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Still Life

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After Skyfall, we didn’t hear from Cas for almost a month.

Sam and me, we made it back to the bunker alright, but just barely: him a sweaty sick mess and me not much better.

Sam might’ve been the one two shakes from dying, but I was covered in Crowley’s blood, the stuff drying in putrid rivers on my hands, my jacket, all over the front seat.

“I swear,” I said, the last mile. “Who knew that little dick was half-skunk?”

Kevin met us at the front door. Eyes wide with fear, maybe, but his grip on Sam’s arm never wavered. And he stayed with me, kept watch at Sam’s bedside during that first, awful night we were home.

“Not like you’re pulling a Running Man anytime soon,” I said. “Are you, dude?” I cupped Sam’s hand in my palm, his skin more like paper than flesh. “But somebody’s gotta keep an eye on your dumb ass, anyhow.”

And Sam—

Shit. He looked like he’d been gored from the inside out, sucked dry of everything but bone and a little bit of blood, just enough to keep his heart slogging along, to keep his pulse flickering under my fingers like a pilot light about go out.

But he wasn’t dead. And I was damn well gonna keep it that way.

It was obvious that chicken soup and band-aids weren’t gonna cut it, weren’t gonna fix everything that was broken in Sam, and with heaven out of business and hell so not an option, I had to get a little creative.

In the end, I worked the phones. Called in every favor we had and a few we technically didn’t to get a hold of some serious healing spells, the hard-hitting kind that struck right at the life-essence. No screwing around with symptoms or the body itself; no, the spells that I scared up, scared out of the right people, they went straight to the root of the problem.

And it turned out the prophet was kind of a natural. The incantations, the casting, it all came easy to him. The kid was scary good at it, actually.

Kevin’s explanation was simple: “AP Chem. I and II.”

He nudged me out of the way and waved dove’s tail over the bowl until the flames kicked up and kissed his hand. “I would’ve gotten 5's on both,” he said. "Now shut up. You’re fucking with my concentration.”

It wasn’t an overnight cure; neither of us were aces enough in the spell-casting department to rustle up something that strong. But together, we managed to call up enough power to keep Sam’s life-force in his body, where it belonged, instead of leaking out of his damn ears.

I wasn’t sure if it was a permanent fix, either, but only time would tell.

Anyway, a few weeks in, Sam’s headlights started to flicker, a little of the old shine in his eyes. Enough so I bundled him down to the den and let him stretch out on the couch to watch Jeopardy.

Huge mistake.

“Charlotte Bronte!” Kevin said, before I’d even read the damn clue.

“No,” Sam said, scratchy. “Emily.”

Kevin glared at him from the wingback. “Dude, no. Wuthering Heights was Charlotte.”

Sam sat up. Almost knocked the beer outta my hand. “No. Emily.”

“Get a room, you two,” I snapped, the second before the chirpy girl, returning champion, said 
“Who is Emily Bronte?”

“HA!” Sam said, with more oomph than I’d heard from him in months. “Told you!”

Kevin rolled down in his chair, scowling. “Ugh. Whatever. I hated that book. Stupid Heathcliff and his broody manpain.”

Sam caught my eye, caught me grinning. “Whatever,” I said. “Jane Austen is better.”

Kevin was still horking beer out his nose when my phone rang, when I palmed it from the floor and left the Geek Squad to yell at Trebek.

I said hello but there wasn’t an answer. Not at first. And then—


I fucking fell over. “Cas? Cas? Is that you?”

His voice was rumpled. “As far as I know.”

I laughed, two parts relief and three more like joy. “Well, that’s reassuring, man. Shit! Where are you? We’ve been worried. Are you ok? I mean, are you calorie-free, like the rest of your brethren are now?”

A car started behind him, a loud, congested shudder. “I’m . . . there’s a . . . and I’m . . .”

I got maybe every third word. “I’m losing you, Cas. Come on. Keep talking.”

“I’m here,” he said, the sound sharp again. Clear. “I’m here. And yes. If I take your meaning correctly. I am without my grace.”

I could hear the grief there, laced up in each word. “Oh,” I said. “Shit. I’m sorry.”

“As am I. But it cannot be helped.”

“So where are you?” I said, louder this time, just in case the line went to shit again. “It’s ok if you’re not sure, exactly. Gimme a ballpark, even general vicinity, and I’ll be on the road in two shakes. No reason for you to be out there on your own anymore.”

He made a noise that didn’t compute. “No, you don’t—Dean. That’s not why I called. I don’t need your help. There’s no need for you to come.”

Tires squealed in my head, on the phone, I wasn’t sure. “Wait. What?”

“I don’t require your assistance. I don’t—I simply called to tell you: I’m fine.”

“You’re fine?!" I spat. "Oh, well. Fuck me. You’re fine, huh? No wings, no angelic superpowers—jesus, Cas! If this is some stupid pride thing, put it away, man. Let me help. God knows I owe you a dozen times over, easy.”

Kevin was up in my face now, fluttering around like a twin-engine terrier. “Is that Cas?” he said. “Dean? Is he—?”

I waved him off and stomped away, out of earshot.

“No, you’re not—” Cas broke off again, and I could hear something with a bad axle tooling by. Where was he? A truck stop? A street corner? “You’re not listening. Huh. I can’t imagine why I’m surprised.”

There was this tinge to his voice. Almost gentle. It did something bad to my gut.

“Cas,” I said. “I don’t understand. You don’t want me to come get you, fine. Let me send you some money. A bus ticket. A bicycle. Something! You gotta get here, ok?”

He didn’t speak for a long time, so long that I thought the line had dropped. That this time I’d really lost him.

When he did speak, it was measured. Even. Like he’d practiced this part. “Now that I am grounded, now that I will never return to heaven, I need—I need to find my own way for a time. You asked me where I am. In essence, that is what I need to find out.”

I found the wall with my hand, dumped my forehead against it, hard.

“You’re not making any fucking sense,” I snapped, because seriously, what the hell? “Is this some mystical Vision Quest thing? You need to get in touch with yourself, or whatever? C’mon!”

“Listen to me,” he said. Quiet, somehow, even over the roar of traffic behind. “Perhaps this is difficult for you to understand, but I simply need to determine where I might fit into this world. Where I should be. Which may be different from what I want. I don’t know yet.”

I really, really didn’t like where this was going. Let him hear that in my voice. “Yeah?” I said. “What is it you want?”

On the other end, silence. Except for the slam of a car door, the sound of somebody laughing.

“Dean,” he said. Careful, like I was a bomb and his voice might be the fuse. “A great deal has happened in the past few years, many different . . . events from whose impacts I was somewhat protected, while I still had my grace. And now—I find that it weights on me. All that has happened. And I need some time to myself. Can you understand that?”

“Time I get, Cas. But distance?” I turned around, braced my back against the wall. Kept my eyes on the floor. “I mean, if it’s privacy that you need, we got that in spades. Hell, we haven’t unlocked a quarter of this place yet. You can have a whole creepy hallway to yourself. Maybe two.”

“No,” he said, like he knew he was letting me down. “But thank you.”

There was this long, uncomfortable pause.

“So is that it?” I said, the words sour on my tongue. “You go your way, we go ours, and we never see you again?”

“Dean,” Cas said again, and, shit. I realized how much I’d missed that, hearing him say my name. “No. I will—we will stay in contact, yes? By phone. And when I am—”

“At one with the universe or whatever.”

He hummed. “Yes. Or whatever. Then, I hope, we will see each other again.”

That wasn’t super encouraging. “Yeah. I hope so, too.” And then, to the carpet: “Damn it. I’m gonna miss you, dude.”

He sounded almost insulted. “I should hope so.”

I laughed, the tension easing up enough so I could breathe. “Oh really. And why is that?”

“Because,” he said. “I’ll miss you. I already do.”

The connection went dead.

“Oh god,” Kevin said, spazzing at my elbow again. “Dean, shit. What’s wrong? Was that Cas? Is he ok?”

I looked up. Pushed off of the wall and turned away, towards the kitchen. “Relax,” I said. “He’s fine, man. Really. He’s good.”

“But—” Kevin said, teeth clamped in my sleeve, practically. “Where is he? When's he gonna get here?”

I turned, gave the kid a weak smile over my shoulder. “He's not,” I said. “He’s cool on his own for now. Seriously. He’s fine.”

In the kitchen, I cracked the fridge and slid two longnecks between my fingers. Held them there, breathed in the stale cold air.

I’ll miss you, he’d said. I already do.

Damn. I missed him.

How had I not seen that before?

I’d been too busy, I guess, to let that register, to let his absence really hit home.

I didn’t feel bad about that, exactly. I mean, strong-arming Sam back from the edge of death, you know, it’d eaten up most of my time. Most of my waking life. I figured Cas would’ve understood that.


I knocked the fridge closed and reached for the church key.

Now that I was looking, it was pretty fucking hard to ignore. Cas not being there.

And I—

I shoved the bottles on the counter and dug into my pocket. Fished out my phone. Punched up the call list, my heart in my throat. But.

Cas’ number wasn’t there. It was only Unknown.

I pushed call anyway, because there was something in me coiling, waiting, even though I knew nothing would happen, that there'd only be static. Like a hand stretched out with nobody there to meet it.


I left the phone on the counter and snagged the beer in both hands. Made for the den like everything was fine.

I’d always been the one calling him, before, by phone or by prayergram. And now—

“Hey,” Sam said, grey ghost peering up over the back of the couch. “You ok?”

I thrust a bottle at the wingback. Kevin snagged it without peeling his eyes from Brian Williams.

“Yeah, Sam,” I said, wedging in beside him. “I’m good.” I tried to smile. “And Cas is, too. Kevin tell you?”

“Yeah,” Sam said.

I could feel him staring at me, waiting for me to finish, to flesh out the details, but. What was there left to say?

I tipped the beer down my throat, cold and sharp, and ignored him.

So. I’d always been the one calling Cas, before.

Now, looked like it was my turn to wait.

I spent days, fucking weeks it felt like, with my ears peeled for the phone.

It rang, sure, every once and awhile. But it was never him.

A friend of Pastor Jim’s, once. A few old hands of Bobby’s, some of whom hadn’t heard about his passing.

Jody, checking in from Sioux Falls. There was a crew of hunters out of Montana she had an eye on, that kept an eye on her, too.

“Ok,” she’d say, not bothering with a hello. “So. Strega? What the fuck, Winchester?”

I let her talk Sam’s ear off when he was awake, him patient as a priest, taking all her shit and then walking her through the lore, piece by piece.

Garth, now and again. More frequent after he had a run-in with one of the fallen outside of Orlando.

“She tried to smite me,” he said, pleased as fucking punch. “Like, four or five times, dude! And that was just in the car. Hoo boy! Once we got back to the flophouse, Dean, I swear, she was madder than a badger in a butter factory.”

I turned down the burner, settled the flame under the pan. “Uh, ok. But she didn’t—I mean, you didn’t have to, um—?”

He laughed, this high, happy yelp. “What, kill her?” he said. “Shit, no. She was more hangry than anything else, man. Hadn’t had a decent meal in a week. Once I got a couple a sandwiches in her, we were practically hand-fasted. Yep. She’s cool. Got her set up working at this women’s shelter over in Durham.”

“Just like that?” I said. “I mean, six weeks out of divine eternal whatever and she’s just—ok with everything?”

He chewed on that for a second. “Well, she’s not a real big talker, you know, but I get the sense that she likes feeling useful. Productive. Whatever word you wanna use. I don’t think she’s felt like that in a long time.”

I shuffled the phone to my other shoulder and tapped the burgers with the spatula. Caught a glimpse of Sam and Kevin at the kitchen table, mirrored frowns over a Scrabble board. “Yeah,” I said. “I can understand that.”

So the world, even ex-angelfied, it kept turning just fine without us.

It wasn’t like we were hermits, exactly, those first few months after heaven broke apart at the seams. It seemed smart to stay off of the radar, was all. No reason to draw attention to ourselves. That’s what I figured, anyway.

We were not, as Kevin said one night over green beans, “on the down low.”

Oh my god, no. We were just—

“We’re just,” I said, reaching for the right words in the air. “We’re just letting other people drive the crazy train for awhile, Sammy.”

He squinted at me. “And since when do we do that?” He shoved himself straighter in the armchair, glared down at me, pale face and all. “Oh, yeah, that’s right— never.”

We were in the library, organizing shit according to Sam’s strategic design. But I’d gotten distracted by five deep shelves of vinyl and Sam, he hadn’t lasted more than a half hour on his feet before he’d needed a breather. He’d tipped over into a chair, Sumerian scrapbook or something on his lap, and I’d sprawled out at his feet. Covered myself in records and dust.

I dumped a stack of 48s on the carpet and sat back on my hands. “Dude,” I said, “you almost died. Like, two minutes to midnight, ok? And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, princess, but you ain’t exactly up to your fighting weight yet.” I poked his bony leg. “I mean, hello Barney Fife. You’re practically walking on chopsticks here.”

He rolled his eyes. “Dean, I’m fine, I’m just—”

“The hell you are.” I stared up at him, solid, until he met me halfway. “You’re not gonna be firing on all thrusters anytime soon, ok? Maybe never. Who knows? So until then, until we know for fucking sure, there are plenty of people I trust to pick up the slack.” I smiled, let him see it. “And even if there weren’t, man, we’d still be sitting out this round.”

He sighed, the sound an angry muffler in his chest. “Ok.”

“Ok,” I echoed, patting his knee. “Good.”

I went back to my records and he went back to his book. Quiet for a while. And then he said:

“What about Cas?”

“What about him?”

I could feel him staring at the top of my head, hazel marbles digging into my skull. “You know what I mean,” he said.

I flicked my eyes up. “When he’s ready to come in, he will. Until then, sunshine, I’ll have to make do with you. And the Boy Wonder.”

He was watching me, careful, like he was trying to catch me at something. “And you’re ok with that? Him not being here.”

My mouth bolted before I could catch it. “Damn it, it’s not like I have a choice! Cas is—he’s gonna do what he’s gonna do.” I picked at the carpet, the threads ruby red in my fist. “Nobody knows that better than me, dude. Trust me.”

Sam patted my head, a quick press of his palm that I should have resented. “Ok,” he said, for some reason. “Ok.”

In our little corner of Kansas, then, June slunk into July. Tumbled over into August.

Sammy got stronger. He wasn't up to much more than a slow stroll, but he wasn’t the color of bathwater anymore. Some days, his bones still looked like they were trying to hurl themselves out of his body, but he was steady enough that I started letting him shuffle around the bunker on his own, so long as he used his cane.

Kevin settled in pretty good. He started fucking with an old Harley he found buried in the garage. A few decades worth of dust hadn’t done it any favors, but otherwise, it was in pretty fair shape. He spent hours with the thing, taking it apart bolt by bolt. He was getting to know it, he said, before he rebuilt it into something better.

And me?

I was copasetic. You know. Focused on keeping all the troops happy. Even the ones that had wheels.

The day Cas called again, it was early in August, on one of those really shitty days when the sun could bleach the skin off a whale. I was hiding below the bunker, in the garage, trying to make nice to Baby. Of all of us, she was having the hardest time of it, our stasis, and no matter how many times I sang to her or checked her oil or spit-polished her windows, she never stopped glaring at me.

“Look,” I said, digging more wax from the can with my shammy, “I know you need some fresh air. I get that. I do.” I swept the rag over her hood. Started rubbing in tight, turning circles. “But we ain’t going anywhere for a while yet, ok?”

She sighed. A rush of air that wasn’t over her headlights.

“Maybe we’ll head out to Topeka next week, huh?” I said, soothing. “Just tool around for the day. Me and you. Would you like that, darlin'?”

She wasn’t impressed.

I quit the sweet talk and got back to swabbing, making every gorgeous inch of her shine.

I’d finished the hood and worked around to the passenger’s side when my pocket started fucking gyrating, the damn Taylor Swift song that Kevin had ha ha programmed into my phone damn well deafening.

“Son of a—!” I spat, fumbling like a one-handed cat. I managed to grope myself with the shammy and kick the wax under the Bentley on the other side of the garage, goddamn it, before I could even hit receive.

So I wasn’t at my most polite when I answered.

“Hello?” I snarled.

“Um,” somebody said, tentative. “Hello, Dean.”

My knees twisted and I fell back against Baby's frame. “Cas?” I said. “Oh, uh. Hi.”

“Hello.” He breathed in my ear for a second, which was weird and yet kind of reassuring. "How are you?”

“Better," I said, more honest that I meant to. "Now that I’m talking to you.”

“Somehow, I find that hard to believe.”

I opened the passenger’s side door and sat on the edge of the seat, my boots resting on the concrete floor. “Yeah, well. It’s true.”

“Hmmm,” he said. “It’s more difficult for me to believe, then, when I can’t see your face.”

“Ah,” I said, tipping my shoulder into the seat. “That's hard to do over the phone, huh. Yeah. So. Um. What’s going on with you?”

“I’m taking drawing lessons,” he said, like that was completely normal.



I got this image of him a beret, for some reason. “Oh. Are you—? Uh. Do you like it?”

“Hmmm,” he said. “I’m not certain. I think so. Although I often find it frustrating, which I didn't expect.” He sighed. “I admit, I’m surprised that it’s so difficult. To put what I see onto the page.”

I leaned back and laughed. “Drawing’s never been a skill of mine, man. Always preferred coloring books, you know? Sticking the color inside of the lines, that’s more my size.”

Cas made a disgruntled noise. “I have been trying," he said, "to draw a particular pear for a week, with little success. Reyna—she is my teacher—she assures me that it will get easier with practice. But she also says that most people find still life quite challenging, so. That is somewhat reassuring.”

There was a weird catch of jealous in my head, which made no fucking sense. Because come on: Cas was a man of the world now, right? It was inevitable that he’d be interacting with other people. Getting on a first-name basis with them, even. Jesus. Kinda went with the whole “being a person” package.

And that’s what I wanted for him, right? To be happy? Well adjusted, or whatever?

“Challenging, huh?” I said, a little too loud, trying to smother my stupid. “Ok. Why is that?”

I could hear him shifting around, wherever he was—the wooden creak of a chair, the rustle of paper. “I find drawing objects very strange,” he said. “These items I am attempting to capture, they’re sitting here on the table in front of me: a pear, a piece of driftwood, a wind-up clock. And they’ll stay exactly where they are, Dean, unless and until I choose move them.”

I wasn’t sure where he was heading. “Uh huh.”

“I suppose—I suppose I find their stillness somewhat off-putting.”

I tried not to smile too loud. “Yeah. I’m getting that. But why?”

His voice rose, a wave of warm in my ear. “Because life is not like that. Still. At least as I understand it. I find it difficult to capture, that lack of movement. I find I much prefer drawing people.”

I frowned. “Ok, but don’t people have to be still—or not move much, anyway—in order for you to like, sketch 'em out or whatever?”

“Yes,” he said, “but even when they remain in place, there is always movement in a person, don’t you think? The blood, the heart, the mind—none of those elements are ever truly at rest.”

I thought about that. Traced my fingers over the grooves in the seat, the subtle cracks in the leather. “I get that. I think. But why does that make a pear harder for you to draw? Because it doesn’t have a heartbeat?”

“I’m not sure, exactly,” he said. “Hence my dilemma.”

“Does Reyna have any ideas?”

Cas laughed, and Lord, was that sound balm to my soul. “Reyna has many ideas.”

“Yeah?” I said, Cheshire. “Like what?”

I could practically hear his mouth twitching. “Like, she is not charging me for my lessons because she is certain that I taught her how to play the violin . . . in one of her former lives.”

“What? No. Seriously?”

“Yes,” Cas said. “She is quite adamant about it. I’ve given up my attempts to convince her otherwise.”

I was grinning like a loon, imagining Cas trying to reason with a Stevie Nicks—style chick who smelled like green tea and patchouli. “Well, did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Teach her the violin in a former life?”

“Not that I can recall,” Cas said, delicate.

I snorted. “By which you mean, she’s off her rocker.”

“No. I don’t think so. She’s a very kind person. She simply has certain distinctive ways of looking at the world. They may seem a bit odd, but they bring her comfort. That’s what matters, I think.”

“That, and she’s teaching you for free.”

He laughed again, just as sweet as before. “Yes. There is that.”

“Will you send me something?” I said, reckless. “One of your drawings? I’ve love to see it, Cas. Maybe when you get that damn pear just right.”

There was a pause, one long enough for me to catch the rattle of a fan behind him. A tinny guitar on the radio. “That may take me some time,” he said, finally. “I’m finding this . . . pear to be very vexing.”

I shoved a hand through my hair and held on. “Hey, that’s ok. I’d be happy to see it whenever. I’m not going anywhere, man.”

“I know,” he said, the words soft and even. “I know.”

“I know,” Cas’d said once before, the words hot and sure in my hair. “I know.”

Wait, I thought, startled. When was the hell was—?

“I must hang up now,” Cas was saying. “My lesson begins shortly, and Reyna is annoyed by tardiness. In others, that is. It is a trait she cultivates carefully in herself.”

Part of me was listening, but part was looking deep, trying to chase down that memory of him, of me and him, wherever the fuck it was from.“Yeah,” I managed. “Sure. Sure, man.”

“We will talk again soon,” he said. A question. It snapped me back to the present.

“Yeah,” I said again. Certain. “Of course. Whenever. Like I said, Cas. I’ll be here.”

“I look forward to it,” he said, lemon twist sound of a smile. “Goodbye, Dean.”

I curdled my head the rest of the morning, wracking my brain for that memory, turning those words in my palm as I waxed every curve of her chrome.

I know. The press of him against me, the sound of his voice just there. So close. I know.

Yeah, well. I sure as hell didn’t.

“Dude,” Kevin said, catching my face as I stomped upstairs. “What bit you?”

I chucked my phone at his head. “Change my fucking ringtone, Sparky, before I change your face.”

“Ooooooooohhh,” he warbled. Hit the key of little brother bitch perfect. “Ok, ok. Geez. Don’t blame me for you willful techno-blindness, asshat.”

That earned him a Bugs Bunny chase around the great room, him howling like a toddler and me shouting, ok, more than was technically necessary.

Felt kinda good, actually.

He didn’t cry uncle until I was sitting on his back, his face mashed into the floorboards.

“Ow!” he whined. “Dean. Fuck. Ok, I’ll change it. Jesus.”

I poked him between the shoulder blades. “And not to some girly techno crap, either. A nice, normal ringtone. Got it?”

He wiggled like a shrieky fish. “No, ok, fine! God, you’re such a dick.”

I sat there, smug, until next thing I knew, Sam was braining me with his cane.

“Seriously,” he said, pretending to scowl at us and totally failing. “Guys. Come on. Keep the gymkata in the gym next time, ok?”

“Yeah, Kevin,” I said, hauling him up off the floor. “Let that be a lesson to you.”

“Fuck you sideways,” the kid huffed. But he punched me in the arm as he skittered off, so I figured we were ok.

“Guess what,” I said to Sam over lunch, peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches, heavy on the jam. “Cas called. And get this: he’s trying to learn how to draw.”

I told Sam all of it. Mostly. But I kept my problem, my own little mystery, to myself.

August staggered on, melted like old crayons into September.

And Cas and me, we kinda settled into a routine.

He’d call once a week, at least. Sometimes every few days. And our conversations were easy, you know? Simple. We never talked about anything earth-shattering. Nobody brought up heaven, or Crowley, or the general shit state of the world. No, between us, it was all how are you and here’s what I’ve been doing, you know. Normal life, like that.

I didn’t tell him about my weird memory-card flash. No way. Yeah, I kept flipping through the fucked-up files in my head on my own time, every now and then. But the farther we got from him saying those words again—I know. I know.—the easier it was for me to ignore it, to pretend the whole thing had never happened.

Besides. It’d probably been just a mental trick of the light.

Turned out that Cas was in Galveston. Staying at a off-brand guesthouse two shakes from the beach.

“I don’t care for the seagulls,” he told me one Sunday in September. “But the sunrises are very nice.”

I made the mistake of asking him about money once, and only once, because he got frostier than Santa’s dick about it. Hell, he broke out the you-better-be-godfearing voice.

“If I require your assistance, I will ask for it,” he growled, coffee grounds at the bottom of a well. “Otherwise, it’s none of your concern.”

I held up my hands and leaned away from the laptop, from the Western Union homepage I may or may not have been cruising. “Ok, ok,” I said. “Got it loud and clear, dude. I won’t ask, and you’ll tell if you need to. Fair enough.”

And still, he wouldn’t send me any damn pictures of his art.

“I’m not happy with them,” he said. “None of them are coming out as I had hoped.”

“They don’t have to be fucking perfect,” I said. “I mean, I know crap about art, Cas. I won’t know the difference.”

He laughed, a little sad. “Yes,” he said. “But I will.”

Kevin started school, some online PhD thing. That’s what Sam and I figured, anyway, because Kevin was super squirrely about it. Wouldn’t even tell us what classes he was taking.

“Maybe he’s been recruited by the CIA,” Sam said, twirling his dishtowel and going straight for the Tom Clancy answer, like of-fucking-course. “Maybe he’s finally cracked that cryptogram thing. You know, the one that’s outside of their headquarters?”

I snorted and shoved a clean plate at his chest. “Look, Discovery Channel, he’s probably signed up for like eight poetry classes or something and he just doesn’t want us to know.”

Sam adopted a dog from a rescue in town, a miniature schnauzer he named Penelope, for some reason. The little shit completed the brain trust trifecta; like them, she was too smart for her own fucking good. She hadn’t even grown into her paws yet, but her puppy mind was already dialed to devious. After the third time she raided the fridge on her own, I was ready to declare her a genius. And a threat to Homeland Security.

“I don’t understand your objection,” Cas said.

I squinted over at the gas pump. Watched the numbers roll for a second. “I don’t object. I just—like, what’s next? Sam teaches her how to pick locks? I wouldn’t put it past him.”

“How is Sam? Matters of the dog aside.”

“Well, he’s eating a lot more,” I said. “Which is great. But he’s not putting on any weight.”

“Oh. That is concerning.”

The pump clicked and I reached over. Lifted the nozzle up and out. “Yeah. I’m thinking of taking him to a doctor. A real one. I don’t think he needs a hospital or anything, but maybe some professional poking and prodding would do him good.”

“It might also put your mind at ease,” Cas said as I opened the door and threw myself behind the wheel. “To have someone else assess his physical state.”

I shook my head. Bit back a smile. “Huh. Hadn’t thought about it that way.”

“Really?” Cas sounded pleased.

“Really,” I said. “But you’re right. I’d probably sleep better if he got checked out. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, the words fusing with the sound of the engine, the hum of the road home.

We said goodbye and I rolled down the windows, let the wind kick the shit out of my hair until the car smelled like Indian summer, like dry leaves and good beer. It was early still, before noon, and I couldn’t get the slap-happy grin off my face.

Talking to Cas had that effect on me, some days. I don’t know what it was, exactly, but the sound of his voice, the care he took in listening to me, I guess, it made me feel—

It made me happy.

I leaned back, let the breeze catch me in the face, and remembered something, all of a fucking sudden.

Another morning with Cas. God. When was it? It felt like eons ago.

I remembered waking up, hung over something awful, feeling like the inside of Lucifer’s boxers. Wearing a shirt I didn’t recognize and, bonus, no pants.

“Blech,” I’d said, sitting up, batting the taste of gym socks out of my mouth. “Arrrggh. What the fuck.”

And then I’d seen him, settled on the far end of the bed, starch angel perfect, as always. Except this time, this morning, he was holding a cup of coffee and looking at me in the mirror, lips turning in the almost-smile that said he was really fucking amused.

“I would say good morning,” he said to my reflection—and shit, what a godawful one it was—“but clearly, for you, it is not.”

I stumbled out of the sheets and clutched at the coffee like a dying man. Which I kinda was.

“Ugh fuck,” I said after the first dozen swallows. “Cas. Thanks.”

Then he really had smiled, all the way across. “You’re welcome,” he’d said.

I saw it in the rearview mirror: the memory of his grin, bright and hopeful. When he was still the Rescuer and I was the Righteous Man.

Hell, that felt like another life.

I held on to it for as long as I could, the reflection of his smile. Drove on past the city limits, past the turnoff for the bunker, past the soybean fields and the combines, holding on to it, tight.

And when I couldn’t see it anymore, when the sun had burned off my mental fog, I turned around and drove home. Alone.

After that, it was like my brain started running without me, started rifling through the drawers of my head, searching for any scrap I could remember about Cas.

Sometimes it was random, innocuous and out of place.

One Saturday, I was in the slow line at the grocery store, eying the five-pound bags of Halloween-colored Kit Kats and the National Enquirer in semi-equal measure when I got this like Polaroid of Cas. Of him and me in some dumpy diner. Having a standoff over pie a la mode, of all things.

“But the ice cream is melting,” he’d said, staring at the creamy flood on his plate. “Would it not make more sense to serve it as a separate entity, if the heat of the crust makes it impossible for it to retain its consistency?”

I’d picked up the fork, hacked off a piece and practically shoved it at him. “You are missing the point, like, entirely.”

He’d taken it from me, his fork, and tucked the whole bite into his mouth. Chewed it careful, like it was a science experiment or something.

“Hmmm,” he’d said, sticky. “The textures, taken together, make for something quite distinctive.”

I’d snorted and snagged my own fork. Made for his plate. “Distinctive. Right. Is delicious even in your vocabulary?”

He’d looked at me, then, and if it’d had been anyone else—anyone human—I’d have sworn his eyes were full of exasperated affection.

“Surely the two are not mutually exclusive,” he’d said. “Are they?”

“Hey, sweetheart,” the lady behind the register said, snapping her dentures at me and waving at the grumpy people behind me in line. “Hustle up here sometime today, ok?”

I was so flustered that I bought Big Red instead of Trident, and man, was Sam pissed.

So yeah, sometimes my memories seemed really random.

Other times, though, they were more detailed, these little maps of him that I’d drawn without even realizing.

Like the first weekend in November, Sam and me were walking in the woods above the bunker. Ok, I was holding up an oak tree and Sam was walking, counting off paces for the garden he was gonna plant in the spring, Penelope keeping time at his side.

“Foxglove, honeysuckle, tomatoes,” Sam muttered. “Four feet, five feet. Six.” He cut a corner 90 degrees, much to the dog’s delight. “One. Aloe, rosemary, nightshade. Two.”

“Not side by side, ok?” I said. “I’m not dying over a fucking salad, dude.”

He shook his head and kept counting. “Three. Four. Kale. Basil.”

I stretched, my arms brushing knobby bark over my head. Arched my back, turned my face up to the sky. It was chilly, a wind that snuck under my collar, but the sun was fighting the good fight. The light fell over my eyelids and warmed me just right, one last echo of summer.

“Six. Cabbage. One,” Sammy hummed. “Two. St. Johns Wort. Beets.”

“The beat,” I said in my head. Had said to a long-ago Cas. “The fucking beat is the entire point of the song.”

We’d been stuck in rush hour traffic, somewhere in the Northwest, I remembered. We’d been in the car for days, it seemed like, chasing word of a seal getting ready to pop, but so far? Snake eyes.

I was driving, Sam was sacked out in the backseat, snoring to wake the Evil Dead, and Cas was tucked into the passenger’s side, studying me in the last of the daylight.

In my head, he was giving me that look, like a bug peering up through a microscope. “The sentiment is the point of a song, surely,” he said. “The words. The sensations each note is meant to evoke.”

I made a face at the road, at the Hyundai doing 35 in front of us. “Dude, if you don’t stick to the beat, the ‘sensations’ are totally moot. You can’t just make up whatever tempo you want! That’s all part of the sentiment, you know? The way you say the words, the rhythm, that’s all part of the song.”

He puffed out his chest. “I do not require a lecture on how music is intended to function. The Holy Host has been singing into the space between stars for—”

“Oh, put it away,” I snorted. “I don’t give a shit how long you guys have been blowing your trumpets for Daddy. None of you can hold a damn candle to Stevie Ray Vaughan.”

He’d been trying to sing along with “Cold Shot,” was where it’d started. Right. But he’d been ignoring the tempo, had tried force his own beat on the thing, and the way I was raised? That was fucking sacrilege.

I shot out a hand and twisted the knob up, hard. “Listen to that beat, man, and tell me I’m wrong.” The tape had moved on to “Tin Pan Alley” by then, but damn it. My point still stood.

Cas made to interrupt, but I shushed him. “Goddamn it, listen, Cas. Listen first, talk later.”

He curled into the doorframe, face focused, frowning, and we sat there for a while, watching the windshield wipers and listening to Vaughan’s voice, easy sin, as it chased the lines of his smoky guitar.

I got lost in it quick: the words, the slide of Stevie’s fingers, the serious get-drunk-and-slow-fuck grind.

But Cas? His face was still blank as the last of the song slipped away.

“What?” I said, side-eye. “Your needle get stuck?”

“Shhh,” he said to me as Stevie kicked into “Honey Bee.” “Dean. I am attempting to listen.”

When he turned the volume up further, I hadn't said a damn word. Grinned like an idiot, maybe, as I tapped the gas and inched us up another car length. But I'd kept my mouth shut.

“Dude,” Sam said, cutting straight through my haze. “Helllooo. Earth to Dean.”

I opened my eyes. Felt the sting of sun on my arms, the knuckles of bark in my back. Saw Sammy two steps from me, leaning against his cane and smirking. I swear the dog was laughing at me, too.

“What?” I said, automatic defensive. “I’m right here.”

He laughed. “You haven’t heard a word I said, have you?”

“Aloe,” I said as he lumbered past me, shaking his head. “Foxglove. Beets! I did too.”

“So basically,” I told Cas that evening. “Sam’s making a Victory garden. Next thing you know, he’ll be knitting sweaters for the chickens.”

“You have chickens?”

I leaned back, parked my boots on the great room table. “Well, no. But trust me, man. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time.”

“I was not aware,” he said, “that chickens required sartorial support.”

“Oh, they sure as shit do not,” I said. “Which is exactly the point that I was—never mind. You know what? Forget it.” I caught a glimpse of Kevin way down the hall, and oh—!

“Cas! Get this.” I turned my voice to a bellow. “Kevin’s going on a date tonight. A real date, with a real girl and everything. Giving his poor right hand a rest.”

The kid made the great room and gave me the finger. “Bite me.”

I leered at him, good and dirty. “Oh, I’d save that for your date, sweetheart.”

“Hi Cas,” Kevin shouted as he marched past me. “Dean is still a dick, just FYI.”

“I am so not,” I said to Cas. “I’m just committed to guiding the next generation.”

Cas was laughing. “Is that so?”

“Yeah, and hey!” I yelled as Kevin reached the stairs down to the garage. “Pull her chair out for her at dinner, you heathen! And you sure as shit better wear a condom!”

That earned me a swivel and a seriously snotty bitchface. Heh. “Yeah, well,” Kevin said, snide. “Don’t wait up for me, granddad.”

He disappeared through the door and I turned back to the phone. “You believe this shit, Cas? Heh. I mean, good on the kid for getting out there.”

“Have you?”

“Huh?” I said, tipping the chair back. “Have I what?”

He hummed. “Gotten out there, as you put it. Been dating.”

“Me? Uh.” My face got hot. “Honestly? No.”


I scrubbed the back of my neck. “Yeah. I don’t know, I just—I haven’t had time, I guess. Or the inclination. Dating takes work, dude.”

“Yes,” Cas said. “I know.”

I shivered, for some reason. “You, ah. You do, huh?” I laughed, but it came out funny. Sorta warped. “What, you and that Reyna chick, are you guys—?”

He chuckled. “No. Not Reyna. A woman I met on the beach. Sarah. And a man who approached me at the farmer’s market. His name is Anthony.”

I sat up straight and let the chair come down with a bang. “Oh. Really.”

He went on, calm, like we were talking about corn futures or something. “Yes. My interactions with both have been quite pleasant thus far.”

I didn’t know how to take that. Any of it. “That’s—that’s good. I guess. Have you been, um, dating them long?”

“Sarah, for a month or so. Anthony slightly longer, I suppose.” His voice turned up, curious. “Why? Is that significant, the length of one’s relationship?”

Something in me twisted. Relationship? Jesus.

“Uh, yeah. Longer you date somebody, the more serious it is, usually. You know.”

“Ah,” he said. “Well. By some measure, then, they are both serious.”

“Are you happy? Is it making you happy, being with them?” I asked. I didn’t want to. I was pretty sure I wasn’t gonna like the answer.

He had to think about that. “It is good to be known. To have people with whom I can share what I'm thinking. How I feel. So in that sense, yes. I am happy.”

I reached for what I told myself was levity. “You’re using condoms though, right? Keeping it clean and, uh. Stuff.”

Oh, that one he had an answer for. “Yes,” he said, simple. “Of course.”

That just about killed it, our conversation. My desire to have one with him, anyway.

I made some excuse about Sammy needing an aspirin and cut him off mid-sentence. Sat there for a second, in our big silent bunker, feeling really goddamn confused.

Why the hell should I care who Cas was dating? Who he was having a “relationship” with? Who he was fucking?

That was his business, one hundred percent. And mine not the fuck at all.

He was human now; for keeps, it seemed like. So relating to his fellow people was something he was gonna have to do, like, for the rest of his semi-natural life.

This was good. This was progress for him. Right?


So why did it make me feel so strange? Thinking about Cas with other people. Thinking about other people being with Cas. Of course just talking to me wasn’t enough. We weren’t even in the same place. He needed—

He needed to be with somebody. What had he said? Oh yeah. To be known.

I shoved away from the table and did my evening rounds: checked the doors, touched all the locks, pulled the blankets back over Sammy’s shoulders. And I tried not to think about it, about Cas, but—

I heard those words in his mouth again, coming from somewhere in the past:

I know. The press of him against me, the sound of his voice just there. So close. I know.

I settled into bed with a stiff drink and a bad mood and yeah, well.

I still didn’t.

We didn’t talk for awhile, after that.

I don’t know if Cas felt as awkward as I did, or if he thought I was pissed at him or something. Either way, for a week—then two, then three—he didn’t call.

“Did you guys have a fight?” Kevin asked. He was pitched over the counter, watching me chop peppers.

“No,” I said. Chased down a big green chunk and hacked it into bits. “Why would think you that?”

“Maybe,” Sam said from my other side, dipped lazy over the sink. “Because you’re moping.”

Man, I fucking hated it when they went tag team.

I chopped off the yellow pepper's head. “I'm not moping. This is called julienning, bitch.”

Sam snorted, flicked water in my ear. “Har har.”

“Seriously,” he said later, as I was helping him into bed. “Is everything ok?”

“Seriously,” I mimicked. “Cas is fine, dude. Quit worrying.”

He shifted, bending his knees around the snow angel Penelope had made in the middle of the bed. “'S not Cas I’m worried about.”

I did us both a favor and pretended I hadn’t heard that.

A couple weeks into November, and winter had kicked in the door, full force.

It got cold as fuck, inside and out. Sam started wearing two sweaters around the house, even after I turned up the heat. He bought Penelope one, too, this green thing with yellow paisley. Which was ridiculous. But she took right to it. Slept in it, rolled around in it, sat with sad dog eyes whenever it went in the wash.

Kevin dumped the first girl, tried on a second, and then there was a new one, Nat. She owned a bead store—seriously—in Lebanon, spoke Mandarin and Norwegian, and by their third date, was the love of Kevin’s life, apparently. Because he would not shut the fuck up about her like, at all.

“I mean,” he said, doing this dumb happy twirl around the great room. “We’re going square dancing tonight. Square dancing! And not ironically, either. Like, the people who own this farm, Nat’s known them her whole life.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. Tried. “Uh huh.”

Sam tugged his head out of the stack of star charts he was sorting. “Hey, that’s great,” he said. “Sounds really cool.”

Kevin blasted us both with his grin, shoving up the sleeves of his plaid. “Man, no! It sounds so lame. But with her, it’s gonna be amazing.”

I turned back to the laptop. “Whatever,” I said to Google. “Just don’t get cow shit on my shirt, kid.”

Ok, maybe I wasn’t feeling super supportive. I was happy for him, I was, it was just—

I don’t know. I guess I’d gotten used to talking to Cas. Not hearing from him for so long, it sorta got under my skin.

That, and I missed a couple of calls, somehow. Jody left a message and I recognized Charlie’s number, but I started sleeping with the phone under my pillow. Just in case.


A couple days before Thanksgiving, I went to Topeka to pick up some part for Kevin’s bike. That’s what I told Sam, anyway. Really, I just needed some headspace. And the drive, it did me some good in that department. No doubt. The air, the asphalt—I felt like I had some room to breathe.

But then I saw this kid. A little boy, eating ice cream with his mom on a park bench. His coat was zipped up to his chin and he was laughing, this kid, getting chocolate sprinkles all over his nose, and bam, just like that, in my head, I was at a train station in Boston. Me and Cas, waiting to hook back up with Sam, way back before the not-end of the world.

We’d gotten there early, like an hour before Sam’d said that he’d meet us. The sun was barely up and I’d been driving all night and my plan was real simple: find a bench away from the crowd and drown my yawns in powdered donuts and coffee.

Cas, though, he’d decided to make friends.

He’d wandered away the second I sat down and stopped over by the information desk to talk to a toddler in a Superman shirt. In my head, in my memory, Cas was crouched down, the boy drooling all over his knees as the kid's mom freaking beamed at them, her hand tipped against the kid's back and I remember thinking that Cas had that kind of a face, you know? The kind that people want to trust. A face that said spill your guts at my feet and let me absolve you, bless you with my highbeams, with my feathers fast over all the old hurts, across every part of you that's busted, yes. I'm the only one who can make you feel alright.

I remembered my head had gone sorta swirly, thinking that back then, because this was Cas, don’t-fuck-with-me angel of the Lord. Before that moment, I’d never thought of him as anything other than ethereal and dickish and ok yeah, maybe loyal, but—

My eyes got stuck on them, Cas and this kid, like a groove. A visual scratch caught on Cas, on the careful attention he was giving the kid's monologue about . . . whatever it was.

Then the boy had handed Cas a Dorito, solemn, like it was a Dead Sea Scroll or something. Cas’d turned it over in his fingers, considering. Said something that made the mom laugh, that made the kid clutch at Cas’ coat and cackle.

It’d been damn hard not to smile at that.

The kid’d reached up, tapped Cas' nose like it was a doorbell, and Cas’d let him, like it wasn't weird to have some munchkin you didn't know smear fake cheese dust over your face, and all at once, shit, all those years later, standing on that sidewalk in Topeka, I remembered the way my heart had turned over, slow starter, watching Cas smile as the kid blessed his eyelids with orange.

All those years later, I remembered, sudden and hot, how I’d felt that day, there in the train station, watching Cas with that kid.

I’d felt like—

Damn. I’d felt love.

But way back then, in Boston, I’d jumped all over that feeling, done my best to smother the embers right away, because we didn’t have time for it, I’d told myself then. I didn’t, damn it. We had bigger battles ahead, trying to keep the world in one piece, and it was better for everyone—for me—to ignore it, that love, that feeling that stretched ahead of me like Christmas morning: anticipation, promise, and want, and—

I’d been so busy freaking out in my head, in Boston, that Cas had snuck up on me, slipped in beside me before I’d even noticed he’d moved.

“I think that child liked me,” he’d said, self-satisfied smile.

I’d shaken my head. “You think?”

He was still blinking cheese and I’d reached over without thinking. Brushed the atomic orange from his eyebrows, my fingers pausing over his skin. “I think he claimed you for his tribe, dude.”

Cas’ mouth had slipped deeper, chasing what looked like a grin. “Did he. Perhaps I should have let him know that I was already taken.”

“You—uh—” I’d said, tripping headfirst over the words, over the open affection in his eyes. Oh shit, I remembered thinking. What the hell was he seeing in mine?

And then Cas’d broken it. That weird little moment. Given me a way of changing the subject inside in my own head.

“But, Dean,” he’d said. “I don’t understand. What exactly is nacho cheese?”

I drove home from Topeka a little fucking out of my mind.

Because had I really—had I been in love with Cas?

Come on.

No way.

But, the Judge Judy in my head said, let’s say, just for a second, that I had been, way back then.

Did that mean I still was?

“What the hell,” I said, eight or nine thousands times. To the blacktop, to the telephone polls, to the woman in the Dodge Dart who tailgated me for a good 40 miles. “What in the ever loving fuck.”

Can you forget something like that? Being in love?

Under normal circumstances, I told myself. No. But in the middle of the almost Apocalypse, and all the shit that came after?

Possible, maybe. More than.

“What the fuck,” I said again in the morning. Over the toaster. To my coffee. To the dog. “What in the actual hell.”

November wound down, Christmas sneaking closer and closer, and still, Cas didn’t call.

But on Thanksgiving, he did send me something: a blurry phone photo of one of his drawings.

“Is that a pear?” Sam said, frowning.

I snatched my phone away. “Of course it is, asshole. What, are you blind?”

And a text, too: “it’s not perfect,” Cas wrote. “but i believe i’m getting closer.”

I stared at it all day, that stupid pear. Laid back after the turkey was done, after the Cowboys lost, after Sam passed out on the couch with Pen stretched at his side, and studied the colors. The shading. The confident sweep of the lines.

Even carried them into the shower that night, in my head, those traces of Castiel’s hands. Standing under the spray, I ran my fingers over the tile and saw the pear’s curves, let my fingers linger over its skin, and I got this image of Cas—not a memory, that was for damn sure—because in my head, Cas was sitting out in some field, sketchbook on his lap, his fingers covered in charcoal.

In my head, I got this image of pulling the pad away and straddling his hips, of him brushing my face black as we kissed. Of me shoving him back into the grass, clutching the clover as he groaned against my throat.

I turned my face to the water and fuck, I could see it, what he’d look like under me. The way he’d stare as I stripped off my shirt, reached for his. The colors that he’d leave on my back as I kissed him, drove off the thought of anyone else, ever, and let him remember only me.

In my head, I fucked him in the green, green grass, our fingers wound together in the dirt, his ankles hooked around my back as he painted the sky with my name.

In my hand, in the hot wash of the water, I came too hard, too fast, my body so desperate it was more reflex than pleasure. It wasn’t enough.

I know, Cas’d said, sometime, some place. Goddamn if I could remember. I know.

And then, a stone’s throw into December, he called in the middle of the night.

I was dead out, my head shoved up under the pillow, drooling. The whole bit. So the phone scared the shit out of me.

“Jesus fuck what,” I managed, my tongue this heavy wool blanket. “God. What the fuck.”

“I had a bad dream,” Cas said. “I think.”

I closed my eyes again and rubbed at my mouth. Too tired to remember to be freaked out, because, hello. Cas. “Bad how? Like, was somebody chasing you? Or bad like your teeth were falling out?”

Cas was breathing weird, like he’d just humped it up a long flight of stairs. “No. Not like that.”

“So—what?” I said, irritated. “You gonna tell me or do I have to guess?”

If I’d been more awake, maybe what he said then wouldn’t have been such a surprise. Maybe I’d have paid attention to the hitch in his voice, the little shudder under each word.

“I dreamed about you, about”—he trailed away for a second, hustled back—“about touching you.”

“Touching me?” I said, stupid. “Whatta you mean?”

Cas made this noise, a ripple that sounded like want. “Your body. The back of your neck. The inside of your thighs. Your shoulders, Dean. My hands on your shoulders and your tongue in my mouth, oh.”

Better than an IV of coffee for going from zero to wide fucking awake, hearing Cas talk like that. I sat up straight and damn if my dick didn’t, too.

“You—you were dreaming about—?”

“Dean,” Cas said, dirty gravel, like it hurt. Like he couldn’t help it. “You. About fucking you, right here in this little bed with the mattress that never lies flat, and now I’m—oh, fuck.”

“Holy shit,” I spat, my hips shifting, my stomach flipping over at the thought of a face full of feathers, of a pillowcase caught in my teeth as Cas shoved me into the sheets and spread me wide, his breath hot over my back, my ass—

If I’d been more awake, maybe I’d have hung up then. Maybe I’d have recognized this conversation for the terrible idea that it was and not the amazing one that it seemed.

Maybe. But.

“Cas,” I said, his name pulling tight in my throat as I shoved a hand down my shorts. “You—oh, god. I don’t—!”

“You wouldn’t fit,” Cas said. “Here, where I am. You’d take up all the air in the room in one breath. I know you would.”

His voice—god, it was this swirl of sexy and I don’t know, adoring, even from so fucking far away. It hit this note in my chest, like somebody driving by with the bass turned up so far you could feel it roll beneath your ribs. And that feeling, it poured down my stomach, my thighs, and pooled, heavy and good, in my cock.

Cas let go of this little roar, almost like he was angry. “You always do. You make the universe feel small when we’re together, Dean. And if you were here, in my room with me, now, there’d be no place left for me. Except inside you.”

“Oh my god,” I said, my hand going fist on my dick. “God, baby. Yeah.”

He groaned in big beautiful Dolby. “You're touching yourself, aren’t you? Your cock.”

My back went sine wave, my voice staccato. “Yes," I said. “Yeah. Yeah, Cas. Fuck. Yes.”

“You’re on your stomach,” he said, warm and slurry. “On my bed. Here. I have my hands on your back, molding it again to my touch. Your body, it remembers me. It’s asking me to touch you, to press my palms to your skin. It wants me to remake you again, Dean. Is that what you want? For me to trace you back to being with my tongue, the tips of my fingers, my breath?”

I was hot, sweat tearing over my face, but fuck if the images Cas was sketching weren’t making me shiver.

“Yeah,” I managed, shoving my boxers off, kicking them into the sheets and squeezing the phone between my ear and my shoulder and holy shit, that was good, to get both hands in the game. “Want it. Come on, sweetheart. Touch me.”

His voice jumped straight up in the air. “Oh. I am, beloved. I could not stop if hell itself broke through the door.”

And I got this IMAX picture of him, somewhere, twisted in the blankets on some narrow bed, his feet planted in the mattress and his hips chasing his fist as he jerked himself off, thinking about me and throwing out words like beloved, shit.

I threw my head back and whined, pulled my dick faster, because goddamn, goddamn.

“—on your knees,” he was saying, gully deep. “I’m holding your hips, holding you steady. But I don’t need to, do I? You’ll stay like this for me, won’t you? On your knees. Open. Until I know your body is ready for me.”

“Cas,” I said, with something that tasted like desperate. “Please. Hurry. Need you. Need you inside me, baby, come on.”

He hummed, a little arch of pleasure. “You’re so impatient.”

I flicked my fingers down, ran them over my balls. “Your fault,” I said. “Made me so hard for you. Fuck.”

“Wait,” Castiel said, from all those miles away. “Wait for me, Dean. I won’t leave you.”

“Not helping,” I groaned, digging my nails into my thigh to stave off the chain fucking reaction, to stop the damn dominoes from falling, because he had me there. Right there. “Cas. Come on, baby. Please.”

He hummed again. “Well,” he said, “I want to use my mouth. I want to lick you open until my tongue fits inside you.”

I kinda stopped breathing. “Oh my god.”

“I have one hand on your thigh, holding you steady, because you’re trembling, Dean. There on the edge of my tongue. These fine little shivers up your spine, down your arms, that you keep trying to hide, but oh, fuck. Don’t hide from me. Let me see all the ways that I please you.”

I turned my face into the pillow, the phone slipping over my ear. “Cas. Cas. Fuck.”

He growled, the sound a wet kiss. “Yes,” he said, certain. “Yes. I will fuck you now, beloved.”

That word again, jesus fuck. And he was still rolling.

“You’re beautiful,” Cas said, like stained glass breaking. “Always. You cannot know it, how beautiful you are. But this”—he gasped, sweet and dirty, working himself faster, it sounded like—“taking me in, pulling me to you, towards you, inexorable, it is—you are—unspeakably exquisite.”

His voice, I swear to god. It’d torn me up for a long time, the way he sounded like he’d swallowed a thunderstorm, but this, fuck, revved up and reverent all at once, this shit was gonna kill me.

I fumbled for the base of my cock, found it just in time. “Castiel,” I said, way the hell too loud for the middle of the night. “I can’t wait anymore, baby. I can’t. I’m tryin’, but I’m gonna—”

His breath went prism, a thousand colors pouring over the line and sinking into my skin. “I’m inside you,” he said, insistent. “Now. In the place that was meant for me, Dean. The place I’m supposed to be. I know that now. I can see.”

“So move!” I said, my body lifting to meet the man who wasn’t there, the one who was fucking me from a thousand miles away. “C’mon sweetheart, you have to move now. Please. Fuck me, huh, Cas? Come on. Fuck me. Let me feel you. Show me where it is you belong.”

Cas shouted, loud and bright and surprised, shit, like he didn’t know what hit him, and in my head, I could see him—dark hair against white sheets, come shooting over his fist, his thighs, his mouth working around these gorgeous echoes of pleasure and smiling, god. What I wouldn’t have paid to see his smile, right then.

“Dean,” he whispered. A word that held multitudes. “Dean.”

And that was it, too much, not enough.

I went off hard, my body twisting, overwhelmed by how good it felt to come with Cas sighing in my ear, still murmuring my name like it was the only word he’d ever need. I felt spunk slap my chin, hot and wet, and in my head, Cas was pitched over me, kissing me, licking the heat straight off my skin.

I thought I was sweating, was sure of it, but then I felt my eyes burning and the salt bumping my lips and I knew, I fucking knew, and shit—the walls holding it in, everything I felt for him, they tipped over and let all the wanting run out.

“Cas,” I panted, nothing at all like a sob. “Baby. I need you. Need you here, now. With me. Why, Cas? Why aren’t you here?”

He made a noise, hollow and wounded. Just like I felt. “Dean, I—”

“Is it me? Did I piss you off? Did I hurt you? Tell me what I did so I can make it right. Please.”

“No, you didn’t—you haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I love you,” I said. “You stupid bastard, I love you, you hear that? And you—you call everyone you phonefuck beloved, or did I just luck out?”

No,” he said. The word furious hurt. “Surely you can’t think that I—Dean. I love you. How could you ever be uncertain of that?”

I pushed my face into my elbow, shoving the tears up and out. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because I haven’t seen you in, what, like nine months? Maybe because you’re hiding from me, Cas. You ran away and you told me not to come looking. What the hell am I supposed to think?”

“You don’t understand.”

“You’re right!” I said. “I don’t! So are you gonna tell me what the hell you’re doing there when I’m here? Where I’ve always been, you bastard! Waiting for you.”

Then, at the worst possible time, it hit me, this avalanche of who what and when.

I know, Cas’d said before, the words hot and sure in my hair.

In Purgatory.

It was the first night after we’d found him, me and Benny, and fuck if Cas wasn’t pissed off that we had.

“It’s not safe,” he’d kept saying, over and over. “I’m drawing danger to you. Surely you can see that.”

I swiped the gore from my hands and stood up, glaring. “Fucking Purgatory isn’t safe,” I said. “Hence us trying to haul our asses outta here. And yours.”

Cas scowled at me, his shoulders shaking like he was furious, like he was ten seconds from breaking out the angelic nukes. “If I stay with you,” he said, “there won’t be anything left for you to save!”

“This isn’t up for discussion,” I shot back. “We’re leaving and you’re coming with us, so shut the fuck up.”

Cas made a face and I got right there, right in it. “I need you alive, you asshole!” I said. “You wanna get yourself killed on your own time, fine. Once we get topside, you can do whatever the hell you want. But here, now, you’re my goddamn responsibility, and I’m not gonna let you just—”

“Now, now,” Benny said from somewhere. “Gentlemen. Might I suggest that we table this discussion?” He drew close to my side, his face popping out from the sudden gloom. “It seems the dark’s come to join us. Perhaps we should take advantage of its presence, eh?”

I looked up, away from Cas’ fury, and saw that the trees and the body of the Leviathan I’d just ganked had vanished, lost in the dark.

It was awful, what passed for night in Purgatory. There was no pattern to the days there, the hours. The light came and went seemingly at its own will. Sometimes, it felt like fucking eons between nightfalls. Other times, as if it’d been only minutes.

The place was no picnic when it was light, that weird dirty tinge to everything, but at night? Shit. The dark was thick, a black hot that you could feel in your throat, that pressed in tight on your skin.

Usually, I'd pitch down when it got dark. Try to grab a few winks as Benny kept watch. But that night—

“I’m not tired, Benny,” I said through gritted teeth.

“The hell you’re not,” he chuckled. “Ah saw you stumbling around just now. You nearly let that beast get a chunk a your flesh, brother. We both know that ain’t your style. So. You drag your pretty ass over there”—he nodded towards when the trees had been—“and get yourself some shuteye, alright? No telling how long this’ll last.”

I grumbled, a swirl of muddled curses, and that—

That made Castiel laugh.

Not a normal laugh at all. No, the sound he made, it was terrible, this tight wind of hysteria that had him reeling, careening around in a circle until I caught him, my hands hard on his shoulders.

“Cas,” I barked. “Stop it. Come on, man, you gotta—!”

There was a whisper around us and Benny went gliding past, looping out into the darkness.

Castiel took a deep breath, progress, but it shoved its way out as a sob.

“I’m dead,” he said. Defeated. “I’m dead already. Just leave me alone, Dean. Let me go. Please. Let me die.”

His voice, then, I swear. It scared the shit out of me.

So I grabbed him. A hug, like before, by that dead stinking creek, but now—now I was terrified. I’d just gotten him back and he was already gonna give up? No. Hell no.

But I couldn't say that, exactly, couldn’t put my hands on the words, so I held him tight, tighter. Until I wasn’t sure which one of us was shaking.

“Shut up,” I whispered against his collar. “You shut the fuck up.”

And then, he—

He hugged me back. His fingers knotted in my coat, his temple pressed to mine.

I made a little noise, soft against his throat. “Shut up,” I said again. “Need you. Not gonna let you die.”

“I know,” Cas'd said, the words hot and sure in my hair. “I know.”

What the hell. That was it—it’d had been like goddamn Purgatory this whole fucking time, waiting for Castiel to call. The last few months, I’d been riding that same edge of uncertain as I had then. Afraid I might already have lost him.

And there, alone in my bed, it just took the damn wind from my sails, realizing that. Like all the tension I didn't know I'd been dragging around fell off of me in one go. And still, there I was. Alone.

“Damn it,” I whispered. "Cas. This is—I don't get it. I love you, you feel that way about me, so—why are you staying away?"

His voice was an ocean unsteady. “I was afraid."

I thought of his angel blade, of his face, all ferocious at my side a hundred times. A thousand. Castiel? Afraid?

"Of what?" I said.

“Of you."

I wasn't sure I'd heard right. "What?"

"I thought—" he said, hesitant. "I thought that everything I'd come to know about humanity, about being human, had been warped by my time with you. By my love for you. So when I realized what Metatron had done, what that made me, I decided that if I was to make my own way on Earth, then I should start over. That I should learn it all again—what it is to be human, what it's like to live among them. That I should learn all of that this time without you.”

God. It was so stupid. Such classic Cas logic. He always was fucking stubborn. "Ok," I said, because it wasn't. "But why didn't you tell me all this before? Like the first time you called me, why didn't you just explain to me the real reason you were stayin' away?"

He made a frustrated sound, the bedsprings groaning around him. “Because I know you. Because I know that you would not have accepted such an explanation on its face, over the phone. That you would have convinced me to come to you, to talk things out in person. And then—" His voice dropped, this awful rasp. "I didn't trust myself to leave you again. Even if it was for the best."


“And I feared that if I didn’t try it, to be human on my own for a time, I would come to resent you. The hold you have over me. No matter how much I love you."

I was crying now. Didn't try to hide it. "Damn it, Cas."

“I love you,” he said, that beautiful voice like barbed wire. “And when I come to you—if I come to you—it will be as my own man. A human in my own right."

That was a sucker punch. "If?" I said. "If? Oh, god. You can't—you have to come here, Cas. Now. After all this. I mean, we just—! God, I wanna touch you. I want to tell you I love you to your damn face, and you're still stuck on if? What the hell else do you want from me?"

"From you?" he said. "Nothing. But I'm not finished. My work isn't done. I'm not ready to—"

"To what? Make up your mind? Oh, hey, I get it. You need to keep your options open." I felt furious. And hurt. Wanted to hurt him right back. "I mean, sure, we can talk about fucking, but hey, you got Anthony and Sarah there to do it for you in person, right? Don't wanna close those doors. Hell, you might need to get your rocks off in real time, and I sure as shit can't help you with that."

"Dean. Listen to me. I'm not—"

"No," I said. "No, I'm not gonna listen to you anymore. Not until you actually have something to say."


"Goodbye, Cas."

He made a noise the second before I cut the call, and I knew that I'd hurt him. And all I could think then was: good.

I turned the phone off. Chucked it into the dark and didn't sleep.

In the morning, I got Kevin to help me take the battery out.

"Won't charge right," I said as he poked at the thing. "Gonna take it into town next time I go and get a replacement."

Instead, I took both pieces to the garage and hid them in my toolbox. They were easier to ignore, way down there.

And for the first time in months, I stopped waiting for Cas to call. When he wanted to talk to me—if—he knew where to find me.

So. Christmas marched towards us, shaking its tinselly tail.

Kevin slept over at Nat’s for the first time. He came home limping and covered in hickeys and didn’t stop smiling for a week.

Penelope learned how to work light switches, which. What the hell.

Sam finally got the library set to his OCD, Dewey Decimal standards. He kept taking his antibiotics like clockwork and started to finally gain weight.

And best of all, he didn’t ask me about Cas. Not directly. But he knew something was up. He had to, because one night, when I was at my lowest, he fed me roast beef and pimento sandwiches and let me watch Scandal for like eight hours straight without saying a word.

I got off the couch, eventually. Picked up Kevin’s bike project where he’d left it. I couldn’t blame him for choosing the chick over a DIY, but still. I felt bad for the thing, three-quarters assembled and then abandoned. So I started putting the pieces back together, one by one, the dog keeping watch at my side.

“Hand me that torque wrench,” I said to her once, just to see. But she blinked at me, that’s all. Blinked, then yawned like a motherfucker and settled her head down to sleep.

Yeah. When she wasn’t barking or gnawing on my toolbox, Penelope was pretty good company.

She didn’t ask me about Cas, either.

One afternoon, about a week outside of Christmas, the Wonder Twins went to town for groceries and came back with a tree, a big, beautiful thing that ate up half the den.

It was great, actually. Except we didn’t have any lights.

I threw up my hands. “Come on,” I said. “Seriously? You can’t have a Christmas tree without lights, assholes. What the hell.”

Kevin snorted. “Oh, pardon us, Martha Stewart. Sorry to offend your delicate sensibilities.”

“Fuck you delicate. This is common sense here. I mean, ornaments you can fake, but lights? Dude.”

“Damn,” Sam said, but the little bitch was grinning. “You care so much, just go buy some already. Sheesh.”

I grabbed the keys from his fist. “You’re damn right I will,” I said. “Man, you two. Super geniuses my ass. You two are riding Penelope’s coattails at this point. She’s smarter than the both of you.”

I could hear them hooting at me as I scooted down the hall, but whatever. I knew what the hell I was talking about.

Even Charlie Brown’s tree had lights, for fuck’s sake.

I drove out to the nice Target, the one over in Leighton, and kind of got overwhelmed by the industrial-sized cheer. I mean, first I couldn’t decide between colored lights and white ones. Between ones that blinked and ones that stayed on. And since I couldn’t figure out how many strands our Godzilla tree would need, it only made sense to buy three or four sets of each.

Then I got distracted by the whole ornament problem, because yeah, we could make them like we used to, Sam and me, but now we actually had a place to store them for next year. Plus, the tree was big enough to hold more beer cans than we could probably drink in the next week, it only made sense to buy a few ornaments, too. At a couple different stores, you know. For variety.

Maybe I went a little overboard. But it felt good. Kind of got me feeling the holiday for the first time in ages. I mean, hell, I was still whistling Burl Ives as I staggered up the stairs from the garage, overloaded with bags like some clean-shaven Santa Claus.

Sam was there, waiting for me.

“Dude,” I said, juggling that shit like a madman, “little help here?”

He took the first few bags off the top and then I could see his face.

“What?” I said, dropping the rest with a crash. “What’s wrong?”

“He got here about an hour ago,” Sam said.

“Who did?”

He looked at me, hard, and oh god. I knew.

My face went red. “Where is he?”

“In your room, I think,” Sam said. “I didn't know where to—”

But I was already gone, shooting down the hallway.

The door to my room was open, like I’d left it, except now there was Cas, sitting on my side of the bed like he belonged there.

I didn’t know what to think.

“Hey,” I said, stiff with surprise.

He turned his head. His mouth lifting, a little. “Hello, Dean.”

He looked strange. Not like himself. It took me a second to figure out why: there was no trenchcoat. No tie. No sensible loafers or polyester blend. There was only denim and cotton, jeans frayed for shit and a t-shirt that didn’t really fit.

Fuck, he was gorgeous. I mean, he looked like he hadn’t slept in three days and hadn’t shaved for a week, but damn, I wanted to kiss him. To yank him into my arms and taste his tongue.

Maybe that should have been weird, that rush of want I felt when I saw him. I mean, we'd never touched each other like that. Ever. But it didn't seem strange. It seemed more like I was tuning in to a song that'd always been playing between us—the same one that'd pushed me to chase his ass down in Purgatory, to keep his damn trenchcoat for so long, to trust him even when I should've known better—only now I could follow the beat.

I came all the way in and let the door fall from my fingers. Leaned back and helped it close.

"I was hoping we could talk," he said. Watching me shrug out of my coat. “I have something I'd like to say. If you'd like to listen.”

He looked so hopeful. God. "Ok," I said. "Yeah. Sure, Cas."

He blinked. Let his face break into a smile. And then he stretched out his hand.

“Come here,” he said.

The first step was the hardest. After that, they were easy as pie.

I stood there in front of him. Holding hands, even as he sat there, staring up at me from the bed.

“Ok,” I said again. But this time I meant it. “I’m listening.”

He rubbed his thumb over my wrist. Tilted his head back and found my eyes. “I’ve missed you,” he said. A thousand miles in three words. “Do you hear me?”

I blushed, under that stare, the heat in my cheeks jetting over my throat, down my chest. “Yeah. Loud and clear.”

“Good,” he said. Another smile, even bigger than before. “Now listen carefully. This next part is important.”

He yanked my hand to his mouth, tilted his head, and then he was kissing my wrist, the back of my hand. His lips sliding over my knuckles, one by one.

Oh,” I said. “What—?”

I tried to pull him up, to get him off the bed and into my arms, but fuck, he was a mountain. Wouldn't budge, didn't move, except for his tongue on my skin and man, I'd forgotten what a sneaky bastard he could be. Because I was so distracted by his lips, by the catch of his teeth, that I didn’t feel his fingers on my belt until he’d already grabbed me, until he was leaning in and shoving up my shirt, shit. Oh yeah. He was crafty.

I wrenched my hand from his and caught his head in my palms. Pulled him to me. “Oh,” I said again, low. “Oh, god, Cas.”

He made a noise, this wicked hitch. Stroked my sides and chased his tongue up my belly, from my navel to my breastbone and back he went, his ass still firm on the bed. Covered me in long, slow licks and wet, dirty kisses.

I thought: we should be talking. There are words that come before this, aren’t there? Things that have to be said

I love you, for starters. And maybe: Don’t you ever fucking leave me again.

His nails caught my ribs and I thought: shut up, asshole. For once in your life, shut the fuck up and just listen.

“Dean,” Cas said, his smile turning over my belly. “Are you with me?”

"Yeah," I stuttered. "I'm here."

He arched his neck and kissed his way up my chest again. Still wouldn't stand up, no matter how hard I pulled at his hair. So I pushed myself at him, gave myself up to his mouth, because his eyes—god, his eyes—

They were saying every word I could think of, every damn one, and more. And more.

I moaned. Curved my thumbs over his ears and whispered: “I’m here. Ok? You got my attention now. What else do you gotta say?”

His teeth raced over one nipple, his fingers pinching at the other until I cried out, and oh fuck, I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to shove his head down and get his mouth on my cock. I wanted to tie him to my bed, lick him open and fuck him lazy dirty until his come was smeared into my skin. His smile burned into my throat.

But Cas, he just laughed. Stayed firm on the bed. “Impatient,” he said. “Always so impatient.”

He bit my nipple again and I said something wordless and then he was touching my cock, tracing it with heavy fingers through the denim.

I bucked up, swearing, and he laughed again. A hot, anxious sound. “Yes,” he said, louder, a rumble that echoed in my chest. “Dean. Oh, yes.”

That song between us, that beat, it snapped into focus, every note loud and clear as my dick fattened and stretched. I felt like I'd fall apart if he didn't stop teasing, if he didn't put his hands on me at fucking last. “Yeah,” I said, breathless. “Touch me, Cas. Please. Like that, oh. Need you. Come on.”

He grinned, rubbing his cheek against my chest like some big pervy cat. “Like this?”

He slid back down my body until his face was flush with his hand. With my fly.

“Hmmm,” he said. His whole palm on me now, a pressure I couldn’t help but push into. “Yes. Like this.”

For a second, I thought he was going to suck me, halle-fucking-lujah, but no. Hell no.

He took his time.

He traced his fingertips over my dick, like he was mapping the shoreline. Licked the curve of my shaft through my jeans, lapped at the swell of the head, and even though my cock was landlocked, fenced in tight behind my zipper, his mouth on me, it felt—

It felt so damn good that I couldn’t speak.

So I whined. Palmed his neck and rocked into him, gasping. A goldfish fresh out of water.

“You’re so hot here,” Cas said, each word like a brand. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think your flesh would burn me. That you’d singe my tongue if I took your cock into my mouth.”

He had my ass in both hands, kneading as he nosed at me, sucked, and fuck. I hitched my hips against his face. Held his head steady and did it again. “Please,” I got out. “Sweetheart. Oh fuck. Come on.”

His whole body shook. “Oh,” he said, “oh, beloved. Yes.”

He cracked my zipper, yanked it down, and shoved my jeans over my hips. Knocked my boxers down after. Pitched back in and kissed me, his tongue skating around the base of my cock.

“Yes,” he said, whisper of want. “Yes.”

Then he turned his head and opened his mouth.

I stumbled, would’ve fallen if his hands hadn’t been on me. “Fuck. Cas, fuck, oh—”

He treated my dick the same way he had my chest, my belly: hot drags of tongue and open-mouthed kisses and oh, shit, the sounds he fucking dragged out of me, until I, I just—

I closed my eyes and begged.

“Cas, please. Please. Fuck, come on. Castiel, god, suck me. Let me fuck your mouth, baby. Oh, god. Fucking—please.”

But he ignored me. Let me shout while he held onto me tighter. One fist curled on my hip, the other drooped lazy over my shaft, the heel of his hand pressed into my body.

“No,” he said, nosing at my balls, and I swear I could hear him smiling. “No. Not yet.”

Shit. It was awful, the way that he teased me. It was fucking fantastic.

I rubbed my fingers down his neck, under his shirt. Got at the only skin I could reach and made my mark there. Shot my nails into his skin.

And Cas? He turned into my touch and kept up that slow, heated work on my cock, his body purring under my hands, and goddamn, I wanted to touch him.

I pulled his hair, stretched the collar of his t-shirt. “Take this off,” I hissed. “Take it off.”

He leaned away from me. An arch of his arms and he pulled, yanked the cotton over his head and chucked it at the floor. Pitched back on his hands, grinning at me from the bed. Preening.

“Better?” he said.

If he'd still had his wings, he’d have been waving them at me right then, I was sure, what with the proud bow of his body and the look on his face: half challenge, half roses and wine.

I reached for him. “Yeah. So good. Now come here, baby.”

His eyes flickered, like a candle slowly gutted, and he came to me, lifted my hands and pressed them back into his skin, humming as I stretched out my fingers and took in all I could touch.

“Dean,” he said, teeth gleaming in the shadows. “I want very much to make you come.”

My hips jerked towards his face, my cock bumping his cheek. “Oh my god,” I groaned. “You keep talking like that and you will. Shit.”

He chuckled. Grabbed my thighs and tapped my slit with his tongue. “No,” he said, fist curling around my dick. “I think—no more talking.”

He opened his mouth and I knew what was coming and it was still a goddamn revelation: soft heat of his tongue, the slow suck of his throat, and the pretty picture he made—fuck—his head bobbing over my cock.

I clutched at him. Held him steady. Encouraging him with my body, my voice.

“Cas. So good. You’re doing so good, jesus. Look so good taking my cock.”

His nails cut into my thigh and he moaned like I’d punched him, like I really had burned him. But he didn’t stop moving. His tongue twisting, his breath hitching. Hunching over and taking me deep.

I cupped his head with one hand and draped the other over his shoulder, down his back. Felt the blood in his skin moving, rushing to his heart and urging him on.

He was rocking on the bed as he sucked me, his hips shifting, and fuck, he was still wearing his jeans. God, I wanted to see him so bad. All of him. Wanted to touch his cock, watch his face while I did it, but, hell. I wanted to watch him swallow me more.

“Yeah,” I said, urgent. Fucking him faster. “Like that, baby. Suck me. Yeah. Just like that.”

He made that noise again, like I’d hit him, and shit, that was—

“I want,” he said, his breath hot over my dick, “I want to see it, when you come. Please. Let me see you, Dean.”

It was hard to think with his mouth so close, his fingers still teasing my cock. “You—what?” I managed. “I don’t—?”

He pressed one more kiss to the head and reached up. Snatched my hand from his back and dropped it down over my cock, over his fingers. “Like this,” he said, sliding our hands together, up and back. And again. “I want to see you. Like this. Let me, please.”

“Oh my god,” I said, kicking our hands into second gear. “Fuck, Cas. Fuck. You—”

I nudged him back from my body, just enough, just until I could see all of his face. Until he could see me, could watch our fingers shoot together down the shaft, up and over the head.

“Dean,” he said. My name, always warm on his lips. Different now. Like a sunrise. “You are beautiful.”

I wanted to say something snarky, something like: you talking to me or my dick? Because—

Because I knew he meant something way more than that; he meant me, the parts that nobody had ever seen, except him. Even now, grounded and free of his grace, Cas knew me, fundamental, and he loved me anyway.

And now I knew. There was no fucking question: I loved him, too.

Maybe I always had.

I heard his voice in my head, a Cas from long, long ago:

“I know,” he’d said, the words hot and sure in my hair. “I know.”

But I couldn't say that, exactly, couldn’t put my hands on the words, so I bit my lip and held him tight, tighter. Jerked our hands faster. Watched his eyes grow wider and dark.

“Yes,” he said, the sound fucking filthy. “Like that. Show me how to please you. Show me how you want me to touch you.”

His tongue leapt out and brushed my slit again, tender, his eyes locking into mine, and fuck, what in the ever-loving—!

I clawed at his neck, my fingers singing into his skin, and came all over his face. A fat spurt across his chin, quick jerks that covered his throat.

“Cas,” I cried, our fists still moving, my dick still twitching. “Castiel. What've you done to me? Fuck.”

He pulled my cockhead in his mouth, too much too soon, and my hips kicked again. Gave up one last pulse of spunk I could feel him teasing over his teeth, turning into his tongue.

Then he lifted his head and let me go and my legs buckled, sent me to the floor. My feet were tangled in my jeans and I was panting like I’d done a ten-miler but, hey, there I was. On my knees in front of him. The place that was meant for me.

His face was a firestarter, the flame cut with blue and white, as he ran his hand over my cheek.

“I'm here with you,” Castiel said. “And if you will have me, this is where I wish to stay.”

I grinned. Turned my mouth to his palm and licked over his lifeline. “Of course you’re staying,” I said, tugging the words up to his wrist. “No shit, man. Of course you are. You’re home.”

I stood up, wobbly as fuck. Kicked off my jeans, my boxers, and fell back to my knees. Before he could blink, I grabbed him, yanked him right to the edge of the bed. Got his knees pressed into my sides, our chests almost in line. Put us on even ground.

His hands fluttered around my face, my arms, like he didn’t know what to touch first. “Oh,” he groaned. “Oh yes.”

He thought I was gonna kiss him. Heh. Hell no. I took my time.

I licked the come off his nose, all leisurely like. His forehead. Lapped myself off of his chin. Teased him with my mouth, basically, until he was straining, making pissed off little noises and arching his neck.

“Dean,” he said as I slid down his throat, curled my tongue under his jaw. “Dean! Please. I want—”

He was pawing at my shoulders and rolling his hips against my belly, his cock stiff and shivering in his jeans, and holy fuck, was that hot.

“Please what?” I said, skimming my hand down his back. “Huh? What do you want, beloved?”

He stopped breathing for a second, I swear, and then he was on me, grabbing at me even as he fell back and yanked me on top of him.

“You,” he said into my mouth. Under it. Against my face, later, as I fucked him. “Dean. Only you.”

“I know,” I said in his ear as he came, a hoarse echo of my name. “Castiel, baby. I know.”

Christmas morning, Kevin got a copy of Good Omens and a set of the Norwegian Rosetta Stone tapes.

“Now you can ask her to marry you in three languages,” I said.

Kevin blushed like a rosebush. “No, it’s not—we’re not ready to—”

Sam bumped his shoulder and winked at me over the kid’s head. “Give it time, man,” he said. “Give it time.”

I gave Sam a new cane, this silver-tipped cherrywood deal that Garth’d help me find. It had a dragon’s head made from silver and a lattice of protection symbols that I’d carved in myself.

“Dean,” he said, turning it over in his hands as Penelope peeked up over his knee. “Man, this is gorgeous.” He gave me a big fucking grin and reached out, crushed me into a hug. “Hey. It’s perfect. Thank you.”

And Cas, he gave me a still life, the last one he’d done: a pear, a piece of driftwood, a wind-up clock.

I framed it and hung it over our bed.

He liked that. Like, a lot. So much that he did his best to fuck me through the memory foam just after New Year’s and accidentally, uh—

“Cas, god, Cas, oh fuck!” I shouted, for exactly the wrong reason at just at the right moment, you know.

He didn't lose a beat. Just swept the picture off my head, onto the floor, and ducked his mouth to my ear, gasping, his voice caught between a snort and a sigh.

“I’m sorry,” he panted, still fucking me fast. “Oh. I’m sorry, Dean. Fuck, I’m so—”

I could feel a knot rising on my head and the frame had taken a chunk from my chin, but shit, none of that mattered. I dug my nails into his shoulders, raised my hips and caught him inside me good and deep.

“Come on,” I said against his temple. “Come on, sweetheart. That’s right, yeah. Harder. Like that. Come on, lemme have it. Fuck me, Cas.”

He hissed something in Hebrew and came hard, like a goddamn rough rider, his smile going slack on my cheek.

So I hung his picture up again. This time in the den, over the mantle.

That was way better.

The best, though, was the look on Cas’ face the first time he saw it there, his still life.

“See?” I said, my fingers on the back of his neck. A pear, a piece of driftwood, a wind-up clock. “Glass didn’t even crack. Your art’s tougher than it looks.”

He smiled. Turned his face towards mine. “Yes,” he said. “It looks right here. As if it’s home.”

Yeah. That look, and all the ones that came after. Those, I’m not gonna forget.