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dumbassery, denial, doing (the three d's to the destination)

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In a bar on a Tuesday morning, it's a few months out from the final shot at the world ending. But hey, Chuck's long gone, and everything has worked out for the best, and the world keeps right on turning. Funny how that goes, huh? 

 

Dean's gotten over celebrating at this point. He and Sam spent, like, a whole month not really doing much of anything at all while Cas and Jack took that entire time to try and fix some kinda issue with the Empty. Apparently, Cas' dumbass had made some kind of deal, and it had taken the combined efforts of Cas, literal Death, and the new God—an actual toddler with a bedtime—to get the Empty to let him out of said deal. Jack did the heavy lifting on that one, offering the Empty a coma-like state where nothing could wake the son of a bitch up, and that had supposedly been a dream come true, so. 

 

Hey, freedom is had by all, apparently. Dean has stopped making snide remarks about deals and not telling people about aforementioned deals at this point, mostly because Cas continuously found ways to turn it around on him—an insult, obviously. Like you have any room to judge, Dean, he'd say. And yeah, okay, whatever...but still. Fucking still. 

 

Anyway, Dean isn't angry about it anymore. The deal is null and void, and life goes on. Truly, it does. Things are just moving along, no problems at all, and Dean's sort of tired of basking in it already. Yay, they have free will! Awesome. Can they please get back to not treating every day like a goddamn gift? It's annoying dwelling on what was real and what wasn't. He just wants to be fucking normal for a little while—or, well, as normal as he gets, at least. 

 

So, a bar. Some nice alone time where he doesn't have to watch Jack be all adorable with his new obsession with magic tricks, as if he's not actually God now. The irony of the kid earnestly demanding they watch him do a card trick that he fails at when he could actually blink people in and out of existence—well, it's not lost on him. And don't even get him started on how Sam is trailing around after Eileen like a goddamn shadow, all wrapped around her finger. Then, of course, there's Cas who is just sticking around all the time now, which is abnormal because he's always dipping out, or dead. 

 

Dean sort of wants to nail him to a chair the longer he's around, even though him being around should be relaxing that urge rather than making it worse, and also Cas seems to have no desire to leave. And yet, the urge only grows by the day. Another week, and he's convinced he's gonna chip Cas just so he'll stop getting twitchy every time Cas walks too close to the exit. Actually, a chip would be—

 

And nope. See, this is why people need to get out sometimes, this right here. Staying cooped up, savoring every second of every day in a painful awareness that it's his now, it's only taking him to crazy-town. He needs to chill the fuck out. 

 

There's a lady who might be able to help. 

 

Her name is Rebecca. She's exactly what he's looking for at the beginning, a pretty smile and a soothing voice. Her hair is short, cut just to her chin, blonde and straight. She has a mole above her lip, and it's cute. The best thing about her? She is focused entirely on Dean, almost hungry about it, flourishing under his attention, hanging off his every word. It's easy. 

 

It's been a while since Dean has done this, not even a one-night-stand. He's older now, usually too worn out by the world to actually care, but the world's all fine now, so why not? He thinks he misses it, misses the feel of connection, misses the flirting and the blatant interest and the little dance of being wanted. 

 

The problem is, he doesn't really do any of the wanting in return. He realizes it about halfway through that he's just not...feeling it. She's pretty, sure, and she'd probably be fun to roll around in the sheets with, but Dean's spent an hour with her and feels mostly fulfilled. Just that small tap into it, like a brief rest in between a long marathon. It's been nice, but he's—well, he's bored with it already. 

 

There's nothing wrong with her, truth be told. He thinks maybe he just wanted to speak to another human being for a little bit, smile and laugh and maybe playfully flirt, but there doesn't need to be some kind of result. He used to always be about the results, like that was the best part, but he's sort of sated now. He's had a good night and spent an hour with a beautiful woman, doing absolutely nothing wrong, and that's nice. It's not even about sex, and he's weirdly proud of himself for it. 

 

He thinks, maybe, that she might even appreciate it. She's a beautiful woman who likes conversation, so there's no doubt in Dean's mind that she can find someone to take home. Hell, maybe it'll even make her happy to know a guy wanted to spend time with her without just being eager to get into her pants. 

 

At this point, Dean's ready to call it a day and head home. He's already thinking about what to make for breakfast before Sam and Jack can get in there. Sam's been trying to teach Jack to cook, but that's like setting loose two puppies with no leashes. Who the fuck knows what Cas has been up to. Probably shut up in his room, watching Netflix again. Idly, Dean wonders if he can rope Cas into watching a western tv show with him. Probably. 

 

"Dean?" Rebecca asks. "Are you listening?" 

 

"What?" Dean blinks, startled. "Sorry, I was—uh, actually, I think it's time for me to call it. This has been fun, but I should probably get home. Hey, seriously, thanks for hanging out." 

 

She seems sort of hurt by that, so Dean tries to smooth it over, only to get a long lecture about mixed signals and leading people on. 

 

He tells her as kindly as possible that he's not interested, that he's sorry if he gave her the wrong idea, and that he seriously has to go. And then, he's getting up and walking out, no backwards glance. 

 

He goes home. 

 


 

"You headed out early this morning. Day-drinking, Dean, seriously? Everything okay?" 

 

Dean grunts as he flips the pancakes he's going through the trouble of making, glancing over his shoulder to watch Sam pad into the kitchen. "Yeah, just had to get out for a while." 

 

Sam sighs. "Right. Of course you did." 

 

"Want some pancakes?" Dean gestures to the pan with his spatula, eyebrows raising. "I can make you some outside of the bacon grease, if you want." 

 

"That'd be great, thanks," Sam says. 

 

Dean hums and finishes making the rest of breakfast, taking the time to make Sam his special pancakes while he's at it. Give him an award. 

 

They're sitting down to eat when Cas appears in the doorway, and Dean greets him with a, "Mornin', Sunshine," that's becoming more habitual by the day the longer Cas sticks around. 

 

"Good morning, Dean," Cas replies, by rote, and then tactfully adds, "Sam." 

 

"Cas," Sam returns, amused. 

 

"And Jack," Jack pipes up cheerfully, appearing behind Cas in the doorway, head popping up over Cas' shoulder comically. He's beaming. "What's for breakfast? Ah, pancakes!" 

 

Dean swallows down a snort of amusement as Cas and Jack come sweeping into the kitchen. Jack is very excited about the pancakes, God or not. He probably doesn't even need to eat anymore, but he clearly wants to. He uses too much syrup, and Sam lightly scolds him for it, but Dean adds a little more with a wink when Sam isn't looking. Cas catches it and smiles down into the cup of coffee he stole from Dean. He doesn't need to eat or drink anything either and usually doesn't, but he has a fondness for coffee—or, Dean suspects, a fondness for the fact that Dean will let him get away with his thievery. 

 

Still, Dean generally just steals it back the moment Cas puts it down, and then Cas does the same in reverse. Lately, they've spent their mornings passing coffee back and forth under the guise of stealing it from each other. It's become something of a ritual. 

 

Sam eyes him like he always does, eyebrows raised, and Dean shrugs lazily in response. It's not like he has any clue how it started, and it's just coffee, so what the fuck does it matter? Sam rolls his eyes and focuses back on his food, shaking his head. 

 

"Dean, you left early this morning. Were you going drinking?" Cas murmurs. 

 

"Huh?" Dean looks up, frowning, a little startled. He looks at Cas and clears his throat. "No, dude, I'm fine. Just needed a break. No biggie."  

 

Cas surveys him for a long moment. Dean is about to open his mouth to reassure him again when Cas abruptly reaches out with his hand. Dean blinks at the feeling of a finger gently smoothing in between his crumbled eyebrows, easing the tension away. It sort of reminds him when Cas heals him, though there's no flare of grace this time. 

 

"Okay," Cas murmurs, apparently taking his word for it, dropping his hand away again. 

 

Dean looks down at his plate, then looks up and takes his coffee when Cas offers it—dropping the facade of thievery for now. "Thanks. Hey, I need to go grab some groceries 'cause we're running low, so if anyone needs anything, lemme know now." 

 

"Can I come with you?" Jack asks, perking up. 

 

"Yeah, s'fine," Dean says, waving a hand flippantly. 

 

"I'll make you a list," Sam tells him, flicking his gaze between Dean and Cas. 

 

"You do that, Sam," Dean mumbles, flexing his fingers around his fork. "Sure thing." 

 

After breakfast, Dean puts Sam and Cas on cleaning duty—to their twin frowns of annoyance as an instant response—and makes his way to his room. It's a few hours before he hauls himself up and gets ready to go into town. He snags his keys, calls out for Jack to be in Baby in two minutes, then goes to steal the list from Sam, who is in the middle of facetiming Eileen. 

 

"Don't you dare forget the quinoa again," Sam tells him distractedly. 

 

Dean snorts. "Dude, I already get you the other rabbit food you want. I won't be caught dead getting quinoa. You want that shit, you'll get it yourself." 

 

He ducks out amidst Sam's protests, chuckling under his breath as he goes. Jack is already waiting in Baby, as per Dean's instructions, so they're out on the road pretty quickly. Jack seems to be in a good mood, though he rarely isn't these days. It's not so much being God that's cheered him up; Dean thinks he's happy that things have finally calmed down, and he's free just to be a kid at home with family. 

 

When they get to the grocery store, Jack bounds out of Baby with a skip in his step, but Dean snaps his fingers and tosses him a quarter. It's one of those places where you have to put a quarter in to get the cart—which you get back after—and Jack gets oddly excited about getting to pay the carts, as he calls it. 

 

They've got this down to a science at this point. It's become something of a routine by now, because Jack always asks to go along on these little shopping trips. Dean doesn't mind, and it helps that he doesn't have to haul all the bags everywhere by himself. Besides, the kid isn't bad company. 

 

The way this goes is, Jack doesn't get to push the cart, but Dean makes him hold onto the side the whole time anyway—the kid likes to wander off, and Dean's already lost him in stores a few times and has no desire to do so again. There's nothing quite as embarrassing as that first time where Jack just seemed to disappear, and Dean had freaked out like a young mother misplacing her toddler. Also, there's something vaguely mortifying about asking employees to speak over the intercom and have Jack meet him at the front of the store. So, Jack has to hold onto the cart at all times, and if he lets go to wander off, he doesn't get whatever he wants from the store—he gets to pick one thing, which usually turns out to be some kind of toy. 

 

"I want that," Jack informs him almost as soon as they enter the store, pointing to a bin of hula-hoops. 

 

Dean sighs. "Put it in the cart." 

 

This is something of a routine, too. Jack changes his mind at least five times throughout the whole store, leaving them to wander around at the end and put back the things he decides he wants less than the next thing that catches his eye. Until then, Dean's stuck with a pink hula-hoop sticking out of the goddamn cart while Jack beams at it. 

 

He has something of a system when grocery shopping. First, he goes and gets everything Sam wants, though he actually does draw the line at quinoa. After that, he restocks on the things they need, making sure to keep the freezer shit for last. Eggs go in the front of the cart, while bread goes on top of them, and drinks go on the bottom. 

 

"Sam wants to teach me how to make avocado chicken salad with kale," Jack says, nodding to the avocados that Dean puts in the cart with a grimace. 

 

"The only thing these are good for is guacamole," Dean mutters, shaking the bag at Jack. "And, just so we're clear, that's for chips." 

 

Jack hums. "I don't think Sam would agree." 

 

"Sam shouldn't get to have opinions," Dean says easily, huffing slightly. "Seriously. Kale? Jesus." 

 

"Hey, I want this," Jack says, hands already reaching out to pluck a lone bike helmet—he doesn't even have a bike—off the shelf. It's blue with orange flames on the sides. 

 

Dean sighs again. "Yeah, yeah, put it in the cart. Helmet instead of the hula-hoop. Also, why is that even on this aisle? Animals." 

 

Jack wants to wear the helmet, but Dean tells him no, and then there's a mild disagreement because Jack thinks he should be able to use the hula-hoop since he isn't getting it, and Dean once again tells him no. Jack eventually concedes, as usual, and Dean doesn't mention it when Jack keeps holding the helmet to his chest instead of putting it into the cart. He almost killed the kid, multiple times; he can stand to let him get away with a few things. 

 

The shopping continues in this fashion for a while, and Jack replaces the helmet with a pack of play-doh that Dean knows damn well is gonna end up on the carpet. He can only hope something else will catch Jack's eye before they're ready to go. 

 

Dean's thinking about making some kinda stew tonight, and he can't remember if they have canned corn or not. There's only one can, so he lightly tosses it up and down in his hand, lips pursed as he considers if they actually need it or not. He can't actually remember, and he forgot to check the pantry before they left. Well, damn, might as well, right? 

 

He throws it in. 

 

"Oh! Dean, I want this," Jack declares, holding up a bright green sandwich box with a broad smile. It's not even a toy. It just has glitter on it. 

 

Dean grunts. "Put it in the cart." 

 

When they're almost finished, Dean ends up helping a tiny old lady get something off a higher shelf. Jack tells her that he likes her scarf, and she tells Jack that he's a nice young man. Dean finds all of this incredibly amusing, especially when he catches the old lady eyeing up his ass when he turns around. He has to swallow a laugh as he hands her the box of taco shells that she asked for. She smiles sweetly at him and continues on her way. 

 

"Dean!" Jack gasps out, nearly lunging away from the cart to grab a packaged yo-yo, which lights up when he pulls on the string. He whirls towards him with wide eyes. "I want—" 

 

"Yep, in the cart." Dean pauses, shuffling forward with a thoughtful look. "Actually, let me see that. I used to have one of these when I was a kid. I mean, mine didn't light up or anything. It was just red. Still, it kept me pretty occupied." 

 

Jack lets him see it, and Dean hums as he looks it over curiously. When he was a kid, toys were a helluva lot different than the toys that exist nowadays—not that he ever had a lot of toys of his own to begin with, admittedly. His toys ended up being guns and pocket-knives. Nonetheless, he's a little surprised to find that they somehow managed to upgrade goddamn yo-yos. They light up now, which is baffling and oddly amusing. 

 

He tosses it in the cart. 

 

The rest of the shopping trip passes without incident. Before they go through the line, they trek all over the store to put the things Jack decided he didn't want back where they're meant to go. When they leave the store, a couple is coming in, so Jack gives them their cart and says they didn't need the quarter anyway. It's kind of him with just a hint of rebellion, so Dean approves. 

 

When they get back to the Bunker, Jack shows Sam his yo-yo, and Sam responds in nostalgic amusement, while Cas dutifully pulls up YouTube to put on a video showing the fundamentals on how to actually use a yo-yo. None of them get the hang of it, but Dean does idly wander out of the kitchen to take the yo-yo and show off that he can still do it, even one of those funny tricks where the yo-yo slides along a surface and retracts back. Jack is enthralled, Sam is reluctantly impressed, and Cas doesn't even watch him do it—he completely misses it, so Dean gets a little huffy and goes back to finish dinner. 

 

It turns out that they do have canned corn, so Dean's is definitely making stew, which turns out really good. Cas even lets Jack pass him the fork with a chunk of potato on it and eats it without pulling a face. Hey, Dean must be doing something right if he can get past those angelic taste buds of doom. 

 

When Sam finds out that Dean didn't get him the quinoa he asked for, he smacks Dean over the back of his head, then huffs and stalks out of the kitchen. 

 

Jack goes back to his room, cheerfully declaring that he now needs to master the yo-yo and somehow work it into his magic act. Again, he is literally God. Yes, Dean is bemused about all this, too. 

 

"You won't ditch me, will you?" Dean mutters as he starts heading for the sink. Jack and Sam have already washed their bowls—because they do have some manners, at least—but Dean still has to wash his own and the pot the stew was in. 

 

Cas hums and joins him at the sink. "No, I'll stay." 

 

"You're an angel." Dean quirks a teasing smile, because out of everyone, Cas will appreciate his puns the most. Or, well, he'll at least do that squinting thing that Dean likes. "Hey, can I ask you a kinda weird question?" 

 

"Yes," Cas says simply. 

 

Dean purses his lips and dunks his bowl into the soapy water. "Are you worried about me drinking? You and Sam, I mean." 

 

"We've discussed it." Cas passes him the pot, watching him with a small frown. "You haven't been lately. It's not usually a good sign if you do." 

 

"Oh." Dean clears his throat. "Well, I'm not." 

 

Cas' eyebrows furrow. "You don't sound particularly pleased about that." 

 

"What? Nah, man, I'm fine," Dean says, both a lie and not. He's certainly been worse, so he's fine enough. "Just saying. I just don't want you to be worried about it. Anyway, you've been on a Netflix kick lately. Whatcha watchin'?" 

 

"I just finished a movie called Sucker Punch, recommended by Claire. It had a solemn scene involving a dead baby dragon in the middle, but otherwise it was quite good," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean snaps his fingers, flicking suds against them both. Cas doesn't even flinch. "Oh yeah, I know what movie you're talking about. That shit was full of action, dude. Kinda not sure what to make of the whole maybe-brothel, maybe-mental institution thing, but it was good. You watch A Fistful of Dollars yet? The one with Clint Eastwood?" 

 

"Not without you to force me," Cas says. 

 

"That's the spirit." Dean grins at him, plopping the pot into the other side of the sink to rinse it. "If you promise not to watch any episodes without me, we can start Bonanza." 

 

Cas sends him a flat look. "That's the one with the father and the three sons, all with different mothers, isn't it? Fourteen seasons?" 

 

"Sure is." 

 

"I don't know, Dean, I think I'll struggle not to skip ahead and watch without you. It sounds riveting." 

 

"Fuck you," Dean says, laughing. "Don't tell me it's too much of a commitment for you, Cas. What else do you have to do with your free time?" 

 

"Well, when you put it that way," Cas mutters dryly. 

 

Dean hums, side-eyeing him. "I mean, if it is too much of a commitment, I get it. Fourteen seasons is a lot to get invested into, and I'm not gonna watch without you, so if you're gonna leave me hanging…" 

 

"As you said," Cas murmurs, "what else do I have to do with my free time? I might as well." 

 

"You could at least pretend to be excited, dude. Bonanza is a fucking classic." 

 

"I am struggling to contain my excitement." 

 

"Oh yeah, you're just jumping for joy right now," Dean says sarcastically, snorting at Cas' bland expression. "You're really breaking my heart, man. I can't believe I'm going to watch this show with someone who won't appreciate it." 

 

"I can't believe I'm going to watch fourteen seasons of a show I won't appreciate," Cas replies, sighing. 

 

"Well, you already agreed, so you can't back out now. Too late." Dean moves away to dry the pan and bowl before putting them away, and Cas stays put by the sink. Dean moves back a second later, grinning at him as he drains the water and waits for it to gurgle down so he can rinse the residual suds away. 

 

Cas turns and leans back against the counter, surveying him curiously. "Sam told me that you have been, as he put it, climbing the walls."  

 

Dean blinks. Oh, Sam's got him all figured out, huh? Damn him. "Yeah, actually. It's not really anything bad. I've just been getting into my own head lately, I think. Started thinking about weird shit, sort of. Just a few hours away helped." 

 

"Are you alright?" Cas asks, blunt and to the point. 

 

"Uh...yeah? It's not the first time I've ever had to deal with it, and it probably won't be the last. It's not the worst I've ever had to deal with, period. You know that." 

 

"I do know. I still wanted to ask. We haven't been in any bizarre situations since…" 

 

"Chuck," Dean mumbles. 

 

Cas nods. "Yes. I suppose we're all adjusting to being comfortable. I can't say I blame us." 

 

"You're tellin' me. It's new." Dean snorts and shakes his head, shutting off the water and turning around to lean against the sink beside Cas, their shoulders brushing. "But no, man, it was fine. I don't think we need Chuck around for bizarre shit to happen. Being comfortable ain't so bad; I just get a little cagey sometimes."

 

"That's true," Cas agrees, lips twitching. 

 

"You thought I was pissed off?" 

 

"Perhaps. It would seem unfair for everything to be so...stagnant. We're not used to it, and this freedom came with the insinuation that we're no longer meant to be suffering, but I don't think it's that easy for any of us. If you're upset, it would make sense. Sam was worried you might be." 

 

Dean rolls his eyes. "Sam worries about everything. Doesn't really matter, though, does it? I don't think it's about freeing ourselves from suffering so much as making sure the suffering is our own. Does that at all make sense, or am I spewing bullshit?" 

 

"It makes sense. Whatever happens now happens not for divine purpose or a plot in a story we have no desire to be a part of," Cas says. 

 

"Yeah," Dean says softly, "exactly." 

 

"If it's any consolation," Cas murmurs, lips curling up into a small smile, "I'm sorry you've suffered." 

 

"S'okay. I don't mind." Dean pauses, then grimaces and reaches up to squeeze and palm at the back of his neck. He's got aches everywhere. "Well, that sounded way worse than I meant it. Just—I dunno. I guess I'm tired of acting like this newfound freedom is something we gotta treat like glass, like if anything bad happens, we fucked it all up. Shit happens sometimes. Life goes on." 

 

"So it does." Cas sighs and flicks his gaze to Dean's hand on the back of his neck. "Are you injured?" 

 

"Nah, just got kinks every-fucking-where," Dean mumbles, huffing. "Can't relax for shit. It's fine."

 

"Hm," is Cas' quiet response. 

 

Dean blows out an explosive breath and tips his head back, closing his eyes as he slides his hand from the nape of his neck to his shoulder, squeezing as he goes. It hurts a little, but not enough to dig into the knots. He can't even reach all the damn tension in his shoulders and back if he tried, but fuck if he wouldn't be willing to try. 

 

He's held so much tension in his shoulders and back for so many years that he sort of just has a dull ache there all the time. What he wouldn't give for some Magic Fingers right about now, though it honestly wouldn't help very much. It'd be too soft. Even his fucking memory foam does fuck all for him. What he needs is someone to either crack him like a glow stick or use their fingers to dig in and work all the knots out, methodical and hard, enough to make him fucking cry from how good it hurts. 

 

Like his prayers have been answered, there's suddenly fingers digging harshly into the middle point between his shoulders, right up under the place he just had his hand on the back of his neck. His eyes fly open as he gives a full-body flinch, whipping his head around quickly and expecting Cas to be giving him an impromptu massage, because who the fuck else could it be? 

 

Sure enough, that's exactly what Cas is doing, seeming to be concentrating as he does. 

 

When the fingers spread and dig into the knots in Dean's shoulder, he makes a low, choking sound and feels tears immediately spring to his eyes. That shit fucking hurts, really goddamn badly, but it's also just right, too. When the fingers press down and dig in, Dean releases a startled moan that echoes in the otherwise silent kitchen, and he reaches up to clap his hand over his mouth. The fingers disappear almost immediately, leaving behind a heavy throb that feels painful and relieving all at once. 

 

Dean glances at Cas, then immediately wishes he hadn't, because Cas is staring at him with wide eyes like he's just done something fucking insane. Which he has, right? Because why the fuck would he suddenly just moan for literally no reason? It felt good, though. It hurt, but it also helped. 

 

"I—" Dean falters, because he has absolutely nothing he can say to explain. He feels ridiculously helpless at this moment, and the only option he has left is to flee. "Uh, sorry, I gotta—go. Tomorrow, Bonanza." 

 

He does a quick, little shuffle and beats a hasty retreat, leaving Cas staring after him incredulously.

 


 

Eileen coming over is one of Dean's favorite things. 

 

The thing about Eileen is, she's fucking wonderful. She's weird and kinda crazy and totally, completely out of Sam's league. Dean kinda hopes she never figures that out because he secretly wants her to get trapped in this family and never get out. She really livens shit up, so to speak. 

 

"Shh," Dean hisses between his teeth, shoulders jerking from how hard he's trying not to laugh. He puts his finger up to his lips and watches as Eileen presses her mouth into a thin line, turning red from the strain of not laughing.

 

Sam makes a small sound in his sleep, face twitching a little, and Dean freezes in place. He holds his breath and watches as Eileen reaches up to run her fingers through Sam's hair, settling him again. After, she winks at Dean and nods. 

 

Dean goes back to drawing a dick on Sam's forehead. He's dedicated to the cause, making sure to add little doodles of suggestive markings out the end of it. Yes, it's crass; yes, it's in permanent marker; yes, it's paired with a mustache already drawn on Sam's top lip.

 

The best thing about it? This was Eileen's idea. The dick and everything, which she conveyed to him through some very suggestive gestures. Dean thinks she's the best girlfriend Sam has ever had. 

 

When he finishes, Dean caps the marker and shares a grin with Eileen before slipping out of the room and heading into the kitchen. Cas gives him a knowing look, though it's not disapproving in the least. Dean can pretty much get away with anything these days, it seems like. Cas mostly just appears fond about everything he does. 

 

"What art did you decide on?" Cas murmurs, holding out Dean's cup of coffee—well, their cup of coffee, because they share all the time now. 

 

Dean says, "You'll see," and raises his eyebrows as he takes a large sip from the cup. 

 

Cas does, in fact, see just a little bit later. Sam comes stumbling into the kitchen with Eileen in tow, none the wiser about what's on his face. Eileen smiles too sweetly and can't look at Sam for more than five seconds at a time, but she hides her amusement very well. Cas is like a rock, unfazed, stoic as shit. He doesn't so much as blink, or twitch a smile, or give anything away. He meets Sam's gaze and talks to him like this is a normal day. Jack, surprisingly, doesn't ruin it either. He blinks, just once, then carries on with his beaming smile and his demand that Sam pick a card out of his deck. 

 

So, all-in-all, it takes Sam until about midday to notice. When he sits down at the map table to get on the laptop, he catches sight of his reflection in the black screen, leaning in and squinting. 

 

Mere seconds later, he bursts out, "Dean!" 

 

Yeah, Eileen is the fucking best.

 

No matter how much Dean tries to claim her as his accomplice, Sam flat out just doesn't believe it, somehow completely oblivious to Eileen's wild, mischievous streak. Eileen, being who she is, frowns at Dean and complains that he's trying to drag her into something she had no part in, because she would never do something like this to Sam. It's kinda hilarious how easily he believes her, and no amount of trying to convince Sam otherwise works, so Eileen may be the best, but she's also a traitor. 

 

Sam does eventually get his face clean, even though it leaves lingering red spots where he scrubbed everything off. He decides to retaliate by spraying whip cream in Dean's ears, which is fucking rude, actually. Cas somehow gets in the crossfire—a mistake, obviously, because it's not smart to get involved in a war between Sam and Dean—and ends up with enough whipped cream in his hair and on his clothes that he's gonna need a shower. 

 

Before Cas lets Dean lead him out of the kitchen, he walks over to grab a five-pound bag of flour without a word and doesn't even hesitate as he opens it, takes a handful, and blows it into Sam's face. Throughout, he looks severely unimpressed, and now Sam looks like the betrayed one, while Dean howls with laughter to the point he nearly cries, tugging Cas to his room as he does. 

 

"I'm going to have to wash this," Cas grumbles as he holds open his trenchcoat, frowning. 

 

Dean snorts and tugs out a t-shirt and jeans from his dresser drawers. "If I knew whip cream could've got you outta that thing, I'd have whipped that shit out years ago." He grins at Cas. "Heh, get it? Whipped, because it's whip—it's a pun, Cas." 

 

"Not a very good one," Cas mutters, still in a pissy mood because the equivalent to his goddamn blanky is covered in whip cream and he'll be separated from it for at least an hour. He needs help, obviously. 

 

"Well, I think this calls for a celebration. I've rarely seen you outta that thing. Why the hell are you so attached to it anyway?" Dean asks. 

 

"It sometimes feels as permanent as you," Cas says, like that makes any kind of sense. 

 

"Uh," Dean says, thrown, "what?" 

 

Cas sighs and reaches out to take the clothes that Dean offers him. "I've worn it through most of every significant thing that's happened since coming to earth and...staying. At first, it was only a part of my vessel, but then it seemed to become a part of me. It remained even through many resurrections, though it always changed after. Slightly different each time that I came back. It seemed to represent me, as well as how much I and those around me have changed. This is not the same trenchcoat I wore when I first met you, just as you are not the same man you were, yet you've both always been here." 

 

"Oh," Dean mumbles, blinking rapidly. He raises his eyebrows and tips his head from side-to-side. "Okay, that seems...fair. Well, hey, even if you burned that thing and never put it on again, you still got me." 

 

"Thank you." Cas smiles at him, then narrows his eyes. "Don't burn it." 

 

Dean chuckles. "I won't, Cas, I promise. But I will wash it for you. Leave your clothes out by the door, and I'll throw them on." 

 

"Okay, Dean," Cas says. 

 

Sam—who has washed his face again—is leaning in the doorway when Cas slips by and Dean starts to follow him out. He says, "You never wash my clothes for me, Dean. What's that about?" 

 

"Wash your own damn clothes," Dean says, shrugging and trying to move past. 

 

"Why does he get special treatment?" Sam asks, eyebrows raised, his tone a little pointed like he's playing 3D chess while Dean doesn't even know how to play checkers. 

 

"Dunno. Don't care. He just does," Dean replies flippantly—it doesn't matter if he doesn't know how to play, not if he refuses to participate to begin with. 

 

Sam watches him head out into the hall, whistling a jaunty tune, then throws his hands up and walks away while muttering under his breath. Dean's pretty sure he hears his name and idiot in the same sentence, multiple times, but he just grins and keeps going. He swings by to take the clothes Cas has left outside the bathroom, scooping them up and making good on his promise to wash them. 

 

While Cas is in the shower, Dean teaches Jack more about the yo-yo. Or, well, he tries. Jack can be so very awkward sometimes, endearingly so, and also terribly uncoordinated. He'll get the hang of it, Dean is sure, but probably not for a while. His card tricks are starting to get a little better, at least. He manages to do the one where he pulls a card from behind Eileen's ear and doesn't actually drop any cards on the floor, so it's a success. 

 

Sam eventually shows up in the doorway, dressed up a little, and he whisks Eileen off on a spontaneous date after getting the keys off of Dean. That's a bit of hilarity dropped in, because Dean spends a good ten minutes teasing him and listening to Sam get increasingly more huffy. Dean does eventually forfeit Baby's keys with strict instructions on how to treat a lady, and it takes Sam a few moments to realize that Dean is talking about the car and not Eileen. Sam brings out a bitchface for that one. 

 

Jack abandons him to go resume his dedicated watch of Teen Titans, and Dean finds himself lingering in the hallway a few minutes later, waiting for Cas to get the fuck out of the shower already. 

 

He does, eventually, walking out in Dean's shirt and Dean's jeans, hair still slightly wet and dripping droplets down the length of his neck, leaving little damp blots on the collar of his shirt. Dean's shirt. Whatever. He looks severely underdressed without all the layers, and Dean feels like he needs to clap a hand over one of his eyes so he can't take in the full image of him all at once. It's kinda intimidating, which is ridiculous because Cas looks sort of comfy and more human-like outta his angel get-up, but there's something...formidable about it, somehow. 

 

"What is it?" Cas asks, squinting at him. 

 

Dean frowns. "I don't know," he admits. Then, "Uh, nothing, I'm fine. Hey, Sam stole Eileen away to take her out on a date, and Jack is using up his TV time to watch Beast Boy kick some ass, so whaddya say we get back to Bonanza?" 

 

"Mm, acceptable," Cas says. 

 

"Great." Dean grins at him, reaching out to grab both of his shoulders and turn him around, marching him along to the Dean Cave. 

 

Cas doesn't protest the manhandling, like he never has, but he does peer over his shoulder to arch an eyebrow at Dean. "Were you waiting for me?" 

 

"To get outta the shower? Yeah, dude, you were sure taking your time," Dean tells him. He leans forward and inhales, huffing. "Is that my shampoo?" 

 

"Should I have used Sam's?" 

 

"Ya know, it's fine. My body wash, too?" 

 

"Mhm." 

 

"You've got me all over you. My clothes, my shower stuff. We could put you in a wig, let you drive Baby, and send you out with a gun. I bet the monsters wouldn't know the difference." 

 

"Don't be ridiculous," Cas murmurs, "you would never let me drive Baby." 

 

"You know me well," Dean agrees, clapping him on the shoulder as they file into the room. 

 

He instantly breaks off to get Bonanza set up. Cas shuffles over to the couch, easing down on it and looking oddly smaller in regular clothes. Dean peeks at him, then looks away with another frown. This becomes a cycle of him getting distracted over and over. He can't put his finger on it, but there's something… Well, he doesn't know what it is, but it sure is something. 

 

Again, he shrugs it off and gets Bonanza on. They're already halfway into season two by now, so they've got this down to a routine—broken only by the times that Dean wants popcorn. He moves over and plops down on the couch beside Cas with a grunt that young people do not give, even if he refuses to admit that he's getting up in age. Fuck off, he's in the prime of his goddamn life. 

 

They get through three episodes without speaking, but Cas does eventually start muttering under his breath—a running commentary on the ridiculous, over-the-top fight scenes. Dean knows he only does it to get a reaction out of him, but it works a damn treat to get Dean to defend the show. Yes, the people who get punched throw themselves all around the room and into various furniture. Yes, it's a little stupid. Yes, it's kinda out of time. That's the fucking point, though, and Dean spends a few minutes in a heated but whispered debate with Cas about it, offended when Cas mocks it more. 

 

Ultimately, though, they both get distracted by the sight of Hoss fighting a man as big as him. It's over-the-top again, yeah, but there's this whole subplot of one big man trying to teach another big man how not to be so angry. Cas makes a few more comments, but he also seems to be a little invested as well, so Dean waves him off. 

 

On and on it goes, and they swing between quietly bickering among themselves and actually watching the show, which are equally enjoyable for Dean, so he's clearly the real winner here. At some point, he fumbles for the blanket spread over the back of the couch, accepting that the goosebumps on his arms aren't from the amazing quality of the show—not that he'd ever insult it out loud—but that he's just actually really fucking cold. 

 

They've nearly made it to season three when Cas gets really quiet, but Dean doesn't think anything about it. One of the episodes is unexpectedly intense, so he figures Cas is just focused on it. 

 

A few minutes later, however, he starts a little in surprise when he feels Cas' head drop down on his shoulder. They've been sitting beside each other the whole time, slumped towards the middle of the couch, their arms pressed together, so it's not like Cas has suddenly moved over or anything. Still, it's a little unexpected, and it's never happened before. 

 

Dean blinks down at him in the glow of the TV, narrowing his eyes when he sees Cas has his eyes closed. He huffs and mutters, "I know damn well you're not sleeping, Cas. You don't sleep. If you're not gonna watch, I'm cutting it off." 

 

Cas hums, eyes still closed. "I'm listening. I don't need to see it to pay attention. And I can sleep, if I really want to. I just don't often do it."

 

"You tryna say Bonanza is making you want to sleep?" Dean asks, lips twitching. 

 

"It's a better alternative," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean snorts. "Fuck you. I can't believe you're going to pretend to sleep and use me as a goddamn pillow. You're ridiculous, you know that?" 

 

"You make a nice pillow," Cas tells him. He sags into him a little more, pointedly. "Don't worry, I can still hear the absurd sound effects of people hitting one another. I'm not missing anything." 

 

"I'm making you watch Gunsmoke next," Dean says with a huff, untucking the corner of the blanket and swinging it out to flutter down over Cas as well. 

 

Cas makes a low sound of amusement, an undercurrent of approval in there somewhere. "I would say wake me when it gets entertaining, but you would never be able to wake me if I did." 

 

"Don't you fucking dare fall asleep on me," Dean mutters, wiggling his shoulder a little. "If you drool on me, I swear I'll let you choke on it." 

 

"Hush. Ben Cartwright is about to shoot someone again," Cas murmurs.

 

Dean clicks his tongue. "Lucky guess." 

 

"I'm paying attention." 

 

"Yeah? Shut up, then." 

 

Cas does, falling silent, and Dean focuses back on the TV. He can feel Cas' hair—still a little damp and smelling like Dean's shampoo—tickling his neck. He thinks there's something about this, too, but he gets distracted by the show before he can figure out what, exactly, it is. 

 

Dean knows when Cas has actually fallen asleep. He knows it the instant it happens, because Cas settles in like his last few strings have finally been cut, breathing going deep and even. Dean fumbles for the remote, jaw cracking with a yawn, trying to get his hazy mind to remember what episode they're in the middle of so they can pick it back up later. He pauses the TV, blinking slowly, warm and comfortable and definitely about to get up. 

 

Any second now, he's going to haul himself off this squishy, comfortable couch and push Cas off to head to bed if he's so tired, maybe hit his own bed while he's at it because he's sleepy in a really good way that only comes around rarely. Any second now, he's going to get up. He really is. Any second—

 


 

"Can I help?" 

 

Dean jerks his head around in surprise, then huffs out a quiet laugh. "Jesus, you need a goddamn bell. Uh, no, I think I got it covered." 

 

"Car restoration seems pointless, at times. It can be more effort and expense than just replacing the vehicle," Cas notes calmly as he moves closer, reaching out to lightly swing the hanging headlight of the car they're next to. 

 

"Hey, stop that," Dean mutters, darting a hand out to grab his wrist and drag it away. "I'm fixing that, so don't make it worse. And it's not pointless. You gotta look to the heart of a car, ya know, open up your eyes to the potential. Just 'cause something seems beyond repair don't mean it shouldn't get a little TLC, too." 

 

Cas narrows his eyes at him. "Tender, loving care?" 

 

"Exactly. Cars are only broken until someone fixes 'em up, or until someone cares enough to try," Dean points out, fondly patting the hood of the car. 

 

"Hm." Cas makes a dubious noise and crouches down to examine the car further from new angels, knowing damn well that he doesn't know shit about cars as it is. "Baby isn't getting replaced, so what plans do you have with this one?" 

 

Dean watches him in faint amusement. "Mm, maybe give it to Jack. He doesn't have his own, and he knows how to drive. I taught him. Or hell, maybe even Sam—what if he wants to do something with Eileen while I'm off in Baby? He shouldn't have to steal a car for that. If not, I could even fix it up and sell it for a pretty penny, 'cause she's a classy lady and would go for a high number." 

 

"Do you think you'll restore everything in here?" 

 

"Dunno. Might get around to it at some point. It gives me something to do, ya know?" 

 

"That's nice." Cas pops back up and fixes him with a serious look. "The motorcycles in the back, under the tarp, aren't to go to Jack. Admittedly, I would prefer if no one got the motorcycles." 

 

"Well, now I want one," Dean says, grinning. 

 

Cas frowns at him. "I'm serious, Dean. Being on a motorcycle leaves you exposed. It's far too easy to get killed on them—not even for your own skills in driving, but sometimes for the lack of someone else's. Sell them, but don't give them to anyone." 

 

"Alright, alright, I hear ya." Dean raises a hand in a placating gesture. "No wipeouts in this household, got it. We'll stick to the guns, and monsters, and apocalypses, and—" 

 

"Dean," Cas says, a warning. 

 

"Yeah, okay," Dean replies, shutting up because it's probably in his best interest to do so. 

 

Cas lingers in the garage with him for a while, which Dean doesn't really mind. Sam and Jack are in the kitchen, apparently handling dinner today. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, so Dean's already preparing to resign himself to swallowing food that's ridiculously healthy and waiting until everyone goes to bed to sneak out of his room to indulge in a sandwich or something. He's pretty sure he saw Sam chopping a goddamn eggplant, so Dean knows it's gonna be a rough one this time. He barely survived the squash casserole. 

 

Despite the fact that Cas is not adept when it comes to cars, he makes for a good assistant. He can hand Dean the tools he needs, at least, and he will hold a flashlight steady when Dean needs better lighting. Plus, he listens to Dean's chatter about everything he's doing without complaint, so that's nice. 

 

Dinner turns out to be grilled turkey with eggplant rolls, stuffed with fucking quinoa, as a side. Oh, and it's all perfectly portioned, too. Not that Dean wants more than he's already got, because he struggles to choke any of it down. And, look, he knows what Sam and Jack were going for here, okay? It's all seasoned really well, and there are some ingredients Dean doesn't know about, and it looks good… 

 

The thing is, Dean wants a goddamn burger so bad. 

 

Sam glares at him until he eats every bite, and Jack goes back for seconds, apparently very proud of his and Sam's cooking prowess. Cas allows Sam to hand him one of the eggplant rolls, takes one bite, then opens his mouth like he's about to spit it right back out, only to go back to mechanically chewing when he catches sight of Jack's expectant expression. That makes Dean feel mildly better, at least. 

 

After dinner, Sam sticks around with Dean to clean up, and Cas allows Jack to rope him into playing some kind of board game with him. Sam and Dean work in comfortable silence for a while, not having to speak, moving around each other and the kitchen with familiarity, holding out things before the other can ask for them, that weird sibling thing where they can communicate without uttering a word. Dean's trying to figure out a way he can casually ban Sam from the kitchen for the foreseeable future, while Sam is carrying around the knife he used to cut the eggplants, so Dean decides not to approach the idea of banning him just yet. 

 

"You know," Sam says, breaking the silence as he starts gathering the cups from the table, "I saw you and Cas asleep on the couch the other day. It was after my date with Eileen." 

 

"Mhm," Dean hums idly, turning around to catch the cups Sam throws at him, just as he does it. 

 

Sam's eyebrows jerk up. "You two were really, uh, knocked out, man. Looked pretty cozy." 

 

"Yeah, we were," Dean confirms. He dunks the cups into the soapy water. "How did your date with Eileen go, by the way? She didn't come back after." 

 

"Oh, it was good. Really good. She just had a friend who needed her help with something, so she had to go," Sam tells him, moving to join him at the sink. 

 

Dean shoots him an amused look. "And when is she coming back again?" 

 

"Not sure just yet, but soon." 

 

"Awesome." 

 

"You sound way too excited about that, Dean," Sam mutters, shaking his head. "Whatever you're planning, cut that shit out. Eileen isn't about to get caught up in your stupid pranks, dude." 

 

"Sammy, I'm trying to tell you, she's the fucking mastermind behind it all," Dean insists. 

 

Sam scoffs. "Don't bullshit me. Anyway, if she is, then it's okay when she does it, but she's not. Quit using my girlfriend as a scapegoat, man." 

 

"Don't say I didn't warn you," Dean says, sucking on his teeth and shaking his head, still amused. "You're going to be cutting the cake at your wedding, and you're never gonna see it coming when she shoves a slice in your face, but I know it's gonna happen." 

 

"No, she won't," Sam argues. 

 

Dean snorts. "Okay, we'll see. God, it's like you don't even know who you're marrying." 

 

"She's never done anything wrong, ever," Sam declares, then frowns. "Wait, why are we talking about marriage? Who says Eileen and I are gonna get married? She hasn't talked about marriage, and neither have I. Jesus, Dean, aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?" 

 

"It'll be cute. One of those weddings where the bride drinks the groom under the table and leads him in the first dance. She won't wear heels, I'd bet my life on it," Dean says, grinning at him. 

 

Sam looks at him oddly. "Dude, stop planning my wedding. That's weird. I haven't thought about marriage. Eileen and I are perfectly fine the way we are right now, so chill out. What about your wedding? Why don't we talk about that?" 

 

"Mine? Pfft, to who? Baby?" Dean pauses to consider that a little more seriously than he should. She's an older lady, but they'd be happy together. The thought cracks him up, and he shakes his head as he passes Sam the next plate to rinse. "Nah, I ain't getting married. Ever. It's a scam, dude." 

 

"Marriage?" 

 

"Yup." 

 

"And you're convinced Eileen and I will? Hypocritical of you, Dean." 

 

"Well, we need some way to trap Eileen in this family with no easy way out. If you let that one go, Sammy, you're a goddamn idiot." 

 

"First of all," Sam says in disapproval, "that's really underhanded of you. Second, divorce is a thing. Third, Eileen can do whatever she wants. And, finally, I'm doing my best not to fuck this one up." 

 

Dean nods at him. "That's the spirit. Knew you were smarter than you look." 

 

"I hate you." Sam sighs and swivels a pot under the running water, rinsing the suds away. "So, wait, you seriously haven't given any thought to marriage? Or...maybe, um, settling down at some point?" 

 

"I feel pretty settled now," Dean admits. 

 

"No, yeah, I get that," Sam says. "I just mean...you know, maybe with someone." 

 

"Like who?" Dean asks, arching an eyebrow. 

 

Sam's face does something strange. "No one comes to mind? At all? Seriously? You can't think of one person you'd want to...uh, call your own, kinda?" 

 

"Call my own?" Dean echoes incredulously. 

 

"You know what I mean. It's nice, that's all. Having someone. Letting someone have you. I don't mean in a bad way, like a possessive thing, and it's not ownership, obviously… But, you know, just someone who gets to see every part of you. It's special. Or, it can be," Sam explains, raising his eyebrows. 

 

Dean rolls his eyes. "I know how relationships work, Sam, if you'd believe it. I've actually been in a few over the years, so relax." 

 

"Yeah, but you haven't since—" Sam cuts himself off, clearing his throat and keeping his promise from a long time ago. "You haven't in years, man. We've been really busy dealing with so many other things, so I get it. Just...you seriously haven't thought about it? Not even a little bit?" 

 

"Not really," Dean tells him, grudgingly. He shrugs and passes over the last cup, letting the water drain immediately after. "I don't really feel like I need it, I guess. You'd think I would crave it, seeing as I've wanted it before, but honestly? I kinda feel, uh, satisfied in that way, too. Don't really know why, so I can't tell you, but I'm good." 

 

Sam stares at him. "So, you—you don't feel like you want those things because...you've already got it?" 

 

"Yeah, something like that. I mean, I don't, but maybe other shit makes up for it, ya know? Like I said, I'm good. There's the kid, and you, with your amazing girlfriend, and then there's Cas, too." Dean flicks his fingers to get the suds off and gives another lazy shrug. "Really, that's good enough for me. I'm living the dream, dude." 

 

"Right, okay, but—" Sam takes a deep breath, then slowly lets it out. He wavers for a second, like he's choosing his words carefully. "To be clear, you don't feel like you want a relationship for the sole reason that you sort of feel like you already have one, correct? And—and that doesn't seem a little odd to you, Dean? That doesn't raise some questions?" 

 

Dean reaches over and claps Sam on the shoulder, clicking his tongue. "Hey, man, don't question a good thing. Family's always been important. You know that. I ain't complaining."

 

"Okay, not—not exactly what I'm talking about. Let's get back to how you're not in a relationship, but you feel like you are." 

 

"Eh, it's not exactly like that. Sort of, but also not? I'm just...fine all the way around, I guess." 

 

"Dean," Sam says, sounding pained, "I think maybe you should, uh, think about this a little. Do some soul-searching, ya know?" 

 

"When have I ever?" Dean chuckles and drops his hand from Sam's shoulder. "I have a relationship with my life. That's not weird." 

 

Sam's face does that strange thing again. "Look, Jack is a kid—our kid, but Cas' kid, and your kid in a way that's not so different, and my kid in a way that's definitely different, as in he's not really my kid. And Eileen is your friend, for sure, but she's my girlfriend. So…" 

 

"So?" Dean prompts, raising his eyebrows. 

 

"So, who else…" Sam trails off, studying Dean's face, and then he heaves a sigh. "You know what? Nevermind. Uh, glad you're happy, or whatever." 

 

Dean nods and turns to walk away, only to turn back around with a small frown. "Hey, what did you mean about Jack being my kid in a way that's apparently not different from the way he's Cas' kid?" 

 

"Does it feel different?" Sam asks him. 

 

"How am I supposed to know? I'm not Cas," Dean says. "I don't know how he feels." 

 

Sam rolls his eyes to the ceiling, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Yeah, I'm getting that. Might be part of the problem." 

 

"Problem?" Dean scowls. "What problem?" 

 

"Just—" Sam drops his hand from his face and waves it weakly. "Nevermind. I'm exhausted already. Go help Cas cheat at board games." 

 

Dean narrows his eyes. "Sam, don't bullshit me. Is there a fucking problem I don't know about?" 

 

"Besides the ignorance of idiots? Probably not," Sam says dryly. "Seriously, it's...fine. Just go away before you give me a worse headache. You know Jack is kicking Cas' ass right now, so go help him." 

 

Dean wants to argue, because if there's an issue, he should at least know about it. However, Sam doesn't seem to be budging on this one. He can be stubborn when he really, really wants to be, so Dean knows it'll only lead to a fight if he pushes it. Best to just wait him out, because Sam can't sit on a problem for too long without addressing it eventually. 

 

So, Dean backs out of the kitchen and goes to help Cas not get absolutely slaughtered in Trouble. 

 


 

Dean glances up from the laptop on his legs when he gets the sense that someone is entering his room without invite. It's Cas, who doesn't even knock before barging in and marching up to the bed to drop a paperback book off on his chest. His eyes are narrowed to slits, lips pressed into a thin line. 

 

Well, this can't be good. 

 

Cautiously, Dean lifts the book to stare at the cover, his eyebrows jumping up his forehead at the sight of a bare chest on the front. There's also a toned arm wrapped around that chest, a pair of shoulders behind to make it clear that there's a man and also another man. For some reason, there are wings, too? 

 

The front of the cover is emboldened with glossy, loopy letters declaring, "Romance so sweet it'll molt your heart and sex so steamy you'll fly," with absolutely no trace of irony. Dean can't quite keep the incredulity off his face as he turns to the back cover to read the summary in morbid fascination. 

 

Dan, almost thirty, is a man with no direction in life. He's haunted by a past that he wears like armor against the world, unwilling to open up and allow anyone to get close to him. However, when a man comes crashing into his life—quite literally—he doesn't really have much of a choice. Carlisle is a man unlike any other, part-angel and with his own set of wings. He has a mission from angels in Heaven, but knows no way to navigate a world of humans. He needs Dan's help to learn the customs of a world he was never a part of. The only problem? Dan's no normal human, and Carlisle keeps getting distracted…

 

"Dude," Dean chokes out, ripping his gaze up to stare at Cas, "is this erotica? Like, gay erotica?" 

 

"Yes," Cas answers promptly. 

 

Dean has to resist the urge to throw the book across the room. "Well, uh, I can't really say that this is my type of genre, man. Thanks for the recommendation, I guess? Just—erotica in general isn't for me, but gay erotica is something else entirely, ya know? So, I—"

 

"Dean," Cas growls, "I found that in Jack's room." 

 

"You—" Dean looks down at the book in absolute horror. "You what? Jack had this?" 

 

Cas huffs like an angry bull. "Yes. Fortunately, he hadn't read it. He said he found it in a dusty box in the Library and thought it would be good to read because it's about angels." 

 

"Oh my god," Dean whispers, slowly looking up at Cas, then promptly breaking out into hysterics. He busts out laughing, wheezing through it. The laughter shakes him so hard that he flicks his laptop shut and sits it aside, cackling loudly as he curls up on his side and waves the book at Cas. 

 

This is fucking hilarious. He can just imagine Jack oh so innocently finding the book and cheerfully taking it to his room to read at some point. He would have been in for a surprise, and it wouldn't have been good for Cas, who would have probably ended up needing to answer a lot of questions, but Dean's almost crying with how hard he's laughing at this. 

 

"This isn't funny, Dean," Cas snaps, reaching out to snatch the book back. "He's three years old!" 

 

"No, I know, I know. I just—" Dean cracks up again, unable to hold it together. 

 

"He could have read this!" Cas hisses, jerking the book out like Dean needs to see it better. 

 

"Ah, come on, it might not be that bad. Who's the author? Selcis Bos? Sounds German, or maybe a penname," Dean suggests, his chuckles subsiding slowly. "I'm sure it would have been fine." 

 

Cas narrows his eyes and turns the book around, opening it up to a random page and arching an eyebrow. He clears his throat and begins reading, in a very rough, yet detached voice. "Dan clenches their sheets in his hands and rides it out, the breath getting knocked loose from his lungs over and over, his eyelids fluttering, mouth slack as he gasps and gasps and gasps. He can't seem to catch his breath. Everything feels good. The way Carl is fucking him, the way Carl is gripping his hip with one hand hard enough to bruise, the way Carl slides his hand down the arch of Dan's back until he reaches his head and shoves it down harder."

 

"Uh," Dean says, suddenly no longer laughing. 

 

"No, there's more," Cas says dryly. "They get sweaty. Dan can feel it when Carl folds over his back, chest slick and sliding, hot and heavy."

 

Dean's face is getting hot. He clears his throat. "Cas, I get your point, man. It's—I get it." 

 

"There are a lot of commas here," Cas notes critically, eyes narrowed. He's still squinting at the book, and a beat later his eyebrow arches. "Ah, it's very...descriptive as well. Dan feels like he's being melted down and absorbed, like Carl is cupping every inch of him and shrinking him down to a fine point that exists only for this feeling that makes him shake all over. Carl moves his hand from Dan's head to his hand on the bed, fingers tangling through the back of Dan's instead. Well, at least there's intimacy." 

 

"Okay, okay," Dean blurts out, alarmed and a little unsettled. He surges forward to snatch the book out of Cas' hand, his face hot, eyes darting around. "I hear you loud and clear. It's not funny. Got it." 

 

Cas stares at him for a second, studying his face, and whatever he finds makes both of his eyebrows raise up very slowly. Dean wants to launch the book at his face, but he's unwilling to draw more attention to his sudden embarrassment. It's just… Come on, erotica is a little heavy-handed, and anything would sound good if it's written a certain way, even gay sex that he has absolutely zero interest in. Anyway, it's been a while since Dean has had any kind of sex, not even with his own right hand, which he's abruptly feeling very starkly at this moment. 

 

No way in hell he's hot and bothered because Cas started reading some sex scenes—of the gay variety, on top of that. And it's not even written that well! It's not peak literature. Jesus, maybe Dean does need to go out and get laid, except he just can't be bothered. Right hand it is, then. 

 

"I've told Jack to show one of us whatever book he's going to read before he reads it from now on," Cas tells him, still just staring at him. 

 

"You can't shelter him forever, dude," Dean says awkwardly. "He does have access to the internet." 

 

Cas frowns. "I have parental controls on." 

 

"I—" Dean snaps his mouth shut, then chuckles weakly. "Of course you do. Still, there's gonna come a day, and then what? The birds and the bees, man. That shit's mortifying for everyone involved." He glances down at the book, then coughs. "Or, well, in this case, the bees and the bees. Which is...totally okay, definitely, 'cause who knows what Jack may, um, be into when he gets older." 

 

"Dean, I desperately do not want to think about that right now," Cas says, strained. 

 

"If we put our minds to it, we can probably trick Sam into handling it instead of us," Dean suggests, amused when Cas' face relaxes. "That could be the solution to that problem. Sam's definitely better at shit like that than we are. He'd even be all supportive and give the sex-talk with, like, clinical facts. And you know he's good at being, uh, inclusive, so whatever Jack does end up liking… Well, Sammy would be great about it." 

 

Cas nods. "Yes, let's allow Sam to handle it." 

 

"Sometimes you just gotta," Dean agrees reasonably, bobbing his head. "But that's years and years away. We'll be old, bitchy men by that point, probably fully grey. Or, well, I will be. Do you even age? No offense, but you look like you age. I mean, you age well, but I didn't think angels got older at all." 

 

"Most do not," Cas admits, inclining his head. His lips twitch a little. "I'm not a normal angel, however. This is my body, not a vessel. It is...me, and it ages just like any other human does." 

 

Dean makes a thoughtful expression. "Does that mean that, theoretically, you could get old and die?"

 

"Yes," Cas says. "I could abandon this body and find another before doing so, or just return to Heaven, but I likely won't."

 

"Oh, shit." Dean blinks at him. "Dude, we're gonna be on our deathbeds, still fussing about some bullshit. Watch us be those old men that are just too spiteful to die, and then Sam and all his kids and Jack are gonna be around, like, telling us to shut up and get on with it already." 

 

"I'm...quite sure that they won't," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean grins at him. "Yeah, maybe not, but how much you wanna bet we'll die mid-argument? I'll die first and be pissed you got the last word." 

 

"Mm, I'm not sure if that's how it would go," Cas tells him, lips ticking down at the corners. 

 

"I don't want it to be sad," Dean admits. 

 

Cas sighs. "Nevertheless, it will be. The day Dean Winchester leaves this world for good will be a very sad day, indeed. That, I am sure of. Hopefully I am already gone before I have to see it." 

 

"Nah, fuck that," Dean mutters. "You die first all the time. I'm tired of that shit. Maybe I don't wanna stick around if you're already gone, you think of that? I go first next time." 

 

"Can we not—discuss this anymore?" Cas asks softly, his gaze dropping, discomfort in every single line of his face. 

 

Dean clears his throat. "Yeah, Cas. It's kinda morbid anyway, huh? Besides, with Chuck out of the game, we got a long time before we gotta think about that kinda shit—hopefully, anyway." 

 

"Hm," is Cas' response, quiet and troubled. 

 

"Ya know, I heard from Jody a couple of days ago. There was a case with some vamps out in Washington that Claire and Kaia went to handle. You know what that means, right?" 

 

"I don't." 

 

"It means we could probably get back out there here soon. Things have been quiet, and the break was good, but we don't gotta stay shut up in here forever," Dean tells him. 

 

Cas glances up at him, head tilting. "If you find something, you'll let me know?" 

 

"Yeah, dude, sure." Dean pauses, pursing his lips, then offers a weak smile. "Hey, you know we don't need a case as an excuse. If you wanna get outta here, we could—I dunno, grab a bite to eat, or go to a bar, or something. If you want, I mean." 

 

"Right...now?" Cas asks slowly. 

 

Dean shrugs. "Yeah, why not? Sam and Jack can figure out dinner. You and I can get a few hours away, then come back to start in on the fourth season of Bonanza." 

 

"Okay." 

 

"I gotta get some shoes on and let Sam know he's fending for himself and Jack tonight. Meet you at Baby in five?" 

 

Cas smiles at him. "Yes, that's fine," he murmurs, flicking his gaze down to the book in Dean's hands, eyes bright with mirth. "I trust that you will do something with that book to keep it from Jack." 

 

Before Dean can come up with a proper response, Cas is turning and whisking out the door much the same way that he came. Dean looks down at the book, face unnecessarily hot again, and he scoffs as he leans over to toss it on his nightstand. What the fuck ever. He'll throw it away later. 

 

Dean sits up to shove his socked-feet into his boots, then moves to the dresser to pick out a flannel. It's gonna be too hot outside for a jacket, so his usual three layers are out the window. He just sighs and rolls up the sleeves, fingers fumbling carelessly over the purple plaid. 

 

It doesn't take him long to get ready, but it does take him a minute to locate Sam, who's not in his usual haunts—not the war room, or the kitchen, or even the Library. No, he's actually in his own room for once, which is how Dean realizes that Sam's been a bit of a social creature lately. Dean knocks and sticks his head in when Sam calls out permission. 

 

"Yeah? What's up?" Sam asks, looking up from a notepad on his desk, a pen in hand. 

 

"Cas and I are going out, so it's on you and Jack to feed yourselves tonight," Dean tells him. 

 

Sam's giving him the eyebrows again. "Oh, are you? Got a case, or something?" 

 

"Nope," Dean says. "Just gonna go grab some burgers with him, probably." 

 

"Jack and I could come," Sam replies, though it sounds more like a challenge than an offer. 

 

Dean purses his lips, then shakes his head. "Yeah, sure, but you're not, so." 

 

"What if we wanted to?"

 

"Well, that's just too damn bad. I ain't offering."

 

"Uh huh." Sam's eyebrows are doing something extra weird now, and his lips are twitching like he's trying not to grin. "So, it's just you and Cas?" 

 

"Great, you got ears under all that hair. I was beginning to wonder." Dean grins when Sam's eyebrows dip into a scowl. "Anyway, yeah, that's what I said, isn't it? If you're feeling neglected, I'll set aside an hour for you tomorrow." 

 

"You're such an asshole," Sam declares with a sigh, shaking his head. He waves a hand, chuckling despite his annoyance. "Go, go, get the hell away from me. Take your time, please." 

 

"Make sure the kid eats." 

 

"Jack will be fine, dude." 

 

"Make sure you eat."

 

"Jesus Christ, Dean, I think I can handle a few hours without supervision. Actually, if anyone can, it's definitely me and not you. Go away now." 

 

Dean salutes him teasingly. "Sure thing, Sammy. Don't burn my kitchen down." 

 

"Go away." Sam watches him leave, then calls out after him, "Have fun! Hold the doors open for him!"

 

"Cas knows how to open doors, Sam!" Dean calls back, shaking his head as he carries on his way. 

 

When he makes it to the garage, Cas is leaning up against Baby, playing on his phone. Probably texting Claire to check on her—he does that a lot, Dean has noticed. What Dean's noticing now, however, is that Cas has changed for some reason. 

 

He realizes abruptly that Cas just never gave his clothes back after the whip cream incident. He had changed back into his trenchcoat getup as soon as the next day, but Dean hadn't thought to ask for his shirt and jeans back. Cas is wearing them again, and he's also apparently come to own some boots of his own, though that's not a surprise. There are a lot of boots floating around the Bunker, which might just be a Winchester thing. They always seem to multiply, and Dean only knows which ones are his because Sam has gigantic feet. 

 

Anyway, Cas looks startlingly human-adjacent again, sort of...bare without the suit and sensible shoes and trenchcoat. Dean has to come to a halt to take him in for a second, wondering at the reason behind the wardrobe change, and his boot squeaks against the floor. It makes Cas look up, blinking. 

 

"What?" Cas asks, eyebrows furrowing. 

 

"Nothing. You, uh—" Dean gestures at him from head-to-toe, his gaze following the motion of his own hand, flicking up and down quickly. "You changed. Into my clothes. Again. Why?" 

 

Cas glances down at himself in faint surprise, like he didn't change himself. "Oh, yes, I just thought I would look strange wearing what I usually do out in the heat. The weatherman says it's getting to temperatures it never usually does, so wearing as little layers as possible is encouraged." 

 

"Yeah. Encouraged." Dean rolls his lips together, tucking them in. After a beat of silence, he presses them back out on an exhale and clears his throat, grabbing Baby's keys and juggling them lightly in one hand. "Sure. Ready to go?" 

 

"Yes," Cas says, then pushes away to get into Baby. 

 

They end up going to a bar-restaurant type of place, something with TVs everywhere and pool tables in a back room and finger-food to share. They get into a mild argument over an order of mozzarella sticks because Cas wants to eat the crunchy bread off of all of them and let Dean just have the cheese on the inside, which would take letting them cool down, and Dean's not on board with that because mozzarella sticks are good for the stringy, hot cheese and crunchy bread combination. He ends up giving in anyway because—well, because. 

 

Cas has weird eating habits when he does eat, and it's painfully obvious in every way. He picks at food, pushing the mushy parts out of fries and just eating the salty skin, peeling the fried part off pickles and sucking on what's left over, showing more interest in the sauces for the boneless wings than the wings themselves. Even dessert—when the cherry pie turnover with vanilla ice cream catches Dean's eye—is something of an experience. It comes out to share with two spoons, and Cas commandeers a small section for himself where he scrapes all the cherry parts out and eats the bread dry, then mushes the ice cream until it's basically a milkshake. 

 

It's so quirky, and weird, and Cas. It's just...him. Dean can't help but be endeared by it, because Cas wouldn't be Cas if he wasn't too much of himself and not enough of whatever others expect him to be. 

 

When they finish eating—which Dean did the heavy-lifting on, admittedly—he makes Cas play a round of darts with him, which turns out to be a huge fucking mistake. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that Cas is, like, a warrior of a different level that no human can actually match. Cas not only hits the bullseye every single fucking time, but he does it a couple of times without looking and tossing it over his shoulder. He's a bastard, but a talented one. 

 

Because of his defeat in darts, Dean demands a game of pool—which Cas calls billiards unironically, so there's no hope for him, obviously. 

 

Except, well, Cas is good at this, too. Unnaturally so. He's got perfect eyesight, doesn't he? And it's not like he's not smart. He probably knows all about angles and shit without having to really think about it. He barely has to look at the placement of the stripes he's trying to get in a pocket before he's got the easiest route mapped out. The only thing that works against him is that a) he's awkward as hell, and b) he's never played pool, so he doesn't really know how to hold the pool stick, nor does he know to keep rechalking his hands. So, he happens to miss a few shots because of this, which is helpful. 

 

Dean's good at this, too. He's got an ease with it that Cas just doesn't. To be fair, Dean has played pool for years, and he's done it to hustle money more times than he can count, desperate to win at sixteen to be able to feed Sam when their dad hadn't shown up in a couple of weeks. He had to be good at it, and it comes as second-nature now. 

 

Admittedly, he's laughing a little at Cas struggling with the pool stick. It's like he'd rather just toss it aside and smack the ball in with his hand, which is so funny that Dean has to keep coughing so he won't laugh too loudly. Cas keeps sending him flat looks like he knows exactly what Dean is doing. 

 

"Here, come here, look," Dean says through a smile, when he finally can't take it anymore. He reaches out to grab Cas by the wrist, dragging him over to the chalk to shape his hand around it, moving it back and forth a little. "Yeah, it's kinda important. Keeps the pool stick from sticking against your skin and fucking up your shot." 

 

"It's messy," Cas notes dispassionately. 

 

Dean snorts. "Yeah, buddy, I know. C'mere. Look, I'm gonna show you how to hold it, okay?" He tugs Cas back over to the pool table, then proceeds to maneuver him around like he wants him. He has to bend down beside him and adjust his elbows, reaching out to place his fingers right. "Also, it helps if you lean your weight into the table." He presses his palm in the middle of Cas' lower back and pushes him forward a little. "There ya go. It feels weird, I know, but it helps if you relax. Why are you so tense anyway? It's just pool, Cas." 

 

"Billiards," Cas argues instantly, and his voice comes out rough, low, and muffled. He's not quite looking Dean in the eye. "I'm not tense." 

 

"You kinda are," Dean points out, flicking his gaze down to the death-grip that Cas has on the pool stick. He reaches out with a huff to loosen Cas' fingers. "I just said not to hold too tight. Ease up, man, this isn't a fight or anything. Well, these things come in handy for a weapon 'til they break, but I can confirm it's a bitch when they break over you." 

 

Cas clears his throat. "Okay. Twelve in the corner pocket," he rumbles, then sinks the shot. 

 

"See?" Dean grins at him and backs off, leaning against the wall with his pool stick rolling lazily in between his hands, watching Cas. 

 

When Cas goes to take the next shot, he's on the other side of the table, and he looks up at Dean for a moment. He keeps looking, not blinking, and Dean looks back without really making the decision to. Cas' mouth parts just a bit, fingers going rigid and tight around the pool stick, and Dean thinks the bar must be kinda crowded and stuffy now, because breathing ain't so easy. 

 

"Nine, corner pocket," Cas says softly in a rasp so low that Dean can barely hear it, and then he keeps right on staring at Dean while he takes the shot and makes it without ever looking away. 

 

Dean swallows as Cas slowly straightens back up, suddenly seeming just a bit taller than he did mere seconds before. His mouth is incredibly dry, so he forces his fingers to peel away from his own pool stick because they've apparently been gripping it way too tight for a minute now, and then he looks away as he mumbles something about going to get a goddamn drink. Despite it being busier out by the bar, Dean feels like he can breathe again. 

 

He doesn't really think he's gone that long. He has just enough time to order a coke and get back in there, but somehow, a guy has wandered in while Dean was away. He's talking to Cas, leaning on the pool table and not even noticing Dean come in, all smiles and warm, hazel eyes. 

 

Dean raises his eyebrows at Cas, who sends him a very flat look, and so he grins and waves a hand lazily like nah, man, go on ahead as he takes a sip of his coke. The guy keeps chattering away, and it takes Dean a couple of seconds to realize that this guy is actively hitting on Cas, which is… He's not really sure what that is, but it makes him frown. 

 

The guy is bold, because he makes his intentions very clear, to which Cas gives a calm rebuttal. This makes the guy say, "Oh, are you not gay?" 

 

And Cas bluntly says, "Well, technically, yes. Just not for you," and Dean chokes on his swallow of soda so hard that it comes back up and dribbles down the front of his shirt. 

 

He hacks and struggles for air so hard and for so long that it draws Cas' attention and gives the guy room to escape—rejected and probably mortified. Cas moves over to Dean with furrowed eyebrows and pats him on the back a little too hard until Dean can finally suck in a breath that doesn't immediately shatter in his throat and assault him. 

 

"You're—you—" Dean stares at Cas from up close, stumbling over his words, and it takes him a second to realize that there's something a little guarded in Cas' eyes, something a little telling in the way he drops his hands and leans away. Dean swallows everything he wants to say in an instant and says, instead, "That was kinda harsh, Cas. We gotta teach you how to let someone down easy." 

 

"Are you good at that?" Cas asks quietly. 

 

"Letting someone down easy?" 

 

"Yes." 

 

Dean gives a weak smile. "I don't know. I'd like to think so. I'm better than you, at least." 

 

"Hm," is Cas' response, and just like that, they drop it and move along. "It's your shot." 

 

"Right," Dean breathes out, blinking. "Right." 

 

He doesn't win the game of pool, either. 

 

He doesn't really know what he's supposed to think about the gay thing. It's a distant confusion in his mind, a little blurry. Not knowing that Cas likes men. How did he not know that? He feels like he should have known, even though Cas never told him. Also, Cas never fucking told him. It's hard to wrap his brain around, that Cas likes men, and that Dean somehow never fucking knew. 

 

He wishes Sam was here for this part. Sam would know what to do. He'd be kind about it, supportive, quick to address it positively, whereas Dean fully doesn't acknowledge it at all. Does Cas want him to bring it up? Should he? He's not really the type to do anything like that—his main response to finding out people are gay is an eyebrow raise, a beat of silence, and maybe a quiet, "Oh. Oh," if he knows them, but that's pretty much it. That's what he did with Charlie, at least, ten seconds before he coached her through how to flirt with a man, because she didn't know how and didn't find men attractive. 

 

He doesn't really do the react thing. He just prefers to skip over to the part where he's cool with it and treats it like it doesn't change anything, because he thinks that's what he'd want everyone to do for him in that situation. He's given it some thought before, imagining how he would feel most comfortable if it was him, even though it's not, so he knows exactly how he would want it to go. But not everyone is him, and Cas sure as shit isn't. 

 

Cas isn't just some regular guy, either. He's Dean's best friend of twelve plus years. Isn't this something they should talk about? It feels like something they should talk about. Except Cas seems perfectly relaxed now that Dean's not stumbling over the new revelation, and he thinks that Cas maybe wants Dean not to care or treat him any differently, which he won't. Of course he won't. He'd hate that if it were him, and he's pictured that, too. 

 

So, Dean drops it entirely and doesn't bring it up, and Cas seems content with that fact. They carry on as normal, and maybe that's for the best. Hopefully. 

 

They head out when a group of younger people come in to take over the next pool table, talking and laughing loudly, getting a little drunk. Dean isn't really ready to head home, though, and Cas readily agrees with walking around the block with him. 

 

There's not much to see, really. There's the place they just left, a bank, and an empty lot with construction machinery parked in it. Still, he and Cas leisurely stroll on the sidewalk, basking in the temperature drop that comes with a cool breeze. It's nice out, getting kinda late, not too quiet and not too loud, sort of perfect for a casual walk. 

 

Dean almost trips and lands on his face because there's a sizable chunk missing from the sidewalk, and Cas reaches out to wrap both hands around his arm to haul him up before he goes down. Dean curses up a storm, then bursts out laughing, then keeps on walking. Cas' hands stay on his arm, one threaded through it, the other in front of it, warm fingers draped over goosebumps. 

 

Cas is leaning into him, holding onto his arm, and Dean doesn't think twice about it. 

 

They make three laps around the block like this before finally deciding to go home. It's too late to start in on Bonanza, so Dean tells Cas goodnight and wanders off to his room. He flicks on the light and the lamp to get undressed and ready for bed, then clicks off the light and climbs under the covers. 

 

He's humming under his breath. 

 

When he goes to lean over to cut the lamp off, he catches sight of the book. The title jumps out at him, Faith and Fire. He scowls at it. There's no way he's going to read gay erotica. He's just not. 

 

He has no reason to. Just because he has a gay best friend does not mean he needs to show his support by reading about gay sex. What's he gonna do? Start watching gay porn in solidarity, even though he won't enjoy it? He does not need to know anything about gay people to be a good friend. Lately, Dean thinks he and Cas have been great friends. They have the freedom to be, now, and they're really good at it. Gay erotica won't win him any awards. 

 

Dean cuts the lamp off and lays down, staring up into the darkness. He turns over. He punches his pillow. He turns over again, huffs, flops onto his back. He glares up at nothing. 

 

The thing is, why the fuck does Dan call Carlisle Carl? Why does Carl go from shoving Dan down and fucking him silly, to holding his hand? Why is Carl a gay half-angel, and why the fuck is Cas a gay angel, and why didn't Dean know? 

 

Cursing under his breath, Dean jerks up in his bed and cuts his lamp back on, snatching the book up. He glares at it, then grimly opens it to start reading. 

 


 

"Mornin', Sunshine," Dean greets from the stove as Cas comes into the kitchen. "Coffee's on the table." 

 

Cas hums. "Good morning, Dean," he says, moving over to take the cup of coffee that they're not really stealing from each other anymore, just sharing. He nods at Sam, adding, "Sam," as he always does. 

 

Sam grins at him, a knowing thing. "Cas." 

 

Dean glances between them curiously, just noticing for the very first time that there's something a little odd about how they greet each other every morning. It had started up about a month after Chuck was defeated, Dean remembers that much, but he can't recall why it ever began. He doesn't even remember thinking it was out of the ordinary, either. 

 

But now, Dean thinks that it is a little strange. There's a certain way that Sam looks at Cas these days, kind of amused like there's some joke that Dean's missing. Is it the gay thing? Does Sam know? 

 

Breakfast isn't anything special—omelets, which Cas will actually eat as long as there are no tomatoes in them. Dean spends the majority of it sharing his coffee and glancing between Sam and Cas, trying to work out if they're acting different. There are a few moments where it becomes clear that Sam is extra amused about something Cas has done, usually involving the way Cas touches Dean at random intervals. But, then again, Sam keeps giving Dean looks and weird eyebrows about the coffee-sharing and other stupid things, so Sam isn't a reliable source just based on his facial expressions. 

 

Jack has to be told twice to put his things away during breakfast—first the yo-yo, then his cards. He tries to bring the yo-yo out again after Cas tells him not to, and Dean gives him a look, so Jack slowly puts it back into his pocket with an actual pout. God or not, he's still a toddler. 

 

"Hey, Bonanza marathon today?" Dean asks Cas, briefly touching his shoulder as he stands to start gathering everyone's plates. 

 

Cas nods. "If we must. I'll go start it." 

 

"Awesome," Dean says.

 

"I'm going to call Claire," Jack announces, which is him basically pitching a fit, because he usually only tells them he's calling Claire when he wants them to know he's about to complain about something they've done. Claire encourages it, the little shit. 

 

"Tell her I said hello," Cas replies, not rising to the bait because he's a passive-aggressive little shit himself, and then he sweeps out of the room before Jack can come up with anything to say back. 

 

The kid's not the best with sarcasm, though he tries. Dean can see the potential in him. He's definitely gonna be a smart-ass one day, and Dean's kind of excited to watch how Cas responds to that. Cas is gonna be such a bitch about it, Dean is sure. He's convinced it'll be hilarious. 

 

Jack's never really upset for long, so Dean watches him huff and march out of the kitchen with a small laugh. Sam chuckles and pushes his hair back from his face, shaking his head, looking fond. 

 

"You're on dishes," Dean tells Sam. 

 

Sam rolls his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, go watch your cowboy show with Cas." 

 

"Hey, before I do...got a quick question." Dean dumps the plates in the sink and then shuffles back over to the table, bracing his hands on top of it and lowering his voice after glancing towards the empty doorway. "Did you know that—" He halts, suddenly unsure if Cas would want Sam to know, if he doesn't already. He tries again. "Do you know who Cas' type is? Uh, romantically speaking." 

 

"Why are you asking me this?" Sam says slowly, his eyes growing a little wide. Oh, he definitely knows something. Dean isn't sure what it is, but he does. 

 

"Do you know that he's…" Dean trails off, raising his eyebrows significantly. 

 

"That he's…" Sam presses, just as unwilling to finish as Dean is, apparently a good friend, too. 

 

Dean huffs. "You know. Sam, you know." 

 

"You know?" Sam hisses, leaning in, eyes bulging. 

 

"Yeah. Some dude asked him if he was gay, then Cas said he was but just not for him, and it was so fucking brutal, dude," Dean admits. 

 

Sam's face clears, relaxing. "Oh. You know that he's into guys. Okay. Yeah, I...uh, I knew that." 

 

"How long have you known that?" Dean mumbles, slightly offended that Sam knew before he did. 

 

"I mean, I had suspicions for...years, really. A while. But I didn't have it confirmed by him until a little bit after Chuck was handled. I don't think Cas meant to confirm it, either. It was a whole thing," Sam tells him, waving a hand carelessly. 

 

"Oh." Dean purses his lips. "Well, I had no idea. He just said it so casually, and I didn't—I mean, I didn't really do anything. Please tell me you gave the supportive speech for the both of us." 

 

"Don't worry, you're covered," Sam says dryly, rolling his eyes again. After a moment, he raises his eyebrows and looks at Dean curiously. "So, uh, how do you feel about it?" 

 

Dean frowns. "What do you mean? I'm not being a dick about it, if that's what you're worried about." 

 

"Well, I'm glad you're not, but that's not what I meant," Sam mutters. He braces his chin on his loose fist, giving Dean his undivided attention, weirdly focused on him. "How does it make you feel? Like, do you—are you—" 

 

"What?" Dean asks, eyebrows furrowing. 

 

Sam clicks his tongue. "No, don't let me lead with examples. Just—how does it make you feel?" 

 

"That Cas is gay?" 

 

"Yes, that." 

 

"Uh." Dean leans back a little, reaching around to scratch at the back of his head. "I dunno, really? I mean, good for him, I guess?" 

 

"It doesn't feel like...maybe a good thing?" Sam prods, his head craning forward like he's willing Dean to grasp a concept he can't even see. 

 

"It's...not...a bad thing," Dean replies haltingly, half-sure that this is the right answer. Well, it's not a bad thing, plain and simple, but he feels like he's being tested for something right now. 

 

Sam closes his eyes and reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose, which means that Dean absolutely did not pass. Well, fuck him. That's his fault for giving pop quizzes for shit Dean didn't even study for. Dan and Carl didn't prepare him for this. He's barely past chapter two. Dan and Carl have only just met! Jesus Christ. 

 

"Yes, but I mean, a good thing for you, in particular," Sam reiterates, dropping his hand with a weary sigh. 

 

"For me," Dean echoes. "A good thing for me. That Cas is gay. Why is that good for me, in particular? It's not like we've ever fought over chicks before I knew that, except for his terrible taste in them, and huh, the gay thing would explain that. Whatever, the point is, how is this a good thing for me?" 

 

Sam stares at him, the skin around the corners of his eyes oddly tight. "Jesus," he mumbles. "Okay, um, you said Cas was basically hit on by a guy, right?" 

 

"Yup. Cas shut that shit down. I almost felt bad for the guy," Dean admits, except it's kind of a lie, because he didn't at all. Upon reflection, Dean found a twisted sense of amusement from watching him fail. It's with abstruse relish that he looked back on that guy and found him lacking. It was entertainment to him, really, and it gave him this bone-deep arrogance that he can't quite make sense of. 

 

"Right, but did you see the guy hitting on Cas?" 

 

"Yeah." 

 

"And how did that make you feel?" Sam presses. 

 

Dean snorts. "Okay, Dr. Phil, what does that have to do with anything?" 

 

"Just asking," Sam says. 

 

"I dunno," Dean lies, leaning back and looking away as he clears his throat. He's not really sure why he's lying about this, other than because he doesn't want Sam to start lecturing him on homophobia or some shit. This isn't hating the gays. He just...well, he sorta found himself cheered when it didn't work out. 

 

"You didn't feel anything, or you felt something and you just didn't know what it meant?" Sam asks. 

 

"Okay, I'm not sure what Cas being gay has to do with me, so I'm gonna back the fuck outta this conversation before it gets weirder," Dean informs him, snapping his fingers and shooting Sam with finger-guns, blowing out a deep breath. He flees while Sam groans from behind him with a thump like he just dropped his head to the table. 

 

Watching Bonanza with Cas is much more fun than talking about gay shit, anyway. 

 


 

Dan shot Carlisle with a shotgun when they first met, and Carlisle called Dan a walking prison of flesh, and somehow—by chapter five—Dan has given Carlisle his more casual nickname, and Carlisle has saved Dan's life a total of four times. 

 

"The gays are intense," Dean mutters under his breath, eyebrows raised as he turns another page. 

 

The thing is, Dean doesn't mean to get invested in the book. It's gay erotica, so he fully went into this not expecting it to be very engaging. He definitely didn't think he'd be at all interested in Dan and Carl's blossoming relationship, but he's somehow found himself secretly rooting for them. No, he hasn't gotten to a sex scene or anything, and he's fully prepared to skip all those parts, but the build-up is pretty good for a trashy romance novel. 

 

Dean kinda doesn't want to put down the book because Dan's in the middle of telling Carl a little bit of his tragic past—which is tragic, so far. Basically his whole family died in a house-fire, and they all practically sacrificed themselves to get him out, so he's got some serious issues going on because of that. Also, there's this quirk of Carl absolutely despising snakes because of the whole Lucifer thing, which is hilarious. 

 

So, he's in the middle of chapter five and not very eager to come to a stop—not that he'll ever admit it, even to save his own life—when there's a knock at his door. Dean immediately scrambles to shove the book under his pillow, barely settling back into place before Sam sticks his head in. 

 

For a second, Sam narrows his eyes at him, apparently taking note of Dean's shiftiness. Seeing as he can't locate anything incriminating, he eventually just sighs and says, "Hey, Eileen's got a case she wants me to come help her with. It involves some kinda funhouse, so Jack wants to go." 

 

"Hey, be careful," Dean says immediately. 

 

"Yeah, definitely," Sam assures him, bobbing his head. "But, get this, there's another case I just found about five hours south of here. I think it's ghosts, honestly, but no one wants to touch it because it's in a trash factory of some sort. Cas said he'd be willing to handle it if you were. Up for it?" 

 

Dean sits up straight. "What? Yeah, actually. I mean, it's ghosts, so it's kinda low-level, but I'll take it. What are you up against?" 

 

"Wraith, we're pretty sure," Sam tells him. 

 

"Gross," Dean replies reasonably. "Yeah, I'll take grave-digging over that any day. Cas getting ready to go now? Should be quick, right?" 

 

"Yeah, two days, max. He's ready, but he's wearing your clothes again," Sam says, lips twitching when Dean jolts a little on the bed. 

 

"Oh. Yeah, he does that," Dean mutters. 

 

Sam smirks. "Yeah, I noticed." 

 

"Anyway," Dean blurts out, loudly, "I'll get started packing a bag now. When are you leaving?" 

 

"Now. Glad you got that car up and running, at least. We're going in opposite directions," Sam murmurs, his smile slipping. "Been a while since we've, uh, worked separately like this. You be careful, too. You and Cas, okay?"

 

Dean nods at him. "Make sure to check in, and hey, don't let the kid do anything stupid." 

 

"Will do and...will try," Sam assures him with a weak chuckle, backing out of the room. 

 

Sighing, Dean drags the book out from underneath his pillow, shaking his head at the cover of it before slipping it under his mattress. Looks like he won't be reading that for a couple of days. God, he really hopes he doesn't die before he finishes it. 

 

With this freedom post-Chuck, they also have to consider that there's not gonna be any miraculous saves to bring them back from death, or even the brink of it, to keep the story going, so they gotta be careful. Billie had told them loud and clear that she would not be making exceptions for them again, and even if she wasn't going to toss their asses into the Empty, she would be damned before she let them weasel their way out of certain death ever again. 

 

So, it's only fitting that the first case he gets after Chuck is a goddamn ghost. It's practically elementary, but he knows better than to act like shit can't go wrong with this, too. 

 

Cas is wearing his clothes again, and Dean wants to bring it up, but he also absolutely does not. Whatever floats his boat, and it's not like Dean really cares. Cas just kinda does whatever he wants to these days, and Dean's reached the point where he's just letting him. They both let each other get away with anything now, for some reason. It's not bad, but it's new. It's kinda nice to be able to indulge one another instead of fighting while the world goes to shit all around them. Like a breath of fresh air. Their final form, or whatever the fuck. 

 

Working alone with Cas isn't new. Dean's done it plenty of times over the years, more so than Sam, even. He's used to it, oddly enough, and it's exactly the same as it has always been. Comfortable, mild bickering, being exasperated with one another, working together to handle a problem. Dean falls back into it like it's a bad habit. 

 

The thing is, Dean realizes that he hasn't exactly missed hunting. Yeah, he's been going stir-crazy, but getting out of the Bunker has helped with that. And yeah, it's nice to work the issue, to settle in with Cas, to revisit the nostalgia of microwave burritos and sketchy motels. He likes the mystery of it, and the helping people part, and getting to pass ideas back and forth with Cas. 

 

But, truth be told, he hasn't missed the research. He hasn't missed reading about the gruesome deaths, or the way he has to wear a goddamn suit, or the pressure of feeling like he's on a time limit before someone else dies, and if he doesn't stop it, it's gonna be his fault. He doesn't miss the shitty motel coffee, or the headache and body aches from getting up too early after sleeping in a terrible bed, or the way he gets tossed around by a ghost because it turns out that it's not just a simple salt-and-burn. 

 

He doesn't miss nearly dying. 

 

Dean almost does get his ass handed to him by what appears to be a seven-foot tall ghost with a really weird attachment to a fork-lift. There's a section of the factory where it's fenced-off, and it's secured with a goddamn keypad lock of all things. All of the workers wear dingy, dirty gloves, so the keypad is filthy, and there's no chance of lifting a fingerprint. But the fork-lift they need to set on fire is in there, so Dean makes Cas give him a boost over. 

 

Cas is, like, super strong as an angel. It's insane, and Dean forgets it because Cas hasn't really shown off in a while. He shows off this time by easily letting Dean step into his threaded hands with one boot, then just fully tossing him up without breaking a sweat. Dean goes up and over, dropping down and looking through the chain-links to stare at Cas, his mouth opening and closing. 

 

"The fork-lift," Cas reminds him. 

 

"Oh," Dean says, "right." 

 

And then, this is precisely when the ghost shows up and goes absolutely batshit insane. Dean doesn't even get time to do anything, because this motherfucker is huge and absolutely not fucking around. It doesn't really matter in the end, though, because Dean gets clipped over the head hard enough to make him see double, which means he gets double the show of Cas being a badass again. 

 

Cas just—well, he just reaches up and rips the whole panel of the fence off in one, reckless yank that makes metal squeal. He wrenches it aside, sending it skittering across the floor so hard and so fast that sparks actually come off of it—either that, or Dean's been hit over the head even worse than he thought. 

 

So, Dean ends up fighting while he's swaying on his feet, and Cas ends up doing most of the work. When the fork-lift goes up in flames, Cas helps Dean stumble towards the exit of the factory. The only problem is that Dean feels like he's about to be sick, and he's definitely not really walking anymore. He thinks he mumbles something about kicking Cas' ass if he dares to carry him, which turns out to be the wrong thing to say, because it just gives him the idea. Dean's head is pounding, his vision is swimming, and he doesn't have the wherewithal or knowhow to even protest when Cas grabs his arms, dips forward, and shrugs Dean on his back. 

 

"Oh my god, I hate you," Dean garbles out as Cas straightens up without strain, hands coming down to hook under Dean's knees and piggyback him all the way to the fucking car. 

 

Cas hums. "No, you don't." 

 

"M'gonna be sick all over you," Dean warns him, arms flopping over Cas' shoulders, the world swaying with every step Cas takes. 

 

"Close your eyes," Cas suggests. 

 

Dean groans. "Good idea." 

 

It turns out to be a great idea, because closing his eyes makes him feel less nauseous. He still presses his face down against Cas' shoulder, blocking his closed mouth in case anything tries to escape. This only gets more humiliating if he just so happens to blow chunks, on top of everything else, and he's trying to save some of his dignity. 

 

Cas smells like him. It's not as strong as when he gets right out of the shower, but it's clear he still takes them and keeps using Dean's stuff. This definitely helps with his roiling stomach and also eases his headache a little, for some reason. Actually, Dean's pretty comfortable. He thinks, a little dazedly, that he could fall asleep like this. 

 

He apparently tells Cas this, because Cas softly, yet seriously orders, "Don't go to sleep, Dean. Not until I can heal you. I believe you have a concussion." 

 

"Nah." Dean smacks his lips, and turns his head, resting his cheek on Cas' shoulder. The hair behind his ear tickles Dean's lips. "I think I'm good, Cas. Feelin' better already. And hey, didn't you say you gotta conserve your grace 'cause it's...less now, or something? Don't waste it on me." 

 

"It's not a waste if it's you," Cas murmurs. 

 

"Well, ain't that sweet," Dean teases, lips curling up and breaking out as he grins. 

 

"We're at Baby. I can put you down now and heal you, but we have to be quick. I think we caused an explosion, and I hear sirens." 

 

"Whoop, whoop, that's the sound of the police." 

 

Cas sighs heavily. "Dean, you have to let go now." 

 

"What?" Dean blinks and squints, head still throbbing to a seriously concerning degree. It takes him a second to realize that he's got his arms around Cas' shoulders, fingers digging into his shirt. Dean's shirt. "Oh. Well, shit. Sorry, dude." 

 

Dean lets go, and Cas keeps him steady while healing him, and any hope of Dean having any dignity is completely dashed. Thankfully, the sirens save him from his mortification, sending them both into the safety of Baby and quick getaway before anyone spots them at the scene of the crime. 

 

So, all-in-all, hunting is still hunting, and this case wasn't the absolute worst. Could have been better, sure, but he knows it could have been worse, so he's not looking a gift-horse in the mouth. 

 

They go home and beat everyone else back. Cas immediately fucks off to his room, so Dean does the same. The case was quick, only four days in total, including driving time, but that doesn't mean Dean hasn't been looking forward to getting back. There's home-cooked meals here—he has to make them, yes, but still. There's Bonanza with Cas as well, which is great. There's a book he's trying to convince himself he's not eager to get back to. 

 

On the last one, he's not doing a good job of it, because the first thing he does after he gets comfortable is start reading again. He reads for a few hours, right up until he gets hungry and decides he wants to make lasagna. 

 

He leaves off on Dan getting injured and Carl giving him a feather from his wings. Apparently, the feathers have healing properties or some shit, which Dean finds vaguely amusing. 

 

Dan, however, doesn't and asks, "Should you even be giving me this?" 

 

The book says that Carl replies with a very simple, very curt, "It is unwise, but I shall because it is you." 

 

Dean snorts and shuts the book, muttering, "That's gay and sappy," before getting up to go to the kitchen, where Cas is waiting with a small smile and cup of coffee that they're definitely gonna share. 

 


 

Christmas swings around when Dean's not really paying attention, and Jack somehow gets one over on everyone by inviting the ladies to come celebrate with them this year. Dean gets absolutely no warning beforehand, so he has approximately five hours to throw together a Christmas dinner for ten fucking people—would be eleven, but Patience is off at College and apparently very frazzled about some projects and tests that are coming up after the break, so she elects to stay behind and get prepared. 

 

The Bunker is full in what seems to be one fell swoop. Eileen rallies everyone into decorating, so Dean ends up being thankful that he gets to hide in the kitchen. Kaia wanders in at some point, and Dean decides she's just the extra pair of hands he needs, so he shoves a potato peeler at her and practically begs her to help. 

 

Everyone comes in and out of the kitchen a few different times. Claire, to distract Kaia by being a blatant flirt. Eileen and Sam, to steal Baby's keys so they can ride into town and get gifts for everyone. Jack, to grab a juice-box from the fridge and ask Dean a million questions and spend five minutes showing Kaia what he can do with his yo-yo. Jody and Donna, to come sneak bites of the food before it's ready, until Dean and Kaia run them off because it's their kitchen now and no one's eating a thing until it's ready. Alex, just to say hi. Cas, at some point, just to come murmur to Dean about not much at all and be a willing taste-tester for whatever Dean shoves at him on the end of the fork, even though he can't really taste much of anything. He always says it's good, so Dean was smart to choose him. 

 

In the time that Dean and Kaia bustle around the kitchen together, they forge something of a bond that can only sprout from the fires of working under pressure in a stressful environment. When they reach the other side of calm, having survived, they give each other tired grins and now have an unspoken understanding between them. 

 

It's all worth it, though, when everyone crowds around the map table—the biggest space available to splay all the food out with no issues—and settles in, elbows bumping, passing comfort food back and forth to each other. It's nice. Relaxing. Family. 

 

"This is so good," Eileen groans as she spoons out more mac-and-cheese to her plate. 

 

Dean jerks a thumb at Kaia. "Thank her, not me. That was all her. My best mac-and-cheese comes out of the microwave." 

 

Eileen signs thank you to Kaia, who automatically signs it back, then apologizes for not knowing how to sign you're welcome. This prompts a conversation about how it's normal for people to sign thank you back as a you're welcome, rather than the actual you're welcome, which can kinda be interpreted as welcome in a greeting way. That prompts an impromptu lesson on how to sign certain, common things. Claire is very interested in how to curse in sign language, which is kinda hilarious, and also maybe Dean pays attention to that, too. 

 

Dean's favorite is cocksucker for very valid reasons, because Eileen teaches it very seriously without batting an eye, while Sam looks scandalized. It has nothing to do with the motion itself. Okay, maybe it has something to do with the motion itself. 

 

Anyway, dinner is good. Everyone has a good time, eating their fill, talking and laughing and drinking. Dean doesn't have any of the wine that Jody brought with her, but he does share his coke with Cas in a wine glass, returning to the tradition of stealing it from one another again. Jack drinks juice out of a wine glass, too, and seems very proud of that. 

 

Once again, he tries to crack out the cards at the table, only to be stopped yet again by Cas. This doesn't last very long because Claire leans across the table and says, "Beanstalk, you're all the way at the end of the table while Cas is over there with Dean, so just do it. If he gets up, run." 

 

"You," Cas declares, "are a bad influence on him." 

 

"I know," Claire agrees, grinning. 

 

Jack does the card trick anyway. Dean wheezes at the flummoxed look on Cas' face, like he's actually not expecting Jack to be a little bit of a rebel. Hell, look at who his fucking dads are—literally all of them, including the one they don't claim. Jack's meant for rebellion. Cas is in for a long ride, and Dean's gonna have the time of his life watching. 

 

Jody doubles down on scolding Claire for encouraging Jack to act out, and Donna winks and sneakily pours Claire some more wine, and Cas is trying so goddamn hard to not smile, but Dean sees it. Oh, he sees it, and it's got an answering grin stretching across his face when their eyes meet. 

 

Cas looks happy. Flushed, eyes bright, chapped lips curling up into a helpless smile that makes the corners of his eyes crinkle a bit. An angel who ages. An angel like no other, at home with the humans. Dean feels something solid rattle in his chest, making him clench his fist and take a steady breath. 

 

After dinner, they all come together to start transporting the food back into the kitchen and make up tupperware full of food for the others to take back with them. Kaia wants to take home a whole pie, and after all her help, Dean gives her the green-light, much to the shock of literally everyone. 

 

The back-and-forth in and out of the kitchen becomes a disaster when Eileen starts taping fucking mistletoe in the doorway. It goes downhill pretty fast, so Dean can't imagine where she got the idea. Kaia and Claire are the first to get caught under it, and when Eileen playfully points it out, Claire takes it as a personal challenge. 

 

Jody thankfully breaks it up before it gets too bad, but Dean's not at all pleased that he had to see Claire groping Kaia like a woman possessed. Kaia does not look as mortified as she should, considering, and instead seems to be rumpled and happy about it. Young love, or whatever. 

 

The next to get trapped is Alex and Donna. Alex has been a quiet, yet steady presence throughout, mostly talking about working at the hospital and finding ways to tease Claire. However, when she ends up under the mistletoe with Donna, she blushes bright red when Donna squeezes her into a hug and smacks a kiss on the top of her head, cheerfully affectionate. Claire cackles at her, then turns around and suffers the same treatment from Jody a few minutes later, finally suitably embarrassed when she, too, gets a sardonic kiss on the top of her head. 

 

Jack ends up underneath with Eileen, who kisses him on the cheek, then ends up underneath again with Kaia, who allows him to kiss her on the cheek. He seems delighted by all the affection going around, not seeming to notice the rest of the Winchesters—and Cas, by proxy—avoiding the doorway like it's the plague. Dean has decided that he'll just be trapped in the kitchen forever. 

 

One of them eventually makes a mistake, but it's okay because it's Sam. He ends up underneath with Eileen, which seems to relax him a little. He gives her a chaste kiss, a small smile, and keeps it moving. After that, Jody and Donna bump into each other in the doorway, and Donna gives Jody a kiss full on the mouth like it means absolutely nothing, and Jody just rolls her eyes and carries on. 

 

Sam has let his guard down, which is how he ends up bypassing Claire in the doorway, and they both do some awkward shuffling to try and get out of it. But Jack has found a nice little game in this, and the rules of it are now law to him, so he insists that they have no other choice here. 

 

"Well, you ain't kissing my cheek, dude. Get the fuck down here," Claire mutters, heaving a sigh. 

 

It's a bit of a deep dip because Sam is freakishly tall, but he does bend down and scrunch up his face when she dutifully kisses him on the cheek. They both wrinkle their noses at each other, apparently in agreement about being averse to this whole showing affection thing, and then they snort and smile before going their separate ways. 

 

Dean nearly folds in half with how hard he's trying not to laugh, and Cas keeps looking at him with amusement because he knows. He always knows. 

 

Cas is the next to make the mistake, leaving the kitchen safely but losing that status on his return. He ends up in the doorway with Donna, of all people, and she stands up on her tip-toes to give him a kiss on the cheek, smiling prettily at him before bustling her way out again. Cas sighs. 

 

"I told Sam that Eileen's a little evil, but he didn't believe me," Dean mutters, raising his eyebrows as Cas moves over to come stand beside him. 

 

Cas eyes the mistletoe in distaste. "I believe you." 

 

"Ah, come on, lighten up," Dean teases, knocking their shoulders together. "It's Christmas, Cas." 

 

"I don't see you leaving the kitchen," Cas points out knowingly, arching an eyebrow. 

 

Dean snorts. "Yeah, fuck that." 

 

More people come and go. More people get stuck under the mistletoe. Eileen and Jody. Alex and Claire, which is hilarious because they hiss at each other like two angry cats before arguing about who's kissing who's cheek, and then Alex wins by grabbing Claire's face and smushing a kiss to her forehead before Claire can react. Jack and Donna. Jack and Eileen. Then Jack again, this time with Cas, and Jack just hugs him and waits for the kiss on the top of his head because he's apparently associated it with parents, so Cas does it and smiles weakly when Jack bounds off happily. 

 

Dean's mistake comes in the form of Kaia, because he thinks he's got a window to escape to the bathroom, but she's coming in with some empty wine glasses. There's no one else around, so they eye each other with the understanding that they can just pretend it never happened and never tell a soul, but Claire catches them and finds it all very funny. She calls for everyone to come watch because she's terrible, so Dean heaves a sigh and ducks down to let Kaia kiss his cheek, finding it not to be the absolute worst thing he's ever had to endure. 

 

Kaia mumbles an awkward apology, and he waves her off to make her feel better, then makes his way to the bathroom. When he comes back, Jack and Claire are in the doorway, and he spends a few minutes laughing his ass off while Claire is forced to kiss Jack's cheek. He is, once again, delighted by the affection. Claire? Disgusted, appalled, infuriated. 

 

Fortunately, the mistletoe disaster comes to a halt when they all reconvene in the war room and trade presents. Sam and Eileen handled the gifts for themselves and also Cas, Jack, and Dean. It's all mostly normal things anyway, nothing special. Still, it's nice to pass bags back and forth. When asked what things are, Dean cracks the joke that he has no idea what he got everyone, since he didn't actually get anyone anything. Thank god for Sam and Eileen. 

 

Jack has the time of his goddamn life because everyone all seemed to agree that getting him toys was the way to go with him. Sam actually got him one of those gravity-defying toys—the fushigi ball, to be specific—and Jack is ecstatic. 

 

Overall, it's a really good Christmas. Probably one of the best, if Dean had to rank all of 'em. It's crazy that the ladies all made a five hour trip to them and plan to take turns making the five hour trip back, some of them having things they have to get back to as soon as tomorrow. They usher out with hugs and well wishes, and then it's really quiet after. 

 

Eileen stays, of course, but her and Sam declare the Dean Cave theirs for tonight and pop an unholy amount of popcorn before settling in to cuddle and watch Christmas movies that Dean would rather chew his own hand off than watch. Jack disappears with his haul of toys, still beaming happily about what he announces was one the best days. Cas and Dean have to do a raincheck on Bonanza some other time, so they head to their separate rooms. 

 

It's stupid, but Dean kinda wants to follow him, just to spend time with him, which is a pretty weird urge to have. He's spent time with him all day. He grimaces at himself and settles in to read again. 

 

The Dan and Carl saga is getting increasingly more interesting. They've just gotten into a pretty serious fight because Carl was ordered to do some shady shit by his superiors, and Dan found out about it and felt betrayed. Dean figures the explosive fight won't hold up against the stupid longing they're currently going through. Oh, for a couple of guys who aren't in love, they sure as shit miss each other a lot. Dean snorts because he isn't buying it. 

 

He does end up getting caught up in again without meaning to, following along, frowning as he reads. There's a whole thing about them reuniting because Carl's superiors try to punish Dan for Carl not completing his mission, and then Carl is doing some crazy, spy shit to break him out. 

 

Dean doesn't know why he's not really expecting this to be the first kiss, the first sex scene, the first everything, really. He's just not. It takes him by surprise, because the tension is actually pretty good, and Dean doesn't realize he's waiting for something until he exhales shakily when they do kiss. 

 

"About goddamn time," he mutters to himself, then instinctively looks around his room, abashed. 

 

His face is still hot when he goes back to reading. In his defense, it's practically been twelve chapters of Carl and Dan falling into some kind of inevitable love with no pay-off. They deserve it, at this point. 

 

Yet, somehow, Dean is still startled by the sex. It's not that it doesn't fit, or anything; it's just that he doesn't realize he's not skipping it like he was supposed to until Carl is three fingers deep in Dan's ass. It's at that precise moment that it hits Dean what the fuck he's doing, what the fuck he's reading, and what the fuck he's allowing himself to get caught up in. Horrified, he slams the book shut on Dan's apparently loud moan of pleasure and nearly throws it across the room again. 

 

He doesn't. In the end, he just shoves it under his pillow again and sits up in the middle of his bed, rubbing his fingers over his forehead. 

 

"Gay is not contagious," Dean whispers to himself, eyes fluttering shut. "You don't become gay through fucking osmosis, Winchester. Stop being a dick." 

 

Dean flops back onto his pillow with a gusty sigh, staring listlessly up at his ceiling. He ends up feeling kind of bad for trying to reassure himself that he's not gay, because being gay is fine, so it's not like he needs to treat it like a problem. He just knows he's not because...well, because of women. 

 

Sam would one hundred percent kick his ass for thinking of being gay like it's something to be afraid of. Charlie would find some way back just to sit him down and pitch funny little ideas about how to kick those instincts in the ass. Claire would probably verbally rip him to shreds for being a shitty person. And Cas would—Cas would… 

 

Dean doesn't know what Cas would do.

 

The point is, gay is okay, Dean knows this. Dean is totally on board with this. Sure, he was raised in a time when it wasn't, and he hasn't always been the best representative of treating gay people properly, but he's learned. He's older now. He's come around. He likes to think that he's not as bad as he once was, and he knows he's not as bad as his dad used to be. 

 

Now fully fucking determined not to be a terrible person about this, Dean sits up and snatches the book back out from under his pillow. He fumbles with shaking hands to get back to the page he left off on, and he forces himself to read. 

 

The thing is, it's not hard to force himself. It's sex. It's written in a way that suggests these two are super fucking into it. Pleasure is pleasurable any way you slice it—or it is for Dean, at least. It takes nothing at all for Dean to get sucked into it, reading every single word, his heart thumping unevenly in his chest, mouth dry from where he's let his lips hang open and forgotten about it. 

 

And still, still, Dean reaches a point where he's freaking the fuck out a little and has to put the book aside to calm down. His hands are shaking. The back of his knees are sweaty. There's a rush in his ears like he's about to get into some deep shit with no way out. He's not scared; it's more like...panic. 

 

Through sheer force of will, Dean gets through the sex scene. It's somehow thrilling in a really complex way, like he's getting away with something he knows he shouldn't be. He has to stop reading when Carl and Dan do something as stupid as be sweet and intimate and start cuddling, because he has to draw the line somewhere. He's been through enough tonight, he's sure, so he allows himself to close the book, congratulates himself silently on being a real trooper, then squirrels the book away and flops down to go the fuck to sleep. 

 

He has weird dreams that night. There's something about rug-burn on his face, but then the rug turns out to be a beard—Benny's, specifically—and Dean somehow ends up with Benny's beard scratching down his neck, with lips possibly involved. He ends up getting bitten—vampirate teeth and all—and wakes up with a jolt and also a boner. 

 

This. This is what happens when you read gay erotica. Jesus fucking Christ. 

 

He lays there until his boner goes away because he's absolutely not indulging it. Obviously it's just confused. He needs a break from Dan and Carl. 

 

Dry-mouthed and cotton-brained, Dean stumbles from bed with bleary eyes, yawning as he lazily makes his way out of his room. He sleepily rubs his face, idly taking note that it's the middle of the night. The Bunker itself seems to be in a slumber. He stays quiet and heads into the kitchen, only to knock smack-dead into Cas, who's coming out. 

 

"Woah," Dean croaks, reaching out to grab Cas' hip and steady him. He's still in Dean's clothes, the shirt riding up a little. Dean can feel the warmth of his skin under his fingers. "What're you doin', man?" 

 

Cas blinks at him. "I left my phone in here earlier, so I came to get it. Dean, it's two in the morning. What are you doing awake?" 

 

"Just woke up," Dean mumbles, thumb stroking Cas' hip bone without much forethought. "You ain't sleeping tonight?" 

 

"No, not tonight." Cas tilts his head a little. The dim light from the overhead stove casts shadows across the valleys of his face. His eyes are otherworldly and bright in the dark. "Are you thirsty? You sound it. I have some coffee. Here." 

 

Dean hums gratefully and takes the coffee mug that Cas holds out to him. He drinks down a few gulps, not minding that it's lukewarm. "Thanks, man. That's what I came here for anyway, something to drink. M'gonna go back to bed now." 

 

"That might be for the best," Cas says softly, his lips curling up. He reaches down with his free hand to curl his fingers around Dean's own, the ones still on his hip. He opens his mouth like he's about to say something, then closes it and slowly looks up. Dean follows his gaze to blink at the mistletoe, which is such a damn cliche, but Cas doesn't look particularly pissed off about it now. He slowly lowers his head at the same time Dean does, their gazes meeting in the middle. "Goodnight, Dean." 

 

With those unbearably tender words and a gentle squeeze of his hand, Cas leans forward and presses an altogether simple kiss to Dean's cheek. The contact lingers for a beat, warm and soft, and Dean's fingers spasm in response. Cas drops his hand as he pulls back, smiles at him, then slips past and away. 

 

Dean stands there for a long time, blinking at nothing, his heart sort of thrown out of rhythm and his face warm like the heat of Cas' lips spread over everywhere. Dean flexes his fingers, then turns around and goes right back to bed. He's not entirely sure he even left it in the first place. 

 

That was definitely a dream. 

 


 

The new year breeds new problems. Dean and Cas get into a fight. A really, really bad one. A fight so bad that Cas leaves for the first time in months. 

 

It starts innocently enough. Dean's in a shitty mood, so that isn't helping anyone. He's in the Library, a dull throb at his temples that lets him know he's going to need to pull out the aspirin, and Cas finds him in between two shelves. He smiles, and Dean smiles back, and five minutes later, they're in a full-blown argument about nothing important. 

 

Cas makes a comment that has Dean making a comment, and then they're on the subject of angels, and then Dean's pissed off about Benjamin—the one angel Cas has ever seemed to seriously like, which Dean hates because he isn't an angel, and he doesn't even come close to Benjamin. Somehow, this leads to Crowley, of all people, and Dean takes a second to marvel at how he can still come between Cas and him, despite being dead. Then, Benny is involved, which is huge fucking no-no, and they're definitely yelling now, and it escalates until they're dredging up shit that's been dormant for years. 

 

It gets so bad that they're shouting some seriously harsh things at each other, things that only they would know to weaponize against one another, and Dean maybe makes a comment that he definitely shouldn't—something along the lines that Cas is a bad judge of character, so it's probably for the better that the Benjamin fellow is dead, and just because you had a stupid fucking crush on him, Cas, doesn't mean that—

 

And then, it reaches peak levels of problems when Sam gets involved, because apparently the yelling was kinda loud and they're being ridiculous, they should calm down, why are they about to come to blows for no reason? Cas snarls something at Sam, so Dean snaps at Cas, and it just gets worse and worse because Jack comes into the Library. Mistakes are made when Dean tells Jack too harshly to get out, and Cas starts berating him for that, too. 

 

So, eventually, it gets too intense, and then Cas is banging his way out of the Library, and Dean is yelling after him. Dean leaves Jack and Sam looking very uncomfortable and goes to lock himself in his room for a while, pissed off and pent up and kinda wishing that Cas would have hit him, maybe. It takes him a few hours to cool off, mostly because there's something else to this anger, something that makes him ache with disappointment at the lack of injury he's got. No blood, no soreness, Cas didn't even toss him around a little. Fuck him. 

 

When Dean comes out of his room, he's not prepared to apologize, and he won't, no matter what Sam suggests. It turns out that he doesn't have to. Cas took off, won't answer his phone, and Dean definitely should have chipped him. 

 

"What was the argument even about?" Sam asks him over a very stilted dinner. 

 

Dean pushes the food around his plate, scowling, not hungry at all. "I don't know." 

 

"Was it worth it?" Jack murmurs, looking at him with wide eyes and furrowed brows and childish innocence that shines through so brightly it hurts. 

 

"M'not hungry," is Dean's response, gruff and short, as he averts his eyes and shoves away from the table to ignore everyone while hiding in his room. 

 

He deliberately doesn't read about Dan and Carl. 

 

For the first full day that Cas is gone, Dean is mostly still just pissed off, and his anger is only fueled because Cas left. He stomps around while Sam and Jack give him a wide berth. He considers watching Bonanza alone, then decides against it, because he's not gonna stoop to betrayal—that's more Cas' speed, because he's done a few traitorous things over the years, and Dean spends a few hours thinking about that and getting even angrier. 

 

It's funny what a shower and some sleep can do for a person. By day two, Dean's anger has dampened, and then he's just… Well, he keeps glancing at the door a lot. Worry starts to creep in, even though it's only the second day, but Cas has consistently been here without leaving for months. Dean finally caves and asks if Jack and Sam have heard from him. Jack has apparently texted and told Cas to come back whenever he's ready without demanding anything, because he respects boundaries or whatever, and Cas is definitely raising him right. Sam holds up his hands and says it's Dean's mess to clean up, so he's staying completely out of it, which isn't helpful. 

 

Throughout day two, Dean hides in his room a few times to try calling Cas, except he can never go through with it. His thumb hovers over the name. His stomach cramps. He tosses his phone aside with a low curse, then scoops it back up to stare at it uselessly, rubbing his free hand over his face. Over and over again, he doesn't call. 

 

Day three is when the worry really kicks in, and Dean is starting to get anxious. Sam and Jack refuse to get involved, which only makes it worse because it feels like it's all on Dean to fix it, but Dean's only really good at screwing things up, not mending them. His perpetual anger is still there—it's always there, because he's always angry—but it feels so unimportant compared to his worry. 

 

So, finally, Dean plucks up the courage to call, his heart pounding in his throat until Cas answers on the third ring with a sigh and a, "Hello, Dean." 

 

"Where the hell are you?" is Dean's immediate response, sharp and irritated, because he's got relief coursing through him and feels like an idiot for it.

 

"I am currently in the next town over, sitting in my truck that will not turn on," Cas informs him. 

 

Dean frowns. "Your truck broke down?" 

 

"Yes." 

 

"Today?" 

 

"No. Two days ago now, I believe," Cas mumbles. 

 

"Cas, have you been sitting in your broken down truck for three days, dude?" Dean asks. 

 

"Well," Cas says, "yes." 

 

"Why didn't you call me?" Dean snaps, already getting up to locate his boots and keys. 

 

Cas sighs again—a weary sound. Annoyed and frustrated, too. "We were...not communicating." 

 

"You still could've—" Dean cuts himself off, tilting his head back and scoffing. Jesus, the pride of two stupid, stubborn men. Look where it gets them. "I don't even care. Whatever. Just send me where you're at, and I'll be there in an hour." 

 

Dean hangs up on him, just for the satisfaction. 

 

As promised, Dean rolls to a stop on the side of an empty street with nothing around for miles, heaving a sigh as he throws himself out of Baby. Cas also gets out of his truck, face blank, hands shoved into his trenchcoat pockets. They don't say a word to each other, and Dean does his best to ignore him as he turns the key, listens to it scrape, then pops the hood to go see what the problem is. 

 

He locates the issue quickly enough, but he's gonna need to ride into town and get the correct part, so he wordlessly waves Cas into Baby. Even then, they don't speak, despite the rising tension all the way into town. It's a little ridiculous, Dean knows that, but he's just irritated now. Not as angry, but no longer drowning in worry, so he's found some middle ground that demands his silence. 

 

And, the thing is, he knows exactly what happened here. Cas got into his stupid trunk that he hasn't cranked in months probably, and then he drove because he wanted space from Dean, and then he broke down on the side of the road and didn't move for three days because he was too stubborn, and spiteful, and prideful to call for help. How long would he have sat there? He doesn't need to eat, or sleep, or anything like that. He would eventually come back, even just for Jack, but it's the principle of the thing. Dean wants to lecture him, but he settles for the silent-treatment instead. 

 

After scoring the part that's needed, Dean gets back to the truck and proceeds to fix it, which he's trying not to be a mixture of annoyed and smug about. He thinks about how he's basically Cas' personal mechanic, and there's some kind of joke in there, but this isn't the time to tell it. Cas stays in Baby, not even offering to help. That's for the best. 

 

The last thing that needs to be done is the truck needs a jump to get cranked again, so Dean grabs the jumper-cables from the trunk of Baby and gets everything connected. It's going to need to charge for a bit, so Dean slides back into Baby with a frown, staring out at her raised hood, oddly feeling sheltered away like a secret with it blocking most of the world out. He releases a deep sigh. 

 

Dean risks a glance over to Cas, who is already looking at him, and then he quickly looks away again. He bites the inside of his cheek, refusing to break his silence, not even to yell. Half of him wants to apologize, while the other half wants to rip Cas a new one for being so fucking stupid, for being gone, for not calling. He doesn't even remember what they were fighting about at the start of this. 

 

Grimacing, Dean lays his arm out on his leg, letting his fingers tap rapidly at the bottom of Baby's wheel, near his knee. He clears his throat, then finds himself breaking his silence by accident. "Look, I—"

 

He doesn't get much farther than that because he loses the rest of that sentence—whatever it was—when he feels Cas' hand settle over the inside of his wrist, a light touch, the tips of his fingers just brushing the inside of Dean's palm. Dean looks down, his own fingers automatically curling down to touch, to trap Cas' fingers there, like he's holding on. It's a pure reaction, just an instinctive twitch of his fingers, and he flicks his gaze over to Cas. 

 

It's funny in a way that's not at all funny because Cas is staring down at their hands, just for a beat, a second full of thoughtful contemplation. That one breath of a moment yawns wide, then passes, and Dean jerks his gaze from Cas' face to watch as he pushes his fingers up with no resistance, sliding into the spaces between Dean's fingers and pressing their palms together. Despite literally watching it happen, it takes Dean an embarrassingly long time to work out what the fuck is going on. 

 

Holding hands. They're—okay, that's a thing that's happening. Why? Dean can feel his face contorting in knee-jerk response, eyebrows coming together, lips ticking down into a prominent frown, his fingers slack and unresponsive. He likely looks like he's scowling, and maybe he is, but when he slowly glances at Cas, there's absolutely no reaction. 

 

Cas just looks at him, keeps looking at him, searching his face. He murmurs, "What happens if I keep holding on?" 

 

"Why—" Dean cuts himself off, because he sounds unexpectedly hoarse. Like, really raspy with a crack in his voice and everything. He clears his throat, then tries again. "Why are you, uh, doing that? The, um—the holding on thing. Why are you…" 

 

"I read something yesterday on my phone," Cas informs him casually, lips twitching. "You'd be surprised where you can end up on the internet when you have nothing to do for three days. Have you ever heard of something called a discomfort zone, Dean?" 

 

Dean's fingers twitch. "Like a comfort zone?" 

 

"Mm, yes, of a sort," Cas agrees. "It's the concept that people formulate a discomfort zone in response to spending long periods of time stressed, or dealing with consistent anxiety, or generally always in a persistent state of negative emotion. It becomes your...normal. It's what you get used to, so things that bring you comfort—" He flicks his gaze towards their hands briefly, "—or would usually be in your comfort zone end up making you uncomfortable. It's foreign, and not what you're used to, so you naturally and instinctively avoid it. I suppose I am...pushing you out of your discomfort zone." 

 

Dean stares at him. 

 

It's at this precise moment—after all this time—that he gets the idea that there's something going on. He can't say what it is, but it's something. 

 

Is this a gay thing? Like, Cas is more comfortable now that he's shown that part of himself, so he's okay with affection like this. Is holding hands just something that Cas doesn't realize is only really socially acceptable in certain situations? He's never done it before, but maybe he's never wanted to, and maybe he just doesn't know. But no, he would know, because he's not a goddamn idiot. Is it seriously the discomfort zone thing? Maybe this is him just trying to do something nice, his form of apology. Maybe he's actually still pissed at Dean and is using this to torture him because he's a passive-aggressive ass. 

 

"Do you have a discomfort zone?" Dean asks, unable to think of what else to say. 

 

"Yes," Cas answers. 

 

"What is it?" Dean mumbles, turning his gaze back to look at their hands again. No one has held his hand in years. It's such a simple, harmless contact, and yet it does make him uncomfortable for how comforting it can be. His heart is racing. 

 

Cas hums quietly. "Restraint, I would say. I'm pushing past that, too." 

 

"Restraint isn't a bad thing," Dean says. "It's control, right? Not giving in…" 

 

"I think that this freedom after Chuck has shown me that my restraint has only ever made me unhappy. My control was based off of those who controlled me, and it held me back from things I was afraid to pursue." Cas meets his eyes when Dean glances at him. "There are things, and people, and wants that are worth giving into, wouldn't you say?" 

 

"I don't know," Dean croaks. "I'm really—I'm more of a fly by the seat of my pants kinda guy, Cas. Do what I gotta do, no matter what that is, ya know? I don't really operate on restraint." 

 

"You don't? Are you sure?" Cas asks, fingers tightening on Dean's hand, holding more firmly. His thumb sweeps around on Dean's skin in gentle circles. "Would you know if you were?" 

 

Dean's whole arm tingles uncomfortably, goosebumps breaking out startlingly fast. His fingers twitch again, then curl down, and then he's all but clinging to Cas' hand. He blinks rapidly and turns his head away, not responding. 

 

So, they sit there in silence and hold fucking hands, and Dean does his level best not to think about it or acknowledge it. If he doesn't look, it's not there, it's not happening. He can't pretend he doesn't feel it, though—the warmth of Cas' skin, his firm grip, the way he steadily strokes Dean with his thumb. It's weird. It's so goddamn weird, and so uncomfortable, and definitely a discomfort thing, and Dean's not letting go. There's an answer to what's going on here, and it feels like it should be so simple, but Dean doesn't know what it is. He can't work it out. 

 

He deals with it until he literally can't anymore, finally breaking and snatching his hand back to the safety of normalcy as he chokes out, "Your truck can probably crank now. Be right back." 

 

The truck does crank, and Dean spends a few minutes hiding behind Baby's hood as he gathers the jumper-cables, just breathing. He flexes his fingers, closing his eyes. It's fine. It's fine. 

 

"Dean," Cas says when he gets out of Baby, about to follow Dean home in his truck, "I'm sorry for our argument. I should have called." 

 

"Yeah," Dean agrees, "you should have. But, I mean, I get it. It's fine. All's forgiven. Uh...right?" 

 

Cas smiles at him, amused. "Yes, Dean, you're forgiven as well." 

 

Dean huffs out a weak laugh. "Yeah? Good. And, uh, about the—about what you did with—" 

 

"Yes?" Cas asks, arching an eyebrow. 

 

"Um." Dean curls his hand into a fist, then stuffs it into his pocket, swallowing thickly. "Ya know what? Nothing. It's fine. See you back at home, Cas." 

 

"Okay," Cas says, smiling again. 

 

Dean turns around and goes back to slide into Baby, taking one second to squeeze her wheel and let out a deep breath that trembles on its way out. Then, he shakes his head, tugs Baby out of park, and whips back out onto the road. He decides to let it go, because he's pretty sure trying to figure it out is definitely out of his discomfort zone. 

 


 

Dan and Carl are having so much sex, and you know what? Good for them. They've earned it. 

 

That being said, Dean doesn't think they should be fucking while they're on the run. He's pretty sure that being chased by corrupt angels—and doesn't that just hit close to home, oh the irony—should be the main priority. How Dan and Carl can find the time to do some seriously filthy shit while people are trying to kill them, Dean doesn't know. 

 

Don't they have other things to worry about? They're literally an hour out from Carl's wings nearly being cut off—it was oddly emotional and super intense. The fact that Dan now has his hands buried in the feathers of Carl's wings while he's getting his brains fucked out is just a little surreal to Dean. They should be making plans, or putting more distance between them and those that want to kill them, or—more realistically—too stressed the fuck out to do anything even remotely sexual. 

 

It's funny how an abundance of gay sex scenes have slowly desensitized Dean to the embarrassment of them. He's read, like, ten by now. There are apparently a lot of ways for gay men to have sex, and even more creative ways when there are wings involved, so he's read some shit that makes a simple scene of them fucking feel tame. 

 

Dean has found that he can react almost normally to them by now—raise his eyebrows when it gets really filthy, chuckle ruefully when it gets so flowery that it's funny, push through that mortification when it gets detailed, completely ignore the spark of interest when it goes in depth about how good it is. He always needs a break after the sex scenes, just to kind of recalibrate, and he makes sure to read on before going to sleep to avoid any weird dreams. He's had some questionable ones about Benny so far that he doesn't want to examine. 

 

This supposedly tame sex scene doesn't end up being that tame because Carl tells Dan that he loves him, and then Dan doesn't say it back. 

 

"Ah, shit," Dean mutters, settling in with a grimace to see how this plays out. Dan's got some serious issues about opening up to people and talking about his feelings, which Dean uncomfortably relates to. 

 

The chapter is Dan's point of view—the book switches between him and Carl, which is wild as fuck—and it turns out that Dan simply doesn't believe that Carl actually loves him. He doesn't think that Carl knows what love actually is. 

 

Dean rolls his eyes and resists the urge to facepalm because this dude is ridiculous. Yeah, maybe Carl doesn't really get humans and their ways, but Dean has read his point of view. He's been inside the dude's head, so to speak. Carl's definitely in love, so Dan's really just ruining his own chance at happiness at this point. 

 

"I got five more chapters, so I know you're gonna end up fucking him again," Dean mutters at the book, shaking it a little. "Why are you making it harder on yourself? Go be gays on the run. Heaven is fucking overrated anyway, trust me." 

 

Fully not in the mood for all that drama right now, Dean shuts the book and slips it away, sliding out of bed. He heads into the kitchen to put together a sandwich. Sam and Jack have announced that they're going to handle dinner tonight, so another round of torture is up, by the sounds of it. He figures it's in his best interest to get some unhealthy food in now while he still can. 

 

It's while he's sucking mayo off the end of his finger that Cas appears in the doorway, and Dean nearly drops the butterknife as he perks up. 

 

They'd gotten back home for all of an hour after the truck broke down before Claire called Cas and asked him if he'd come help her and Kaia with a case, and he'd immediately went, of course. He's been gone for a little over a week, not counting the three days where he sat on the side of the road in a tantrum. 

 

Dean feels like he hasn't seen him in years. 

 

"Hello, Dean," Cas greets, moving into the kitchen, wearing Dean's clothes again for some reason. 

 

Dean grins at him. "Hey, Cas. How'd the case go?" 

 

"It was...exhausting," Cas admits wearily, though there's some fondness in his eyes. He looks so much softer like this. "Claire had to kill a witch that Kaia wanted to save. Many life lessons were taught." 

 

"I'll bet. Sounds rough." 

 

"They were okay, overall. It is good to see you." 

 

"Huh? What? Oh, yeah, it's good to see you too, Cas," Dean says, caught by surprise a little. He laughs and tries to scrub his hand over his mouth, forgetting he has the butterknife with mayo on it in his hand, ending up with a streak of mayo on his cheek. He huffs and tosses the knife in the sink.  

 

"There's more," Cas informs him, lips twitching at the corners as he gestures to where Dean hasn't swiped at yet. "No, not there. No, Dean, you're missing it entirely. It's—just, here, let me—" 

 

Cas sweeps forward and reaches out to swipe the mayo away, which had somehow gotten right below his right eye. Cas' thumb gently slides across, pressing in and collecting it, lingering for a second that gives Dean just enough time to process the feeling of Cas' warm palm against his cheek. Then, he pulls his hand back and considers the mayo with serious intent, and Dean knows he's not about to—

 

But yup, Cas pops that bad boy right in his mouth and sucks the mayo off very casually, complete with a comical pop as he tugs his thumb from his lips. Dean's brain has a lot of jokes for him to make for about two seconds, and then Cas looks at him, and his brain has absolutely nothing in it. 

 

Sam makes a strangled noise from the doorway. 

 

"Oh, hey," Dean says, blinking over at Sam. "Are you about to start cooking? It's a little early, isn't it?" 

 

"I…" Sam stares at them mournfully. He reaches up and scrubs his fingers over his eyebrow, making a frustrated sound in the back of his throat. He sounds absolutely miserable when he speaks next. "You can lead a horse to water, but you just can't make him drink. Jesus, I don't need this shit." 

 

With that and nothing else, Sam shoves his hand out at them as if he can physically push them from across the room, then turns and walks away. 

 

"What was that all about?" Dean mutters. 

 

Cas hums. "I have no idea. Bonanza?" 

 

"Oh, hell yeah." Dean grins. "Bonanza." 

 


 

Dan and Carl do end up fucking again—twice. It's because Dan is a weak man who can't stick to his guns about keeping his distance, but he's also a pretty fucked up guy who's scared to get close to people, so admitting that he's in love just ain't gonna happen. Dean is judging him really hard. 

 

There's a whole scene where Carl's wings actually do get burned off, unnecessarily sad and gorey for gay erotica. In this book, hellfire is apparently what's used to harm or kill angels and half-angels, which is kinda funny because Dean's life does not agree with this lore. Still, reading about Carl's wings getting scorched in hellfire is just tragic as fuck. 

 

"Well, now you gotta tell him you love him," Dean mutters. "The dude lost everything for you." 

 

Except, still, Dan doesn't tell Carl shit. It's getting closer to the end of the book, and Dean's pretty sure that it's going to end all happy-go-lucky with Dan finally admitting his feelings, and then Dan and Carl will go driving off into the sunset. 

 

That's not how it ends. 

 

As sappy as that would have been, it's a better alternative to what actually happens, because Dean reads it and hates it. He hates it with a burning passion so visceral that he wishes he never picked up the book to read it. 

 

Because Carl fucking dies. He dies sacrificing himself in hellfire for Dan, and he dies not knowing that Dan loves him back, and he dies while Dan has to stand back and watch. He just...dies, and Dean has a few pages left, but he almost doesn't want to read them because his hands are shaking and he's so furious about this that he doesn't want to keep going. 

 

It's bad. It's so bad, really, because Dan feels so fucking horrible. It's a mess of tears. The same thing that happened to Dan's family happened to Carl, and now Dan feels like he really is some kind of curse, and he now knows for sure that Carl did, in fact, love him, because he died proving it. 

 

And the book ends with Dan clutching that feather Carl gave him and finally confessing his love out loud, expect Carl isn't fucking there to hear it, and it's the worst book Dean has ever read in his life. 

 

He wants to burn it. He hates it. When he closes it, he clenches it in his hands so tight that it makes a weird, squeaking noise. Why didn't this book come with a warning? Why is this the conclusion? He turns it over to read the reviews on the back for the very first time, throat tight, jaw clenched. 

 

"A story that will make you laugh, fall in love, and rip your heart out. It's the kind of story that will change you after you've read it…" says some esteemed journalist from some goddamn place, and no fucking kidding. 

 

It's just so fucked up. Dean has no idea why it hits him so hard, because it's just some book, but he can't help but cling to how unfair this is. It's just wrong, plain and simple. Dean hates it. He hates it even more when he ends up fucking crying, which is possibly the most ridiculous thing that's ever happened to him. Crying over two guys who aren't even real. Jesus Christ, what is he doing? 

 

Dean puts the book in his closet in a box inside another box under a bunch of other things, trying to bury it and never think of it again. It deserves to be banished to the deepest part of hell. That's not how erotica works, gay or not. There should be, like, an ending involving sex and swooning. 

 

So, he ends up having a crisis of a very peculiar kind. It leads him to go to the garage and hide in Baby for literal hours, no longer crying but definitely struggling not to be so pissed off. He doesn't really know how to explain to anyone else that he got stupidly invested in a book about gay romance and it didn't end well, so now he wants to break things. He'll avoid that at all costs, thank you very much. 

 

At some point, Cas finds him. He knocks gently against the driver's side window, only to straighten up and move around to the passenger side as soon as he gets his first glance at Dean's face. He's sliding into the car in seconds, easing the door shut and looking over at Dean, eyebrows furrowed. 

 

"I'm fine," Dean says, just to head him off. 

 

"No, you're not," Cas counters instantly, studying him, knowing and knowing. "What happened?" 

 

Dean tips his head back against the seat, closing his eyes. "There was, um, this...book that I read. It had a shitty ending. I'm pissed about it." 

 

"Oh." Cas sounds comically surprised. "I thought it was something more, ah—" 

 

"Serious?" Dean prompts dryly. He opens his eyes and rolls his head to the side to look at Cas, his eyebrows raised high. 

 

Cas hums. "Well, yes. It's always been something serious, hasn't it? In all the years I've known you, I don't think I've had the opportunity to see you get deeply upset about something relatively normal. It's always life-altering things, not just a book." 

 

"Yeah, well, I didn't always get the time to do some casual reading," Dean mutters. 

 

"And now you do." Cas glances at him, then doesn't look away. He tilts his head. "If it helps, think of it this way: there are other books with better endings."

 

"Yeah, I guess," Dean agrees, subdued. 

 

"Was it a sad ending?" Cas asks softly. 

 

Dean makes a face at him, shrugs, but does end up muttering, "Really fucking tragic. We've had enough of that to last us a lifetime, I think." 

 

"Mhm," is Cas' sage response. He stares at Dean for a long moment in thoughtful silence, and then he straightens up a little. "Do you want to go for a walk, Dean? Just to get outside." 

 

"Maybe," Dean mumbles, but his lips quirk against his will when Cas looks pleased. 

 

They do go outside, leaving out the back way through the garage. The Bunker is secluded, surrounded by woods; though there are no real paths to walk, they pick a direction between the trees and start going that way. It's midday, but still cool out, right in the middle of winter—the leaves crunch underfoot, the trees waiting to be littered with green and life once more when winter turns to spring. 

 

The air is crisp, a little brisk in his lungs, but in the best way. He breathes easy as he walks, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets, his arm brushing Cas' arm with every step. They're quiet, enjoying the simplicity in the comfortable silence. Dean forgets to be mad about the book. 

 

"I think it will get easier, with time," Cas comments idly, looking ahead with a small frown, a wrinkle in between his eyebrows. 

 

"What will?" Dean asks. 

 

"The absence of tragedy," Cas replies quietly. "You said before that we've had enough to last us a lifetime. I don't believe that it's very easy to feel as if it's really gone, not to begin with. After suffering so long, justice can no longer be the goal. All that's left is the hope for peace. When faced with that peace, however…" He glances at Dean, his gaze strangely solemn. "Well, it's not as simple as accepting the peace we've never known." 

 

"The discomfort zone again," Dean says, resisting the urge to chew on his lip. 

 

"We're so used to fighting," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean blows out an explosive breath. "Yeah, we are. I mean, there was always going to be a point where it stopped, one way or another. I guess I always figured that it would be—different than this. When your life is one shitty thing right after the next, not living doesn't sound so bad, ya know? I thought I'd go down at some point, and that'd just be...it. I wouldn't really have to figure anything out." 

 

"I don't mean this selfishly, but I'm grateful that wasn't the case," Cas tells him, looking forward again. "Even if it's not easy now, I would rather you be around to endure it than...not." 

 

"I'm so goddamn tired sometimes," Dean admits. 

 

Cas releases a soft sigh. "I understand, Dean. I truly do. We've had some very eventful years. I think we're all weary now." 

 

"Sam seems…" Dean trails off, unsure how to put into words how Sam seems. There's just something to him, something more...rested now. 

 

"That is something I've always admired about Sam. Even when you and I lost hope," Cas says, "he refused to, no matter the odds." 

 

"Is that what it is? He's got hope, and we don't? How the hell do we not have hope when everything is—I dunno, better now?" 

 

"I don't think we lack hope; I believe we're just wary to trust in it. Sam's hope is branded with defiance. He has always used it to feel stronger, and the way things have worked out have only proved him right to keep that hope. Your hope has been betrayed time and time again, so you naturally expect it to happen now to keep to a pattern." 

 

"And you?" Dean asks, glancing down at his boots with a frown, kicking lazily at leaves. 

 

"I'm not sure," Cas says softly. "I...don't really know. I have hope because I care. Yet, at the same time, it is because I care that I don't trust in hope. It doesn't make things okay, it never has; hope is just a concept that urges someone not to give up, but it does not guarantee that things will be resolved. I have hope that Jack will be safe and live a good life, for example. But it's not my hope that will make it so; it will be my actions to ensure it that will." 

 

"Not everything works out how we want it to, though, no matter how hard we try," Dean mutters, shaking his head slightly, lips thinning out. 

 

"Yes, but I don't think we're under threat of cosmic consequences if it doesn't any longer," Cas points out. 

 

Dean snorts, mouth softening. "Well, ain't that a relief? Is that what peace is for us? We finally don't gotta worry about cosmic consequences anymore?" 

 

"It sounds peaceful," Cas says wryly. 

 

"Okay, yeah, I'll give you that." Dean inclines his head towards him with a huff of laughter. "But still, what do we even do with peace, dude? I don't even know where to fucking start." 

 

Cas looks over at him, and Dean feels it, so he looks back. They stare at each other as they stroll along, and Cas hums again. "I think you already have. It's been months since everything settled. All that's left to do is...get used to it, and perhaps—" His voice stalls out for a moment, uncharacteristically, and his gaze roams Dean's face with intensity. When he speaks next, his tone is a little raw. "Perhaps what one does with peace is...whatever they want." 

 

"What if I don't even know what that is?" Dean grumbles, arching an eyebrow in challenge. "'Cause I know damn well you don't just mean good food and a good bed and time in Baby, not simple wants like that. You mean—ya know, the big things, the wants we didn't get to have before." 

 

"Yes," Cas agrees. "If you're not sure, figure it out." 

 

"Easier said than done." Dean grimaces slightly, making a face at him. "Alright then, smartass, what about you? What do you want? You got it all figured out, or what? Because if you do before I do, Cas, I'm gonna be so pissed." 

 

"Yes, I—I—" Cas stalls out yet again, which is very unlike him, and he swallows thickly as he abruptly inhales sharply through his nose and looks away, blinking rapidly. He clears his throat. "I do have it figured out. I think I've always known. That being said, I already have it, if not necessarily in the exact way that I want it. Sometimes, compromise is all you get, and that has to be enough. It is enough." 

 

Dean's eyebrows jerk up. "Well, that doesn't seem very fair. After all the shit you've done for this godforsaken world, and you gotta compromise? That's some grade A bullshit if I've ever heard it." 

 

"I do not mind," Cas says simply, and it sounds like he really doesn't. He even smiles a little, like there's secrets trapped behind his blinking eyes. 

 

"What is it?" Dean asks, curious despite himself. 

 

Cas tilts his head back a little, looking up at the treetops with a serene sort of appreciation. All he says, very calmly, is, "Love." 

 

"Oh." Dean is the one blinking this time, and he feels a surge of affection hit him square in the chest. Ah, shit, Cas is a goddamn sap. Okay, that's kind of sweet, Dean will admit it—internally, at least. He chuckles under his breath and knocks his elbow into Cas', his lips curling up. "Who knew you were a romantic, Cas? Softie." 

 

"Doesn't it sound nice?" Cas muses, looking over at him. "To love and to be loved wholly in return?" 

 

Dean opens his mouth, then closes it and shrugs a little awkwardly. "I guess. I mean, yeah, obviously it is. It doesn't make things easier, though, Cas. Not always. Some ways, maybe, but love isn't always the happy ending people pretend it is." 

 

"No, I don't believe it is." Cas tilts his head in agreement. "But isn't it normal to want that love when it already exists?" 

 

"Like...unrequited love?" Dean asks. 

 

"Perhaps. Hypothetically," Cas says, waving a hand in front of him, eyebrows raised. 

 

"Then yeah, it's normal, I think. But, I mean, unrequited love hurts, man. It's not a good thing. You know that, right?" 

 

"Why does it necessarily have to be a bad thing? Is it not fulfilling just to love someone and require nothing in return?" 

 

"Maybe, but it's going to hurt like a bitch if you hope for more," Dean points out. 

 

A small smile flickers over Cas' face. "And if someone is the type not to trust in hope? If they believe that hope is just a feeling and not necessarily a force that promotes resolution?" 

 

"Then it's just depressing." Dean clicks his tongue and shakes his head. "Doesn't really change that it's going to hurt. Can't escape that part. You can love someone to hell and back, want them to be happy, but knowing they don't feel the same… It's heartbreak, ya know? And not knowing how they feel at all is a different kind of torture all together. There's no peace in that." 

 

"Is there no easy medium? Taking what you can get and making peace with that, perhaps?" 

 

"Sure, but then you're gonna spend so much time wondering. Do they love you? Do they not? Could you have more, if only you'd take the chance? Are you going to lose 'em to someone else down the line, and how the fuck are you going to handle it if you do? It eventually gets complicated. It gets messy, no matter what you try to do, and it always comes out, one way or another. All that confusion and heartache, for what? You don't even know, not until everything comes to a head, and then you just gotta deal with whatever happens. Good results, or bad, and there ain't a damn thing you can do about it."

 

"Is that the only way you see something like that happening?" Cas asks quietly, lips tipping down. 

 

"Well, I ain't exactly a hopeful guy, am I?" Dean flashes him a weak grin. "I'm not an optimist." 

 

Cas surveys him curiously. "No, you're not. I'm not either, I'll admit. I just think I'm starting to find peace in the idea of loving freely." 

 

"And all the sometimes terrible shit that comes with it?" Dean challenges. "You sure you want that, Cas?" 

 

"Some people are worth it," Cas says softly, turning his head, gaze latched on the ground as he walks. 

 

"Or maybe you're just trying to find new ways to suffer," Dean suggests. 

 

"Love can be so destructive for something meant to be innocent," Cas replies, like an agreement, though his face softens. "It's just about being willing." 

 

Dean looks at him incredulously. "Willing to suffer?" 

 

"Well, what would you do for those you love?" Cas retorts, arching an eyebrow over at him. 

 

"I—" Dean stumbles over a half-formed thought, knowing it without saying it. Anything. I'd do absolutely anything. He shakes his head. "Okay, fair enough, but that's pretty fucked up that you'd want to put yourself through that. I mean, more power to you on the whole love thing, but I hope like hell that it's not the tragic kind." 

 

"Well, we know how we feel about hope," Cas tells him, lips curling up. 

 

"Fuck you, I mean it in a good way. For you, at least. I'd hate to have to kill somebody for breaking your heart, especially if I'm on some grand hippie search for peace and bullshit," Dean mutters. 

 

Cas chuckles, rough and rumbly, looking genuinely amused. "Oh, I don't think you need to worry about that, but the sentiment is...appreciated. I wonder, would you threaten to kill my supposed suitors if they were women, or is that only allowed for men?"

 

"Dude, I actually did kill April. Did you forget that?" Dean asks, taking his hand out of his pocket and mimicking a stabbing motion. 

 

"She was a reaper." 

 

"A reaper who looked like a chick. You think I gave a fuck? You're welcome, by the way."

 

"You didn't do it to defend my honor because she broke my heart, because she didn't break my heart," Cas points out, most certainly amused now. 

 

Dean waves a hand carelessly. "Semantics. Whatever. She killed you, which was motivation enough for me to kill her." 

 

"Mm, not very peaceful of you," Cas says, his eyes lit up with mirth. 

 

"I'm not a very peaceful person," Dean reminds him, shooting him a look. 

 

Cas' face relaxes into something a little more serious, his gaze warm but focused. "You could be. Your life can become so. You have that opportunity now, to have the things you want, or at least have the chance to chase them. Figure out what those things are, Dean, and try to have them." 

 

"Like I said," Dean mumbles, "easier said than done." 

 

"There is one thing about hope that I think we often tend to forget, that perhaps Sam does not." Cas holds his gaze, lips twitching. "Our hope is our own. It can't be taken from us, and when we have nothing else, we still have that as long as we don't let it go."

 

"It's a slippery son of a bitch," Dean says bitterly. 

 

Cas hums. "Yes, it can be, but I think that's partially our own fault. I believe we should hope more. Truly hope, as ridiculous as that may sound." 

 

"Well, it does sound kinda ridiculous," Dean admits, grinning when Cas rolls his eyes at him. 

 

"Maybe so, but there's a chance we can find hope in peace, and peace in hope." Cas reaches out and tucks his hand through Dean's arm, fitting his fingers over the bend in his elbow. He gives a steady tug, turning them around and pointing them back in the direction of the Bunker. "Not all endings have to be tragic, Dean. We shouldn't find home in our discomfort zones. There's no peace there." 

 

"Oh, but I'm so used to it," Dean complains, wrinkling his nose at Cas, teasing just to see him look absolutely exasperated with him. 

 

"You're hopeless," Cas mutters, even as he leans into him and lets Dean guide them home, his hand draped through the space between Dean's arm and side, tethered by Dean's hand in his pocket. 

 

Dean smiles, watching the leaves stir on the ground, warm from Cas' proximity. "Well, we both are." 

 

Cas releases a quiet huff of laughter, and Dean echoes him, and they walk the rest of the way home in comfortable silence. 

 


 

It takes Dean nearly all day to realize. 

 

"Mornin', Sunshine," Dean greets cheerfully as Cas comes stepping into the kitchen. 

 

Cas smiles at him, slow and warm. "Good morning, Dean," he says, then—as usual—adds on, "Sam." 

 

"Cas," Sam replies, by rote, lips pinched at the corners as he tries not to smile. 

 

Despite looking like he wants to, Cas does not actually roll his eyes. He just moves further into the kitchen and shuffles over to the open chair next to Dean, where he always sits. The very first thing he does is take the coffee that Dean offers him, and he gives Dean another smile like a reward. The thing is, it kinda does feel like a reward. Dean can't help it—he smiles back, small and secretive and pleased. 

 

Jack, in a demand to show off all his culinary skills, has demanded to be the one to cook breakfast today, which is exactly what he does. He burns some of his bacon, and there's a couple of shells still in the eggs, but otherwise? Well, it's pretty damn good. 

 

Of course, the praise fills up his energy tank for the rest of the goddamn day. This kid has this weird scooter with no handles that he's learning to ride, and he zooms around on the damn thing all through the Bunker. Dean doesn't approve of it. It's an assbackwards scooter, and he's convinced everyone needs the experience of having a scooter slam relentlessly into your ankles, because what's the point if not? Also, it leaves Jack's hands free to keep practicing with his card tricks, but his ability to do two things at once is practically non-existent. 

 

Sometimes, the funniest part of Dean's day is watching Jack wipe out in various places all over the Bunker, like he's going for a record or something. Jack's a good sport about it, always eager to get right back up and try again. Cas gets tired of finding the weird board-scooter in the random places that Jack just leaves it laying around. 

 

Dean does end up laughing his ass off when Eileen hops right up on the abandoned toy and rides off on it the very first try. She likes to use it for mischief, zipping past someone to poke them, or throw something at them, or just be a general menace, and then quickly slide out of the way if they make a playful swipe for her. She does this to Sam a lot, who is still pretending she is an angel who has never done anything wrong in her life, ever. 

 

So, in the downtime—because there is an abrupt lull in between cases—things at the Bunker have just the right amount of disaster to keep things feeling mostly okay. There is peace to be found here, clearly. 

 

He gets lucky and convinces Cas to watch some more Bonanza with him, the two of them bickering back and forth, making a firm satisfaction settle in Dean's bones. Cas puts his hand on Dean's arm at some point as he's arguing, squeezing it, and then he doesn't move it afterwards. Dean finds himself noticing it and forgetting it in startled intervals, swapping between feeling the touch almost too much and barely taking note of it at all. He wonders at it, at his reaction to it, and then he decides to make sandwiches for lunch. 

 

Cas and Dean dedicate an hour, max, to searching for cases, because they're aware it's futile right now. Everyone's a little dry all around, and they're expecting contact from Garth, or Claire, or Jody when something comes up again. Dean mostly spends his time sneaking pictures of Cas, trying to get candids of him making weird faces, except Cas doesn't really make weird faces, so he just ends up with thirteen new photos of Cas looking completely normal. At least five of them are a little blurry, but Dean doesn't delete them. 

 

After that, Jack demands Cas and Dean to sit down and play a card game with him. An actual one, not something he just made up. Dean settles in with Cas to help him cheat—or, well, not cheat. It isn't cheating to give him an edge, not when Jack calls Claire and drags her into the game. He rotates between putting her on speaker so she can talk to everyone, and then taking her off and whispering really low when he wants advice. Cas is stupidly charmed by this, and Dean finds it hilarious. 

 

Sam and Eileen eventually wander in from whatever the hell they were doing that took a couple of hours, probably jumping jacks or something, and they make a team of their own. They win because they're equally good, and Eileen absolutely can call a bluff like she can read minds, good as she is at studying facial expressions and mouths. 

 

The card game eventually breaks up for dinner, and Claire hangs up with her usual, "Give 'em hell, Beanstalk," which makes Cas sigh and Dean cackle on his way to the kitchen, while Jack beams. 

 

Sam and Eileen handle dinner this time, which is a nice break for Dean, and it turns out that Sam will bend his healthy habits for her just a little. They declare it Taco Friday—which makes no damn sense, except Dean isn't about to complain—and there are the regular options for regular tacos, as well as healthier alternatives for Sam, instead of just the latter for everyone. This is apparently because Eileen eats tacos like Dean does, loaded and kinda trashy and very good, so she gets special treatment. Dean is very grateful that she's around. 

 

For every bad taco that Jack has, Sam requires him to eat a healthier one as well. Jack's a weird kid, though. He likes the healthy ones as much as the regular ones. Sam is so damn proud of him. 

 

Cas makes derisive comments about the diced tomatoes under his breath, but he dutifully breaks up taco shells and eats them like chips after dragging them through the sour cream on Dean's tacos. Dean tries to insist that he get his own sour cream, but Cas ignores him, so he gives up. There are some battles just not worth fighting. 

 

Dean and Cas end up on clean-up duty, while Sam and Eileen squirrel Jack away to go watch some animated movie in the Dean Cave. Something to do with animals who act like humans, and maybe a fox and a bunny fall in love? That's some star-crossed lovers bullshit if Dean has ever heard it. 

 

"Foxes eat bunnies, you know," Dean points out as he starts scrubbing the pan Cas passes him. 

 

Cas shoots him an arch look. "I don't think the bunny and fox actually fall in love. I believe it is, at the most, implied. If that." 

 

"Well, that's just disappointing," Dean mutters, rolling his eyes. "Don't do anything halfway. If you're gonna go the lion fell in love with the lamb route, then you might as well give it your all. Otherwise, you're just wasting everyone's time and too scared to own up to your shit, ya know?" 

 

"It's a children's movie, Dean," Cas says. 

 

Dean snorts. "Yeah, so? I'm just saying, it doesn't have to be accurate, that's all. Let the fox and bunny fall in love. Why not? It's a cartoon." 

 

"Movies such as this are rarely accurate. For example, barracudas do not eat clownfish eggs, so the entire start to Finding Nemo is false. It is known, however, that clownfish will eat their own eggs," Cas tells him seriously. "It is more likely that the mother ate all the other eggs." 

 

"I—" Dean stares at him. "Why would you fucking tell me that, Cas?" 

 

"Lions with darker manes—black over red—are actually stronger and healthier, so Scar's portrayal as the weaker lion was inaccurate." Cas makes a thoughtful face, eyes unfocused and distant. "In fact, Scar was technically not a villain, as he was only following the rules of nature—they will kill each other to take over a pride, so his actions against Mufasa were not extreme. Actually, if you think about it, Scar was very merciful because he did not kill the cubs once he took over. Also, Rafiki was not a baboon. He was a mandrill." 

 

"Yeah, okay, but that's all animals," Dean mutters, shaking his head as he goes back to scrubbing the pan. "You can bend the rules a little for animals, Cas, especially for kids. It's supposed to be cute, so it doesn't gotta be accurate." 

 

"Cute," Cas echoes flatly. "Was Bambi a cute movie, Dean? The Fox and the Hound? Hm? Jack cried." 

 

"I...have no argument," Dean concedes. 

 

Cas hums. "If you haven't noticed, a lot of children's movies are very sad. I've discovered this with Jack. There is a lot of death." 

 

"Ah, come on," Dean says, "it can't be that much." 

 

"Bambi's mother, as we've established. Mufasa. Bing Bong, in Inside Out. Kerchak, in Tarzan. Tala, in Moana. Sitka, in Brother Bear. Ellie, in Up." Cas arches an eyebrow at Dean. "Do I need to go on? I could go on. For a while." 

 

Dean frowns at him. "Okay, you've clearly given this a lot of thought." 

 

"That's not even including the movies about children," Cas continues. "Bridge to Terabithia? Jack thought the movie was going to be fun. My Girl? I've taken to researching if anyone dies before allowing Jack to watch. It just upsets him otherwise." 

 

"No one dies in the fox and bunny movie, right?" Dean checks, eyebrows raised. 

 

Cas shakes his head. "No, I checked. It should be good. As of right now, Jack's favorite animated movie is Brave. No one really dies. There are bears. He likes the accents." 

 

"That's the Irish girl who doesn't wanna marry any of the idiot guys, right?" Dean asks. 

 

"Scottish, but yes," Cas says. 

 

Dean chuckles and dumps the pan on the other side of the sink, shuffling over a little as Cas moves in close to rinse it. "Hey, more power to ya, girl. Marriage is a scam. I'd fight it, too." 

 

"I read an article that said marriage is beneficial for taxes," Cas muses, eyebrows crumbling inward. 

 

"Dude, I don't file taxes," Dean replies. 

 

Cas blinks. "Oh, yes, that's true. So, marriage is something you never wish to do?" 

 

"Never," Dean agrees firmly. "I mean, call me radical, but the only way I'm getting married is if there's a chance I can use it to stick it to the man. Otherwise, I don't need a goddamn receipt for loving somebody, if that's what I wanna do. Why? Is that something you want to do?" 

 

"I've been married," Cas murmurs. "Twice." 

 

Dean fumbles with the bowl he's washing, dropping it in the water with a small splash. He blinks over at Cas, startled. "Wait, twice? I mean, I—I knew about Daphne, obviously. That doesn't even count. Who the fuck else did you marry? When did you find the time to marry someone else? Cas, what the fuck?" 

 

"The Djinn Queen, while I was in Syria getting fruit from the Tree of Life," Cas explains, glancing over at him curiously. "It was necessary at the time, if you recall." 

 

"You married a—" Dean cuts himself off, shaking his head and reaching back in the water to grab the bowl. He's scrubs at it a little jerkily, nostrils flaring as he scoffs under his breath. "Of course you did. You do stupid shit all the time and call it necessary." 

 

Cas narrows his eyes at him, holding his hand out for the bowl. He huffs in annoyance when Dean shoves it at him a little forcefully. "It was necessary. It doesn't count any more than my fraudulent marriage with Daphne." 

 

"Well, you actually knew what you were doing this time," Dean argues. "Plus, a djinn? A monster, Cas, really? Are you fucking kidding me, dude?" 

 

"Garth is a werewolf. He's married," Cas says. 

 

"He's married to another werewolf," Dean snaps. 

 

"Oh, are beings other than humans not allowed to have relationships, Dean?" Cas challenges. "Only amongst themselves, or not at all? Is it a problem for two things that aren't the same to be together?" 

 

"No, that's not—" Dean bites off his sentence again, gritting his teeth. "You know I don't mean—actually, what, you got the hots for the monster lady, Cas?" 

 

"I don't have the 'hots'—" Cas lifts his wet hand to do air quotes, glaring all the while, "—for any woman, Dean, and you know this." 

 

"Well, you married her," Dean says sarcastically. 

 

"Because it was necessary," Cas growls. 

 

Dean shoves another pan at him, water splashing up to cling to his t-shirt. "Yeah, I bet it was. Hey, excuse the hell out of me, djinn queens can have epic love stories, too. I mean, sure, why the fuck not? It's not like they drain people of their blood and put them in a dream-world while killing them. No, not at all. If you look past that, really, what's not to love? More power to you." 

 

"You're very biased when it comes to monsters, have you noticed?" Cas asks sharply. 

 

"Are you—" Dean's head whips around, hands fisting around for a cup in the sink. "Are you seriously defending your wife right now?" 

 

Cas fixes him with a harsh glare. "No, Dean, I am not. I'm just pointing out that you have a tendency to make a few exceptions for only specific monsters, rather than give them all the benefit of the doubt." 

 

"There's a goddamn difference between a monster that can live life without hurting people, and a monster that can't, or won't," Dean snaps. "Djinns? Explain to me how they can, or would. 'Cause I don't think you can. There's no way—" 

 

"There are clans of djinn that do not harm people as you believe only they can. They take in the sick and dying to help them pass in a preferred dream-state where there is no pain. Sometimes, people go to them. And those that feed on fear? They're often incorporated in punishing people who have committed unforgivable acts, befitting a death like that. There are ways, Dean. Not everything that isn't human is a monster, and I know you're aware of this already. You were very partial to the vampire." 

 

"Benny was—look, don't fucking talk about Benny, okay? I do know what you're saying, so fuck you. I've come a long way since trying to kill anything that wasn't human, and you know that." 

 

"So, why are you so angry?" Cas asks, eyes narrowed. 

 

Dean tosses the cup into the other side on the sink, huffing out a deep breath. "I'm not angry. It was just a very stupid thing to do." 

 

"Marrying her was—" 

 

"I swear to god, if you say necessary one more time…" 

 

"What does it matter?" Cas starts rinsing the cup out, his movements stilted. "The marriage was a bargain for lives, not a union bred from love or attraction. There was no epic love story." 

 

"Yeah, but you're still married," Dean insists, though he's not sure why it does matter, only that it does. 

 

Cas swivels his head to squint at him, lips pulled tight and thin. "Marriage customs for the djinn are not the same as what you're used to. For this, it was more of a treaty—lives spared and the necessary item retrieved. I didn't have to kill anyone else, and I did not end up dead, and I had the required ingredient for the ritual to open up the rift. I had a mission to fulfill by any means for the sake of my family, and I did. Would you not do the same?" 

 

"Oh, don't turn this around on me, asshole," Dean grumbles, scrubbing the last pan with vigor. But he already knows he's lost this argument. He's just not ready to wave the white flag of surrender yet. "That doesn't change that you're still married, Cas." 

 

"Regardless of my marriage to the Djinn Queen, I was still married, as you say, anyway," Cas points out bluntly. "Daphne and I never divorced." 

 

Dean looks over at him, expression flat. "Okay, so you're married twice over. Awesome." 

 

"Neither of those marriages mean anything," Cas says, heaving a weary sigh. "For one, there was no foundation of love. But, most importantly, I did not go into those marriages freely. It was not a choice I would have made if I truly got to choose." 

 

And that—well, that softens Dean right on up in an instant. He immediately feels kinda bad, and also like an asshole. Here comes the white flag. "Ah, shit, Cas. Why'd you go and have to say it like that, man? Now, I just—" He shakes his head and slides the last pan over into Cas' waiting hands with far more careful movements than before. "Well, hey, I bet there's some way we can get you outta both marriages if you really, really want out." 

 

"I don't particularly consider myself in them, so it would be a waste of time," Cas admits. 

 

"Yeah, but what if you wanna get married later down the line, dude? Two marriages will be kinda hard to explain," Dean says. 

 

Cas glances at him, annoyance draining to be replaced by an unexpected undercurrent of amusement. "I don't foresee that being an issue. I won't be getting married again." 

 

"What about your quest for love?" 

 

"I have a feeling marriage won't be a part of that."

 

"You don't know," Dean counters, bracing his wet palms on the side of the sink. "Whoever you—I mean, maybe marriage is in your future." 

 

"I'm...quite sure that it's not," Cas tells him, looking away as his lips twitch. 

 

Dean nudges him with his elbow. "Well, that ain't so bad. Like I said, marriage is a fucking scam anyway. You couldn't pay me to do it." 

 

"Hm," is Cas' calm response. He picks up the pan and slips it back into the soapy water, lifting his gaze to meet Dean's eyes. "You missed a spot." 

 

"Asshole," Dean mutters as he grabs the pan, jerking when Cas peels away from the counter and starts towards the door. "Hey, where are you going?"

 

"Sam, Eileen, and Jack are watching a movie. We can do Bonanza tomorrow," Cas says, turning back to him with raised eyebrows. 

 

Dean finishes the last pan and pulls the plug to let the water drain out. "Yeah, but that doesn't mean you gotta run off. You wanna go do something?" 

 

"If you'd like," Cas replies. 

 

"Could be nice to get some air. Go change. We're going out in public," Dean tells him. 

 

Cas glances down at himself, then lifts his head and squints. "I've worn this out in public before." 

 

"Yeah, and you wear my clothes sometimes now, whenever the mood strikes, I guess." Dean waves a wet hand at him. "Just go get decent. Your attachment to that coat is starting to get embarrassing, Cas." 

 

"Whatever you say, Dean," Cas muses, rolling his eyes up and over as he leaves the room. 

 

Dean shakes his head and blows out a deep breath, eyes bulging a little bit. Talk about losing battles but winning the war. Jesus Christ. That came very close to being a serious argument, which would have just ruined his whole day. 

 

No need for any of that bullshit. 

 

Going out with Cas today ends up being the beginning of the epiphany, but the foundation of the knowledge has been settling in for a lot longer. 

 

Dean doesn't really have an idea of where he wants to go, no real plan knocking around in his head, just the vague desire to spend some time away from the Bunker with Cas. He decides to just get in Baby and go into town to see where they end up, which Cas doesn't protest or seem to mind. He looks as relaxed as Dean feels, pleased to just be here. 

 

They end up going to a goddamn strip mall because there's a little pastry place Dean wants to try and window shopping is something to do. They wander around at a leisurely pace, Dean eating this weird cinnamon roll creation that leaves his hands sticky and Cas getting randomly distracted by various things he knows he'll never actually buy. They do a lot of people-watching, too—observing regular, everyday people with so much time ahead of them and not enough in a day, still. 

 

Something eventually snags Dean's eye, and he drags Cas into one of the stores for the sole purpose of putting him in a pair of sunglasses. It's a bright green pair with slits through the eyes and a plastic pink mustache hanging from the bottom of it. Dean can just see Cas' eyes narrowed through the slits, and he spends about a solid five minutes wheezing and cracking up, laughing so hard that it hurts. 

 

They keep going, and Dean comes to the conclusion that Cas is very weird, but that's okay. He sort of already knew that this whole time, and—well, he kinda likes Cas' weird. Cas being Cas is probably one of Dean's favorite things. 

 

They go into one of those shops with whole beds in them, which all have small signs warning people not to fall asleep on them. Despite this, Dean plops down on one of the beds almost as soon as he finds one, groaning because it feels like being supported by a goddamn cloud. This bed is close to an outdoor porch set, so Cas moves over to sit on a porch-swing that he idly eases back and forth on. He has a wind spinner flower in his hands, carefully tapping the edges of it to watch it twirl around and around. 

 

Dean doesn't really know what sets it off—the sudden awareness. It comes to him in slow, unhindered waves. He just sprawls out on a random bed in the middle of a store and realizes that he feels peaceful—well and truly peaceful, and it has nothing to do with the bed. He thinks about it. Recklessly, he follows that thread, tugging on it, completely oblivious to where it's heading. 

 

He thinks about how deeply he doesn't want to fight with Cas—never again, as unrealistic as that may be—and how sometimes the weirdest things get under his skin anyway, no matter how hard he tries not to let it. He thinks about how Cas is weird and quirky, and how he likes that about him. He thinks about peace and what he wants, and how—without him noticing—both of those things seem to have Cas included in them. 

 

The thing is, Dan and Carl never had a moment where they realized they had a thing for each other. They just did increasingly stupid shit for and around one another until, eventually, they cracked and ended up fucking. And, of course, the fucking didn't really solve anything, or make any of it clear. They just did it a lot and wanted each other so badly that the way they ended still remains a subject Dean will not look at head-on, because it pisses him off. 

 

This, though? Laid out on some bed in a department store, watching Cas curiously eye the whirligig as he spins it around and around, understanding suddenly that he is smiling as he looks, his arm propped up behind his head and a gentle curl of pleasant warmth in his chest… Well, it comes to him like it's being filtered through. A slow drip, drip of quiet realization that doesn't seem to be much at first, so he doesn't immediately panic. 

 

Just that first, easy thought. I like him. And, of course, he does like Cas. He's always liked Cas, even when he sometimes can barely stand him. It's Cas. What's not to like, really? He's an asshole, he's got a heart of gold, he's ridiculous and stubborn and stupid and kind of wonderful. Dean's used to him. Used to him being in his life, used to him in his space, used to him hanging around. 

 

But that thought snowballs out, gaining steam, leading places that it doesn't really need to. A curious, little niggling in the back of Dean's mind that suggests there's more, if only he'll go poking around. And why not? What's the harm in it? 

 

That's a big question for a guy who doesn't even know what he's going to find. He's not really all that worried about it, which turns out to be pretty stupid of him, actually, because that I like him turns into something else shockingly fast. It turns into awareness that makes him sit up on the bed, staring at Cas hard, eyebrows furrowed. 

 

Dan and Carl never really had a moment, but this? This is Dean's moment. It crests in his mind before evening out, settling in. That moment of: oh. That moment of: ah, shit, I really do like him. That moment of: well, I'll be damned.

 

"Huh," Dean says out loud, grunting as he blinks at Cas, adjusting to the abrupt realization that he—

 

Well, shit.