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things happen (they do, they do, and they do)

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So, the first thing that happens is Castiel comes back. It's at a pretty inconvenient time, considering the amount of pain Dean is in and how close he is to being dead. Sam's crying, so that makes it a little worse. Or, well, it's a little more awkward, at least. 


"Move, Sam," Castiel orders, the words short and furious, and Sam does. 


Dean has just enough time to gasp in a shuddering breath before he's being wrenched unceremoniously off the piece of rebar that's holding him together at the moment, and that hurts like a bitch. His vision whites out. He crumbles forward into Castiel with a grunt, cursing under his breath, his whole body awash with agony. He's pretty sure he's dying. 


Ten seconds ago, he was pretty calm about that outcome. Now? Well, not so much. 


Fortunately, Castiel doesn't seem in the mood to let Dean die today, which, great, that's awesome. Just fucking peachy. There's a warm pressure against his back, searing pain from the wound, and then the distinct tingle of grace as the pain dulls and the threat of death recedes. Dean's vision slowly comes into focus, and he's being held up in the arms of his best friend while his brother watches with wide, wondrous eyes. 


It's not the first time they've had Castiel save their lives—Dean's especially. Still, technically, Castiel is supposed to be dead. Or in the Empty. Or whatever the fuck. It's very confusing, and Dean's just as flabbergasted as Sam is. 


Well, at least he's not dying anymore. In retrospect, he probably shouldn't have been so calm about it, huh? Bad sign. Just like drinking the nights away are a bad sign. And so is false cheer that makes him a little sick to his stomach. But hey, Dean is pretty good at ignoring bad signs. 


"Damn," Dean mumbles when Castiel leans him back on his own feet and steps away with narrowed eyes, looking very annoyed, indeed. 


Castiel stares right at him, blue eyes bright, lips pressed into a thin line. "Let you go? You told Sam to let you go? Dean, do you have any idea—"


"Woah," Dean breathes out, blinking rapidly as he moves his torso from side-to-side, no pain, "you really fixed me up, Cas. Lucky you were here, dude, or I'd be—" He cracks a smile and drags his finger over his throat, crossing his eyes, "—ya know." 


"Dead," Castiel snaps. "You would be dead because you felt the apparent need to not call an ambulance, or even attempt to fight to—" 


"Oh god, Cas, thank you," Sam blurts out, practically sailing across the space to slam into Castiel and hug him, still crying just a little, his gratitude palpable. 


Castiel endures the hugging for a moment, then cuts Sam with a furious look as well. "You told him it was okay, Sam? Why would you ever—" 


"I didn't know what else to do, man," Sam says as he leans back, his voice cracking. "I didn't know what else to—I didn't know how bad it was, and he seemed to be fading fast, and I didn't want him to die thinking he failed me or something, but I—" 


"Well, hey," Dean interrupts, holding his arms out beside himself, "not dead. So, no harm, no foul. Cas saved the day. Woohoo, just like old times. Uh, actually, how did you save the day, Cas?" 


"Jack informed me of what was happening and gave me the option to come down to heal you," Castiel mutters, frowning at him. 


Dean clears his throat. "Down?'re up? Like in—in Heaven, or something?" 


"I was," Castiel murmurs, heaving a sigh. "I cannot return. I will lose my grace with time and become human. When I die, I suppose I will go back, just as both of you will when you do. But, until then, I'm back here. Because you, Dean, allowed yourself—" 


"Hey, I didn't allow anything," Dean cuts in, his words a little sharp. "That's just the life. That's how some hunts go, man. Not—not everyone is lucky enough to have an angel in their back pocket." 


"I was never in your—" 


"No, I mean, just—not everyone has an angel who will give up everything for them, okay? I've been pretty damn lucky in that regard through the years."


"Do not let it happen again," Castiel says, glaring at him. "You will be careful. You will be safe." 


"Well, I can't see the fucking future, man." 


"You will be careful, Dean. Agreed?" 


Dean grunts, waving a hand. He feels kinda stupid trying to argue that point to the guy who has literally saved his life so many times he can't keep count. It would be a bit of a dick move to not at least try to calm him down, especially in light of the last conversation they had. Dean's an asshole, but he's not that much of an asshole. 


"Yeah, yeah," Dean mutters, shuffling his feet, "I hear ya. I'll be more careful." 


"How is Jack?" Sam asks. "You've seen him?" 


"He is well," Castiel says. 


Dean clears his throat again and looks around the barn where all the bodies are. "We can have this fun, little reunion back at the Bunker. First, we gotta clean this shit up. Wanna help, Cas?" 


"No," Castiel snips, "I'll be in the car." 


With that, he blows out of the barn like he never entered it, and Dean watches him go with pursed lips. Yeah, okay. Well, that's fair. 



The second thing that happens is talking about the thing that they don't seem to want to talk about. Or, well, Castiel doesn't seem eager to talk about it, in any case. Dean's a little more interested. 


When they get back to the Bunker, they all do, in fact, have a nice reunion. They sit down with beers, and Castiel explains how Jack plucked him from the Empty to help reconstruct Heaven. Dean figures that makes sense. As hands-off as the kid wants to be, Castiel was always gonna be his exception. Dean's pretty grateful of that fact, admittedly, and not just because Castiel saved his life. Again. 


Castiel also tells them what Heaven is like, who's all there, how peaceful it is. On one hand, Dean's happy to be alive in the way he wasn't only yesterday; on the other, he kinda wishes he could be in Heaven, if only to see those he misses again. But Castiel assures them that time is different in Heaven, that it won't feel very long to those waiting by the time Sam and Dean make it up there. So, sure, living until they're not doesn't seem so bad, especially when they know what they've got waiting for them after. 


And, well, it's nice that Castiel is back. Dean doesn't say this out loud, of course, but that makes him a little more reluctant to go rushing off to Heaven already. It's just nice, is all. Nothing weird about it. 


Okay, it's a little weird. Hence the talking. 


Dean gets a shower first and spends the entire time rolling his shoulders, reaching around to try and touch his back. He doesn't even know where the wound was at, not anymore. He can remember the pain, but there's none left over. Not even a twinge. Damn, Castiel is good at that—the healing thing. 


After the aforementioned shower, however, Dean takes the seat across from Castiel, while Sam ends their conversation and begs off to go get a shower of his own. In the silence left behind, Dean is reminded very clearly of what happened before Castiel died. 


"Wanna talk about it?" Dean asks—rather courageously, in his opinion. 


Castiel squints at him. "It? What do you mean by it? What exactly are you referencing, Dean?" 


"Ya know." Dean clears his throat and waves around his beer bottle a little nervously, making a face. "It. What you said to me before you, uh, left." 


"Ah," Castiel says, his face smoothing out. He pauses, then looks away. "No, I do not." 


Dean licks his lips and lets his beer bottle hit the table with a dull clunk. "Right. Yeah, just—I don't know, Cas. I think… I kinda think we have to." 


"Do you?" Castiel asks flatly, arching up an eyebrow, looking thoroughly done with Dean's shit, even though Dean is only trying to be sensible for fucking once. "You, Dean Winchester, think there is a need to communicate, rather than avoid?" 


"I mean, this is pretty serious, dude. Besides, I've always said you could talk to me. You know that. I dunno. Just seems best not to, ah, avoid it this time."


"If roles were reversed, you would not feel the same. You would prefer to avoid it, shove it down, and act as if it never happened." 


"Yeah, well, they're not, so…" Dean gives a little shrug, not perturbed by Castiel's annoyance in the least. "Come on, let's go have the conversation. You're gonna be around for a while, and this is the kind of thing we should just...get out of the way." 


Castiel sighs, tipping his head back. "Does location truly matter for rejection, Dean?" 


"I...I don't really know," Dean admits awkwardly. Guilt is starting to gnaw at his insides. Shit. Shit. "I guess I'd rather be rejected in my room, personally. Somewhere private. Somewhere I could lick my wounds after, probably." 


"Your point is compelling," Castiel allows. He nods and stands up. "Alright, let's talk." 


Dean clamors to his feet and abandons his beer, following Castiel towards his room. It feels like being led to the gallows. Dean's never really had to do anything like this. He's pretty sure Holly in the eleventh grade doesn't count—he'd dumped her like an asshole, and she slapped him, but that doesn't really compare to this. He doubts Holly was actually heartbroken about it. He was a shitty boyfriend. 


Castiel, though… Yeah, Dean's not an idiot. This is probably gonna break his heart, and it's not—well, Dean isn't happy about it. He knows it's necessary, but he's just not feeling it. Actually, it feels kinda fucked up. Every step closer to the approaching heartbreak kinda breaks his own heart in a way. 


It's just that Castiel is his best friend. They've got years of history, and now they've got years ahead of them (hopefully). Dean has hurt Castiel in a lot of ways, and vise versa, but never a direct, emotional hit like this. He doesn't want to do this, but he knows it will just be worse in the long run if they don't handle it now. 


When they make it into Castiel's room, Dean is so laden down with dread that his shoulders are slumped. He chews his bottom lip, tapping his fist into his palm, awkwardly standing in the middle of the room. Castiel leans against his desk, arms folded defensively in front of him, not looking at Dean at all. It's a disaster already.


"Cas," Dean says as gently as possible. 


"I know," Castiel tells him. He turns his head and looks Dean directly in the eye. "I know, Dean." 


Swallowing, Dean mumbles, "It's not—you know I'm not… And you, Cas, you're—I mean, you know you're important to me. I don't care if you're—I don't even care that you feel that way about me. Well, not like that. I'm not saying it doesn't matter, or whatever. It does. You're feelings are—" 


"Dean," Castiel cuts in calmly, "you're not in love with me. You do not want to be with me, sexually or romantically. You care for me, but that is all. I know." 


"You're my best friend, Cas," Dean says weakly, because that's all he can say. 


Castiel nods. "I know that, too. I'm very aware of all these things. It's alright, Dean." 


"If I—" Dean snaps his mouth shut, then clears his throat. "Just, if there's something I can do to make it easier to me, I guess, I'd do it. I figured me being me would be reason enough, actually." 


"You being you is why I love you," Castiel says, as if it's the simplest thing in the world to say, as if that has absolutely no effect on Dean at all. 


It does, is the thing. 


If Dean were in some sort of romance novel, he'd probably swoon. He is not, so he does not, but he kinda understands why people in those novels do. It's pretty sweet of Castiel to say something like that, and Dean can't help how nice it is to hear. 


It's selfish of him to want to hear it again, and more. He can't reciprocate, so it's just—it's very fucked up of him, actually. So, he just stands there, aware that he's blushing like a goddamn idiot, flustered more than he ever has been before. Trust Castiel to be so blunt about it, so open and so fucking endearing. 


Castiel, at least, seems to find his response vaguely amusing. His eyes trace Dean's face, lingering on what Dean knows is a blush. His lips quirk up. 


"Right," Dean says eventually, gruffly. He looks down at his shoes. "I'm not gonna tell you how to live your life, man. It's—you know, yours. Do your thing, love who you love, whatever. I can't really stop you from loving me, if that's what you've decided to do, but I don't—I can't—" 


"I know," Castiel murmurs, still just smiling a little, not looking heartbroken at all. He inclines his head and lets his arms drop, releasing a small sigh. "Don't worry about it, Dean, that's all I ask." 


"So we're—" Dean risks a glance up, swallowing thickly. "We're good?" 


Castiel hums. "We're good." 



The third thing that happens is Sam finds out. Dean never mentioned it, mostly because it was too hard to talk about, and also because he figured Castiel wouldn't want anyone to know. He figured wrong. 


The first week that Castiel is back skates by rather calmly, all things considered. He fits seamlessly into their routine, but he would, because he always has. He shows absolutely no signs of being heartbroken, nor does he make his feelings overly obvious. It is both a relief and sort of sad, though Dean can't exactly explain why. He doesn't examine it too closely, and he tries to stop watching for anything, but only manages it by half. 


Either way, Castiel hunkers down with them every day in front of his very own laptop and phone to look for a case, occasionally texting Claire and Eileen—the first for obvious reasons, the second because, apparently, her and Castiel are friends. Dean has watched them on a video call. Eileen calls them Zombie Buddies because they've both come back from the dead, and Castiel lets her, despite the fact that it's inaccurate and he'd protest if it was literally anyone else saying it. 


Sam says that Eileen likes talking to Castiel because he knows sign language—he knows every language, really—so that's pretty cute. Just objectively. That Castiel is friends with Sam's girlfriend. Not that—




Anyway, Dean has a new jacket. It's an actual hoodie, no zipper or anything and one big pocket on the front. He only bought it because it has all of Led Zeppelin's greatest hits listed on the back. It's black and very comfortable, loose pretty much everywhere, and he'll never tell another soul that he generally feels warm, small, and safe in the damn thing. 


He'll never wear it out, but he wears it around the Bunker a lot. Practically every day. He even sleeps in it sometimes, hood up, stretched-out sleeves slipping over his hands. Worse yet, he even falls asleep at the map-table with it on, face buried in the warmth of the sleeves, hood over his head. 


He wakes from one such nap to a broad, warm hand pressing into his shoulder, gently shaking it. He jolts awake immediately, blinking around blearily until he sees Castiel standing right next to him. Castiel smiles, a small thing, fond. There's a quiet thump as he sits down a cup of coffee right in front of Dean. 


"I was sleeping again?" Dean mutters with a grimace, reaching up to rub at his face, the sleeve of his hoodie soft and warm against his cheek. 


Castiel nods. "Yes. Have you not been sleeping well at night, Dean?" 


Truthfully, Dean hasn't. He doesn't know why, but he keeps pushing his exhaustion as far as it will go, staying up until he's so tired that he falls off into sleep so deep he can't even dream. He doesn't know what he's so worried that he'll see in his dreams, or what they'll be about, just that he is. 


"I'm fine," Dean says, reaching for his coffee and taking an appreciative sip. "Thanks, Cas." 


"You're welcome," Castiel replies easily, moving to sit in the chair right next to him. 


Sam, from the other side of the table, lets out a snort. His eyes are bright, playful. "Why didn't I get a cup of coffee, Cas? What, are you his wife now?" 


It's a joke. 


Dean knows that it's a joke. Sam would never say anything like that if he knew the full story, if he knew about Castiel's preferences. He's not offensive like that. He's just teasing, just like he would tease Dean, just because he's in a good mood and wants to joke around and doesn't have any idea that it could hurt Castiel's feelings at all. 


Despite this, Dean is bristling immediately. He goes tense in his seat, jaw clenched. He and Sam have fought in the past. Hell, they've even fought with fists and kicking and stupid brother shit like that. It's not even the first time that Dean has ever wanted to punch Sam in the face over Castiel, and it probably won't be the last. 


However, Castiel just hums and says, "No, that would be inaccurate. I'd be a husband, not a wife. Also, Dean would never marry me." 


"Yeah," Sam teases, still laughing a little, "but who would wanna marry that asshole anyway?" 


Again, a joke. Dean's not upset about this one. 


"I would," Castiel replies simply, staring right at Sam with a steady expression. He doesn't look at Dean, doesn't show an ounce of trepidation. He speaks as calm as a breeze in the spring. "I would be honored to, in fact." 


Dean slurps his coffee, hiding behind it, face feeling hot. He's goddamn flustered again. Castiel is so fucking straightforward. Well, not straight, but still. He's just unafraid to say what the fuck he means, and apparently he means that he would absolutely be down to marry Dean, which is… 


That's a lot, actually. Dean hasn't given much thought to marriage. He just...doesn't think about it. He doesn't think he wants it. It surprises him a little that Castiel does. Or, well, he'd be open to it, at least. God, the balls of fucking steel he must have to be completely okay with the idea of Dean Winchester being his ball-and-chain. Jesus Christ. 


And still, it's really nice. It's kinda sweet, actually. What's Dean supposed to do? Act like that's not a really charming thing to hear about himself, that someone actually wants him like that? So, yeah, he's a little flustered about it, sue him. 


All the teasing drains out of Sam's face as he realizes that Castiel is being serious, and he very softly says, "Oh. I mean—right, okay. Should I, um, leave you two alone to talk, or…?" 


"Jesus Christ, there's nothing to talk about," Dean says, shaking his head at Sam. 


"There's not?" Sam asks doubtfully. 


"Dean is already aware of my feelings for him," Castiel informs Sam helpfully. 


Sam's eyes flick to Dean, wide open and stunned, a bit of worry mixed in there, too. "You are?" 


"Yup." Dean coughs. "We've already talked about it, Sam. It's fine. Don't worry about it." 


"Oh," Sam says, "right." 


"I could make you coffee, if you'd like," Castiel offers a little sheepishly. "Admittedly, my mind went to Dean first because I'm in love with him. I'm not in love with you. Sorry." 


Dean chokes on a laugh, hiding behind his coffee again. Castiel is so earnest about it, too. It shouldn't be so funny because he's just spewing his feelings everywhere, but it is when he seems so apologetic for not being in love with Sam instead. 


"No, that's okay," Sam mutters, his eyebrows raising up as he waves a hand. "That's—I mean, I'm glad. Well, actually, kinda offended, not gonna lie. Is it my hair? Am I too nice? It's because I'm too nice, isn't it? Cas, we gotta talk about your taste in men, dude." 


"I'd rather not," Castiel tells him wearily. 


Dean nearly inhales coffee up his nose with how hard he snorts, and Sam chuckles heartily before saying, "Yeah, fair enough, man." 


Castiel pauses, then says, "It's not the hair." 


"Ha," Sam declares, smirking at Dean in triumph, smug as shit for no reason, "you hear that? It's not the hair." 


Dean flips him off. 


And that, shockingly enough, is that. 



The fourth thing that happens is Dean gets jealous. He does not know why. He is not prepared for it. Castiel doesn't even seem to notice it happening. 


The second week after Castiel is back flies by, and Dean falls into an easy routine with him again. It's unspoken that Castiel will just be with Sam and Dean now all the time. No one asks him to leave, and Dean won't let that happen, even if he hasn't said that out loud. Fortunately, Castiel isn't trying to go anywhere, so that saves him from having that conversation. Castiel is just here now, and probably will be until they all die together at an old age, ideally. Dean doesn't bring that up, either. 


So, it's pretty simple. It's a lot simpler than Dean would have thought, considering that Castiel confessed his love and has since made absolutely no moves to hide it. He's not shoving it in Dean's face, but he doesn't shy away from it either. 


In fact, he doesn't shy away from Dean at all. He touches Dean with familiarity, just like they've always done. He stands close as he always has, often close enough that their arms brush and their elbows bump. They watch movies together and Castiel still comes out to the garage when Dean gives Baby a wash, just to sit down and dip the sponge, listening to Dean explain cars to him without ever retaining any of the information because he doesn't really seem to care, even if he apparently enjoys listening to Dean care about it. Honestly, things are just like they used to be with him. 


The only difference is that Castiel sometimes bluntly speaks about his feelings in a way that makes Dean blush and feel guilty every single time. It flusters him without fail, no matter how much he tries to prepare himself for it. 


It's just that Castiel likes him. Like, a lot. He really, really does. It's an earnest, honest, unending thing that Dean can barely fathom. It's also undeniable. Castiel doesn't give him the chance to deny it, in fact, throwing around the fact that he likes Dean's laugh, or his eyes, or the way he walks and talks and simply is, as if none of these things aren't going to make Dean turn bright red and want to hide. 


It's so much worse because it doesn't stop there. If Dean says something bad about himself, Castiel argues with him on it. He can't say that he's an idiot without Castiel stepping in to say that, actually, he's very intelligent. He can't say that he's an asshole without Castiel telling him that he's more, that he's good with kids and kind and easy to get along with and actually quite funny. He can't say that he looks like shit without Castiel staring at him blankly and, in a very flat voice, declaring that he should shut up because there's no one else more beautiful. 


At some point, Dean's gonna get around to asking Castiel to stop complimenting him and saying these kinds of things, but it's really hard to do when he's so tongue-tied that he can't speak for a good few minutes after the praise. By the time his blush fades and he can speak again, Castiel has already focused on something else, completely unbothered. 


Sam, of course, finds all of this hilarious. 


Anyway, as the second week comes to a close, they find a case. It's not too far, just out on a ranch in Oklahoma. Actually, it's a Hunter who reaches out to them for help, a man they haven't ever met before, but one who apparently heard of them through Claire and Kaia. He was told they were looking for something to do, and he needs some assistance, so it all works out for everyone involved, really. 


The man's name is Shawn, and his horses are being possessed. When they first arrive and all meet, Dean's first thought is that Shawn is really fucking cool. He's got big, brown eyes and messy hair that curls around his ears, one of which has an earring in it. There's a scar where a dimple would be, just a little bit longer than one, and it deepens when he smiles at them. He also wears a cowboy hat and cowboy boots with pink stitching and spurs that jangle a little every time he walks. He's sticking to the whole cowboy theme, in fact, complete with chaps over jeans and a leather vest over flannel. He's even got the large belt buckle with bullhorns on it. 


Sam shoots Dean a knowing look the moment he starts grinning, which makes sense because this might be one of the best cases they've had in a while. 


Dean's appreciation of Shawn, the ranch, and his whole cowboy get-up is derailed rather quickly. Shawn's got a voice like honey, you see, somewhere between a southern drawl and midwestern one. Dean knows all about the drawl, and he knows how one deepens their drawl when going fishing for something or someone. He's used it himself at bars, hitting on women and letting his voice drop low and curl with something sweet and slightly dangerous at the same exact time. He's perfected it. 


This means he knows exactly what's happening when Shawn takes one look at Castiel and then very firmly does not look away while saying, "Well, hello, and who are you? Claire didn't mention that the Winchesters were traveling with an angel." 


Which, of course, that's just a lucky guess, but come the fuck on. Really? Dean's distaste slams into him hard, and fast. That's the best he's got? Castiel, at least, seems similarly unimpressed. He squints at Shawn in clear confusion. 


"If they did not mention it, how did you become aware so quickly?" Castiel asks. 


"Oh, wow," Shawn says, his eyebrows flying up. His grin grows, turns a little sharper, more pleased. "Ah, well, someone's confident, aren't they? Alright, fair enough. I figure I walked right into that one. You got a name, angel?" 


Castiel frowns, but he dutifully says, "Castiel," and allows Shawn to shake his hand, not seeming to notice that the contact lingers for a beat too long. 


Dean notices. 


Shawn is pretty chatty, all things considered, but mostly where Castiel is concerned. He is entirely focused on him, barely sparing Sam and Dean a second glance when it's apparently so much fun to look at Castiel instead. The sad part is, he doesn't actually know Castiel is an angel, not genuinely, so it's not even about that. He just—he's into Castiel. Openly. Obviously. Shamelessly. 


And that's fine. That's cool. Whatever. It isn't Dean's business. He doesn't really care. He just wishes Shawn and his stupid boot-spurs would fucking shut the hell up for five minutes so they could figure out why horses are being possessed. 


Shawn invites them in the house before taking them out to see the horses, and he insists on getting them some drinks. He tells them how he got the scar on his face—not related to a hunt, but rather through bull-riding because he apparently does that, too, but who even cares? Not Dean. Shawn also tells them his age (five years younger than Dean, not that anyone is counting), how he got into the life (a run in with some vampires at seventeen), and his long and tremulous journey to fulfill his great ambition to be a ranch-owner who hunts monsters on the weekends (his aspirations reached, because he had dreams and was determined enough to make them happen for himself, meaning he's probably not as fucked up as Dean is, not that anyone is comparing anything). 


Anyway, Dean is sure with a sudden conviction that cowboys (or, at least, modern ones much younger than him) are overrated. 


"What about you?" Shawn asks, directing his question to, notably, Castiel and no one else. 


Castiel blinks at him. "What about me?" 


"Ya know," Shawn persists, "how's life treatin' you? What do you do for fun? Hobbies? Interests? Come through Oklahoma often?" 


He's as subtle as a brick to the face. 


"Life," Castiel says slowly, awkwardly. He doesn't seem to know how to answer these questions. " Watch movies? I enjoy time with Sam and Dean. Hunting. I suppose I have been through Oklahoma frequently. I am not very far." 


Shawn's eyes light up. "You ever rode a horse?" 


"Not in the past century," Castiel says. 


"Oh, right." Shawn laughs like Castiel has told the funniest joke to ever grace his ears. He leans forward, leans in, and he grins to flash his stupid not-cool scar at Castiel. "Do you want to?" 


Castiel's eyebrows furrow. "Is it safe?" 


"I won't let you fall," Shawn assures him. 


"Okay," Sam suddenly blurts out, dropping his glass to the table—in Shawn's very nice, rustic kitchen that Dean hates all the more for being undeniably cool—and clearing his throat. "This has been… Uh, we're here for the case, so maybe we should focus on that? So, the horses?" 


"That's what I was asking," Castiel reiterates, frowning at Shawn. He tilts his head, and Shawn's lips part around a sigh. A dreamy one. "Is it safe to ride the horses if they're possessed?" 


Shawn clears his throat, blinking rapidly, even as he stares at Castiel like he's the next coming of Jesus or something. "No. I mean, uh, some of the horses are, but some aren't. I don't really know why." 


"That's what we're here to find out," Sam says, like a reminder. "So...the horses?" 


With the prodding, Shawn takes them to the stables. He tries to talk to Castiel the whole way there, and Castiel doesn't seem to mind that at all, but Sam shoulders his way in between them and takes control of the conversation. Castiel doesn't seem to mind that either, simply letting Sam do it. 


Dean hangs back and listens with half an ear, mostly distracted with glaring at Shawn's pink-stitched boots through narrowed eyes. Objectively, they're very nice boots—clearly broken in, well-worn, and while the pink is a surprise (and clearly a statement), it's actually quite nice. On Shawn, however, they're very stupid and Dean does not like them. 


There's a lot of talk about research and lore while meeting the horses—they only get possessed at night, which is important for some reason. Shawn insists that they just stay at the ranch and hook up to the Wifi instead of taking the half-hour drive back into town, only to have to turn around and come right back when the sun starts setting. Castiel says it's a good idea (in his defense, it really is), and so Sam agrees with a tight smile and a jerky nod. 


Meanwhile, Dean is now glaring at Shawn's hat. It's black and has some feathers and beads on it, and it unfortunately looks cool—just objectively, not on Shawn, obviously. 


"Like I said," Shawn is telling Castiel, "only some of the horses get possessed. I take the ones who don't across the pasture into another stable for the night, but I have to bring them back in the morning. They're something of a family, so they like to be socialized with each other." 


Castiel hums. "You leave the ones that do get possessed alone?" 


"Yeah." Shawn frowns, upsetting his hat to scratch the back of his head. "Spirits, or ghosts, or whatever aren't really my specialty. I'm mostly about the solid monsters—vamps, werewolves, things like that. But Claire said the Winchesters would be able to help. It's real nice of you all to come out here for me." 


"Claire wasn't interested?" Castiel asks, squinting. 


Shawn grins. "She doesn't like horses. Wouldn't say it, but I got the feeling she's scared of 'em. Her girlfriend, Kaia, took right to them. Even rode one. I thought Claire's eyes were gonna roll right outta her head. I'm pretty sure she drooled." 


"Ah," Castiel says awkwardly. 


"Oh, right," Shawn mutters, grimacing a little. He coughs and smiles sheepishly. "She's like your kid, isn't she? When I asked why the Winchesters would ever help me, she kinda hinted that you'd insist on it. Something about you feeling obligated to help her out and look after her. I'm guessing you don't wanna hear about the kid you took under your wing being sexually active and stuff. But hey, listen, man, it's really healthy, ya know? It's good that she's comfortable with it, and that you help with that." 


Castiel blinks at him, looking more lost by the second. Dean doesn't know if it's because Claire somehow inadvertently insinuated that Castiel looks after her, or if it's because Castiel is just now forced to think about Claire being sexually active, or if it has to with Shawn saying something about him taking Claire under his wing—he would take it literally, even if it's not. Whichever it is, Castiel looks a little stunned, staring at Shawn with wide, beguiling eyes and parted lips, and Dean doesn't really like that at all, thank you very much. 


Shawn likes it, obviously, because he grins and winks at Castiel before continuing, "Anyway, you wanna help me ride the safe horses across the way? You said you know how, right?" 


"I do, yes," Castiel says. 


"Great." Shawn walks over to where yet another cowboy hat is hanging off a hook in one of the posts, this one a deep, leaf-brown. "Well, you can't ride without a hat. House rules, sorry." 


Castiel squints, sharing a look with Sam, who has his eyebrows raised and his lips pursed. When Shawn approaches him, taking off his own hat, he frowns and says, "What are you—" 


"You'll look better in mine than I do," Shawn informs him, reaching out to settle his hat on Castiel's head, replacing his own with the one off the hook. "Come on, I'll get you started with Serenity. She's the calmest out of the bunch." 


Shawn's right about one thing—Castiel does wear the hat better. Objectively. Just. 


Anyway, Castiel is soon guiding a horse out of the stables, while Dean is just staring at him with something really fucking weird happening in his chest. But Shawn and Castiel don't linger, and it isn't long before the horses are picking up speed to gallop across the pasture and away. 


Dean stares after them for a while, then spends a solid minute imagining putting a brick to Shawn's face—roughly, of course—to show him the art of fucking subtlety. It is only after he's divulged in this, admittedly, violent fantasy that he comes to the rather abrupt realization that he's jealous. 


Ah, well. That's not...great. 


He doesn't like it, of course, but that's not the worst part. No, it's that he doesn't understand it. He has never, not once, cared about someone being into Castiel. Plenty of women are. It makes sense because Castiel is—just objectively—handsome. Devastatingly so, in fact. So, it just—it makes sense, that's all. Women aren't blind. 


Apparently, Shawn isn't either. Which, Dean spends a second of his time to panic that he's not being progressive enough, or whatever the fuck the kids call it these days. Is it because it's a man? No, no, that makes no sense. Cas likes men, and Dean is totally cool with that, just like he was cool about Charlie, and Claire, and Kaia, and Jesse, and so on and so on. He's really cool about it, so the ghost of daddy issues past can fuck right the fuck off. 


It's just the idea of it, maybe? Castiel feeling for someone else the way he feels for Dean, and wow, that's probably one of the most selfish things Dean has ever done. What, he's that desperate for someone to actually like him—even if he doesn't like them back—that he gets pissed off by competition? Not that Dean poses any kind of competition at all, because he's not even competing. Shawn would win by default, and that's somehow annoying, too. 


He must be pretty transparent, because Sam steps up beside him and mutters, "I don't think I've ever seen you get jealous like this before." 


"Shut up, Sammy," Dean says reflexively. 


"Dude, you've nearly got smoke coming out of your ears," Sam notes, amused. "Should I be worried? You're not gonna sacrifice Shawn to his possessed horses, are you?" 


Now, there's an idea. Dean immediately grimaces at that thought and cuts it off at the quick, shaking his head. "I'm fine. It's—ya know, whatever. Cas is a big boy. He can handle himself." 


"Wow." Sam's eyebrows climb up his forehead, hands stuffed in his pockets. "That's very...mature of you, man. Good for you." 


"It's weird," Dean mumbles, eyebrows furrowing. He doesn't mean to say it, but he can't help it, because it is weird. "For me to be—it's weird, right?" 


"No, I don't think so. It makes sense," Sam assures him, giving a shrug. 


That, at least, soothes Dean's nerves a little. If Sam doesn't think it's weird, then maybe it's not. He's generally got a better measurement for what's socially acceptable than Dean does, in any case. 


The possessed horses turn out to be related to some of the Headless Horseman lore somehow, riders possessing horses and riding to go behead people, except they apparently can't figure out how to leave the property, so Shawn is the only target available. Dean's tasked with finding the thing that brought them all here, and it turns out to be an old horseshoe that Shawn bought at a rodeo auction and placed in the tables for luck. Dean has to salt and burn it down while Castiel and Shawn ride horses to distract the possessed horses, all the while Sam is trying to outrun an approaching beheading. 


So, that's great. 


Anyway, all in a night's work. Everything is cleaned up rather nice and neat—no horses harmed, everyone's heads still attached to their necks, and Dean even made sure to handle his role without sacrificing Shawn to anything. Objectively, this would be a great, fun case that Dean would feel better walking away from. 


But then Shawn suggests they can stay the night and gives Castiel a very unsubtle look when he does, so Dean's mood only plummets further. Shawn has absolutely no problem making his intentions clear, and this only infuriates Dean more. Fortunately, Sam is the best brother to ever brother because he declines for everyone and insists they need to leave. 


Before they go, Shawn smiles at Castiel and says, "If you're ever around again, you should stop by and see me, angel. You're welcome anytime." 


And Castiel blinks, pauses, then replies, "Thank you, Shawn, I will do that." 


This very short exchange sours Dean's mood for the next three days straight, and while Sam is smart enough to stay out of his way, Castiel is not. That means he's an asshole to Castiel for absolutely no reason, because he has no right, and so they spend three days arguing vaguely about things that neither of them will be able to make sense of later. 


Dean brings up Shawn too much. Castiel gets annoyed when he keeps doing it. Sam does a lot of wincing and slowly backing out of rooms. 


In the end, though, the whole thing blows over. Castiel never finds out why Dean was angry to begin with, and Dean prefers it that way. 



The fifth thing that happens is that Castiel becomes human. His reintroduction into this is getting sick, and it's not a good time for anyone involved. 


It's a month after Castiel has been back, and it starts with a very persistent cough. Dean notices it first, slightly surprised, but Castiel waves him off and claims that he's fine. Two days later, Castiel is found in the bathroom being very sick, and Sam—the one who found him—freaks the fuck out and calls Dean. 


Castiel is definitely sick. He seems to have all the symptoms in the book—headache, fever, cough, unable to keep food down, aching body. This very promptly (and surprisingly) turns him into a big baby. A very grumpy, big baby, but still. 


Dean is pretty much tasked to take care of him, which feels kind of unfair, but Sam just raises his hands and declares that it's his job. Why he thinks that, Dean doesn't know. He's kinda sure that Sam is just tired of Castiel metaphorically biting his head off with scathing remarks just because he clearly doesn't feel well. So, it's on Dean to endure it. 


It's not so bad, really. From his perspective, Castiel has all rights to be cranky. He's not feeling too hot, clearly, and it goes without saying that he no longer has his grace, so he's dealing with that loss on top of everything else. Also, Dean's pretty damn sure that Castiel has never been sick before, so it's probably not a fun introduction when his immune system kicks back online and puts him through hell. 


Despite himself, Dean can't help but pity him. 


Getting Castiel to take medicine is harder than it would be to get a toddler to sit still when getting a shot. He's in a pissy mood always, and he flat out refuses because it tastes bad or makes his stomach feel worse. Dean's the only one who can argue him into it, and Sam has given up trying, which also might be another reason that he washed his hands of it and left it up to Dean. 


The sickness peaks about three days after, and Dean considers taking Castiel to the hospital when he sleeps through nearly a whole day and burns a fever so high that his sheets are soaked through with sweat. However, the next day, his fever breaks and he's left on the slow decline that will eventually get him to feeling alright again. He's still not great, mostly exhausted and feeling like shit, but it's clear that he's going to get better. 


Despite this, Castiel is still grumpy. 


"No," Castiel mumbles, feebly pushing Dean's wrist away when he holds out a couple of pills. 


Dean sighs. "Come on, man, you've gotten through the worst of it. Take this and you'll be right as rain in just a couple of more days, I promise." 


"No," Castiel repeats, squinting at him in visible annoyance now. "I'm going back to sleep." 


"You can go back to sleep after you've taken this. Stop arguing with me about it, Cas," Dean tells him, raising his eyebrows as he holds out the pills more insistently, along with a cup of water. 


"Dean," Castiel protests in a growl, only to fall off into a rattling cough. So damn stubborn. Straining vocal chords and making it worse. 


Dean gives him a pointed look and shoves the pills closer. Castiel has his hand pressed flat against his chest as his coughing subsides, but he glares at Dean as if he's personally offended him. With a mild grunt to show his disapproval, he lets Dean pass him the pills and water, swallowing them down with a scowl. He flops back into his pillow with a huff, after, frowning as he lays back. 


For a long time, Dean just sits there and stares at Castiel, taking in the permanent tension between his eyebrows, the way a sweat-damp strand of his hair falls lopsided over his forehead. He looks very tired and unhappy, and Dean's got this weird, inexplicable tenderness in his chest that he can't make sense of. It's warm, like an ember flaring soft and bright beneath his ribs. 


"I'm sorry this is happening to you, Cas," Dean says softly. "It wouldn't be if you hadn't—if you didn't—" 


Castiel's slightly foggy blue eyes slide over to him, lips twitching down. "This is a part of being human, Dean, and I chose to be. It is, admittedly, but I would choose no differently now than I did then. You have no reason to apologize." 


"Yeah, but—" Dean pauses to lick his lips, clearing his throat as he averts his eyes. "You only made that choice to save me, because you—because of how you feel. If I hadn't almost died—" 


"I do not regret it," Castiel croaks, drawing his gaze. His eyes are soft, fond. "Forgive me for saying so, but I find myself almost...grateful. Your near-death isn't something to be thankful for, and those are not the circumstances in which I cherish being back, but I do, frankly, cherish being back. To be here with you is… I am happy to have made the choice I did, and I would gladly be ill every day in exchange."


It's such a nice thing to say, to hear, and Dean can feel his face getting hot in response immediately. He fiddles with his hands in his lap a little awkwardly, chewing the inside of his bottom lip. He's sitting on the edge of Castiel's bed, perched by his hip, and he's trying so hard to smother the pleasant burst of delight that quivers in his chest. 


All because Castiel is happy to stay here with him, because he likes Dean so much, because he clearly thinks Dean is worth it. And it's—


Fuck, it just feels so good to hear that. 


Castiel is so open about these things, and Dean almost wishes he wouldn't be. He thinks he's going to get used to it, to the feeling of being looked at as something other than his worst parts. Castiel had told him that he knows how Dean sees himself, that he sees Dean differently, better, and loves him both for what he sees and regardless of it. 


Dean hadn't thought that he was the type of person who would flourish and feel a surge in self-worth under praise—and he's not, not really, because he still thinks badly of himself most of the time—but it is just so, so rewarding to hear Castiel express how he feels about Dean, how he perceives Dean. 


And sure, there's that natural knee-jerk instinct to deny or refuse to believe anything Castiel says, because honestly, why the fuck would he love a disaster like Dean Winchester? There's even that harsh response of Dean's visceral discomfort because maybe Castiel doesn't actually mean that, can't mean that if he doesn't know how fucked up Dean is, almost like an imposter. 


But then Castiel says things like this, things like he would be sick every day so long as he got to spend them with Dean, and that's just—it's the sort of thing that forces him to accept it. He can't refuse to, not when Castiel is so sincere, not when he means it in the way promises are supposed to be—never broken, cradled safely in trust that could make someone float while taking a leap into nothingness, completely blindfolded. 


"You're a real charmer, huh?" Dean whispers, staring at Castiel with a lump in his throat. 


Castiel's lips twitch. "I do my best. I'm trying to woo you, Dean. Is it working?" 


Huffing a weak laugh, Dean shakes his head and mutters, "Maybe a little. You gotta stop saying shit like this, man. If you ain't careful, you're gonna be running off with my heart one of these days, and then I'm gonna have to kick your ass." 


"Mm." Castiel looks at him with a small smile, amused and still so unbearably fond, and yet so tired as well. "It would be worth it." 


"Stop, you cheese ball," Dean mumbles, rolling his eyes. "Your meds are kicking in." 


Castiel hums again. "Yes, I think so."


"You should sleep." 


"That would be nice." 


Dean looks away for a beat, then searches Castiel's face as his eyes flutter. He has long eyelashes. Dean has never noticed that before. The wrinkle in between his eyebrows smooth out slowly, but the stubborn lock of his hair doesn't move. Dean is reaching for it before he even makes the decision to, then halting his hand in mid-air. 


"Hey, Cas," Dean murmurs. 


"Hm?" Castiel's eyes flutter open, half-lidded, and his gaze immediately latches onto the hand over his forehead. He blinks slowly, sort of just lazily looking at it with mild interest, and then his eyes gradually turn to meet Dean's. "Yes?" 


"You have—your hair—" Dean makes a helpless gesture with his hand, fingers twitching. "Sorry, I just—uh, can I fix it?" 


Castiel closes his eyes again. "Yes." 


Dean does, sliding his finger underneath the strand of hair, pushing it back from Castiel's forehead. He's careful not to touch skin. "There. Get some sleep, Cas. You'll feel better tomorrow." 


"Okay," Castiel murmurs. "Thank you, Dean." 


"No problem," Dean replies, and then just—doesn't move. He means to stand up, but gets distracted by watching Castiel's face smooth out in sleep. 


Castiel's breathing evens out, the slightly bubbly sound in his lungs less pronounced. His wheeze is going away. The pinched strain around his eyes from his headache is smoothing out as well. He's getting better. He's fine. Human, but fine, and apparently happy about it, all because of Dean. 


There's something kind of...intense about that, special, precious. Dean doesn't know if anyone has ever made him feel—well, loved. Not like this. 


"For what it's worth," Dean says quietly, watching Castiel sleep gently, peacefully, "I'm grateful, too." 



The sixth thing that happens is that Claire punches him in the face—a full right hook that lands spectacularly well and shocks the shit out of him. In his defence, Dean doesn't see it coming. 


Two months after Castiel is back, they're in the Dean Cave, watching the Bee Movie—because Dean made the mistake of letting Castiel pick what to watch this time—when a phone starts ringing in the middle of the courtroom scene. Dean's not invested or anything, not at all, but he cuts an annoyed look at Castiel anyway while he fumbles for his phone. 


Again, Dean is not invested in the movie. It's stupid. It's about a human falling in love with a bee, and there's nothing interesting about it. Still, he misses most of whatever Castiel is talking about to whoever he's talking to. He has just enough mind to make sure it isn't Shawn—a sort of instinctive thing he does without meaning to—and then he stops paying attention at all. He's just watching to fill Castiel in on whatever he misses, that's it. 


A beat later, however, Castiel reaches for the remote and cuts the TV off without even batting an eye, ignoring Dean's immediate protest as he stands to his feet and says, "Claire and Kaia are passing through. They thought they would stop by since they're so close, so they'll be here in the next twenty minutes or so. Cook enough for five." 


"Yes, dear," Dean says dryly, rolling his eyes as he heaves himself out of his fucking fantastic chair. 


"Make it six," Sam says, his head poking in the doorway. "Eileen is coming. Hey, was that the Bee Movie? Eileen loves that movie." 


Dean crosses his arms. "Cas made me watch it. Anyway," he mutters, clapping his hands together and nodding, "cooking for six, got it. A full house. This should be fun." 


And it is, really. Claire and Kaia arrive an hour before Eileen does, and they both seem happy just to rest for a little while. They just got off a hunt in Colorado, apparently, and they've been working hard for a little over a week straight now. Dean can sympathize, so he passes out beers and ushers them to sit down at the table where Castiel can play host and Sam can keep looking at the door, waiting for Eileen to finally show up. He's like a puppy waiting for his owner to get home—it's mostly adorable, and Dean makes sure to tease him relentlessly about it, as his job as the older brother requires. 


Eileen does eventually come bustling in, talking a mile a minute as she breezes right past her own boyfriend to give Dean a hug first, because she's Dean's favorite little shit in the whole world. She gives Castiel a hug second, hiding a smile while Sam frowns in his sad-puppy way, and then proceeds to talk to the girls and ignore Sam for a bit longer. Dean adores her. He's never adored anyone more. 


Eventually, Sam gets her attention, and she turns with a broad grin, saying, "Oh, sorry, Sam, were you saying something? I didn't hear you." 


She loves that joke. Dean loves her. 


It's nice to hear her peal of laughter when Sam gives her a flat look and tugs her out of the room to, presumably, go do things he can't do in polite company. Dean considers teasing him about it, but Eileen flips him off behind Sam's back, like she can sense it, and so he's too busy snorting on laughter to come up with anything good. Sometimes, Dean's convinced that Sam doesn't even realize how impish and ridiculous his girlfriend is. 


Castiel is left to entertain Claire and Kaia, though that doesn't seem like much of a task. They're both apparently very happy to drink their beers and talk, usually bickering with each other in a way that feels oddly familiar. Dean, on the other hand, is left to handle dinner. It's no small task, considering he has to feed six people, accommodate Sam's aversion to anything greasy, and work around Castiel's weird, picky eating habits. He has a thing about certain textures, so Dean has to work with what he's got. 


In the end, the perfect solution is breakfast for dinner. Pancakes are simple, and he even digs into Sam's stash of fresh fruit to steal some blueberries, to give that option as well. He has chocolate chips hidden away for a rainy day—meaning they're stashed away from Cas, who enjoys them, just waiting for the next time Dean has a horror movie marathon. It's a little bit of a sacrifice to use it, but chocolate chip pancakes are too good of an opportunity to pass up, really. 


The rest is a shitload of eggs—and egg whites to preemptively shut Sam the hell up—and sausage, bacon, and a truly tall stack of toast. He even makes Sam a side of his special, healthy bacon and sausage—all in the oven to reduce the amount of grease—because he's feeling generous. Dean ends the peak of his culinary career by bringing out two jars of jam—strawberry and grape, respectively—to stick butter knives in them and let everyone have the fuck at it however the fuck they want. 


"Aw, Dean," Sam says when he sees the egg whites, apparently touched. 


Dean scoffs. "Shut the hell up." 


"Dude, did you get into my blueberries?" Sam sputters, having found the blueberry pancakes, no longer touched. 


"Pfft," Dean says, then doesn't elaborate as he hastily ducks into conversation with Eileen. 


It's a really nice dinner, all things considered. Dean likes having family here like this, even if he's not going to be the first person to say it out loud. Claire and Kaia in general are just fun to spend time with. They're young and at ease, talking about hunts or talking about life or talking about really nothing at all, and Dean finds it relaxing to follow along the flow of their conversation. Eileen, of course, feels something like a partner in crime. They have a lot of laughs together, teasing each other, working as a team to gently and lovingly humiliate Sam. 


Castiel has a place with everyone as well. He and Claire have an odd, not-talked-about relationship that belays a deep fondness for one another. Kaia seems nervous around Castiel at times, like she's worried about making a good impression, which is—objectively—hilarious. Castiel and Eileen, of course, get along like a house on fire, both because Castiel knows sign language and because they both have an appreciation for the same types of books. 


By the time dinner is over, everyone is sated and relaxed, having nearly laughed themselves to tears at least once, though usually more than that—even Castiel, who doesn't often laugh as hard as he did today. Dean feels good. Really good. 


Eileen gets out of kitchen cleanup duty by dragging Sam out of the room, waggling her eyebrows pointedly, making Dean cackle, Sam blush, and the girls wolf-whistle while Castiel barely blinks or reacts at all. Dean is prepared to tackle the sheer amount of dishes with everyone else, but Claire quickly puts a stop to that. 


"No, Cas and I will handle it," Claire tells Dean, then shoots a pointed look at Kaia. "You, however, still don't know how to check the oil in a car, and I don't know who better to teach you than Dean." 


Dean is stricken immediately, staring at Kaia in genuine despair. "Wait, seriously?" 


"Yeah," Kaia admits with a sheepish, little shrug. She sighs. "It's not like I have a dad to teach me these kinds of things. Or, well, I did, but...ya know. He never got around to it, and I ran away, and then I—yeah, so, I can't be blamed." 


Claire snorts, then gestures broadly between Dean and Castiel, even towards the direction Sam and Eileen disappeared off to. "Yeah, yeah, we all have our trauma, babe, get in line. But hey, you got plenty of stand-in dads to choose from at the moment, so pick one and learn how to check the goddamn oil in a car so we don't have a repeat of last week." 


"Yes, dear," Kaia mutters, rolling her eyes as she pushes to her feet. She looks at Dean, a smile playing around her lips. "Well, come on, you heard her, dad. Do dad things and teach me how to check the oil before my girlfriend strangles me the next time my car breaks down on me when she's stranded at the hotel and can't get to me." 


Dean coughs to smother a laugh and stands up, sweeping a hand out gallantly. "Sure thing. After you, child o'mine for the next hour. We'll educate you yet on the importance of car maintenance."


Kaia chuckles as they head out to the garage. 


They do spend the next hour going over the basic rundown for car maintenance, and it's a little painful how much Kaia just flat out doesn't know. He nearly brains himself on the hood of Baby when she admits that she didn't know cars even needed water. It is agony, deep down in his car-lovin' heart. 


Really, though, Kaia's alright. They have somewhat of a shaky history, considering Dean once put a gun to her head, but she apparently doesn't hold it against him, which is nice of her. He apologizes anyway about it, because he knows he should, and she gives him a small smile while simply accepting it, no muss and no fuss. He had thought she was shy, but either Claire has brought her out of her shell a bit, or she feels more at home in her own skin, because she turns out to be really funny and easy to spend time with, so effortlessly kind. 


The dad jokes are amusing in a lighthearted way, but Dean can't help but think about how it's true for a lot of people—Hunters, especially. They don't have normal lives, so they don't always get to learn normal things, like car maintenance. They have to pick it up along the way, have to find someone to teach them or learn on their own, and it sucks. 


So, Dean goes above and beyond. He even reaches Kaia how to change a tire, which she seems to find an amusing activity for some reason. Throughout, he talks to her and finds out that Claire mostly knows all this stuff because Jody taught her, which makes Dean smile, but Kaia sort of just assumed Claire would handle it for her, so she didn't need to learn. That apparently came back to bite them in the ass later, though, and since Dean was who they saw first, before Jody, he gets the honor of teaching her. 


Dean is teaching her about how most modern cars have release-levers inside the trunk that opens it from the inside in case she's ever kidnapped, because you never know, when Claire joins them in the garage. She says something to Kaia, murmuring low in her ear, and Kaia raises her eyebrows before shaking her head and moving back into the Bunker with a quick wince in Dean's direction. 


He has just a moment to puzzle over this before Claire is marching right up to him, drawing her fist back, and punching him right in the face. Hard. 


"What the fuck?" Dean blurts out, reeling back in pure shock, startled and stunned as he watches Claire shake her hand out and glare at him. 


"Either you're the saddest excuse for a man, or you're just plain stupid," Claire tells him viciously, flexing her fingers like she wants to hit him again. Her eyes are bright and blue, furious, and she looks like Cas. "You're a piece of shit, Dean Winchester."


Dean almost says I know without even needing the context, because—well, he knows. Still, his curiosity beats out in the end and he says, "Okay, but why?" 


"Cas is the best thing that you're ever gonna get, Dean," Claire grits out, then she slices a hand through the air when he opens his mouth. "No, shut the fuck up. Listen to me, I don't give a shit if you're scared of dicks. Me too, buddy, join the club. Even so, that doesn't change that Cas—he is way, way too good for you. You'd be lucky to have him, do you hear me? You should be begging to—and instead, you broke his heart. You proud of yourself? Are you?" 


"I—what? Claire, what?" Dean sputters, rubbing his jaw, staring at her in disbelief. 


Claire narrows her eyes at him. "He loves you. He told me himself, and he didn't say—he didn't have to say that he's heartbroken. I can see it, even if you can't, or just don't care to. It's the twenty-first century, Dean, get the fuck over yourself. If he had boobs and a vagina, you'd be married to him by now. Too bad his vessel wasn't my mom, huh?" 


Dean gapes at her, his thoughts scattering in all directions, and she doesn't give him time to make sense of literally any of this. She just scoffs, then whips around with her long, blonde hair flying as she stomps her way back into the Bunker. 


He's left behind, stunned stupid and alone. 


Eventually, he starts cleaning up the tools and mess he made teaching Kaia about cars. He does it mindlessly, going through the motions, not a thought in his head. He's not hiding, not really. He's just...taking his sweet time to clean up, is all. 


He tries not to let what Claire said get to him, mostly because he's distantly aware that she only lashed out because she cares about Castiel. It makes sense that she would, especially if she believes he's heartbroken, which he's not. He isn't. 


There's no fucking way he is. 


Dean would have noticed, and he's been looking for it, looking for absolutely any hint of sadness or hurt, but there's nothing to be found. Castiel is just like he's always been around Dean. Knowing what heartbreak looks like, that's not what Castiel is experiencing. Maybe Claire hasn't ever—


And, well, no. To put it plainly, Claire has definitely experienced heartbreak before. Dean saw it. He watched her shatter apart with it when she thought Kaia died, so Claire definitely knows what it is. That doesn't explain why she thinks Castiel is dealing with it. Hell, Castiel didn't even cry. 


By the time he's thought himself in useless circles and heads back into the Bunker, Claire and Kaia are gone. Sam is likely in his room with Eileen. Castiel, however, is still in the kitchen. He's putting away the leftovers for them to eat in the morning, most likely, and Dean leans in the doorway to watch him carefully. He looks for any sign of what Claire thinks is heartbreak, but Castiel just looks really focused when stacking the bacon and sausage in the same container to put away. He seems...fine. 


Castiel eventually notices him in the doorway, startling briefly, then looking annoyed by it. He still smiles, though—a warm, genuine smile, not tinged with bitterness or pain. "Dean," he says, "I didn't see you. Claire and Kaia had to get back on the road. Kaia wanted me to tell you thank you." 


"And Claire?" Dean murmurs. 


"No messages to pass along," Castiel tells him, moving closer. Yeah, Claire clearly didn't tell him what happened, a theory proven only a moment later when Castiel jerks to a halt, gaze zeroing in on Dean's jaw where a bruise is no doubt blooming, because Claire has quite the right hook. "What happened? You're—" 


"I'm fine," Dean interrupts quickly, waving a hand lazily. "Fucking around with cars are dangerous sometimes, man. You know how it is." 


Castiel narrows his eyes, clearly not believing him, but he thankfully lets it go. "I do not know how it is, Dean, you know that." 


"Yeah, I know." Dean huffs a small laugh and shuffles into the kitchen, not really thinking about it as he does it. Castiel is beside the counter, so Dean joins him there, leaning up against it with his arms crossed. "It was—uh, it was a nice time, wasn't it? Dinner, I mean. With everyone here." 


"Yes," Castiel agrees instantly. 


Dean nods, bracing his hands down on the counter and looking down at his feet as he mumbles, "We should do it more often." 


"We should," Castiel says simply. 


"You liked the chocolate chip pancakes, huh?" Dean asks wryly, amused and fond. 


Castiel smiles again. "Yes, they were very good. Thank you for making the bacon how I like it. I know you prefer your bacon crispier." 


"Floppy bacon is just weird, dude." Dean shakes his head, picking up an old bickering war with ease, one they revisit frequently. "I know you've got that thing with textures and shit, but come the fuck on. I mean, seriously, crispy bacon has crunch, ya know?" 


"You complain," Castiel notes, arching an eyebrow at him, "yet you made the bacon how I eat it." 


Dean rolls his eyes. "Shut up, Cas." 


"It's very considerate of you," Castiel points out casually, calmly. "I don't think you realize how often you put others' needs before your own. It seems an instinctual thing for you. It's how you show you care. You show it in so many small ways, Dean, little things throughout the day. You make the days brighter, and I doubt you even realize it." 


Dean's face is flooding with heat instantly, the response feeling Pavlovian at this point. He automatically ducks his head and tries to stuff his hands in his pockets, only to miss entirely. He puts his hands back on the counter. There's that flood of something in his chest, hearth-warm and star-bright. 


He feels seen in the best and worst way possible. A part of him thinks that Castiel's words are a lie, but that part is quickly smothered because Castiel just doesn't lie about these sort of things. Dean doesn't think he'd trust anyone else so wholeheartedly, unwilling to believe they'd be telling the truth, but Castiel never falters in this, so simply honest. 


It's a compliment. Praise. Something a little more, too. It feels good. Dean wants him to say it again, and he's a little horrified by that desire. It's selfish of him, he knows that. The desire remains anyway. 


"Shut up, Cas," Dean repeats, this time a little softer, a little weaker, his face burning. "S'just bacon." 


"Very good bacon," Castiel counters, but he sounds amused. When Dean looks up, his lips are quirked at the corners. He shakes his head and stands up straighter, taking a step like he's about to leave the kitchen, only to come to a halt. He's stopped. By a hand. Specifically, Dean's hand, on his chest. Just sort of...keeping him there. He frowns and looks up, uncertain. "Dean? What is it?" 


"Uh," Dean says, a little unsure himself. He doesn't really know what he's doing, just that he sort of wants to do something. "Can I, um—can I just—" 


Dean shuts up because simply hearing himself makes him want to crawl under the floor and never resurface. Words aren't really working in his favor right now, so he just decides to act instead. He steps forward, pushing off the counter to turn and wrap Castiel in a hug, which isn't very like him, but he can't exactly stop himself either. 


The thing is, he just keeps hearing Claire say that Castiel is heartbroken in his head, over and over, and he just—he doesn't like it. He's already so guilty. He doesn't want to hurt Castiel, not really, not even at his angriest when he does his damnedest to try. 


Maybe this makes things worse, or maybe it makes things better. Dean doesn't know. He has no fucking clue how to help, but he wishes he could. He can't force himself to lay down and let Castiel fuck him, thinking of England or whatever, but he can hug him. He can do that, and so he does, and maybe that's enough. Maybe it's not, but on the chance that it is, Dean does it anyway. 


After a beat, Castiel hugs him back, and it doesn't feel any different than any other hug they've ever shared. It feels the exact same, and Dean doesn't know what that means. Has Castiel loved him through every hug they've ever had? Will he always? The most selfish parts of Dean hope so. 


He's just a little frustrated, maybe, because he thinks Castiel deserves better. He knows Castiel does, and there's nothing he can do about it. All he can offer is a hug. It doesn't feel like nearly enough, because Castiel should love someone who could give him so much more, except Castiel doesn't, and Dean dreads the thought that he may one day change his mind. He has all rights to, and Dean just— 


He's so selfish. 


"Dean?" Castiel asks hesitantly when they break apart, slowly and all at once. 


"Come on," Dean mumbles, averting his eyes, "we never finished watching the Bee Movie. Let's—uh, we should… We should finish it." 


Castiel's eyebrows furrow, but once again, he doesn't comment when he clearly wants to. He just nods and murmurs, "Okay, Dean." 


And so, they go. Dean follows after Castiel, lips pressed into a thin line. Claire's words keep running through his head on a loop, seeping into his skin, obviously about to haunt him for the rest of his days. He doesn't know if Castiel is heartbroken; he can't tell, and he's too afraid to ask. 


Claire was right about one thing, though.


Castiel is way too good for him. 



The seventh thing that happens is that Dean tries to self-sabotage (even if he doesn't know that's what it is at the time, but no one ever does, really), only to fail spectacularly at it for the very first time in his long, self-sabotaging career. 


Two and half months after Castiel has come back, Dean is having some...issues. 


He hasn't been sleeping well, still pushing his exhaustion to the limit so he won't dream. They haven't had a case in a while, and the last was one that still puts him on edge, so he's starting to feel a little cagey. He wants to get up, get out, get away. He wants to do something, and do it alone. 


The truth is, Castiel is around a lot. While this is nice compared to him...not being around at all, Dean can't help but wonder if Castiel is okay, if he's dealing with heartbreak, if he's happy, so on and so on. He spends pretty much every waking moment thinking about Castiel, or smothering in guilt, or both, and he's just….tired of doing that. 


So, a break. Dean has earned one, he thinks. A night out at a bar, drinking a little (not too much), playing pool and darts, maybe some hustling and whatever fried food is available. Just an evening to unclench. He's a middle-aged man who has, quite literally, helped save the world; he can do this for himself. 


Fuck it is the thought that carries him out to Baby and towards a bar, and that should have been the first sign that this was going to go sideways. 


It doesn't seem like it's gonna go pear-shaped at first. In his defense, he really is just enjoying a few lazy games of pool with various patrons of the bar who either wanna talk about his car, don't wanna talk at all, or chat nonstop without needing a reply. He puts on some tunes at the jukebox and does, in fact, sit down to enjoy some fried food from the menu, chatting easily with the bartender all the while. It's calm, uncomplicated, no trouble at all. 


The wrench in his plans turns out to be a woman a few years older than him named Zoey, who looks younger than him, wears black lipstick over full lips, and has dreads all the way down to her waist. She's got the whole leather get-up going for her—leather pants, leather top, leather jacket. It probably wouldn't look good on anyone other than her, and Dean doesn't even have to look outside to know she drives a motorcycle—he looks anyway, and sure enough, there's one out there when there wasn't before she arrived. In other words, Zoey could probably chew him up and spit him out, or grind him to dust under her boots, and he'd thank her. 


For some reason, Zoey takes one look at him, then spends the rest of her evening with him. They talk, they eat fried food together, they play pool. They settle in, start drinking together, and Dean sort of does want her to step on him, actually. If the way she's eyeing him up is anything to go by, she could probably be convinced to do that. 


Zoey clearly knows what the fuck she wants, and she isn't scared to go after it (which is all kinds of hot, really) because she leans her elbow on the counter and says, very bluntly, "Listen, the stars have aligned and I'm in town for a night with no attachments. I'm pretty sure you should come back to my hotel room with me tonight, Dean." 


Dean is also pretty sure he should do that, because he's convinced that they're gonna have great sex, and he opens his mouth to tell her this. Before the ready agreement can leave his lips, however, a thought crosses his mind like a gentle, yet persistent breeze. Just one, just a name: Cas.


"Shit," Dean says, instead, and he leans back as guilt pulses bright in his chest. 


"Okay, that's a no. Cool with me, baby," Zoey tells him, nodding easily, apparently unbothered. 


Dean winces. "No. I mean, well, yeah,'s complicated. Um. Sorry?" 


"Oh, this should be good." Zoey lifts her hand up to signal for more drinks, then focuses on him steadily, waiting. "Well? Go on. I love drama I only have to hear about, instead of being a part of." 


"Lucky you," Dean says dryly, but he sighs and grabs the glass the bartender sends his way. "So, it's—uh, well, my best friend. He's—he's in love with me." 


Zoey raises her eyebrows. "That sounds like a him problem, if I'm honest." 


"No, it's—he's cool about it. I only found out a little while back," Dean admits. He frowns down at his drink, then knocks it back and signals for another. He's going to need to be less sober for this. "We've been friends for years. Over a decade. Been through a lot of shit together, ya know? And, well, I think he's loved me for a long time. I don't really know why, but he—he, um, does for some reason, and I guess I just...don't wanna hurt him, that's all." 


"Sweet, I guess, but stupid," Zoey informs him, pausing to knock back her drink without so much as batting an eye. "If you don't feel the same, then you just don't, and it is what it is. What are you going to do? Never have sex ever again?" 


Dean shrugs a little helplessly. "I dunno. I mean, that's what it looks like, because the second I tried, I thought of him. I just...feel bad, I guess. And listen, that just ain't like me, Zoey." 


"You'll resent him," Zoey tells him. "You won't mean to, but you will, because you'll be holding yourself back from things for his benefit. He's going to have to buck up and get the fuck over it, or your friendship won't survive. Trust me, I know." 


"That's the thing," Dean mutters, "I'm not doing it for his benefit. Like I said, he's really cool about it. He wouldn't say a goddamn word, even if he did know, but I just—I don't want to—" 


Zoey watches him fumble for words, then snorts and signals for more drinks. "Oh, baby, you're a real softie, aren't you? Come on, let's drink." 


"Yeah," Dean agrees glumly. "You said you know about this sort of thing. Your best friend fall in love with you too, or something?" 


"No, I fell in love with my best friend," Zoey tells him, lips twitching. "She took it in stride, but in the end, I couldn't deal with it. Kinda hard being that close to someone you're in love with, knowing you can't have 'em. So, the friendship didn't make it, but hey, you win some and you lose some." 


Dean grimaces. "Yeah, no, that's not an option for us. He's family." 


"No offense, but take it from someone who was in his position; sometimes it hurts worse not to let go. Love isn't guaranteed to be echoed back, no, but that doesn't mean anyone wants to stand around and suffer through the silence, if you know what I mean," Zoey says, firmly but sincerely. 


"I'm not drunk enough for this," Dean decides immediately, a pang in his chest that twists like a knife at her words. 


Zoey laughs and signals for another round. 


So, Dean's plans to have a nice evening out are very promptly dashed by Zoey, who matches him drink for drink without swaying in her seat at all. They still do have fun, admittedly, talking in the way strangers do when they have stories to tell that they don't want to talk about to anyone who knows them. Unsurprisingly, they talk about sex, because apparently both of them like sex a lot and have quite the different repertoire of stories to tell. 


It's a little interesting, Dean's drunk-addled brain decides. Zoey has sex with men and women. She flips through stories with either or, and she does it without so much as missing a beat. He's not really sure why, but Dean kinda wishes he was Zoey, just to have the amount of confidence she has, just to be a woman who can be gay (half gay?) and into women, which is a really weird thing to want. Dean comes to the quick conclusion that he's a little too drunk and having weird thoughts, so he cuts himself off. 


Eventually, Zoey abandons him. A pretty woman comes into the bar, and she's halfway out of her seat as soon as she notices her. "This has been fun, Dean, but I won't be alone with my hands for company for the rest of my life. Sucks to be you, baby." 


Dean groans and signals for another drink. Just one more. What could it hurt? 


Apparently, it hurts quite a lot because that one drink gets him past the threshold of merely buzzing to ever so slightly drunk. Not too drunk, but fucked up enough to be aware that he is, except he can't do anything about it. He knows that he's losing his inhibitions, and he just doesn't care. 


It's the kind of drunk that he could probably drive with, but won't. The kind that means he's going to remember everything the next day and likely won't have much of a hangover at all—just a tiny headache, at most. The kind that ensures he's feeling pretty good, a little stupid, but not too stupid. 


It's also the kind of drunk that deems it a good idea to take his phone out and text Castiel with what looks like a very normal message to send someone at almost midnight. It reads: 


Hay Cas. Just never sex again in solidarity with you man. I'm good best friend. 


It's only after he sends the text and rereads it that he distantly realizes he's missing some key words in there and his grammar (and spelling) has gone to shit. He squints at the screen, then very deliberately fishes his keys out of his pocket and waves them at the bartender, who takes them with a small smile. 


This time, when he cuts himself off, he actually tells the bartender, who agrees with a simple nod. He stays there at the bar, trying to sober up a little, cheek in his palm and the image of Zoey's dreads swinging playing in his mind a little wistfully. He turns in his seat to watch her flirt with the woman, and she's doing a really good job of it, too. It's mildly entertaining, and he's weirdly rooting for her. She deserves orgasms, he thinks fuzzily. 


It takes him a few moments to realize that his phone is vibrating against the bar, but he eventually does. He blinks when he sees Castiel's name on the screen, then fumbles to answer it. 


"Hey, Cas," he says, leaning back against the bar. 


Castiel is silent for a beat, then he says, "You're drinking. Where are you?" 


"I'm not in a bad way or anything, dude," Dean tells him, feeling the need to point this out. "I think I just had one too many, is all. I'm not gonna drive. You wanna come get me?" 


"Yes," Castiel agrees immediately. 


Dean rattles off the bar name and location, vaguely pleased that it's fairly close to home. Castiel will be here soon enough. When they hang up, Dean goes back to leaning against the bar. This time, he's thinking a little wistfully of the flap of Castiel's trenchcoat—he doesn't wear it anymore, not as much since he's human. His wardrobe mostly consists of Dean's jeans and t-shirts, as well as Sam's too-big shirts to sleep in. They should get him his own clothes one of these days. 


He's dragged out of his thoughts by Zoey suddenly plopping down on the stool beside him with a sigh. A dejected one, by the sounds of it. Dean frowns. 


"Oh, didn't go well?" Dean asks. 


Zoey clicks her tongue. "Turns out, she's married. Looks like I'm going back to my room alone." 


"Sorry," Dean says again. "If it helps at all, I would usually be so happy to go back to your room with you."


"Eh, it's fine," Zoey mutters, waving a hand and rolling her eyes. "I've got a little device that will do what you could in two minutes flat. Honestly, if it could keep me warm at night, I wouldn't bring anyone back to my room ever again." 


Dean grins at her. "Well, don't I feel special." 


Zoey chuckles and raises her hand for another drink, because apparently she has the tolerance of a goddamn brick wall. Dean has cut himself off, so he just watches her drink and teases her a little. He knows she's not in the life, but if she was, he'd like to think that they'd have a lot of fun on hunts together. From what she said, she's traveling through, but if she were local, he'd make the attempt to do this again because she's nice to be around. 


Right place, wrong time. Cool person, but Dean can't. He can't because he just keeps thinking about Castiel, and maybe that will turn into resentment one day, but for now, he's mostly just sad about it. How many times has Dean had nameless, forgettable one-night-stands that Castiel was around for? How maybe times has he flirted right in front of Castiel's face, none the wiser? How many times was he an asshole, without even meaning to be, because that's just his natural state, apparently? 


He's a little more sober—but not much—when Zoey releases a whistle between her teeth, staring towards the door. He can tell by the slow curl at her lips that she has a new target, and he hopes this one works out for her this time, at least. 


"Let's try this again," Zoey says, moving to slide off the stool to stand up. 


Dean is suddenly reaching out to catch her arm, because he's just now looking to see who she means, which is none other than Castiel, of course, and what he blurts out is, "No, you can't. He's mine." 


Zoey's eyebrows slowly raise. "Is he?" 


"No, I just—" Dean blinks rapidly and shakes his head like he's clearing water from his ears. "I mean that he's my best friend. That's the one that—the one I was telling you about." 


"Oh." Zoey is clearly disappointed, but she ends up smiling a little. "Well, are you sure you don't want him? Because you're clearly missing out, Dean." 


Dean just blinks at her again. 


Zoey laughs and pats his hand, standing up fully and stepping back. "Tonight is just not my night. I'm going to head out and accept defeat, but I'll consider you something of a success. It was good meeting you, Dean, and good luck with your hot friend." 


"Thanks," Dean says. 


Zoey and Castiel pass each other in the middle of the room. She's clearly looking at him in interest, but Castiel is just looking right at Dean, and that does some unhealthy things to the inside of Dean's chest. He wonders what Zoey sees when she looks at Castiel, what she finds so interesting. 


He knows that Castiel is—objectively—handsome. This is not news to him. Does she like his hair? It's messier as a human, a little more haphazard. His shoulders? They're pretty wide, actually, easy to hold onto. Dean knows what they feel like; he's touched them enough—sturdy and warm. His eyes? Yeah, that's a no-brainer. Who isn't a sucker for eyes like his? Blue and wide, sometimes squinty, sometimes bright with amusement or anger. Maybe it's something else, something past him being conventionally attractive—objectively.


Maybe it's his demeanor, how he walks into places the same way he'd walk into battle, how he seems so very aware of everything around him without even looking. Maybe it's the bulk of his arms, the furrow of his brow, the unfaltering stride that demands all obstacles to get the fuck out of his way before he makes them. Maybe it's the tilt to his head, the small smiles that curl his lips, the way he says Dean. 


Dean jolts against the counter, his elbow knocking into the side of it, yanking him out of his own head. Well, obviously Zoey doesn't find interest in all those things because she doesn't know half of them. Whatever. It's probably his lips, or something. 


Zoey is out the door by the time Castiel comes to a stop beside Dean, and shamefully, he forgets her in an instant. He just leans against the bar and smiles a little sheepishly at Castiel, who is obviously so exasperated by him that it's kinda funny. Castiel sinks down onto the open stool right next to him, and Dean can see his thigh muscles shifting through the jeans. Did Zoey like his thighs? 


"Where are your keys?" Castiel asks. 


Dean gestures lazily to the bartender. "Gave 'em away at some point. I already told you, I won't drive. Relax, I'm not too drunk. Just, ya know, relaxed." 


"I see that," Castiel notes, shaking his head. He sighs and nods, apparently deciding to believe him and not worry that he's out drowning his sorrows or something equally stupid. "I will drive you home whenever you are ready." 


"How'd you get here?" 


"My truck. We can leave it and pick it up tomorrow. I know you wouldn't want to leave Baby." 


"That's really—" Dean has to swallow past a lump in his throat. "That's really fuckin' nice, Cas." 


Castiel just smiles at him, small and sweet. 


Dean suddenly wishes with a vengeance that he could do something for Castiel, anything. He would probably suck his dick, if he could force himself, if he thought he'd be any good at it. What's a dick in your mouth, really? What do they even taste like? He knows the taste of his own release, having licked it out of the mouths of various women through the years, but what about the dick itself, the skin? What about Castiel's, specifically? Tolerable? Terrible?


He doesn't really know, but he wishes he was the type of person who was willing to find out. Castiel is just so, so fucking nice sometimes, and Dean wishes he could give him more, give him anything at all. He'd probably be bad at a blowjob, admittedly, sort of like the worst one he ever had. He doesn't remember the woman's name, but she'd used too much teeth and had zero rhythm. That was okay, though, because she was a really sweet person and her hips—her fucking hips— 


Dean wants to smack himself. Of course, here he is, thinking about women while Castiel is standing right next to him. It's just—it's such an asshole thing to do. Why does Castiel put up with him? Why does Castiel like him? Why does Castiel love him?


"You really love me," Dean blurts out, staring at Castiel in confusion, in startled awe.


"Yes," Castiel tells him immediately, no hesitation, his words calm and serious, "I really do." 


"Of all the beautiful people in this room," Dean mutters, waving a hand carelessly towards the other patrons that he hasn't looked at since Castiel came in, that Castiel hasn't looked at ever. 


And still, without even needing to see anyone, Castiel says with complete sincerity, "You're the most beautiful person in this room." 


Dean sucks in a sharp breath, lurching forward to plant his hand on Castiel's knee and squeeze. He stares at Castiel, waiting for that starburst of warmth in his chest to go away, and Castiel stares right back, blinking. 


"Say it again," Dean whispers. 


"You're the most beautiful person in this room," Castiel repeats instantly, flicking his gaze over Dean's face like he's appreciating it, like it's something beautiful. "In the world, even." 


"Jesus fucking Christ," Dean chokes out, tipping backwards and sliding his hand away from Castiel's leg. He turns around on the stool, facing the bar, his heart racing in his chest, his face hot. "You can't say shit like that, man. I'm gonna—I'm…" 


"You asked me to," Castiel points out, then makes a low, amused sound. "It's only the truth." 


Dean lets his forehead hit the bar with a dull thud. Slowly, he hits his head over and over, eyes clenched shut, mumbling, "You don't even know what they taste like, Winchester, calm the fuck down." 


"Dean, refrain from doing that. You'll have a headache tomorrow," Castiel says. 


"Stop being nice to me." Dean swivels his head, peeking up at Castiel with his cheek still pressed to the bar. He swallows, chewing the inside of his bottom lip. "Are you happy, Cas?" 


Castiel looks at him for a long moment, his face softening in increments. "I am more concerned about you at the moment, Dean. Are you ready to go home yet? I'll get your keys." 


It's not an answer, and Dean knows it's not. He knows why it's not. Castiel can't say yes, but he won't say no. Dean closes his eyes, a disquieting kind of sorrow filling his chest. He aches all of a sudden, just at the realization that Castiel isn't happy and hasn't been for some time. The last time—maybe the only time—he ever was, he had confessed his love. Then he died. 


Dean says nothing as Castiel wrangles the situation and gets his keys from the bartender, eventually ushering him out the door. He gets settled in Baby and thinks about offering something then. Hey, I could probably give you a really shitty blowjob if you wanted, he could say. But, for some reason, he doesn't think that would go over well, so he keeps his damn mouth shut and says nothing at all. 


Back at the Bunker, Castiel walks him to his room, even though he's not really drunk anymore. He's mostly sober, just sort of...upset about all this shit. When he goes into his room, he flops down on his bed with a grunt, thinking about Zoey for the first time since she walked out the door. 


Love isn't guaranteed to be echoed back, no, but that doesn't mean anyone wants to stand around and suffer through the silence, she had said. 


It makes his heart ache. 


There's a tug on one of his boots, and Dean lifts his head in vague surprise. Castiel isn't looking at him, his head ducked as he carefully goes about pulling Dean's boots off, trying to make him more comfortable. It's such a kind gesture, and Dean doesn't deserve that. He doesn't deserve Castiel. 


"You don't gotta do that," Dean mumbles. 


Castiel hums. "I'd like to." 


"Why?" Dean asks, baffled. 


"You don't like sleeping in your shoes, and you'll be annoyed in the morning if you have," Castiel tells him, letting the second boot hit the floor with a thunk. He looks up, smiling his small smile, eyes soft and warm. "I also like taking care of you." 


Dean makes a weak sound and reaches up with both hands to cover his face, resisting the urge to scream. There's that burst of delight, right along with the sharp pang in his chest, now joined with the instinctive desire to tell Castiel that he doesn't need someone to take care of him. But fuck, fuck, he really likes it. Only in the quiet of his mild buzz with Castiel's gentle smile flickering in his mind can Dean admit it, but he does. He likes it. He wants it. 


"I'm gonna start calling you Casanova," Dean says weakly when he drops his hands and picks up his head to stare at Castiel a little helplessly. 


Castiel's lips twitch. "Casanova was known for stealing hearts, Dean." 


"Yeah, I know." Dean swallows. "He give you personal tips, or something?" 


"No," Castiel murmurs, his gaze sweeping over Dean's face, intent and curious. 


"Oh, so you're just naturally good at this?" Dean asks, pushing up on his elbows, then fully just leveraging himself up to sit up all the way. He tilts his head back, staring up at Castiel, a lump in his throat for no damn reason. 


"At...this?" Castiel tilts his head, just a little, looking down at him in faint surprise. 


"Yeah. This. The shit you say, man," Dean whispers a little fiercely. "It's—I mean, you have no idea, do you? It's, um… Well, if you did it all the time, to everyone, you'd have a lot of people falling for you."


Castiel opens his mouth, then closes it. He searches Dean's face again, before saying, "I don't want anyone else to fall for me." 


Dean's heart all but trips in his chest. Anyone else. Ah, shit. Well, fuck, that's just—that sure is something, isn't it? He tries to look away, but only manages to drag his gaze from Castiel's to slowly follow the line of his neck, his shoulder, down his arm, latching onto his hand. He has nice hands. Objectively, of course. The fingers twitch under his focused intensity, and Dean wonders what Castiel wants to do with them. 


Touch. Definitely touching. But where? How? Castiel never touches him inappropriately. He touches Dean as he always has, pre-love confession and all, a pat on his shoulder, a tug on his arm, things such as that. Dean has the feeling that isn't what Castiel wants to do right now, and he can feel heat crawling into his cheeks at how sure of that he is. 


Dean's eyes snap back towards Castiel's face, and he nearly bites through the inside of his bottom lip from where he's been worrying the gum between his teeth. Castiel's face is cracked open, raw, naked with unhindered want. He has never looked like this before, not even when confessing his love, because he didn't allow himself to want anything, not even then. But now, right now in this moment, Dean can see it clear as day—Castiel really, really likes him, and he really, really wants him. 


It's enough to make Dean go still to fight the need to squirm. He doesn't squirm. That's not who he is, and he'll be damned if he starts now. Fine, so Castiel wants to do things you can't repeat in church, what the fuck ever. It's not like Dean hadn't known that, deep in the shadowy corners of his mind. Known, but not acknowledged. There, but politely ignored. 


Now, there's no avoiding it. Dean holds his breath, thinking a little hysterically about dicks and how they might taste, about Casanova and whether he would give Castiel a good score right now, about Zoey and the way she said, "Kinda hard being that close to someone you're in love with, knowing you can't have 'em." 


Dean exhales shakily and rips his gaze from Castiel's, blinking down at his bedsheets. He's just now realizing how hard his heart is thumping in his chest. His face is very hot. This is somehow worse than the compliments because he doesn't even have the luxury of understanding what the fuck is going on during this. There's just Castiel's intense want, and Dean doesn't know what's happening to him. 


He's been desired before. He's had people want him, people hit on him, people smile at him slow and lazy with naughty thoughts swirling behind their eyes. 


This is different. 


This is so, so very different. Not just because Castiel is a guy, but mostly because Castiel is Castiel. Something a little holy, something a little hellish, something a little human. Best friend, family, important. Never one to display his desire like that, so—so desperate, almost. Helplessly. He couldn't help it, couldn't stop himself, couldn't restrain it, all because of Dean. Because he wants Dean, and can't stop himself from wanting Dean, and can't fucking have him. It should be sad, or guilt-inducing. 


Mostly, it's just a heady, powerful thing. Dean's hands are shaking from it, from the realization that Castiel wants him that badly. It's selfish of him, once again, but that's a feeling he could get addicted to, even if he'll never act on it, or feel the same. 


When Dean looks back up, Castiel's face is fine. He's just smiling again, small and content. He doesn't look bereft, or heartbroken, or sad. It's like his composure never cracked to begin with. He's so relaxed that Dean thinks he might have imagined it. 


"You should sleep," Castiel murmurs. 


"Yeah," Dean says, and he's surprised by how rough his voice comes out, a gruff rasp. He clears his throat. Twice. "Yeah, uh, I'll do that." 


Castiel nods and steps back. "Goodnight, Dean." 


"Hey, Cas," Dean blurts out as Castiel heads for the door. When he turns back, Dean offers him a slightly lopsided smile. "Thanks for coming to get me. And for bringing Baby. And for...taking care of me." 


"It's my pleasure," Castiel tells him quietly, sincerely, lips curling up before he turns and leaves, gently shutting the door behind him. 


Dean flops back down on his bed with another groan, covering his very hot face with his hands again. Of course it is his pleasure. Of course it is. 


Fucking Casanova. 



The eighth thing that happens is that Sam finds out (again). It's the truth this time, the whole truth, and Dean had no idea he didn't know it before. It seems Sam was a little misunderstood on some things. 


Three months after Castiel is back, there's a hunt. It goes smoothly for the most part. No one is dead, but Castiel got knocked around a bit more than Dean would have liked. He sleeps all the way back to the Bunker, then goes to his room to fall asleep there as well, human and exhausted and sore. 


Sam watches him go in sympathy, then eases down into the chair across from Dean with a groan. Dean grabs them beers from the kitchen, then relaxes into his own chair, tilting his head back and releasing a deep sigh. There's the pop-hiss of Sam opening his beer, followed by the sound of him taking a swallow. Dean's too tired to open his own at the moment. 


"That one wasn't so bad," Sam says eventually. 


Dean hums. "Still kinda rough." 


"Yeah." Sam snorts. "I think we're getting old, man. Bobby is laughing it up in Heaven, you know." 


"I can practically hear him," Dean agrees, lips stretching into a grin as he adopts a gruff voice and draws his eyebrows down. "Damn idjits don't know when they're outta their prime. Gonna run themselves in the dirt because they're too goddamn proud to retire. Balls." 


Sam cracks up instantly, wheezing a little as he curls his arm over his chest. He's probably got some bruised ribs. Because he's a little shit, he picks up where Dean left off, his imitation somehow even better than Dean's, even with the hair. "They take down God one time, and suddenly they think they're invincible. Watch the idjits die by ghosts or something as embarrassing." 


"Jesus," Dean chokes out, laughing a little unevenly. He might also have some bruised ribs, maybe. 


"Gotta love Bobby," Sam says, laughter softening into a small smile. 


Dean opens his beer and raises it with a hum of acknowledgement. "We'd be dead without him." 


"Retirement," Sam murmurs after a few beats. His smile is gone, replaced with a thoughtful look on his face. He glances at Dean. "You thought about it, once. Remember? Me, you, and Cas on a beach. You said we earned it." 


"Yeah," Dean agrees simply, because he had said that. He remembers it. He hasn't thought about it a lot since, considering they never got the chance, and now he knows better than to hope for shit like that. 


Sam purses his lips. "You don't think we've earned it now, even more so than then?" 


Dean gives a lazy shrug. "Maybe. Chuck kinda felt like the final problem, I guess. Why? Do you?" 


"Yeah, I do," Sam admits. "We are getting kind of old, Dean. At what point do we just...stop?" 


"People don't just stop, you know that. Bobby proved that. Hell, Mom proved that," Dean tells him, raising his eyebrows. "Slow down, maybe, but stop? Nah, you're in the shit until you're forced out. Most do it young, but we got lucky, I guess." 


Sam sighs, nodding. "Okay, so what about slowing down? You thought about it?" 


"Eh." Dean makes a so-so gesture with his hand, then points to Sam. "You?" 


"Some," Sam says, shrugging. "I've talked about it with Eileen. She's not—she isn't the type to want to just...throw in the towel and settle down into the apple pie life with approximately two and half children. You know how she is. But...slowing down. She doesn't hate the idea. She likes it, actually." 


Dean's eyebrows jerk up. "You've talked about kids? Dude, name your first-born after me." 


"One Dean Winchester in the world is enough, I think," Sam mutters dryly. He rolls his eyes when Dean frowns at him. "A middle name, maybe. Also, shut up, it's not like that. We've just—ya know." 


"Don't actually know, Sammy." 


"Well, there usually comes a point where two people who are together figure out if they're going to want to make a future together, whatever that future may be. They talk about it. Or, well, Eileen and I do." 


"Wow." Dean tips his beer at him. "Healthy. Go on."


Sam rolls his eyes. "We don't have a clear answer or anything. We just sort of agreed we wanted to do it—whatever it is—together. Retiring fully isn't simple, you're right, but there are other options. We could be an information hub, kinda like Bobby was. The Bunker has a lot of resources. We can help with the younger Hunters, bring back the false lines for law enforcement, things like that. Garth mostly handles it, but he's busy with his own family, you know that. We could take some weight off of him." 


"By we, you and Eileen," Dean clarifies, frowning a little. 


"You and Cas, too, obviously. I mean, if that's what you two wanted to do. Have you two talked about what you want to do?" Sam asks, narrowing his eyes. 


Dean blinks. " Why would we? Cas is his own person. He can do whatever he wants." 


"Wow," Sam says flatly. "Unhealthy. I'm not even surprised. Again, people who are together usually reach a point where they figure out if they want to make a future together. You might wanna consider talking to Cas about that, just to be on the same page, at the very least." 


"I—" Dean stalls out. For a second, he's almost sure that he blacks out. A beat later, he comes back to himself to find that his mouth is incredibly dry, his mind is making a distant screeching noise, and his heart is knocking against his aching ribs to let him know something big is happening. He takes a pull of his beer, gathering his wits, then sits the bottle down with a thud. "Sammy, do you—do you think that Cas and I are together? Like you and Eileen?" 


It's Sam's turn to blink. He goes still, then very carefully says, "Are you two...not?" 


"No," Dean rasps, "we are not." 


"Oh." Sam slowly closes his mouth, then opens it, then closes it again. He looks more and more confused by the second. Finally, he opens his mouth again to say what he needs to. "But you said—you told me that you talked about his feelings for you."


Dean stares at him. "Yeah, Sam, we did. Before he died, he—well, he kinda showed his hand, so to speak. That's how he summoned Billie, by...uh, confessing his feelings, or whatever. When he got back, we had to have a talk. That's—that's it." 


"Dean," Sam murmurs slowly, "did you—did you reject him?" 


"Well...yeah," Dean replies. 


Sam drops his head, releasing a deep sigh. He reaches up and braces his hairline with his hands, shaking his head back and forth. After a beat, he even groans, very dramatically. Dean scowls. 


"Why would you do that?" Sam whines—an actual, pained whine—and lifts his head to stare at Dean despairingly, eyes wide. "Dean, come on, dude. I thought—I didn't know you were this—" 


"Say stupid and I'll punch you," Dean snaps, cutting him off. Sam grimaces, but he shuts up, and Dean releases a huff through his nose like a pissed off bull. "I don't know what you think I was supposed to do besides clear the air and make sure we were good, which we are. We're still friends. We're fine." 


Sam considers him for a long moment, running his hand over his mouth, then he exhales slowly and drops his hands. "Okay. That's—yeah, okay." 


"You thought…" Dean hesitates, something within him demanding he get as far away from this conversation as possible, except he can't move. He can't do anything because Sam thought—he thought… "You've been thinking me and him were together this whole time, and you were just…" 


"Just...what?" Sam prompts, just as careful around this topic as Dean is, apparently. 


Dean stares at him, feeling a little lost. "Like properly together, the way you and Eileen are. Sex, and dates, and love. You thought that." 


"I did," Sam admits softly. 


"He's a guy," Dean croaks. 


Sam looks down at the table, then looks right back up and gives a loose shrug. "Yeah, so?" 


"So? So?" Dean grips his beer tight, letting the engravings on the bottle dig into his palm. "Sam, I'm not—I don't—" 


"Okay," Sam says instantly. 


Dean's heart drops to his stomach. "No, seriously, I'm really not. I—I—" 


"Dean," Sam interrupts firmly, "okay." 


"You thought," Dean insists. 


Sam shakes his head. "It's not like that. I just don't care if you are or aren't. I mean, I'd care, obviously, but not in a bad way. I'm not—Dean, I'm not Dad. That wouldn't be the most important thing about you, not to me. You're just...Dean. My brother." 


Dean stares at his beer, lips pressed into a thin line. His first instinct is to defend their dad, to say that he grew up in a different time, to argue that he was just trying to toughen Dean up. That knee-jerk response filters out very quickly, however, when he thinks about Jack. About how Jack liked the color pink, how he thought frilly skirts were pretty, how Wonder Woman was his favorite superhero, how he could be so, so soft and so, so gentle. 


John Winchester would have wanted to toughen him up, too, would have told him to man up, and it wouldn't have been right. Dean knows that, because he forced himself to never do it, to not regurgitate the shit he had to hear. He stepped back and let Jack be happy, however the fuck he wanted to do it, and there was absolutely nothing wrong that. 


So, the ghost of daddy issues past is more of a poltergeist, whatever. It doesn't have to be an issue. Dean's not letting it be an issue. Whatever Sam may think, he's not expecting his little brother to be anything like their dad. He tried his damnedest to make sure that would never happen, and maybe he fucked up in regards to himself—daddy's blunt instrument and all—but Sam turned out great. 


"Well, thanks," Dean mumbles finally, "but I'm not."


"And...Cas?" Sam asks. 


Dean coughs. "Oh, yeah, he's—he very much is. He's head over heels for me, dude, for some stupid reason. Fuck if I know why." 


"Come on, man." Sam kicks him under the table, a frown on his face. "Don't say shit like that. I mean, you're gross and a literal child, but you're a good man. Why shouldn't he be head over heels?' 


"Because he's Cas," Dean says a little heatedly, jerking his hand out in front of him and nearly turning over his beer. "He's, you know, really fucking—well, you know." 


Sam raises his eyebrows. "I...don't. No offense to Cas, but I really don't. He's just Cas." 


"Just—" Dean jolts back a bit in his chair, a little offended. "Dude is way too good for me, man. He could have anyone, don't say he can't. He's handsome. He's kind. He's smart. I mean, yeah, he's a little weird and quirky, but he's funny as fuck. He won't roll over for anyone, and he literally defied Heaven, angels, and God multiple times. If the rebellious thing isn't hot, I don't know what is. Also, he does this thing where he—well, he says some really, really sweet and sincere shit, Sam. It's, like, smooth. Like, really smooth." 


"Ah," Sam says delicately. He makes a face and reaches around to scratch the back of his head, clearing his throat. "Right, two aren't, right? Because you seem—I mean, you kinda…" 


Dean can feel his face getting hot, and there's absolutely nothing he can do about it. Sam trails off, staring at him incredulously, amazed. He can probably count the amount of times he's seen Dean blush on one hand. 


"Shut up," Dean mutters reflexively, biting the inside of his lip again. It's becoming a habit now. The gum is getting a little sensitive. "It's not like that, but I kinda wish I was like that, so it could be. He'd be a real catch, ya know?" 


Sam looks at him, then takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out. "Okay, don't bite my head off or anything, but why are you so convinced that you aren't if you wish you are?" 


"Women," Dean says helplessly. 


"Yeah," Sam agrees, rolling his eyes. "Trust me, I know. But also...both?" 


Dean narrows his eyes. "Sam, I'm not." 


"Because Dad said you couldn't be?" Sam asks, clenching his jaw when Dean stiffens. 


"This has nothing to do with Dad," Dean grits out. 


"I think it has a lot to do with Dad, actually," Sam challenges, tilting his chin up. "God, this is why I could never understand why you didn't want to get out and away from him, man. He was so out of line with some of the shit he did and said, especially to you. Do you remember—" 


"Shut up." 


"No, listen to me. Do you remember when we were staying in that bumfuck town in Georgia? You were fifteen. I was eleven. You had that friend. What was his name? It was—" 


"Sammy, shut up." 


"Keith. Yeah, that was his name. Anyway, you two always hung out and smoked cigarettes behind the bleachers until, one day, Keith's dad came beating down our door. He told Dad that you turned his kid gay, like it was your fault, or something. And—" 


"Sam!" Dean bursts out, slamming a hand down on the table, though it does no good. 


Sam just meets his eyes and presses on, pointedly, forcefully, "And Dad dragged you over the coals for it, for hanging out with him, for being—I don't know, it was so stupid, Dean—someone who he liked. He forbid you from hanging out with him again and made stupid comments for weeks after, and I remember that you beat the shit out of Keith for it, even though you knew—and I know you knew, don't you dare lie—that he was gay before Dad ever found out. You didn't think it was a problem until Dad did." 


"What's your fucking point?" Dean snaps, glaring at Sam. "It was fucked up that I kicked his ass, I know that now, but I was a stupid kid. I was just—I didn't know that until later. What, you want me to look him up and apologize or something?" 


"That's not what I'm getting at." Sam's voice softens, and he sighs, shaking his head. "You had it right the first time when you didn't care about him being gay. You didn't care about Charlie, you're outright proud of Claire and Kaia, and I know you'd never, never treat Cas differently or lay a hand on him. Just...what if Dad was here?" 


Dean clenches his fists and drags them off the table, hiding them in his lap. His jaw works. "Well, if Dad was here, I'd probably be raked over the coals again for having a friend who's in love with me." 


"Dad would try to kick Cas' ass," Sam says. 


"Try," Dean reiterates. 


Sam purses his lips. "You wouldn't let him?" 


"Hell no, I wouldn't let him," Dean bursts out, furious all over again. "Cas isn't—he isn't doing anything wrong, Sammy, you know I know that. Dad would eat his own teeth before I let him say some stupid shit to him." 


"But not to you," Sam points out. 


"That's—" Dean's nostrils flare, and he looks away, frustrated and tense and trying to ignore the point that Sam is making. "I know how to handle Dad. I always knew how to handle him." 


"You shouldn't have had to." 


"And I don't anymore, so." 


"Except you clearly kind of do," Sam tells him, fixing him with a serious look. "I get it, Dean. I really do, okay? You think I didn't catch some of his shit sometimes? He found out I liked Celine Dion and called me Samantha for three days straight. You thought it was a joke, so you started doing it, too. You didn't know what Dad meant, but I did. You think I ever talked about liking her again?" 


Dean deflates, a distinct kicked-in-the-chest feeling hitting him at full force. "Shit," he says hoarsely. 


"No, no, it's not—" Sam grimaces and waves a hand through the air, shaking his head. "Stop it. You don't have to be guilty. It's not your fault. What I'm trying to say is that I already know how Dad was, and I get how that shit sticks with you. So, you can say it has nothing to do with Dad, but even if it's only a little bit, it does. It's going to. It has to, because he was mostly shitty, and that, sometimes." 


"Celine Dion has great vocals," Dean says weakly, unable to say anything else, to make any more arguments, because Sam is right. 


Sam huffs a quiet laugh and nods. "Yeah, I know. Thanks, but that's not what this is about. Just, look, all I'm saying is...if it's okay for everyone else, in spite of Dad's bullshit, then it's okay for you, too." 


"Sammy, I'm really not—" 


"Okay, fine, that's fine. You're not, great, cool. But it'd be okay if you were, right?" 


Dean tries to answer and finds that he can't. His jaws feel wired shut. That's an excuse for why he can't pry his lips apart, but he can't think of one goddamn reason why his mind is suddenly silent. 


"It'd be okay," Sam repeats, softer. "Dean, it would."


"I'm not," is all Dean can say, and he thinks the ghost of daddy issues past can possess people. 


Sam nods slowly. "Okay, Dean. Can I, uh, ask you something, though?" 


"You're going to," Dean mutters, resigned. 


"What does your future look like?" Sam murmurs, his eyebrows crumbling together. "In your head, I mean. Who's all there?" 


Dean frowns, then shrugs. "You, duh. Cas. Eileen, with you. Family, I guess." 


"So...Cas is there?" 


"Well, yeah, where the fuck else would he be? He's family, Sam. Where's he gonna go?" 


"You said he's his own person, that he can do whatever he wants," Sam reminds him. "Who says he won't want to leave one day? The Bunker might not be his forever home, and maybe he'd like to be, uh, away from—well, a lot of things." 


"You're saying he might up and decide to leave one day," Dean suggests skeptically. 


Sam shrugs. "Yeah, sure, why not? What would happen, then? Hypothetically? You gonna ask him not to? Go with him?" 


"He'd stay if I asked." 


"So you'd ask." 


"I don't—Sam, I don't fucking know! I don't think about this kind of shit." Dean throws himself back into his chair and crosses his arms, scowling. Sam just keeps staring at him, unwilling to let this go, so Dean reaches up to run at his temples. "I guess I would...I dunno. Depends on what you and Eileen are doing. Do you need me to stay? Then I'm staying. Shit, I might stay on principle alone, and I'd ask him to stay, too. 'Cause...I mean, I didn't before, and I think he wanted me to. Are you and Eileen gone, off on your own? I'd probably just go with him, then. No reason to stay, ya know? So. That." 


"Right," Sam says. He stares at Dean for a long moment, then blows out a deep breath and knocks on the table with his knuckles, his eyebrows raised pointedly. "So, either way, you'd be doing life with him. That's what imagining a future with someone is, Dean, at its barebones. Just so you know." 


With that, Sam stands to swing around the table and walk away, off to bed, most likely. Dean stares after him for a while, then turns his gaze back to his beer and stares at that instead. 


He doesn't get up for a very long time. 



The ninth thing that happens is that Castiel comes clean, and Dean never knew he was hiding anything at all, but that's how it usually goes, isn't it? 


Three months, three weeks, and six days—one day out from four months—after Castiel comes back, Dean wakes up in the middle of the night with a jerk, flailing out of a dream that he has been trying to outrun for a long time now. It's all for no reason, however, because he doesn't remember the dream at all. He just wakes up with an odd sense of panic and the sudden urge to make sure Castiel is still here. 


And so, Dean shakily gets out of bed, stuffing himself in his hoodie on the way out the door. There's a chill in the Bunker, and it's only worse at night. The hoodie helps, and he flops the sleeves as he walks, just because he can and Sam isn't around to tease him for it. 


The first stop he makes is Castiel's room. He eases the door open, squinting through the dark to try and see if there's a lump in the bed. In the end, he has to flick on the light, and then his heart promptly drops when he sees the bed empty. There's the first curl of panic hooking in his chest, only amplified by the dream he can't remember, giving him a bad feeling. 


This is just him being dramatic, fortunately, because he finds Castiel in the kitchen. Dean grips the doorway and releases a slow breath of relief, finally able to shake off the unknown dream. He relaxes, standing there and staring at Castiel with mild curiosity. It's very late, or very early, take your pick. Just that in-between time of stillness where the whole world seems to be asleep, quieter, resting. 


Castiel isn't, though. 


No, instead, he's leaning against the counter with what looks like a cup of coffee in his hand, his head tipped back and his eyes closed. He doesn't look tired, or sad, or anything like that. It's like there's a serene blanket of peace in the sleeping hours, as if he's found the secret of it and burrowed into it. 


Dean carefully moves into the room, getting closer, and Castiel's eyes slowly open. He doesn't look particularly surprised to see Dean there, but his eyes do light up. They do that every time Dean enters a room, just so simply pleased that he's there. 


"Hey, Cas," Dean murmurs. 


"Hello, Dean," Castiel replies, lips curling up fondly. 


"Couldn't sleep?" Dean asks, coming to a stop next to him, leaning up against the counter. He peers down into Castiel's cup. It is coffee, and it's nearly empty. Castiel offers it to him anyway, and Dean takes and swallows the rest of it down with a pleasant fuzziness in his chest, like clouds just sprang to life in his lungs. 


Castiel hums. "No, not really. I got four hours at least, as you would say." 


"I think you deserve some more than that." Dean puts the cup down and glances at Castiel, tracing his side profile. "Nightmares, or…?" 


"Why are you awake?" Castiel counters, which means he doesn't want to answer Dean's questions. Definitely nightmares, then. Great. 


Dean clears his throat. "Eh, weird dream. I don't remember what it was about. It's fine, I'll probably just get started in the garage earlier than normal. You gonna come watch me be stupidly excited about car engines today?"


"It isn't stupid, but yes." Castiel makes a small noise, an appraising one. "I think it's nice that you have interests and things you like to do." 


"What about you?" Dean raises his eyebrows when Castiel glances at him. "You don't really care about cars the way I do, and you aren't weird about being healthy like Sam is. What's your thing, man?" 


Castiel tilts his head, considering, then he quirks a small smile and says, "You." 


Dean's heart does some kind of gravity-defying flip. He nearly clutches his fucking chest, but refrains at the last moment, clenching his fist instead. "I, uh, meant more of an activity, Cas." 


"I'm not sure." Castiel looks thoughtful for a long moment, humming. "I like to read. Movies are nice. I considered botany at one point." 


"Botany?" Dean's eyebrows fold together, lips tipping down. "Like Botox? Dude, you can't seriously be considering that. Your face is already perfect, man, and you wanna make it look better? I'm not judging, or whatever, but…" 


Castiel shoots him an odd look. "Botany is when someone studies plants, Dean. Different from gardening. More...scientific, I suppose." 


"Oh," Dean says, face going hot in an instant. It really is starting to become a normal thing around Castiel these days. Fucking hell. 


"Also, thank you," Castiel adds, more than a little amused now, just as he always is when he sees Dean turn red. The bastard doesn't even look bashful at having the love of his life compliment his face. 


"Anyway," Dean declares, louder than necessary, "I'll be up for the rest of the day. You?" 


"Most likely," Castiel confirms. 


Dean smiles. "Wanna watch a movie later? Before I cook dinner? After lunch, I mean. Have I made you watch every Bruce Willis movie there is, yet?" 


"I believe The Fifth Element was on the list next." 


"Oh shit, you're right. Dude, there's this kinda hot alien chick with these—well, they're not tentacles, but I like to think they are. Anyway, she can sing, man. You're gonna love it." 


"If you say so, Dean," Castiel says, lips twitching. 


Dean rolls his eyes and knocks his shoulder into Castiel's, which earns him a quiet huff and a kick to the ankle, but they drift off into the comfortable silence shortly after. 


It's quiet in the kitchen, just the sound of their breathing in the whole space. The Bunker itself seems to slumber, no creaking, an almost echoing silence. It should feel lonely, like living in a gaping maw, but it's not. Castiel is warm beside him, his presence steady and secure. 


He's here, Dean thinks, and he tries not to recall how often he had to endure the opposite thought. He's gone. But he's not, and he's not going anywhere. Probably. Well, Sam seems to think he might. One day, at least. That doesn't really seem like reality to Dean, but then again, neither did it seem that way when Castiel was dead every time that he was. 


"Cas," Dean murmurs, "can I ask you something?"


"Of course, Dean." 


"What—um, what does your future look like in your head? Like, what do you want to do?" 


Castiel blinks, then frowns at him. "I don't understand what you mean. I'm hunting now." 


"Yeah,'ll retire at some point," Dean continues, chewing the inside of his bottom lip once again. "We all will. Maybe, uh, sooner rather than later. Just...whenever that happens, what do you think you'd want to do?" 


"I'm not sure," Castiel says quietly. 


Dean swallows. "You don't—I mean, you at least know who you want to be there, right?" 


"Yes," Castiel murmurs, glancing at him, holding his gaze. "That, I do know." 


"Me?" Dean checks. 


Castiel looks faintly exasperated, as well as fond, but he smiles indulgently and nods. "Yes, Dean, I want you to be there. Isn't that obvious?" 


"I kinda figured." Dean gives a shrug like he wasn't just internally panicking a moment ago. He flicks his gaze away, then right back. His heart is a loud drum in his ears. "Do you like it here in the Bunker? Or, would you prefer...a house? Cabin? Tent? Can you even pitch a tent? Oh, don't fucking tell me. You're gonna be one of those people who wanna buy a bus and live outta that, aren't you?" 


"I am not," Castiel tells him. "The Bunker is fine." 


"Yeah, but…" Dean clenches the edge of the counter. His palms are a little damp, oddly enough. "I mean, Sam says you might not like it as a forever home." 


"Dean," Castiel says gently, looking at him like maybe he's the best kind of idiot, fond and adoring, simply in love, "I want to be wherever you are, if you'd let me. My forever home is you." 


Dean flinches back like someone just lunged at him, going with the sudden jerk of his heart. "Goddammit , Cas," he chokes, whipping his head around, a lump in his throat, his nails digging into the counter, warmth pulsing almost painfully in his chest. 


He needs a moment after that one. That particular one actually gets to him. He almost can't breathe around it, so he needs a second to relearn how. He closes his eyes, ignoring the heat in his face, trying to gather his scattered thoughts. 


Over there, in that corner, there's the harsh thought that he can't be home for anyone—if he is, he's a ramshackle place that's falling apart and provides no warmth, no comfort, no safety. Over here, flung to the side, there's the slightly hysterical thought that he should just sink to his knees right now to suck Castiel's dick or die trying, just to get it over with, because Jesus fucking Christ, who says shit like that? Farther away, small and a little broken, there's the ridiculous thought that maybe Castiel will say it again, because he really, really wants him to. 


After a long moment, he manages to work himself up to opening his eyes, to release a shaky exhale, to eventually turn his head and look at Castiel. What greets him is the slightly sheepish—but not at all apologetic—expression on Castiel's face. 


"Sorry?" Castiel offers, sounding unsure about it. 


Dean shakes his head and huffs out a deep breath, his fingers finally relaxing from the counter. "You're doing it again. Being a real charmer." 


"It's hard to tell," Castiel says. "I'm only being honest. If you mind, I—" 


"No!" Dean blurts out before he can stop himself, then quieter, "No. It's—I don't mind. I know you're just—I know. It's okay." 


"Okay," Castiel agrees simply. 


"Sam thought—" Dean hesitates, unsure, but he wavers and continues anyway. "He thought we were together. Like a couple. Together together, I mean." 


Castiel frowns slightly. "Oh. Did he? Was it something that I did? I can—" 


"No," Dean interrupts again, "that was all him. He just made assumptions. But he did think that." 


"Oh," Castiel repeats, then leaves it alone, just lets it hang there. He doesn't pursue it at all. 


Dean wonders why. It's a good opening. Castiel could say that they would be good together. He could suggest that Sam thought that because there's some kind of logic to it. He could even ask how Dean feels about it, or if there's ever going to be a chance that it's true, or what he could do to make it true. He could use it to try and persuade Dean to try and feel the same, even, but he doesn't. 


He just...doesn't. 


Castiel just leaves it alone, as if there's no point and he's already accepted that. He lets his love echo out into the silence and never asks for a damn thing back, and it isn't right. It isn't what he deserves. 


Dean leans in a little, half-turning so that he's facing Castiel and can look at him from up close. He searches his face, trying to find what Claire apparently saw, trying to locate even a hint of heartbreak, or bitterness, or misery. There's nothing to be found, and while it scares Dean shitless, he has to know. He needs to know. 


"Cas, I wanna ask you something again," Dean murmurs, staring at him. "And I don't—I don't want you to lie, or avoid the question, okay?" 


Castiel smiles at him, amused. "Dean, you already know my feelings. There's nothing for me to hide." 


Dean severely hopes that's true. "That's good. That's really good. Just, are you—" He pauses, taking a deep breath. "Cas, did I break your heart, man?" 


The smile on Castiel's face slips right off, and he stares at Dean with an expression that can't be described as anything other than stricken. Once again, he's cracked open, raw and exposed, and it has nothing to do with his desire this time. Dean can see it now, can see what he hasn't this whole time, but it's only confirmed when Castiel's eyes slowly crawl away and he provides no answer. 


That's enough of an answer on its own. 


All the warmth that Dean has been collecting since Castiel got back suddenly disappears like a flickering candle being blown out. He's cold all the way down to his bones. A numb, horrified cold that hardens around his twisting heart. And fuck, that shit hurts. To know that he—that he— 


Dean's pretty sure his heart breaks for Castiel's heartbreak. The guilt slams into him hard and unforgiving, latching on like leeches. He stares at Castiel's downturned gaze, his hanging head, his slumped shoulders. Defeat. He's defeated. 


"Fuck," Dean whispers, blinking hard. 


Castiel's head snaps up, and he looks at Dean with a frown. "Dean, it's okay. You didn't—" 


"I'm sorry," Dean rasps. "I'm really sorry, Cas. I never—I never wanted to hurt you." 


"Stop it," Castiel breathes out, so careful, so soft. He shakes his head. "You didn't do anything wrong. You needn't blame yourself for what you feel, or do not feel. That you don't blame me is already so kind." 


"Kind?" Dean stares at him. "You think me treating you with basic human fucking decency is kind?" 


"Dean, stop," Castiel urges. "Just stop it. I am fine. We are fine. You do not love me. You just...don't, and that's okay. You can't make everything in this world your fault. You're not responsible for the existence of pain, certainly not mine." 


"This pain, this pain, is my fault, Cas," Dean argues in a heated whisper. "It's because I don't love you that you're—" He cuts himself off when Castiel flinches. "See? That's all me, man. That's on me." 


Castiel shakes his head, but he doesn't say anything else. He just looks down and away. The moment between them feels brittle and stretched thin, capable of shattering apart at any second, at any wrong move. Castiel has that look he gets like he wants to run away, like he has always gotten right before taking flight, but he has nowhere to go. He's human. His wings have been broken for a long time, all for a man who doesn't love him back. 


Dean is so furious about it, furious with himself, furious with Castiel for choosing the worst piece of shit in the world. Why? Why him? Castiel deserves so much better, so much more, and Dean is the only one who can give it to him. 


Dean can give it to him. 


The thought is like a zap down his spine, calling on some old kind of instinct that he's never truly lost, dusting off the grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it kind of sacrifice—the kind he does, not because he wants to, but because he has to. It's a conundrum, this sacrifice, if it's almost heavy-handed in its necessity. 


Before he's really thought about it, he's curling in closer to Castiel, trying to do—something. Anything. He's not sure what, exactly, but he doesn't get very far anyway. Castiel puts his hand on Dean's chest, releasing a shuddering breath. 


"Dean," he rasps, "don't." 


"Why?" Dean asks, staring at the crown of his head, leaning into his hand. "You want me to." 


Castiel lifts his head, frowning. He's gripping the counter with his free hand, the other flat across the middle of Dean's chest. He's a mess of mixed signals, swaying forward, his breath hitching, shaking his head all the while. He's trying very hard, and Dean hates it. He shouldn't have to. 


"You don't want to," Castiel whispers, finally, and his voice cracks. If there was anything that could have made up Dean's mind for him, it's that. 


"You deserve it, though," Dean says softly, pressing in against Castiel's hand. He backs him up against the counter, closer, closer. "Let me, Cas. Let me." 


Castiel closes his eyes, the bob of his throat lifting and dropping on a swallow. He stays tense for a moment, fingers curling in on Dean's chest a little, and then he gives in. His whole body unclicks. There's a muffled groan behind his closed lips. His arm goes slack, giving Dean the freedom to move. 


Think of England, Dean thinks a little ridiculously, because he's pretty sure that's the joke anyway. 


With that and his unflinching resolve, Dean shuffles in until they're pressed together from chest to hip. He can feel Castiel's heart racing. It's so fast. He marvels at it for just a split second, then he presses his weight against Castiel, pinning him to the counter. All that's left to do is catch Castiel's face in his hands and kiss him, and so Dean does. 


Whatever fight Castiel had left in him drains away in an instant. His hand slides down Dean's chest, almost like he's forgotten it, and he makes a very small noise in the back of his throat. Their lips have only just touched, that's all, and he's already gone. 


Dean doesn't know what he's expecting. He's not doing this for him, but it's not like he's not even present. He can feel the bump of Castiel's nose, the slight drag of scruff under Dean's palms. Castiel's lips are slightly chapped, but they're warm. They're normal. They're human. 


It's a close-mouthed kiss, but that's not good enough. Castiel deserves better. So, Dean very purposefully tilts his head and deepens the kiss, wetting Castiel's bottom lip with his tongue. It takes one swipe, only one, and then Castiel is parting his lips with a small sigh like he's experiencing something that can't be compared to anything else, like he knows what bliss must be now. 


The sigh does—something. Dean's not sure what, precisely, it does, but the blood in his veins surges and goes hot. He leans in closer, pushing one his hands around Castiel's cheek to cup the back of his head because they're fucking doing this, dammit, so they may as well do it right. 


He forgets to think of England. 


He forgets to think at all. 


Castiel keeps making these noises, these small, muffled sounds that may or may not be whimpers, and Dean keeps needing to hear it again, forgetting over and over and chasing the reminder. Kissing someone this deep, and this slow, takes focus and intent, but Dean's screwing it all up. He's getting distracted, crowding in closer, too close, kissing a little too hard and little too fast. He's—he's— 


And oh, there's the shiver that cartwheels down his spine. Oh, the flush under his skin, the heat, and oh, he's not breathing very evenly, and oh, this feels—


He didn't know, is the thing. He never knew it would be like this. That it would feel so similar to wanting a woman, except it's Castiel, and somehow that's something else entirely, something bigger. That it would rock him solid and shut him down, the surge of his own want knocking the ghost of daddy issues past right out of his goddamn body. He didn't know that it would feel this good. 


Dean realizes all at once that he recognizes this feeling, this ruthless yearning in his chest. He wants this. He wants to make Castiel make those sounds again, wants to lick them out of his mouth, wants to make it so good that Castiel doesn't know who Shawn is, so good that Castiel will never want anyone other than him, so good that Castiel will love him harder, deeper, more. Endlessly. 


Castiel lets himself be kissed at first, and he seems quite a mess about it, but then he's kissing Dean back. And then he's just the one doing the kissing at all, his hands coming forward to grip Dean's hips and yank him in, his head tilting just so, giving the room to fully fuck Dean's mind up good and proper. 


Dean doesn't know where to touch, or how, but he knows he's fucking desperate to. His hands jump all over, landing in hair, holding onto shoulders for dear life, fisting the front of Castiel's shirt, pawing a little mindlessly at hips. There's the sharp skitter of his own arousal scrambling for purchase within him, eventually falling and unraveling hot and heady. 


He couldn't say who the Queen of England is. He'd be lucky to remember his own goddamn name. 


Castiel gets teeth involved, and that's—Jesus fucking Christ, that's possibly the most incriminating thing that he could have ever done. Dean jolts at the feeling of his bottom lip between Castiel's teeth, the sensitive section of gums that he's been chewing for months now suddenly feeling like a fucking live wire. He curls into it, inhaling sharply through his nose, and then there's the evidence. He moans, long and loud and helplessly. 


Castiel releases his lip, his breath stuttering, and Dean sways in place. He can feel his lip throbbing. He can hear himself panting. His heart is going as fast as Castiel's was, if not harder. He realizes, belatedly, that he's shaking a little—just the tremor of his hands, the wobbliness of his knees. 


"Dean," Castiel whispers, the name escaping in a fragile rasp, like a frozen bubble, too crystalized to pop. He fucking sounds like sex, Jesus Christ. 


Slowly, Dean peels open his eyes, not sure when he closed them. Castiel is staring at him, pupils too large to be anything other than blown with his own arousal. He doesn't seem to know where to look, Dean's eyes or his lips, and there's a joke in there somewhere, but Dean's too mentally fucked to even remember what it is. 


"That wasn't supposed to be that good," Dean admits, then has to clear his throat when it comes out rough. "For me, I mean. It, um…" 


"You did it for me," Castiel surmises. 


Dean exhales shakily. "Yeah." 


"You said…" Castiel's eyebrows twitch closer together. Confused. "Was it good?" 


"I did it wrong. Sorry, I was trying to, uh, keep it...not that," Dean confesses. "I didn't know it would be that, but then it was, and I—I—" 


Castiel looks at him for a beat, then clears his throat and murmurs, "Well, whatever it was, you certainly didn't do it wrong, Dean." 


"Okay," Dean says, not a goddamn thought in his head, "I'm gonna do it again." 


"Yes," Castiel agrees immediately. 


That's good enough for Dean, who hasn't had a coherent thought in a while, who can't string any thoughts together at all. Maybe it's just best not to. He gives up entirely and folds into Castiel again, doing his absolute best to kiss him the way he actually meant to. Deep and slow. Intimate. 


He feels sort of punch-drunk, actually, a little lost to sensation without meaning to be. If he's supposed to be steering this ride, they're not going anywhere. He has no sense of direction, just the sole priority of kissing until he's so light-headed he has to stop. 


It's like he tried to dip his toes into the deep end, then fell in head-first, and he's been drowning ever since. So strange, in a very distant way, to realize he wants something he'd been so sure that he didn't, something he could have had the whole fucking time. He sinks into it and doesn't want to resurface. 


Castiel doesn't make him, thankfully. Maybe he senses what Dean is trying to do, or maybe he wants it himself, but he takes the metaphorical steering wheel and sets the course. He kisses Dean deep and slow, intimate, hungry but not starving, warm but not scalding. He's so intent about it, as if he's tracking every second and every feeling, not drawn out of his head like Dean but tucked firmly in it. 


There's a long second where Castiel's hands are still on Dean's sides, and then he's abruptly pushing him back—gently, yet insistently. Right this moment, Dean would be willing to do absolutely anything, as stupid as he is from just a goddamn kiss. A fantastic kiss, but a kiss nonetheless. So, he goes with it, stumbling backwards a little and letting Castiel turn them around, pinning Dean to the counter instead, and oh, that's good. That's really good. 


Dean has just a second to be pleased by the feeling of Castiel's weight against him, and then the kiss itself is changing direction. Castiel dips down, so Dean follows automatically, sort of sure that they're just going to kiss until they die, which is a helluva way to go. He doesn't think he'd mind, honestly. 


Then, without much warning, Castiel's hands are near his knees, and he's doing a fancy little maneuver that ends with a short lift and Dean's ass planted firmly in the counter. Dean's breath goes a little wonky, a gutted sound muffled against Castiel's lips. The kiss didn't even fucking break. Jesus Christ on a fucking cracker, or whatever the fuck. Dean tangles his hands in Castiel's hair, leaning over from the slight height advantage, and Castiel pushes his knees apart to step in between them like that's his spot to enter and exit whenever he damn well pleases. 


Dean's having feelings about that, he knows he must be, but it's all coming to his mind slow as honey and just as sticky, hard to make sense of when all of his common sense has been blown to shit. 


For a long, long time, they just kiss. Castiel has his head tipped back just so, giving them a very good angle. His hands are resting casually on Dean's thighs as if he owns them, too. Dean thinks maybe, maybe, maybe he could if he asked. Castiel could have anything right now. He could have everything. 


The kiss goes gentle and careful, precious and sweet. Dean's body slowly relaxes. His mind falls silent and still, at ease, resting. His fingers unclench and settle on the sides of Castiel's neck, drawing circles with his thumbs. Something within him unravels, little knots on his heartstrings smoothing out. He feels suddenly, completely safe. He feels cherished. 


He feels loved. 


The kiss breaks naturally, but slowly. Castiel doesn't go very far. Their foreheads stay together, the very tips of their noses touching. They're both breathing quietly, softly. Dean wants to exist here forever. 


"I did that for you," Castiel tells him, and it's like another confession. 


Dean doesn't open his eyes. They're hot and wet behind his eyelids. He has to swallow around the thickness of his throat. "Because it's okay." 


"Yes," Castiel's confirms. "It's okay, Dean." 


"Thanks, Cas," Dean croaks. 


Castiel hums. "You're welcome." 


After another long beat where they share the same air, like trading secrets, Dean pulls back enough to open his eyes and look at Castiel's face. He finds Castiel already watching him, his gaze warm and patient and adoring. Dean looks at him and keeps looking at him, and he finds himself thinking about why Castiel must love him. 


There's some irony to an angel who once could fly, falling for him instead, both literally and lovingly. People fall in love sometimes; that's something they do. Dean understands now more than ever why that term is so correct—falling in love. It's because, at some point, you land. You're either caught, or you're not, but you land. And Dean knows, because he's very sure that he's just landed, safely. 


Dean didn't catch Castiel. It could have ruined everything, but Castiel didn't let it. He just...landed and stayed where he was at, not even waiting, just happy to be broken and sprawled out, as if the fall was miraculous enough to make up for the pain. Suffering through the silence. Needing no echo. 


But that's the thing, Dean thinks. He didn't catch Castiel, no, but he can lay down beside him. He can fill the silence. He can provide an echo. 


"I think—" Dean pauses, huffing a slightly incredulous laugh. "Cas, I think you actually fucking wooed me, man. You—you Casanovaed me." 


Castiel blinks at him. "I...stole your heart?" 


"Yeah, that shit's yours," Dean admits with a snort, shaking his head. "Cheesy metaphor aside, yeah, you kinda did. Not kinda. You did." 


"Oh," Castiel says. "Okay, Dean. But you're not—you don't—"


Dean takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out, closing his eyes again. It's easier to talk about if he's not looking at Castiel, if he's not looking at the kitchen as a whole and waiting for his dad to suddenly show up. "Well, maybe I'm—not maybe. I'm, um. I don't… Women are easy, Cas. Men aren't. But both are—both. It's both, for me." 


"Okay," Castiel repeats. 


"Yeah," Dean wheezes, letting his head dip forward so their foreheads connect with a quiet tap. It feels oddly safe here, for some reason, and he squeezes his eyes shut tighter. "My dad was—he wasn't—" 


Castiel's lips brush the corner of his mouth, and he whispers, "I know." 


"I'm kind of a basketcase, man." Dean rubs his nose of Castiel's, strangely lulled by the motion. "You sure you want to, uh, be saddled with me?" 


"I'm not...simple, either," Castiel mumbles. 


"Fair enough. I don't mind. Not if it's you." 


"I feel the same." 


Dean chuckles weakly and reaches out with fumbling fingers to fiddle with the front of Castiel's shirt, rolling the cloth between his fingers. "I have no idea what the fuck I'm doing. The kissing is, ya know, self-explanatory. But the rest? Beyond me." 


"We'll figure it out," Castiel offers. "We have a lot of time. There's no rush." 


"If you're cool with that, then so am I," Dean allows, finally opening his eyes to pull back and make sure that Castiel is actually on the same page. 


Castiel's lips curl up. "I'm cool with that." 


"For now, the kissing is—" Dean inclines his head, raising his eyebrows knowingly. "That's really kinda working for me, so we should—" 


Castiel cuts him off with a kiss, a smiling one, and that works for Dean, too. It keeps working, even as it changes and shifts and forms into so many different ways to experience it. He gets lost in it, wrapping his arms around Castiel's shoulders and leaning into him, unaware of the passage of time, unaware of everything but Castiel's mouth against his. 


He becomes aware, very abruptly, when the fridge door opens with a squeak. Dean blinks, jerking back from the kiss as the cobwebs in his brain slowly shake loose. He stares as Sam straightens up from grabbing his water bottle, then closes the fridge back. As one, Castiel and Dean just stare at him. They're still pressed together, holding onto each other, Dean on the counter and Castiel between his legs, but they're focused entirely on Sam. 


When Sam notices them noticing him, he raises his water bottle as an explanation, smiles at them like this all completely normal, then walks right out of the kitchen without saying a goddamn word. 


"I didn't hear him come in," Dean admits, dazed. 


"Neither did I," Castiel assures him. He gives him a surprisingly sly look, amused. "We were otherwise occupied, if you recall." 


"Remind me," Dean breathes out. 


Castiel smiles. "My pleasure." 



The tenth thing that happens is that things keep happening, and they always have been, for a very long time. Dean's only just realizing it, but that's sort of how his life works—maybe life in general. Things happen. They do, and do, and do. 


Castiel is back, and Dean stops counting for how long. When he wakes from dreams he can't really remember, he doesn't have to go far to reassure himself that Castiel is still here. He just turns over, and there he is, right next to him. 


On one such morning, Dean drags himself out of bed with a reluctant grunt. He sits on the edge of the bed for a while, lacing up his boots, and then he turns and looks at Castiel while he sleeps. He's fucking pretty when he's asleep. Dean shakes his head and leans to the side so he can reach out and flick his nose, grinning when Castiel's face scrunches up and turns away. 


Suitably pleased with his start to the day, Dean heads out of the room, lazily making his way into the kitchen. As he draws closer, he can hear the sounds of laughter, of multiple people talking. He narrows his eyes and picks up his pace. 


Eileen is here, but that's no surprise. She's practically moved in, which has put Sam in a seemingly permanent good mood. He's on cloud nine about it, and Dean finds it incredibly amusing. 


However, Eileen isn't alone. Claire and Kaia are here again, and this is slightly surprising. They haven't been back since Claire punched him in the face, but the invitation wasn't closed, so it's fine. They must have just got off another hunt because they're both clutching their coffee like it's their only source of energy. Claire looks very tired. Kaia has her head resting on her shoulder, eyes drooping. 


Sam is the one up and making all the racket. He's tackling breakfast today. Dean resists the urge to go over and take full control, but it's very hard. Sam's a grown up; he should know how to cook, and he does, but still. Dean's a little territorial about his kitchen. Their kitchen, what the fuck ever. 


"Ah, good, you're up," Sam chirps as soon as he sees him in the doorway. "I'm making omelets." 


Dean does his best not to look. "Great. Make some with no tomatoes. Cas doesn't like them." 


"Sure." Sam glances at him, amused. "He still asleep? You two slept in." 


"Yeah, out like a light. You know how he is. We were up late last night," Dean says, moving over to the coffee machine. 


Sam hums and passes him a mug. "Doing anything interesting? Case stuff?" 


"Interesting, yes." Dean coughs and stares at the coffee as it pours into his cup. His face is very hot. Goddamn blushing again. "Case stuff, no." 


"Ah," Sam says, then immediately drops it. 


Claire does not. "What the fuck does that mean?" 


Dean is quiet for a while, making the coffee, staring listlessly at the wall. Then, with a deep breath, he turns around and looks right at Claire, the coffee gripped between his hands. "It means that, as it turns out, I'm not scared of dicks. I'm partial to one in particular, in fact, and it's not mine. Three guesses as to who it is, go." 


"Gross, what the fuck?" Claire blurts out, wrenching back in disgust. "I don't need the details, Dean, Jesus Christ. Glad you got your shit together, though." 


"Amen," Sam mutters, then ducks out of the way when Dean makes a lazy swipe out at him. 


Dean huffs and moves over to sit beside Eileen, staring at her imploringly. "Please talk to me. You're the only sane person here." 


"I know." Eileen pats his hand, lips spreading into a grin. "You're welcome to tell me the details." 


"Oh, sure," Dean says, pitching his voice higher to a near-yell when Claire makes a theatrical show of putting her fingers in her ears. "He's got this freckle just below his—" 


"Where's my gun?" Claire chokes out, nearly sailing out of her chair and patting herself down. 


Kaia pulls a gun out of somewhere and holds it up, all supportive-like, which explains a lot about how their relationship works. Claire takes it and waggles it at Dean with her eyebrows raised. Dean lifts his hands in surrender, and there's a clench-and-release tension that pops within him when he recognizes the warmth in her gaze, despite everything. Pride is obvious in her eyes in the same way as Castiel's. 


It's still new, is the thing. He's handling it well, he thinks. Taking it slow helps. Castiel is happy to take it slow. He treats everything they do together like they have all the time in the world, like he wants to dedicate every single second to it, like he is pleased as fucking pie to drag it out and enjoy each moment. And this is helpful, yes, but not when Dean's all wound up and aching for more. 


Still, it is good. And it's okay. Castiel keeps saying that, and Dean decides it's easier just to believe him. Like Sam said, if it's okay for everyone else, then it can damn well be okay for him, too. 


Sam has handled Dean and Castiel's new dynamic with admirable poise. He doesn't treat it like it's new, or different, or unexpected. He cares, but he doesn't really care, and it's probably the nicest thing Sam could have ever done. He even keeps the teasing to the minimum, despite Dean being a little shit about Eileen constantly. His whole thing is just the way it was when he caught them kissing the first time—something that happens, whatever, keep it moving. And Dean? Dean adores him for that. 


"Good morning," Castiel says roughly as he comes into the kitchen with a scowl, stuffed in Dean's hoodie—and doesn't that just do funny things to Dean's heart—and making a beeline for the coffee. 


"Here, Cas," Dean calls, holding up his cup. It was never really his to begin with. 


Castiel gives him a look that suggests Dean will be getting a reward for this later, which makes Dean's face go hot all over again. Still, Castiel comes over to take the coffee with a small sigh, sipping it with his eyes closed. He leans against Dean's chair, his hand absentmindedly sliding across the width of Dean's shoulders, trailing goosebumps after. 


"You're the best thing that's ever happened to me," Castiel informs Dean very sincerely, after a few gulps of his coffee. 


Dean resigns himself to his semi-permanent burning face, ignores Claire's snort and Kaia's tiny aw, and he says, "Ditto, sweetheart." 


Castiel squints at him. "That's new." 


"I'm trying to get Claire to shoot me and put me out of my misery," Dean says dryly. 


"Getting closer," Claire warns, though there's absolutely no heat in her words. 


"Are you miserable?" Castiel asks, looking vaguely alarmed by this, a little frazzled and harassed like it's too early in the morning for him to figure out what the fuck Dean's issue is now. 


Dean cracks up, laughing and shaking his head. He reaches out and curls his hand around Castiel's hip, the gesture familiar and intimate, new and not, terrifying and exhilarating. "No, not at all." 


"Oh, good." Castiel hums and proceeds to flat out ignore him, turning to talk to Claire and Kaia instead, finding out why they're here, when they arrived, how long they'll be staying. 


Dean wavers for a moment, aware of how many people are in the room, so many that can just see him. Sam is still puttering around, cooking, but he keeps turning to look at Eileen and grin at her. Eileen is literally right next to him, so she absolutely won't miss a move he makes. Claire and Kaia are on the other side of Castiel, but they can see him, too. 


Still. Still. Dean releases a quiet breath and lets his head drop forward against Castiel's side, leaning into him and shutting his eyes. He wants to, and it's okay, so why the fuck not? 


Castiel doesn't even stop talking to Claire. His hand just comes up to settle on his head, fingers gently pushing through his short hair, sort of petting him. It's really fucking nice, and no one says a goddamn word. Dean decides he's never moving again. 


After that, it's hard for Dean to keep his hands off of Castiel for the remainder of the day. He just keeps touching him. His hips, his hands, his shoulders. He can't help it, because no one says anything, and no one cares, and he really fucking wants to. It's not bad when Claire makes disgusted noises, or when Kaia coos about it—possibly to counteract Claire—or when Eileen winks and lightly teases, or even when Sam doesn't even react at all. It's especially not bad when Castiel allows it, leans into it, likes it. 


Dean realizes that things are often only as bad as he allows them to be, in regards to this. He could be defensive, or worried, or ashamed, but why? Why the fuck should he? It's okay. It's better than okay. 


Claire and Kaia stay the night, retiring earlier than everyone else, despite being much younger. Considering the hunt, though, it makes sense. Sam and Eileen retreat to the Dean Cave for movie night—apparently they're having a stay-in date, which Dean is fond of with Castiel, so he knows all about those. Castiel, however, drags him off to bed to make good on his promise of a reward from the coffee, as well as apparently releasing some tension from being touched by Dean all day. 


After, they're laying down, facing each other, and Castiel says, "You were very tactile today." 


"Yeah," Dean agrees. "I figured why the hell not, you know? And maybe—I dunno. It's good to get practice in, anyway. By the time we kick the bucket and get upstairs, I wanna be so fucking comfortable and sickening that my dad has a stroke." 


"That's—very rebellious of you," Castiel says haltingly, his voice strained. He swallows and looks at Dean's lips again. "It's very attractive." 


"Says the original rebel." Dean snorts and kicks his legs out to tangle with Castiel's, bringing them closer together. "You don't gotta tell me, man. Your penchant for rebellion is hot as hell." 


"Not very hot, then." 


"Fuck you, figure of speech." 


"Yes," Castiel says fondly, "I know." 


Dean grins and wiggles a little closer. "You like it, don't you? Me being touchy, I mean." 


"I like when you touch me," Castiel says, arching an eyebrow as if this should have been obvious. 


"I like touching you," Dean replies, waggling his eyebrows and watching Castiel roll his eyes hard enough to tip his head, his smile poorly hidden. Maybe he doesn't want to hide it. "Hey, Cas." 




"Do the Casanova thing." 


Castiel glances at him, amused. He has admitted that he finds it endearing when Dean calls it this. He just considers it him being open and honest about his love for Dean Winchester, all with the added bonus of making him blush. Dean, however, can't really get enough of it. When they're alone, wrapped up together in their own safe bubble, Dean usually can work up the courage to ask for it. 


"I trace your freckles when you're asleep. I imagine they're constellations." Castiel turns his head, looking up at the ceiling with a small smile. "You made me fall in love with humanity. Your love has never been a requirement for mine. I am happy. You make me very happy, Dean. I love you." 


"Okay, okay, enough," Dean blurts out, dropping his face into the curl of Castiel's shoulder, heated skin against heated skin. He closes his eyes, breathing around the flare of warmth tucked under his ribs, making his heart expand. "Cas." 


"Yes, Dean?" 


"You, make me happy, too. And I…" 


Castiel turns to look at him, waiting. "Yes?' 


"I love you," Dean says simply, softly. He hasn't actually said that yet, until now, but he thinks that's okay, too. He thinks it's okay that he's said it now. 


"Oh." Castiel stares at him for a minute, then his eyelashes flutter as he looks down. And then, Dean watches in amazement as a dash of red streaks across his cheekbones, over his nose, a flush that's only getting darker as the moment stretches. He looks up eventually, staring at Dean, and he whispers, "That's very nice to hear." 


Dean gives a soft laugh. "I know what you mean. Really? That does it for you?" 


"It does," Castiel admits. 


"Well, damn." Dean props himself up on his elbow, chewing the inside of his bottom lip to stop himself from grinning. Castiel watches him, curious, and Dean reaches up to slide the pads of his fingers over the warm streak beneath his skin. "I do love you. I think I have for a long time. I also think I've been falling in love with you for years. I'm pretty sure I fall in love with you every day." 


Castiel's face steadily gets warmer under his fingers, flushing darker, but he holds Dean's gaze, refusing to look away. His voice is hoarse when he says, "Ditto, sweetheart." 


Dean laughs softly and ducks in to kiss him.