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Earth is a Tourist Trap

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The first thing Castiel needs to do is find Anna. This is tricky, since she covered her tracks well, but Castiel is determined. He owes her a great deal, and she is also at least partially responsible for inspiring him along this particular path.

A few spells here and there, a bribe or two to the right pagan gods, and Castiel has a location in suburban North America. Rachel refuses to help Castiel the entire time, but she does follow him all the way to the doorstep of Anna’s human house, where she declares ominously, “Anna’s not going to be happy to see us.”

“Your reservation is duly noted,” Castiel replies. He rings the doorbell and after a brief wait, the door opens, Anna shrieks, and Castiel is beaned in the face with a cardboard box.

“Ow.” Castiel touches his nose curiously. “That hurt.”

“You deserved that,” Rachel says. She nudges the fallen cardboard weapon aside and nods. “Hello, Anna.”

“What is this?” Anna demands. She has a hand gripped firmly around the door, but the fact that she hasn’t slammed it in their faces is promising.

“Visiting an old friend,” Castiel says. “Rachel and I were in town and we thought—”

“No,” Anna snaps. “Cut the crap.”

Castiel glances at Rachel, who just rolls her eyes and gestures for him to proceed. “Well,” Castiel starts, deciding that the truth is probably best, “Officially, I’m on sabbatical. Technically this is even true, though Zachariah may have made certain assumptions about what my sabbatical would entail.”

“Oh. Oh my goodness.” Anna’s eyes widen. “You’re planning to fall?”

“No, no, of course not,” Castiel says quickly, which makes Rachel chuckle under her breath. “I’m content to remain an angel, that’s not part of the question. It’s just that there are other matters I must take into account before—”

“He’s been offered a senior position,” Rachel says, almost bitterly. “More senior than your old one. Then he got scared.”

“I am not scared,” Castiel says sharply. “Who’s making assumptions now?”

“Crap,” Anna says, snapping her fingers in his face, “Cut it.”

“I’d like to spend some time as a human before accepting Zachariah’s offer.” Castiel nods, pleased at how simple it sounds when he says it like that. “It’s important. I’ll never have the chance once I become an Elder, and I feel that the experience would provide useful insights and a new perspective on life.”

Anna narrows her eyes, and then turns to Rachel.

“Yes, that’s pretty much it,” Rachel confirms. “Look, Anna, I don’t want to be here. I have lots of things to do, but I couldn’t let Castiel come by himself.”

“I’m both touched and troubled by your concern,” Castiel says dryly.

“He’s determined to not use any powers while he’s here,” Rachel says, the harsh edge of her voice making it clear how she feels about that. “I’m just here to make sure this doesn’t end in blood and ash.”

Anna makes a soft, surprised sound. She seems to at least want to believe them, and has somewhat dropped her defensive stance. “And no one else knows? Uriel, Balthazar…?”

“No.” Castiel does feel bad about that but secrecy was necessary, since Zachariah would disapprove and Balthazar would have… ideas. “I’ve done the necessary spells and cut ourselves off. The others would not think to look for us for at least a few months.”

“Huh.” The edges of Anna’s mouth start to move into a cautious smile. “That’s… huh. That sounds pretty cool. I’m happy you have this in you, Castiel.”

Castiel nods. “Thank you. So I thought we’d just drop by to see how you’re doing.”

“Yeah.” Anna shakes her head in what appears to be amused disbelief. “I know why you’re here. Come on in, I’ll help set you up. And grab my box, will you? I was using that.”

+ + +

The last time Castiel had set foot on Earth was a couple of centuries ago, when the décor and fashion had been significantly different. While the others occasionally drop down whenever their schedule permits, there just hadn’t been any cause for Castiel in particular to visit since then – no battles to wage, no prophets to guide – so Earth has been spinning its own course separate from Heaven, which had eventually lead up to the advent of electronics, mass-produced food products and, as Castiel now learns, highly specialized hygiene products.

“You need to take care of your new body,” Anna says, once she’s pleased that Castiel can at least remember the basics – soap for body, toothpaste for teeth, shampoo for hair, etc. “It’s not just about getting nourishment for the inside. Humans have… standards, oh boy, there’s so much.”

There is a notepad next to Anna’s hand, into which she’s been scribbling as she moves from topic to topic. She is enthusiastic, which is a plus, but that list has been growing steadily and, Castiel guesses, will only get even longer. Castiel eyes those pages with curiosity and trepidation; the sheer amount of rules humans impose on themselves seem impractical and disappointingly reminiscent of the bureaucratic complexity of Heaven.

Somehow, Castiel had thought that free will meant there would be less of that sort of thing.

“I do appreciate this, Anna.” Castiel gently places a hand on hers to halt her furious scripture. “But you seem to be stressing out about the smallest details.”

“These aren’t small details,” Anna protests. “I know it looks easy from where you are – I do remember what it was like to be an angel – but it really isn’t. Being human isn’t just a matter of remembering to eat and sleep.”

“I keep telling him that we don’t need to do that anyway,” Rachel says. She’s openly prodding Anna’s bag of colorful bottles and tubes. “These bodies remain intact and functional as long as we need them.”

“And I keep telling you that that’s cheating,” Castiel reminds her. “These containers of flesh may only exist because we willed them to, but if I’m to have a human experience, I should live as a human. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Rachel gives him a long look.

“See, rhetorical question and silent sarcasm – we’re learning already,” Castiel says. “Well, you know you’re free to do whatever you want, Rachel. All I asked was for you to keep this a secret from the others.”

“Should we try shaving?” Anna asks, frowning at Castiel’s face. “I don’t have any razors here but it seems dangerous to put anything sharp near your face without plenty of practice.”

“Anna.” Castiel leans forward and takes both her hands between his. “Would that be more or less dangerous than my coming down to Earth to live as a human being among other human beings I’ve never interacted with in any significant way before?”

Anna blinks. “Point.”

“Excellent.” Castiel smoothly pulls Anna’s essay out from under her hands. “I’m sure this will be a useful starting point, and any mistakes I make from now on will be my own.”

“And…” Anna swallows, looking rather nervous all of a sudden. “You know where to find me. If anything goes bad.”

“Of course.” Castiel stands up. “Now I shall find accommodations. And a job.”

“Oh my god,” Anna chokes.

Rachel nods. “That’s what I said.”

+ + +

Castiel’s pretty sure that he’s being taken advantage of, but he doesn’t mind. The apartment they’re being shown by the building’s superintendent is small and unimpressive, but it’s enough to fulfill their basic needs despite Rachel scowling at everything and muttering, “Unclean, unclean,” as though she’s determined to channel Uriel every step of their adventure.

“Half a month’s rent as deposit,” the superintendent drawls. “And the place is all yours.”

“I think this place is suitable,” Castiel declares. He pulls a small wad of bills out of his pocket – a forward by Anna that Castiel fully intends to pay back once he’s able – and picks out the necessary sheets. “Thank you, you’ve been very helpful.”

The payment is accepted with a lazy nod. “And, uh, try not to make too much noise when you’re having fun.” He winks and raps his knuckles against the fading wallpaper. “Thin walls and all that.”

“He’s my brother,” Rachel snaps. “Keep your cheek.”

“Hey, I’m not judging.” The superintendent slides out the door with smooth, liquid ease. Just before he disappears, he says, “Welcome to America.”

While Rachel glares at the door, Castiel does a slow circuit of the apartment. It’s not necessary, and it’s more a room than an apartment, but there is an illicit thrill of being responsible for an Earthly trapping. All Castiel’s ever been responsible for back in Heaven had been his robe, sword and shield – all of which are currently tucked safely in the negative space between his wings.

“I suppose it could be worse,” Rachel says eventually. “I could be here with Balthazar.”

“No,” Castiel demurs, “You’re smart enough to leave Balthazar to his own devices.”

They will need to equip the apartment, of course. The kitchen is in barely adequate for food preparation, and the single bed impractical. Rachel hasn’t said how far she’s prepared to go along with Castiel’s plan – whether she wants to eat, sleep and do other matters is her own business – but it’s best that Castiel assume that everything he wishes to do will need to accommodate her presence as well.

“I will look for a job now,” Castiel announces. He passes half of Anna’s money to Rachel, who counts it out carefully. “We saw that furniture warehouse down the road, how about you look for an additional bed and other amenities as recommended by Anna?”

“Fine, I’ll do that,” Rachel says. “And hey, wherever you go looking for a job, make sure they have two vacancies. I’m not kidding, Castiel.”

Castiel inclines his head. “I’ll try my best.”

+ + +

A garage seems an unusual choice, especially since Castiel had assumed that there would be a high level of technical proficiency required for job-seekers, but here he is anyway, being interrogated by the owner of the business.

“Run that by me again,” says the man who’d introduced himself as John Winchester.

“I’m on sabbatical for a few months,” Castiel says. “I will do any menial work you have, and do not require a large salary.”

Castiel had a longer spiel the first couple of times he’d done this back at the coffee shop, fast food restaurant, pawn shop, gas station, etc. The thing was, all of the interviewers had started to look glazed about halfway through Castiel’s description on his expertise and expectations, so he’d culled down his speech to be as succinct as possible.

The owner of the second-hand book shop three interviews back had also jokingly asked Castiel whether clean-up work was an option. It is, so Castiel adds, “Janitorial work is also acceptable.”

“I see.” John Winchester sits back, arms crossed, and attempts to stares him down.

Castiel suspects this is meant to be intimidating or discomfiting. “I can start immediately. Just a suggestion, sir, but perhaps you could take me on for a week, and if it doesn’t work out, I will leave without argument.”

John Winchester is assessing him, eyes taking in Castiel’s appearance and clothes just like all the others had before him. Castiel wonders what he sees, wonders how humans can derive any sort of conclusion from another’s physical make-up.

“No resume, nothin’, just come waltzing in here like…” John shakes his head in disbelief. Anna had warned Castiel about his lack of paper credentials, but that can’t be helped as Castiel would like to avoid lying as much as possible. After a long moment, John sighs, mutters something under his breath about stupid fucking economy, and says, “I guess we got something for you, but it’s kinda…”

“I’ll be glad of it, sir,” Castiel says quickly. “Though would it be too much to ask if you have another vacancy? My sister is with me and she would appreciate a job as well.”

John curses.

+ + +

It’s their first day at work, and it’s all so fascinating.

Castiel’s aware that this is but a tiny taster of what’s available in the world, but the statement holds true. There are sorting codes and invoices and inventories; Bobby Singer, who is John Winchester’s second-in-command, had spent something like ten minutes showing him around and then left him to it, muttering something that sounded like OCD under his breath.

There is poetry in all of God’s creations, whether it’s children at play or a human filing system.

“You’re really enjoying yourself there, aren’t ya, buddy?”

Castiel looks up but it’s only Dean Winchester, the boss’ eldest son and one the garage’s mechanics. Technically, Castiel’s supposed to only take instructions from his supervisor, Bobby, (and John, of course), but Dean must have a managerial role as well since he’s the only other person in the garage who’s attempted to talk to him all morning.

Castiel politely puts the stack of papers down. “To be frank,” he says, “I’m just surprised that there’s so much to do. This isn’t exactly a difficult task.”

“Not difficult, no.” Dean runs the back of his hand across his forehead, though that just serves to spread the grease on his skin. “It’s just tedious.”

Castiel tries to recall whether he’d found any of it tedious. “Sorry, no, I have to disagree with you there, sir.”

Dean sputters. “No. Don’t – geez. Don’t call me sir.”

Castiel considers this. “Master?”

“What?”

“My lord?”

“The hell.” Now Dean just looks disturbed. “Just… Dean. Dean is fine. More than fine, even.”

“Very well, Dean,” Castiel says, making a mental note that formal forms of address are more fluid now. Bobby had enjoyed being called sir, though maybe that’s less appropriate with Dean because he’s assumed that Castiel’s of similar age or social status with him. “Did you want something? Is there something I can do for you?”

“No, it’s just…” Dean stands there for a moment, almost awkwardly. Castiel tries to exude a general countenance of pleasantry and willingness to help. “It’s just, it’s your first day and I thought I’d see how… wait, no, introduce. Yeah, I came over to introduce myself.” Dean smiles.

“I’m aware of who you are, Bobby pointed you out to me earlier while he was showing me around,” Castiel says. His eyes catch the clock and he starts. “Oh, would you look at that, it’s lunch. I should check on my sister. Meals are important and we should not be remiss in our duties to the temples that are our bodies.”

“Yeah…” Dean says slowly. “You do that. I’ll, uh. Be going.” He slinks away.

That’s the other thing. Castiel doesn’t harbor any illusions that he’s doing a good job of blending in. He’s quite sure that he can no more convincingly pass off as a human as he can pass off as a fish, so it speaks to the mental dexterity of the humans he’s interacted with so far that no one’s thrown salt in his face and set him on fire.

Though maybe that was just what all humans did in the Dark Ages, and it’s fallen out of fashion since then.

Castiel should probably keep an eye on Dean anyway.

+ + +

“I hope you’re having a better time than I am,” Rachel says over dinner. After days of holding out she’s finally following procedure, i.e. using a spoon and chewing and swallowing, which Castiel considers a definite success. “Humans are rude.”

“Ah, so you’ve found something you have in common with them, well done.” Castiel stretches his legs out on the floor, chewing thoughtfully on a particular curly thread of ramen. “And yes, I am indeed having a good time, thank you for asking.”

“Great.” Rachel pokes at her bowl viciously for a moment, and then sighs. “How was your day, then? Did you accomplish anything?”

Castiel looks around their apartment. It’s been cleaned as much as possible, the cheap curtains are fulfilling their function, there are now actual useful things on the table – Castiel’s sandwich-making accessories, Rachel’s list of things she must not say on the phone (courtesy of Bobby and Jo) and all the fliers Castiel has picked up while walking around town – and thinks: space is what we make of it.

“I think I’ve just started,” Castiel says.

Rachel nods. “I figured as much.”

+ + +

Castiel manages a week.

A little more than a week, actually, in which Castiel revamps the Winchester’s filing system and sorts their recyclables and cleans everything in the storage room that he’s allowed to touch. That’s only during his work hours; outside of that, Castiel goes grocery shopping and browses thrift shops and gets into merry arguments with people who try to get him to sign petitions.

It’s good, great, gritty, wonderful. It’s certainly easier to carry out once Castiel figures out the tricks it takes to not be noticeable. In public that usually means not staring at people too much, and at work it means keeping his head down until his garage colleagues settle their opinions on him and relegate him (and Rachel) to background noise. John doesn’t say much to him beyond the occasional grunt and annoyed side-eye, Bobby just gives him a list of things to do, Dean and Jo offer a hello sometimes but mostly keep their own company, and Ash talks to his computers and only acknowledges Castiel’s curiosity with lengthy technical explanations.

Which is excellent, because then Castiel is free to observe them.

He’s watched humans before – that’s all angels ever do when they’re on Earth – but it’s different when he’s so close he can see every fine flicker of their decision-making processes, and can hear the way they litter their vocabulary with all sorts of information and nuances they take for granted.

“Yeah, then I heard they’re gonna make him a regular, like what the hell,” Jo says, on one her coffee breaks where she nurses a Styrofoam cup and exchanges small talk with Dean. “King of bad ideas, how about it?”

“See, you’re just saying that because you’re bitter,” Dean replies, sounding cheerful despite everything in their conversation implying that they’re in an argument. “You’re bitter and biased and really, you should just learn to let things go. Firefly was mostly hype anyway.”

Jo hisses. “You shut your mouth.”

Exchanges like that are common, casual and entirely self-contained, unlike Heaven where everything everyone says has to be of Utmost Importance or not said at all. Uriel would use less than flattering descriptors for the humans’ choice of topics – frivolous and petty come to mind – but there’s more to it than just that.

Castiel would surely be able figure it out if he could just keep collecting his clues without interruption. He’s getting good at it, barely anyone notices him anymore.

Then, just over a week after Castiel’s touchdown, Sam Winchester arrives at the garage.

“Hey, Dean,” Sam says, voice loud even over the clank of metal. Castiel watches him approach Dean, and notes the way they hug each other and laugh.

That’s another thing Castiel’s been observing, i.e. the various permutations of something as simple as human friendship, both between relations and not. Castiel and his kin are all exactly that – kin – so nurtured friendship and families of choice are entirely human constructs. In all of Castiel’s existence he’d never stopped to think about what that it could be like to fashion relationships outside duty and positions. Castiel’s closeness to Rachel and Balthazar (and Anna, prior to her falling) are partially due to their placement in the same garrisons; he’d never thought to actively seek out companionship beyond what he had.

It’s all so novel.

“Hey, you’re the new guy.”

Castiel immediately drops his gaze to the floor. “Sorry,” he says, even as Sam marches towards him. “Don’t mind me.”

“Castiel, right?” Sam says. It’s the curious lilt in his voice that makes Castiel look up, and then he’s staring head-on into a wide grin. Sam thrusts his hand out. “Hi, I’m Sam Winchester, I heard that Dad took on a couple of new people.”

“Oh, yes.” Castiel shakes his hand, feeling slightly bewildered. Perhaps Sam has a petition he wants Castiel to sign. “My sister and I are very grateful for this career opportunity.”

Sam blinks, startled. He looks like Dean when he does that, though he recovers better. “Every little bit counts, right? You know you should join us. I’m only in town for a couple of weeks, and you only, uh… You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No,” Castiel says. Just beyond Sam’s shoulder, Dean is hovering, frowning a little. “This is my first time here. I have another sister who lives nearby.”

“Then we have to show you around.” Sam’s eyes are wide and hopeful. “Oh my god, you don’t know anyone besides your family, do you – Dean, he doesn’t know anyone else here – Castiel, you’ve got to let us take you out.”

“Sam…” Dean’s scowl deepens. “C’mon, the guy’s still trying to get his bearings.”

“Yeah, but…” Sam tells Dean in a deliberate tone that means that there’s more being said that what’s being said, “…then it’ll be only me, you and Gordon tonight. Thank you, but I’d rather at least try.”

“You’re asking me to attend a social event?” Castiel asks.

Sam whirls back on him, all smiles again. “Yeah, we’re just going for a dinner thing since I’m back in town. Jo was supposed to join us but she can’t make it, so…” He dips his head but keeps his eyes locked on Castiel’s, bright and welcoming.

It could be a chance to observe more human behavior up close. There’s nothing wrong with that, which is why Castiel’s here at all, right? “Okay.”

Dean’s attention snaps to Castiel. “What?”

“He asked.” Castiel nods at Sam, sparing just a moment to wonder why Dean is doing his best to imitate an owl. “It could be interesting. Thank you, Sam.”

+ + +

Dinner goes along well enough. They go out to a bar together – Sam, Castiel, Dean and Dean’s friend Gordon – and aside from the expected occasional pause at something Castiel says or does, the atmosphere is upbeat and educational.

“And Sam here’s almost finished his bar,” Dean says, proud as anything as he gestures his half-empty beer bottle at his brother. “Tomorrow, the world.”

“Yeah, well.” Sam ducks his head, modest and excited at the same time. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Castiel offers an encouraging nod and continues to eat, content to let the conversation wash over him. Sam and Dean are clearly fond of each other, while Dean and Gordon have relaxed body language that implies closeness, even if the affection isn’t the same as Sam and Dean’s. Sam doesn’t seem all that keen on Gordon, though.

But that’s just a side note, because the real treasure of the evening is seeing Dean being far more animated than Castiel’s ever seen him. It’s hard to tell whether this is because they’re outside a working environment or because his brother and friend bring this out of him, but it makes for an intriguing change.

“Hope the food’s good,” Dean says, nodding at Castiel’s plate. “You seem quite into it.”

“Yeah, what about you,” Gordon says, which is the topic Castiel hoped – perhaps in futility – would not be raised tonight. “Castiel.” He rolls the name deliberately, pressing on the second syllable as though hoping to coax out a specific response.

“I’m enjoying the food, thank you,” Castiel says.

Gordon’s smile widens a little. “Anything else? The company?”

“The company is excellent as well.”

“Well, you have to say that, don’t you, you’ve got two of your bosses’ sons sitting at the same table right now,” Gordon says. He’s a man of good humor, relaxed and wry, but there’s something extra sharp in his eyes when his attention is on Castiel. Not like John or Bobby, exactly; more like Zachariah.

“Then you may take that for a lie, if you want,” Castiel says, feeling a flush of unexpected pleasure when Gordon’s eyebrow twitches. “Because that is my answer.”

“Man,” Gordon laughs, “Where did you find this guy, he’s a riot, Dean. What’s up with that way he speaks, then you may take that for a lie, okay then.” He smiles at Castiel. “You retarded or something?”

“Dude.” Sam scowls, but he’s looking at Dean instead of Gordon.

“What, it’s just a question,” Gordon says. “Are you, Castiel?”

It is a valid question, and one that Castiel has to think about carefully. He’s about to respond that no, he’s not technically mentally challenged, but his pause apparently went a little too long because Gordon snickers, Sam winces, and Dean clasps a hand on Gordon’s shoulder and murmurs, “Hey, man, he’s foreign.”

“That’s right,” Castiel agrees promptly. “I’m on sabbatical.”

“Chill, man, I’m just asking.” Gordon shrugs Dean’s hand off. “So how’re you finding America? Land of the free and good cheeseburgers, yes?”

“Among other things.” Castiel doesn’t know enough to navigate human conversations well, but even he can see how Dean is tensing up, looking uncomfortable in a way that’s different from how Castiel makes people uncomfortable. “I haven’t seen much, but it’s been interesting.”

“I’ll bet it has.” Gordon tilts his head, considering. “Where’re you from, anyway?”

Castiel smiles right back. “Farther that you’ve been.”

Sam laughs, sudden and pleased. It isn’t a joke, or even particularly funny because Castiel isn’t Uriel, but human humor is but one of the many complex facets of humanity, so Castiel just rolls with it and smiles up at Sam.

Then Gordon says, “That’s not an answer, now is it?”

“No, it isn’t,” Castiel says, and is surprised by a sudden flush of irritation at Gordon’s expression. “Perhaps I didn’t want to give you an answer.”

“And why wouldn’t you want to do that?” Gordon says.

“It’s his business,” Dean says, knocking at Gordon’s shoulder casually. “No need to give him the third degree, geez, Gordon, what the hell.” Dean catches Castiel’s eye, nodding a quick and unexpected apology. He has that look, like that look he had that first day when he’d tried to speak to Castiel, and maybe it’s due to Castiel’s almost-two-weeks of human observation that he now understands what it is.

But before Castiel can thank Dean for respecting his privacy, a fight breaks out in the bar.

+ + +

Afterward, once the glass has been cleared and Ellen Harvelle has stopped yelling at everyone, Castiel tries to decide if the outing was a success.

On the minus side, his ability to observe humanity tonight was terribly hindered; it’s difficult to gauge the nuances of human-human interaction when people are throwing furniture at Castiel’s head. On the plus side, Castiel’s knuckles are stinging and the skin broken, which never would have happened if Castiel hadn’t come.

“Dude!” Dean bounces over to where Castiel is sitting on a stool. “Where’d you learn to fight like that?”

“From watching people,” Castiel says, which makes Dean laugh. “No, it’s—”

“No, no you got me wrong,” Dean says, shoving at Castiel’s shoulder affectionately, “I believe you. You’re totally the type to learn how to fight from watching people. It’s just – man, you’re tougher than you look, the way you just blocked that chair, that was awesome.”

“Oh.” Castiel feels a surge of pride at the praise; he must really be getting the hang of the human body and its abilities. Best of all, he hadn’t cheated. “It didn’t seem right, he was going to hurt that other man. How did it start?”

“Not sure.” Dean glances back to where Ellen and Sam are giving some people a stern talking to. “All I caught was that there something about a darts game. Mix in some money and pride and yeah, that’ll do the trick.”

“I can imagine.” Humans do sometimes fight for the most frivolous of reasons. Castiel, on the other hand, has been actual battles for the least of frivolous reasons, so he should be ashamed of partaking in a human brawl like this. He should, but he isn’t.

Perhaps it’s the adrenaline, but that feels like a lie because Castiel doesn’t think hormones of a temporary body can explain the rush and shock he’d felt when that man had taken a swing at him. Castiel could have made it so that the physical contact would not have hurt, but he’d made a choice when he’d stood up to stop that other man from being beaten, so it felt important that Castiel let himself take the blow, to feel it.

“Hey, you’re hurt,” Dean says, scowling.

“Yes.” Castiel flexes his fingers, savoring the stretch of skin – similar but different from the wounds he’s sustained in his true form. “They’ll heal, don’t worry. You’re hurt, too.”

Dean touches his broken lip and grins at the blood on his fingers, cheerful in a way that makes Castiel knows has nothing to do with bloodlust and everything to do with the fact that they’re standing together in this light-hearted aftermath.

“I think you’d better check on Gordon,” Castiel says.

Dean turns to where Gordon is still arguing with some other person who may or may not have been responsible for smashing his phone in the melee. Dean nods, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Sorry ‘bout him earlier. He’s just… direct.”

Castiel frowns, thinking that it has to be more than just that. He likes directness, but Gordon’s questions hadn’t been just about curiosity. “Oh. He meant it as an insult.” When Dean starts, he adds quickly, “I didn’t realize. I need to work on that.”

“You need to…” Dean shakes his head, smiling. “Okay, you do that.”

Later – after Sam’s apologized for the altercation he couldn’t have predicted and Ellen’s thanked Castiel for helping put the troublemakers down – after all of that, and Castiel’s walking back to the apartment feeling faintly stunned by the whole thing, he brushes his fingers over the cuts on his knuckles and decides to let them heal the human way.

+ + +

“I don’t want to know,” Rachel says as soon as she sees his grimy face and dirty clothes. “No, really, I don’t. And go soak your shirt, you don’t have that many clean pieces left.”

“Thank you for the reminder.” Castiel starts to strip, and then notices the paper bags on the table and the books on Rachel’s bed. “You went out?”

“Anna,” Rachel says. “I went to see her. Since we’re here and all.”

“Oh.” Castiel nods, pleased. “That’s good.”

“I’m not bored, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Rachel says, her voice cool and sharp even as she keeps her face averted. “We’re angels, we don’t get bored.”

Castiel studies the back of Rachel’s (human) head. He could open up his real eyes and peek, but the temptation passes because Rachel’s using human body language now, and Castiel will respect the limits of it. “Of course we don’t, Rachel.”

Rachel huffs softly and pulls open a book to read.

+ + +

The dinner causes something to shift.

Once back at work, Dean smiles more at Castiel. They’re different smiles from the ones he’d shared earlier, which Castiel would not think possible because the muscles of the human face are finite. But that’s the thing, isn’t it, angels assume that humans are tricky because what they say is not always what they mean, but the assumption being made there is humans only say what they mean with their mouths.

There are other things they say with their eyes, their hands, even the tilt of their heads and the lean of their bodies. There’s an entire accompanying language right there, like when Bobby snaps, “How many times have I told you to quit staring,” at Castiel, the inflection and eye roll mean that it’s not a literal question, but an observation of character and roundabout acknowledgement of Bobby’s discomfort.

“I keep forgetting,” Castiel replies, going back to work as soon as Bobby shuffles off to grumble at someone else.

Sam drops by the garage again, and though he spends more time in the closed main office talking to John and then having coffee with Dean during his break, he does spare a moment for Castiel. “If you’re going to be around for a while, we should do it again.”

“That would be nice,” Castiel says, which earns him a broad grin and firm shoulder squeeze.

Which Castiel thinks is the right thing to say, because he is interested and it would be interesting, but he’s still surprised when, after Sam leaves and the day winds down, Dean corners him as he’s clearing up his things.

“Hey, so.” Dean leans back against the wall, arms crossed casually as he watches Castiel tidy up the pens and stationery. “You want to see stuff?” When Castiel glances at him curiously, Dean quickly adds, “Sam may have mentioned it.”

“Oh, you’re offering?” Castiel asks, surprised. He’d only considered asking for assistance from Anna, but she has a life of her own and Castiel doesn’t want to impose any more than he already has. Yet here Dean is, smiling at him like it’s not an imposition at all.

“Yeah.” Dean rubs a hand at the back of his neck, a nervous tic Castiel hadn’t noticed before. “I mean, it’s got to be hard coming to some place you’ve never been before. I was going to ask before, but you, uh... You looked liked you prefer to keep to yourself.”

“I do,” Castiel says honestly.

Dean frowns a little. “Then why’d you say yes to Sam?”

“He asked.” Castiel can’t help laughing a little at the affronted look on Dean’s face. “I know that sounds silly but… yes, he asked. I don’t know anyone else here, it wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise.”

“Alrighty then.” Dean keeps his gaze steady on Castiel as he shoves his hands into his pockets, rocking back on the balls of his feet. “You want to let me show you around?”

“I wouldn’t want to take up precious time…”

“What, you think I have something better to do?” Dean’s body language shifts to something easier, more relaxed. Almost like the way he gets around Jo. “Because I don’t think I do, though I think I can make it worth your time.”

A tour guide. A local, who speaks the language and knows the unseen history and has the interest (if not the ability) to translate these things for Castiel. A window in Castiel’s expectations quietly flips open, for now there is potential.

“Well, I suppose,” Castiel says, proud for getting it right when Dean just laughs warmly. “Yes, I would be very grateful, Dean.”

“Cool.” Dean pulls out his phone. “Now do you have anything preferences or do you just want to… oh, okay, leave it to me. Saturday good for you?”

+ + +

To observe the heights of human civilization from afar was to miss the small things. Zachariah often warned them to keep their distance, because humanity is supposed to grow and destroy and rebuild all on its own. Castiel and his brethren never missed the big things, though, because angels are creatures who were made to care deeply about the big things – the important things.

It isn’t important to know what movie theatre popcorn tastes like, or how it stings when water gets into one’s (human) eyes, or what the best way is to fold a pizza slice so that the sauce doesn’t drip. Castiel learns all of these things anyway, and has no idea why such knowledge trickles easy and deep into the reservoirs of his mind.

“You eat like you don’t know how to stop,” Dean says, which makes Castiel freeze, fork halfway to his mouth. “That’s not a bad thing, relax. It’s just nice to have someone who can maybe keep up with me.”

“It’s just that there’s so much…” Castiel gestures helplessly at his plate, littered with greens and cheese and other things that had once been merely categorized as mortal sustenance. He petulantly puts his fork in his mouth and shrugs.

“Yeah, I get it.” Dean sits up and raises a hand to call the waitress. “You know what would go great with that? A milkshake.”

Castiel nods his acquiescence, for Dean’s choices have been excellent all day and it is likely that this suggestion will follow the pattern. Dean’s the one who suggested the drive in his car, the stopping at certain landmarks (though Dean had scoffed at the idea of Lawrence having more than a day’s worth of landmarks worth visiting) and catching the movie at the theatre before wrapping things off with a meal.

“So what’d you think of that movie?” Dean asks, once he’s relayed their order to the waitress.

“The explosion looked fake.” Castiel chuckles when Dean snorts. “Well, yes, it is fake but it looked… Almost like a parody of itself. Fiction is supposed to encourage a suspension of disbelief, isn’t it? Consider my disbelief not suspended.”

“Yikes, tough crowd.” Dean pauses to take a bite of his food and chew. “You know, I thought about taking to you to an arthouse film. You look like an arthouse film kinda guy, but I think you’d be critical no matter what you’re watching, so I decided that it was probably best to go for broke and look for something with Michael Bay stamped all over it.”

“It’s amazing,” Castiel observes, “I have no idea what you’re talking about but you said it with such disdain that I feel insulted anyway.” He spears his fork into a piece of Dean’s steak, stealing it without remorse so that he may add to his expanding gallery of gustatory experiences. “I demand an apology.”

“There’s your goddamn apology,” Dean says, grinning when the waitress arrives just on time with Castiel’s milkshake.

“Hmm,” Castiel murmurs noncommittally. He feels light, almost like he’s flying except his feet are on the ground and his body sitting in a faintly sticky vinyl seat, so this feeling makes no sense at all. “You laugh really loudly. I thought the other patrons were going to come over and reprimand you. Which is something I have a little experience with, for people can be very confrontational.”

“Yeah,” Dean chuckles softly, “But it’s not like you actually care.”

“Neither do you.” Castiel tilts his head, considering. “I can’t decide if that makes you – us –obnoxious or steadfast.”

“Why does have to be either? Multitudes, Cas.”

“But it’s…” Castiel frowns at his now-empty plate. “It’s easier when things are neat.”

Dean raises an eyebrow. “Life isn’t neat.”

“But it can be,” Castiel insists. “Routine and reliability lead to safety. How can anyone feel safe if there is so much uncertainty in everything? How can people function day to day without feeling overwhelmed by the knowledge that anything can happen at any time?”

Dean stares at Castiel for a long moment. “How the hell should I know, I’m a mechanic, not a psychologist.”

Castiel rolls his eyes. “You’re less charming when you make references I don’t understand.”

“Heh,” Dean says, “I’ll just keep doing it until I hit a reference you actually know.”

“That might take a while.”

“No rush.”

This should be exhausting. Keeping up with Dean and having to continuously interact with him (instead of being free to observe) should have tired Castiel out by now, but instead he’s full to bursting with more things to say. Castiel’s been asking Dean things all day – what’s the significance of various street names, why a child carried a puppy in his hands instead of in a carrier, why movie theatre popcorn is so expensive – and even when Dean hadn’t had an answer he’d offered something else, easy as anything.

With Dean being so readily available, Castiel’s questions keep accumulating, no matter how simple or seemingly petty. Hell, if he wanted he could probably even ask why Dean’s eyes glaze over when Castiel puts the straw in his mouth to drink his milkshake.

“You’re easy to talk to,” Castiel says. When Dean ducks his head, almost sheepishly, Castiel adds, “No, really. I can’t recall when I’d last…” He blinks. “I can’t recall.”

Just like that, the atmosphere shifts.

Castiel must’ve said something wrong because the easiness is gone, replaced with something thick and almost stifling. It could just be Castiel’s perception but Dean seems to feel it too, tense and looking at Castiel with far-too-alert eyes.

“Cas…” Dean jumps when his cellphone goes off. “Shit, it’s… Oh, it’s Ellen.”

“Oh, how is she?” Castiel watches while Dean reads the text message. “The bar has recovered, I hope?”

“Yeah, it’s all good.” Dean smiles again. “Hey, do you have any plans next week?”

+ + +

Castiel brings Rachel along, once he has convincingly argued the merit of joining a Harvelle dinner over the alternative of staying at the apartment feeling homesick (not that Rachel would ever admit to being homesick). He explains the background information the best he can during their walk over, i.e. how the Harvelles and Winchesters have known each other since Dean and Sam were children, and how since Sam is spending a few weeks in Lawrence, Ellen has decided to host a dinner for him.

“I’m not even sure whether to believe you,” Rachel says as they make the final trek up the Harvelle house’s driveway. “You are not a Harvelle or any of the Harvelle clan’s close companions, so would the mistress of the house really invite you just because you were foolish enough to get involved in a brawl?”

“Humans work in mysterious ways.” Castiel adjusts his coat and rings the doorbell. “Though there is sometimes logic, if you know where to look.”

Ellen opens the door, and then proceeds to hug Castiel and shake Rachel’s offered hand firmly. “Glad you could make it, Cas. And it’s a pleasure to meet you, Rachel, Jo’s told me so much about you.”

“Ah,” Rachel says, and Castiel solemnly does not laugh at how taken aback she is. “Thank you, I… yes, thank you for welcoming us into your home.”

Castiel waits until Ellen has taken their coats and shown them where to go, and then leans towards Rachel and says, “You’ll like this. Human socializing retains few elements of similarity with our own.”

“I know, Castiel.” Rachel sounds resigned, her nose wrinkling as they approach the living area where the house’s other guests are sitting and relaxed. “I see it for myself at the garage.”

“No, no, it’s different outside of work,” Castiel insists. “And it’s not like we thought. There aren’t rules, per se, nothing so organized and sensible. It’s more like a storm, a whirlwind of activity and history and arbitrary madness mixed in together and – ah, hello, Sam.”

“Hey!” Sam says brightly. “Glad you guys could make it. Come on, let me get you a drink.”

Dean is at the open bar talking with a man and woman. He perks up when they approach, offering a quick, “Hey” before introducing Castiel and Rachel to Victor Henriksen and Jody Mills, fellow companions of the Harvelle clan. Bobby and Rufus are arguing nearby over what’s showing on Ellen’s big-screen tv, while John Winchester is sitting in an arm chair and frowning at his glass of alcohol.

“So you’re the one with the mean right hook,” Jody says, grinning up at Castiel. “Ellen loves that part of the story. Plus the part about the chair.”

“It was in self-defense,” Castiel says, sharing a quick look with Dean. “Honestly.”

“You should’ve been there,” Dean says, nudging Victor in the arm. “Would’ve been just your scene. Five minutes and you’d be kicking ass and taking names. Instead it was up to this guy.” Dean reaches over, punching Castiel in the arm.

“Castiel’s a soldier,” Rachel says. “Of course he knows how to fight.”

Castiel thinks he might have choked on air, which is silly. Victor and Jody immediately turn to Castiel while Dean mutters, so softly that he might as well be speaking to himself, “You never mentioned that.”

“But I’m not…” Castiel fidgets, unaccustomed to Dean’s curious gaze. “I haven’t been in combat for a long time. My form was off. I was too embarrassed to say.”

Rachel just makes a face. “Naturally. If you were in top form you would’ve wiped out the whole building.”

“Oh, this drink is really interesting, Sam!” Castiel exclaims, shoving his empty glass towards Sam. “Could I have another? That’d be wonderful.” It’s breaking his own rules, but Castiel carefully pushes at Rachel’s thoughts: I know you’re smarter than that, what are you doing?

It’s not a lie, Rachel sends back. It’s bad enough you’re wearing their face and speaking their tongue. Why deny everything else of you who are?

I don’t, Castiel says. He catches Dean’s eye and smiles. Not where it counts.

+ + +

Rachel is visibly relieved when Jo shows up, though not as relieved as Castiel, who’s glad that this lessens the chance of her accidentally (or not-so-accidentally) blurting out something else that could arouse suspicion. Which is actually a funny stance to take at this point, because if Castiel hasn’t aroused suspicion by his staring inappropriately and not knowing more than half of what anyone’s talking about, then there isn’t anything Rachel could possibly say, short of "By the way, we’re angels" that would cause people to freak out.

And even then Castiel has his doubts.

Still, sitting at Ellen’s dinner table and watching her speak passionately about the extension work she’s planning for the Roadhouse, Castiel is absolutely certain that he doesn’t want anything to break the illusion that he’s welcome here.

“I hope things are working out for you,” John tells Castiel. He’s sitting at Castiel’s right, which has lead to the longest exchange of words they’ve had since Castiel actually started working him. It’s been mostly small talk – weather, things in town, how Castiel’s settling in, etc. “Rachel’s done a bang-up job for us filtering out annoying salesmen.”

“Yes, she does that.” Castiel glances at John curiously. “Though looking back now, I wonder why you let us both in. We’re not… You know what I mean, sir.”

John’s mouth quirks; Castiel still hasn’t dropped the sir because no one’s told him to. “You looked like you needed it.” He levels a thoughtful look at Castiel. “You still do. It ain’t charity, by the way, and if you’d turned out to be useless your ass would’ve been out in a heartbeat.”

“Thank you,” Castiel says gratefully. “Your sons, they are… They’ve been very kind to me, to say the least, and I’m sure you’re very proud of them.”

Something passes over John’s face right then, brief and sharp and fleeting. His eyes flicker tellingly across the table towards Sam – who is talking about a girl named Jess and blushing furiously – and then to Dean, who is (though Castiel only realizes this now) surreptitiously listening in to their conversation.

“How long you going to be here, Castiel?” John asks suddenly. “When you going back?”

“I don’t know,” Castiel says, taken aback. “I hadn’t… I’m not thinking about that right now.”

John nods. “You got parents, Castiel?”

“I have a father,” Castiel says cautiously.

“He know what you’re doing?” John asks. “With your, what did you call it, sabbatical? What does he think of it?”

“Dad,” Dean hisses, giving up the pretense of not eavesdropping.

Castiel considers his next words carefully. “It’s complicated. My father hasn’t been an active part of my life for a while, though he remains the biggest influence in everything I do. That said—” it doesn’t escape Castiel’s notice how Sam has gone quiet and thoughtful, “—this interlude is something I’m taking for myself, and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. He is in my thoughts and I wish to do him proud in all of my actions, but right now this is for me.”

It’s about halfway through this spiel that Castiel realizes that this conversation isn’t entirely about him. For a moment Castiel thinks he’s cheated and taken an unintended peek into John’s head, but no, this conclusion comes from the simple observation of the expressions and body language of the three Winchesters at the table.

“Some people,” John says, “Would call that selfish.”

“It’s selfish to have wants?” Rachel pipes up from clear across the table, offended and ignoring Jo’s elbow jab into her side. “It’s selfish to express oneself?”

“Only if,” Sam says in the tone of someone who has tread this path too many times, “that expression contradicts what someone else wants.”

Rufus chooses that moment to chirp loudly, “So hey, how about those Canucks.”

The detour works, the almost-argument slipping out of the spotlight when Ellen reiterates the importance that they give her ideas on what to do with the Roadhouse and no, Bobby, she will not install a shooting range in the back, that’s insane.

But Castiel can see that whatever hot button it is that John brought up, doesn’t leave Dean’s thoughts the entire night. Even while juggling other conversations and Jo’s cheerful suggestion of post-dinner drinks, Castiel finds himself tracking Dean and wondering.

Somewhere around the time Victor and Jo decide to give Rachel a practical demonstration of how to make and imbibe shooters, Dean slips out of the house. No one notices him go, so Castiel figures no one (except Rachel, but Rachel is occupied) will notice him go either.

Castiel finds Dean in the Harvelles’ back yard. There’s a swing there, and the chains creak softly when Dean moves back and forth in one of the seats.

“Do you mind?” Castiel asks.

“Nah.” Dean’s smile is weak, his body hunched in and not only because he’d forgotten to wear his jacket. “I don’t think I’m good company right now, though.”

Castiel settles into the remaining swing. “Then I shall be quiet.”

Companionable silences are normal for Castiel. Uriel would be positively scandalized to see how chatty Castiel been lately, but Castiel figures it can’t be hard to go back, to be still and silent and supportive, just sitting there and sharing the same space with a friend. He does it now.

“I’m probably being stupid,” Dean says, and what else can Castiel do but listen. He listens while Dean talks about how his father brought Dean and Sam up by himself when their mother died. He talks about how Dean followed John and did the best he can, while Sam was the one who rose up and managed to make something of himself, and the diverging choices made by Dean and Sam has been a point of contention in their relationship with their father.

That’s the gist of what Castiel gets, anyway, though he’s sure it’s more complicated than simple insecurity.

“But.” Castiel stops, waiting for Dean’s sign that he can speak. “But you’re helping your father. You’re in the family business – how can that be a disappointment?”

“I don’t know.” Dean shrugs. “It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking most of the time.”

“I know what that’s like,” Castiel says, tilting his head up to the night sky. “But… Admittedly I don’t know John very well, but I think you’re thinking the worst of him. I’m sure right now Sam’s busy thinking that John’s roundabout insult was referring to him.”

Dean chuckles ruefully, shaking his head. “I’m just being really stupid right now, aren’t I?”

Castiel reaches over and squeezes Dean’s arm. “Probably.”

“Aww,” Dean chuckles, “You say the sweetest things, Cas.”

Despite the brief interlude of awkwardness, Castiel decides that this night has been a good night. He is full of food and good conversation, and Dean is smiling again. Castiel stands up and offers his hand out to Dean, “Let’s go back inside. I should rescue the others before Rachel drinks them under the table.”

+ + +

A few weeks on Earth is but a tiny raindrop of time compared to their entire prior existence but, somehow, those very same few weeks (technically months, now) are somehow long enough for the development of habits and expectations.

One such example is: the moment Castiel starts ironing one of his few casual wear shirts, Rachel drops whatever she’s doing to scowl at him.

“You’re seeing him again, aren’t you?” Rachel asks.

Castiel turns off the iron and lifts his shirt to check for creases. “No, I thought I’d shake things up a little and see Ash instead.” The shirt looks good, so he pulls it on. “Did you know I couldn’t find the precise origins of that phrase? Human language is continuously evolving, no wonder it’s frustrating for us every time we come down to Earth, though it’s probably hoping for too much that every culture and language develop its own Urban Dictionary, or at least a Wikipedia equivalent.”

Rachel stares at him for a long moment. “I’m not even going to pretend to understand what you just said.”

“Yes, I’m seeing Dean again.” Castiel has his latest paycheck, and he knew the moment he’d received it from Bobby what he was going to spend a tiny yet manageable percentage on. “He’s taking me to the arboretum the next town over, and then I’m cooking.”

“Oh, that’s why you want me out of the apartment.” Rachel puts her hands on Castiel’s shoulders and turns him to face her. Her eyes do a quick sweep up and down, and then she plucks lint from one of Castiel’s sleeves.

“No warning about blood and ash?” Castiel asks.

“I have eyes.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that I remember what happens to those of us who spend too much time in the company of humans,” Rachel says matter-of-factly. “Remember Gabriel? All those years in isolation with those prophets, and now look at him.”

“Have faith in me, sister.” Castiel gently takes Rachel’s hand in his, squeezing gently. “I haven’t forgotten who I am. What I am.”

“That’s why I’m not saying anything,” Rachel says, firm but not unkind. Castiel tries to decipher the steel in her eyes, which is not resignation or understanding, but something else. A resolved acceptance, maybe.

Whatever it is, Castiel will have to dissect it later. For now he has an appointment to keep with Dean, which is why he’s spent all morning puttering around the apartment touching and retouching the few adornments that decorate the place. Castiel has had the privilege of visiting Dean’s home, and it’s only fair that Castiel return the favor, even if the place he shares with Rachel isn’t much to look at.

“He’s not going to care,” Rachel says knowingly. She pulls on her jacket and tucks her hair neatly above the collar. “If he cared about that sort of thing, he wouldn’t be spending time with you.”

“Yes, well, forgive me for wanting to put on good appearances,” Castiel snaps. He blinks, surprised at how sharp that came out, but Rachel just waves him off and disappears out the door. “No,” Castiel declares to the empty apartment, “Dean will be fine.”

+ + +

But Castiel’s wrong, so wrong, because the moment that Dean steps through the door he freezes, shock plain as day on his face.

“Welcome to…” Castiel trails off when he sees Dean’s wide-eyed alarm. He curses internally; the pleasant atmosphere from their excursion’s all gone. “I know it’s not much, but it’s enough.”

“No, no,” Dean says quickly but not quickly enough, trying to cover his initial reaction with a supportive smile. “Thanks for inviting me, Cas.”

“Please, sit.” Castiel turns his attention to the food that’s waiting to be warmed up, glad for the distraction from feeling stupid and ashamed, and feeling stupid for being ashamed. Physical possessions aren’t important; he is an angel, he has no need for wealth or trinkets or status. Those are human constructs, and Castiel himself has spent centuries debating and dissecting the human phenomenon with his brothers, so he knows how unimportant it is.

And yet.

The apartment is small but clean, basic but functional. So what if isn’t as well-furnished or comfortable as Dean’s.

“Hey, I’m sorry for…” There’s the rustle of cloth at Dean draws up close to Castiel’s side. “Didn’t mean to ruin the day, Cas.”

You ruined the day?” Castiel slants a side-eyed look at Dean and stirs the stew a little more furiously than necessary.

“Hey, now.” Dean sighs. “It’s just… Look, I had no idea you were this hard off. If I had, I would’ve—”

“Pass the bowl, please, thank you.” Castiel tries to shrug off Dean’s hand when it rests on his arm but can’t quite manage to. It would be easier to figure this out if Castiel knew why he was upset; there are too many emotions wrapped up in each other at the moment, which is a distressingly human condition. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m upset.” He turns off the hot plate and nods at Dean to sit. “I suppose it’s because your opinion matters to me now.”

Dean looks startled, thoughtful and maybe even touched. “I didn’t mean it as a bad thing, Cas, I… Shit, yeah, I see how you took it that way, I’m sorry. Look, this place is barely decent for one person and you’re sharing it with your sister?”

Castiel points at the chair. Dean obediently sits down.

“I don’t need much,” Castiel says, pulling out his cups and plastic cutlery to put on the table. “What I have is what I need, and anything I don’t have, I will find my own way to get.”

“I respect that, but—”

“Dean.” Castiel sighs. “If I want help, I will ask for it. You know that I have no problems speaking my mind, don’t you? This isn’t a matter of pride.”

“Isn’t it?” Dean asks, but there’s nothing judgmental about the question. He takes a spoonful of the stew, eyebrows twitching at the unusual taste – Castiel had deliberately looked for a dish that Dean was not likely to have tried before – and then hums appreciatively. “I get the whole finding yourself thing. Sam did it, I sort of did it for a few months and—”

“Wait, what?” Castiel stares at Dean. “Finding myself?”

“Well, yeah.” Dean gestures towards Castiel, the food, the apartment. “You came here because you’re looking for something. Something you couldn’t find back home. Which is, I should tell you, the plot of just about every indie film on—”

“How can you say that?” Castiel jerks back, Dean’s accusation an unexpected sting. He feels desire rise in him to right the insult, because Castiel is many things, but he’s not ungrateful. “No. No, my home is perfect, it’s perfection, I want for nothing, why would you say that?”

“You never talk about it,” Dean points out. “Which is okay, I don’t mind, but it’s kind of obvious you’re trying to get away from something. Which is fine, god, Cas, stop it, stop – come on, you don’t need to be afraid.”

Castiel is standing up now, trying to back away or get away, not that Dean’s helping because he’s standing up and following Castiel around the room. “I’m not afraid,” Castiel scoffs. “I’m just offended you’ve come to some erroneous conclusions about my motivations.”

“Okay, okay. My bad. Totally my bad.” Dean presses his hand against his heart imploringly. “I shouldn’t have said that. Can we get back to eating, that was some good stuff though I have no idea what it is.”

“No, you can’t take it back,” Castiel says quickly. “You’re my friend, if you’re not allowed to say things like that, then who is?”

“What the?” Dean cants his head. “Are you angry at me or not?”

“I don’t know!” Castiel crosses his arms, repressing the urge to flee when Dean closes the distance between them. “Maybe.”

Castiel’s eyes drop to the food, now abandoned on the table, and he’s struck with the sudden realization that this is all fake. He’s an angel, he has no need for food or sleep or human companionship, and yet he’s here, wasting his time with all of this playacting. Rachel’s been trying to tell him that there’s something wrong with him but he wouldn’t listen. He refused to listen.

“It’s okay, you know?” Dean says, very close now, eyes intense and demanding Castiel’s full attention. “It’s okay to want things. Even things that you were brought up to believe you shouldn’t want.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Castiel says, which is a lie, a furious lie, and Dean sees right through it.

The apartment feels tiny all of sudden, Dean crowding Castiel up against the wall as though this is the only space Dean feels like standing in right now and, oh, what a coincidence, Castiel is here as well. Castiel’s aware of Dean’s presence; he’s just a man made flesh and blood and bone, but in this moment he’s inexplicably more, boxing Castiel against the dry wall with such efficiency that Castiel has to wonder why his lungs seem to be malfunctioning.

It’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to even think, but Castiel tries his best because there has to be something suitable to say in a moment like this.

Castiel thinks hard. “No homo.”

Dean’s eyes slam shut, the way he does when he’s trying very hard not to laugh. “Where’d you learn that from?”

“Ash.”

“Do you know what it means?” Dean eyes, when they open slowly, are full of mischief and other promises. “Do you know why people say it?”

“It’s a mocking reference to…” Castiel blinks. “Oh. Not really relevant here, is it?”

“No,” Dean says, grinning. “No, it isn’t.”

Castiel thinks at least some part of him must’ve seen this coming, because there is a complete and utter of lack of surprise when Dean kisses him.

Dean’s kisses are sweet and soft, and then hot and wet and not soft at all, and Castiel’s lovely home-cooked dinner is completely ruined but neither one of them cares because this is so much better than food.

+ + +

Sex with Dean was a terrible idea, Castiel decides. Sure, the kissing was nice and the orgasms were nice and the part where Dean rolled his hips and went Yee-haw while riding Castiel was nice (if a little embarrassing when his neighbor banged the wall), but afterward it’s become all Castiel can think about and it’s distracting.

Previously, Dean had been a partial anchor as Castiel figured out this tiny corner of the world out but somewhere along the way he slipped into a different sort of role. Castiel isn’t sure what role that is, except it apparently involves interludes where they lie next to each other in a rickety bed and Castiel lets Dean play with hair.

“Now don’t laugh,” Castiel had said solemnly – as solemnly as one could get in post-coital bliss, anyway, “But it’s only now, in retrospect, that I realize you’ve been flirting with me this whole time.”

Dean had squeezed the back of Castiel’s skull briefly and said, “So very not laughing, Cas. If you’ve been hanging with other people the way you’ve been hanging with me, we’re gonna have words.”

“No, no, I think it’s just you.” Castiel had pretended to give it some thought. “Yes, I believe it’s just you.”

Afterward, when Rachel asked what they got up to, and Castiel saw Dean again at work, and Castiel so much as saw/smelled/heard something that reminded him of Dean, his mind vividly flashed back to the way Dean arches his back when he comes. It’s ridiculous.

“I’d ask what you’re doing,” Rachel says, looking up to where Castiel is standing in the doorway with folders clutched to his chest, “But that would be redundant.” Naturally, Rachel is perfect and professional as she silently judges him from her desk.

“Bobby—” Castiel clears his throat, wondering where that guilty croak came from, “Bobby wants to know if you got any reply on those parts he wanted.”

“Not yet.” Rachel pulls up her notepad. “It’s Monday, no one’s fully functional before noon, I’ll call again in a bit.” After a thoughtful pause, she drops her pencil and lets her eyes deliberately flicker over Castiel’s shoulder. Castiel will not give her pleasure, and resolutely does not turn to look.

Of course, that’s when Dean walks past Castiel with a warm, “Hey.”

Castiel manages a quick “Hello” that is awkward even by his standards. Dean doesn’t seem to mind, just beaming at him before disappearing down the hallway. Castiel waits until he’s gone before muttering, “Fuck.”

“Remember Gabriel,” Rachel sing-songs.

“I know, I know.” Castiel puts the folders on Rachel’s desk. “You’re right, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Rachel raises an eyebrow. “I appreciate your saying that I’m right, but I never said that you didn’t know what you’re doing.”

“Really? I could’ve sworn…” Castiel leans heavily against the table, sighing. “No matter. It’s just… I feel so accomplished, Rachel, I wish I could share with you how much. I know it’s only small things, unimportant things—”

“Small doesn’t mean unimportant,” Rachel cuts in. She turns towards the window thoughtfully. “We are creatures who only know big things. Our Father gave humanity this… this madness that is Earth, so that means it must have value. I may not understand what it is, or what you get out of it, but I can see that it means a great deal to you. Maybe that’s all that matters.”

“Oh.” If Rachel can say that with such conviction, perhaps Castiel is not all mad. “Thank you, I—”

The overhead light flickers. Castiel looks at it, wonders if he needs to have it replaced, and then is hit with the realization that it’s over.

It’s all over.

Rachel is on her feet immediately. “They’re coming,” she says. “Castiel, they’re looking for us.”

Castiel’s closed his true ears and eyes almost the entire time he’s been here, but now he opens his ears a fraction. “Rachel, get out.”

“What? Where to?” Rachel demands.

The building starts shaking around them, furniture bouncing on the floor and windows rattling in their frames. Castiel is still thinking of an answer when Dean appears in the doorway, yelling, “Earthquake, come on!”

“Get to Anna’s!” Castiel tells Rachel. “Her house should be heavily warded, stay there for the time being. I’ll talk to Zachariah, explain to him how it was all my idea.”

Rachel protests, “You can’t—”

“This is on me, so let me take it!” Castiel shouts. He tries to shake Dean’s hand off his arm, but Dean holds on, stubborn and cursing angrily for their not listening to him. “Please, Rachel, just go!”

Rachel glares at Castiel and then disappears.

“The fuck?” Dean gasps, hand dropping in shock.

Castiel turns to Dean. His mind’s racing; it’s too soon, this came too soon. “Dean, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean for it to come to this. You need to get outside with the others, get to safety.”

“What are you talking about?” Dean returns with fury, gripping both Castiel’s arms now. It’s hard to ignore the shaking of the walls and furniture around them, but Dean seems stubborn enough to try. “Talk to me, now!”

“I’m not…” Castiel trails off. The truth is supposed to be easy, why are the words stuck in his throat? “I know it sounds crazy, but…”

The noise stops. All the rumbling of wood and glass and concrete just stops.

Dread feels a lot like being suffocated, Castiel decides. He can feel Zachariah’s nearby presence, while he looks up into Dean’s face and does not know the words to say.

“We should…” Castiel looks over Dean’s shoulder to where Zachariah has materialized in the main garage space. “Excuse me, Dean, I need to…”

“Castiel!” Zachariah bellows. Because Zachariah likes dramatics, the windows rattle as well.

“I’m here.” Castiel pulls deep, taking from his true strength so that he can pull away from Dean. He steps out of the office, approaching Zachariah calmly. “I’m here, there’s no need for any of that.”

The sight outside is one to behold. John has a shotgun out, of all things, and is aiming it at Zachariah. Bobby is wielding a wrench and Ash is halfway climbing up a shelf, which doesn’t seem like a good idea when there’s supposed to be an earthquake going on.

“Castiel!” Zachariah steps forward, kissing Castiel’s cheeks one after another. “I was so worried about you, can you imagine all the hoo-haa when we tried to send you a message and couldn’t find a trace of you anywhere.”

“As you can see, I’m fine.” Castiel wills Zachariah to keep his attention on him and not on the way John is signaling Bobby to flank him. “I apologize for any distress caused. Rachel, I’ll have you know, tried to warn me away from this. She followed me merely to remind me of my responsibilities elsewhere.”

“I figured as much,” Zachariah says primly. “She was the more sensible one of your garrison, though a bit soft if she didn’t think to notify me the moment you put this idea by her.”

“It’s my fault,” Castiel insists. “I’m the one who deserves to be punished.”

“Punished?” Zachariah laughs, which causes two lightbulbs overhead to pop. “No, no, don’t worry about that, my boy. You’re not the first angel who’s wanted to come down here and do a little cloud seeding.” He grins, lewd and sharp, and Castiel can feel the bloom of anger and shame behind him – from Dean, who’s listening to every word. “But it’s time to come home, Castiel.”

“Of course,” Castiel says tightly. “I just need to settle some matters before I go.”

Zachariah shakes his head. “You’ve wasted enough of my time—”

“I said I’ll come when I’m ready!” Castiel shouts. Zachariah jerks back, but recovers quickly and tries to look nonchalant. Castiel adds, in a much more reasonable tone, “Zachariah, go first. I’ll see you there. I promise. I’ll bring Rachel as well.”

Zachariah nods, looking faintly irritated but willing to give Castiel the benefit of the doubt. There’s an audible gasp from the others when he disappears.

“What are you?” John barks. The shotgun is still up, but now it’s trained on Castiel.

“Like he said, we’re angels. We’re in the Bible, you can look us up.” Castiel winces and tries again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it come out like that. We’re angels of the Lord.”

“Angels, Cas?” Dean echoes, his face red and his mouth a hard, angry line. Castiel has kissed that mouth, touched that face, but Dean has never looked as unapproachable as he is now. “Honest-to-goodness angels, as in, I’ve been freaking touched by one?”

Castiel casually flicks two fingers sideways. John roars a curse, dropping the suddenly too-hot shotgun.

“I knew there was something up with you,” Dean says, looking frightened and angry and – though Castiel might be projecting – heartbroken, “But I never thought… cloud seeding, really?”

“It wasn’t like that,” Castiel insists, stomach dropping when Dean takes a step away from his outstretched hand. “Dean, you were right. I did come here looking for something, and I found it. You helped me find it, you helped me find that little bit of me that I never knew existed. I know this isn’t what you expected of me, but out of everything that’s happened, that has to be the most true of them all.”

Dean just keeps staring at him. “Really?”

“Would you have bothered with me?” Castiel asks. “Would you have tried to be my friend if you knew what I am? Or would you have been afraid, as you are right now?”

“I’m more pissed than afraid right now, Cas,” Dean snaps, too angry to lie. “You don’t belong here.”

Castiel doesn’t need to breathe, but the gasp punches out of his lungs anyway.

“Oh, of course not,” Castiel says shakily, taking a quick step back.“Of course not, I don’t belong here, you’re right, I never did, none of this matters. Thank you, Dean, I’d forgotten.”

Castiel’s wings roar with relief when he pulls them open. He flaps them a few times to warm them up, and as he watches the lights flicker again, has the slightly hysterical thought that he should officially tend his and Rachel’s resignation, but he doesn’t think John would care.

So Castiel just opens his eyes and leaves.

+ + +

Heaven is the same. Naturally.

Heaven has always been and always will be the same, because there is no need for spring cleaning or redecorating or considerations for the evolution of requirements over time.

The stillness should be comforting.

Castiel is standing on the edge of the raised dais, listening to Zachariah’s speech and trying not to fidget in his new robes. It’s been weeks now, and the lingering remains of Earth have been long scrubbed from Castiel’s wings and hands and hair, but that’s only where the other angels can see.

There is a small crowd amassed in the Great Hall. Rachel is in the first row, watching Castiel. She’s been mostly quiet the entire time she’s been back, which Castiel finds surprising because she’s obviously happy to be back, which he can see in the way she ruffles her wings and her smile is in its full glow, but her happiness seems somehow incomplete.

“Today we honor our brother Castiel…” Zachariah intones. “It is a day for celebration…”

Castiel never thought he’d ever get a chance to become an Elder. If anything, Uriel would have received the position first, but there he is, two rows behind and to the right, trying his best to look happy on Castiel’s behalf.

Castiel should be happy. He remembers being happy here, even before he got the idea from Anna—

No, he hadn’t been happy. He’d been content, complacent, which isn’t the same thing at all. Castiel knows that he is capable of so much more.

Castiel catches Rachel’s eye. She immediately perks up, head moving in a subtle nod.

“Thank you, brother,” Castiel says, once Zachariah is done with his spiel. “But I must decline. This is a position of great responsibility, and I do not think I have the chops for it. I do believe there are a number of potential candidates who will do the role proud, and wish you best of luck.”

“Oh no, you don’t.” Zachariah steps forward, the holy galloon still outstretched between his fingers as though he hopes to wring Castiel’s neck with it. “You’re not falling on my watch, Castiel.”

“Who said I was falling?” Castiel firmly pushes Zachariah’s hands back, turning the gift away. “I am an angel, and am content to remain an angel.”

Zachariah leans in, hissing softly so that only Castiel can hear, “You’d rather take exile than this? You want to join Anna?”

“Anna has her own path,” Castiel says, surprised at how calm he feels, how light. That’s how he knows this is what he really wants. “I shall make my own. Thank you, Zachariah, I will always remember you.”

Castiel flies off, Zachariah’s enraged scream of exiiiiiiiiile echoing after him as he goes.

+ + +

Four days later, Balthazar finds him. Castiel supposes that it could be worse, in that Zachariah could have sent Uriel, but it’s still pretty bad because the first thing Balthazar does is burst out laughing.

“This?” Balthazar says, once his guffaws have slowed down. “This is what you came all the way down here for?”

Castiel looks at his sand sculpture. It’s a perfectly acceptable construction of a Behemoth, and in fact three different people – only one of them a child – have come by to praise his attention to detail. Castiel has been working on it all morning and he’s pretty damn proud of it, thank you.

“Among other things.” Castiel dips his hand into his plastic bucket bucket, wetting his hand before patting down the creature’s side. “How is Heaven?”

“Same old, same old.” Balthazar sits down on the sand next to Castiel, fully clothed and all. Castiel smacks his hand before he can touch the sculpture’s face. “Rachel’s doing the damage control on your behalf – no, don’t worry, she’s enjoying herself way too much, if you ask me.”

Castiel has to smile at that.

They sit there for a while, Castiel working on the Behemoth’s curled legs and Balthazar enjoying the view and saying hi to any reasonably attractive person who walks by. It’s almost pleasant, except for the part where Balthazar keeps giving Castiel strange looks like he’s waiting for a punch line.

“That’s it?” Balthazar blurts out eventually. “You ran away from home to make bloody sand castles?”

“I have a list,” Castiel says. “Not anywhere you can read, of course. There are a number of things on it that I wish to try, and making sand castles is one of them.”

“That’s so…” Balthazar makes a face. “So banal, so you. Whenever I come down here I make it worth my while.”

“I decide what’s worth my while, thank you,” Castiel says calmly. He sighs and drops his hands back into the bucket to wash off some of the sand. “If you’re not going to bring me back, what are you doing here?”

Balthazar shrugs. “I just wanted to understand why you’re doing this. You’re not like me, you’ve never slacked off from work to have a bit of fun, so why now? Why’d you turn down being an Elder for this?” He gently smoothes a curve of the Behemoth’s legs, careful not to let the sand crumble. “It’s not like you.”

“Actually,” Castiel protests, “I think that this is exactly me. I just never let myself... Okay, I don’t have the words for it yet–” Dean might know, but that's a lost cause, “–but it makes sense in here.” He touches his chest, over where the body’s heart is. The gesture is only metaphorical, but Balthazar’s face smoothens over with something almost like understanding.

“Okay then. Whatever floats your boat.” Balthazar reaches over and pokes Castiel firmly in the shoulder. “Just don’t go around starting new religions or the garrison’ll have to get our smite down on your ass.”

“Duly noted.”

“By the way,” Balthazar gestures insolently at the sand sculpture, “There’s no way you can get their claws right.”

Castiel cracks his knuckles. “Watch me.”

+ + +

“Zachariah will take you back,” Rachel says in between sips of her cup of coffee. “You haven’t actually done anything wrong, and I’ve been wearing him down. Just give it a few years.”

“I appreciate it,” Castiel replies, even if he doesn’t feel the heart-wrenching desire to return to Heaven right now. Oh, it’ll come eventually, Castiel has no doubt, but at the moment he’s too busy trying to figure out the best medium for his eventual masterpiece – he has a fondness for charcoal but he hasn’t quite figured out shading in two dimensions – that he hasn’t stopped to think about the status of the birth place he’d left behind.

“Will you be stopping here for a while?” Rachel looks around the lonely little café, and then to the mountains beyond. “It’s quite lovely. And quieter, too, than that last place with all those obnoxiously tall buildings. What is it with humans and their desire to build their way all up to the sky?”

“I think if you’d ask them, they’d say, why not,” Castiel says. “And yes, I’ll probably be here for a few weeks.” He has a backpack, which is resting against his chair at this moment, but it’s mostly for show.

The last time – months ago, now – Castiel had had a go at the human experience and put certain restrictions in place. Those rules have since been modified; Castiel no longer considers it cheating to sustain this body by force of will alone because: one, that would eventually require stealing in some form or the other, and two, Castiel is not human and it’s foolish to pretend as such.

Castiel may not be human, but he can try to learn from them and understand them. There will always be that distance, no matter how familiar Castiel becomes with their ways.

That isn’t a bad thing, no matter what anyone says. Castiel is what he is, and that’s all right.

“I must ask.” Rachel smiles, a question in the tilt of her head. “Have you gone back?”

“No.” Castiel doesn’t need to ask what she’s talking about. “There are so many things to see. I could go around the world a hundred times over and never need to go back.”

“Need isn’t the same thing as want.”

“I walked right into that, didn’t I?”

Rachel gleefully downs the rest of the coffee. “Yes, you did. But I’ll be kind and call it a day. It’s wonderful to see you again, Castiel, I’ll drop by the next time patrols get more boring than usual.”

Castiel laughs softly. “I thought angels don’t get bored, Rachel.”

Rachel shrugs, unrepentant. “Angels aren’t supposed to have existential angst, either. Okay, I’ll be off.”

“I do appreciate these visits, sister,” Castiel says, clasping her hand warmly. “You, at least, try to blend in. The last time Balthazar dropped by… well, the less said about that the…” He pauses, glancing around quickly. “Did you feel that?”

Rachel frowns. “Feel what?”

“That?” Castiel clutches his stomach. The low tug is familiar but it’s been so long and the knowledge is all gone by now, so it can’t be. “It feels like I’m being—”

There’s a rush of space and distance, almost like freefalling without wings.

“—summoned.” Castiel pitches forward on his feet, catching himself just before he falls. He catalogues the details swiftly: the air is warm instead of cool, he’s in a room instead of open space, there’s the thick smell of incense, and there are three other people in the room.

Castiel looks up. There is a small table upon which there are ancient letters written in chalk and a small summoning fire burning in a bowl. Standing in front of that table are Sam, Dean and Anna.

Sam and Anna immediately point at Dean.

“Oh,” Castiel says.

Dean is completely unhelpful and just stares back at Castiel.

“Okay then!” Sam says, clapping loudly. “That worked, how about that, I didn’t think it would but what do I know about magic, absolutely nothing. Hey Anna, want to get a drink or something?”

“Indeed I would,” Anna says, just as loudly, and they stomp their way out of the room, leaving Dean alone with Castiel.

“Rachel’s going to be upset,” Castiel says in the sudden silence. “Actually, no, she’d probably just find it amusing, since it’s because of you.”

Dean looks good. Handsome and well-fed, just the way he’d been when Castiel left. He’d looked shocked when Castiel showed up – as though, like Sam, he hadn’t expected that to work – but now he looks unhappy and getting steadily unhappier the longer he stands there saying nothing.

“Did you want something?” Castiel tries.

“I just wanted to…” Dean freezes, a look of horror on his face. Castiel immediately turns around but nothing’s there; it’s only when he turns back does he realize that Dean is panicking.

Finding Anna, grilling her for information, working out the summoning spell – all of that would have taken a great deal time and effort. Surely during that time Dean had ruminated and plotted all of the things he would say to Castiel if it was successful, but now that they’re here, Dean’s mouth is slightly open and his eyes are wide with terror, the words failing him.

This means something. That Dean tried at all definitely means something.

“Dean,” Castiel says, “I missed you, too.”

“Oh thank god,” Dean groans, almost falling forward shakily. Then he remembers himself, embarrassment making him stand up straight and trying to pretend that that moment of naked emotion hadn’t happened, but Castiel is already smiling.

“It’s good to see you,” Castiel admits. “Very good. I do hope everything’s going well with you and Sam and everyone else.”

“Hey, wait, slow down.” Dean rubs a hand over his face. Castiel waits patiently for whatever it is Dean wants to say, because it must be important. “I was wrong,” Dean says. “I shouldn’t have said you don’t belong here, that wasn’t – I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry. You belong anywhere you damn well want to be.”

“Thank you.” Castiel had already known that Dean only said that because he was angry, but he still feels a rush of pleasure and relief at the acknowledgement. Dean had been so accurate with other things Castiel hadn’t known about himself; the possibility of that final insult having truth in it had hit harder than most. “I really appreciate it.”

“Dude, why are you like…” Dean takes a step forward, pauses, and then stubbornly marches across the room towards Castiel. “You look like you’re going to flutter off at any moment. Slow down, chill. We got stuff to catch up on.”

“We do?” It has indeed been almost three months since they’ve seen each other, and Castiel is deeply grateful that there’s something of his friendship with Dean that’s salvageable, but that doesn’t explain the hopeful expression on Dean’s face as he narrows the space between them.

“I talked to Anna. She told me about you, about how you – how you guys work.” Apparently ‘angels’ is still too bizarre for Dean to say out loud. “She told me what you said you wanted when you came here. But me and you, was it real? Or was it part of all that pretend?”

“Pretend?” Castiel echoes, glaring up at Dean. “None of it was pretend. I don’t feel hunger or thirst or exhaustion exactly the way you do, but that doesn’t make my trying to experience it some kind of pretend. My feelings were real, my desire to learn and live was real.”

Dean nods, satisfied and relieved. “That’s what I thought. Now, I don’t expect things to go back to the way they were, and Anna said there are some rules about angel-human fraternization but she still has her memories even though she fell so those rules just may be guidelines at this point and, hey, look at you, going by your own rules now, so maybe there are no rules at all and there’s no way you can get me pregnant like those weird-ass Nephilim so – wait, you can’t get me pregnant, can you?”

“No, I’m pretty sure that’s beyond me,” Castiel says, bewildered and having no idea where this is going.

“So if you still want… if you’re still interested…” Dean splays his arms hopefully. “I’m right here, and I’ll try with you. We can make it up as we go along.”

“I…” Castiel stares at him. “I must be hearing you wrong.”

“Believe me, buddy, I’ve been thinking long and hard about this,” Dean says, sounding so very earnest, “But look, the summoning worked! Anna said it’d only work if you didn’t take that promotion, or whatever, so that must mean you’re doing your own thing now, so why not do your own thing with me?”

Castiel does gape now. “You still want me?”

Dean points at the summoning bowl. “You know how hard it was to get the ingredients for that? No, don’t answer, that’s a trick question because it wasn’t hard at all, because it was for you.” Dean must see something in Castiel’s face because the earlier anxiety has all but melted away, replaced by the very same eagerness that Castiel hadn’t thought he’d ever have the privilege of seeing again.

“But…” Castiel tries not to feel too hopeful. “But I wasn’t honest with you about my true identity.”

“I forgive you,” Dean says promptly.

“You deserve someone who makes you happy.”

“You make me happy.”

“I don’t get all of your jokes.”

“I’ll explain them to you.”

“Your father won’t approve.”

“Dad doesn’t approve of anything.”

Castiel gapes, and goes for the painfully obvious, “I’m an angel.”

Dean grins. “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

“Excuse me?” Castiel narrows his eyes, even as his heart – or whatever functions as his heart – leaps at the possibility. “Did you just equate me to Jack Lemmon in drag, because I’m not sure whether to be flattered or insulted.”

Dean averts his face for a moment, as though to look into Castiel’s eyes at the moment would be to reveal more than he’s ready to. And then Dean’s smiling so hard he looks like he’s going to pull something, and it’s infectious, stupidly infectious, and the lightbulbs above head start flickering because Castiel’s wings are twitching with anticipatory excitement.

“Of course you’d get that one.” Dean sounds like he’s trying very hard not to scream or laugh or something else terribly undignified. “Though I noticed you didn’t say anything about not being interested.”

“Obviously.” Castiel’s hands rest on Dean’s waist, palms fitting themselves to the firm lines of his body. “Because that would be untrue.”

“Fucking yeaaaah,” Dean drawls, leaning down to kiss him.

How do humans get it through day after day when their world is constantly in state of flux, when everything that is the present and future remains so uncertain? How is it that such instability, such excessive possibility of everything, can be beautiful and exciting instead of terrifying?

Castiel knows he should be scared. He knows, when Dean opens his mouth and Castiel takes the invitation to lick in deep, that he should be worried about what comes next, but that feeling doesn’t come. Instead of terror, there’s an overwhelming feeling of peace and satisfaction, the kind of contentment Castiel hadn’t known he’d been looking for until he’d found it.

Castiel will do his best to keep it.