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good times are calling

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In order to make a really good apple pie, you need to do a couple of things.

You need ice-cold water because you need to keep the butter cold so your crust doesn’t become an oily mess. You need to put the crust in the fridge when you’re not using it, so the ambient heat of your room doesn’t melt your precious work. You need good, crisp Granny Smith apples, not those mushy Red Delicious’ that Ernie at the market keeps trying to give you.

The smell of a good apple pie baking should permeate throughout the entire house, like from a childhood memory you’re not sure you actually had. You will sit at that table, wondering if you did it right. If your family will love it still if you mess up. You will wonder if the pie’s delicate lattices are intact after all this time, if what you promised will never come to fruition. You’ll wonder if it is the best you could do, and you will wonder if it is not enough.

It is set in stone now. Nothing you can do will change it. So you wait.

-

Ever since Dean confessed, Cas has caught Dean looking at him from the corner of his eye.

Not that Dean didn’t look at him before. Sam and Jack and even Crowley can attest to the thoroughness of their attention towards each other. But this kind of look rings Cas as familiar. It’s similar to a look he can imagine on his own face when he saw Michael wearing Dean’s skin for the first time. What is real and what is simulacra? In their lives, it’s an honest question.

Dean, as he’s admitted into Cas’ shoulder some nights, is afraid of Cas leaving. Cas understands this too. He’s long been something of a “flight risk” in their relationship. Sometimes things, and Dean, are easier to look at from a distance. Sometimes he still could see the sheen of Dean Winchester’s soul in his rearview even a hundred miles away. He ran then because he could and no one was stopping him. He’s been stopped now, quite permanently. There’s no force in Heaven or Earth that could make him leave now.

Cas doesn’t know how many ways or languages he could say this, only that Dean would not believe him in any of them. So he makes it obvious he will stay. He puts his boots in Dean’s room, tucked up against the wall. He calls it “our home” to the librarians in the library, knowing Dean will hear it from a few shelves away. Sometimes he thinks if he were blindfolded and put in another state, he could find his way home from the sounds alone. He could hear the heartbeat of this place thrumming through his feet.

So he cannot say it. He tries, but it rings hollow. But someday he will place a hand on Dean’s jaw, and Dean will understand. He hopes so. He’s never hoped for anything more.

-

“Claire’s in Kansas,” Cas says. He is checking his phone with hands covered in flour, leaving huge streaks all over his screen as he types. “She’s coming over Friday.”

Dean is in the kitchen, trying with all his might to force a rubber spatula through a thick mass of frozen cream cheese. Their dessert for tonight is cheesecake brownies, which Sam immediately proclaimed as “disgusting” and Jack had christened as “awesome.” Cas had deemed himself neutral and had selflessly volunteered to help Dean make them after Dean raised his eyebrows and sighed pointedly.

“I thought she was visiting Jody,” Dean says, breathing deeply to hide that he got winded stirring cream cheese.

“She has been,” Cas says, leaning his aproned hip on the counter, texting something back with careful fingers. “She’s passing through Kansas before she goes on another hunt.”

Dean grunts and wipes his sweaty hands on his shirt, a prized Goodwill find that has the ACDC insignia on it. The shirt is one from his line of experiments with wearing only one layer when he’s at home, an experiment that makes Cas feel incredibly sad somehow. Cas can’t put his finger on why. Maybe it’s because Dean’s forearms are crisscrossed with scars and blood blisters now that Cas can’t heal him. All the hair on his right arm was singed off about a week ago while burning bones. Dean likes the feeling. Being permanent in this body. Likes feeling the pain when he’s pinched.

“Sounds like a plan,” Dean says. He comes around to Cas’ side to peek at his screen. Cas, the teenage girl he is, moves the screen away so Dean can’t see.

“Oh, real mature,” Dean says, and Cas does the Cas equivalent of sticking his tongue out at him, which is to smile very, very slightly. It’s exhilarating.

“It appears like she wants short-ribs,” Cas says, checking his phone one more time before slipping it back into his jeans.

“Hard sell, but I think I can manage that,” Dean says. He picks up the bowl again and gets to work softening that bitch. Cas comes over quietly behind him and wraps his floury hands around Dean’s waist and hugs him tight. He kisses the nape of Dean’s neck once and rests his giant head there carefully.

It’s all very cute, but this cream cheese isn’t going to soften itself.

“Cas, baby,” Dean says, and Cas hums in response, lulled by Dean’s soft tone. Dean presses his hands and the mixing bowl against Cas’ arms and they stand there, silently swaying, Cas breathing wetly on the collar of Dean’s ACDC shirt.

“You are so strong, please stir this,” Dean whispers.

Cas sighs and digs his bony chin into the crook of Dean’s neck. Dean grunts. “I thought we were having a moment.”

“We are,” Dean says, turning in his arms so he sees Cas’ disgruntled face. “Can’t a man want to see some muscles?”

“Stirring cream cheese,” Cas says dubiously. He still releases Dean’s waist and moves for the bowl, having been resigned to his fate as sous chef since he came back human. Dean, asshole, shifts the bowl so it’s just out of Cas’ reach based on a split-second decision to be annoying.

“Dean,” Cas says, reaching for it again. Dean holds it higher, a big smile curling unconsciously over his face. Cas crosses his arms over Dean’s KANSAS CITY FISHING EXPO 2005 hoodie he pilfered from the laundry and watches as Dean chuckles. It’s a big, uncomplicated feeling, this happiness. Both of them give into it more often than not these days.

Cas tugs Dean forward by the ACDC shirt, suddenly feeling soft and sentimental. He puts a hand on the back of Dean’s neck, curling into the longer strands of hair growing there and bringing him forward little by little. Dean lets himself be tugged closer to Cas, eyes closing in preparation for—

Cas snatches the bowl out of his hands and quickly walks to the other side of the kitchen to look at the cheesecake brownie recipe Sam printed out earlier. Dean gapes at Cas, who smiles back at him very, very slightly.

“Not fair,” Dean says, vaguely aware he sounds like a toddler. Cas nods, turning the page of the recipe.

“You, of all people, should know that life isn’t fair,” Cas says, and grins, and Dean feels very, very fragile all of a sudden, like this is a moment that will shatter him if he lets it.

So he doesn’t. And he grabs for the bowl and smiles routinely when Cas pulls it away. And when he presses his face into Cas’ shoulder, Cas lets him, the rhythmic sound of stirring the only sound in the room.

-

With a new relationship, there are always ground rules that you have to lay out before you can do anything fun. The majority of this process is unsexy and unsatisfying, dancing around boundaries and proverbial quicksand, snagging a tripwire without realizing and triggering a whole afternoon of cold shoulders. What Dean and Cas have on their sides is time, which helps. Dean knows Cas doesn’t like fancy ketchup, and Cas knows what to do when Dean has a nightmare, which is to let him lock himself in the bathroom for forty minutes and hug him when he comes back out.

But the invisible rules: what is okay, what isn’t, what trauma is too big to touch and what boundaries are firm; is ongoing. Dean would like to say he never messes up because, in his mind, he is always right. Cas would like to say he’s doing what is right for both of them, because Dean can’t actually see inside his head. In reality, Cas is putting himself inside Dean’s without knowing. They are two bulls, constantly ready to run as soon as something seems red. Even if it is just the fluttering of a curtain instead of a flag, and the man behind it is the only one to hurt you and get away with it because you love him too much.

Nevertheless. They don’t hold hands in public because it doesn’t occur to them that they can. Sometimes Dean will put a hand on Cas’ shoulder or back, but that’s as close as they get. At diners, they slide into the middle ground of their shared booth and rest with their shoulders pressed against each other, their thighs are only an inch apart. Dean will look at Cas’ hands on the table, twisting and retwisting the wrapper off of a straw. This is what affection looks like — like it’s always looked like for them. Loved over a table. Loved through the backseat of a car. Loved through the inches apart from each other. It’s only the touch that’s new.

-

The butcher down the street at Pete’s Meats is not named Pete. Her name is Ellie, and she has always been nice to Castiel, even when he comes in and spends an hour staring at the display trying to figure out which one is flank steak or what filet looks like.

Cas makes a lot of his friends by accident. He is usually just standing in line or sitting at a table and suddenly someone wants to help him with something or offers him a drink or wants to know where the nearest 7-Eleven is. Dean and Sam usually watch unhelpfully as he sputters. Now that he’s not an angel anymore, he rarely knows left from right, let alone where the closest barbershop is or what wine goes well with pork loin.

No one has ever asked Dean about as much as directions and he kind of likes it that way. He has cultivated his “I’m-not-helpful-and-very-dangerous” expression for too many years to have it go to waste now. Cas tries to mimic the face, complete with the same furrowed brow and the scowl. It only really makes him look lost, or as Dean says, constipated.

Sam, on the other hand, is one of those men that people cross the street to get away from at night. He’s tall and he’s broad, so when people see his silhouette they tend to think he’s dangerous. Sam despises this.

“I hate feeling like a monster, Cas,” Sam said once. They were waiting in front of a movie theatre while Dean was flirting with the cashier over popcorn. It takes a few minutes but he usually leaves with free candy if he’s stubborn enough.

“Sam,” Cas says stiltedly. It’s one of the only things he could say at the time. He’s not an outwardly emotional person, especially not when Dean isn’t involved. Even when Dean is involved, it takes a little push to get Cas talking about what he feels and he is usually rewarded with a piece of cake or a sandwich or something after.

“I hate knowing people think I would do something to them,” Sam said, and he hunched his shoulders up as he looked around behind Cas’ head. He looks smaller that way, Cas mused. Like a teenage boy waiting to be punished.

“It’s not you, Sam,” Cas tries.

“It’s always me,” Sam said.

Dean picked that moment to walk over with two free overflowing-with-butter bags of popcorn and a bag of Swedish Berries. Charmingly, his mouth was already filled with a combination of the two.

“You guys ready to see Swayze kill some evil sons of bitches?” Dean said as he mimed shooting machine guns. Cas sighed. Dean looked at him like what?

“Gross,” Sam said, snapping back into his little brother mode so seamlessly it was like the other conversation never existed. Cas always marveled at the intricacies of human communication, but this felt troubling. Dean came over to him a second later to put a light hand on his shoulder and turn him toward the theatre entrance, and Cas saw Sam hunch over again as he turned, his eyes on the exits.

“Cas?”

Cas looks up at Ellie who's patiently waiting for his order. He looks around the meat shop and straightens when he sees he’s the only one there.

“Sorry,” Cas mutters, readjusting his hands in his pockets.

“No problem,” Ellie says. She throws away her dirty plastic gloves and puts on new ones as she waits for Cas’ order. Her tattoo of Snoopy crunches inward as she flexes her arm. “Dean send you here for something special?”

“Uh,” Cas says, and digs into his jacket pocket. Dean sent him off with a short list of demands and a kiss on his jaw. Cas almost forgot the note. “He says he needs two and a half pounds of beef short-rib.”

“That’s new for you guys,” Ellie says, moving down the case. Her hands move methodically through the display, stopping in front of the mass of bone and meat that constitute the short-rib. “Special occasion?”

“Claire is coming to town. She said it’s her favorite,” Cas says.

“Claire, hey?” Ellie says, grabbing a hunk of the short-rib and putting it onto the scale. She steps back, appraising it, and grabs another chunk after it’s evidently not enough. “She family?”

“In a sense,” Cas says. “She’s like my daughter, if you want to get technical.”

“But she’s not?” Ellie says, eyes on Cas. Her hands still on the case. “Biologically?”

“No, well, she is biologically mine, but she’s not—,” Cas flounders. He wishes, not for the first time, that Dean was here with him, fielding the small talk with his smile and his knowledge of human interaction. “She was my… brother’s daughter. Before he passed.”

“Ah,” Ellie says, relaxing. Her hands move again. “How old is she?”

“She is twenty,” Cas says. His hands feel awkward in his pockets so he puts them both on the case instead. “She is coming with her girlfriend. She has cautioned me against embarrassing her.”

“Ah, but that’s a rite of passage, no?” Ellie says, smiling. She weighs out a full three pounds on the scale and takes a bone off, searching for the change in weight. “Gotta embarrass or be embarrassed, that’s what my grandfather always said.”

“Yes,” Cas says.

“Especially when it comes to boyfriends or girlfriends. He always said that the more you posture, the more defensive you look and the more everyone loses. You always have to play it cool when you’re forging that relationship,” Ellie says, wrapping the meat carefully.

“Absolutely,” Cas says.

“You can’t try to be their friend either, because then it just looks like you’re desperate. Which, hell, maybe you are, but you shouldn’t show it, right? So there’s a middle ground between being an asshole and being too chummy, Cas.”

“Of course,” Cas says. His hands are creeping into his pockets again.

“You have to walk that line, which can be difficult. You and Dean seem like pretty straightforward guys though, I have all the faith in the world in you two,” Ellie says, slapping a sticker on the package and looking up finally. “Anything else?”

“Uh,” Cas says. He grabs the list out of his pocket again. The only thing Dean has written in his neat handwriting is SHORT RIB 2.5LB. “That’s it, I believe.”

“Awesome. Ten dollars square,” Ellie says, and Cas hands her a twenty. She rings it up, humming under her breath to the tinny noise of the radio. Cas looks out the window, to where Jack is in line at the corn dog place across the mini-mall. Jack sees him look and waves a corn dog at him, smiling.

“Here you go. Tell me if the visit goes well,” Ellie says, smiling. One of her teeth is silver, her left upper incisor. It gleams in the shaky fluorescents of the meat shop.

Cas is frequently overwhelmed with his love for humanity. That feeling has been filtered through his human synapses and through his hands and he suddenly feels, more than ever, like he’s done the right thing. That there could be nothing in Heaven like this. That he doesn’t really mind the small talk. That humanity has been extended to him like a gift, and he has taken it, and it always feels like he doesn’t deserve it. That someone will take it away from him at any moment. He wants to live and fuck and die. He wants it so bad.

“Thank you, Ellie,” Cas says, and takes the short-ribs. “I’ll see you soon.”

“See you soon, Cas. Bring Mr. Handsome in here next time, I want to trade recipes,” Ellie says, winking a long-lashed eye at him. The doorbell chimes behind him, and the mother of the town auto mechanic comes bustling in. Dean talks to her sometimes when they’re both in line at the Family Dollar. She and Ellie start talking rapid fire about Thanksgiving, something about stuffing preparation.

“Of course,” Cas says anyway. Ellie waves at him goodbye. There will be a next time, he thinks. That thought alone is enough to warm him the entire ride home.

-

As the months go on, it occurs to Cas that Dean cooks because it calms him down. It allows him to use his hands, and it allows him to be productive, and there’s a clearly defined set of steps that will get him from one point to another. It’s a comforting notion, that we can follow a path correctly and we will end up somewhere else a hundred percent of the time. Especially for someone like Dean, who has been following paths since before he was born that have never led him anywhere particularly good for all his effort. Except for here, maybe. Except for now. But.

“Dean,” Cas says. It’s 2:35 am, according to the blinking green numbers on their stove. “Dean?”

“Yeah, Cas?” Dean says, muffled. His head is buried deep in their cabinets, looking for something. He pulls back far enough to sneak a quick peek at Cas’ expression before going back in.

They had, just previously, been very, very close to one another. Close enough that Cas could feel the heat of Dean’s body on his neck, and in between his knees, and curled around his ankles.

It’s been a month since Costco. They had not seen each other fully naked. Cas had been excited to get to that point, even though he has seen everything before. There’s a difference between seeing something passively and seeing it because someone loved you enough to show it, that they bare their belly to you. That they hand you a sword and trust you not to do it.

“Dean,” Cas tries again. Dean rattles more pans in response.

They had been very close, and Cas’ fingers had been hooked in the elastic waistband of Dean’s basketball shorts, and Dean had been kissing him slowly. Dean’s hands were on both sides of Cas’ head, holding him steady, like he was something breakable.

Sometimes Cas lets himself imagine what it was like for the women Dean has been intimate with. Did they feel the same thing he does, that feeling of security? Cas’ traitorous heart says it’s very different. That there’s no one in the world with the head that Cas has, and there’s no one like Dean. So he took that moment to inch Dean’s waistband a little lower. He could feel the cotton of Dean’s boxers press against his knuckles and there’s electricity going through his body like a power line and—

Dean stopped.

Cas let go of everything at once.

“Dean?” Cas whispered. He didn’t dare touch him again. “Dean?”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “Yeah.”

“What’s going on?” Cas said. In the dark of the bunker, Dean’s eyes were wide and shining. “Dean?”

“I’m—,” Dean started, landing on Cas’ face. He stuck there, searching for something. “Cas.”

“I apologize,” Cas started, and Dean grabbed his arm before he finished.

“Don’t,” Dean said, pleading. “Don’t do that.”

Dean sat up then, his upper body naked and covered in goosebumps. Cas leaned back to look at him, propping his head on his hand. He watched as Dean massaged his fingers, one by one. He didn’t make eye contact.

“I,” Dean said, his voice unsteady in the silence between them. He watched their shut door for a second, and he took Cas’ hand and squeezed it. “I’ll be back, Cas. I promise.”

Dean reached over Cas to wrestle his t-shirt from under Cas’ chest and he slipped it on and he left Cas in their bed, flicking the light on in the hallway behind him. His shoulders were broad and strong and it hurt Cas to look at them.

Cas is not a crier outside of life-and-death situations. This, particularly, is not a situation that requires crying. But Cas sat and stared at the way Dean left so long that his eyes began to burn. He forced himself to blink.

It‘s not unwanted, his advances toward Dean. He must hold onto that as his central truth because anything less than that and his tenuous grasp on this situation completely fails. He wants Dean to touch him, but he respects if Dean doesn’t want to. Cas can abstain the rest of his life without sexual conduct, he thinks. But he didn’t think Dean would feel the same.

He picked up Dean’s phone from where it was charging on the nightstand to check the time. It’s late. Cas didn’t know how many minutes he should leave as a buffer before going to talk to him, but he figured five might be long enough. So, he gathered himself up and grabbed his own t-shirt from the floor. He put it on and steeled himself to start walking. And here we are, in the kitchen.

“Dean,” Cas says again. Dean comes above the cupboards with a dented baguette pan in his hands. He places it on the counter and slaps his hands together, turning toward Cas’ direction.

“Subs! Nothing like a midnight sub, right?” Dean says, looking adamantly at the wall beside Cas’ head. Cas nods, sighing. The noises of the bunker at night — the clanking of the pipes, the rain against the door above them — amplify in the quiet. It makes Cas feel like he is the belly of some large, lumbering beast, or deep in the earth, mining something precious from the ground.

“How can I help?” Cas says finally. Dean looks back in slight shock. He looks very sleep-wrinkled, and he’s shivering in the frigid air, and he looks so much like a younger version of him that Cas has never seen that Cas just wants to move on. To forget this ever happened, and to let this fester between them like a wound.

Cas wants that, and he can’t have that. What’s new.

He holds his hands out wordlessly and waits for Dean to hand him some of his favorite heirloom tomatoes and a sharp knife, and he cuts them into thin slices. He heaps them carefully on a plate and rips a pile of romaine into handfuls next.

He chops the red onions into thin rings. He forgets why Dean always has him chop them but remembers when his eyes start welling up. He sucks a breath through his teeth and wipes his eyes on his arm, holding it there for a second to let the itching in his eyes calm down. He breathes gently. All is dark.

“Cas?” Dean says gently, somehow much closer since Cas saw him across the kitchen a second ago. A pair of calloused hands gently pry his arm off his face, revealing a heartbroken Dean Winchester. “I’m sorry, Cas. You know none of that was because of you, because believe me, I wanted to. Especially with you. Especiallywith you.”

“Uh?” Cas says, squinting. Dean’s face is swimming in front of him. He thinks he might be several steps behind.

“Yeah, I know, I’m the worst. It’s just that you– It’s you, Cas. You’re the one person I couldn’t shake off. Even with all of my petty, childish bullcrap. I know I get angry sometimes, and I know I pick fights, and hell, I know you pick ‘em too, you bastard. But I don’t want to lose this.” Dean’s eyes were wide, and pleading, and very, very green. “I think I want to spend my life with you, so what if the sex isn’t good, huh? You’re left with a limp-dicked piece of crap.”

“I don’t understand,” Cas said. “I wouldn’t leave you because you have erectile dysfunction.”

“No, you wouldn’t, because you’re a good guy. I just don’t want you to ever regret it,” Dean says, putting his hands on Cas’ face and wiping Cas’ tears away with his thumbs. It had a very specific connotation here, one even Cas couldn’t miss. It meant me.

“Dean,” Cas says. It would be in bad taste to bring up that Cas wasn’t really crying over Dean’s rejection, so he doesn’t. “I would still be here with you even if we were never sexually intimate. There is very little you could do to make me leave now. Only if you were to send me or Jack away.”

“I would never,” Dean hisses. His eyes are welling up. He looks angry at himself, the situation, at the tears themselves for existing. “I will never do that again, you hear me? Never.”

“Yes,” Cas says, leaning his head into Dean’s palms. “I hear you.”

“I love you,” Dean gasps, and the tears he was holding back slip down his face in streams. Dean leans in to kiss Cas, and he slides his hands down Cas’ face and onto his chest. “I love you.”

Castiel isn’t quite sure how he managed to start this conversation without saying a single word, but he’s glad it happened. He’s also glad this is happening, Dean’s hands warm on the swell of his lower back and Cas’ hands on those broad shoulders. Cas imagines himself ten years ago, watching this man from the corner of his eye, hoping he wouldn’t turn away if he looked too long. He thinks about that Castiel, a Castiel with a pillar of salt as a spine. One look back and it all collapsed.

“Cas, you—,” Dean gasps, breaking the kiss and looking him in the eye. “I want to. Have sex with you.”

“Alright,” Cas says as he chases after Dean’s face, trying to kiss him again. Dean puts his hand on Cas’ chest to hold him back.

“Soon,” Dean says, leaning slightly to look Cas in the eye. “Not now, but soon.”

Cas nods and withdraws, and Dean’s hand on his chest turns into a fist in his shirt, holding him still. They don’t kiss. They just stare at each other. It’s a comfortable moment, one with precedent. Even when they didn’t have words, they have always had a wordless understanding. Cas isn’t sure what he was before it, what kind of creature he was when Dean Winchester wasn’t looking at him.

“Dean, I know this is your first “gay” relationship, so I do understand the hesitation,” Cas says finally, running his hand down Dean’s arm.

“Yeah,” Dean says, breaking away and scratching his neck. “First gay relationship. Yeah.” There’s a beat.

“Dean,” Cas says, squinting. “This is your first gay relationship?”

“For sure,” Dean says. “Yep.”

“Alright,” Cas says. There’s only silence in the kitchen as the bunker’s old oven pops and shakes as it warms up.

“I don’t know if thirty minutes in Purgatory counts as a relationship.”

“The vampire?” Cas says. “Really?”

“Well, you know. Heh. He’s. Alright,” Dean says. “I’m not talking about this with you.”

“Okay,” Cas says. They wait in the kitchen as the buns toast, staring at each other. There was always a reason to look away before. There is none now. Cas is allowed to look at Dean for as long as he likes, and he looks, and he likes what he sees.

The subs, piled high with deli meats, Dean’s homemade giardiniera, and four different kinds of cheese, are delicious. They have seconds, spilling lettuce on the floor and giggling until Jack, awake from the noise, shuffles in for his too.

-

The preparation for Claire, Kaia, and Jody’s arrival happens largely through the magazines strewn over the bunker’s floor and Dean’s nonstop frenetic energy permeating every room he steps into. Jack and Cas have to sit at the kitchen table for hours, Cas reading Stephen King book after Stephen King book and Jack playing Animal Crossing on Alex’s old Switch, while Dean talks to himself out loud at full volume about what would taste good in order to dampen his fear.

The energy is not unlike the first day a new chef cooks for the president of a small country, but Cas is a smart man and doesn’t comment. Sam, another smart man, does, and even as quickly as Dean orders Sam out of the kitchen for “insubordination,” Dean needs it as much as he needs silence from Cas and Jack. He needs all of their energy to calm him down. Pressed, Dean wouldn’t be able to name what he’s feeling, but Cas, a proverbial scholar in Dean studies, could name it in the dark: a fear of rejection. He’s seen it too many times to not know it as it shows.

“Does anybody remember what the hell Kaia is allergic to?” Dean shouts into the room at large, his hands full of marinating short-rib. “Peanuts?”

“Tree nuts,” Cas says. It’s t-minus two hours until their guests show, and Dean’s final menu: smashed potatoes roasted in olive oil and garlic salt until crispy, Cobb salad with big chunks of chicken and bacon, jalapeno poppers, corn fritters, the aforementioned short ribs, and beer cheese that Dean is currently grating all the cheese for into one big mixing bowl; is underway.

Jack is behind Dean, gleefully peeling potatoes on the dining room table. Sam is reading a book and waiting for the jalapeño poppers to bake, and Dean gave Cas a wink and asked very nicely, so Cas is staring at a bowl of romaine and croutons, trying to remember what goes in the Cobb salad at Applebee’s. Surely there are too many ingredients in this bowl, he thinks.

“Is this going to be enough for everyone?” Dean says, wiping his hands on the dishtowel he has resting over his shoulder. “Better than nothing, right?’

“It’ll be fine, Dean,” Sam says, flipping a page of Sapiens. Dean looks back at him witheringly before checking his watch for the fourth time in one minute. Claire, Kaia, and Jody were going to be coming in twenty minutes, according to Cas’ innate timekeeping sense. That, along with a broad knowledge of human languages and angel sigils, is one of the few things that transferred when he fell. It gives him a warm feeling whenever he uses it.

Before Dean can check his watch again, Jack hisses suddenly and drops his potato onto the table, which then bounces onto the floor. All three of his dads immediately straighten up.

“Jack?” Cas says, abandoning his salad and rushing over to check on him just as the other two come over too. Jack wordlessly holds up his hand, showing the inch-long cut slowly unfurling on his thumb. It’s not gushing blood, but it’s not pretty. Sam and Dean hiss in sympathy.

“Come on Jack, I’ll help you bandage it,” Cas says, grimacing. He helps Jack up and nods to Dean as he and Jack shuffle by him on the way to the kitchen bathroom. Sam grabs their first aid kit from below the sink and tosses it at Cas, who catches it with a hand and tucks it underneath his arm. They head to the bathroom, and Jack sits on the toilet seat and looks down at his hand, eyes troubled.

“Run it under some water, Jack,” Cas says. Jack nods and holds his thumb under the water, and they both watch the water slowly go from pink to clear. Truth be told, Cas is going off of what he’s seen Dean and Sam do on a hunt. The vodka sloshed all over the wound is probably not necessary. Unless it is?

“If it were any deeper, it might have needed stitches,” Cas says, not sure of that at all. Jack pales. “But it’s not bad, Jack. Dean and Sam have both had much worse wounds than this and survived.”

“I,” Jack says. He shrinks a little bit, flexing his hand underneath the water. “I.”

“Jack,” Cas says, foreseeing a potential teachable moment as it rolls right at him like a freight train. He channels Dean and puts a hand on Jack’s shoulder. It’s just a shoulder pat, but he hopes it’ll do. “It’s okay. Everything’s fine.”

“I know everything’s fine, Castiel,” Jack says. He is pouting. “I just remember a time I could’ve healed it as soon as it happened.” He flexes his hand again, causing blood to rush to the surface and pool in red drops. Cas hands him a clean hand towel and Jack dries the cut, frowning.

“Well,” Cas says, trying to find the words. “It’s just part of being human.” Jack scrunches up his face and Cas knows instantly it wasn’t the right thing to say.

“Being human hurts,” Jack complains. Cas takes his hand gently and peers at the cut. It’s not serious. He grabs some Neosporin and a bandaid and gently places a dot of the antibiotic in the middle of the bandaid before peeling off the packing and smoothing it around Jack’s thumb. Jack frowns at it.

“Jack,” Cas says as he watches Jack turn toward the door, halting him with a hand. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes,” Jack says in a way that means no. “I’m fine, Cas.”

“Well,” Cas says, crossing his arms and leaning against the countertop. “Would it help you to know that if you weren’t fine, you wouldn’t be alone?”

“Really?” Jack says, his eyes squinting. He crosses his arms too. “What’s wrong, Cas?”

“Well, we have to tell both Claire and Kaia that Dean and I are… together. I don’t know how she’s going to react,” Cas sighs. Jack nods in sympathy. When he and Dean broke the news to Jack about their relationship, he was slightly confused, but ultimately accepted it with little fanfare. Sam’s reaction had decidedly more fanfare. “I am still in her father’s body, after all.”

“But it’s you, Cas,” Jack says, eyes creased in confusion. “It’s just you now.”

“Yes,” Cas says as he looks down at himself, at the apron Dean got him and the oily handprints on his shirt from Dean’s corn fritter preparations. “I suppose it is.”

Dean picks that moment to do his patented two-knocks-then-open-the-door technique of checking in on people. He laughs when he sees Cas and Jack. Cas tilts his head in confusion. In the corner of his eye, he can see that Jack does the same.

“Jesus, it’s like a funhouse mirror with you two,” Dean says, resting his hip on the doorway. He’s changed out of his dirty clothes and into a nice grey t-shirt and a relatively wrinkle-free red flannel. He looks nice, Cas thinks, running his eyes down his form and hugging his crossed arms closer. He even shaved. “You sure you’re not the father, Maury?”

“Very,” Cas says, smiling small. Dean grins back, and Jack scooches past them after a small eye-roll, a relatively new addition to Jack’s more human behaviors. Dean gasps when he sees it, putting his hand up to his chest in mock outrage after shifting out of his way. Jack disappears into the kitchen, presumably to resume peeling potatoes.

“You see that?” Dean says as he disengages from where he was resting on the wall. “The snark on that kid. Who the hell is teaching him that?”

“I wonder,” Cas says as he reaches for Dean’s collar to adjust it. It doesn’t need adjusting, but he is sentimental. “I hear Sam is quite the bad influence.”

Dean tsked, placing his hands on either side of Cas’ ribcage and leaving them there. They feel like two warm spots on his chest, two separate heartbeats. “You joke, but you should’ve seen him growing up. Geez, I almost got my head bitten off every time I talked to him under the age of seventeen.”

“Sounds like another young person we know,” Cas says. Dean catches his gaze for a second, then nods, exhaling steadily.

“This is just another Friday night, Cas,” Dean says with the bravado of a man who isn’t 100% sure of what he’s saying. “It’s just dinner.”

Cas looks off into the distance, flattening his grip on Dean’s collar and then dragging his hands down the front of Dean’s chest, thinking. He looks at Dean, at his big green eyes going from Cas’ eyes to his nose to his cheeks. The way he smiles when Cas woodenly tells a joke to the room at large, the way he used to look away when Cas saw him looking back. His hands, large and warm, stroking either side of his ribs with his thumbs. He is struck, as he often is, by Dean’s handsome face, his nose, the way his smile makes his eyes wrinkle at the corners.

They sway slightly in the flickering lights of the bathroom, and in that moment Cas thinks he’s living a life too nice to be his. He remembers a deal he once made concerning something like this, his being happy. He remembers that poor bastard who made it, so certain that he would never get what he wants and survive it too.

Ask Cas to paint you a portrait of a man in love and he will tell you he is not a good painter, but the way Dean put on his nicest shirt for Claire and how Dean tries to include Jack in every conversation, even haltingly, even when it’s not familiar, makes Cas understand Romeo and Juliet, and Orpheus and Eurydice, and Bonnie and Clyde. He will tell you about Dean’s comforting hand on his thigh when young women flirt with him in bars, and he will tell you, at length, about the way Dean looks in this bathroom light, the sharp angles of his face well-worn and soft.

Ask Dean to paint a portrait of a man in love and he will just tell you to look at his face and you’ll know. And you do.

-

The dinner starts with a downpour.

Claire, Kaia, and Jody come together and are still arguing over the supposedly sunny weather forecast as Jody ushers them through the bunker door. All three of them look like wet cats, shielding metal sheet trays and paper boxes filled with food with their bodies. Sam and Dean grab their hugs quickly and whisk away their wet jackets to the bathroom to dry, and then Cas and Jack are left to their introductions. They make eye contact, trying to figure out who will step forward first.

“Hey Cas,” Claire says, breaking their deliberation. She’s wearing all black, which is familiar, and her hair is in a ponytail, which isn’t. She doesn’t look as grumpy as usual, which Cas views with a warm buzz in his chest. She grabs him in a hug, and he hugs her back, unsure of the backslap protocol but deciding to stay safe with none.

He missed her a lot. For a while, he thought his paternal feelings for her were remnants of Jimmy floating around in his vessel, but he thinks that even if they were, he still has them. Those feelings are still his, ten years after Jimmy permanently left the building, so to speak. She gives him a squeeze as she lets go and then points over her shoulder to Kaia, who waves awkwardly.

“That’s Kaia. Wasn’t sure if you guys have met,” she says, pointing behind her with her thumb.

“Hey Castiel. Hey Jack,” Kaia says in a quiet voice. Cas gives her a very solemn nod in hello, and she nods back sheepishly. Jack perks up next to Cas.

“Hi Kaia,” he says, his hand out for a wave. Kaia grins. Claire watches her out of the corner of her eye, smiling in a way that she would never admit to, not in a thousand years.

“Hey Cas,” Jody says, rolling her eyes and elbowing the girls out of the way to giving Cas his hug. Jody has been somewhat of a comfort to Cas, both concerning Claire and in general, despite their small amount of interactions. She puts all of them at ease, Sam and Dean especially. Jody slaps his back so he slaps hers too. “Hey Jack.”

“Hello Jody,” Jack says. Jack’s not a very physically affectionate person, so they usually wait for him to initiate contact first. He abstains this time, and Cas’ heart warms to see them not take it personally. “It is very nice to see you.”

“I heard about your stint as God, kid,” Jody says, balancing her cargo on her hip. “Glad to have you with us.”

“Me too,” Jack says, very seriously. “It’s,” he pauses. “It’s strange to be human.”

“Isn’t it just,” Jody says, smiling. “Cas, you too. Dean told me about your homecoming.”

“Did Dean update you about… everything?” Cas hedges, squinting. He doesn’t know who knows and who doesn’t, doesn’t know the protocol for asking. By the way Jody cocks her head, she’s not in the know.

“Just that you’re back, buddy,” Jody says, smiling. “Can I talk to you a little bit later?” she asks, looking out of the corner of her eye toward Claire. Cas gets her meaning.

“We will talk later,” he promises warmly. He lets them pass into the foyer, and they all move toward the table, which has been set rather nicely by Jack. “Here, I will take your—,”

“Krispy Kremes. I was running late, hoped you fellas wouldn’t mind. We figured there would be very little vegetables at this table, so Kaia made fried buffalo cauliflower,” Jody says, handing her box of donuts to Cas, who accepts them solemnly and places them on the kitchen counter. “I also brought wine.”

“I think they turned out okay,” Kaia says, putting the bowl on the counter next to the donuts. She unwraps the tin foil, and there are indeed a couple of heads of cauliflower in there, covered in batter and what appears to be Frank’s Red Hot. “We’ll need to put them in the oven to warm up again.”

“They’re great. Not that Dean would ever know the difference,” Claire says, raising her voice so Dean would maybe hear her from the other room. By his distant grunt of protest, he heard her loud and clear.

“I’ve been asking him to eat more vegetables,” Cas confides, his voice low, eyes on where Dean disappeared with the coats. “He likes them more than he thinks. Especially broccoli.”

“Scandalous,” Claire says, smiling at him. “You bribe him or something?”

“I thought I heard someone slinging crap over here,” Dean says as he comes back in the room, Sam just behind him. Dean jogs down to stand to Cas’ left, standing a non-personal foot away. Cas can see Dean calculating the exact distance between friendly and intimate and thinks about stepping forward into it. “He thinks he can get me to give up my morning ribeye.”

“It’s a crime to want him to live past fifty, it seems,” Cas says, rolling his eyes purely for show, the way a housewife on a sitcom tells her husband to do the dishes. “I hate to admit that I’ve become fond of him.”

“I feel the same way, hotshot,” Dean smiles, placing his hand on Cas’ shoulder before quickly taking it off again, clearing his throat and looking away. Jody raises her eyebrows at Cas. Cas raises his back.

“Enough,” Sam says. He does a grand come this way gesture to their guests, who follow dutifully. He glares between the two of them, a non-verbal “cut-it-out” that they’ve seen a thousand times in other circumstances. Cas is briefly thrown. Sam thinks they’re fighting. Fascinating. What must that say about their previous interactions?

Dean shrugs and turns to go too, but Cas stops him with a hand to the chest. Dean stills, eyes weary.

“I love you,” Cas says, because he does. Dean nods.

“Yeah, me too, Cas,” Dean says. “That’s kinda the whole point of this.” He gestures between them, the hand on the chest, Dean leaning into it. The people in their house, unaware of both of their quickly beating hearts and dry mouths.

“I just wanted to say it,” Cas says, looking at him and willing him to understand. Dean’s posture relaxes.

“Yeah, sweetheart,” Dean says softly. Dean has always been quicker to use “bud,” “man,” or “dude,” and Cas sees them as the terms of endearment they are. But a sweetheart from Dean is enough to make Cas feel like he could rip his own heart out and eat it. “I gotcha.”

“Okay,” Cas says. He releases Dean, who winks at him and goes up the stairs to where his meat is waiting.

Cas watches him go, and nods. As Dean and Sam would say, it’s showtime.

-

They segment out into groups quickly. Claire and Dean disappear outside to start their routine fight over control of the grill, and history suggests that Claire will win. Kaia and Jack group together to talk about a show they both enjoy, one that Jack has tried futilely to explain to both Cas and Dean a dozen times to no avail, and Sam puts Kaia’s cauliflower into the air fryer that Cas got him for his birthday and is eagerly showing all of its capabilities to Jody. Jody ooos and ahhs at the specified times, and catches Cas’ eye for a second and gestures to the next room. Cas nods and follows her out. Sam goes to join Kaia and Jack’s conversation about… some sort of serpent? Cas isn’t sure.

The first thing Jody says when they settle in the living room is “Claire’s nervous.” She tucks her hands into the pockets of her jeans. In a strange twist of fate, she is dressed in almost the exact same clothes as Dean. Cas is wearing his old white button down and a pair of brown pants and feels underdressed.

“I see nothing to be nervous about,” Cas says, leaning against the pillar. “She has never needed my validation in the past, I fail to see how this is different.”

“I know you think that,” Jody says, not unkindly. “But put yourself in her shoes, Cas. This is a big step, meeting the family. Even if her family is the possessed vessel of her dad and two random tall guys.” She turns to face out into the foyer, where Dean and Claire are sniping over barbecue utensils. “This is about as normal as this sort of thing will get for her.”

“I wish I could make this easier for her,” Cas says honestly. His head is swimming a little bit. “I am terrified of making our relationship worse.”

“Well, I can tell you this,” Jody says. “Your guys’ relationship was pretty freakin’ bad in the past. That, though? That’s the worst it’ll be. I guarantee you. That ship has sailed.”

Cas’ stomach sinks. Jody shouldn’t make guarantees for claims she can’t prove. He swallows hard.

“That is… heartening,” Cas tries. “I will try my best.”

“Just be you, Cas,” Jody says. “You’re a top-notch guy.” She punches him in the shoulder, which does hurt.

“Thank you, Jody. Dean told me something similar when I asked him,” Cas says, unable to stop bringing up Dean if his life depended on it. “He said I’ll get a big head if he tells me again.”

“Did he now?” Jody muses. “Dean’s an interesting guy, isn’t he.”

“Exceedingly,” Cas says. There’s a beat as they look at one another. He squints, trying to decipher her amused expression. “What?”

“I just never realised how he acts around you, Cas. It’s sweet,” Jody says, nodding toward where Dean is yelling at Claire to grab his umbrella. “If I were you, I might just pursue that avenue. I know Dean can seem like a pretty hard-headed dude, but he’s a softie under it all.”

“Well,” Cas says. “Yes.”

“I’m just saying, if you haven’t tried,” Jody sighs and leans into the pillar. “Might be the time. Happened with me and Donna, you know. Could happen with you two.”

Cas nods, pursing his lips as if in thought. Before he can say something incriminating, Dean and Claire come inside with a steaming pile of short-ribs in their arms. Dean is wearing his grilling apron, and Claire is clearly taking that avenue to ridicule him mercilessly, which is exactly why Cas suspects he wore it in the first place. Dean notices them talking and winks at him before moving to the table, where he juggles the plate in his hands, going “Hot! Hot! Hot!” all the while.

“Toldja,” Jody whispers. Cas grunts.

“Soup’s on!” Dean calls to the room, having relieved his bare hands from burns. He slaps his hands together and gestures to the food in a ta-da motion. Claire rolls her eyes and pulls up a seat.

Jack, Kaia, and Sam break up their discussion of whatever a “bughead” is reluctantly, and come sit at the table too. There are the requisite “wows” and “well-dones” at the beautiful presentation, which Dean brushes away with a hand despite being obviously very pleased at how it all turned out. He takes his seat next to Cas, who sits next to Jack, who sits next to Claire and Kaia and then Jody. Sam sits at the head of the table, where he can reach and pass everything with his very long arms. Dean serves the meat while everyone else grabs portions of the sides, and Jody pops her wine.

It’s an incredibly warm occasion. Even if Dean weren’t next to him, resting his arm across the back of his seat when he’s listening to Jody’s story about Miami or brushing past him when he’s grabbing a jalapeño popper, he’d feel close to bursting with the almost-biblical joy he feels.

He might still. There might be a limit to this happiness. If there is, he wants to find it. Let him die and know that he died because there was no other choice, that he died finally in a way he wants. With Dean by his side. With people he loves around him. He stares at each of them and feels immense gratitude that they’ve returned to him, feeling almost like he has been forgiven.

Cas realises he’s missed a chunk of conversation as the slight pressure on his back becomes more insistent. Cas nods at Dean, who retracts his hand but leaves his arm warm on the back of Cas’ chair.

“Eileen was saying the other day that she wanted to try shiatsu massage, so I looked it up and borrowed a book about it. Like, how hard could it be, right?” Sam is saying, wiping beer cheese off his mouth with a napkin.

“I think people go to school for that,” Claire says, biting into a chunk of Kaia’s buffalo cauliflower. Kaia looks happy whenever someone tries it, especially Claire. Cas watches her and Dean in turn and smiles to himself.

“Your giant ham hands could rip her arm right off if you’re not careful, Conan,” Dean says. “Refine the technique first.”

“Where is Eileen, by the way? I wanted to finally meet her,” Jody says, mouth muffled by a recent spoonful of Cas’ Cobb salad. She covers her mouth as she chews and swallows. “I’ve heard good things, Sam. Don’t keep her away from me.”

“She’s good people, Jody,” Sam says, and looks down at the table, smiling in thought. “I promise, next time.”

Cas likes how happiness looks on him. All of them have suffered exorbitantly, but he wonders deep in his heart if Sam has perhaps suffered the most out of all of them. Not that Sam would ever admit it, even in the dark depths of his soul.

“Hey, on that note,” Dean says, wiping his hands on a paper napkin and setting his elbows on the table, disrupting Cas’ train of thought. He looks at Cas, and Cas squints his eyes in confusion. “Cas and I have a little something we want to share with you guys.”

Cas breathes in harshly, which causes Dean to put a steady hand on his thigh. That hand is asking, is this okay? Cas nods.

“Oh?” Jody says, swallowing and taking a sip from her wine. Claire breaks away from where she’s been smiling at Kaia and raises her eyebrows. Sam and Jack smile at Cas encouragingly, and Jack even gives him a thumbs up from under the table. Cas is grateful for them, but he also wishes he could melt into the floor.

They are your friends, Castiel, he admonishes himself, willing himself to stop his trembling. What would Uriel say if he could see you now, shaking like this.

He wouldn’t have been surprised, Cas decides. He would’ve seen it coming from the second I rescued him from Hell.

“Uh, there’s a big story behind it, which we can get into later. But the gist is,” Dean says, grabbing Cas’ hand from where it rests on the table. “Uh. We. Cas and I.”

“No way,” Claire says. The small smile on her face has dropped off. Cas’ heart is thundering.

“Yes way,” Dean counters. “Dating.” He holds up their two hands like they won a race. Both of them are very stiff.

“Wow!” Jody says, clapping her hands together. “This is... new?”

“You’re gay?” Kaia says, squinting.

“Uh,” Dean says. “I’m not, uh, totally. Gay.”

“A month ago, I told Dean I loved him romantically.” Cas clarifies, finding his voice finally. “It was in the meat section of Costco. He reciprocated.”

“You guys are really something, huh.” Jody says. “Well, I’m very proud of you two. Thank you for trusting us enough to tell us.” She has the comforting presence of someone who is phased by almost nothing, and Cas is struck again by how much he loves her, just in this. Just in letting them pretend this is normal.

“Thanks Jody,” Dean says, his smile a little wobbly. “Been a long time coming.”

“You’re telling me,” Sam mutters under his breath while taking a sip of his wine. Cas and Dean both pretend not to hear him.

Cas looks to Claire, who is obviously thinking about something. Claire nods, finally. “Cool.”

“Cool?” Dean says.

“Cool,” Claire says. She smirks at Cas. “Him though?” She nods at Dean. “Thought you had better taste, old man.”

Dean sputters, and really, Cas is thankful enough to start crying right there on the spot. He won’t though. He just shrugs.

“He makes a very good pot roast,” Cas says instead of thank you. Dean laughs, which is all Cas needs to drop his shoulders from where they’ve been pushing up towards his ears. And the evening continues, and they answer questions about where and why, and Dean’s hand never goes far from his. In the end, that is all he wanted. Just Dean’s thumb, drawing circles on his neck while he talks to Sam and Jody. Just to be loved like this at all.

-

Their guests leave a couple hours later, armed with most of the leftovers and about a dozen of Dean’s chocolate chip cookies to get them home safe.

Claire catches Jack in the hallway before they leave, and they talk for a long time. It ends with Claire briefly clapping Jack on the shoulder and Jack letting it happen, and they both have smiles when they step away from each other. For two people with very different parents, they have the same way of looking up and smiling, the same way of nodding solemnly, the same blue eyes.

Claire hugs Cas goodbye, and she hugs Dean goodbye, and then she’s gone. Jody waves goodbye to everyone, and Kaia awkwardly thanks everyone for inviting her, and Dean pulls her into a hug too, because she’s part of Dean’s always-evolving definition of family permanently. Even if she and Claire broke up, Kaia would be part of that elusive group Dean would sacrifice himself for without a second thought. Kaia nods like she knows, and then she is gone too, disappeared into the Kansas rain.

After everyone leaves, everyone else goes to the Dean Cave to watch Lost Boys, and Cas lays his head on Dean’s collarbone and Dean spends the whole movie drawing figure eights in Cas’ arm hair, lost in thought.

-

“Do you know where I used to go when I left you before?” Cas says. He is staring up at the ceiling of their room, eyes wide open. It’s not really a question.

After the movie ended, everyone in the bunker moves silently to their separate rooms. Dean unbuttons Cas’ shirt and peels it off of him slowly, nakedly enjoying his shoulders and chest. They put some laundry on and brush their teeth next to each other and now they are just resting, looking at each other in the dark, not so much waiting for sleep to come but not minding its return. It’s late.

“When you used to zap away? Always kinda figured it was to Heaven,” Dean says. He’s on his side, looking at Cas’ nose. The lines of his forehead, the ones under his eyes.

“No,” Cas says. “Not always.” Cas turns to stare at the wall beyond Dean’s head, and in the cool blue light, it is like someone had just carved him out of stone. Like he is trapped deep under the surface of his own skin.

“Sometimes I would stand in a marketplace in Morocco and watch as the grandmothers bought their grandchildren fruit,” Cas says. His hands are crossed over each other neatly on his chest. “And they would argue with the vendor that it was too much.”

“The fruit?” Dean says.

“The price,” Cas says. “And the merchants would argue, but the grandmothers would stay firm. I found that strange.”

“Why? Maybe the best is all they want.”

“This earth is miraculous,” Cas says. He looks at Dean now, steadily. “We are given the only best it has.”

Dean wants to bury his whole being into Cas’ body and zip it around himself. He has a sneaking suspicion that Cas would say the same thing about him, and tries to imagine them curled up together in a grave like those poor fuckers in Pompeii. To see the end coming and be cradled even in death.

“Do you miss it?” Dean says.

“Being an angel?” Cas says. “Yeah.”

“Would you—,” Dean says. His fingers are trembling as he reaches out and traces the shape of Cas’ nose. “Ever?’

“Ever go back, I assume,” Cas says. He looks, at that moment, as human as anything could be, the thin veins under his skin light blue. The fluttering pulse in his neck. “No.”

“Even to save the world?” Dean says, which is a low blow. But he has to know.

“Would it be to save you?” Cas says. Dean shrugs, tracing Cas’ jaw now. He doesn’t look at his eyes, the eerie blue of them inhuman in the dim bunker light.

“I would try everything in my power to save you,” Cas says, reaching his hand out to cup Dean’s jaw. “But I wouldn’t go back. Although.”

“Although,” Dean repeats, waiting for the kicker. The door Cas keeps open for himself to leave him through.

“I wish you could’ve perceived my true form,” Cas says, looking immeasurably sad, his thumb on Dean’s bottom lip. “I was one of the first creatures on Earth. I was fearfully and wonderfully constructed by God, and now not an angel exists that remembers me as I was.”

“What did you look like?” Dean asks. He’s always wondered. He thinks of plain Cas but ten miles tall. He thinks of a giant shambling monster that would cradle Dean in his wings, or a giant eye that has oscillating rings that make sounds like choral music.

“Like the most glorious thing you’ve ever seen,” Cas says, suddenly throwing a leg over Dean’s waist to straddle him and then leaning in close. They’re a hair breadth of a space away from each other now, lips ghosting over each other. When Cas’ lips move, it is like Dean is saying the words with him in an uneven recitation. “I was beautiful.”

“You are,” Dean says, closing his eyes against the feeling. “You always were, Cas.”

This kiss feels like it was born out of a pile of their shared bones in their future grave, so cradled together that you couldn’t separate them if you tried. A forever sort of thing, Dean thinks. He thinks if Cas was still an angel he’d make all the bulbs in Kansas shatter. Does Cas miss that? Shattering lights like it’s nothing?

I’ll shatter them myself, Dean thinks as Cas kisses him deeper and deeper, hand braced on the wall above them, breath heaving like a rolling boulder in his chest. Each of them, one by one.

-

When your pie is ready to come out of the oven, take it out with shaking hands and place it on the stovetop to cool down. Leave the pie to sit for a while, and watch over your family to make sure they don’t take a slice when it’s too hot. Cut into the pie after a hearty dinner of roasted asparagus and shepherd’s pie, and your whole family will watch you cut into it, and as you cut it, you see that it is perfect, and you’ve done the best you’ve ever done. You are grateful that you are alive to see this pie come out of the oven and that you are alive to see your family eat it in front of you. You take a bite after everyone else has scraped their plates clean. It is good.

When all of it is finished, your son will ask you when you can make it again, and you will say, how about tomorrow? and he smiles wide when you ask him to help. And that night, you will kiss the love of your life on his forehead and on his nose and on his mouth, and when you dream, you dream of crust, and love, and peeling apples.