeling that he’d let him down somehow. He thought about Sam, who he still hadn’t talked to because he knew Dean too well, and knew where Dean didn’t want him to pry.

Then there was the inexplicable Castiel Allen, who’d come out of nowhere and had, over a few weeks, earned bits and pieces of that picture of Dean’s life. All of them had been freely given, though Dean had barely gotten anything in return.

“Well, shit,” Dean muttered.

He had just finished dinner and was washing the dishes when he saw it. The window above the sink overlooked the street outside the apartment; there was movement outside the window, and the movement was Castiel.

Castiel, who was approaching in a straight line for the Impala parked down below.

For a second Dean thought that he was hallucinating, but then again, he would’ve hallucinated Castiel wearing something better than an ill-fitting windbreaker of dubious color and design. When it became apparent that this was reality and that really was Castiel standing next to the Impala, Dean dropped what he was doing to rush outside.

He was only a little breathless by the time he got out the apartment’s front doors. “Cas.”

Castiel looked up guiltily from where he had been studying the Impala. “I asked them at the store where you lived,” he said quickly. “They gave me your address, but only after I explained who I was. I doubt a stranger would have been able to get your home address so easily, if that’s an issue.”

Dean tried to picture Castiel walking into Winchester Hardware and explaining himself in his solemn, matter-of-fact way. He tried, and couldn’t.

“You’re out of the house,” Dean said.

“Yes.” Castiel was unable to completely hide the anxiety under his words. “I never said I couldn’t. I just don’t like to.”

“Right,” Dean said. “Right. So, uh, you want to come in?”

Once inside the apartment, Castiel shed his jacket to Dean’s hands and studied the interior with interest. Dean watched as Castiel curiously took in Dean’s not-as-oft-used home entertainment system, the jacket slung across the back of the couch, the DVDs strewn across the table, the books lined, not all that neatly, on the shelves — pieces of Dean’s personality, now Castiel’s to learn.

“Am I interrupting something?” Castiel asked when he spotted the mess in the kitchen.

“Nah, I was just cleaning up.” Now that Dean’s surprise had passed, he found himself relieved, even pleased, to have Castiel here. “You didn’t have to come.”

“I wanted to,” Castiel said, with just a touch of haughtiness. “You were angry at me. I didn’t like it.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“It’s a tremendous deal,” Castiel corrected him. “You have... helped me in ways that you’ll never know and it wouldn’t be right if I repaid that by making you unhappy.”

For all that Dean had gotten used to Castiel’s leaps of logic, this was a new one. “Friendship isn’t about payment, Cas.” Except that it was, and Castiel was right. All relationships are about payment, one way or another.

“Dean.” Castiel stood in front of him, hands clasped and ready. Dean leaned against the back ot the couch, ready to listen. Castiel took a deep breath and said, “I used to be homeless. It was unpleasant.”

The declaration was simple, matter-of-fact. Dean tried to treat the information as such in his head, even as his thoughts skittered away from the horror of imagining Castiel on the streets.

“When your family kicked you out?” Dean asked.

“Yes.” Castiel’s mouth curved unhappily at the memory, but there was no shame in his confession. “I was ill-equipped to care for myself, as I had no safety net beyond the security of my previous lifestyle. If I were cleverer, perhaps, I would have been able to do something with myself, but… such is life.”

“Then Zachariah found you,” Dean said, slowly understanding.

“Indeed,” Castiel said. “I wasn’t homeless for very long, you must understand. A year, maybe. There were those who were kind enough to enable my ongoing survival, but then I fell sick. Pneumonia, mostly, and I would have died had Zachariah not showed me… compassion.”

Dean caught the way Castiel’s expression twitched, the reluctant use of the word ‘compassion’ betraying how Castiel had been unable to think of one more appropriate. That in mind, Dean thought back to how he’d seen Castiel react to Zachariah. His compliance hadn’t come out of respect.

Then Dean understood. “You hate that you owe him.”

Castiel jerked, surprised by the accuracy of Dean’s conclusion. “Yes, I do. I know that he’s using me, and that I am an investment. But I owe him my life.”

Dean snorted softly. “That sucks.”

“Yes, it does,” Castiel said distantly.

Dean’s immediate inclination was to ask how Castiel could break free from that obligation, but he held back, deciding it wasn’t the time for that. Castiel’s sharing that piece of history wasn’t for Dean’s benefit. It was for their benefit, the first step towards meeting somewhere in the middle, and Dean felt a surge of hope. Castiel was in Dean’s space willingly, sharing a part of him, and saying a simple thank you just didn’t seem enough.

“I’ve achieved my goal.” Castiel nodded to himself, content. “Now I may go home.”

“There’s no rush.” It meant something that Castiel had come out to find him, and Dean wanted to milk it for everything it was worth. He walked over to the couch, gesturing for Castiel to do the same. “It’s not often you get a change of scenery.”

“I hitched a ride on the main road.” Castiel sat down on the couch, and Dean felt another rush of simple pleasure at Castiel’s brief, impressed pause, running his hands over the soft material. “Though you were right, it’s not that far a walk from the house.”

It was like a smack in Dean’s face, how good Castiel looked sitting on his couch. It was as though he’d always belonged there, a Castiel-shaped hole waiting to be filled. The backdrop of Dean’s apartment definitely suited him better than the sparse, unsentimental nest he’d made for himself at the McArthur house, though Dean understood the reasons for that now. Castiel had lost his home and, in the wake of that disappointment, discarded the idea of making a new home for himself.

But Dean wanted that to change.

“Dean?” Castiel said quietly.

It was a natural thing for Dean to lean in, Castiel’s body relaxed and curved in trust towards Dean’s. Castiel had made a decision when he’d come to see Dean, and following that decision was the inevitably of this.

Castiel made a small noise when their mouths met, but he didn’t pull away.

It had been coming to this, Castiel’s body warm against Dean’s, his breath whisper-light on Dean’s skin. It made sense for Dean to slot their lips together, then press and lick his way into Castiel’s mouth, swallowing the soft moan let loose from Castiel’s throat.

A small push had Castiel falling gently backwards on to the couch, leaving space for Dean to climb on top of him. Castiel made faint sounds at everything Dean did, though Dean was able to focus through the distraction, stroking his hands over Castiel’s arms, down the sides of his body, over the curve of his hips. It didn’t matter that Castiel didn’t know what to do, for Dean still liked the way Castiel’s fingers danced restlessly over his arms and shoulders, craving skin contact.

“Dean.” Castiel pressed clumsy kisses to his mouth and cheek and chin. “Dean, Dean.”

“You wanna…” Dean pulled back just far enough to appreciate the lazy haze that clouded over Castiel’s eyes. “You want to take it to the bedroom?”

The answer was yes. Castiel gave it in words but also in touch, pulling Dean’s hand as they stumbled their way across the apartment, and then pulling at Dean’s clothes where they kept him from his goal.

Dean had expected Castiel to be thin from the way his clothes fell on his frame, but once the clothes were off Dean learned that he also had angular shoulders and awkward knees and dark nipples that tasted good on Dean’s tongue. There were Band-Aids over some of Castiel’s toes but a soft whisper of frostbite stopped Dean from asking any further. He focused instead on how Castiel’s skin was smooth in places and rough in others, and how his calloused fingers made Dean’s spine tingle when Castiel dragged them across his back.

The sex that followed was slow and hot, Dean glad to take his time because of how obvious it was that Castiel was new to this. Dean slowly kissed his way across Castiel’s body, sampling from his neck, shoulders, chest and stomach before moving down taking his cock into his mouth. Once there, Dean sucked firmly, eager to learn how Castiel’s groans changed in length and volume whenever he did something clever.

Castiel watched Dean get to work, but he also kept touching Dean, his fascinated fingers brushing over Dean’s cheeks, eyebrows, the tip of his nose, his lips where they were taut around his cock. Dean almost purred at the touch, but he didn’t like that Castiel was still coherent enough to do that, so he pulled back briefly to take a breath, and swallowed down.

That finally got the reaction Dean wanted, Castiel bucking up into his mouth and choking.

“Oh, dear God,” Castiel gasped, hips moving upwards to drive himself deeper into the pleasure of Dean’s mouth. Dean chuckled low in his throat, happy to keep up and take all he could. Castiel kept moaning, keening and biting off half-formed words until Dean finally got him to the threshold and all those noises stopped for a silent scream.

Dean let Castiel’s cock go and then fumbled for his own erection, tugging it quickly to ride the high of seeing Castiel fall apart. Just a few strokes and he was coming as well, choking out a curse as he spilled all over his hand.

When Dean’s head finally cleared, he found that he’d gotten what he’d wanted: Castiel’s smile lighting up his entire face, open and honest and full of wonder. Castiel’s hand was stroking Dean’s temple, as though to make sure Dean was real.

“Hey,” Dean murmured, crawling up the bed. He grabbed some tissues on the way to clean himself, but only managed a cursory wipe before Castiel’s hands were on him and pulling.

“Dean,” Castiel said, which was all the warning Dean got before Castiel claimed his mouth with his own. He kissed like he did just almost everything else: full of intent and concentration, for to give anything less was unthinkable. Dean laughed into it but kissed back, not at all surprised that Castiel had decided to maul his mouth after getting his orgasm. It was like a good meal after a fast or a warm blanket after being out in the cold, Castiel previously touch-starved and making up for it now.

Dean understood. “Stay.”

Castiel touched the sides of their noses together. “Yes.”

There was an unused toothbrush Castiel could use, and he didn’t mind wearing Dean’s clothes to sleep in. In fact, Dean quite liked seeing his shirt on Castiel’s slim torso, and happily stole a grope when they eventually made themselves comfortable under his covers.

“I like your apartment,” Castiel said, turning on his side to face Dean. “It’s better than I imagined.”

“Of course it’d be,” Dean replied. “It’s mine.”

Castiel reached out to touch Dean’s mouth curiously, thumb dragging across his lower lip. “You have so much life.”

“That’s a good thing, I hope.”

“Of course,” Castiel said, but he was frowning. “But why…? Never mind.”

“What?” Dean poked Castiel’s stomach, grinning when Castiel glared. “C’mon, what?”

Castiel came on his closer, pushing a hand under Dean’s shirt since he was still on his mission to touch Dean as much as possible. “You’re a person who can do things. You’ve got so much to share, yet you’re…” He dropped his gaze guiltily. “It’s not my place, I’m sorry.”

Dean grabbed Castiel’s hand before he could pull it away. “I tried a couple of things. A couple of different jobs, places, whatever. None of it stuck, so what can you do? Besides, the store needs me.”

“The store,” Castiel echoed.

“Shut up,” Dean said, shoving lightly at Castiel’s shoulder. “You’re not the boss of me.”

“Oh, no doubt,” Castiel said agreeably. He slid even closer to Dean’s side, pushing his leg between Dean’s and unabashedly making himself comfortable in the warmth of Dean’s body. “This is nice. I think this is the nicest thing we’ve done.”

“You make the weirdest pillow talk,” Dean observed.

“Weird is relative.” Castiel’s eyes drooped to half mast, hand still stroking idly over Dean’s stomach. “Or we could have sex again.”

Dean leered at him. “Yeah, we could do that.”

Castiel’s eyes glittered with subtle mischief, and then they were kissing again. It had been a while for Dean and a first for Castiel entirely, so it was easy to fit their bodies together in new arousal. They rubbed against each other languidly, kissing until Dean’s jaw started to ache and he had to pull away to ask, “Do you want to fuck me?”

Castiel shuddered. “Show me how.”

He was methodical. Castiel liked manuals as though they were more trustworthy than instinct, but in this case his manual was Dean. He listened, followed, touched and opened Dean where instructed, and then pushed into him with all the focus Dean could bear.

Every push in and drag out of Castiel’s cock lit fire under Dean’s skin, slowly and steadily driving him out of his mind. Castiel kept changing angles and moving Dean around carefully, experimental with sex as he was with everything else new to him until Dean ended up on his hands and knees. Satisfied with this position, Castiel drove into him from behind, each measured thrust making Dean keen and claw against the sheets. He shamelessly pushed back to get Castiel in deeper, growling victoriously when Castiel’s cock found his prostate.

“Oh, God, Cas, yeah,” Dean groaned. He leaned his weight on to his arm and spread his legs further, giving Castiel more space to settle against him. “Right there, right there, oh fuck, yes, right there, come on, give it to me.”

Castiel was panting at the back of his neck, grunting with the effort of keeping it together while sheathed in Dean’s body. He just managed to hold on to his control, fucking Dean without pause until Dean finally ran out of voice to beg. Then there was just the mercy of Castiel’s cock filling him up, and Castiel’s hand jerking him off.

Fuck didn’t even begin to cover it, Dean thought, once he was capable of coherent thought.

Castiel had no complaints about being left to clean-up, following Dean’s grunted instructions to fetch a wet cloth from the bathroom. Dean lay there, content and exhausted in the best way, and remained unmoving even when Castiel pulled the blankets over them and draped an arm across Dean’s chest. The casual press of Castiel’s chin against Dean’s shoulder felt good.

At that moment, Dean felt he could do anything. Or say anything.

“Earlier.” Dean cleared his throat, surprised by the low rasp of his voice. “Earlier, you were asking me why.”

Castiel made a soft noise of acknowledgement, fingers toying idly with Dean’s hair.

“To be honest I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. I know I’ve got it good, and I’m grateful. But sometimes it’s just…” Dean shrugged. “I know it’s stupid but I’ve always thought that everyone has to have a reason for existing.”

“It’s not stupid,” Castiel disagreed. “We all look for purpose in our lives. That’s normal.”

“I tried things, Cas, I really did. But now I’m almost thirty and I wonder… is this it? Which is, God, so fucking stupid. Not everyone’s meant to be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon. I know I’m not a waste of space, but…” He took a deep breath and glanced down; Castiel was watching him intently. “I was in an accident. No one’s fault but mine. Crashed the Impala into a tree. Rebuilt her myself, after.”

Castiel’s eyes were wide. “I’m glad you’re all right.”

“Thanks, but the point is…” Dean licked his lips, testing out the confession in his head. “Sam thinks that made me like you. You don’t want out of your house, I don’t want out of this town. But it’s not like that. I got a second chance. It was a million to one, winner takes all, and afterwards all I could think was, why me? Why should I walk away from that?”

Castiel scowled faintly. “It’s not a matter of should, Dean.”

“Do you believe in God?” Dean asked. “Or fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it?”

“Yes,” Castiel answered.

“Well, if there is something like that out there,” Dean said carefully, “Then I must’ve survived for a reason. I’m meant to do something. And it’s as if everything’s stopped because I’m waiting for that. Just sitting on my ass waiting for something that only exists in my head.”

“Might exist,” Castiel corrected. “Something that might only exist in your head. You don’t know for sure, Dean. None of us do. Isn’t that what life’s all about?”

“Wanting answers we may never get?” Dean asked wryly. “Sure.”

Castiel fell silent. He was still awake but, when Dean looked, his eyes were distant and his mind far away.

Dean closed his eyes. It didn’t take long for him to fall asleep, lulled to slumber by Castiel’s steady breaths.

It felt like barely any time had passed when Dean stirred awake suddenly, Castiel’s hand pressing insistently on his chest. He blinked, groggy and grumpy at the disturbance. The digital clock told him it was barely sunrise, yet Castiel was wide awake and watching Dean with far too alert eyes.

“You goin’ back?” Dean asked blearily.

“You have no scars.” Castiel’s hand pressed firmer on Dean’s chest, anxiety in the way his fingers curled into Dean’s shirt. “You said you were in an accident, that it was severe enough that you had to rebuild your car. Why do you not have any scars?’

“Dang it, Cas.” Dean tried to turn away, annoyed that he had to have a lucid conversation at the ass-crack of dawn. “Not now.”

“How can you not have any scars?” Castiel hissed. “Dean, when did the accident happen? Was it near here? Dean? Dean.”

Dean rolled over and went back to sleep.