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A Thousand Lights in Space

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--Day 143--

He didn't actually mean it about the snow.

Well, he did, but he was thinking of snow balls lobbed in the face of everyone (totally combat practice) and somehow convincing Cas to make a snow angel (hilarious) and maybe building some kind of snow-based fort thing (why the hell not?). The grey, filthy slush in a thousand parking lots around the country is nothing like the white brilliance of untrodden snow as far as the eye can see. Which would be to the walls of Chitaqua, sure, but still, untrodden snow.

That was three days ago; two days ago is when he learned the only thing that he was right about was the view, and wow, Cas was right about the weather being weird these days. Clammy chill to blizzard in four hours or less: if it isn't a record, it should be.

It not that it's not awesome--pristine snow, walking in a fucking winter wonderland--except that walking thing isn't happening because they're still working on the living thing. Curled up on the couch between mounds of pillows wearing three layers of clothes and two of socks beneath more blankets than he thought were even in the cabin (some weren't, but their origin, who cares? He doesn't) with two of the saddest space heaters in the world doing absolute bullshit for the heating situation but giving a really pretty glow.

His only consolation--and he means this with all his apparently claimed soul--is that Cas hates it worse than he does and is miserably engaged in nailing a layer of tarp over the front door (again, Dean's not asking where it's all coming from; Cas just better fucking provide) that's their only other defense against the hostile outside world. It matches the doors to the icy death that's the kitchen and the Arctic Circle that's the bedroom. Hideous paisley whatevers are draped over each window, which means Dean's fucked even for the view unless he wants to die, cold and not alone if he has anything to say about it.

Every so often, he manages to tear himself away from enjoying Cas's suffering to give the bedroom door (behind its own tarp and rug covering) a hateful look, which is where he'd be if someone (Cas) wasn't such shit at home repair that while they know the freezing cold is coming in there from multiple goddamn points, they can't find where or how to fix it if they did. Because his inspection of the cabins for winter worked out really well--everyone else is fine--except for theirs because he didn't think it needed it.

Huddling more deeply beneath the covers, Dean blows out a breath--very white--and wonders how the hell Cas survived winter the last couple of years. Sure, body heat's great, especially in groups, but eventually downtime happens, that's basic biology here, and sweat might freeze slower than water, but at these temperatures, it was gonna happen.

When the last nail slots into the wood with malice aforethought (and from Dean's perspective, with the head an inch deep in the wall, it's never coming out), Cas turns to stare at him with more smite than a Host of Zachariahs. Dean glares back with pretty much all he's got, which would be working much better if his teeth weren't chattering and he had some kind of idea where the fuck his feet are these days and go on faith they're somewhere in the mass of blankets.

"Fine," Dean says ungraciously. Cas is smart enough not to require enthusiasm; there's a brush of dead-cold-holy-fuck-death air and then Cas is a strangely shaped ball burrowing beneath all the blankets ever. Fuck Dean's entire life; body heat from two people means his teeth stop chattering, and he can almost remember what warm is like. He just can't fucking win.

"Better?" It's much less hostile than he wants it to be; his toes exist again, painfully and obviously, and his fingers are starting to figure out that moving thing again. "How the fuck did you survive two winters in Kansas anyway? Angel powers of not freezing to death?"

"We're not in danger of freezing to death and never have been," Cas starts, muffled by layers of blankets before his head emerges from a lump of yellow-green fuzz. "I've already told you that this room is and has always been well-insulated--"

"Right, priorities; couldn't have imminent hypothermia fuck with the orgy schedule," Dean snarls back; seriously, he can feel his fingers. They hurt.

"Exactly. I dealt with the problem then as I'm doing now--"

"Because you never used any room but this one, I forgot. Danger of me freezing to death, who cares?"

Cas blinks at him slowly, tilting his head. "You weren't here--"

"That's not an excuse."

"How long can you keep this up? I apologized, though I don't see why--"

"You don't see why." Dean can't even deal with this. "You got off on--"

"I'll spare us both having to hear those words again, but no, not exactly, and I explained this more times than there have been hours in the last week. Angels enjoy ceremony, and the more complicated and more formal, the better. Why on earth do you think they used Latin so often and seem to approve of Catholicism? It's not an attractive language, and the policies are--but," he adds, eyes going weirdly, terrifyingly soft, "they have a truly inspiring grasp of ritual and in this form, that apparently translates in a very specific way."

"Are you listening to the words you're saying?" Dean takes a deep breath, appalled at pretty much everything. "Tell me you haven't ever gone to mass--"

"No, not since we came to Chitaqua. If I had, I would have been aware of the--" Cas pauses. "Translation. On consideration, I should probably avoid attending any formal religious ceremonies in the future."

"Your porn would be mass?" He actually said those words. Out loud.

Cas tilts his head, thinking about it. "Communion would be--"

"Oh God, shut up." Slumping further in the nest of blankets, Dean tries to pretend this isn't happening, or at least, not to him.

"The Pontifex Maximus of Rome presided over ceremonies that required letter-perfect performances," Cas says dreamily, and this isn't, isn't, isn't happening. "Sometimes they would last all day…." He grins. "I'm sorry, are you uncomfortable?"

Yeah, Dean thinks glumly. In so many ways, and Cas just invented half of 'em. "So let's talk about something else. Anything else. I mean anything else that's not how you're a freak."

Cas snickers contentedly, sinking deeper into the blankets with a sigh, which is just kind of unfair, because Dean's mostly defrosted but the shivering's still happening, and five minutes, Cas is just fine. And after Dean made sure to keep him out there long enough to suffer much, much more than this.

"You're still shivering," Cas observes, with that uncanny grasp of the goddamn obvious he's famous for, peering at Dean's face as if searching for an explanation. "The room is already a full two degrees warmer. Which I suppose means your suggestions regarding insulating this room were good ones."

"You're not getting--" Off that easily, even words are against him right now. "Never mind. Whatever, you're forgiven. Don't want to die with you sulking on my conscience."

Cas's head tilts a little farther, blue eyes narrowing before he suddenly straightens. "Don't move," he says, blissfully unaware Dean's joints have been onboard with that plan for a while now. There's squirming, and Dean is abruptly tipping sideways into a short freefall before hitting something not as soft as a cushion but a hell of a lot warmer. Another shift and Dean's actually experiencing--holy shit, warmth, and here he'd thought that was a myth--and Cas's breath drifts pleasantly over his ear as he murmurs, "Better?"

Dean doesn't stiffen, flush, or even feel weird, which it only belatedly occurs to him he should, or at least fake it well. This is what happens when you do something not unlike a member of the cuddling family during difficult time in both your lives in which one of you was telepathic and the other really beaten up. It happens. To pretty much no one but him, yeah, but the point stands.

Also, it's fucking cold. The rules are, there are no rules; time to improvise.

"Just a sec." Dean locates his knees between Cas's--still there, awesome--and twists sideways, burying his face in thick wool after shoving aside the zipper to Cas's jacket. Holy shit: new world goddamn order. "Yeah," he decides. "This works. Good call."

"I live to serve," Cas answers, irony thick enough to slice and put between two pieces of bread, which Dean thinks may mean he's kind of hungry. "As your space heater, if necessary."

"Gotta keep that soul safe," he agrees contentedly, which makes Cas snort a laugh, ruffling his hair. "So new way to die: hypothermia. Like living in an Ice Age, but sadder, since we're gonna die because you didn't think to inspect our cabin."

"I told you--"

"You never used the bedroom," Dean mutters half-heartedly. "Never noticed the cold before because orgies. Blah blah blah."

"We'll fix it as soon as the snowing stops," Cas says sincerely, tugging the grey wool blanket into some breathtakingly genius configuration of warmth. "James should return from his route in the next two days--depending on the weather--and Nate surely knows how to repair buildings if he knows how to build them. I'd also like to point out that you were the one complaining about the lack of snow."

Dean thinks about how much he didn't really mean it about a new ice age, but that does remind him. "You think the patrols are okay?"

"They've lived in Kansas for almost three years," Cas answers. "Each jeep was equipped with winter survival gear as of the beginning of December, I verified the contents personally, and Sheila and Frederick check each jeep before it leaves the camp. If in the face of snow and freezing cold they didn't have the sense to protect themselves, this would be what I'd consider a very workable example survival of the fittest."

He honestly can't argue with that. "What's your take on Lee's performance so far as team leader?"

With teams out in the wilds of Kansas at the moment and Joe out of the camp--having spent the first few days of Hanukkah as pro-tem leader of Chitaqua while he and Cas were dealing with the kids, he went to Ichabod with his team and Rachel just before the blizzard hit to celebrate the rest of it with Leah and the small Jewish community there--Lee volunteered to take another few days on local while Alicia's and Damiel's teams helped out around the camp to keep it running.

Joe also planned to talk to Alison about Ichabod's New Year thing that they're apparently supposed to attend because allies means attending parties as well as fighting evil (assuming blizzard conditions improve, that is, and they fucking better. He did not know that was a perk; he and Sam were never invited to parties after saving people (and towns, for that matter). He approves of this change a lot.)

"Very well," Cas answers. "I spoke to Jane in the mess this morning after patrol met here," at an unholy hour before dawn when they came in to talk about the new and exciting subject of no monsters but now happening in snowy conditions, "and she was very positive regarding his performance. Lee was very competent and reasonable once they were past the initial awkwardness that heralds establishing a satisfactory working relationship, and while they are still in the adjustment stage--"

"You're quoting her, aren't you?" Twisting his head around, he looks up at Cas incredulously. "She actually talks like that?"

"--there is every reason to assume that integration into a team as well as part of Chitaqua's patrol structure will be successful," Cas finishes with a sigh. "Yes, I am and she does. Lee's become far more thorough in giving verbal reports as well; Jane is very encouraging, and I suspect he's hoping that proficiency will make her stop doing that."

Yeah, Dean woke up just enough from his spot in the mattress they moved into the living room to hear the whispered reports happening near the door and vaguely remembers Jane's encouraging smile pointed at someone. He almost feels bad for the guy; that's a lot of earnestness to be pointed at you all the time. On the other hand, Lee's cabin doesn't need repairs to retain heat, so whatever.

Which reminds him…. "Okay, is it just me or was Kyle volunteering to take Damiel's day shift on local so she could have some downtime weird?" Dean didn't realize Kyle in a cheerful mood could be more grating than vague hostility, but that meeting proved the impossible.

"It was," Cas agrees after a brief hesitation, and Dean is just about to comment on Kyle's second official act of community spirit before he remembers what was going on during the first one.

"By the way," he adds casually, fixing his gaze on the TV, currently only a really large, taunting wall ornament to conserve electricity for the heaters for the foreseeable future, "how's the dryer elf trap thing coming along? You and Alicia still working on the final draft?"

"It's still in progress," Cas answers, but the ripple of tension is just the confirmation Dean didn't want. "There's far too many things to do to waste time on something purely speculative."

Come to think, Dean can't actually remember the last time there was an extra cup in the sink when he got up in the morning or Cas reported the latest camp gossip over breakfast, and the few times he's seen Alicia have been official business only: the meetings with patrol teams and the one in the mess with the entire camp (those in residence, anyway) when the snow started and at the time, he thought would just be precautionary and holy shit was he wrong. It may not mean anything--they've been out of the camp a lot since the attack on Ichabod, Alicia's been on state patrol, snow--but Cas's reaction tells him it does.

Thinking back, he tries to remember anything specific happening--did she and Cas have a fight? About what? When?--but one, he's pretty sure that kind of camp gossip would have made it to him on its own one way or another, and two, Cas would have told him, if for no other reason than Cas would consider that professional as well as personal when it comes to the team leaders.

Kyle's community spirit plus (smugly?) good mood, add in Alicia no longer coming over to hang out plus Cas, and it's kind of obvious something's going on, though the exact nature of 'what' is still in the air. Alicia and Cas actually having had some kind of argument, the possibility that Kyle's influencing Alicia somehow and Alicia's letting him, or Alicia simply not having time to stop by and say hi because she's got a new boyfriend: none of those are palatable as possibilities, and for that matter, none of them match what he knows about Alicia.

He's just considering how to frame a subtle question regarding Alicia (and possibly, fuck his life, Kyle) when he realizes if Cas wanted to talk about it (assuming there's anything; hey, he could be wrong, though he's definitely not), he would have. Second choice is getting up, grabbing his coat, and stomping across (into) the drifts of snow between here and Alicia's cabin, but fortunately, it's cold enough to delay him until the realization of that being crazy kicks in. (That he actually even thought about it should probably qualify as well, but whatever). It's not like this is camp business, or even his business: it's Cas and Alicia business, and he can't order Alicia to be friends with Cas again, because again, crazy.

"Dean?" Cas asks, and Dean makes himself relax; if he can tell when Cas is tense, there's no way Cas can miss it with him.

"Just thinking about when the blizzard will end and we can decide where you want the garden," Dean improvises and closes his eyes: yeah, gardening in three feet of snow, Christ, not close to his best work. "You know, it wouldn't hurt to see if anyone else wants in on the action. Couldn't hurt to grow some of our own vegetables here. You know, now that we know people who can tell us how. I talked to Teresa and she offered to come by and check out the land when we're ready, tell us what we need to do."

"You did." Dean bites his lip against a grin at the surprise in Cas's voice. "When?"

"Morning after we talked about it," he answers easily. "Thought I forgot?"

"I thought…." Cas hesitates, probably trying to find a way to say 'didn't think you meant it' without using those words. "There have been more important things that required your attention."

"And this is one of 'em," Dean tells him, aware of a pleasant sense of lethargy. "You have map of the camp; we'll look at it tomorrow, see where a communal garden might go after we get ours up and running. Don't want anyone stealing our potatoes or peppers; fuckers can grow their own."

"Dean…" He trails off as Dean shifts one more time to accommodate his still-existing bruises and discovers that while Cas isn't better than Alison's guest room mattress, he beats the hell out of the one here. Tucking his head between Cas's shoulder and neck, he lets out a breath, feeling suddenly so comfortable he could nap here, and hey, that's a good idea. Cold plus bruises and added shitty mattress have not done any favors to his nights. "Dean?"

"Just--" Dean yawns, tucking his hands between Cas's outer and inner sweater and not even laughing maliciously when he flinches. Utterly perfect: why the hell didn't he think of this before? "For a minute."

"Great and small, you pay for them all," Cas murmurs cryptically. "Alison would appreciate this. Never mind," he adds and Deans' eyes lose the fight to stay open when a warm hand cups the back of his neck. "I can certainly think of far less pleasant ways to pay penance."

Dean dozes off and on until well after dusk--off a bitter five minutes spent in misery for Cas to go to the bathroom (he's starting to get Cas's bitterness about humans' need for 'em), and a hideous minute and a half when local reported (Cas got rid of Kyle's team on the porch by dint of telling them unless Lucifer is actually in the camp at this very minute, he doesn't care what happened on patrol and to go away)--but the faint brush of death-frozen-fuck-that's-cold air brings him fully awake just as Cas says in the most gratifyingly threatening voice ever, "If he so much as shivers, I will kill both of you."

"Cuddling on the couch while talking about bloodshed." Amanda, sounding like she's laughing at them. "Honest to God, if I'd imagine domestic life here, this is exactly what it would be like. Do you compare scars, too?"

Dean blinks the sleep from his eyes to take in Amanda and--oh, Joe--getting the tarp and rug back down over the door and seriously wonders if he can fake a shiver. They're both, he notes, in warm looking parkas--fucking Alison and her well-stocked town and regular trade--and carrying blankets and what looks like--hey, several duffle bags and a couple of backpacks between 'em. Even from here, the smell says food is involved. Warm food.

"We come bearing company and food," Joe confirms as he clears the coffee table and opens one of the bags and removes a large thermal container he doesn't recognize from what's stocked in the mess. "It's both or neither: you pick."

"Chicken," Dean says, introducing himself into the conversation and a world redolent with steam and good things without moving a single inch when Joe removes it from the container and sets it on the coffee table. "Dude." Tearing his eyes from the best thing ever, he squints at them both, focusing on a suspiciously innocent Joe. "I thought you were in Ichabod for a couple more days."

"It's winter holiday of your choice week," Amanda answers easily as Joe shrugs. "Mike wanted to get back to Sheila for their first Christmas and do the cute couple thing--"

"They have a tree," Joe interjects as he returns from his epic journey to the ice cavern that is their kitchen with plates and silverware. "They made each other ornaments."

"And learned to knit to secretly make each other matching mittens," Amanda says in wonder, shaking her head. "Not that he made a big deal about it--Alison invited everyone to her thing tomorrow--but we decided to bring him back in the spirit of the holidays and true love."

"Mittens," Dean echoes; he would not have called that for Sheila, or Mike for that matter. "They made each other mittens?"

"They're terrible," Joe tells him, kneeling to set the plates on the coffee table. "They both showed me, asked what I thought. What the hell do you say to that?"

"You say 'he or she will love it'," Amanda counters, opening up another container. "They're probably cuddling on the couch by now in their mittens, talking about their day. Or scars," she adds innocently, aiming a smirk at Dean.

Dean pauses in his hungry stare at Joe filling a plate. "Funny."

"At least Mike and Sheila don't carry on like they're living in a goddamn romance novel and we're their supportive best friends with nothing to do or want to do but listen to their love story," Joe mutters, swapping containers with Amanda. "You couldn't pay me enough to drive Andy to a rendezvous with Kat."

Dean glances at Cas, who's frowning. "What?"

"If you're wondering if wanting to shoot Andy in the head when he opens his mouth is normal," Amanda tells him, "it is. Just knowing he's in the room and could potentially do that is enough to make me reach for a weapon."

"Jealous?" Dean asks, but grins at Amanda's narrowed eyes; he knows what she means.

"Of Sheila and Mike, maybe a little," she concedes, adding something from a third container as Joe opens the fourth, holy shit they brought a lot of food, container (mashed potatoes, this has got to be a hypothermic hallucination) and apparently finding the contents pretty fascinating. "Sue me, I'm a romantic. Fall in love with your best friend, knows the worst and best of you and still is willing to do it with you anyway, and have the chemistry to back it up? That shit's rare."

"Could happen," Dean offers, averting his gaze to Joe, who's staring very hard at the plate he's adding green beans to, and wonders exactly why Joe's not with Leah in Ichabod.

"Does this look like the setting for finding the love of your life?" Amanda asks lightly. "Bargain bin romance: I wouldn't buy it."

"If you're the one writing it," Cas says unexpectedly, "you'd be amazed the places--and entities--one can find true love. The Great Swamp, for example."

Amanda straightens. "Hippofucker?"

Dean stares at her. "How--"

"Vera, she kept us updated before she left," Amanda interrupts, and Dean leans back in the face of Joe and Amanda's sudden attention. "How far are you along? Is he fucking hippos yet? Inquiring minds want to know."

Dean shuts his mouth, looking at a startled Cas. "Who," he starts, "is 'us'?"

"Everyone who could get to her cabin between nine and ten in the morning after Cas was occupied with camp shit and you were still sleeping, which is the only time she could reliably get the spiral," Joe says, like it should be obvious. "Well?"

Cas casually leans over Dean's shoulder. "I might have time to make one copy."

"What do you want?" Joe asks, because he's smart like that.

"Bidding ends on New Year's Eve," Cas answers brightly. "Ebay rules: there is a reserved price, and you must exceed it to win." His eyes fix on the plate in front of Joe. "Hunger raises the reserve."

"You asshole."

"So you drove all the way back to Chitaqua--in a blizzard--to bring Mike home to Sheila?" Dean asks, trying not to laugh at the disgruntled look on their faces. Never make a deal with an angel: you won't win, and worse, with some of 'em, you might not even mind too much.

"Wasn't that much snow," Amanda scoffs. "An inch, whatever, I grew up in the Northwest. I don't even pay attention until we get to six."

"It's eight inches now," Dean says, wondering if maybe he slept longer than he thought. A glance outside confirms no, he didn't. "When did you leave Ichabod again?"

Amanda rolls her eyes, taking the plate from Joe and passing it the other side of the coffee table in front of Dean before starting the next one. "We played I-spy on the way. It passed the time."

"When?" Dean asks, again.

"A couple of hours before dawn," Joe says challengingly. "I was up anyway."

Dean gives the curtained window an incredulous look; life without a clock means discovering you can develop a pretty good sense of time. "Fourteen plus hours of I-fucking-spy driving through snow. One of you shouldn't be alive." Picking up the plate, Dean passes it to Cas, and sitting up slightly, gropes for Cas's knee and shoves it up to lean against as well as anchor the blankets.

"It got a little dicey for a while there," Amanda admits. "But human flesh isn't kosher, so--"

"Fuck you," Joe interjects, passing the second plate directly into Dean's reaching hands as Amanda pouts. "We heated everything on the range in the mess before we came over. Figured if you weren't dead, you'd be hungry."

Dean looks between them and thinks about the bounty of food they brought with them ( that dessert?), the way they avoid his eyes, and suddenly gets it.

"Glad you came home. For the holidays," he adds in a moment of inspiration, and grins at Amanda snorts while Joe says something probably really rude in Yiddish, but weirdly enough, it's actually kind of true.

The room is surprisingly livable by the time they finish the main course (or it may be the company, who knows?), and Dean shares his blanket stash with Joe and Amanda so they can take off their parkas while they have after dinner coffee (laced with Irish cream from some magic place of liquor that Joe's gonna share the location of very soon or else) and not just dessert but pie.

"Pumpkin," Amanda confirms as she lays it in front of them with justifiable reference. "They're still working on their fruit supply, so most is dried or preserved and only for super-special occasion stuff. So I told Alison you loved pumpkin, since they have a lot of that and are kind of sick of it, and helped with pie-making."

Dean grins at her. "Good call."

"Got ten of 'em locked up in the mess, gift from Ichabod for insert the winter holiday you celebrate," she adds, matching his grin. "Also, I traded for two cases of canned pumpkin, contributed by everyone who heard a rumor we like it and wanted to lower the chances they'd have to eat it themselves. Brenda can get Brian to help her figure out what to do with it."

Dean watches in satisfaction as Cas's eyes follow Amanda's cutting motions and the placement of said slice on the plate. Looking up, she notices Cas and bites her lip before gently nudging the plate toward Cas, who uses speed for the very awesome purpose of making the pie seem to vanish only to re-materialize in his hands. Oblivious to the attention of everyone in the room, Cas cuts off the tip with the side of his fork before taking a bite and closes his eyes with an expression that's kind of…uh, something.

"Right, you want a piece?" Amanda asks belatedly, raising her eyebrows at Dean as she cuts a second piece.

"Yeah, thanks." Taking the plate, he fights to ignore Cas having a really, really intense relationship with that piece of pie. "So, what'd you trade?"

Amanda hesitates, looking at Joe, who shrugs. "My next run to the military outposts, Manuel's team's bringing Lanak and her crew to shop, see if there's anything they can use, two jeeps worth of supplies, we transport."

Dean nods, looking between them. "And?"

"This is separate," Joe says, sipping from his cup. "I thought--your approval pending--when Amanda's kids are ready, a team of 'em comes with Ichabod's supply crew, and I supervise them learning how to run escort for civilians as part of their training. Not that we've used it much here," he adds, giving Cas a glance and grinning at Cas's utter lack of attention, "but Cas taught us all the principles near the end of our training, and it'd be good practice for us, too."

Dean takes a bite of his pie, remembering what Cas said about the last couple of weeks of training when he made up new shit for them to learn because he was enjoying himself and why not? On a guess, escorting civilians around was among those things.

"Whole camp could use a refresher," Dean says after swallowing. "Definitely something we're gonna be doing in the future. Cas?" Cas looks up from his--kind of terrifying--stare at his empty plate to blink at Dean. "Escorting civilians--camp need to review that?"

Finally, he's got a definition for that expression; Cas reviewing an entire conversation at the speed of light. "Yes," he says, and something in his voice tells Dean that yeah, this will definitely be new for some of them. "Joseph, when you talked to Alison regarding their New Year celebration, what did she have in mind?"

Joe looks up, mouth full, and swallows hastily. "Uh, that it's a party and we should be there for fun and socialization with the other members of the alliance: why?"


"Host provides security," Joe says, looking baffled, but Amanda straightens, wiping her mouth with an interested expression. "At least, when the towns are hosting parties for each other, which--this is going somewhere?"

"Good intentions," Cas says, leaning over precariously to get the pie and tug it to their side of the table. Joe starts to pick up the knife before Cas's boot knife is in his hand, cutting the remaining third of the pie in half and taking one of the pieces. Settling back with an overfilled plate, Cas continues. "Find out if Manuel would be willing to supervise our teams assisting Ichabod's teams with patrol duties that night. We can rotate them to assure all have ample opportunity for socialization."

Joe starts to protest, but Amanda's already nodding. "I like this, and I think Manuel would go for it, and not just because he really wants to see how we work together and everyone gets more time to party."

Dean cocks his head, following Amanda's expectant gaze to Cas. "Well?"

Before their fascinated eyes, Cas cuts a quarter of the slice--holy shit, that is not bite size by any stretch of the imagination--and inserts his knife into the center of it and eating it off the blade before the pumpkin can slide off, since pumpkin just isn't firm enough to do that. Chewing complacently--without choking, even--he swallows before saying, "In general, the impression we want to give is of competence as well as not being soulless monsters murdering all those who oppose us. Visibly working under Manuel's command and with his teams will demonstrate we're trustworthy, and will supplement our efforts to appear amiable and approachable in the more social atmosphere of the celebration. Which reminds me: everyone will need to be reminded to use protection and each jeep's condom supply supplemented."

It's not that he doesn't believe that (not the condom thing coming standard: he found the official spot for them under the back seat and did the Chitaqua-math), but this is Cas and his reasons have reasons. "What else?"

"I want a reason for everyone attending to be armed at all times," Cas answers, taking a more modest bite, though not by much; Dean's really got to find out who's been demonstrating those kinds of eating habits and tell them to stop that shit before this ends in the Heimlich, and hey, he should learn that. "With Ichabod's consent and blessing, of course, which this provides."

Amanda nods, expression serious. "The kids."

"They aren't useful anymore, but there's no way for that knowledge to be spread without someone attempting to finish the ritual again," Cas agrees. "I doubt even the stupidest demon would try during a town-wide celebration, especially now that it's probably general knowledge we're known to be in Ichabod, but I'd rather not risk getting one that manages to indeed be that stupid."

"There's that," Dean agrees, finishing his own slice and eyeing the remaining third that Joe's hand freezes in his reach for. "Split it?"

"In thirds," Amanda says warningly, taking the knife and the pie herself. "That's the part I think Manuel's most interested in."

"So you think they'll be okay with it?"

Amanda nods as she apportions the pie between them, though Dean notes her slice is noticeably larger than his or Joe's. "I think they would have asked, but Alison didn't want to make it sound like we were there to be hired help and not guests."

Cas frowns. "I don't understand."

Making a face, she sits back, glancing at Joe hopefully. "People thing," Joe starts, waving his fork. "In the trade alliance, the towns are all equal and every mayor and deputy mayor has an equal vote, or in this case, mayor, deputy mayor, leader and his second. At the last couple of meetings, I proxied for both you and Dean--the mayors and deputies send representative sometimes themselves, so not a big deal--but it's still very theoretical."

"Me and Cas are theoretical?" Dean asks in bewilderment.

"That just because we're not a town doesn't mean we don't have equal membership and are just mercenaries they hired for protection," Joe says bluntly. "Or, to put it another way, we're not the alliance's private army. Or the mayors'."

Dean sits back, startled. "You think they might…"

"Not now," Joe answers. "So now's a good time to make sure it's never. If we work New Years, we make damn sure some of us are guests, too. Being thought of as the attack dog isn't much better than the soulless conquerors, Dean."

"When is the next full meeting of the trade alliance?" Cas asks, setting his empty plate back on the coffee table with a regretful sigh.

"Glad you asked," Joe says cheerfully. "Second day of the new year. This is the big one, by the way."

"Dean and I will attend personally," Cas says in resignation, giving Joe a dark look (could also be he still has pie on his plate). "That's where this was going, I assume?"

"Yes, sir," Joe agrees.

"Why," Dean asks suspiciously, "does this feel like you're also trying to get out of going?"

"Because I am," Joe answers. "Democracy's great, I approve, but not live and in person about vegetable quotas and livestock breeding for a whole goddamn day. However, they also need to see--not just know--that you're both voting members of the alliance and see you actually doing it. We trade less goods, more services, but it's still trade, not payment by the highest bidder for services rendered and never will be."

Dean doesn't need Joe to explain what that might mean. "So everyone going to Ichabod for New Year's needs to be briefed on what to do if they're ever asked to help out with a local problem between residents, and that includes the mayors."

"I'll do it," Cas says, brightening. "All the patrol teams should be back in three days; I'll make the final list on who will go to Ichabod then."

"And announce state patrol's suspended for a week," Dean adds belatedly. "I was gonna do it when everyone came back, but snow fucked that plan up, so they get it late."

"And those not going to Ichabod?" Cas asks. "I'd rather it be voluntary, if possible."

Dean looks at him thoughtfully as Cas takes his empty plate and sets it on top of his own, which frees Dean to burrow back under his (admittedly smaller) blanket pile. "Got something in mind?"

"I have a few ideas," Cas answers, reaching to tuck in a loose edge under Dean's thigh. "How soon it stops snowing will be the deciding factor."

"Can't wait to hear it." Turning back to Joe and Amanda, he realizes they're both grinning at them fondly. "What?"

"Contemplating my consistent role in the great romance novel that's the Apocalypse," Amanda says, exchanging a look with Joe before reaching for the plates. "Hey, how 'bout I take these to the kitchen?"

"I'll help," Joe says brightly, jumping up to help her collect dishes. "Be right back."

Dean waits until they're in the kitchen before looking up at Cas. "We can't throw them out. They brought food. From Ichabod."

Cas makes a face before nodding reluctant agreement. "Sean's been gone for nearly a week and Amanda's cabin has been empty since she went to Ichabod. So it would probably be polite to invite them to spend the night here. We can't, actually, afford for them to freeze to death; there's no one qualified to replace them."

As Amanda and Joe return, Dean grins at them widely enough to tell them yeah, he'll pick this up later, which Amanda answers with a smirk.

"So," she says, plopping down on the mattress and getting her blankets. "What are we doing tonight? The night is young."

"I have an idea," Cas says, and Dean watches Joe's eyes widen in comical alarm. "Please. One painfully straight male, one lesbian female, and a monogamous committed couple in the throes of romantic love," Dean has to bite back the snicker at Cas's ability to make 'throes of romantic love' sound like a clinical term for a really embarrassing social disease, "are the least likely combination for group sex possible." He makes a face. "It's also very cold, and I'm very comfortable where I am."

"How the mighty have fallen," Amanda observes mockingly, but the fond look's back. "So whatcha got in mind?"

Dean has to actually see it to believe it: the library/utility closet/TARDIS (fuck his life for letting Sam get him watching the BBC) does, in fact, have a stack of board games ("Top shelf, right side, behind the box of reports for October first through tenth.")

Standing on a kitchen chair, Dean contemplates the endless ways a finite space can house apparently everything (are those Snuggies in here? Wouldn't be a surprise) before grabbing the top one and then returning it when he sees it's Risk and fuck no.

Closing the door behind him with the safer choice, he returns at a fast walk to drop the box on the coffee table for Amanda and Joe to deal before burrowing back into his blankets.

Amanda looks dubiously at the box. "The Game of Life?"

"It's the only one I don't think you can strip to," he answers grimly, giving Cas a glare when he opens his mouth to tell Dean just how that would work. "Don't--just don't."

Taking off the lid, Joe handles set up while Amanda squints at the jobs. "Artist?" Like she has no idea how that's a job. He's with her there; what do you do all day with that?

"Yeah, we need to update this," he agrees. "Anyone got a pen?"

"In the kitchen," Cas answers unexpectedly, fixing his eyes on the rug-covered doorway. "So is the alcohol."

Dean hesitates.

"Doesn't count if you put it in coffee," Amanda offers hopefully, and that decides him.

"Go," he says, pointing Cas toward the kitchen before holding out his hand to Amanda. "Give me some of the cards."

"Fuck," Joe says in disgust as they start game four, halfway through their first pot of coffee and their second bottle of whiskey. "Why the hell do I keep getting Zombie as a career?"

"Vampire pays better," Amanda says in satisfaction, counting out her salary before giving Cas a suspicious look. "For the record, the salary for hunter is ridiculous."

"You mentioned that several times now," Cas answers easily, reading his revised salary card. "Credit card fraud is extraordinary lucrative. Dean?"

Dean's still wondering what the hell he was thinking. "You really had to put Savior of the Apocalypse as a career choice?"

"We took a vote," Joe reminds him as he spins. "You lost. Get over it."

"Yeah, but how do I keep getting it?" Dean turns his head to look at Cas, who volunteered to shuffle the cards. "Dude, I taught you that to use for good, which means not against me."

"Oh God," Amanda says in horror, almost dropping her tiny plastic car. "You taught him how to cheat at poker?"

"Oh yeah," he says maliciously. "Thanks for inviting me to the weekly poker games, by the way. Wanted to makes sure what cheats you knew and I didn't. That'd be none, by the way."

Joe nearly drops his cards. "You were playing us?"

"Was it good for you?" Joe says something really rude (or Cas's smirk seems to imply, Dean's Yiddish is getting better in sheer self-defense, but that was a lot of words), which Dean forgives in the spirit of winning. "You gonna tell?"

Amanda sits back. "Alison?" Dean neither admits or denies it, but yeah, he may have been thinking about that. "Promise I can watch when you unleash him, my lips are sealed."

"And me and Amanda split a quarter of the winnings," Joe adds. "Alison owes us this one."

"Done." Picking up his cup, he mentally measures the level and wonders if he can risk much more without trying to convince Cas to bust out the Eldritch Horror. Sure, they'll all definitely die (freeze to death or alcohol poisoning, anyone's guess), but they'd be way too drunk to notice. He wonders how many ghosts come from just that kind of circumstance. It's a fascinating thought, which probably means this is very good whiskey. And coffee, of course. Tapping Cas's thigh under the mound of blankets, he indicates the board. "Your turn."

"I’m using the name 'Delilah Sampson' to apply for credit in the amount of one hundred thousand dollars," Cas decides. "I was accepted. How serendipitous."

Dean finds himself exchanging helpless looks with the other two victims of Cas's utterly unsettling love of making rules. "Right--"

"Just from morbid horror, anyone tell me why Alicia's having a party tonight and Kyle's the only one she invited?" Amanda asks. Dean doesn't spit out his whiskey-coffee, but it's close. "Brenda and Amber have been taking shelter from the horror at Jody and Damiel's since the snow started. Who is also housing a depressed Matt, Andy, and Andy's feelings, so that cabin must be fun."

Dean stares at her. "How the hell did you--"

"Brenda and Damiel were in the mess when we were heating up the chicken," she explains. "Had some time to kill, so caught up on the news and gave them pie. How long has that been going on, anyway?"

Not looking at Cas, Dean spins and moves his car four precise spaces, which is a lot harder than it was earlier, like the car might just be possessed and trying to get away from a potential exorcism involving blessed whiskey and Latin (he thinks). "Some of us were living in blissful ignorance."

"A week," Cas says, not looking up from the board as he moves his car three spaces ahead of Dean's before looking up. "Your turn, Joseph."

"Right." Spinning the wheel, Joe bolts his cup and hands it to Amanda for a refill. "Five, and thank you all for the nightmares. I better start stocking up now; this is gonna be Jane Redux, might as well be ready."

"He pulls that shit with her, he better sleep with one eye open. Alicia doesn't take that kind of bullshit anymore and will tell him all about it at the point of a knife."

"Micah," Joe says, exchanging a knowing look with Amanda, and he feels Cas still: interesting. "I remember. Kyle's not that stupid."

"He's exactly that stupid. Do me a favor and run intervention, or at least hide his body before our leaders see it."

"You know me and Cas are sitting right here," Dean points out; on a guess, he should know what this means already.

"Right." Amanda fixes him with a stern look, but has to take a moment to focus. "If Joe needs a night off with a shovel, don't ask why."

As she picks up her car with a frown, Dean makes a mental note to work out a way to get an explanation one day when he's less drunk or Amanda's much, much drunker. She's a talker, but considering her tolerance, from experience he knows he'll need to work on his own first if he wants to remember anything the next day.

"Mark does some carving," she says, poking the soft plastic sides of her car. "I bet we could get him to make some better pieces."

"I bet I could order that," Dean agrees, setting the subject aside for later plotting. "And make him do it. Consider it done."

"Best leader ever," Amanda says with heartfelt sincerity, almost dropping one of her three tiny pink children before frowning at the board. "It's not fair. Alicia's hot. I could totally rock her world." Her frown deepens. "It's like she never heard of Kinsey."

"Welcome to my life," Cas mutters, then becoming aware of the audience, adds, "Before I became involved in a monogamous committed relationship with Dean, of course. Those days are behind me. Permanently, I suspect."

Dean looks at him, ignoring the strangled laughter from the peanut gallery. "If you could make it sound more like a prison sentence, I'd love to know how."

"The resemblance is striking," Cas tells him with a slow smile, and Dean can't quite look away. "But I never said it didn't have its perks."

"Seriously?" he hears Joe say, and jerks his attention back to the board and picks up his pile of currency; this definitely needs counting.

"Still better than Kat or Andy," Amanda says sympathetically before looking at the board with a little smile. "I just remembered--last time I played Life. I was watching my sisters in--God, Wisconsin, that goddamn freaky motel, looked like a spaceship…"

"The Gobbler?" Dean drops the cash he was failing to count. "You stayed at the Gobbler? When?"

"A few times, eighty-five to ninety-one." Amanda shakes her head. "What the hell was wrong--"

"That fucking poultry plant, I know. Eighty-four to eighty-seven." Dean sits back, amazed. Fucking finally. "That clucking--"

"Followed us for days," Amanda agrees glumly. "Haunted by chickens. Like, why? Chicken souls, just--Mom ragequit when we started waking up with feathers in our hair. Said no job was worth dealing with freaking ghost chickens."

Dean grins at her. "Weird. That may be the only place Dad didn't find feathers."

Dean isn't sure when Cas plays dick bartender and cuts everyone off, removing the glasses to the glacial wilderness of the kitchen (after, Dean notes in interest, finishing off the rest of the bottle himself) while Joe and Amanda sleep (passed out) on Dean's shitty mattress and the only warm place in the world. Not that Dean's doing anything but staying within his cocoon of insufficient warmth while Cas stops to stare at them, like he just can't figure out how he became the sober one that gets everyone to bed and cleans up after them.

Dean is just drunk enough to actually think this is a great time to start laughing hard enough that he's pretty sure he pulls a muscle or something.

"How the mighty have fallen." He knows it's stupid. He does it anyway. "Get the lights, would you?"

There's a ten second delay where Dean knows in his heart that Cas is trying as hard as he can to regain the power of smite before giving up, turning to step onto the mattress (Joe and Amanda bounce, but notably, don't wake up) on his way to the switch, flipping off the warm yellow overhead glow, and returning with only the power of his super-eyesight in the dark. Useful skill that; lots of possibilities there.

Cas pauses at the foot of the coffee table, looking in the direction of the mattress for a moment, which Dean, in a moment of inspiration, interprets as trying to figure out which one he might have to kill to get some real estate there (Joe's larger and much less dangerous, but who will take over the border runs?).

"Dude," Dean stage whispers, interrupting Cas's calculations (who to replace Joe with; there's no one) and patting vaguely at the back of the couch. "Come here. I'm not kicking you off the couch."

"I'm not sure there's enough room." From the mattress comes a sound not unlike a thump, and Joe makes a pained noise, which makes them both wince. "We can make room," Cas decides hastily, and as Dean feels the end of the couch give, he passes all responsibility to Cas in how this is gonna work.

The sad part here is, the couch isn't actually too small for them both these days. Dean's post-fever self is probably in direct competition with Cas's hates-food chic, and depressingly, is probably winning. Anyway, Cas is, in fact, a human-shaped space heater, which has got to be some weird-ass angel power, though off the top of his head, he can't think of a single possible use for that except the current circumstances. It's like destiny or something, but the good kind, which Dean really feels should happen a lot more in his life than it does (read: has never happened, so he's due).

It takes Cas about five seconds to realize the blankets aren't gonna magically get bigger, and Dean gets a kick in the thigh that he considers overlooking in the spirit of being a good roommate, but even without boots, that shit hurts.

"Cas," he sighs, hideously aware that cold air is trying to work its way inside and totally fuck with his sleepy-drunk zen, and the obvious solution is to face reality. Warm reality: seriously, Cas is better than a hot water bottle. "You're supposed to be fucking me," he says (quietly, which for some reason makes Cas wince). "What, now you get weird about touching me?"

There's an extended pause, and for no reason, he gets the impression that look he didn't get a few minutes ago is back, probably with interest. Before he can start thinking about that too hard, though, Cas abruptly has a hand on his hip, urging him over on his side enough to push between Dean and the back of the couch, apparently under the impression Dean's got anything like a working sense of balance. His mistake: Dean gets a foot in Cas's knee by sheer trying not to fall off the goddamn couch, and Cas makes a (quiet) sound, but super reflexes are working just fine, thank God. Landing on his side in the narrow space between Dean and the back of the couch, he plants a hand on the edge of the couch cushion catching Dean before he tumbles to the floor.

Rolling onto his back in relief, Dean turns his head to comment on some people maybe needing to lay off the whiskey when their tolerance is shit before they kill someone (or knock them to the freezing floor, which may be worse), but forgets what he was going to say; so Cas is really close right now. Swallowing, he's suddenly very aware of the weight of Cas's arm across his chest, the press of his body along his side, and how Cas is looking at him from less than three inches away.

Way too much time passes while they stare at each other for any explanation Dean could come up with even if he was sober. He should probably be doing something here--move out of the way so they can get back to the totally platonic cuddling for warmth, because Cas's boundaries aren't like other people's and God knows where his own went, much less when--but he's still stuck on--Jesus, he has no idea.

After a moment, Cas says, so softly that Dean almost misses it, "You're curious."

It's not a question, and Dean remembers abruptly that Cas's vision is good enough that he sits on the roof at night to view the world; whatever's on his face, Cas has got a perfect view of it. "Maybe."

"Let's find out." Jesus, that voice is totally different after a couple of bottles of whiskey and in near-perfect dark. He shivers at the first touch of Cas's fingers tracing down his cheek, thumb whispering across the stubble along his jaw before Cas leans closer. "How curious, Dean?"

The puff of warm air against his cheek sends another shiver down his spine, and he finds himself turning toward the sound of Cas's voice almost before the gentle pressure of Cas's fingers urge him to do just that. For a second, he wonders if Cas actually expects an answer--even trying to make words work for him right now is doomed to failure--but Cas tilts his head, and the entirety of Dean's attention is on the brush of lips, rough from the cold, just long enough to make him start to wonder--maybe--before Cas slowly draws back, but still close enough for Dean to feel every warm puff of breath against his lips.

Reluctantly, he opens his eyes, and the impression of a faint, teasing smile hits him like a splash of cold water, killing the fragile warmth before it even starts. "Well?"

It wasn't real; of course it wasn't. Digging his fingers into the couch, he stares up at Cas wordlessly, almost shaking from the effort not to punch Cas right in his smug goddamn face. If he could remember how to move, he might not be able to stop himself from doing just that.

"Dean?" Cas asks, and maybe nothing but hearing the thread of worry--pity?--could have snapped him back into the room just as Cas starts to pull away. "Dean, I--"

"Sorry," he interrupts, relieved his voice doesn't break. "So that was it?"

Write your own story, Cas told Amanda, and Dean wonders what that would be like; he's never written a single word of his own. His life here was Dean Winchester's, his epic romance the stuff of imagination by the camp, and saving the world--this one or the other--was written for him before Time was even born.

He just manages a smile; he may not be able to see Cas's face very well, but Cas can see his just fine. "Got anything else or can I get some sleep?"

Cas stills, and he gets a vague impression of annoyance, but he doesn't have time to find out for sure; the hand on his face tilts his head back. He has a moment of bitter triumph in getting Cas to do what he obviously doesn't want to before Cas's lips brush against his, just enough pressure to get his attention before pulling back, gazing at him like he's trying to read his mind again.

He'd be surprised by what he saw if he could: every time Dean glimpsed him around the camp those early weeks, pinning someone against the wall of a cabin in two foot high weeds or wandering out of another one on a lazy afternoon rumpled and comfortable in his skin; every time Dean came to those team meetings to stand invisible witness to Cas's goddamn post-coital glow; God, when he stood in the doorway of Cas's cabin and just watched, forgetting how to stop or even how to want to: want more?

He can do that.

Every one of Chuck's letters to Gloria and the list of names that never seemed to end; every story the camp could tell that he could never stop himself from hearing; the way Cas still sometimes looks at Vera and Sean and Zoe and Lee, at James that night with Dean sitting in his goddamn lap like he wasn't even there, Haruhi at that party in Ichabod; the constant, bitter reminders of the way Cas used to look at him, like he could ever fucking forget, or forgive Cas for wanting anyone and everyone but him.

Cas's thumb slides slowly across his lower lip, and Dean loses his train of thought, breath catching in his throat as he follows the motion until it comes to an abrupt stop.

"Better." Swallowing, he tries to gather his thoughts, but the tip of Cas's thumb slips between his lips. "Much better," Cas murmurs, eyes fixed on Dean's mouth for a heart-stopping moment before he pulls away, easing up on an elbow to look down at him. "Don't move."

Holding his eyes, Cas shoves the twisted mess of the blankets down the couch and braces his right hand on the arm of the couch above Dean's head, knee sliding between Dean's before shifting into a lazy stretch above him. Dean's still processing that when Cas's left hand slides behind his back and abruptly, Cas is sitting back on his heels with Dean straddling his lap.

Grabbing for Cas's shoulder, he tries to work out what just happened, but Cas smiles up at him slow and dark, and he just doesn't care. Warm hands smooth slowly down his back before coming to a rest at his hips, and even through three layers of clothes, he can feel the touch of every individual finger like they're pressing against his bare skin.

"I have no objection to touching you," Cas says conversationally. "It would be far easier, however, if you were wearing less."

Dean nods belated agreement when Cas's fingers tighten warningly. "Yeah."

"Good." Cool fingers wrap around his wrists, guiding his hands down until they're resting helplessly against his thighs. "Take them off for me."

It takes him two tries to get his fingers working enough to get a grip on the sweatshirt, hideously aware of Cas watching every move he makes, and jerking it up, nearly strangles himself before he manages to stop himself. Flushing behind the barrier of suffocating cotton, he takes a deep breath and jerks it over his head and down his arms, nearly shaking by the time he shakes it free of his hands.

"Give it to me," Cas says, taking it from him and dropping it to the floor. Tilting his head, he glances down at Dean's hands fisted against his thighs, then back up, and Dean realizes in horror he's got to do that again. Face hot, he unclenches his fingers and starts to reach for the ragged edge of the thermal, but Cas stops him, easing them back down with a quick shake of his head, and says in a very different voice, "I want to do it."

Holding his eyes, Cas reaches for the hem and slides it effortlessly over his head, warm fingers trailing the soft cotton down the bare skin of his arms until it, too, vanishes into the darkness beside the couch. When Cas turns back, Dean swallows, looking away; they're one layer of clothing from a repeat of the last time Cas saw him without his shirt, and he doesn't think he can handle that the only difference this time will be Cas might be able to hide his reaction.

"Look at me," Cas whispers, and it'd be easier to fight gravity. He has a glimpse of incandescent blue before he's distracted by the pale pink lips, and he's leaning closer before he realizes what he's doing. Cas makes a soft, encouraging sound at the first touch, and the tentative pressure strengthens, a hand curving around the back of his neck and tilting his head. Cas licks a stripe of heat across his lower lip before his teeth close over it, and Jesus Christ, what's he fucking doing?

What do you do when you see a cliff coming, anyway? You fucking jump. That's what they're for.

Unclenching his fingers, he gets his hand free from between them, closing it over Cas's shoulder as Cas's tongue slides just inside, teasing. Dean opens his mouth for it and the thin space of plausible deniability--like it could ever be plausible--vanishes, and Cas licks into his mouth and kills every thought he's got.

Shifting his grip, Dean curls his fingers in Cas's hair, tugging him closer as he sucks Cas's tongue, pleased at the sound Cas makes into his mouth, callused thumb stroking over his cheek before tilting Dean's head and deepening the kiss into something that's no longer teasing. Like maybe now, he's not just curious about Dean's reaction; like maybe this time, he means it.

Cas's hand slides up his back, and abruptly he's back on the couch again, a breathless laugh escaping before Cas swallows it, settling warm and heavy on top of him and so much better than those fucking blankets. Tangling his fingers in Cas's hair--and God, how long has he been wanting to do that, always, forever--he drags him closer, chasing the faint taste of whiskey in his mouth and shoving up the back of his sweater, frantic to get skin under his hands, dragging short nails up his spine and feeling Cas arch into his touch.

Cas growls--holy shit--pulling back to look down at him, and he thinks he's been waiting all his life for Cas to look at him like that. He knows what to do with it, too; dragging his heel up the back of Cas's calf, he watches Cas catch his breath before wrapping a leg around Cas's thigh and shifting his hips until he can feel Cas hard against his thigh with a shock that reverberates up his spine.

He might have taken a second to think about that, but Cas doesn't let him; trailing a hand from Dean's hip to his knee, he pulls it higher, shifting Dean's hips up and settling with an almost audible click between his legs and against Dean's half-hard cock, burying his groan in Dean's mouth and swallowing Dean's own at the shock of contact.

Another bite to his lip, and Dean drags in badly needed air as Cas's mouth trails over his jaw, fingers threading gently through his hair before abruptly tightening, jerking his head back for a precise bite below his ear--God--the electric drag of stubble over the sensitive skin wringing out another breathless sound. Cas lazily mouths a trail down the column of his throat, nosing the stretched collar of his t-shirt aside to suck a kiss into the sensitized skin where it melts into his shoulder, slow and luxurious, the dull throb of pain racing through Dean like a bullet and lighting up every nerve.

"Cas." He's surprised by the sound of his own voice, barely a thread of sound, but not by what he says; it's the only word his tongue remembers how to make. "Cas--"

"Shh." Cas's tongue presses against the hard beat of his pulse for an endless moment before his teeth close over it with slowly increasing pressure, only drawing back to trace the outline with his tongue before sucking a slow, endless kiss into the throbbing skin and Dean's panting for it.

When Cas finally pulls back again, he feels his thumb tracing the edges, licking over it one more time before finally letting Dean drag him back up. Shoving a hand against his chest, Dean holds him back long enough to sit up and get hold of the sweatshirt and thermal to jerk them over Cas's head. Cas laughs, low and rough, when Dean throws them off the couch, but the sound cuts off when Dean buries his fingers in Cas's hair, tugging him closer to taste the outline of his smile, letting his own weight tip them backwards into the couch before losing himself in the wet heat of Cas's mouth, the rough, steady drag of Cas's cock against his own, the slow build at the base of his spine. It's unbelievably good and not nearly enough: two layers of sweatpants and fucking boxers, and that shit's gotta go.

His fingers just brush against the sagging waist of Cas's sweatpants when he catches a vague sense of motion from the corner of his eye. Cas reacts faster, head snapping around to fix on something to their right, and Dean follows his gaze, forcing himself to focus on the small mound of clothing settling on top of the coffee table and why he should care.

For a long moment, Dean almost convinces himself that they were there before, but he's pretty sure, now that he's thinking about it, he threw Cas's shirts a little farther than that. And the silence right now--other than the sound of his and Cas's breathing--is suspicious all in itself. Like maybe two other people in the room may or may not be burying their faces in all the pillows they can find. And then may or may not have gotten someone's clothes thrown on top of them.

Swallowing, he looks up at Cas, who's staring in the direction of the mattress like he's considering several options, not limited to simply picking it up and throwing it--and its residents--right out the door and pick up where they left off. In the corner of Dean's mind that's still working, he registers surprise; historically (or so Dean's been told), an audience is usually the opposite of a drawback, and occasionally upgrades to an outright preference.

When Cas finally looks at him again, Dean doesn't need to be told that this time it's not; worse, Cas is thinking again, and that means now Dean is, too.

Vera told him once that straight guys didn't take it well when they hear they may be taking it up the ass. He wonders how to ask how they take it when they realize they're half-naked on a couch under another guy and about a minute from getting off dry-humping his cock. On a guess, she'd say he's asking the wrong question entirely, and he'd tell her this: no fucking shit that's the wrong question, and by the way, he may just have the answer.

None of this helps with what's happening right now, though.

"We should…." Cas trails off, and the only consolation is that Cas hasn't actually moved, but he'll take what he can get. Then, with breathtaking sincerity, "Is this awkward?"

Dean blinks up at him, laughter bubbling up behind his lips at the look on Cas's face, and like that, it's not. Well, it is, but--he swallows frantically, but it's not stopping--but it's….it's--

"Are you--"

Fuck his life: pulling Cas back down, Dean buries his face against his bare shoulder and laughs, laughing even harder when Cas collapses on top of him to do the same against his neck. Every time he starts to get a breath, he imagines Joe's (or Amanda's) faces when Cas's sweatshirt landed on them after having probably gotten under enough pillows for plausible deniability and it sets him off again. The temptation to call over an invitation to join in is thankfully lost beneath another burst of laughter; Joe might never forgive him, but Amanda just might fucking kill him, and God. God.

Stomach aching, Dean finally takes a deep breath--a few stray chuckles find air, but Christ, that hurts--and it occurs to him it's actually pretty fucking cold and while they're both still in sweatpants, Dean's the only one with a t-shirt and he can feel goosebumps rising on Cas's back under his hands.

"Get the blankets," he murmurs into Cas's hair. "We're gonna freeze to death, and fuck being found dead like this."

Lifting his head, Cas makes a face, but the fact his teeth are less than ten seconds from chattering is probably pretty convincing. Pushing up--and cold or not, there's no way not to appreciate the view, and Dean doesn't even pretend that's not exactly what he's doing--Cas sits back on his heels in an effortless shift of balance before twisting around to retrieve their blankets. Belatedly, he grabs for Cas's shirts off the coffee table to do his part, then relaxes back against the couch to enjoy watching Cas handle the logistics from here on out.

Cas putting on clothes is surprisingly disappointing--it's cold, he reminds himself firmly--but in a few moments, he's tucked securely between Cas and the back of the couch ("You're wearing only a t-shirt," Cas explains, like he doesn't know the rest of Dean's clothes are literally an arm's length away and not lost in Antarctica or Peru or something), and hey, he was right; they fit just fine. Cas is a fucking fast learner, too, adapting what he learned in Ichabod and doing one better (of course), arranging Dean in a blissfully warm cocoon of blankets and himself.

Pressing his cheek against Cas's chest, he closes his eyes when Cas's fingers tentatively thread through his hair and goes boneless when he slowly starts to stroke. Throwing a limp arm over Cas's waist, he tucks his knee more firmly between Cas's before burrowing his hand under the sweatshirt and thermal to rest against the small of Cas' (warm) back and lets out a breath, content. He could get used to this, and by that he means, he already is.

"This okay?" he rouses himself enough to ask, because that's just good manners, and drowsily notes the sudden heaving of Cas's chest and warm breath puffing against his hair without any clear idea of what it means.

"Yes," Cas says finally, sounding breathless, and Dean lets his eyes fall shut, lulled by the slow circles Cas is rubbing into the small of his back. "It is."

--Day 144--

Eldritch Horror has been the only glaring exception to Dean's ability to remember--in detail--exactly what he did when alcohol is involved, and while the waking up process these days is still slower than it used to be, when he gets there, that much hasn't changed. Last night hits him and does it all at once, and so does the fact he's warm but not nearly as comfortable because he's the only one on the couch, and it says a lot which part bothers him more.

Pop quiz, Vera: how do straight guys feel the next morning after almost getting off enthusiastically dry-humping their best friend, and yes, he knows that's the wrong goddamn question. Can't wait for your answer, though: looks like he's gotta improvise.

Cracking open an eye, he takes in the grey-lit room--snow's stopped, holy shit, it's almost sunny--and the lack of guests on the mattress, darting to the empty kitchen, and has just enough time to stiffen before Cas says, in the most normal voice in the history of normal voices, "The coffee is ready."

Coffee. Okay, then.

Looking down and to the right, Dean sees Cas sitting on the floor, fully dressed, an open laptop and stack of reports on the coffee table before him, and experiences a moment of severe cognitive dissonance. Sitting up, he shivers at the brush of cold--but not death cold--air against his bare arms and decides clarification is in order, and also, the bathroom, and guess which one isn't gonna wait.

"Thanks," he says in Cas's direction, grabbing the topmost blanket and bracing himself for the cold hell of bedroom and emerging into the toasty-warm bathroom in which a mysterious space heater has appeared that was definitely not there last night. He blinks once before shutting the door and shoving a nearby towel at the bottom to conserve the heat and moves on.

Turning on the shower, Dean takes a quick piss and mindlessly brushes his teeth, glancing up and realizing by the steam that the shower's ready. Stripping down--not entirely a punishment for once--he steps into the steamy fog and sighs at the rain of hot water against his skin before reaching for the soap and gets to business while thinking of absolutely nothing that would make this less an exercise in cleanliness, because reasons.

Climbing out, he reaches for a clean towel and starts to dry off, startled by sharp, unexpected soreness when he turns his head. Frowning, he reaches up, fingertips finding the spot without effort; pressing gently, he catches his breath at the flare of pain and remembered heat. Crossing to the sink, Dean wipes the mirror clean of fog, staring at the blurred but unmistakable purpling hickey just above the curve of his shoulder, and higher, the purple-blue shape of Cas' teeth. Reaching up, he watches his fingers skim over the bruised skin, and the dull flicker of pain confirms it's not a hallucination. Also (he checks), yeah, not a single goddamn sheep.

He's just about ready to think when the face in the mirror catches his attention--mirror, when did they get a mirror--and he freezes, unable to look away. Startled green eyes watch him as he slowly reaches up, hovering uncertainly over the fading bruise on his cheek from Mark's fist and watches blankly as a thumb sweeps across it. It's stupid, he gets that, but it's only when he sees his own wince at the low ache that it registers that the face he's looking at is his own.

Hands shaking, he traces over the pale skin--way too pale, sunlight would help a lot--following the sharp curve of his jaw, the stretch of his forehead beneath the fringe of wet hair, the tiny split at the corner of his mouth and over his lips, wet, dark hair clinging to his cheeks--he may need a haircut--but there's nothing but warm, perfectly normal flesh at every touch, no peeling, rotting horror grinning at him from the mirror and that can't be right. Looking at his arm, he stares at the twisted ropes of scars on his inner arm, but his eyes keep darting away, taking in the firm flesh around it, tracing the building muscle up his arm, and the mirror reflects the same goddamn thing, like this is--like….

Stepping back a few steps, Dean searches frantically for the thing he saw in the mirror that day--a corpse still walking, still breathing, still living when it should be long dead--but even the ghost recedes at the sight of the thin but definitely living body, complete with fucked up scarred arm, the fading yellow remains of a sparring session with Mark, and newer purple smudges pressed into the sharp bones of his hips in the shape of Cas's fingers.

He's still trying to work out what to do next when there's a knock on the door before it opens, and even the chill air that hits him before it closes again isn't enough to penetrate.

"'I have seen all the works that are done under the sun,'" Cas quotes softly, "'and, behold, all is vanity and like grasping the wind.'" The blue eyes drop to Dean's feet and take the scenic route back up, an ice age passing before he reaches Dean's face, raising an eyebrow. "Not that I blame you. I could look at you all day."

"Not," Dean grinds out, wondering how to explain or if there is a sane explanation for this, "helping."

"I brought you coffee." Dean jerks his gaze to Cas, who is--holding a steaming cup of coffee. And holding it out, even. "I thought it might help."

Luckily, he recognizes Dean's decision-making capabilities aren't up to anything right now, crossing the two feet between them to put the cup in his hands before leaning back against the wall beside the sink, like he wants to consider the entire package from a new angle. Not sure what else to do, Dean takes a drink, and it does help, or at least, gives him something to do.

"Know thyself," Cas says quietly. "I thought once it was because I formed your body anew that it defined the human ideal. I've seen and known many human bodies since then, however, and none have ever compared."

"You thought…" He swallows hastily at the not-crack in his voice; this is getting ridiculous. "You said I looked fine when I looked like a corpse."

"You're without flaw," Cas answers. "By definition, that makes that which contains you perfect." Tilting his head, he smiles slowly, adding in a long, appreciative once-over just in case Dean's not paying attention. "Looking at you now, however--there's nothing to do but kneel before such in abject worship."

Why does that sound familiar? "Did you just…" Cas's smile widens. "Did you just quote hippofucker?"

"One of his less offensively terrible efforts," Cas concedes with a shrug. "And at this moment, difficult to resist enacting, but needs must. Amanda and Joe left to visit the other cabins, doubtless sharing the undeniably exaggerated story of surviving a long night listening to us have sex."

Dean blinks.

"And help Brenda in the mess, I think," Cas adds, attention obviously somewhere south of Dean's face. "They said they'll see us tonight. Presents may be involved, they weren't entirely clear."

Dean wonders if it's just him, or this sounds like a report he's taking naked in the bathroom in front of the mirror while drinking coffee and being--looked at--by Cas. Taking another sip, he nods; that's actually what's happening, got it. "Patrol?"

"The snowing stopped an hour before dusk, and they appreciated it very much, though less than they would have it had happened earlier," Cas answers promptly. "The camp continues to be alive, all the lights in the camp are now red and green, and the posts are decorated with wreathes of various levels of quality but great earnestness."

He tilts his head toward the space heater. "That?"

"Kyle's on patrol and therefore has no need of it," Cas says reasonably. "Mel's team arrived back an hour ago and states the others were only a few hours behind her, so everyone should be here in time for the insert winter celebration of your choice dinner, pie, and bonding event this evening in the mess."

He lowers his cup warily. "There's gonna be singing, isn't there?"

"You'd think those who aren't Christian would have no interest in--or reason to--memorize popular holiday songs, and you'd be wrong," Cas says, tilting his head before finally remembering Dean has a face, too. "I have perfect pitch."

He nods, taking another drink.

"My relative pitch is equally flawless, and neither are affected by my sobriety or lack thereof," he continues, and Dean doesn’t think he's imaging a slightly frantic edge to his voice. "Only two people in this camp know what pitch is or approach understanding its importance in vocal music, and nothing is improved when vocalization is done in groups."

"Can you sing?" Dean asks suddenly; that the Host doubled as a holy choral group he knew--kind of--but the idea of Cas singing is impossible and awesome and something that has to happen. Tonight, even.

Cas's eyes narrow: that would be yes, then. "I'm not singing."

So Cas is singing tonight, and he's already got the beginnings of a plan on how to make that happen.

"About last night--" Cas starts.

Cup frozen half-way to his mouth, he stares at Cas, who stares back as the silence goes from weird and uncomfortable to deeply uncomfortable, easing into vaguely charged and rushing past ominous to settle into goddamn portent of disaster to come. Worse, it keeps going, and while he'd normally appreciate Cas literally unable to come up with anything to say, this isn't normally.

"You realize," Cas says abruptly, eyes fixing on the wall behind Dean's shoulder and warning him nothing good can come of this, like there was any chance of anything else, "that it's been a very long time since the last time I--"

"You really want to go with that?" Dean bursts out incredulously, barely remembering he's holding a coffee cup and hastily setting it down on the sink. "You gotta be kidding me!"

Cas closes his eyes, making a face like he'd do just about anything to not be here, and hey, that makes two of them. It might be true (don't think that), but the first fucking rule of regrettable hookups is you don't say they're regrettable fucking hookups. Jesus, someone should have broken down for Cas how it works, which is either climb out the window in shame (not recommended, especially when unexpected rose bushes make an appearance, but come on, it was fucking dark) or fake it like it's your new religion until you can get away, like a goddamn normal person. He's almost ready to explain it himself--education is never wasted, and he's gotta man up and deal with it now--but that would be after he's calm enough to pretend he doesn't want to throw up or at least blame doing it on the whiskey. Before and after punching something really fucking hard.

Then Cas opens his eyes, and the flat glare almost knocks him back a step. "You…."

He waits for it, but… "Me."

"No one is this oblivious," breathes Cas himself, without any trace of irony. "You have a habit of undressing in front of me--sometimes while carrying on a conversation--and that would in itself be fine if I wasn't aware that habit dates from the only witnesses were your father or your brother--"

"Uh, I never fucking stripped down in front of them!" Dean exclaims, horrified.

"--and I am not your brother," Cas continues viciously, ignoring him. "Nor is this a vessel in which biological urges have no particular meaning. I apologize if this wasn't clear--though how you could miss it is a mystery--not only do I feel them, I've spent my entire mortal existence indulging them at every possible opportunity. That I don't at this time is quite literally due to the subject. Look in the mirror."

Dean asks, "What?"

"Look," Cas grates out, "in the mirror, Dean."

He does; it might actually be the safest choice in the room right now.

"Thank you," Cas says. "Now set aside your inexplicable lack of vanity and objectively consider what exactly I've been observing in all its states of dress, undress, and on occasion, also wet. Do we understand each other or do my masturbation habits need to be described as well?"

Dean tries to think of a response to that: for some reason, he's pretty sure sorry would do the exact opposite of help, not to mention be a huge fucking lie. "Oh."

"That's not an excuse, however. You were somewhat drunk last night," Cas adds in a calmer voice, which is why it takes a second too long for Dean to register where this is going and stop it. "I apologize for taking advantage of your trust last night and I hope that this won't be a source of discomfort for you or make you less comfortable in my presence." He hesitates before visibly making an effort. "If you feel that--perhaps I should consider other arrangements to our--"

"Shut up," Dean says, and briefly acknowledges the miracle of Cas actually doing it before adding, "No."

Cas wets his lips, looking away. "Dean--"

"You're not moving out because of last night, Jesus!" Dean interrupts. "Why the hell would you even think--"

"I am, actually, perfectly willing--though not necessarily eager--to commit myself to a life of celibacy and unsettlingly frequent masturbation--though we will need a far more efficient water heater and maybe two at this rate--"

"Jesus Christ," Dean interjects for form's sake.

"--as long as that life includes you," Cas finishes in a display of touchingly fucked up--something, holy shit, is this happening? "So if you need time to--feel things--and my presence hinders that in some way, then yes, I can temporarily find other accommodations until you--stop feeling those things and I can return." He pauses, and Dean sees the flicker of fear he can't hide anymore. "I don't--don't want anything to change. I can't lose you, Dean."

"You won't," Dean says, ready to carve that in stone somewhere or tattoo it on Cas's body--not the time, not the time, but for the record, he can think of a few places, not the fucking time--if that gets the point across. "Ever, Cas. Not even on the table."

For a moment--in which Dean thinks how to subtly get rid of Cas and try that shower thing, fuck, not the time--it's almost like it's over but no, it's not, because this is Cas, and also, they're on his favorite fucking subject and it's way too late to start running. Like the starting sequence of a horror movie, Cas tilts his head, subjecting him to--fuck his life--a mirror-perfect copy of Sam at his most earnest and talking about feelings, practically oozing sympathy and support for Dean's--feelings.

"If it helps," Cas tells him seriously, "when sexuality and biology are in competition, biology will always win."

This isn't happening; the only world that he should have to listen to this speech is one where he both got off and feels guilty about it, and for lack of a goddamn sweatshirt being thrown, one of those at least would be true.

"Human bodies are designed to enjoy sex and aren't discriminating on how they get it; sexuality and attraction, on the other hand, are…" He pauses, making a face. "Baffling, but one adjusts, I suppose. Generally, there comes a point where the gender or sex of the individual providing stimulation is secondary--if that--to the desire that they keep doing it." Over…no, just a dramatic pause: this is Cas. "I assure you, even if I'd jerked you off last night, you'd be just as heterosexual today as you were before."

He could have had Cas jerking him off last night.

Naturally brings up all the other things that can be accomplished on a couch with a willing Cas and a lot of enthusiasm, because what this conversation lacked was goddamn biology and sexuality working together to fuck up his life, so glad they joined the party. He didn't even get off, for fuck's sake, and now he has to deal with a morning after no one should have to face on top of it, and this much is perfectly clear; whoever threw Cas's sweatshirt back on the coffee table isn't surviving to dusk.

"Yeah," he agrees helplessly. "Got it."

"Good," Cas says, relaxing, but no, it's not over yet. "If you want to talk about it, I can give you a historical perspective of humanity's relationship with sex and lust throughout the ages. That might give you some context on--how you may feel." The pause is brief but ominous, and Dean can see the next question forming before his eyes and braces himself for impact. "I should have asked this earlier; how do you feel?"

Essay question, two page minimum, and here's the subject: explain Hamlet's relationship with his dad, how life shouldn't mimic high school number three on the first day of English class, and also, his goddamn feelings. Pick up your goddamn pen and get to writing already, and by the way, you know the answer to this question, so what are you waiting for?

Dean looks at the shape of his life looking at him worriedly: not a goddamn thing, so fuck off. I got a life to start writing. First, though: get out of the goddamn bathroom and start working on the details.

"Kind of hungry," he says honestly, grinning into the worried blue eyes and watching them clear in transparent relief. "What's for breakfast?"

"Blueberry pancakes," Cas answers promptly, and he raises his eyebrows to remind Cas he heard what Amanda said about fruit. "A private transaction with one of the residents a few weeks ago. I was saving them for a special occasion."

Dean knows his street prices, but he's not sure of the ounce of pot-to-dried blueberries conversion rate (or acid-to-blueberries, for that matter) and honestly, kind of doesn't want to. "Cool." He also doesn't want to acknowledge he's naked--has been for this entire conversation--and a very important part of his future just got decided during a quite literal identity crisis in the fucking bathroom (along with hearing a patrol report and finding out Cas can sing), but that's kind of undeniable at this point. It happens, moving on. At least out of the bathroom.

"I'm gonna get dressed," he decides; step one to getting out of the bathroom already is clothes.

Cas makes a disappointed sound. "If you must."

The stack of clothes on the toilet isn't a surprise; on a guess, they appeared while he was in the shower, around the time that the mirror got hung, and then Cas waited patiently in the freezing bedroom to make sure what Dean saw this time reflected at him what was actually there. When he fit this plan (or knew there was a thing that needed a plan) into his morning between patrol, worrying about Dean's reaction to last night, and getting a game plan together for worst case scenario is anyone's guess, but of course he did.

It takes him two tries to pick up the boxers; he won't fuck up, not this time.

Boxers accomplished, he looks at Cas--yes, he's watching, good. "Uh, the undressing thing…."

"Please don't apologize for that, and if possible, forget I ever mentioned that particular habit." Dean sees one corner of his mouth trembling, a smile hovering behind his eyes. "No need to think of it at all."

"Good." Tugging on the sweatpants, he pulls the t-shirt over his head and turns around. "Need help with breakfast?"