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the taste of gravel in the mouth

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1.

It was Sam’s idea.

It’s a fucking stupid idea. Most things in Dean’s life are stupid ideas, but this—fucking stupid. And in a couple of weeks or months or a year, or however long it takes, he’ll sit around in bars getting drunk and telling anyone who’ll listen about this stupid fucking idea his dumbass little brother had, and how it was just another wrench in his shitty, rusted gear of a life.

Dean slams the trunk of the Impala closed and says, “You’re not coming.”

Cas glares at him from over the roof of the car. “It wasn’t my idea. Sam suggested it.”

Of course.

“I don’t care whose idea it was,” Dean says, yanking open the door. “Get back inside. I don’t need a fucking babysitter.”

“Dean—”

Cas,” Dean clenches his fist.

Cas doesn’t budge, just continues to glare at him. Unmoveable, stubborn little shit. Fine, whatever. Unfuckingbelievable. Dean shakes his head and climbs into the car, shutting the door roughly behind him. He waits a minute, grinding his teeth, and eventually the passenger door opens and Cas slides in next to him.

“If you don’t want—”

“Don’t talk,” Dean snaps. He starts the car and shoves a random tape into the tape deck, cranking the volume up as loud as it can go, until it’s just noise coming through the speakers and he can’t hear anything else.

///

Dean drives East.

There’s no roadmap, no plan. Dean doesn’t really have any idea what he’s doing, but this has always been easier, taking the low road, walking away from shit he can’t even begin dealing with because he doesn’t know where to start. Maybe it’s in Illinois, this solution. Or Montana, or Colorado, or on the fucking moon.

The music stops. Dean jabs at the eject button and the car sinks into silence for as long as it takes for him to change the tape.

///

They’ve been driving for four hours when Dean pulls the car over.

He shuts off her engine and gets out, walks a few paces on shaky legs down the gravel shoulder, boots kicking up dust, hands behind his head. His right arm’s gone numb. He breathes in road dirt, the smell of exhaust and oil and rubber on cement. It makes his stomach lurch, his throat ache. The sun is hot overhead.

Dean crouches down and tries to make himself small, like maybe if he does this right, the ground’ll open up and eat him and he’ll be back where he belongs.

“Dean?” Cas says behind him, calm, fucking collected. Dean scrunches his eyes closed. Maybe if he waits a minute, maybe if he holds his breath, he’ll hear the tell-tale sound of wings stretching out, of Cas leaving him.

A hand lands on his shoulder. Dean grits his teeth.

“You should have killed me,” he says.

The hand slides away. Dean looks up, but all he sees is a tall, black shadow, blocking out the sun.

“You’re always trying to fix everything,” he says. “You should have fucking killed me.”

A car drives by, kicking up more dirt and pebbles, rustling the grass at the side of the road. The people inside probably wondering just what the hell is happening with these two idiots on the side of Highway 136. Or maybe not. Probably not.

Dean looks away, lets his hands fall off his head.

Cas turns around and walks back to the car and gets inside.

 

 

Bloomfield, Iowa

Dean makes it through two AC/DC albums, a Zeppelin album, and the first half of Sabbath’s Paranoid before the pain in his stomach becomes too much. The thought of food makes him feel sick, but not eating will just make the pain worse. He can’t fucking win.

They drive through a small town in Davis County for a few minutes before Dean finds a small Ma ‘N’ Pop type shop down a side street, its doors open, welcoming, fluorescent lights glowing bright against the darkening sidewalk. He shoves his wallet into his pocket and makes sure his spare angel blade is tucked away inside his jacket. Cas is already waiting by the door as Dean gets out and locks the car.

It’s practically dead inside, just an older couple sitting by the window sharing cake, and two men at the counter. Dean picks a booth in the corner, sliding in and pressing against the wall, angling himself so he can see the exits and watch the other customers. He rubs at his forearm with the pad of his thumb and tries to smile when the waitress introduces herself and gives them menus.

Cas meets his eye from across the table. Dean looks away first, clearing his throat.

“Hmm,” Cas says a few minutes later. “They have a whole section of milkshakes.”

Dean ignores him, folding his menu up and checking his phone. There’s nothing—not that he was expecting anything. Sam didn’t have much to say to him when he left. He sighs and texts him anyway.

So how much are you paying the babysitter?


The food arrives and Sam doesn’t reply.

///

It’s another two and a half hours of driving before Cas finally turns off the music and says, “Are we going to talk at all?”

Dean glares at Cas’s hand, at the radio. Hell, he’d glare at his own fucking life if he could. He tightens his grip on the steering wheel. “I didn’t ask you to come.”

“I know that,” Cas says. “But I’m here anyway.”

Dean doesn’t say anything.

Cas continues. “Dean, what you’ve been through—”

“Cas, seriously, just fuck right off,” Dean warns.

“—Sam was just trying to help.”

“I don’t need his fucking help!” Dean snaps. “Or yours! I don’t—god dammit, just shut the hell up.”

“No,” Cas says.

“Cas, I swear to god, I will kick you out of this fucking car and drive away,” Dean says.

“I’d like to see you try,” Cas says. “I may not be an angel anymore, Dean, but I’m not going to just let you push me around—or away. I’m here because I want to be here. I want to help you.”

Dean jabs at the stereo button and Blue Öyster Cult fills the car again, full-volume.

 

 

Rockford, Illinois

They stop an hour outside Rockford.

Dean could probably drive all night—is itching to drive all night—but then Cas fell asleep, and Dean had the absolute brilliant idea to pull into a motel and get himself a room and leave Cas in the car on his own. He’d have a long shower and use Magic Fingers to get at that knot between his shoulders, maybe order a movie and finish his whiskey and jack off. It’d be swell.

That was the original plan, anyway. But by the time he pulls into the Sleep Easy lot, even he’s starting to think that’s a Dick Move.

“Hey,” he whacks Cas in the shoulder. “Get your ass up.”

Cas grunts and straightens up. He rubs at his neck and glares at Dean like it’s his fault he slept all crooked and probably got a kink in his spine.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Dean says. “Grab your shit. We’re spending the night.”

Cas complies wordlessly, heaving his bag out of the back seat. Dean closes the trunk, duffle slung over his shoulder, and leads Cas to the front office where a bubble-gum chewing 50 year-old with a bad dye job eyes them as she hands over their room key.

“Ice and vending machines are outside,” the woman says.

“Yeah, okay,” Dean tugs on Cas’s sleeve to get his attention. “Uh. Thanks.”

“You have a good night, boys,” she says, grinning in a way that makes Dean’s cheeks burn.

He finds their room on the other side of the building, where it offers a spectacular view of the highway and the gas station across from it. Dean gets the door open and drops his duffle, kicking off his boots and flopping down on the nearest bed, suddenly feeling heavy everywhere.

“This is…” Cas fishes for a word. “Nice?”

“We’ve stayed at worse.” Dean punches the pillow into shape. “You’ve stayed at worse. At least this one you have to pay by the night.”

“Right,” Cas says. He drops his bag at the foot of his bed and doesn’t remove his shoes. Dean shifts, pushing his hand under himself to dig into his front pocket. He pulls out a handful of change and counts it. There’s enough there for a few rounds of Magic Fingers. Small miracles, or whatever.

“Do you mind if I shower?” Cas asks as Dean dumps the change into the machine and presses the button.

“Knock yourself out,” he says, rolling onto his back and closing his eyes. He feels Cas watching him for a moment, curious about the sudden vibrating—or Dean’s fascination with it, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t care.

Cas finally takes off his shoes and makes his way into the bathroom. Dean manages to fall asleep before the first round of vibrating, tingly bliss is over.

///

Dean jolts awake in the middle of the night, sweat-covered and buzzing from nerves. He wipes at his face, runs his hand through his hair, and looks over at the opposite bed, to where Cas is still passed out.

Quietly, Dean pushes the blanket back and gets out of bed, making his way to the bathroom. He shuts the door behind himself and leaves the light off for a few seconds, trying to slow his breathing. He swallows, closes his eyes, and flicks the switch.

The light’s fucking piercing, that too-bright, humming glow of a cheap motel bathroom. Dean gives himself a minute, then finally opens his eyes and looks into the mirror.

He’s a bit tired-looking, a bit scratchy around his chin, but it’s his dumbass, freckle-covered mug, his own green eyes staring back at him.

Dean runs the water cold and splashes some on his face, lets the water drip off his skin and into the sink. He dries off with a towel and shuts off the light before opening the door, but Cas hasn’t moved, still buried under the covers. Dean would almost believe he was dead if it weren’t for the rise and fall of his breathing as he slept. That he even sleeps now is still all kinds of weird.

Dean crawls back into bed and sighs.

///

In his dream, someone tells him to stop.

In his dream, Dean just laughs.

 

 

2.

Cas reads while they wait for their breakfast, some banged-up copy of Catcher in the Rye, his fingers leaving grey smudges on the white cover of the book. Dean drinks his coffee and watches cars pass outside, feeling antsy, over-tired and unable to shake it. He tries to ignore the smudge of his own reflection in the window, tries to avoid looking himself in the eye, so he glances over every time Cas turns the page.

“Where’d you even get that?” he asks eventually.

“I found it,” Cas says, not looking up. “It’s your brother’s.”

Dean snatches the book out of Cas’s hands and checks. Sure enough, there’s Sam’s name scratched into the first page. Christ, this book must have been around, what—twenty years, at least? Probably even longer than that, since Dean had a habit of stealing books from the library when they were still in school so Sam would have something to read.

Most of their belongings wound up in Lost and Found boxes or dumped into some charity bin before they left whatever town they were holed up in.

“Huh,” Dean says, handing the book back to Cas, who folds down the page and sets it aside.

“Are we talking today?” Cas asks.

Dean grunts. He takes another drink of his coffee. The waitress comes back with their food, handing out plates piled high with eggs and sausages and the other with a stack of strawberry chocolate-chip pancakes. Dean watches with mild disgust as Cas drowns his food in a lake of maple syrup.

“Man,” he says. “That shit’s gonna rot your teeth.”

“I haven’t had a chance to try much else,” Cas cuts a slice of pancake. “It’s a bit difficult when all we do is eat at diners.”

“Hey, I cook,” Dean says.

Cas chews thoughtfully for a minute. “Burgers.”

“That’s not true, I made pizza last week,” Dean says. “And that stew you liked. So cut me some fucking slack. I ate nothin’ but Spaghetti O’s out of a can growing up, and that was only if Sammy didn’t eat it all first.”

Cas smiles at him, a crooked twist of his lip, eyes warm. But he doesn’t say anything so Dean looks away, shovelling eggs into his mouth and distracting himself with his phone. Sam’s finally texted him back.

He wanted to go so I encouraged him to.
Don’t be a jerk, he’s the only friend you have.


Yeah, thanks for the reminder, Sam.

Dean shoves his phone back into his pocket and finishes his coffee.

///

Dean checks them out of their motel and fills up at the gas station across the street as Cas lingers inside, taking his sweet-ass time figuring out if he prefers Pepsi or Coke until he finally decides on water because it’s “simple.” Dean grabs an armload of snacks, which he dumps into the backseat, and they keep driving east through Rockford.

Cas goes through Dean’s tape collection, careful, how he always is whenever he touches any of Dean’s things, like they’re some precious object, some priceless artifact that he feels honored to hold. He reads the back of each one, the tiny, smudged tracklists Dean hand-wrote when the original inserts got soaked with water or beer, or with sweat from being kept in jacket pockets and fondled repeatedly while dad drove from town to town.

Eventually Cas asks, “Where are we going?”

Dean has to admit he’s kind of impressed; he was expecting that question a lot earlier.

“East,” he says. “For now.”

Cas watches him for a minute.

“You’re in a good mood,” he notes.

“Am I?” Dean asks.

“Yes,” Cas says. “You haven’t told me to fuck off.”

Dean shifts in his seat. “Well. It’s early yet.”

The drive through Chicago is uneventful. Dean takes the route around Lake Michigan, just for a change of scenery. He drives with his head leaning against his hand, propped against the door, feeling the beginnings of a migraine. When they get to Michigan City, they stop for lunch at a food truck on the side of the road, then Dean drives south.

 

 

Lithopolis, Ohio

“I could use a drink,” Dean says once they’ve driven through Columbus. Or ten, or twelve, or however many it takes to knock him out so this headache will go away, so maybe the buzzing under his skin will stop and he can actually sleep through the night.

Cas doesn’t say anything, because apparently he’s just tagging along for this ride instead of, like, participating in it. He hasn’t suggested a single thing to eat or listen to or do, he just sits there and lets Dean make all the decisions.

Dean should be happy with that, since he fully intended to do whatever he wanted anyway. Instead he’s watching for some sign, some tell that Cas isn’t okay with this. Nothing comes.

He really needs a fucking drink.

He finds some dumpy bar half an hour outside the city that looks like a big, ugly metal shack. The lights out front hum, casting a sick orange glow down the side of the building and attracting moths. A woman in black stockings and red high heels whistles at them as they pass.

Cas doesn’t look so painfully out of place at bars anymore. Maybe he went out drinking when he was still working at the Gas ‘N’ Sip. Maybe he went after work, found a way to stumble into awkward hook-ups, found a way to sleep in a real bed once in a while instead of in a sleeping bag on folded cardboard boxes at the back of the store.

Cas’s fingers wrap around a glass of whiskey, his thumb rubbing at the condensation on the side absentmindedly, and Dean shifts in his seat, unzipping his coat a little.

When he looks up, the dude at the end of the bar—some leather-clad biker built like a brick shithouse—is eyeing him. Dean’s heart jumps in his chest, like his dad’s just caught him snagging one of his beers, but the biker just goes back to talking with the bartender.

Dean turns away and clears his throat.

“You ever do this?” he asks.

Cas looks up at him. “Do what?”

Dean shrugs a shoulder and nudges Cas’s glass. “You know. Go out, get shitfaced, get a few phone numbers, pick up some desperate chicks?”

Cas’s mouth twitches and he looks down at his hands.

“No,” he says. “I worked. I did word searches. I… drank too much coffee, and once I accidentally swallowed mouthwash.”

Dean grimaces. “So you slept in that back room the whole time?”

Cas doesn’t look at him. “Mostly, yes. Except once, when a good friend showed up at the store. It was… a horrible night, all things considered. But I slept in a real bed, and I saw my friend again.”

Cas smiles at him.

“Fuck, Cas,” Dean scrubs at his face and orders two more double-shots.

The buzzing under his skin won’t go away. His hands clench, blunt nails digging into his palm, hackles raising at nothing in particular. Dean tries to steady his breathing, tries to remember that yoga stuff Sam taught him once.

The bartender smiles at him as she pours them their shots. Dean smiles back, turns on the charm—fuck, he’s a pig. Cas is right there, but this crap is practically automatic by now, he could pick women up in his sleep. Besides, Cas’s attention is on the television, some boring sport fishing show where men compare the size of their tuna, and Dean needs a distraction.

He tips his shot glass in thanks and the woman’s smile broadens.

///

Drinking was probably a bad idea.

Flirting with the bartender was definitely a bad idea, because after an hour, Biker Dude’s apparently had enough, pushing his stool back and standing up to his full, hulking height.

Dean’s ready to go, heart thumping loudly, muscles tense and jaw set. And this is it, this is what he’s needed; not a quick fuck in the backseat of his car, but to beat the shit out of something, to shake the buzzing out of his arms.

So the guy comes over, shoves Dean hard, starts barking at him. The bartender—June or May or some other month of the year—shouts at him to knock it off, says, “They’re just having a few drinks, Mike.”

Cas hovers behind him, hands on his arms, not holding Dean back but not letting him go, either.

“Come on,” Cas says, pulling gently. Dean goes to fight against him, goes to pry himself loose so he can punch this douchebag in the nose, but Cas’s hands are soft, wrapping gently around his wrist, and Dean relents.

He drops money on the bar, looking Biker Dude dead in the eye, and says, “Thanks for the drinks, sweetheart.”

///

Dean pukes around back. He’s not even that drunk—he has, maybe, the beginnings of a buzz going on, but that’s it. He’s just too wound up, too tense. Or maybe those hot dogs he had for lunch were off, but Cas seems fine from where he stands behind him, hand resting between Dean’s shoulder blades until Dean shakes it off.

“I’m fine, dude,” he says.

Cas fishes Baby’s keys out of Dean’s jacket and leads him away. Dean doesn’t protest, just lets Cas nudge him into the passenger seat, buckling him in, hand resting on his knee a moment before he moves to get in the driver’s side.

They drive for twenty minutes, Dean’s head pressed against the cool window, watching Cas’s hands on the steering wheel, the bend of his fingers. Cas pulls off on a side road in the middle of nowhere and kills the engine.

“There’s water in the back still,” he says.

“I said I’m fine,” Dean snaps.

Cas nibbles on his bottom lip. Dean stares at it. Fuck, he’s still buzzing, still too tense. He rolls down the window, lets in some fresh air, the smell of dirt and farmer’s fields. Cas picks at a loose thread in the knee of his jeans, pulls out a hole in the fabric, the skin on the back of his hand sliding over the bones of his knuckles. Dean closes his eyes—this isn’t helping.

“Do you want the back?” Cas asks after a few minutes of silence.

“I’m fine here,” Dean says. Moving seems like a fucking chore now.

Cas gets out of the car, then opens the back door and gets back in, moving stuff around onto the floor and pulling off his hoodie to bunch up under his head as a makeshift pillow. Even with his eyes closed, Dean can piece together the image of it just from the rustle of fabric, the shift of Cas’s weight against the leather seats.

“Good night, Dean,” Cas says.

“Yeah,” Dean sighs. “You too.”

 

 

0.

They managed to get through breakfast all in one piece, despite the tension. Sam stilled moved stiffly, still answered in clipped sentences, the bags under his eyes making them look dark and sunken-in.

Dean wanted to be smug, wanted to call him out on it, but dad’s voice was so ingrained into the back of his mind, saying, “Watch out for Sammy” over and over again that he couldn’t. Seeing Sam exhausted, pissed off, it just sent him spiralling into worry.

Cas stayed out of it, reading the back of his cereal box with his shoulders hunched, Dean’s old Zeppelin t-shirt hanging off of him, making him look small.

It was stupid, but most arguments are; Dean’s life revolved around stupid arguments. But whatever, so it goes, and all that crap. He needed something out of the store room, but Sam jumped up first.

“I’ll get it,” he said.

“Dude, I can get my own stuff,” Dean said.

Sam shook his head. “It’s really no problem.”

Dean snorted. Sam stopped in his tracks.

“What?” he asked.

“I’m fine, Sam,” Dean said. “For the last fucking time, I won’t get stuck down there, or see the blade and freak out, or whatever it is you think is gonna happen.”

“Well, sorry for still having hard time with this whole thing,” Sam said.

“What, and I’m not?” Dean said. “Dude, come on—”

“No, you lied to me, Dean!” Sam pointed at him, voice raised. “Again. You told me you were getting better, you told me it was working—”

“I didn’t want you to worry!”

“Bullshit!” Sam shouted. “You were only humoring me so I’d stop treatment! Seriously, Dean, did you even want it to work?”

“Fuck you,” Dean snapped back.

Sam inhaled sharply and shuffled from one foot to the next. He looked down the hallway, towards the direction of the store room. Dean could feel Cas’s eyes on him, staring into him, but Dean ignored him.

“This isn’t working,” he decided.

Sam nodded, jaw twitching, still refusing to look at him. When he didn’t say anything, Dean brushed past him, moving towards the dormitories, towards his bedroom to start packing his bags.

“You know you’re wrong if you think running away is going to help,” Sam called after him.

“What, are you gonna stop me?” Dean asked.

Sam didn’t respond and Dean walked away.

 

 

3.

A noise as loud as a fucking canon going off breaks the silence of the car. Dean startles awake, head sore and the side of his face wet from—god, that better be morning dew and not drool—and bones aching from whatever weird position he managed to contort himself into as he slept.

Cas grumbles in the backseat. Dean fishes his phone off the floor and answers it.

“What?”

“And a good morning to you too,” Sam says. He sounds way too fucking cheerful for—Dean checks his watch—seven forty-three in the morning.

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean opens the car door and all but falls out, legs asleep and knees cracking when he straightens up. He leans against the door, warm from the sun, and yawns. “What do you want?”

“Where are you?” Sam asks.

“Ohio,” Dean says.

“Okay,” Sam pauses. Then, “why?”

“We threw darts at a map and that’s where they landed?” Dean rubs his eyes. “I dunno, man.”

“Uh huh,” Sam says. “Well, hey. If you’re getting bored with your little Kerouac reenactment, I found a case in Kentucky.”

“You just happened to find a case one state away from us?” Dean asks.

“Yeah. Lucky break, I guess,” Sam says. “Anyway, sounds like vamps—probably newly turned, the vics are turning up completely drained. Either that or they’ve gotten sloppy on purpose. You got your laptop with you?”

“‘Course,” Dean says “How else am I gonna watch my anime?”

He can actually hear Sam roll his eyes.

“I’m emailing you the details,” he says. “Call me when you’re done just so I know you didn’t bite it.”

“Ha-ha,” Dean says. “So punny.”

“Bye,” Sam says, then hangs up.

Dean hasn’t worked a proper case in a while—at least, not without Sam. Fuck, he didn’t pack his fed suit. He sighs and slides back into the car. Cas looks at him, squinting in the sun, hair mussed up on one side.

“Sam?” he asks.

“Case,” Dean nods. “We gotta pick up suits.”

Cas groans.

“I’ll even let you pick your own tie,” Dean promises.

Cas may or may not tell him to go screw himself.

 

 

Covington, Kentucky

Dean whistles when Cas steps out of the change room.

“Ain’t you a sight for sore eyes,” he says.

Cas looks down at himself. “I haven’t shaved since we left.”

“Yeah,” Dean agrees. “You’re gonna have to fix that.”

Cas fiddles with his tie, some dead-looking grey thing. Dean resolved to let him pick out whatever he wanted, but the urge to throw one of the candy-cane striped ties at him is proving difficult to resist. The suit is nice, though—sharp, a good cut, well-fitting. Dean clears his throat and looks away.

“Is this necessary for—” Cas stops, smiling at the store clerk when she walks by, then turns to Dean again. “Uh. For… what we’re dealing with? Sam seemed to have a good idea what’s happening already.”

“Just dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s, man,” Dean says. “Paperwork’s a bitch.”

“We don’t have paperwork,” Cas says.

Whatever.

Dean pays for the suits with a credit card. He drives them to the nearest motel to go over Sam’s file again while Cas shaves with the door cracked open. Every so often Dean hears him mutter under his breath and tear off another piece of toilet paper. Cas emerges a while later, clean-shaven and dressed in his suit.

Dean talks them into the morgue, the technician just a young thing, dark hair pulled back and glasses lopsided on her nose. Her nametag says ‘Carrie’ and there’s a small, glittery sticker of a heart stuck next to it.

Carrie shakes her head as she opens the door.

“Haven’t seen anything like this. Maybe you can make sense of it,” she says before leaving them to it.

Dean waits until she’s gone before leaning over the corpse—a man, mid-forties, farmer type. He straps on gloves and tilts the man’s head, leaning in closer. The skin’s clean. No bite mark, no cuts, no bruising, nothing. Dean frowns and tilts the man’s head over to the other side, but same deal—nothing.

“Huh,” he says.

“Bite?” Cas asks.

“Nope,” Dean says. “Nada.”

Cas comes over to look. Dean moves down the body, down to his arms, turning them over in his hands to inspect the skin. There’s bruising on the wrists but nothing else. Dean pulls the sheet down even further, revealing the rest of the cadaver, and stops.

“Yahtzee,” he says, peeling off his gloves.

“That’s over the femoral artery,” Cas says, coming to stand next to him. “Why would they bite there and not the neck?”

“Do I look like the Vampire Whisperer to you?” Dean asks.

Cas rolls his eyes.

“Maybe it’s some sort of fetish,” Dean continues. “They like to play with their food, that kinda thing.”

Cas ignores him, moving further down the table.

“There’s more bruising around the ankles,” he says. “And here—the opposite thigh.”

Dean moves closer. “That’s not a bite.”

“No,” Cas agrees. “It looks… surgical.”

“All right,” Dean says, gesturing to the bruise. “So… they get themselves a snack—that explains the love-bite—and then, what, take a time out to practice their medical exam?”

“The bruising on the ankles suggests he was hanged upside-down. That would allow the blood to drain quicker,” Cas says.

“So they wanted left-overs,” Dean says. “After they got rid of the body.”

He rubs his chin.

“Okay,” he says after a minute. “That still doesn’t explain why the thigh and not the neck.”

“We should check the other victims,” Cas says.

Dean calls Carrie back in. She pulls out the other bodies, removing the sheets so Dean and Cas can inspect them. They’re all male, in their late thirties to forties, all sporting the same bite on one thigh and a round bruise on the other, same marks on the wrists and ankles.

“Can’t quite figure that out,” Carrie says, gesturing to the bite. “Some killers like to take souvenirs, some like to leave signatures. Apparently this one does both.”

“Thanks, Carrie,” Dean smiles at her.

She nods and pushes her glasses further up her nose. “Let me know if I can be of any more help, fellas.”

She leaves again and Dean turns to Cas.

“You okay with talking to people?” he asks. “You’re not gonna go all Bad Cop this time, right?”

Cas huffs. “I’ll try to contain myself.”

///

It takes them the better part of the day to get around to all three victims’ families. Cas is, thankfully, well-behaved. He’s not as dewy-eyed and touchy-feely as Sam is, but he plays ‘mysterious’ pretty well. The third victim’s recent ex-wife—Nancy—buys right into it. She smiles, playing with her necklace, and leans closer to him as he talks.

Before they leave, she slips her phone number into Cas’s hand. Just in case they have any more questions. Apparently. Dean rolls his eyes as Cas thanks her.

“I love it when there’s a pattern,” Dean says when they’re back in the car.

“The bar?” Cas asks.

“Rotten Ronnie’s,” Dean nods. “Ten bucks says there’s a by-the-hour attached.”

“Why do you say that?” Cas asks.

“Love-bites,” Dean says.

///

All three men were regular customers, according to the bartender, but that’s all the answers they can provide. Dean asks around some more but comes up with nothing.

It’s dark by the time he and Cas leave the bar and wander next door. There’s a few scantily-clad women standing outside smoking cigarettes. They watch them as they walk past. Dean keeps walking. Then stops. Then backtracks, flashing his badge and fishing out the photographs of the victims.

“You payin’?” one asks, blowing smoke into his face. “Only, I ain’t never do nothin’ for free.”

“So you do some things for free,” Cas says. Dean turns around to look at him.

The woman looks at Cas, then smiles. “Well, I could maybe be talked into lowerin’ the price for you, sugar.”

“No,” Cas says. “‘Ain’t never’ is a double-negative. That implies that you—”

“Okay, agent,” Dean says over his shoulder. Cas shuts up—thank god. Dean tucks the photographs back into his pocket. “Look, ma’am, three men are dead. Three men who, for all we know, could’ve been your best-paying customers. We’re just trying to stop anyone else from getting hurt—and you from losing any hard-earned pay.”

“I’m sure,” the woman says.

Fine, whatever. They’re not going to get anywhere out here. Dean grabs Cas by the sleeve and leads him away inside.

///

Vamps taken care of.
Human bait took off, though.


Dean idly flips through television channels. There’s not much on—Simpson’s re-runs and some nature documentary about dog breeds. He longs for Magic Fingers, or for the shower back at the bunker; anything to ease the tension in his back. Christ, it hasn’t even been a week yet and he’s homesick. Fucking homesick.

He readjusts the pillow behind him and decides on the dog thing. Sam would enjoy it, if he were here. Dean’s phone vibrates against his leg.

Damn. What was the situation?


Dean gives up texting and dials Sam’s number.

“Hookers,” he says by way of greeting.

“What?” Sam asks.

“They were hookers,” Dean says. “Well, the human bait was. The no-tell had something called a Play Room but it was just the basement. I figure they draw the vics in, bring them down there for some playtime, only instead of whips and chains it’s teeth and blood-sucking. They even had their own blood donation op going on—there were bags of it in a fridge.”

“Jeez,” Sam says. Dean hears him wipe his face.

“It’s pretty clever if you think about it,” Dean says.

Sam grunts. Cas wanders out of the bathroom, newly-showered, dressed down in a faded t-shirt and a pair of sweats. Dean watches him tuck his shower bag back into his duffle, eyes following the curve of his spine, the way the muscles in his arms flex when he shuffles things around. The way his shirt rides up at the back, just a little.

“Dean?” Sam asks.

“Huh?” Dean feels his cheeks heat. “What?”

“I asked where you’re going next,” Sam says. He adds, “I could probably find something else for you if you wanted.”

“Nah, it’s fine,” Dean says. Cas sets himself down on the opposite bed and stretches out, mimicking Dean’s position, pillows propped up against the headboard and legs crossed at the ankle. Dean looks away and says, “Uh. I dunno. Maybe Whitefish.”

Sam stays silent for a long minute.

“Dean…”

“What?” Dean asks.

“Look, I get it, you need to—to clear your head, or whatever.” Dean hears Sam shift the phone. “But. This isn’t going to get resolved if we don’t, you know. Talk.”

“Sam—”

“I’m not saying right now,” Sam interrupts. “Just… eventually.”

Dean closes his eyes and forces his breathing to stay calm.

“Yeah,” he says. “Later, Sammy.”

Dean hangs up before Sam gets a chance to say anything more, dropping his phone onto the bedside table. He turns his attention back to the television and pretends he doesn’t feel Cas watching him out of the corner of his eye.

///

Dean waits until Cas is asleep to leave the motel room.

He buys a Coke from the vending machine outside and sits on the steps leading down to the parking lot, drinking slowly and watching a pair of bats swoop after moths around a lamp post. He rubs at his forearm, his thumb cold to the touch from holding his soda. It sends a chill up his skin. Dean shifts, then gets off the steps and makes his way down to the car, pulling his keys out from his pocket.

Dean digs through the trunk, shuffling weapons and bags of salt aside until he finds it. His heart pounds. He looks up, looks around the lot, but he’s the only one out here. Dean licks his lips and lowers his right hand onto the bundle, hidden away underneath a spare duffle. He unties the leather and lets his fingers brush along the bone of the blade.

He doesn’t feel its magnetic pull anymore. He doesn’t hear the low hum in his ear, doesn’t feel an itch in his fingers or his blood thumping harder through his veins. He doesn’t feel the dip in his gut, or the tingle at the base of his spine, or the breath catch in his throat.

He just feels bone, shaved down sharp, and pointed teeth.

Dean wraps the blade up again, tucks it further away amongst the other weapons, and shuts the trunk of the car.

 

 

4.

Cas keeps quiet as he gets ready the next morning, looking at Dean like he wants to say something, but he never ends up doing it. They pack the car together and Dean hands back the key while Cas waits outside.

Dean spends the morning feeling groggy, a weight hanging over him that even two cups of coffee fails to lift. It’s over a day’s drive to Whitefish. With the right pills and maybe a bucket more of coffee Dean could do it, but the idea of having pills in the car where Cas could find them causes his stomach to clench.

Some days it’s hard to remember that crisis has been averted. Apocalypse Never. That reality never was and never would be again. Dean scratches a hand through his hair. God damn, his life is beyond fucked.

“Here,” Dean tosses Cas the keys after breakfast. Cas catches them one-handed and blinks at them.

“You sure?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Dean says. “I could use a nap. Just don’t kill us.”

“Okay,” Cas says. He hesitates. “Where are we headed?”

Dean moves to open the passenger door but stops. “Whitefish, Montana.”

“The cabin?” Cas asks.

Dean nods and points. “Just drive in that direction. Stop when you need a break or wanna switch.”

He crawls into the passenger seat and digs through the glove compartment until he finds an old pair of shades. Cas gets into the driver’s side and starts the engine, readjusting the rear-view mirror before reversing out of their spot and pulling out of the lot.

Dean falls asleep with the sun on his face and Zeppelin II playing quietly through the speakers.

///

The blade’s in his hand. It’s covered in blood—his hands are covered in blood. He should be shaking—his hand should be shaking—but he isn’t. Everything is quiet. Outside, inside, in his head, in the cage of his chest.

Demons, the bodies they possess, their hearts still beat. They’re still alive. Those people are still in there, scratching at the walls of themselves from the inside out, screaming, beating, trying to escape, trying to get this—this thing, this black cloud of evil out of them.

Dean isn’t alive. Dean’s dead. Dean died months ago. The demon inside him is himself.

Someone says, “Dean.”

Someone says, “Dean,” like they’re trying to drag him in out of a lake, trying to stop him from drowning, trying to pull him ashore. Dean feels ropes on his wrists but he breaks through them. He breaks through the devil’s trap under his feet because he’s—he’s more. This stuff just doesn’t work on him.

His arm burns.

Cas says, “Dean.” His eyes are huge, sad, blue blue blue. He’s not wearing any clothes—or he is, but they’re—Dean gets his hand into Cas’s coat, against his skin, hot, and he pushes aside the fabric—the skin, Cas’s skin—and he takes the blade and he shoves it in. Cas just—he just gasps and presses closer, hot breath on Dean’s neck and hot hot hot skin sliding against his and blue blue blue eyes glowing—fucking glowing. It’s too fucking bright, and Cas says it again, says, “Dean!”

Dean jerks awake, his knee hitting the underside of the dash with a loud thump, his seatbelt digging into his chest. He pulls at it, gets it unbuckled, and scrambles at the door handle, stomach rolling and head pounding.

“Dean,” Cas looks at him, face pale. “Okay, just—wait a minute—”

The car’s rolling to a stop by the time Dean manages to get the door open and stumble out onto the side of the road. He falls to his hands and knees and vomits into the grass, getting dirt under his nails and on his jeans.

Cas stands back, waiting. After a few more heaves Dean can’t get anything else out and he slumps back, head between his knees, taking in big, deep gulps of air and wiping sweat off his forehead. His arms shake.

“Dean?” Cas tries.

“Don’t,” Dean warns.

“Okay,” Cas says.

He keeps waiting. He waits as long as it takes for Dean to get enough strength back to push himself off the ground and get back into the car. Cas slides into the driver’s seat again, moving to turn the ignition. He pauses, though, and his hands drop into his lap.

“I’m fine, Cas,” Dean says. It’s like a sixth sense to him by now, that he can tell when people are going to ask him if he’s okay. The hairs on the back of his neck stand up or something.

“No, you’re not,” Cas says.

Dean laughs humorously. “Damn. You really are something.”

Cas frowns. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, you can’t exactly talk,” Dean gestures to him. Cas shifts uncomfortably.

“I’m adjusting,” he says. “It just takes time.”

“It was fuckin’ stupid. You know that, right?” Dean asks.

“Dean—”

“I didn’t ask for you to save me!” Dean says. “Dammit, Cas, you could’ve died.”

“Well, I didn’t,” Cas says, voice eerily calm, though his hands clench in his lap, knuckles going white. “It was a small price to pay for your humanity. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

“A small—Jesus Christ, Cas,” Dean feels his stomach turn again. He lets his head thump back against the seat. “You were—you had a solution. You had a fix to all this shit. You were getting all your powers back, your wings, everything.”

Cas doesn’t say anything for a minute. When he does, there’s an edge to it, sharp and threatening.

“You’re angry that I’m no longer an angel,” he says.

“Don’t turn this into a fuckin’ power thing, okay, because it ain’t,” Dean glares at him.

“Then what?” Cas snaps.

“Fuck’s sake—you had a way out!” Dean shouts. “You had a way out and you didn’t take it!”

“No, I had a choice,” Cas says. “And I chose you.”

“Yeah,” Dean says. “That’s what I’m saying. You chose wrong.”

Cas’s jaw twitches. “Well, I don’t think so.”

Dean huffs and turns away, turns his back on him, presses himself into the door. Cas starts the car again and shifts her into gear.

They keep driving.

///

Cas pulls into a gas station a few hours later and drops the Impala’s keys into Dean’s lap without a word. Dean watches him go into the store, giving himself a minute to gather up his energy and step out of the car. He stretches, cracks a kink in his neck, and sets to work on topping up the gas.

When Dean heads inside to pay, Cas is by the fridge in the back. Dean buys a pack of gum and a Snickers along with the gas, flashing the guy behind the counter a quick smile, then moves around a display of chips to stand next to Cas.

“I was going to get you water,” Cas doesn’t look at him. “But there’s too many brands to choose from and I don’t know which one you like.”

Dean doesn’t say anything and Cas continues.

“I’ll never understand why there’s so many,” he says. “It’s just water.”

Dean digs into his pocket and pulls out the Snickers. Cas looks down at it like he’s never seen a damn candy bar before in his life.

“I bought it for you,” Dean says.

Cas takes it, their fingers brushing, and looks up at him again. Dean nods and opens the fridge door, grabbing two bottles of water—the nearest, because he actually doesn’t care about brands, or whatever the hell Cas was talking about—and carries them back to the cash.

 

 

Fergus Falls, Minnesota

As soon as they get to a motel in Minnesota, Dean takes the first shower without even asking. He almost falls asleep against the tiles, the water raining down on his skin, too-gentle and just this side of not-hot-enough. His skin itches from the inside-out, feels too tight, and he’s finally got ten minutes to himself but there’s an exhaustion so heavy in his bones he can barely lift his hands to wash his hair.

He brushes his teeth and puts on his sleep clothes and flops face-first into the mattress.

He rolls over a minute later to find Cas staring at him.

“Still creepy, Cas,” he says, but there’s no feeling to it.

“You’ve mentioned,” Cas says. Then he nudges a pile of quarters across the bedside table. Dean looks at them and Cas gestures to the bed. “For the… vibrating thing.”

Dean didn’t even realize this motel had Magic Fingers.

“Awesome,” he smiles. He rolls onto his back and dumps the pile of change onto his chest, counting it out. There’s enough here for several rounds—not that he’ll last that long without passing out, most likely.

Only, Cas isn’t getting up to have a shower like he expected. He’s not really doing anything, just sitting there, body turned sort-of towards Dean, not looking at him but not…not-looking, either.

Maybe Dean should apologize. For earlier. He fiddles with a quarter, rolls it over his fingers.

“Thank you,” Cas says suddenly, quiet, finally looking at him. Dean stops rolling the quarter.

“For what?” he asks.

Cas shrugs half-heartedly. “I don’t know—everything, maybe. For not kicking me out after I—after. For not leaving me on the side of the road somewhere, even though you could have.”

“Dude,” Dean frowns at him. “I wouldn’t do that.”

Cas smiles, more to himself than to Dean.

“I would understand if you did,” he says. Dean sits up, the quarters sliding off his chest and onto his stomach. He’s about to argue, about to say something, but Cas cuts him off and says, “I make you uncomfortable.”

Right, this is—this isn’t awesome anymore.

Dean rubs his eyes. “Look—”

“It’s all right, Dean,” Cas says. “I’m not going to ask anything of you.”

Dean’s chest aches, because that’s—that’s not what this is about. “Cas…”

Cas is too fucking calm about this. He’s not freaking out, and he’s still fucking here, after everything they’ve been through, and even now with—with this crap on top of it all.

Cas just watches him, eyes soft, gentle. He nibbles his bottom lip and Dean’s fingers grip in the blanket, holding tight for a minute, resisting—resisting something. He just—he doesn’t even know anymore.

Finally, Cas gets off his bed and gestures towards the bathroom.

“I’m going to clean up,” he says.

“Right,” Dean says. “Uh. Thanks. For the quarters.”

Cas just nods and leaves the room. The shower comes on a minute later. Dean gets off the bed, shoving the quarters aside, and grabs his coat and heads outside.

It’s a warm night, the stars blocked out by the clouds. Dean pulls his phone out of his pocket and fiddles with it, types a text out to Sam then deletes it, then types it again, then deletes it again. He’s fucking pathetic.

Dean looks at the car, at her trunk, and fiddles with the keys for a moment.

Then he turns around and heads back inside just as Cas is coming out of the bathroom.

“Everything okay?” he asks.

“Yeah, uh—” Dean holds up his phone. “Tried Sam but I guess he’s asleep.”

Cas just nods, dumping his dirty clothes into his bag and grabbing his book out from the bottom. Dean scoops the quarters off the bed and stretches out again, plunking some into the machine and pressing the button, causing the bed to shake to life underneath him.

Dean stares up at the ceiling.

This is what Cas gave up Heaven for: greasy diner food, shitty motel rooms with even shittier cable, long car rides spent in complete silence except for the same six tapes playing over and over again, and a burnt-out husk of a man who can barely hold a conversation anymore; who Cas thinks he actually has to thank for not throwing his ass out onto the highway, like that makes Dean some sort of fucking saint.

The bed slows down and comes to a halt. Dean doesn’t bother putting more quarters in.

 

 

5.

“Are you sure you want to put all this together?” Cas asks. Dean grabs the pile of clothes out of his arms and shoves them into the washing machine.

“Not like you don’t wear my clothes already,” he says. Cas looks at him and Dean sighs. “It’s cheaper if we just use one machine.”

“All right,” Cas says, falling quiet. He pours detergent into the machine and lets Dean pick the settings. Dean feeds coins into the slot, starting the wash, and drops his bag on top of the washer, shuffling away to flop down into a nearby chair. Cas follows him, sitting down and folding his hands in his lap.

Dean looks around for lack of anything better to do. The only other customers here are a girl with a pair of large headphones, an older woman reading a gossip magazine, and a guy who comes in with what looks like a load of work clothes. Dean watches him load a nearby washer. The guy catches him and Dean shifts awkwardly, looking away—at Cas, who’s busy staring at the vending machine.

Then the guy grabs his basket and moves towards the detergent dispenser, brushing Dean’s knee as he walks past. Dean leans forward to look before he realizes what he’s doing, clearing his throat and sitting back in his chair, glancing up at the woman behind the counter. She keeps eyeing them warily, like they’re about to root through someone’s dirty underwear for souvenirs.

The guy looks at him again and cocks an eyebrow. Dean feels his fingers itch, something twitch into life at the base of his spine. He hasn’t—not since. Maybe that shouldn’t count. But then everything else he did when he was—when he was sick—counts.

The woman behind the counter clears her throat and Dean nearly jumps out of his seat. He lets out a long breath and rubs his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose. It’s just this whole thing, this trip, it’s making him restless. It’s the long bouts of driving, and laundromats had always smelled too chemically-fresh, even before, but now it’s just worse. They’ve only been here ten minutes and already he feels sweat break out on his forehead and down the back of his neck, his stomach clenching uncomfortably.

Wordlessly he gets out of his chair and heads outside, past the guy who keeps checking him out, past the woman behind the counter. He wanders around the side of the building and leans against the wall, closing his eyes. It’s just—the detergent, or something. It’s too much. He’s too overtired, or he’s had too much coffee.

There’s footsteps behind him.

Then, “Dean?”

Dean doesn’t move and Cas comes to stand beside him, hanging over his shoulder, close.

“You’re pale,” Cas says.

“Yeah,” Dean scratches a hand through his hair. “Sorry.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Dean sees Cas tilt his head. “What for?”

“Leaving,” Dean says. “I dunno.”

Cas puts a hand on his shoulder and moves around to stand in front of him. Dean’s muscles start to relax, his breathing quieting down. Cas doesn’t say anything, just keeps an eye on him, keeps his hand on him; a steady, solid weight Dean can lean into if he chooses.

Dean leans into it.

Cas squeezes his shoulder gently, supporting the weight, and Dean’s head start to clear.

///

It’s a long drive to Whitefish.

They fill up and buy snacks and sandwiches for the road. Dean buys Cas some sunglasses, since he apparently lost his at some point. He gets a big, douchey-looking pair, a mock version of the kind a rockstar would wear, and laughs harder than he has in a long time when Cas puts them on.

“I like them,” Cas says.

“You would,” Dean says.

Cas wears them the entire time he drives.

After a few hours, the sun ducks behind a wall of clouds, and Cas pulls into a park so they can eat lunch before it starts to rain. They spread food out over a picnic table, Cas picking tomatoes out of his sandwich as he watches a man with a dog toss a stick around, the dog chasing after it and bringing it back each time. Dean watches Cas.

It’s weird, Cas being human again. Cas eating sandwiches and picking out the tomatoes, sleeping curled up in the passenger seat, and wearing Dean’s old concert t-shirts and sweat pants. It’s weird, not because Cas is bad at it, but because he isn’t. He’s adjusting well, even though he shouldn’t have had to.

“Do you, uh—do you talk to anyone still?” Dean asks once he’s done his sandwich. The wind’s picked up, sending bits of lettuce skittering across the table.

Cas doesn’t look at him, still watching the dog. “Anyone who?”

“You know,” Dean shrugs, picking up the lettuce and tossing it into his sandwich wrapper. “Anyone upstairs?”

“No,” Cas says quietly. He turns around, shifting on the bench so he’s facing Dean. Their knees knock together under the table. Dean fiddles with the wrapper as Cas says, “I was cut off from Heaven’s power when I gave up my grace. The only way I could talk to anyone is if someone came down here.”

“Right,” Dean says. “And there’s no cell reception in Heaven.”

“No,” Cas agrees. “No cell reception.”

Dean watches the dog for a minute.

“Do you miss it?” he asks.

Cas stays quiet and Dean watches him again. Cas inhales, slow, then looks away. He cleans off the picnic table, gathers up his things, and walks off in the direction of the car.

///

This is what Cas gave up Heaven for: shitty gas station sandwiches with too many tomatoes, a picnic table that probably gave him splinters, and an insensitive prick for a best friend.

 

 

0.

Dean’s laugh echoed, bouncing off the walls, loud. He felt it in his chest, bubbling out, uncontrollable. Verging on hysteric. Where before there’d be fear, there’d be anger, there’d be—there’d be something—now it was just barks of humorless laughter, dead and emotionless.

Sam placed a knife down on the table, and next to it, a flask of holy water. He pulled an old rag out of his pocket and laid down a roll of syringes.

“Cute,” Dean said.

Sam ignored him. He was smarter now, having learned his lesson. He set up shop in the dungeon, in the middle of the giant devil’s trap. He used ropes soaked in holy water, the handcuffs, and a head brace—the same one they used on Gadreel—so Dean couldn’t bite him this time.

Cas watched from the entry way. He leaned against the wall, his arms folded against his chest, pale and tired-looking. Hannah stood quietly behind him, eyes locked on Dean, wary, her hands clasped in front of her; a semblance of calm, but she was ready to spring into action if need be.

Dean grinned wolfishly at her. She didn’t bat an eye.

Sam rolled up his sleeve, moving the syringe in place and filling it with the first dose. When he approached, syringe in one hand, flask of holy water in the other, Dean jerked violently in the chair with a growl. Sam’s shoulders tensed but otherwise he didn’t move.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s try this again.”

Six hours it lasted.

Sam would administer the dose, announce the time they’d be back, then the three of them would leave Dean alone, unable to do anything but think.

Around the third dose, that’s when it started, the feelings. The longer it went on the worse he felt. By the fourth he started to panic. He tried to break out of the chains, tried to kick Sam away, snapping at him and practically foaming at the mouth. But Sam pressed on, undeterred.

By the fifth dose, Dean was too weak to do anything but slouch, the brace the only thing holding his head up.

After the sixth dose, after Sam cut his palm and pressed it to Dean’s mouth, chanting the exorcism, purifying him from the inside out, it was Cas’s turn.

They were on the clock now. They only had a short window of opportunity before the mark would take over again.

From the other room, in a hushed voice, Dean heard Hannah say, “Castiel.”

He heard her say, “Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?”

“Yes,” Cas said. “I’m sure.”

“Why?” Hannah asked.

“You know why.”

“Haven’t you sacrificed enough already?” Hannah asked. “Castiel, we need—”

“You don’t. Not anymore,” Cas said. “You’re what Heaven needs, Hannah, not me.”

Dean closed his eyes.

“Please,” Cas said. “Please, help me do this.”

Hannah didn’t respond.

A few minutes later, they entered the room together, Cas pulling off his coat, Hannah with a long, threatening-looking needle in her hands. She looked at Dean with nothing but contempt, with anger. She had already healed him once before, and despite agreeing to go along with Sam’s plan, she apparently felt that once was enough.

Dean looked away, looked at Cas, who watched him closely as he folded his coat and set it aside.

Dean smiled up at him weakly. “Heya, Cas.”

Quietly, Cas said, “Hello, Dean.”

 

 

Outside Lewistown, Montana

The storm rolls in overhead as they drive through Montana.

After hours of navigating through it, they stop to eat dinner in a puddle-soaked grocery store parking lot as the sun sets behind the clouds. Dean shakes water out of his hair as he hands Cas a bag of food, and together they eat quietly, the rain still tapping against the roof of the Impala. When they leave again, Dean drives until the sky finally clears, the clouds few and far between, and there’s nothing but fields stretching out for miles on either side of them.

Cas wakes up when the car comes to a halt. Dean leans over the seat to grab the cooler out from the back, Cas watching him closely the entire time, maybe thinking Dean’s freaking out again, having another one of his fits.

Dean nudges him with his knee and opens the door. “C’mon.”

“Where are we going?” Cas asks, following Dean outside.

“Nowhere,” Dean says. He sets the cooler down on the ground and opens it up, grabbing two bottles of beer before hopping up onto Baby’s hood. He stretches out, resting against the windshield, and holds a beer out for Cas.

Cas stares at it.

“Come on, man,” Dean says. “I wanna show you somethin’.”

“And it’s on the hood of the car?” Cas asks.

“No, dumbass,” Dean huffs out a laugh. “You gotta be on the hood of the car to see it.”

Cas sighs and takes the bottle of beer. He twists it open and takes a long drink, probably downing half of it, before carefully sliding onto the hood, lying down next to Dean. Dean gestures with his own bottle towards the sky and Cas looks up.

“Oh,” he says.

Dean nudges his shoulder. “It’s awesome, right?”

Cas hums thoughtfully and takes another drink.

They lie in silence for a while. Dean tosses their empty bottles back into the cooler and grabs two more. Cas takes the second one and opens it, the bottle hissing. He lies back again, shoulder pressed against Dean’s. Dean doesn’t move away and neither does Cas.

“I never took the time to appreciate stars when I was human before,” Cas says after a while. “They’re beautiful.”

“What about as an angel?” Dean asks.

Cas shakes his head. “I couldn’t really see them as an angel.”

Dean looks at him. Cas looks back. His chin’s getting dark again, lined with stubble growing in, cheeks pink with a slight alcohol-induced flush. Cas’s breath comes out in warm puffs against Dean’s face, against his mouth, slow and calm.

Dean licks his lips. Cas’s eyes follow the movement. He nibbles his bottom lip and looks up at Dean again, and Dean’s heart speeds up. His hand twitches against Cas’s arm, the back of his fingers brushing against Cas’s wrist.

Then Cas ruins the moment. “Angels are multi-dimensional beings, Dean.”

“…Right.” Dean deflates. He looks away and takes a sip of his beer.

“In their true form, they’re capable of occupying more than one plane of existence at a time. When an angel takes a vessel, they physically occupy one plane—Earth, in this case—but they’re still able to perceive other dimensions, other planes.” Cas continues. “As an angel on Earth, I could see what humans can, but it was… complicated. I could see other dimensions around it, other planes of existence, all at the same time.”

“Shit,” Dean says. There’s a pain at his temple just thinking about it. “That sounds kinda nauseating.”

Cas takes another drink, finishing his second beer, and nods. “It can be overwhelming. When the angels first fell from Heaven, many of them had never occupied a human vessel before. I imagine a lot of them found it troubling. Earth’s plane would be more in focus than the others. It can be frightening—especially with Heaven locked.”

“Hmm,” Dean shifts slightly, pressing closer to Cas’s side, against his warmth. “Y’know, you talk a lot when you drink.”

Cas smiles against the lip of his bottle. “Sorry.”

“Nah, I don’t mind,” Dean says. “It’s—uh. It’s kinda nice, actually.”

Cas nods in agreement. “I enjoy spending time with you, Dean.”

Dean feels his cheeks heat. He drinks more beer.

Cas keeps looking at him. When Dean looks back, Cas smiles, warm and content—and definitely a little bit tipsy. It’s times like these that Dean still can’t believe Cas hasn’t run away screaming yet. After everything.

He swallows and turns back to watch the sky.

 

 

6.
Whitefish, Montana

Rufus’s cabin is just how he and Sam left it last time they were there.

There’s still a few cans in the cupboards, clean dishes left to dry in the drying rack, and an extra angel blade stashed away along with bags of salt in the storage room. The sigils they painted years ago still line the floor and the walls, the ones on the windows faded from the sun.

They carry their bags inside, bringing the leftover food with them. Dean shoves the remaining beer in the fridge, tucks away what’s left of their dinner, and they dump their bags on the floor of the bedroom.

“Man, I’m beat,” he says, flopping down onto the couch. It’s a little after two, and the idea of lying around for the rest of the afternoon, maybe having a shower and a nap, is incredibly appealing.

“Do you want to shower first?” Cas asks.

“Yes,” Dean says. He goes to get off the couch but his legs refuse to move. “Ugh. Maybe not.”

Cas shrugs and grabs a change of clothes and heads into the bathroom. Dean stares at the ceiling for a few minutes, feeling the beginnings of a migraine and the dull tingle in his right arm again. He rubs at it, shakes it out, then digs out his phone.

Made it to the cabin.
Think you left a dirty sock here. Place reeks.


Sam texts back a minute later.

Or you left more food in the fridge.
Keeping an eye on the news.
Will let you know if I find anything.


Dean dozes for a few minutes, trying to ignore the thin sheen of sweat breaking out over his brow as the throbbing in his head starts to get worse. Cas comes out of the bathroom again, a cloud of clean, fresh-smelling air following behind him. Normally Dean doesn’t mind the smell of Cas’s soap, but now it just makes him dizzy, his stomach rolling unpleasantly.

Dean sits up and rubs his head. He turns to watch Cas refold his clean laundry.

“So you going for the Grizzly Man look or something?” he asks.

Cas looks up at him. “What?”

Dean gestures around his chin.

“Oh,” Cas says. “No. Every time I shave I end up cutting myself.”

“So you’re just gonna let your beard grow wild and free?” Dean asks.

“Maybe,” Cas says, glancing at him from over his shoulder.

It takes a minute for Dean to catch on that he’s joking.

“Right,” Dean rubs at his eyes. “I hope you saved some hot water.”

 

 

7.

Suddenly, there’s a cage.

A big, iron-barred dome of a bird cage, a pretty, antique-looking thing. Only the bars are black and twisted and there’s blood on them. Only it’s not red blood, it’s blue blood, bright blue, and it spills like light—like sand—water—through Dean’s fingers.

Cas sits in the cage. Pressed as far back as he can, as far away from Dean as he can get. Dean’s never seen his wings before—only shadows—but he can see Cas’s wings now. They’re black and filthy and covered in—in dirt and tiny bugs.

Dean’s seen wings like that before. Seen them on a dead bird on the side of the road, broken to pieces from hitting the windshield of a transport truck going seventy-five miles per hour.

Maybe Cas flew into a transport truck.

People scream at him from the dark, from where Dean can’t see. There’s blood on his hands. This might be Hell. This might be Lucifer’s cage—and suddenly it’s just one person, it’s just Sam’s voice screaming at him.

Somewhere in the dark, Sam calls him a liar.

Dean crawled out of Hell once—or, no. He was pulled out of Hell by a pretty winged-thing, and he crawled out of his grave, blood and dirt under his fingernails, smoke in his lungs—black smoke that curls out of his mouth.

The cage is gone and Dean is naked and Cas is bleeding on top of him, his wings fanned out over them, creating a canopy of torn feathers and broken bones and tiny little bugs and specks of road dirt. Dean can’t feel his right arm and Cas’s eyes are fucking black and—that’s not right. Nothing about this is right but it feels not-right in a way that heats his skin, fingers itching, knees opening so Cas can—which is—which is wrong, because Cas is sharp bones and hard muscle and—and Cas’s eyes are black, but Dean still wants to kiss him.

Cas says, “I think I can go home now.”

“No,” Dean says. “Please, wait—Cas, you can’t—”

Cas’s eyes drip black—black water, black paint, black oil. The halo around his head—black— drips down his face, drips off his wings and onto Dean, where he can’t feel his right arm, can’t feel the blade in his hand, but Cas is bleeding black, and the walls are black-twisted-iron dripping down onto the floor.

Cas?” Cas grins at him and says, “Ah, no—it’s just little old us again.”

///

Dean barely makes it to the bathroom in time.

His arm tingles from where he apparently slept on it all night, sending sharp, shooting pins-and-needles throbbing along his veins. His head pounds, his eyes sting, and there’s not much left in his stomach to throw up since he didn’t eat the beans Cas cooked for dinner.

Cas kneels at his side, a warm presence, a solid weight to lean against, his thumb rubbing calming circles into Dean’s shoulder. Dean stops dry-heaving and Cas presses a cool cloth to his forehead, holds it there in place until Dean moves his hand up to hold it himself.

“Maybe we should call Sam,” Cas says.

“No.” Dean presses the cloth harder against his head, as if that’ll help. He wobbles unsteadily to his feet, shrugging off Cas’s hand. “I’m fine.”

Cas fidgets uncomfortably. “Dean…”

“Don’t act like you didn’t know this was gonna happen to me,” Dean snaps, loud enough that it hurts his own head. He holds it again, trying to calm the throbbing. “You knew what you were signing up for. You told Sam this would happen. You told him—”

“I told him it was dangerous with you being as strong as you were,” Cas counters. “I told him if it didn’t work he would probably have to kill you.”

So why the fuck didn’t you?” Dean shouts.

Cas doesn’t flinch, he just looks at him, stubbornly refusing to react. Dean throws the washcloth into the sink and pushes past him, grabbing his coat and his keys and stomping out of the cabin.

 

 

0.

Crowley’s voice rang in his ear, telling him to open his eyes, to share his vision of the world, have a fresh start. A new kind of life.

Only, this time, when Dean opened his eyes, he saw Cas sitting at the end of his bed instead of Crowley. This time, he felt weak. He felt exhausted. He felt a deep-rooted pain, in his muscles, his bones, in places he didn’t even realize could feel pain.

Cas looked pale, hunched over small, dark bags under his eyes.

“You’re alive,” Dean said.

“So are you,” Cas said.

Dean closed his eyes again.

“Sam?” he asked when he felt he could speak without throwing up.

“He’s still here,” Cas said. “I told him he should sleep since it had been a while.”

“How long was I out?” Dean asked.

“Off and on for about five days, apparently,” Cas said.

“Apparently?” Dean asked, opening his eyes again. Cas nodded.

“I was out for three,” he said.

“Shit, Cas,” Dean said.

Cas fell silent again. Dean might have drifted off to sleep a bit, or just lost consciousness. Cas was still there when he opened his eyes again, however many minutes or hours or days later. Still looking exhausted. Still wearing a too-large hoodie and a pair of beat-up jeans.

“I heard you,” Dean said. “I heard you talking with Hannah.”

Cas’s breath caught in his throat. He looked towards the closed door, probably planning an escape. Dean licked his lips, tried to get his voice working properly.

“Was this another one of your sacrifices?” he asked. “Huh? Some stupid-ass move, some fucking obligation you felt you had?”

Cas sighed. “I wasn’t obligated, Dean. I wanted to do it.”

Why?” Dean asked. “The other angels were helping you get better and you just—you just gave everything up.”

“I don’t see it that way.”

“Then what the hell way is it?” Dean said, struggling to sit up. “Because I gotta tell ya, I’m still in the fuckin’ dark here, man.”

“I helped save someone that I care about. That I—” Cas stopped. He inhaled and tried again. “I helped save you.”

Dean felt something drop in his stomach, something hard, something heavy.

“Cas,” Dean tried. “You could’ve gone home.”

“Heaven isn’t my home anymore, Dean,” Cas said. “It hasn’t been for a long time. It was corrupt, it was broken, and now it has a chance to be repaired by someone who wants what’s best for it. But my interests have… shifted, and the things I care about, the things I—the things I want—they’re not there.”

Dean licked his lips, forced himself to look Cas in the eye.

“And what is it—what is it that you want?”

///

Dean spends the better part of the morning sitting on a rock by a lake. The sky’s overcast, threatening to rain, and there’s a breeze coming down from the mountains that makes him curl in on himself. But the fresh air helps his head, and the sound of the water lapping against the shore relaxes him.

Eventually the anger’s gone and all that’s left is some sort of guilty residue that sits heavily in the pit of his stomach. Dean crawls back into the Impala and drives in the direction of the cabin, stopping at a gas bar to fill up.

He goes inside to pay, the store quiet, the cash abandoned. He lingers, grabbing two cans of soup, some junk food, and a frozen pizza, but the store clerk still hasn’t returned. Dean leaves money on the counter, grabbing his bags, and heads outside to check around back just in case the guy’s on a smoke break.

He bumps into him when he rounds the corner. Dean apologizes and starts to explain when the guy breaks into a huge grin, eyes flashing black as he says, “Dean Winchester.”

Shit.

Dean drops the bags.

“Long time no see,” the guy says. “What’s wrong, don’t recognize your old pal Slim no more?”

Dean slowly backs up, moves so he can see the road, the entrance.

“Slim,” Dean says. “Yeah. Sorry—it’s just, uh. I’ve always been bad with faces.”

“You got rid of that pretty scratch on your arm,” Slim says, eyes flashing back to normal as he steps forward. Dean takes another step back.

“Oh, yeah. Well. It was, uh… it was getting kinda infected, so,” Dean clears his throat. “Always get your tattoos from a reputable parlor.”

Dean keeps walking back, until he can’t see his car anymore and they’ve rounded the back of the building, a brick wall on one side of him and a line of tall trees on the other. There a big freezer with a handwritten sign that says ‘BAGGED ICE’ on it and a crate of antifreeze containers, but that’s about it.

“You gotta miss it, though, don’t ya?” Slim asks. “The power, the freedom to do whatever you want. Especially you bein’ best buddies with the king and all.”

Dean clenches his right hand but doesn’t respond.

“‘Course,” Slim continues. “I guess that was before you stuck that ugly hunk of bone through him.”

Dean steps closer to the freezer. Slim follows.

“You had your own little followin’ though. You could’ve ruled Hell yourself. You were gettin’ close to it, y’know. Especially after you took care of Cain,” Slim says, like he’s sharing some big State secret. “You would’ve had my vote.”

“Ah, well,” Dean flashes him a smile. “Always a shame when the Green Party doesn’t get a chair.”

Dean throws open the freezer, grabs a bag of ice, and smashes it into Slim’s face. Slim stumbles back with a shout and Dean drops the bag, pulling the angel blade out from the inside of his jacket just as Slim lunges forward, right into the blade. He slams to a halt with a yelp and Dean shoves the blade down to the hilt, hard, and twists. Slim screams in pain, his insides lighting up with sparks, and Dean yanks the blade out of his chest.

Slim falls face-first onto the ground, dead.

Dean’s breath shakes out of him, his heart beating hard against his ribcage, his hands shaking.

Quickly, he drags Slim’s body into the woods behind the gas station. He wanders back, grabbing the ice and his bags of food and throws them into the car, then pulls out of the gas station lot and off the side of the road just a little up ahead. He digs his shovel out of the trunk and starts walking back through the woods.

///

The cabin is quiet when Dean gets back.

He puts the bags of food on the kitchen counter, tucks the pizza away in the freezer, and listens. Nothing. Hell, he wouldn’t be surprised if Cas finally had enough, packed his bags and hitchhiked his way out of here.

Only, Cas’s duffle is peeking out from around the corner of the couch.

Dean scrapes a hand down his face, exhaling slowly, and heads to the bathroom to shower off the dirt and try to calm his nerves, the shaking in his hands and the tingling under his skin. Even after the fight, even after spending hours digging a hole in the ground, he’s still strung up tight and humming like a livewire.

Cas is reading on his bed when Dean comes out of the bathroom ten minutes later.

Dean pauses in the doorway of the bedroom, just looking for a minute, before he enters and moves towards his bag, saying, “Thought you left for good.”

“I could say the same,” Cas glances up, then frowns at him, putting his book aside. “What is it, what happened?”

“Nothing, Cas,” Dean says. He shoves his dirt-covered clothes into the bottom of his bag. Cas, unsurprisingly, doesn’t look convinced, eyeing him closely as Dean moves to stand next to his bed.

“Why’d you come back?” Dean asks.

Cas stares up at him, eyes hard. Then asks, “Why did you?”

Dean licks his lips. Cas watches the movement, his hands twitching minutely on the mattress, breath coming out a little quick. His shoulders are rounded, tense, like he’s ready for a fight. Still pissed, then.

Fuck. This is—this is fucking stupid—but Cas is solid, Cas is strong. Cas always supports him when Dean leans against him. Despite everything, despite all the shit Dean’s put him through.

So Dean steps forward, sliding his knee onto the mattress, right next to Cas’s hip. Cas swallows. Dean slides his other knee into place on the opposite side. Hands sliding up Cas’s arms, his shoulders, Dean leans in.

Cas breathes against his mouth and says, “Dean…”

Dean brushes their lips together, soft, his chest tight. Still on edge, still buzzing. After a moment, Cas softens and kisses back, hands coming to rest on Dean’s thighs, sliding up to his hips, and Dean shifts closer, pushes harder when Cas opens up underneath him and lets Dean slip his tongue into his mouth. Dean breaks away and moves to Cas’s jaw, down to his neck, under his ear.

“Dean,” Cas says again, his fingers tightening on Dean’s hips.

“It’s okay, Cas,” Dean murmurs, pressing closer still, because now Cas is actually gripping him. Actually holding him, actually starting to get that nice flush to his cheeks, to get hard in his jeans as Dean grinds against him, bones practically shaking out of his skin as he works himself into a pant.

Cas’s hands move over him, help him undress because he’s overheated, his skin’s fucking burning up, and Cas’s hands leave him shivering, give him goosebumps. Dean reaches down to undo Cas’s belt, to tug down his jeans, because Dean didn’t have to become some disgusting, shameless monster to know—he’s spent enough nights alone with his fingers up his own ass to know—this is something he—even if he really, really shouldn’t. Especially not from Cas, not when Dean’s taken so much from him already.

But when Cas murmurs against his neck, says, “Do you want—”

Dean just breathes out, “Yeah.”

And Cas lets him take more. Dean slides a condom on him and slicks him up before getting himself ready, crawling back into Cas’s lap, gripping the windowsill as he fucks himself down onto Cas’s dick, and Cas just fucking lets him, staring up at him, hands gentle on Dean’s sides, supporting him like he always does. He shifts so Dean can lean back with his hand on Cas’s knee and get it just right, get it just how he needs it so he can come all over himself with a loud whine.

Cas lets him ride it out before he says, “Dean, I—can I—”

Jesus Christ. “Fuck, Cas—yes,” Dean says, because seriously.

Cas rolls them over and rocks into him, scratching his fingers through Dean’s hair and tilting his head back so he can hum against his neck when he finally tumbles over the edge.

The buzzing in Dean’s bones slows and exhaustion slams into him like a hurricane. With Cas’s warmth against him, and the sun starting to set through the windows, Dean finally slips off.

///

The smell of something cooking wafts in from the kitchen. Dean’s mouth starts to water before he even opens his eyes. When he does he finds himself stretched out in Cas’s bed, covers tossed over him and the room cast in shadows where the kitchen light doesn’t reach.

Dean grabs his clothes off the floor and tugs them on, feeling heavy and groggy, weak and sore. He rubs at his eyes and trips down the step into the living room, moving towards the kitchen, towards the smell.

Cas dries a plate with a dishtowel, setting it down on the table, glancing up when Dean stops in his tracks. Cas fiddles with the towel then gestures towards the stove.

“I found the pizza in the freezer,” he says. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Uh,” Dean scratches at his neck. “No. I bought—it’s fine.”

Cas nods. “Would you like me to get you a plate?”

“Uh,” Dean says again. “Sure.”

Cas grabs another plate from the drying rack, wipes it down and sets it on the table, opposite his own. Dean still hasn’t moved from his spot in the living room, feeling glued to the floor and fighting the urge to high-tail it out of there at the same time. It’s either the chair or the door—he has to move.

He swallows and moves towards the chair.

Cas turns around to grab the pizza out of the oven and Dean avoids looking at him. Tries to forget what Cas looks like under those baggy clothes, and how those wiry muscles feel, because Dean shouldn’t—he shouldn’t know that.

He shifts uncomfortably, his fingers twitching. He sits down to distract himself.

They don’t talk. Cas uses a knife and fork to eat and Dean uses his hands. They should probably talk—normal people, people who aren’t fucking broken, burnt-out husks, they’d be talking about this stuff. Cas would say, “Are you okay?” and Dean wouldn’t lie, he would say, “No.” Cas would ask him, Cas would ask, “Are you okay with what happened?” but it’s too complicated, and even in this make-believe, rose-tinted dream-world of his, Dean doesn’t know how to answer that question.

So instead, Dean says, “I killed a demon earlier.”

It’s a truth. It’s just not the right one.

Cas stops chewing. Slowly, he sets his knife and fork down.

“At the gas station,” Dean continues. “He, uh. He recognized me. From—from before.”

Cas just swallows and looks down at his plate. “Oh.”

Dean scrubs a hand over his face and huffs out a laugh. “Christ. This was a bad idea.”

“Do you mean in general?” Cas asks after a minute, looking up again. “Or…”

Both. Neither—fuck. Dean lets his hand fall to the table. This whole thing was a stupid idea, right from the beginning, from the second he agreed to play nice, to let Sam start treatment. Dean’s whole fucking life has just been a series of bad ideas, one after another.

Cas just nods, looking down at his plate again. After a minute he grabs it, grabs his knife and fork and shuffles out of the kitchen, out of the cabin to eat on the front step, alone.

“Good talk,” Dean says.

 

 

8.

It’s dark when Dean gets in.

Cas slumps against the bedroom doorway, arms crossed, waiting.

Dean glances up at him, leaning the fishing rod against the wall, setting down the tackle box he somehow managed to find underneath boxes of Rufus’s old junk. He shakes rain water out of his hair. It drips down the back of his neck, down into his jacket.

Cas hasn’t moved. “Dean.”

“What?” Dean asks.

“How long are you planning on avoiding me?”

Dean busies himself with getting his jacket off. “I’m not.”

Cas sighs, arms dropping. “Dean—”

“Jesus, Cas,” Dean huffs, tossing his jacket onto a nearby chair on the way to the kitchen to grab a beer. “I went fishing, okay?”

“Fishing,” Cas says.

“Yes. Fishing.”

“In the rain.”

“Yes,” Dean says. He cracks open the bottle and takes a long drink, then adds, “Is that okay with you?”

Cas frowns at him. “Why are you getting angry at me?”

“Why are you treating me like some nut-job who needs a fuckin’ release form to go to outside?” Dean snaps back.

Cas ignores him. “Is it because of what happened yesterday?”

Dean brings the beer up to his mouth. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

Cas stares at him for a moment, jaw tensing, before he blinks and looks away.

“Fine,” he murmurs.

“I’m gonna have a shower,” Dean says. “Or do I need to get someone to sign my permission slip first?”

The look Cas sends him could probably smite him on the spot if he still had the juice. Dean scoffs, downing the rest of his beer and tossing the bottle into the recycling bin. He brushes past Cas, who glares at him, and heads into the bathroom.

It’s only once he’s closed the door that his hands start to shake.

///

Dean dreams of Crowley, and how he lit up like a fuse from the inside out. He dreams of Cain, holding his wrists, pulling him closer, the blade pushing into his chest.

They morph, they shape-shift until they’re his dad glaring at him from across the motel room. Dean stands outside the bedroom as dad leans over Sam—only it’s not Sam, it’s Cas—and Crowley’s dead on the floor, and the blade is heavy in Dean’s hand, too-big—he’s twelve, some snot-nosed punk again—and it’s slipping on the blood still dripping down from his fingers.

His dad says, “Dean.” Only, it sounds like, “Demon.”

Same thing.

Dean tries to unpeel his fingers from the blade.

His dad says, “Can’t you do anything right?”

 

 

9.

For whatever reason Dean will never understand, Sam always calls him at the crack of dawn.

“Dude, it’s almost eight,” Sam says. “This is late.”

“Not everyone is Lance Armstrong, Sam,” Dean says.

“Again. Biking.”

Dean grumbles and sits up, bumping his knee against the table and accidentally knocking an empty beer bottle onto the floor. He rubs at the back of his neck and glances over his shoulder towards the bedroom, to where Cas is still passed out.

“So how’s it going?” Sam asks. “You answered the phone so I’m assuming Cas hasn’t tried to kill you yet.”

Dean pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yeah—no. It’s, uh. It’s going good.”

Sam hesitates. “You sure?”

Fucking hell. “We’re fine, Sam.”

“Okay,” Sam says. “Well, hey. I found another case if you’re up for it.”

The dull throb at his temple is starting early today.

“Yeah, all right,” Dean says. “Let me get a pen.”

He hangs up a few minutes later, tossing his phone back onto the table. Sam said he’d email him the rest of the details in a few hours, giving them time to pack and leave and start heading south.

Dean gets up and wanders into the bedroom. He hesitates a moment before nudging Cas’s leg with his knee. Cas groans awake, wiping at his face with his hand, blinking up at him.

“What?” he asks.

“Get up,” Dean says. “Sam found a case.”

They’ve got a nine-hour drive ahead of them.

 

 

Bear Lake, Utah

According to Sam’s email, people camping near Bear Lake started disappearing at night and in the early mornings, mostly fishermen and late-night swimmers. Their bodies were found on the shore a few days later, half-eaten and with water in the lungs. The cops were as useless as ever, but witnesses claimed they saw a giant reptile-like creature that the locals were calling the Bear Lake Monster.

It’s a little on the nose for Dean, but whatever. He found drawings of a giant alligator-fish hybrid thingy online, so that’s what they’re looking out for. At least it’s something different.

Most of the hunt is just waiting in the dark by the lake—which would be nice, if it weren’t for the awkward silences. Dean tries to break them, saying they should have brought marshmallows and asking if Cas knows any campfire songs, but all he gets is confused looks in return, so he gives up and settles for tossing pebbles into the water, ass starting to go numb from sitting on the ground.

“Maybe it’s on the other side,” Cas says, after too many hours of nothing happening.

Which is when Dean hears something moving in the water.

“Wait, shut up,” he says. “Listen.”

Cas listens. Dean holds his breath.

“Could be a boat?” Cas suggests.

“Yeah,” Dean stands up and grabs his flashlight out of his jacket pocket. “Or a giant, man-eating lake-alligator.”

He presses the button of his flashlight. Nothing happens. Cursing under his breath, he smacks it against his palm, the batteries rattling, until finally he gets the damn thing working, light flashing into life.

And right into a giant, gaping mouth.

“Holy fuck!” Dean shouts, stumbling backwards.

‘Giant’ doesn’t quite cover it. The thing is fucking massive—about the size of a tree, if a tree was chopped down and flung into a lake and left to collect slimy-green grime. A deep noise rumbles out of its throat as it sways above him. Shit. Shit shit shit. A freaky lake-gator has him pinned to the ground and all he has is a gun, a flickering flashlight, and no idea how to kill this thing.

Hey!” Cas shouts, whipping a rock at the gator’s face. It hisses and swings around, large fin-like foot only just missing Dean’s head. Dean rolls away, grabbing his gun and shooting three rounds into the gator’s side.

The bullets bounce off into the sand. Of course.

Dean ducks the thing’s tail as it whips at him, giant feet leaving deep grooves in the sand. Cas is nowhere to be seen—it’s too fucking dark to see shit, the cloud coverage way too thick to let any light through, and his stupid flashlight keeps flickering.

There’s a shout about twenty feet away and Cas blasts his blowtorch into the gator’s face. The gator snaps at him once, the flame flickering off, and the gator slips into the lake with another growl, disappearing under the surface.

Dean backs up towards the car and bumps into something solid behind him. He jumps nearly ten feet but it’s just Cas, wielding the flamethrower and what looks like a branch off a tree, the tip of it carved hastily into a spike.

The right shoulder of his shirt is soaked through with blood.

“Dude,” Dean says.

“Its underside is unprotected by scales,” Cas pants.

“You’re bleeding,” Dean says.

“Good, maybe that’ll lure it out,” Cas shoves the flamethrower at him and darts back to the shore.

Dean curses and rushes to the trunk of the car, grabbing the biggest-looking knife he can find—dammit, why doesn’t he keep a chainsaw in here. He stops, his hand hovering over the familiar roll of leather in the back for a moment before he shakes himself out of it, slamming the trunk and running back down to the water.

It takes another fifteen minutes for the freaky lake-gator to come back out. Cas thrusts the branch at it but misses, and the gator hisses and snaps at him again, sending Cas tripping over his feet and landing on his back in the sand.

“Shit—hang on!” Dean shouts, fumbling with his lighter—why does his stuff never fucking work—when the gator’s tail comes lashing out of the lake and knocks him backwards.

Dean manages to scramble off the ground just in time to see the gator lunge at Cas. He jolts forward, heart hammering, panicked, but Cas slams the sharp end of the branch into the underside of the gator’s throat and shoves hard, sending the branch up through its mouth and into its head.

The thing falls and starts thrashing in the water, kicking up muck and sand as Cas rolls away and jumps to his feet, grabbing a knife out of the back of his jeans. He manages to get between the thing’s front fins, ducking out of the way as it flails, and with one quick swing, he brings the knife down into the gator’s chest.

It stops moving. Cas pulls out the knife, shoving the gator with his foot, sending it drifting a little further away from shore, before collapsing down into the water. Dean drops the flamethrower and rushes over to his side.

“Dean—”

“Hey hey hey, you’re okay,” Dean murmurs, tugging Cas onto the shore, careful to avoid his bleeding shoulder. “We’re gonna get you patched up, okay?”

“Yes,” Cas smiles at him a little woozily, out of breath and soaking wet. “Yes, I think that’d be good.”

He passes out.

 

 

10.
Logan, Utah

With a handful of napkins pressed to Cas’s shoulder, a little water and a stale granola bar Dean found in the glove compartment, Cas is able to sit up on his own again. Dean drives into town and, somehow, lucks out, managing to find a truck stop with an all-night diner attached to it.

He throws clean clothes and his medical kit into a bag, puts his jacket over Cas’s shoulders so he doesn’t attract more attention than two guys showing up at one a.m. and covered in sand already will, and leads him into the diner.

The guy behind the counter doesn’t bat an eye, just points them in the direction of the bathroom, probably having seen enough truckers with stab wounds and bullet holes in his lifetime to not bother questioning it anymore.

Cas groans when Dean sets him down on the toilet. There’s water on the floor and torn-up bits of toilet paper stuck to a puddle of bubble-gum-pink soap, but aside from that the washroom isn’t too disgusting. Dean sets the medical kit aside and helps Cas get his shirt off, carefully peeling it away from his shoulder.

“Ugh,” Cas says.

“It’s probably not that bad,” Dean assures him. He digs a cloth out from his kit and wets it with soap and water, gently wiping blood away. Cas sits still, slumped against the sink as Dean cleans him up and sterilizes the wound.

“You’re gonna need stitches,” Dean says. “Not too many, though. Won’t take long.”

Dean gets the needle and thread ready. Cas watches him quietly. Carefully, Dean places his hand on Cas’s shoulder and sets to work, moving him gently to get the best light, biting his lip in concentration.

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas says as Dean works.

“Dude, I should be thanking you,” Dean says. “You took care of that thing like it was nothin’.”

Cas smiles and looks down at his hands.

Dean keeps working, finishing up the stitching. He gets off the floor and drops the soiled cloth and bloody napkins into the garbage, washing his hands at the sink and grabbing a bandage out of his kit. He peels it out of the wrapper and carefully places it over Cas’s stitches, using thin strips of tape to keep it in place, pressing them down with his thumb.

“There, you’re all good,” he says, squeezing Cas’s opposite shoulder. “Change out of those and I’ll grab us a booth.”

Cas emerges a few minutes later, as washed up as he can get in a diner bathroom, dressed in clean clothes. He slips into the booth across from Dean, careful of his shoulder, and Dean slides a mug of steaming coffee towards him, not looking up from his newspaper. Cas nurses it, the colour slowly returning back to his skin.

The waitress comes by and takes their order. Dean folds the paper and sets it aside when she comes back with their food. They eat in silence. Cas thumbs through the menu again after they’re done eating, lingering on the page with the homemade brownies, so Dean waves the waitress back over and orders them dessert.

“I think I found another case,” Dean says. “Two strange deaths in Colorado, strangled, rope burns around their neck, but no sign of a rope anywhere. Sounds vengeful—should be easy enough.”

“Watching me nearly die at the mouth of a lake monster wasn’t enough for you?” Cas asks.

Dean frowns. “Dude, it’s probably just a salt ‘n’ burn.”

Then it hits him.

“Oh,” he says. “You’re being a smart ass.”

Cas smiles at him. Dean shakes his head.

“How is your shoulder?” he asks.

“I’ll live, I’m sure,” Cas says. Then, “Unless lake monsters are capable of contracting rabies.”

“You probably know more about that sorta thing than I do,” Dean says.

Cas says, “I’m fine.”

Dean nibbles on his bottom lip and watches Cas out of the corner of his eye.

“You were pretty awesome, though,” he says.

“Thank you,” Cas says. “You were—uh…”

Dean arches an eyebrow. The waitress comes by with Cas’s brownie and Dean’s pie. Cas looks relieved. Dean smiles up at the waitress and waits until she leaves before asking, “So. I was what?”

Cas chews a chunk of his brownie and says, “This is delicious.”

“Stop avoiding the question,” Dean says. “Tell me I’m awesome.”

Cas looks at him. He licks brownie crumbs off his lips and hums. Dean waits.

“I think this was supposed to come with ice cream,” Cas says.

“Yeah, okay,” Dean snorts. “Asshole.”

 

 

Rock Springs, Wyoming

Dean drives for three hours before pain slams into him. He manages to pull off the highway and onto some dirt road somewhere before he ends up driving them into a ditch.

Cas is up the instant Dean’s out of the car. Dean leans against her hood, taking in deep, gulping breaths of night air as his stomach rolls and the muscles in his right arm spasm painfully. Cas comes to stand in front of him, holding him steady as Dean’s knees go weak and he slumps down into the grass.

“What do you need?” Cas asks.

“Just give me a minute,” Dean says tightly, trying to breathe, holding his arm to his chest as pain scrapes up the underside like a knife being dragged along the bone. He groans and falls forward, towards the ground, but Cas is there, bending down to stop him from hitting his head.

“Christ,” Dean croaks. The pain finally starts to dissipate until it’s just a dull throb that leaves his arm tingling unpleasantly. He rubs at it with his opposite hand, trying to work the feeling back into it. The chills come on quickly, and soon he’s shivering in Cas’s arms despite the warm air.

“Can you stand?” Cas asks.

“Yeah,” Dean says.

Cas helps him into the backseat, moving things onto the floor and taking the keys from him, apparently deciding that they’re staying here for the rest of the night. He comes around the opposite side and slides in, shutting the door behind him. Dean leans against him, still holding his arm to his chest, and Cas lets him, moves his arm around him so Dean can shuffle closer.

“Fuck. I’m a mess,” Dean says.

“No,” Cas says. “You’re human.”

Right.

Dean finally stops shaking, warm where he’s pressed against Cas’s side, his head resting on Cas’s chest, rising and falling with his breathing. Dean hears the air moving in and out of his lungs, hears his heartbeat, steady, strong.

Cas is human now, too. He gets hungry, and tired, and cold. He takes showers to get clean and he drinks coffee to stay awake. It hurts when he gets bitten by freaky lake monsters, and he makes soft, breathless noises when he comes.

Dean shouldn’t know about that. He shouldn’t, but he does.

Something flutters under his skin, in his stomach, and Dean bites his lip as he shifts in his seat, sitting up. Cas watches him and Dean presses closer, nudges at Cas’s jaw and reaches out with his hand to brush over Cas’s knee, to slide up his leg, fingers running over the inside of his thigh as he touches Cas’s mouth with his own.

Cas murmurs, “Are you all right?”

And Dean says, “Yeah. Let me—”

So Cas shifts his knees apart and kisses back, breath catching in his throat with a small moan when Dean rubs the heel of his hand against him. Suddenly the car’s too-warm, Dean’s face burning hot and fingers clumsy at Cas’s belt, pulling the leather from the clasp as he runs his tongue over Cas’s bottom lip, trying to pull more noises out of him.

This is what Cas gave up Heaven for: muddy clothes and crooked stitches running through his shoulder, seemingly unending babysitter duty, and sloppy, emotionally-repressed blowjobs in the backseat of Dean’s car.

Dean wipes at his mouth and zips up his own fly, cleans his hand on his jeans as Cas puts his belt back together.

Dean stares out the front window and tries to breathe.

The silence in the car is deafening.

“I’m not some pansy-assed faggot, you know,” Dean says eventually.

Cas blinks at him. “I’m not sure I know what that means.”

“I’m not gay,” Dean states.

After a long moment, Cas says, “That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to… to want things from me, Dean.”

“I don’t need shit from you,” Dean snaps. “I don’t need your help and I don’t need you to fucking save me.”

“I didn’t say need,” Cas says. “I said want.

“And I’m saying you made a dumb-ass decision that you can’t take back,” Dean says. “So when we get back to the bunker, you should go. Go have some cookie-cutter, apple-pie life while you still can.”

Cas glares at him. “If you think that’s what I want, what I ever wanted—you’re so blinded by your self-hatred that—”

“You know what? Fuck you,” Dean throws open the car door and slams it shut behind him. He walks away, kicking at a can on the side of the road, and stops a few minutes later to sit down in the grass.

When he gets back to the car, hours later, the sun starting to rise over the horizon, Cas is still in the backseat.

Dean pulls back onto the highway and keeps driving.

 

 

Boulder, Colorado

Dean sleeps as soon as they get to the motel. Cas either leaves the room or stays eerily quiet. Either way, when Dean wakes again a few hours later, Cas is stretched out on the opposite bed watching television on mute, some rocket-launch thing.

Dean buys a Coke from the vending machine outside, accidentally bumping into the family staying next door, their two girls running past him in quick blurs. He finishes a leftover bag of chips before having a shower and shaving and getting into his fed suit.

He leaves the motel without saying anything.

///

Dean spends all afternoon talking to the families and friends of the victims. No one has anything bad to say about either of them, just that they were nice, quiet, pleasant people, and no one has any idea who could have done this to them.

He visits the morgue, but aside from the rope marks on the necks of the bodies, there’s nothing unusual there, either.

Giving up, Dean stops by a café to pick up lunch, grabbing a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and goes to leave. Then he sighs, rolling his eyes at himself, and turns around to grab another sandwich.

///

“I’m stumped,” Dean announces when he gets back. He tosses the second sandwich onto the bed by Cas’s leg and sinks down into a nearby chair.

Cas unwraps the sandwich and asks, “Do you have the names of the victims?”

“Uh. Jacob Barnes and Samantha Everette—maiden name Wilkes,” Dean recites, shucking off his suit jacket and loosening his tie. Cas types away on the laptop and Dean peels his sandwich open. He watches the television absentmindedly for a few minutes as Cas works, probably getting bread crumbs on the blanket and between the keys.

“I’m not finding a Samantha Everette, but I found a Samantha Julian who was adopted by a Wilkes family when she was a baby,” Cas says after a moment.

Dean comes over to the bed to look at the laptop screen.

“Huh,” he says.

Cas hands the laptop over to him and goes back to watching television on mute, letting Dean work in peace except when he needs Cas to look something up on his phone. Finally, after three hours, they find their connection.

“The Barnes family tree goes back to Joe LeFors,” Dean reads off a website. “Best known for bringing the outlaw Tom Horn to justice for murdering a kid. Horn would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for LeFors tricking him into confessing his crime. Horn was sentenced to death by hanging in 1902. LeFors apparently bragged about it a lot.”

“That explains Barnes,” Cas says. “What about Samantha?”

“You said her birth name was Julian, right?” Dean turns the laptop so Cas can see. “The guy that constructed the gallows that were used to hang Horn? James P. Julian.”

///

It takes them a bit of stomping around Columbia Cemetery, but eventually they find Horn’s grave.

They wait until after dark before moving in, loaded with shovels and salt. This is Cas’s first salt-and-burn, so Dean lets him hold the light for the first half as he digs, but it’s not long before his arm starts to hurt and his stomach starts to clench. Cas hands him the flashlight and jumps down into the grave.

Which just means Dean’s the perfect target for Horn to come up behind and try to throw a noose around his neck. Dean shoots him with a round of salt and slides back into the grave, grabbing the extra shovel and urging Cas to dig faster.

Horn comes after him again, and Dean blasts him with another round.

“Why is he coming after me?” Dean shouts to no one in particular. “Why do the douchebag spirits always come after me?”

Cas just keeps digging, finally hitting the coffin with the end of his shovel. Dean helps him break it open just as Horn manages to get the noose around his neck and string him up from a nearby tree.

Dean kicks at him, even though it’s useless, and claws at the rope around his neck. Cas gets the lid of the coffin off and twists open the jug of salt, throwing it over the body and dousing it with lighter fluid.

The last thing Dean sees before his vision blacks out is Horn’s spirit being engulfed in flames.

///

It’s dark. There’s a muffled voice telling him to wake up, and Dean feels someone holding his head gently as he blinks back into consciousness.

Cas’s face comes into focus. “Look at me.”

“‘m fine, Cas,” Dean grunts, sitting up.

“You fell seven feet out of a tree,” Cas says. “Let me make sure you don’t have a concussion.”

Dean sighs but he lets Cas tilt his chin and check him over.

“Are we good?” Dean asks when Cas pulls away.

“Yes,” he says. “You were out for several minutes.”

“Yeah, that’s cuz I was nearly hanged,” Dean rubs his neck. “Man, I could use a drink.”

///

They stop back at their room to wash off the graveyard dirt. There’s a western-themed cowboy joint down the road from the motel, where the woman wear too-short shorts and plaid shirts tied above their stomachs, and the men are decked out in cowboy hats and boots and faded jeans. There are far too many banjos in the music playing loudly through the speakers, and it’s not ideal, but at least there’s booze.

Dean orders them double shots of whiskey, trying to shake the tension out of his shoulders—from the case or from the awkward silences, or the fact he almost died again. Maybe a combination of all three.

He knocks back his drink and orders another. Cas just runs his thumb over the rim of his glass and watches a group of young women play pool and try to fight off drunken advances. Dean watches Cas’s fingers as the bartender pours him another shot. He thanks her, but when she walks away, he slides the glass aside and pulls the bowl of peanuts closer instead.

The skin around his neck is starting to burn.

Cas drinks his whiskey slowly. Dean finishes the bowl of peanuts. One of the women from the pool table comes over to order another pitcher of beer, leaning against the bar next to Cas, her shirt riding up and revealing half a tattoo. Dean catches Cas eyeing it and feels his fingers twitch, curling closer to his palms.

“I like your tattoo,” Cas says when the girl notices him looking. “Hydrangea represent heartfelt gratitude towards being understood.”

The girl smiles at him. “They were my mother’s favourite.”

“They’re a beautiful flower,” Cas nods. Dean would roll his eyes if this whole thing wasn’t kind of sad—this girl probably thinks Cas is hitting on her, probably thinks he’s some sleazy pervert, but Cas is being entirely sincere; he just likes her flower tattoo because it represents gratitude.

“You know a lot about flowers?” the girl asks.

“I know a little,” Cas says.

The girl smiles again. “All right. How about you buy me a drink and tell me what you know?”

Jesus.

Cas finally clues in to what’s going on.

“Um,” he says. “I’m—I’m here with my friend.”

The girl looks at Dean.

Dean grins and says, “Hiya.”

“Oh,” the girl says, her cheeks going red. “Right. Um. Sorry. I—I should have figured.”

Dean frowns. The girl grabs her pitcher and high-tails it to the other end of the bar where her friends are waiting. Dean snorts despite himself.

“Dude,” he says. “That ‘awkward, clueless guy’ thing you’ve got goin’ on actually works.”

Cas just finishes the rest of his whiskey.

 

 

11.

It starts to rain around one. They leave the bar, far too sober for Dean’s liking, and walk back to the motel as fat drops create wet splotches on the ground and in their hair.

The air in their room settles heavily on Dean’s skin, muggy and stifling. The music at the bar stops thumping shortly after they get in, and the rest of the patrons spill out into the parking lot, truck doors slamming and beat-up, rusted cars sputtering into life. Some groups walk along the road, their boots crunching in the gravel as they stumble towards the ditch.

Dean lies in the dark, watching the bright blue light from the vacancy sign flash on the ceiling, streaming in through the curtains. Outside, one of the women from the bar laughs, and one of the men starts singing as thunder rumbles in the distance.

Cas comes out of the bathroom a minute later, flicking off the light and dropping his toothbrush and toothpaste into his duffle. When he straightens up again he catches Dean watching him.

“Hey,” Dean says.

“Hello,” Cas says. “Can’t sleep?”

“Too hot,” Dean sits up. “C’mere.”

Cas hesitates for a moment before stepping forward, coming to hover at the edge of Dean’s bed. Dean turns to face him, arranges himself so Cas stands in the space between his feet. Cas stares down at him, and Dean runs his hand up under the leg of his boxers.

“What are you doing?” Cas asks.

Dean says, “What do you think?”

Cas swallows. “I think you said this was a bad idea.”

Dean pulls him down by the hem of his t-shirt, the mattress dipping with the added weight, squeaking in protest as Dean shifts so Cas is on top of him. He moves his hands under the back of Cas’s shirt, sliding along the knobs of his spine, peeling off his clothes as he mouths at Cas’s jawline, at his chin, his lips, teasing.

Cas finally breaks, letting out a frustrated growl before kissing him hard, moving down to tug off Dean’s boxers, his stubble scraping at the inside of Dean’s thigh and causing his skin break out into goosebumps. Then there’s a hot mouth on him, the sound of a cap opening, and Cas’s fingers press into him, slick, Dean’s skin heating because he couldn’t keep his damn eyes off them all night, and hears his own voice crack when he murmurs, “Cas, please.”

Cas pulls back, sitting up, reaching down into Dean’s bag for a condom. He holds Dean by the hips when he finally slides into him, and Dean reaches up to grab onto the headboard, whimpering when Cas starts to move. Even though he should probably keep quiet, because there are cowboys outside smoking cigarettes and singing country music off-key, and there’s people next door who might be woken up by this sort of thing, and Dean shouldn’t even be doing this.

But then Cas holds him down by the wrists and fucks him into the mattress, and Dean doesn’t even bother trying to stay quiet anymore.

He watches the vacancy sign after, flickering on-and-off as he tries to catch his breath. Someone shouts at the guy outside, telling him to shut the fuck up with his Tim McGraw or whatever, and soon the only sound is the rain and their breathing.

Dean’s arm starts to tingle again. He rubs at it absentmindedly. Cas notices, watching until Dean stops, pulling his hand away.

After a while, Cas asks, “Are you going to tell Sam?”

Dean looks at him through the dark, the light outside causing the edges of his face to glow angelic-blue. Dean’s stomach rolls unpleasantly.

“Tell him what?” he asks.

It takes a minute for Cas to answer.

“About the blade, Dean.”

Dean feels his stomach lurch, and he almost wishes Cas would go back to trying to talk about this—this thing they’ve got going on between them.

Instead he just closes his eyes and sighs, saying, “I don’t know.”

///

The parents from next door are in the lobby the next morning, talking to the girl behind the counter—complaining, maybe, or checking out. Either way, they eye Dean when he walks past, his face burning as he drops off the key. Cas pulls the Impala up to the curb.

The closer they get to Lebanon, the more Dean’s stomach twists into knots.

No amount of memory-foam mattresses and hot showers with perfect water pressure can make up for the fact he tried to run away from his problems again. He tried to shed them on the road but he couldn’t. Instead he’s just coming back with more, and one of them is riding shotgun with the fucking window down.

 

 

Lebanon, Kansas

Exhaustion hits him hard as soon as he opens the door to the bunker. It’s a miracle he doesn’t pass out and break his head open on the stairs.

Sam comes out to help them with their bags, commenting on Cas’s stubble and watching Dean closely. Dean shoves the rest of the food into the kitchen and heads for the shower, leaving Cas and Sam to catch up in the library.

When he comes out again, Sam’s sitting alone at the table, tapping away on his computer.

“Hey, there you are,” Sam greets him. “Cas is doing laundry, I think.”

“Awesome,” Dean slumps down into a chair and rubs at his face. Sam looks up at him from over the screen of his laptop.

“If I ask you what’s wrong will you be honest?” he asks.

Dean snorts. Sam rolls his eyes and closes the laptop lid.

“You tucked tail and ran out of here pretty quick,” he says instead.

“Do you mean before, or now?” Dean asks.

“Both.”

Right.

“Cas is worried about you, man,” Sam scratches at the back of his neck. “And to be honest, I kinda am, too.”

When Dean doesn’t respond, Sam sighs.

“Look, Dean. You don’t have to tell me what’s going on, but…” he trails off.

“I’m just tired, Sam,” Dean says. “I’ve had a long week.”

“Right, okay,” Sam says. “Well, when you’re up for it, I’d like to hear about that lake monster, at least.”

“Ugh,” Dean drops his head to the back of his chair. Sam grins at him from across the table.

 

 

12.

He wakes up at three in the morning, shaking and covered in sweat, breathing hard.

Dean pulls at his hair and looks around, looks for the other bed in the room, but there’s nothing there. He sighs. Even if he gets up to go to the bathroom, or outside, Cas won’t follow him.

Dean gets up anyway.

The garage smells like metal, like oil and gasoline. It smells like a simple kind of peace, like distraction, like keeping his hands busy.

He opens Baby’s trunk, moving things aside, and finds the bundle of leather in the back. He brings his right hand down onto it and tries to steady his breathing. There’s no tingling in his arm, no sharp pains, no rolling in his stomach except for the disgust he feels at himself whenever he does this. He blinks and pulls his hand away.

Maybe this is a sign. Maybe he can fix this.

 

 

13.

Dean avoids talking to anyone as much as he can.

He goes for walks, his chin tucked against the wind, hands in his pockets. Sam eyes him every time he comes back, like Dean’s the crazy one who wakes up at six to go running every day. Dean hides out in the garage to work on Baby’s suspension, his tape player blaring Black Sabbath and drowning out every other noise. Every time he passes by the trunk, it’s another test.

It’s not easy, but he’s learning to ignore it, to pretend it’s not in the same room with him.

Sam and Cas—they’re more difficult to ignore. Dean bumps into them in the kitchen one afternoon, greasy and sweaty from working on one of the older cars, and both of them stop talking immediately.

“Well, that’s never a good sign,” Dean says, grabbing a water bottle.

“Cas was just wondering if Nora would give him his job back,” Sam says.

Dean wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Oh,” he says.

“I haven’t decided anything yet,” Cas says quietly. “It’s just an option.”

“Cas, man, you know you’re welcome to stay here as long as you want. We enjoy having you around,” Sam says. “Right, Dean?”

Dean swallows. Sam stares at him, mouth a tight line.

“Uh,” Dean says. “Right. Yeah. Look—I’m gonna go shower, I stink.”

He avoids Sam’s eye as he leaves the kitchen.

///

The nightmares won’t go away.

After a few nights, Dean doesn’t even bother trying to sleep. He stays up late, fiddling absentmindedly on his computer or reading in his room. Sometimes he watches television or cleans the kitchen, but mostly he just drinks cup after cup of coffee.

Aside from the pipes clinking occasionally and the hum of the power, the bunker falls eerily quiet at night. Dean listens to music and tries to stop holding his breath at any small noise, stop reaching for his gun. He grew up being told that quiet—too quiet—was never a good thing.

It’s on one of these nights that he finally creeps back into the garage and takes the blade out of the trunk. It feels like someone’s taking the training wheels off his bike before he’s ready, but if he’s—if he’s going to get better, this is the first step.

Sam finds him on his way to the storeroom.

“What are you doing?” Sam asks. Before Dean can even explain, before he can even try to hide the blade, Sam spots it. “Is that—”

“Sam, wait—”

Sam grabs him by the arm and yanks him into the storeroom, closing the door behind them.

“Dean, what the hell?” he snaps. “Why do you have that?”

Dean swallows and looks down at his hands. “I, uh… it was in the trunk.”

Sam’s jaw tenses.

“You had it with you this whole time, didn’t you?” he asks.

When Dean doesn’t respond Sam inhales sharply, chest heaving and shoulders rounding, bringing himself to his full height.

“Tell me, right now, what the hell is going on with you,” he demands. “I’m serious, Dean. No more lying, no more pretending shit isn’t happening, because I can see right through it and I’m tired of it, okay? So don’t play games with me. Just tell me.”

Dean sets the blade on the nearest shelf and steels himself for a conversation he really, really doesn’t want to have.

“You were right,” he says. “Okay? You were right.”

“About what?” Sam snaps.

“About me!” Dean says. “About treatment, about the mark, about the cure. About—about everything.”

Sam stares at him.

“I didn’t want to be cured before,” Dean says. “I lied to you about the treatment because I thought you would stop trying if you thought it worked. I didn’t want to be fixed because I—I liked it, okay?”

Sam’s whole body twitches, and for a second, Dean thinks he’s about to get his face smashed into a wall. The punch never comes, though, and Sam just breathes, just keeps staring at him.

“You liked it,” Sam says eventually. “You liked being a demon.”

“I liked not caring,” Dean admits. “I liked not feeling guilty for once in my damn life!”

“You weren’t alive, Dean, you were a fucking demon!” Sam shouts.

I fucking know that!” Dean swipes a box off the shelf, sending papers flying and something glass smashing into the opposite wall. His hands shake—his whole body shakes—and he slumps back against the wall.

Sam doesn’t move. Dean just tries to breathe normally again.

The bunker creaks quietly as it settles.

“Does Cas know?” Sam asks eventually.

Dean stares at his boots.

“Maybe,” he says. “I mean—yeah, I think so. He knew I had the blade.”

“Is that why you told him to leave?” Sam asks.

Dean rubs at his face. “Not exactly.”

Sam sighs.

“Sam,” Dean looks up at him. “Look, this is—this is hard, okay? This is a lot fucking harder than I thought it would be. Cas is human again because of me, and I killed all those people, and—when you guys cured me, all this shit just came back at once, all that—that guilt. It was too much.”

Sam refuses to look at him.

“I’m trying, okay? I am. I want to. This is me trying, for real,” Dean says.

When Sam doesn’t respond, Dean says, “Sammy, please.”

Sam exhales, shoulders sinking, and finally looks at him.

“Yeah,” he says. “I know.”

 

 

14.

The bunker’s wireless goes down the next afternoon. After hours of trying to fix it, Dean gives up, pulling out his phone to call Charlie just as Sam wanders in and asks if they can go to the nearest café.

They pile into the car, just the two of them. Sam buys him lunch by way of thanks and spends a good two hours doing something on his laptop, typing away and making frowny faces. Dean taps his fingers against the side of his face and promises himself he won’t start whining when he gets bored.

“All right,” Sam says when they’re walking back to the car. “So, I was thinking—”

“Dangerous,” Dean says.

“Shut up,” Sam says. “I was thinking… maybe we could—uh—get rid of it.”

Dean swallows and tucks his hands into his pocket.

“I dunno,” he says. Sam sighs and steps in front of him so Dean has to stop walking.

“Look,” Sam says. “I get it, okay? Demon blood, remember? This is kinda the same thing.”

“Sam—”

“Dude, just shut up for a minute!” Sam says.

Dean stops talking.

“Dean, seriously,” Sam continues, softer. “You don’t have the mark anymore, but that doesn’t mean you’re not still addicted. So if you really want to get better, then maybe this is how we do it.”

Dean looks at him. Sam looks back, hopeful, and Dean sighs.

“What do we do?”

///

“This is a bad fuckin’ idea,” Dean says for the umpteenth time.

“It’s not,” Sam assures him.

“It is. It’s another Stupid Fucking Idea, courtesy of Sam Winchester,” Dean says. “She’s going to smite me on the spot. You know that, right?”

Sam just sighs.

Cas sets the bowl down on the ground in front of them, in the middle of the sigils. Dean moves nervously from one foot to the other, standing further away from the circle than both Sam and Cas. Which is fair enough, since they’re not about to get smited—smote? Whatever.

Cas looks up at the factory ceiling looming several feet above their heads.

“Are you sure this building is sturdy?” he asks. “Only, she’ll be an archangel now, so securing her vessel again might cause some… cosmic activity.”

“Oh, perfect,” Dean says. “We’re all gonna die.”

“Would you just shut up?” Sam huffs at him. To Cas he says, “The building’s fine.”

Cas lights the match and drops it into the bowl, reciting an Enochian spell into the flame, his voice deep, slow. For a moment nothing happens—maybe the call didn’t go through—but then there’s a deep, loud rumble, and the ground around them starts to shake, the building above them quaking.

There’s a flash of light somewhere in the distance, like a crack of lightning, and the ground underneath their feet threatens to split open and swallow them whole. Then—it stops.

Dean lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.

“Castiel,” a voice says behind them.

They all turn around. Cas smiles.

“Hello, Hannah,” he says. “It’s good to see you again.”

“And you,” she says, smiling back. “You’re looking much better.”

“Thank you,” Cas says. “How is everything in Heaven?”

“It’s slow-going, but with everyone’s cooperation, I’m confident things should be back to normal soon enough,” she says. Her eyes flick over to Dean. “But you didn’t call me down here just for an update. How are you, Dean?”

“Uh,” Dean shifts uncomfortably. “Fine, I guess.”

Hannah’s eyes drop to the bundle in his hands.

“You brought the First Blade,” she says. “Why?”

“We hoped you could maybe help us,” Sam says. Hannah turns to look at him, blinking as if only just noticing he’s there. Sam continues, “Cain threw it into the ocean…”

“But Cain wasn’t an archangel,” Hannah nods. “I see.”

She steps forward, closer to Dean, and stops just in front of him. Dean swallows, fighting the urge to run, to find some place to hide—not that it’d help. Hannah never liked him when she was a wingless angel; he’d rather not find out just how much now that she’s got juice again.

Except when she speaks, her voice is soft, gentle. “May I see it?”

Dean hesitates, then hands the bundle to her. Hannah unwraps it carefully, untying the leather, and pulls the blade out to inspect it, turning it over in her hands. Dean’s stomach clenches unpleasantly.

“The mark has been destroyed, so the blade is, essentially, useless,” Hannah says after a minute. Then she smiles and says, “Although, I’m sure it could still do some damage if you beat someone over the head with it.”

“But can you destroy it?” Sam asks.

Hannah shakes her head. “I’m not sure. Cain made the blade himself and was unable to destroy it, but… it is possible that it can be destroyed now that he’s gone.”

When she speaks again, it’s to Dean directly.

“If this is what you want, then I can try,” she offers. “If I’m unable to, then maybe I can put it somewhere no one is ever likely to look.”

Dean looks at Sam, and then at Cas. Neither of them say anything. Dean licks his lips and nods.

“Okay,” he says.

Hannah wraps the blade up again. Dean clenches and unclenches his right hand.

“Thank you, Hannah,” Cas says. “I know this is a lot to ask.”

“Well, I do have to admit that I wouldn’t have come down here if it weren’t you who called me,” Hannah says. “I wanted to speak with you. Alone, if that’s all right?”

Cas looks at Dean before turning back to Hannah, and Dean hears Sam come up behind him, putting his hand on his back and gently leading him towards the factory door, back outside to the car.

“You okay?” Sam asks as they walk, hands tucked into his pockets.

“Fine,” Dean says.

Sam stops him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Dean, hey,” he says. “Thanks.”

Dean frowns at him. “For what?”

“Just,” Sam shrugs. “You know. Thank you.”

“I didn’t just do it for you, Sam,” Dean says. He rubs at his arm and starts walking again.

After a minute, Sam follows.

///

It’s nearly an hour later when Cas emerges from the factory.

He’s alone.

Dean starts the car and Cas slides into the back seat, pulling on his seatbelt. Sam twists around to look at him, tucking his hair behind his ear.

“What was all that about?” he asks.

“Hannah said there might be a way for me to go back to Heaven,” Cas says. “Metatron agreed to give up his grace and return to Earth where he would live as human. It will mean there’s the grace of a willing angel available.”

Dean stares out the front window.

Sam glances at him, then back to Cas. “So that would mean—”

“It wouldn’t burn out, yes,” Cas nods.

“Wow,” Sam says.

Before he can stop himself, Dean asks, “So, what? You’re gonna strap on your wings and fly home?”

///

Dean rips out Cas’s wings with his bare hands.

He can feel the bones snap under his fingers, thin and delicate like twigs from a tree. He grips the feathers, twists, pulls them out in chunks. The feathers stick to the blood on his palms, black-brown and soft.

Cas just lets him. He always just fucking lets him.

 

 

15.

Dean startles awake. It’s one in the morning.

He rubs at his head, at the buzzing underneath the skin of his arm, and feels like a moron for ever thinking that all this was, maybe, this was finally going to be finished. He can drown the blade in the ocean, he can give it to an archangel and have her throw it into the fucking sun, but that doesn’t mean he’s ever actually going to get better. Not completely.

Dean throws back the covers and heads out of his room. There’s only two lights on, one at each end of the hallway, making the stretch of doors look dark and strangely ominous. Both Sam’s door to the left and Cas’s door to the right are shut, lights off, quiet.

Dean turns right.

Cas’s room is silent when Dean slips in. Carefully, he closes the door behind himself, and then stands there, unmoving, not really sure what he’s doing. He shouldn’t be in here—and he knows that, he does—but he just—he wants—

“Dean?” Cas says.

Dean exhales. “How the hell did you know it was me?”

“I… don’t know,” Cas says. “I just heard the door close and it—it felt like you were in here.”

Dean shuffles awkwardly. He hears shifting, Cas moving in the dark, then the click of the bedside lamp. The room bursts into a dull orange glow and Dean has to squint his eyes against it.

“Did something happen?” Cas asks.

“Yeah,” Dean says. Then, “Uh—no, no. Just…”

“Dean,” Cas says.

Dean licks his lips and looks at him. Cas sighs.

“I’m not sure if I can keep doing this,” he says.

And because Dean’s an idiot, he asks, “Doing what?”

“Pretending that there’s nothing going on between us,” Cas says.

“There’s not—there isn’t—there isn’t anything going on,” Dean says.

Wow.

Cas’s lips twitch at the corner. “Then why are you in here?”

Cas is fucking smiling at him, eyes bright, amused; like this whole thing is some fucking joke. And maybe it is—maybe Dean’s the punchline. That really, really would not be surprising.

Dean feels his chest heave, hurt—his lungs hurt—as his breath catches and his head goes fuzzy.

“I can’t,” Dean says.

“Why not?” Cas asks.

Dean tries to steady his breathing. “Because I’m not supposed to.”

“Says who?”

“Cas,” Dean tries. “Dammit. You—you really want to be stuck here with me? You really gave up everything—Heaven, your grace, everything—so you could spend the rest of your life on a godforsaken rock with a guy who can’t even—is this is really what you want?”

Cas doesn’t even hesitate. “Yes.”

Right. This is—this is definitely a panic attack. Either that or Dean’s just dying.

Again.

“What is it that you want, Dean?” Cas asks, moving out of the bed and coming to stand in front of him, close. Close enough that Dean can feel his body heat, that solid line of warm comfort he’s always craved.

“I don’t—” Dean swallows. “Cas, it’s too much.”

“It’s not,” Cas tells him gently. “Dean, I told you that you’re allowed to want things from me. That also means you’re allowed to ask for them.”

“Dammit, Cas, this is me asking!” Dean shouts, instantly regretting it because they’re not alone now, not locked away in some cabin in the woods or some crappy motel on the side of the highway.

Quieter, Dean says, “You’ve gotta know how I—I mean, Purgatory? And after, I still prayed to you every night because—more than anything, I’ve wanted you to stay. Here. With—with me. You’ve gotta know that, man. You’re not stupid.”

Cas just looks at him. Dean’s heart might pound right out of his chest. This is fucking ridiculous. He—he hunts monsters and shit, but he can’t take this, he has to get out of here, or—

But then Cas says, “Okay.”

“Okay?” Dean blinks at him.

Cas nods, his mouth curving into a smile. “Okay.”