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Talk Therapy

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"Alright fine, you can put a finger in me," Dean says one night while watching Cas go down on him.

Cas pops his mouth off Dean’s dick and stares at him. "I never said I wanted to put a finger in you," he says slowly, and then stops and tilts his head. "Do you want me to put a finger in you?"

Dean grimaces. Why is this so difficult? “What, like you want to just trade handjobs and blowjobs forever? Of course you want to do more.”

Cas frowns and sits up from where he had been nestled between Dean's legs. "I want you to be happy, Dean. I have no expectations about anything physical that we might do." It’s a nice thing to say but he says it in a really bitchy way, like he can bully Dean into having high self esteem or something.

Dean grits his teeth. He's realizing now that Cas is going to make him say it. "Okay fine," he forces out. "I want you to put your finger in me."

Cas says nothing. He just leans forward with his hands on the mattress on either side of Dean’s hips and does that thing where he stares at him, through him.

"What?" Dean snaps finally.

"I don't believe that you actually want that," Cas says evenly.

"I just said I did!"

"You said it in a very angry way."

Dean closes his eyes and presses his palms against his eyelids, letting out a long slow breath. "Fine—fine! I'm curious about it. I have no idea if I'll like it or if it'll feel good but I just—I just want to try it." His heart is racing stupidly in his chest as he chances a look at Cas.

But Cas is looking at him with satisfied eyes, the corner of his mouth turned up the tiniest little bit.

"Don't laugh at me," Dean says. He means to sound gruff but it comes out sounding a little wounded instead.

"I would never," Cas lies solemnly, ducking his head down to place an open mouthed kiss to the crown of Dean's dick where it lays on his stomach.

It makes Dean start to relax slowly, especially when Cas moves up his body, his hands sliding behind Dean’s back to hold him in a loose embrace, staying far away from his ass. Cas kisses his eighth rib, then his third, then the flat plane of his sternum. He spends time on Dean's right nipple, kissing and sucking and Dean finds himself stretching his tense body out, one hand curving around Cas' back, the other sliding through his hair. By the time Cas comes up to kiss his mouth, he’s forgetting to feel humiliated about their conversation.

Cas lowers himself down to the bed beside Dean and nudges him onto his side so they're facing each other, and kisses him soft and sweet. He runs his hand up and down Dean’s side in reassurance and Dean tucks an arm underneath his head and closes his eyes at the tenderness, trying not to feel too much like a teenage girl about it all. Cas always does this, slows sex way the hell down, so different from the way Dean’s done it his whole life, sneaking moments with strangers in cars and bar bathrooms and motel rooms, clumsy in his drunkenness, always looking over his shoulder, ready to fuck and run. Cas makes Dean slow down until he’s aching with it, until his orgasm trembles out of him like a full-body revelation.

He feels Cas pushing a knee gently between his legs now and allows it, sliding his own leg over it. Cas’ hand moves down his thigh to hook behind his knee and hitch his leg up to Cas’ hip, opening up his ass. The movement also brings their bodies closer together, and Dean’s still-hard dick slides against Cas’ own in delicious friction, trapped between their stomachs. Dean opens his eyes at the sensation to see Cas watching him closely, and shivers a little in anticipation. Cas must see something he likes in his face because he cups Dean’s jaw to kiss him once more and then leans back to dig in the drawer of the bedside cabinet. He comes back with the little bottle of lube they use for handjobs sometimes.

Dean eyes the lube Cas squeezes into his hand. It seems like an awful lot for just one finger. Maybe Cas misunderstood what he wanted...he starts to feel himself tense up again. But when Cas tosses the bottle and finally touches him, it’s only to wrap his hand around their cocks between them, the slick slide of their skin pulling a gasp out of Dean. Cas has a smile on his face that could almost be called smug but Dean can’t even care right now, his eyes are almost rolling back in his head at the rhythm Cas is keeping, the way he squeezes his fingers just before he runs them over the heads, the way heat builds and builds all through his body. Dean grasps the back of Cas’ neck with half a mind to pull him into another kiss but he can’t focus so he just holds on instead, his mind a haze of arousal.

Thankfully, Cas stops and switches hands, and the new angle is awkward enough that he has to go a lot slower, which gives Dean a reprieve. Cas’ new rhythm is steady but relaxed and as Dean’s heart rate eases, he draws Cas’ mouth in for that belated kiss. Cas uses his lubed up right hand to pull Dean's leg up higher on his hip but Dean is too loose-limbed to feel anxious about what’s coming. He feels Cas' hand reaching around him, the weight of Cas' wrist on the curve of his ass, and keeps his eyes on the blue glint of Cas' own, and bites his lip. When Cas' finger ghosts over his hole, he sucks in a breath, unable to help it. The sensation is so foreign, and the skin there so sensitive.

Cas pauses but Dean growls out, "Don’t stop."

Cas keeps stroking him with his left hand and pushes in with his right and it feels...weird. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s so wet from all the lube it just feels a little gross. Dean makes a face in response.

“Am I hurting you?” Cas asks, sounding worried.

“No,” Dean insists, shaking his head. “It’s weird but keep going.”

He decides to focus on Cas’ hand stroking their dicks; that still feels good, at least. He can feel the familiar heat building inside him again, slower this time. Cas’ finger inside him strokes him too, and it’s strange, being touched from inside and out like this, like Cas is anchoring him in place.

“Put another finger in,” Dean huffs out, impatient. He’s not feeling much from just one.

“No,” Cas says firmly.

“Why not?” Dean snaps, glaring at him.

“It’ll hurt you, we should go slow.”

“It’s not going to hu—fuuuck,” Dean gasps when Cas moves his finger a different way, interrupting his thoughts. A jolt of pleasure shoots through him, pulled from deep inside his core. He sees the curve of Cas’ small smile in the low light of the room, unmistakeable. Cas presses on the spot again and again, sending shudders through him, like nothing he’s felt before.

“How did you find that?” Dean asks between gasping breaths, feeling himself come apart.

“I remade your body, Dean,” Cas says quietly, keeping up his punishing rhythm. “I know where everything is.”

And that’s it, one more twist of Cas’ finger and Dean’s done, he’s coming hard into Cas’ hand, all his senses whiting out, his whole body shaking and clenching around Cas. He’s never felt anything like that before, holy shit. He doesn’t even feel Cas taking his finger away, his heart pounding in his ears.

When he comes to, he notices Cas is still hard but he doesn’t have the energy or the coordination to deal with it. He collapses onto his back instead and pulls at Cas to lean over him. He runs his fingers through Cas’ hair as Cas jerks himself off, coming finally in ropy strands all over Dean’s stomach.

Cas is the one who gets up to wet the washcloth in the sink and clean them both up. Dean feels a little like a dick about just laying there and doing nothing, but whatever the fuck endorphins flooded his system from Cas’ finger magic have wiped his mind blissfully blank so he doesn’t feel too guilty. And when Cas nudges him onto his side and pushes up behind him, throws an arm around him and kisses his neck, he grabs Cas’ hand and laces their fingers together and doesn’t even pretend that he doesn’t want this.

It’s different in the morning though.

Dean hasn’t had a breakdown about this kind of thing in a while but he thinks he’s probably due after the previous night. He hides from Cas in various rooms of the bunker all day until he can’t stand it anymore and then takes Baby out for a drive. He goes thirty miles out to an abandoned farmstead with a fallen-apart barn and a broken fence, and a house that has more holes than walls. He parks in the long dusty driveway and stretches out in the front seat with his head out the driver’s side window in the late afternoon sun. He drinks through two 40s and smokes half a pack of menthols while flipping through the porn mags he brought, looks at girls with huge tits bent over and thinks about Cas.

The thing about Cas is...well, there’s two things.

The first thing is the gay thing, which he’s actually not handling as badly as the people that know him might think, but that in itself is messing with his head a little. He thinks maybe he should be more freaked out than he has been. The first time he had gotten naked with Cas, he couldn’t take his eyes off him: his pecs, the hard planes of his abs, all that smooth, pale skin. He remembers that he had run a hand up Cas’ side carefully and that Cas, watching Dean watch him, had said, “You like this body.”

It had brought him up short, forced him on the defensive. He thinks that if he had ever walked past Jimmy Novak on the street, he probably wouldn’t have given him a second look. But he can’t help but like the way Cas looks up at him through his eyelashes when he's unsure of something. He likes the little smile Cas makes when he says something to make Dean laugh. He likes when Cas touches him with his broad hands, to heal him, or reassure him. He likes the way Cas rolls his eyes when he's annoyed at him, the way he still stares at him sometimes, intense and bright.

"I like you," Dean had said finally, and had tamped down a smile at the way Cas had tilted his head at him—another thing he likes.

If he's honest though, if he's really really honest, this thing between them wouldn’t work if he didn’t also like Cas' very male body, and if he didn’t like for Cas to do things to him with that body. He knows intellectually that it doesn’t matter what he likes in bed and who he likes it with. And he always said he’d try anything once, but. But.

But this isn't just about sometimes looking at a dude's ab muscles in porn, or having a couple of dreams about Clint Eastwood in a cowboy hat, or trading handjobs with a stranger in a bathroom stall (he was seventeen and the guy had offered him $50; what was he going to do, say no?). This thing with Cas is way too real for him to dismiss, way too heavy with meaning and consequence. And he hates to say it, but it still throws him sometimes that he’s having these thoughts about a dude, and not some pretty dark-haired chick in a sundress, like the kind he thought he could have settled down with the few times he had even dared to dream of something like that.

He knows what Sam thinks about him, that he’s not woke or whatever, that he’s close-minded and repressed. And okay, maybe he deserves that for making gay jokes about Sam for twenty years, but he's also not a dumb 26-year-old trying to impress his dad anymore. He’s pushing 40 now and he’s missed out on a lot in life, but he can finally see that he has a chance now for something more.

He flips a page and stares at Roxxxy Lee’s open mouth, running a finger along the line of her red lipstick. It makes him think about the other thing about being with Cas.

The truth is, he’s always felt a kinship to all the slutty college girls looking for hookups in bars, the girls who spread it for skin mags or video cameras. He’s been that girl, in the slutty way if not the college way, and especially in the way that he never took the time to think about the things he really wanted because he was so eager to take any validation he could get. He gets what Cas has been trying to get him to do, the way Cas pushes him to think about what he wants for himself, and not just about what will get the other person to want him. It’s hard though, to unlearn what’s been ingrained in him, from years and years of conditioning about the value of his own sacrifices.

He lays in the car for a while longer, feeling the alcohol leaving his system slowly, a headache coming on as the sky darkens around him. The stars are out by the time he convinces himself to stop being a little bitch and drive back to the bunker.

That night, Dean finds Cas in the Dean-Cave, slumped in an armchair watching a rerun of Maury. His heart does something embarrassing in his chest at the sight. Dean has been making progress in getting Cas to break out of his full-suit getup while he's in the bunker and now he's wearing a pair of Dean's pajama pants with little burgers on them and a worn black t-shirt that Dean wants to feel under his fingers.

Dean takes a step into the room and Cas turns at the sound, his face collapsing into a frown. He takes another step in, and another, until he's kneeling down in front of Cas and pulling the remote from his hand to mute the tv.

"Where have you been, Dean?" Cas asks, low and resigned.

"Around," he responds, not looking at Cas.

He doesn't want to have this talk right now. All he wants to do is suck Cas' dick until that disapproving look leaves his face. And for once, Cas doesn't stop him. He just watches Dean pull his dick out and stroke it into hardness, look at the pretty length of it, kiss the base, the crown, and pull it into his mouth.

He thinks maybe Cas appreciates that this is nowhere near as big a freakout as the last one Dean had had, after he'd finally admitted to himself that he liked having Cas' cock in his mouth. He'd panicked and driven three hundred miles to Kansas City, gotten completely hammered at a brothel and then hadn't been able to get it up when the hooker had gotten naked and straddled him. He'd ended up crying a little and she'd taken pity on him and let him use his fingers on her with the time he'd bought. And he hadn't thought it was possible to be angry and sullen while sucking on a beautiful woman's nipples but apparently it was. He'd tried to go down on her too but she'd pushed him away.

"I don't wanna catch no thrush from you, honey," she'd said which, he'd reflected sadly, was fair.

In comparison, Dean is doing really well this time and he tries to put his relief for Cas, his gratefulness, into his movements, the way he licks at the crown of Cas' dick every time he pulls back, the way he draws him in as far as he can to the back of his throat. Cas always tells him he doesn't like this so that Dean won't hurt himself trying it, but Dean hears the little noises Cas makes when he gets it right. He's been getting better at it too, and the alcohol helps him relax his throat so he can pull Cas in further, feel him impossibly huge and full inside him. He doesn't know if this is fucked up or not but his favorite part is when his air gets cut off for a few seconds and his throat is convulsing, and his world narrows until all he can feel is Cas' dick, all he can hear is Cas' reverent gasps. Cas combs his fingers through Dean's hair, painfully tender, and it doesn't take long before he comes.

After, Dean closes his eyes and leans his cheek against Cas' thigh. He feels a little dizzy and Cas is so solid under him.

"Are you drunk?" Cas demands, curving his palm around Dean's jaw.

"Yeah," Dean admits into the soft cotton of Cas' pajama pants.

Cas sighs and leans forward to reach down Dean's chest and rest his palm over where Dean knows his liver is. He sees the golden glow of Cas' healing power from behind his eyelids and feels the warmth of it, knows that Cas is cleaning out the scar tissue of his liver, the places where cirrhosis would have formed by this age. Dean feels tears squeezing out of his closed eyes. He doesn't deserve Cas, he knows. Despite what Cas tells him, it's the one thing he knows to be true.

Sometimes though, Dean is reminded that he’s not the only one with issues in this relationship.

One Tuesday, Cas calls them for help with a mission from Heaven. In addition to helping Hannah reorganize Heaven, Cas has been sending teams of angels to Earth on missions to kill monsters. The angels have been instructed to only go after the monsters that are attacking humans and they tend to tackle high value targets, like demons and large vampire nests, which leaves some small scale stuff for the human hunters. So Dean hardly ever gets to chop off heads anymore, which sucks, but he also attends fewer hunter funerals and doesn't miss the anxiety of thinking about something happening to Jody or Claire or Garth.

Not all the angels are on board though and sometimes one goes rogue. Dean and Sam help Cas track down Kushiel, who’s started smiting humans. Kushiel seems to be attacking anyone who’s committed some kind of sin, no matter the severity, so the body count he’s racked up includes a couple of adulterers, three abusive boyfriends, and a kleptomaniac. They corner him in a warehouse on the outskirts of Omaha, knock him around a little, and trap him in a circle of holy fire while Sam slaps the handcuffs they found in the bunker on him. Kushiel doesn’t exactly go quietly, and lashes out at Cas while he’s trapped.

“Look at you, Castiel,” he sneers, pacing inside the circle. “You were the best of us and now you slum around with these mud monkeys. You ask that we serve them!”

Dean glances at Cas but Cas just glares at the guy and doesn’t respond so he and Sam don’t either.

“You were once chosen by God, Castiel and now you lie with filth. I can smell your sin on you, the way you’ve desecrated yourself. For what? For him?”

Kushiel points a finger at Dean and out of the corner of his eye, Dean sees Sam start and look at him. But Dean’s heard enough. He steps over the low barrier of flames and socks Kushiel in the jaw, a one punch knockout, pleased with the way he collapses with a satisfying thunk.

“You sure you want this guy back, Cas? What a piece of work,” he calls over his shoulder while poking Kushiel with his shoe to make sure he’s actually out.

He doesn't hear a response from Cas so he turns around to look at him. Cas is looking down at Kushiel with his face tight and his fists clenched. He looks angry but there's something else in his expression too, something that looks a little like shame.

"Cas?" Dean asks again, and Cas glances at him and then looks away. And maybe it's because there's a circle of flames between them again but Dean is forcefully reminded of another time years ago when Cas had stood behind a line of holy fire and avoided his gaze, the very first time he had broken Dean's heart.

"Yes," Cas says finally, gesturing with his hand to lower the flames so he can walk up to them. "Kushiel is a good soldier. It is possible that his mind can be changed on this matter, or we may be able to assign him to work that does not take him near humans."

"Thank you for your help, Dean, Sam," he adds, hauling Kushiel over his shoulder with ease. "I will deliver him back to Heaven."

"Uh, yeah, sure," Dean says as they follow him out of the warehouse.

"Good luck, Cas," Sam calls to him as he heads for the Impala.

Dean lets him go ahead and walks over to Cas where he's covering Kushiel up with a tarp in the bed of his truck. Dean puts his hands in his pockets and looks askance at him. For angel business, Cas is always suited up, trenchcoat and all, and it makes Dean feel weird to talk to him like that now, like he’s got to get through Heaven’s armor.

"Hey Cas, you okay?" Dean asks, pitching his voice low. "You don't care about the stuff this douchebag was saying, do you? You know he’s full of shit." He hates how needy he sounds but they don't have a lot of time right now and he wants to make sure Cas understands.

"Yes, Dean," he says, but he sounds clipped and short and he's still not looking at Dean, damnit. "It may take me some time to return to the bunker. Please don't wait up."

"Yeah, all right," Dean mutters since Cas is already tucking himself into the driver's seat. "See you later."

Dean gets into the Impala to see that Sam is giving him shifty looks too. Jeez, what is with everyone today?

"Cas okay?" Sam asks, looking sideways at him.

Dean shrugs and turns the engine over, puts the car into drive. "Are you ok?"

Sam looks taken aback. "Yeah of course."

"Great," Dean says flatly as he merges onto the highway.

Sam only makes it a couple of miles before he starts to crack. "Dean," he says, sounding uncomfortable. "You know you can tell me anything, right?"

Dean frowns over at him at the non sequitur. "What are you talking about?"

"Just," Sam takes a breath and turns in his seat to look at him full in the face. "If there's anything you want to talk about, I’m here for you.”

"Okay," Dean says, baffled. Maybe Sam’s been listening to too many meditation podcasts again, who knows with that kid.

Sam sighs and turns back to his window.

It isn't until they're two hours into the drive back to the bunker that Dean realizes what Sam was hinting at and the steering wheel jerks in his grasp.

"What the—" Sam gasps, jumping up from where he'd been napping against the window.

"Sorry—shit," Dean says, pulling them back into their lane. His heart is racing. He sees up ahead a sign for an exit and beelines for it immediately, foot heavy on the gas. "Need coffee."

At the Gas-n-Sip, he sucks down coffee by the door while Sam fills up the car. They’ve got only an hour left of the drive back to the bunker and belatedly he realizes the coffee is going to make him more jumpy, not less. He doesn’t want to have this conversation with Sam and he especially doesn’t want to have it right now, not when Cas is acting weird as fuck. He pulls out his phone and checks for messages from Cas, though he doesn’t expect any. He sends a couple of texts anyway.

Dean: How’s the drive going?
Dean: Call us if you run into any issues

Dean looks at the messages for a second, makes a face, and then closes the screen so he won't be tempted to check for a response. He sees Sam eyeing him and ducks back into the car. He needs a fucking drink.

Back at the bunker, Dean heads straight to the kitchen and grabs a six pack. He checks his phone again (no messages) and sends a quick note:

Dean: Made it back to the bunker. Everything ok at the sandbox?

One drink quickly turns to six and when Sam comes in to look for dinner and raises his eyebrows at him, he figures it's time to get out of there. He nukes a frozen burrito, grabs another beer, and heads back to his room.

An annoying side effect of the angels killing monsters for them is that these days he has too much free time to think. He needs a fucking hobby or something, maybe a job. Kevin finally went back to school and Sam’s been making noises about going legit too. Dean takes a pull of his beer and turns the screen of his phone on and off, on and off. Hating himself, he dials Cas’ number, just once, listens to the rings until they go to voicemail, and then finally hangs up.

Cas ends up rolling back in two days later. Dean's in the garage cleaning out Baby's battery terminals when the bay door cranks open and Cas' truck pulls up. Dean's been working in the garage a lot the last couple of days, not because he knew that this is the first place Cas would come in from. Definitely not for that reason.

The initial wave of relief Dean feels at seeing Cas come home is quickly overcome by anger, by frustration at the three days of radio silence. He feels himself tense up under the hood of the car and doesn't look up when Cas parks the truck and walks to him.

"Hello, Dean," Cas says.

Dean glares down at the rag in his hand and tries to unclench his jaw. "You lose your phone or something?" he asks in a low voice, knowing the answer.

Cas sighs next to him. "No," he says. "I'm sorry I didn't respond to your texts."

He actually sounds abashed, which is what makes Dean toss the rag down and finally look up. Cas meets his eyes this time which, Dean reflects, is a fucking improvement.

"You gonna actually talk to me this time?” He can’t help the way it comes out a little mean. He’s still pretty pissed.

“Yes,” Cas says, gazing at him steadily. “Can we sit down?”

Dean glares at him one more time for good measure and then jerks his head to the bench by the wall where he sometimes lays his tools out. Cas ambles over but Dean takes his time reattaching the cables he’d disconnected and closing Baby’s hood. He wipes his hands on the greasy rag as best as he can and tosses it into the box he keeps by the door and finally walks over to the bench to sit down heavily beside Cas. Cas watches him the whole time.

“Okay,” Dean says, not looking at him. He leans forward with his elbows on his knees and rubs at a grease stain he missed on his thumb. “So talk.”

“You were right to think that Kushiel’s words upset me,” Cas says after a pause. “I needed some time to think about what he was accusing me of.”

Dean stares down at his hands. He’s only managing to smear the grease further down his thumb. He remembers Kushiel’s words ringing out in the empty space of the warehouse.

“You believe that shit? About—sin, or whatever?” He tries to say it flippantly but it comes out a little too quiet. He pushes himself up off his elbows and tries to inject some anger into his voice. “You full-on rebelled against Heaven, dude. What does it matter what you do after?”

He looks over to see Cas rubbing a hand over his eyes. Cas doesn’t look tired—he can’t really be tired—but he seems worn down all the same.

“To lay with a human,” Cas says finally. “Is one of our worst sins. It’s base, like lowering yourself to copulate with an animal.”

“Wow,” Dean blinks, taken aback. “Okay.”

Cas glances at him. “It’s not something I believe any more, Dean. Over the years, I've come to understand that our father created humans not to be lesser than us. What humans lack in power, they make up for with their art, their creativity, their ingenuity. As angels, we were never taught to recognize these as intellect, as something we ourselves lacked. Unfortunately, many of my brothers still don't understand this.”

“Doesn’t seem like something that should need to be taught,” Dean says, looking at his hands again. He doesn’t have any of that stuff himself, that art or creativity or whatever, but he feels irritated on humanity’s behalf anyway.

“I agree with you, Dean. But we angels were made to be soldiers, to fall in line,” Cas reminds him quietly. “We knew nothing but to obey.”

And Dean closes his eyes and nods, feeling recognition deep within his soul.

He feels Cas take his hand and slide their palms together, entwining their fingers. He opens his eyes to see Cas rubbing at the same grease stain on his thumb. Cas sees him looking and smiles, just a little. “I do not regret any of my decisions that led me to this, Dean. I only needed to remind myself that just because I had believed something for millions of years, that does not mean that it was actually true."

Dean thinks he gets it. Sometimes he wonders about the fact that if his dad was still around, he's not sure what he would have a bigger problem with, the fact that Cas is a dude or the fact that he's not human. He had once asked Dean to kill his own brother, for fuck’s sake. And even now, sometimes, the thought stills him, the old distrust of the inhuman that his father had built into him.

Dean shakes his head a little. He doesn't want to think about his father right now. "I need a shower," he says, standing up and tugging at Cas' hand to pull him up too. "Want to join me?"

Cas looks confused. "I don't sho—" he cuts himself off when Dean looks at him, then gets it and smiles. "Yes, I—yes."

They eventually do graduate to two fingers, and then another night a long time after, to three, which Dean finds impossibly huge inside him, like they're going to break him open, split him in half. He shakes through the whole thing the first time they do it, twisting the sheets between his fingers, grunting into his pillow. Cas keeps a soothing hand on him the entire time, rubbing circles on his side, stroking his dick, supporting his trembling thighs, stopping him when he tries to push back on Cas' fingers, not letting him take in any more than he can.

"Are you even enjoying this?" Cas asks him after, sitting on the bed and looking down at him with a little frown.

Dean hesitates before answering because he hears the questions underneath: Are you doing this to prove something? Are you only doing this to make me happy?

"I don't... always enjoy it," Dean admits finally.

"Then why do you always insist on—"

"I don't always—look I enjoy it the more we do it, ok? We had to both get a little better at it. It's not always going to be good at the beginning."

"We didn't need to begin it at all," Cas points out, fixing him with a sharp look.

And then Dean doesn't know what makes him say it, except that something about Cas always pulls honesty out of him, even against his will. "I know you want to fuck me so what are you complaining about?"

Cas freezes and in the stunned silence, Dean swallows, looking away. Even he can tell he fucked up.

"Dean," Cas says in a whisper, voice so full of pity and tenderness that Dean's eyes immediately burn. Cas comes closer to him, his arms bracketing Dean, surrounding him. Dean feels his warmth and can't stand it.

"Don't," Dean says, turning away. He's horrified but not surprised to hear his voice break on the word. He’s fucking this up, he fucked up, he’s a fuck up—

Cas slides up behind him, closes his arms around him, grips him tight. "When I held your soul in Hell, Dean," Cas says in his ear, too earnest to bear. "I knew even then how good you were. How full of love, how generous, how kind. But you are more than what you can do for others, Dean."

Jesus Christ, Dean thinks, a whine of panic rising and falling in his mind, his heart racing suddenly. He doesn't know why but his pillowcase is wet where he has his face pressed to it. Deep within himself is an unarticulated thought he's always felt, pushing its way to the surface, the panic that takes over whenever someone he loves leaves, the feeling that makes him clutch at Cas' arm even as he turns away from him.

"You are enough," Cas says to him over and over, and Dean shakes and gasps in his embrace.

It’s slow going, but things get a little easier after that.

It helps that Cas still seems to have very little context for human norms and behavior, even after so many years on Earth. Dean thinks he could say almost anything to Cas and get barely a blink from him. He tells Cas one night in the vulnerability of post-orgasm about trying on Rhonda Hurley’s pink panties, about the thrill he’d felt, and how soft they were, but Cas just squints at him.

“I don’t understand, what is the significance of the color of the underwear?”

“It’s not significant,” Dean says, idly playing with one of Cas’ nipples. “But you know, you’re not really supposed to wear pink as a guy. Or panties.” It sounds stupid when he says it out loud, but he doesn’t know how to explain the weight of all the rules that exist, unspoken but real.

“But no one else would see your underwear,” Cas argues, sounding baffled. “How would anyone know if you’re doing what you’re supposed to?”

I would know—,” Dean starts in frustration, and then pauses. Conversations with Cas sometimes make him feel like his brain is being stretched in too many directions. He hears what Cas is saying and it makes sense in the way that Cas sees the world but it doesn’t make any sense at all in the real world that Dean lives in so Dean has to somehow translate it back so it does make sense. He pulls back and tries to explain this to Cas but Cas just looks at him for a long moment. Finally, he rolls his eyes and sniffs.

“You humans make things needlessly complicated. You should wear what you prefer,” Cas says flatly, pulling Dean close again.

“Yeah okay, Mr. Spock,” Dean mumbles, and then adds, “Don’t tell anyone about the panties thing.”

“I understand that the conversations we have are private,” Cas recites like a sullen robot, and Dean hides a smile into the curve of Cas’ neck.

They don’t sleep together every night, and on the nights that Cas isn’t there, Dean stays awake and thinks about the things Cas says to him, turns them over and over in his head. There are more and more days where he doesn't feel like a piece of shit, heavy with guilt. He doesn't feel good exactly, he just feels...okay, neutral in a way that feels like a relief after years and years of feeling like shit. He thinks maybe Cas' earnest words have been sinking in bit by bit, slowly filling in the emptiness inside him.

It sounds cheesy to say that all those years he spent fighting monsters, he was always trying to fix something broken in him, but he gets it now. His father had given him a mission to fight monsters and protect his brother and had always always told him that he was falling short. And now the monsters are gone and his father is gone and there’s just Dean, with the possibilities of a normal life in front of him in a world that he’s not even sure how to fit into anymore.

“You can do anything now,” Cas had told him with his face shining when he was outlining his plan to have the angels hunt monsters, taking on their original charge of protecting humanity. “You can live a free life.”

He still has no idea what that means, but he thinks he’s finally okay with wanting it now.

It’s not all self-healing and positivity crap though and he’s still got a lot of shit to take care of, things he needs to figure out how to say. He’s reminded of this one morning when Sam comes back from his run early and catches Dean stealing his vegetables for lunch.

"Is that my lettuce?" he asks, stopping dead in the middle of the kitchen to boggle at Dean. "Are you making salad?"

Dean gives him a stink eye as he pours a healthy amount of ranch dressing into the bowl, covering up the two types of lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and dried cranberries. It looks disgusting.

"Cas got on my case to eat better," he grumbles.

This isn't exactly true. What Cas had actually done was stop in the middle of fingering him the night before to say, “Hm, you seem a bit constipated,” at which point Dean had lost it and tried to throw him out of his room.

“I only mentioned it because I can use my grace to—” Cas had tried to explain.

“If you finish that sentence, I swear to god—”

After the ensuing fight, they had ended the night with a couple of sulky blowjobs and cold shoulders, and now here Dean was. Making salad.

“Cas is planning your meals now?” Sam asks over his shoulder as he digs in the fridge for the protein shake he made last night.

Dean is about to lob a comeback (“Whatever, bitch”) when he remembers that he needs to have this conversation with Sam. He stops mixing the salad and stares at the cranberries poking out through the dressing. His chest feels tight but he makes himself take a breath.

“Uhh that was a joke,” Sam says, noticing his silence. He pauses with the protein shake in his hand. “Are you ok, dude?”

He's seriously thinking about chickening out when something about the way Sam is looking at him triggers a memory in him. When he'd been ten years old and Sam had been six, they'd been staying in a cabin that belonged to a friend of their dad's, and John had gone out for the evening. Dean had been on his tiptoes looking into the mirror over the bathroom sink and poking at a loose tooth with his tongue. He had been wondering if he could knock it loose somehow when Sam had burst in, looking terrified, his eyes huge in his little face.

"What? What happened?" Dean had asked, seeing his face in the mirror and whirling around.

Sam had just stood there frozen, unable to speak, and had burst into tears. Dean had grabbed his shoulders, pulled his hands away from his eyes to check for any cuts or broken fingers but couldn't see anything wrong.

"Sammy, just tell me—what—"

Unable to get anything out of Sam, he'd moved him out of the doorway and gone out into the main room, remembering too late about the rifle his dad had told him to keep with him at all times. But all he'd found was the room as he'd left it, just the TV on and an overturned milk carton on the floor, spilling everywhere. There was a bowl of cereal on the counter that Sam must have put there, waiting.

Dean had turned back to Sam and laughed in relief. "It's fine, dummy, what are you so scared of? We'll clean it up."

Sam had slowly hiccupped himself back to silence, only whispering once, "Don't tell dad."

"I won't, of course I won't, relax Sammy," Dean had told him, and for the rest of that night, he had kept thinking how crazy it was that Sam had been scared to tell his own brother something.

He looks at Sam now and reminds himself of that feeling. This is Sam, he’s known him his whole life.

“Look, Sam,” Dean says, clearing his throat. He has to just do it, rip the bandaid off. “Cas is…” He falters there because Cas is what? His...boyfriend? His completely tactless life partner? He and Cas haven’t even talked about this yet.

Sam raises his eyebrows when Dean doesn’t continue and walks to the kitchen island where Dean is standing with his stupid salad. He leans his elbows on the counter and looks at Dean, waiting. Dean grimaces and looks away; he could never handle the puppy dog eyes.

“Look, I’m gay, okay?” Dean says, as fast as he can. Then he stops and makes a face. “Kind of.”

Sam gets this look on this face, something between surprised and confused. “You’re kind of gay?”

“Yes,” Dean says firmly. “Kind of. And Cas and I are...something.” He waves a hand to demonstrate this.

“Okay..?” Sam looks like he has a lot more questions but Dean is officially done with this conversation. He might be done with any conversation for a while. His breaths are coming normally again but his heart is still stuttering in his chest.

“Glad we had this talk,” he says, grabbing his salad and getting the hell out of there.

Okay, so maybe he hasn’t figured all his shit out, but it’s a start.

One night, a long while later, Dean leans back against his headboard and watches Cas suck his dick with undemanding devotion. Cas takes his time, cheeks hollowing out when he takes him in, hand gentle on the base. Sometimes, when they do this, Dean forgets that there’s even a world outside them, that everything hasn’t just narrowed to Cas’ touch on his skin.

Dean pushes himself up and leans forward to run his thumb along Cas’ cheek, soft against the stretch of his lips. Cas looks up at him through his eyelashes and Dean’s heart jumps in his chest. For a second, he does nothing, unwilling to break the moment, and then he pushes gently at Cas’ shoulder so that Cas pulls off and looks at him, blinking.

“I want you to fuck me,” Dean says softly, trying to put his need into his voice, his desire. He can only do it here, in the dark quiet of his bedroom, with Cas looking and looking at him, pinning him with his gaze.

“Yes,” Cas says finally, though it wasn’t a question. He pushes up to kiss Dean, sending a thrill running through him.

Dean moans into Cas’ mouth and lets Cas maneuver him back down onto the bed and roll him over onto his stomach. He pillows his head on his crossed arms and feels his toes curl as Cas sucks wet kisses into the base of his spine. Cas makes his way lower and lower as he palms Dean's ass possessively and Dean huffs out a breath in anticipation. What he doesn’t expect is for Cas to spread his cheeks and lick a stripe up the crease, pulling a high-pitched sound out of Dean that he’s never heard himself make before. Cas’ tongue is so soft and wet against his hole, licking and circling the over-sensitive skin there, making Dean bury his whimpers into his elbow.

When Cas finally presses a finger into him, it's almost a relief, a balm on his sparked-up skin. Cas takes his time—he always takes his time—stretching him open, until Dean is boneless beneath him. Every once in a while, Cas places a kiss or a gentle bite along the curve of his ass and it’s weird how it all makes Dean feel taken care of, all romantic and shit, a thoroughly foreign feeling. Dean turns his head on his pillow to look past his shoulder at Cas and catches his eyes, glinting in the dark. He reaches a hand back to brush against the stubble at Cas’ chin, and Cas opens his mouth for him immediately. He slides a finger into Cas’ wet mouth, into the softness there, moves it slowly in and out, and it takes him a moment to realize he’s matching the rhythm of Cas’ fingers inside him, the both of them in sync.

I love you, he thinks, and doesn’t say.

His eyes grow heavy in the wave of arousal he’s been floating in. He could come from this, he realizes, but he doesn’t want this to end yet. He makes himself wake up, and pulls his hand away to poke Cas in the forehead with a wet finger. “We gotta hurry up,” he mumbles.

Cas bites him on the hip as a little punishment but then sits up and withdraws his fingers. He gives Dean a once-over with his eyebrow raised, evaluating. “Lie on your side,” he says. “No, with your back to me.”

Dean acquiesces, looking over his shoulder at Cas’ face as Cas lubes up his dick. He feels a little bit of anxiety but not much. Cas has big hands, long fingers; he figures three of those inside him isn’t that much smaller than a dick. Then he thinks about how he’s going to have a dick in his ass and panics for a second, but he reminds himself that he wants this, that he’s allowed to want it. His heart beats a little faster in his chest in anticipation.

Cas looks up to see him looking and smiles, just a small quirk at the corner of his lips, but it reassures Dean. Cas comes back down to the bed and slides up behind him, his dick heavy and thick against Dean’s ass. He feels Cas kiss him between his shoulder blades and warmth bubbles up inside him, a familiar response to all of Cas’ touches.

“I’m going to go slow,” Cas says behind him, and Dean rolls his eyes even though Cas can't see him.

“You don’t have to,” he insists, and Cas doesn’t bother responding to this.

He feels Cas slide the head of his dick up against his entrance in small circles. He opens easily when Cas pushes in, relaxed from his earlier ministrations, almost anticlimactic. Dean sighs, letting out a breath he didn't realize he was holding and feels Cas' own breath on his neck. Cas is so firm and unyielding inside him and Dean wants to do nothing but give way. But Cas pushes in only a little more, achingly slow, and stops there, waiting out Dean's gasps. Dean tries to push back on Cas' dick while he’s catching his breath, but Cas has an iron grip on his hip and doesn't let him.

"Wait until you're relaxed again," Cas admonishes.

Dean lets out a grunt of frustration but breathes deep and lets his body adjust again to the intrusion. Cas keeps making them do this until he's halfway in, slowly pushing and waiting, leaving wet kisses along Dean's shoulders and neck, their breaths growing shorter and louder in the quiet room. Dean doesn't know how Cas is controlling himself so much and he's about to tell him to just go for it already when he suddenly hears a strange high-pitched sound coming from the wall by the lamp. It takes him a second to realize and then he grasps Cas' wrist and squeezes.

"Don't blow out the lightbulbs," he hisses urgently, remembering what had happened the first time they'd kissed.

Cas' hand tightens on his hip—Dean imagines suddenly a handprint-shaped bruise—and he lets out a shaky breath against the back of Dean's neck. It takes a few moments, but the electrical noise dies down and Dean loosens his grip on Cas' wrist.

"Can I move?" Cas asks in a ragged voice.

"I've been telling yo—" Dean cuts himself off with a groan as Cas finally pushes in, huge inside him, slotting into place like the smooth slide of his favorite gun.

And then they're off, Cas finally fucking him, his hand on Dean's stomach anchoring them together. Every thrust fills Dean up and punches a grunt from him; each withdrawal sparking pleasure all through him. He feels breathless, cleaved open; he can’t believe it took them so long to do this. His fingers twist in the sheets and then in Cas’ own hand, tight around his.

“Dean,” Cas breathes in his ear, low and deep, but he hardly hears it, he’s so lost in sensation, the full-body touch of Cas all along his back, their legs tangled together, the fulcrum of pleasure inside him. His orgasm builds low inside his belly and spreads outward slowly, slowly, until he’s shaking with it, coming at last with an open-mouthed gasp and his face wet against the sheets.

Cas groans behind him as Dean clenches all around him, but doesn’t finish, just holds on to him tightly as his shaking subsides and his muscles start to relax. When Dean opens his eyes, he realizes he’s crushing Cas’ fingers and lets go so they can both flex feeling back into their hands. Dean is still breathing heavy; he feels exhausted, exhilarated. When Cas rubs a slow circle on Dean’s hip and starts to pull out, he reaches back to grab him.

“Wait,” he says, as Cas props himself up on an elbow to look at him. “Come inside me.”

Cas looks at him steadily as he presses back in, his hips resting against Dean’s ass, where they fit so well together. Dean’s eyes flutter closed at the feeling.

“We didn’t use a condom,” Cas reminds him, leaning down to kiss the corner of his mouth. “We’ll make a mess.”

“You can help me clean up,” Dean says, grinning sleepily against Cas’ lips.

Cas takes a moment to touch the wet trail of tears still on Dean’s face before pulling away. Dean turns back to the pillow as Cas curves in around him again. It only takes one, two, three more thrusts before Cas is groaning sharply into his shoulder and coming, his palm pressing tightly into Dean’s chest, over his heart.

They do make a mess, and Cas winds up doing most of the cleanup, cheating a little with his angel mojo. Dean directs him from where he’s stretched out on the bed. Dean thinks he’s earned the right to lay back and be taken care of for once since he’s (a) human, and (b) just lost his ass virginity.

“I wasn’t aware that was an occasion meant to be celebrated” Cas says primly as he unfolds a clean sheet from Dean’s dresser.

“Believe it, baby,” Dean says, yawning.

When they're clean and the bed is clean, Dean pulls Cas on top of him, lets Cas press him into the mattress, holds his hands and kisses him deep. The pleased sound Cas makes against his mouth reverberates inside him, buoying him up for days afterwards.

In the morning, Dean doesn’t freak out but examines himself wonderingly in the mirror instead, cataloguing the dark bruising kisses Cas left on the curve of his shoulders, the small finger marks on his hip, the comfortable ache of his ass. He’s never belonged anywhere, not really, and certainly not to any one, but Cas from the beginning had left his mark on him, and it makes him feel grounded in a way, held calm and steady. Cas watches him from the bed with eyes dark with desire and doesn’t run away either, so Dean crawls back under the sheets to kiss him.

In the end, the weirdest thing about this thing with Cas is that it’s not weird. Cas still joins them on small-time hunts sometimes and hogs the popcorn when they watch movies. He nerds out with Sam in the archive rooms and misunderstands most of Dean’s jokes. He’s still shit about responding to texts when he's visiting Heaven, but these days he makes up for it by calling Dean in the evenings and having long conversations with him where he talks about his day and gossips about the other angels.

"I think Inias is really coming along. This morning he stood up to Duma when she suggested we pull back on demon raids," Cas tells him over the phone one evening while filling up gas.

“Inias, he was in your old garrison, right?” Dean says, leaning against the kitchen counter as he keeps an eye on the stove.

“Yes,” Cas says, and Dean can hear his smile over the phone. “We were assigned to watch over Earth, you know. Sometimes we would watch humans have sex and bet on how long they would take to finish.”

This surprises a laugh out of Dean. “That’s...surprisingly kinky,” he says. “Didn’t think angels would be into that.” He digs in a drawer for a clean ladle as he talks.

“Well, most of the sex was very boring to watch,” Cas tells him in a reassuring tone. He pauses then, and asks, “Are you cooking something? What are you making?”

Dean has been experimenting with new recipes since Cas turned back into an angel and started to only taste molecules again. In some foods, the molecules apparently arrange themselves in interesting enough ways that it still tastes good to Cas, but the difficult part is figuring out which foods. Fried stuff works pretty well, like the pork rinds Cas likes to buy at gas stations and the fried chicken at Hattie B’s down the street. Cas still has a taste for red meat from Jimmy, which Dean is happy to indulge with homemade burgers and steaks for the two of them that Sam turns his nose up at.

The biggest winner seems to be spicy food so Dean spends time looking up recipes for curries and stews, hot cochinita and jerk chicken. There was no place in Lebanon to buy the right spices but the last time they had had a case in a bigger city, Dean had found a grocery store with an ethnic aisle and cleaned out their collection of turmeric and chili powder, adobo and ground szechuan pepper. Dean can barely eat the stuff himself but Cas shovels it down, the heat getting the flavors through the barrier of his grace.

"Something you'll like,” Dean says, and stirs the pot of bubbling gumbo gently. “Get home soon.”

"I will, Dean," Cas promises, and he does.