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There Lies The Golden Bird

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1988

Dean is a newly minted nine year old when he becomes aware of his disconnect from other kids his age.

The other girls in his class wear skirts and dresses in various colorful shades. Even when they don’t wear skirts or dresses they more than compensate with their embroidered pants or similarily colored shorts. They do nice, complex things with their hair that Dean can’t imagine ever sitting still for.

Dean hasn’t worn anything like that since Sam hit five and grew so quickly and suddenly that they can wear the same clothes. It’s easier for their father to buy clothes both of them can wear and he would rather Dean wear plain tees and jeans than let Sammy wear anything girly.

Dean tries his best to do nice things with his hair, but John rarely helps when he’s around and when he isn’t Dean can’t reach the back. Sammy tries, he  really does, but he can’t brush his own hair let alone Dean’s. He ties his hair in ponytails to hide the steady matting of hair right at the base of his head and hopes no one can tell.

When the school photos come back he thinks that maybe he should be embarrassed about his noticeable difference between himself and the other girls in the group photo. Instead he stares at a face he’s often told looks like his mother’s and sees his father instead.

He looks like a boy. A powerful boy with his shoulders back and chin high. His hair is tied back like always and from the angle of the camera it looks like his hair is cropped short.

He feels elated.

He’s sure that Marie in his class with pink butterfly backpack and her jelly shoes doesn’t feel like a boy. He’s sure that any girl just feels like a girl regardless. So why doesn’t he just feel like a girl?

Even as young as he is, he feels like an outlier. His questions about what’s going on with his identity are put on the back burner. He’s seen things a kid should never see and knows things no kid should ever know, why should he care about school or shit like feelings?

The stuff he learns at school just doesn’t make sense in the same way loading and shooting a gun do- it just feels insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Basic math and knowing how to write a proper sentence can’t protect Sammy, so what’s even the point?

He voices this to John, more polite with his words than his thoughts, of course. Ever the obedient daughter.

“You’re a smart girl, Deanna.” John offers instead of a real answer, but the words fall flat when he can’t even look away from the journal for three seconds while he speaks to his child.

It’s a good thing, too, because Dean is only nine years old when he cringes at his birth name for the first time.

He thinks about asking John then, about what it means to feel like a man, but he doesn’t. He’s not sure why the thought of asking about it puts lead in his stomach. He’s not sure why, but it feels like a bad thing.

He leaves John to his journal and goes to keep Sam entertained until dinner- whenever that may be.

A few weeks later John leaves them in the motel alone for a weekend and Dean takes the clippers to his hair. He can’t figure out how to use the guard so he doesn’t and Dean is left with absolutely no hair, but it’s so so worth it.

Even when John cusses to high heavens and makes himself sick on whisky when he comes back on Monday. He thinks it might’ve been something about tainting Mary’s image, but even Dean who is well versed in his father’s drunken babble can’t tell for sure.

For once, Dean can’t bring himself to care about what his father thinks.

1992

Dean is thirteen when he begins noticing girls for the first time and it hits him like a blow between the eyes.

If he’s honest, not much occupies his mind other than taking care of Sammy and not disappointing John. Only when a girl with box braids and a big smile hands him a pencil he dropped and their fingers brush does his world view expand just a bit more. The touch makes heat rise to his cheeks and he resists the urge to yank his hand away.

She catches up with him later in the hall, baby pink nails stark against the black strap of her backpack. She smiles at him again, something shy and underlined with something Dean can’t quite place.

“Hi, sorry, I didn’t get your name earlier. I’m Gia.” She offers, talking a little too fast.

“Deanna. Friends call me D.” That’s not true, he doesn’t exactly have friends to call him that and he wouldn’t dare bring up that to John who seems to take everything Dean does to heart these days.

Sammy would call him that if he asked, his little brother is good like that.

Gia’s smile falls a little and she laughs in a sharp way, like someone forced it out of her. “Oh god, I’m so sorry! I thought you were a guy.”

John has long since stopped caring about Dean shaving his hair off, only offering a gruff, “If you’re going to shave it off at least make it look nice, Deanna.” He’s learned how to use the guard since then, now sporting a buzz cut that’s just starting to grow out and he’s still close enough in size with Sam that he can get away with baggy T-shirts and jeans. The only change in their wardrobe are the flannels John buys in bulk that Dean adores using to layer his shirts and better hide his chest. The necklace Sam gave him last year is the only thing he’s wearing that he doesn’t share with his brother.

He feels that elation he gets every time his father’s hunting buddies ask if he’s Sam and stuffs it down.

“I get that a lot.”

After Gia it’s like Dean can’t stop noticing girls. There’s a pretty ginger he trades close-lipped kisses with in the bathroom, the daughter of another hunter that’s a few years older than him and goads Dean into helping her pierce her ears with a safety pin, and most recently the sweet girl at the library that always helps him pick out books for Sam.

Library girl hands him a book one day, “For you, not for Sam.” It’s some kind of book on sexuality and gender through the ages, Dean’s face burns up as he jams it into his backpack that’s been falling apart at the seams for the better part of two years.

He pours through the book that night, like a man starving, devouring every little thing he can find in the section about gender.

Transgender burns into his eyes and he tries not to cry, because god damn it if he’s going to be a guy he’s going to do this shit right.

He can’t bring himself to look at the sexuality section, he knows he likes girls and that’s all he needs to know, then returns the book. Library girl gives him that same underlined look that Gia gave him and before Dean knows it he’s kissing a girl properly in the farthest corner of the library.

His newfound interest in girls isn’t missed by John by a long shot. He never says anything but Dean finds himself on the other side of warning, wary gazes more often than not.

John brings up his disdain for gay people more and more often and Dean tries not to let it sting. He wonders, hopes even, that one day when he tells his father he doesn’t feel like a girl that it’ll smooth over the ache of him liking women.

He’s not sure what his father would hate more and he doesn’t venture to find out.

1994

He doesn’t tell Sammy so much as he finds out on his own when he’s fifteen and Sammy is eleven. He’s shaving his hair again, his amulet swinging from his neck like a pendulum as he leans over a motel sink. The hum of the overhead light blends together with the buzzing of the clippers and creates the only sound in the otherwise silent motel room. Sam hates the quiet, a product of a busy life on the road, so he props himself up on the counter and watches Dean.

By now they have a noticeable difference in size again, but Dean is still wearing the same type of things that Sam does. He calls practicality to his father, saying it makes it easier to pass down his clothes to Sam when he grows out of them, but if he’s honest he can’t imagine wearing things that would be expected of him.

The thought makes his chest ache in a way that makes him want to pull his skin from his bones. It’s bad enough that he’s taken to layering one of his father’s old jackets over a flannel and a t-shirt to better hide his ever changing frame, he really couldn’t imagine being comfortable in anything that he doesn’t already wear.

“Deanna?” Sam asks and if it wasn’t from their close proximity he wouldn’t have been heard him over the clippers.

“Yeah?” Dean asks, turning his head to get a better look at the side of his head as he runs the clippers around the curve of his ear.

“You’re not a girl, are you?” Sam asks and Dean jolts, nicking the back of his ear with the clippers.

“Ah, hell, Sammy.” He hisses, turning off the clippers and setting them down on the sink. His hand trembles with the motion and he tries his best to ignore it. It’s just Sammy, he’s a good kid, his brother wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt him.

He turns his head to look at him, hair only half shaved, and raises his eyebrow.

“Sorry, but you’re not, right?” He doesn’t sound it at all, or look it, for that matter. He’s still casually sat on top of the counter, legs lightly swaying and bumping against the counter supporting the sink. There’s a hint of amusement playing at the corner of his lips, but Dean is more than certain it pertains to the state of his hair and nothing else.

“No, I’m not.” Dean finally says and it feels like sucking in that first breath of air after being stuck under water. He’s trembling, he can feel it in the way his knees knock together as he tries to keep it together in front of his brother. He trusts Sam with this, he would trust him with anything, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.

Sam just nods, looking almost thoughtful with eyebrows drawn close and lips pursed.

“Well don’t look too surprised.” Dean says gruffly, flicking the clippers back on as he goes back to shaving.

“I’m not. Surprised, that is. It’s pretty obvious to me.” Dean makes sure Sam can see him roll his eyes, “Surprised you actually admitted to it though.”

“Okay, I get the picture.” He mutters, then continues for good measure, “Smart ass.”

There’s a pleasant moment of near quiet where the only sounds are the buzz of the clippers, the hum of the overhead fan, and the soft thunk of Sam’s heels against the bathroom cabinet.

“Should I call you anything different?” He finally asks.

“I would want you to, but uh...” Dean trails off, turning the clippers off again. He’s pretty sure he got it the way it needs to be and if not he’ll make Sam go over the spots he missed- later, after they finish this.

“Dad.” Sam finishes for him, too smart for his own damn good like always.

“Yeah, Sammy.” He’s surprised by the tightness of his throat and clears it, “Dad.”

“Just when we’re not around him then.” He says with the same sly look Dean knows mirrors the look he gives Sam when he lets him stay up late or have that extra peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich when John is out on a hunt.

“Alright, sounds good.” His words crack with emotion in a way he would never admit, gently smacking a hand against Sam’s shoulder.

Sam hops down from the sink.

“Want me to heat you up some of that leftover pizza, Dean?” He says it casually, like no thought was put into it at all, except he’s looking at him with those tentative eyes he always uses when he’s trying to gauge his reaction.

“Yeah,” His voice is soft, “just let me clean up this hair.”

The name sticks, of course it does.

1995

Sam and John have been fighting more and more these days. It’s not bickering anymore, not the shut and close situations that end almost as soon as they began. It starts small- a nag about Sam’s hair, or a question about why they’re leaving again- then it snowballs into yelling and slamming doors.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Sam is beginning to question John’s judgement. He’s vocalized to Dean more than once that he’s tired of moving, that he wants to stay in place and make friends. He’s not afraid to tell John that either, despite Dean’s barely veiled pleading, and of course he takes offense to that. John counters genuine frustration with snide comments and Sam has never taken well to feeling like he’s being treated like he’s stupid.

It’s gotten to the point where Dean ends up stepping between the two of them more often than not by the end of their fights. Dean doesn’t think he would hit them, he hasn’t up until now, but John’s been more and more on edge these days.

They’ve gotten kicked out of over half of the motels they’ve been staying at the last few months because of noise complaints, banned from a few on account of property damage. They’re lucky the cops haven’t been called yet.

They’re fighting again, like they have been most nights these last few weeks.

Thankfully, mercifully, they’re in the car. No one can kick them out of their own car and John would never be stupid enough to risk damage to Baby. Dean wishes he could say he wouldn’t do something stupid enough to injure them, but he’s not sure he can. He hates thinking about his father like this, he does, but somewhere deep down he knows his resentment is being brought up to a slow boil the longer he argues with Sam.

Unfortunately, being stuck in a small close quarters area with his yelling brother and father is less than ideal in terms of his nerves.

“I’m just tired dad! Can’t we stay with Bobby during the school year and go with you during the summers?” Sam begs, his voice strained with the effort of keeping it raised.

The car goes silent so quickly that Dean briefly wonders if he actually went deaf from the commotion. His heart drops so fast from the chest he doesn’t even have time to register it.

John and Bobby are on the outs again. A fight about Bobby trying too hard to help raise him and Sam, in John’s opinion. Dean hadn’t meant to hear them, but he knows that Sam’s ignorance on the subject is about to light the fuse on this argument and blow it to unknown levels.

Dean never wondered about John’s capability to hit one of his kids until this moment. The hard look on his face makes a rock settle in his stomach.

He can’t jump in the middle of a verbal argument, especially not in the car, so he does what he does best.

He deflects. Away from Sammy, on to him. No matter what that means saying.

The words are out of his mouth before he can even think.

“Dad, I’m transgender.”

John’s head whips around so sharply Dean resists the urge to remind him to keep his eyes on the road, “You’re what?

Sam’s foot slams into the back of Dean’s seat. He can tell without even looking back that he’s panicking, but he can only swallow down his fear and continue.

“Trans-“

“I heard you the first time Deanna, the hell is that?” John asks sharply.

“It means I think I’m a guy, sir.” He doesn’t think, he knows. He’s a man and he knows he is, but he softens the blow for himself in case John explodes.

Instead of the incoming outburst John just lets out a sigh, “Hell, boy, you had me scared for a second there.”

“What?” Dean asks before he can even process the words coming out of his mouth.

“Thought I was going to have address that shit with you liking girls, but if you’re a guy then I don’t exactly got to worry about that. Now do I?”

It’s rhetorical, Dean knows that, “No sir, nothing to worry about.”

He knows he should be delighted that he’s not mad. That his hopes of this smoothing over liking girls actually came true, but there’s this sick dread sinking in his stomach that he can’t place.

John would rather have a transgender son than a lesbian daughter and he’s got that covered, so why does he feel so sick? He forces himself to relax into the seat, taking shallow breaths in from his nose and out through his mouth.

“Chose a name yet, son, or are you making me pick?” John continues on and just like that it seems the argument with Sam is forgotten. For now, anyway.

“Dean,” It comes out quick, “unless you have something else in mind.”

“Dean it is.”

1996

Dean is only a few weeks off from his seventeenth birthday when he starts noticing boys too. He catches himself staring at the college aged guy checking them into their room a little too hard. He thinks he may have been noticed too, every sly look at the other boy ends up with catching curious blue eyes staring back at him.

He thinks he got away with it too as they quietly walk to the room, casting just one more cautious look over his shoulder.

Clearly not cautious enough.

John clears his throat hard and fear crawls up his spine.

“We got an issue, Dean?” He asks when the motel door is firmly closed behind all of them.

“No sir.” Dean says weakly, tired and weary.

Originally he thought being out to John might not be so bad, but as time goes on it’s clear to him that being out is just another thing for his father to weaponize. He can’t count how many times he’s gotten ribbed by his father when caught doing anything slightly feminine with a “Don’t be a girl now, Deanna”. Sam fights him tooth and nail on it, but John only retaliates by saying it’s no different than him calling Sam ‘Samantha’.

There is a difference, a big one, and try as he may John clearly knows the difference too. That’s what drives Sam so insane in the first place. Regardless, Dean tries his best to play middleman between the two of them, always seeming to fall flat. Ever since he came out, jumping in between them hasn’t worked quite the same way. Sometimes Sam accuses him of babying him and flees the hotel room, other times he ends up flat on his ass when John decides to rough him up for getting in the way.

He still does it, he’d rather have Sam pissed off at him and an aching jaw than see his brother hurt.

“Really? Seemed to me like you were staring bit too hard at that boy. I’m telling you now Dean, I don’t need no gay transgender son. I like to think I’ve been far more supportive than most folk would these days, don’t take advantage of that.” He says it in the same way he sounds when he spits bloodied taunts at whatever monster he’s fighting this week.

“I know, thank you. You have nothing to worry about.”

On his seventeenth birthday he’s sent on his first solo hunt. He’s excited at first, finally driving Baby without John in the car, windows rolled down despite the winter chill. The wind bites his cheeks red, but he croons along with the Zeppelin tape in the deck and ignores the sting.

That feeling quickly changes as he learns more about the case.

He has his qualms, of course he does, but he just does his job like a good little solider, watching the ghosts go up in flames. Even with their forms burning away, they stand calmly just feet from him, their hands clasped together and eyes firmly trained on each other.

They never made a move against him.

Driving back, the windows stay firmly rolled up and the deck completely empty. Dean’s cheeks are still red, for completely different reasons, fat tears rolling down his face and dripping off his chin.

Message heard, loud and clear.

2002-2005

Sam leaves. It takes everything in Dean not to leave too.

He wants to say more, let Sam know he’s proud. Instead, he stays quiet instead of defending him. It’s something he’s never done before.

He’s stuck here with John and there’s no telling what he would do if Dean took his side. He can’t very well follow Sam, he doesn’t want to burden his brother with having to deal with his twenty three year old brother  who doesn’t know how to live a normal life.

The credit card fraud is the only thing paying for Dean’s testosterone and Sam wants to go dirt free. He can’t go without his testosterone and he can’t guarantee he can afford it if he goes.

So he stays- stays quiet and stays with John.

He can only hope Sam understands.

When Sam’s texts run drier and drier over the next few years Dean figures his understanding finally ran dry with them. He forces himself to stop sending his brother voice updates every month, limiting himself to the occasional text on holidays until those taper off as well to only Sam’s birthday.

All his texts, as few as there are, go unanswered.

He convinces himself it’s for the better, but he’s not sure who it actually benefits at all.

Then Dad goes radio silent on a hunting trip and everything falls back together like long forgotten puzzle pieces.

2008

Dean sells his soul to give Sam a second chance at life and goes to hell, because of course he does.

Hell is, for lack of a better word, hell.

It’s torture or be tortured and to Dean is an obvious choice.

Dean does his best to endure the torture for the better part of thirty years, but for over ten thousand days he goes through things so disgusting most people could never dream up. It’s damn near impossible to endure. He does endure, until he doesn’t, he gets off the rack and begins torturing souls to get away from the torment himself. It’s still torture for him, in some ways it feels even worse, it’s just not of the physical variety now.

He does that for ten more years, until he doesn’t.

He’s swooped up in a flash of light before he can even manage to struggle, the smell of burnt flesh in his nose, and then there’s nothing.

Literally nothing. He is nothing. For once, Dean is not being self deprecating when he says that. He has no eyes, no skin, no bones, he is truly and utterly nothing.

“Be not afraid.” He senses the words, they process despite his absolute lack of anything.

Dean tries to speak, but with nothing to project the words or even form them, he can’t.

He tries again, frustration mounting.

“Do not strain yourself. You do not need to speak for me to hear you.”

If this is a new form of torture brought on by hell it is easily the best work they’ve done so far, he is terrified. Something about being conscious with nothing surrounding him makes him feel dissociated, yet far too aware of everything.

“Do not be mistaken, you have been saved, Dean Winchester.”

Then he feels, actually feels, as structure begins forming around him. He feels the connection of his bones snapping into place, nerves and muscles forming as they’re intended, blood fills his veins. It is as overwhelming as it is instantaneous.

His eyes form and open, instantly flinching away as something black and soft sweeps across his eyelids to close them.

“Perceiving me like this will destroy your eyes. I do not wish to have to start over on them.”

Dean wishes he had his mouth. Then it begins forming in a process he could never describe with any known language and especially not in any Dean can actually speak in.

“What are you? What did you touch my eyes with?” He asks with his first breath, his voice rough and deep in a way it wasn’t even after being on testosterone for years.

“I am an angel of the lord. I apologize if I startled you with my wings, they are not in the best condition right now.”

As the angel speaks he feels his nose form, breathing coming easier as his nostrils come into existence and connect with the airways of his throat. He briefly wonders how something so impossibly soft could possibly be in bad condition, then the smell of something burnt and rotten hits his nose.

Almost as soon as the smell registers, so does the angel’s words.

“The hell do angels want with me?”

His scalp prickles as hair sprouts forth from the follicles like grass from the ground.

“In due time. I can not guarantee you will even remember this conversation and I do hate to repeat myself.”

Dean doesn’t respond, doesn’t know what to say. There’s a long moment where nothing changes and he can almost feel the being think.

“Not sure how many freckles to put?” Dean quips and then wonders when his life got so weird that he’s making conversation with a being he can’t even perceive as it rebuilds his body.

“No, you have approximately three hundred and sixty three freckles. I added them when I procured your skin.”

He imagines a figureless being made mostly of wings, holding a brown crayon and smashing it on to his skin like a child trying to draw a picture for class.

“Then what’s the deal? I can’t feel you doing anything.”

“I’m not sure whether I should construct your body as it was or the way it’s supposed to be.”

“What, with my chest torn to ribbons? I doubt that’ll benefit either of us.”

“No, with the body of a biological man.”

The silence seems to stretch for an eternity.

Dean finally speaks, quiet and unsure, “You can do that?”

“Yes.”

“Will you?”

“If that’s what you wish. I can give you any combination of qualities should you not wish to have a male’s genitalia or produce testosterone on your own, for example.”

“Give me anything you can.” Dean says in awe.

“So I will.”

Dean pulls himself from his own grave in Pontiac, Illinois, four months after his death instead of forty years. His shirt racks up over his chest as he falls to the side, exhausted from the exertion. He smacks a hand over his shirt, intending to pull it down, and feels a flat plane of bare muscle beneath his palm.

He sits up, suddenly invigorated, tugging at his clothes and patting down random areas of his body. He slides a hand down the column of his throat and feels his Adam’s apple bob beneath his palm. He pops a button on his pants and takes a cautious look down.

“Oh god.” He rasps, laughing in absolute delight, sprawling back across the dirt.

He doesn’t remember anything about the reconstruction of his body or the conversation with the angel.

2011

Dean’s mind is still reeling from the alternate universe and the events afterwards when Cas zaps them back to Bobby’s. He does his best to keep up with Cas as he argues his point, but it all gets lost in flashes of shadowed wings and Raphael’s new vessel.

“I’m sorry about all this.” Cas finally brings his eyes to meet Dean’s after looking everywhere but him for the better part of the last few minutes, “I’ll explain when I can.”

Dean knows a flight risk when he sees one and he’s pissed at Cas, he is, but he doesn’t want him to up and leave.

“Just. Just wait a minute man.” Dean mutters, swiping a hand down his face.

“Dean I’m fighting a war, I don’t have time to have a social visit.” Cas presses, genuinely seeming frustrated.

“I know you don’t, just a minute. Okay? We hardly see you these days unless it’s a damn emergency.” Dean presses and he’s about as close to begging as he can get without completely losing his dignity.

Cas stares at him a long moment then closes his eyes, taking a deep breath like it’s taking everything in him to concede.

“Fine, Dean. I can manage a few more minutes.” He doesn’t bother to keep the exasperation out of his voice.

There’s a moment of hesitation, but the silence in that moment is absolutely deafening. Dean asked him to stay, wanted him to stay, but he’s lost for words.

Sam, the brilliant guy that he is, catches on to that right away.

“So, uh, Cas. I’ve been meaning to ask. If an angel changes vessels like Raphael would you change their pronouns to suit the vessel or do they have their own?” Sam fumbles, doing his best to put on his signature puppy-dog eyes when he asks a question he knows might be personal.

“Typically angels are genderless. However, some angels do have their own pronouns and a relationship with gender. In Raphael’s case I do believe he prefers masculine pronouns regardless of vessel.” Cas supplies, seemingly surprised that Sam was curious about angel gender of all things.

Dean isn’t sure if Sam genuinely is interested, but it only takes that one answer from Cas to get Dean interested in the topic himself.

“Shit man, should we have been using different pronouns for you or something?” Dean asks, embarrassed that it never crossed his mind. Seriously, if anyone should have asked about this it’s him.

“It’s fine, Dean. I’ve never really analyzed my own relationship with gender before meeting you and even then I haven’t put much thought.” Cas admits.

“Before Dean? Why?” Sam asks, now genuinely curious.

“I was the one who rebuilt your brother’s body, Sam.” Cas says, then turns his attention to Dean, “I know you don’t recall the actual action of me doing so, but giving you the body you were supposed to have was a very enlightening experience for me. I haven’t taken many charges, much less any I’ve been this hands on with, and you’re the first one I’ve had that has been transgender.”

Dean tries not to noticeably fluster under the open discussion of his gender, but the heat crawling up his neck easily gives him away.

Somehow through all of this he never really considered the fact that Cas was the one who gave him the body he has, that he was the one who gave him a body capable of feeling like his own. He knows Cas rebuilt his body, but somehow it just never registered how he custom made it just for Dean.

“Yeah, uh, thanks for the dick,” Dean attempts humor and thankfully pulls a chuckle from Sam, “but seriously, Cas, pronouns?”

“I usually use the pronouns of the vessel I accompany, but I’ve become rather fond of this one and all that comes with it. I suppose I would prefer using typical male pronouns, I certainly didn’t mind still using them in my brief stint with Claire as my vessel.” He furrows his brow, then nods assuredly, “Yes, the pronouns you’ve been using are fine, I think anything else would feel odd at this point.”

“S’great Cas, glad we could have this talk.” Sam says, smiling like a dope. Dean really needs to give him a talk about the overenthusiastic ally thing, but he’s been saying that since Sam was eleven and has yet to do it.

“Me too.” Then Cas is gone before Dean can even share his sentiments too.

“Goodbye to you too.” Dean says gruffly, only a little relieved. Hearing that having him as a charge made Cas think a little harder about his relationship with gender shouldn’t have made him feel soft and uneasy in the same breath, but there’s something about it that makes him feel cracked open.

He supposes, all things considered, they could’ve had a worse conversation.

2013

Seeing Cas as a human is a jarring, uncomfortable feeling that settles in his stomach like lead. He tries not to think about it too hard as Castiel takes a pull from his bottle of beer. He’s already buzzed and Dean is reminded of a time years ago when Cas had to take several shots just to feel anything at all or drink an entire liquor store to get drunk.

He’s not doing a very good job at not thinking about it.

Cas has always been an untouchable, unwavering presence in Dean’s life. Dean’s wanted to touch, he can admit that at least to himself, but it has always felt as though he’ll drag him into the dirt with him if he does.

Human Cas is already in the dirt. He’s kissed someone as an angel, sure, but now he’s slept with someone as a human. He’s had these experiences that Dean felt dirty fantasizing about and yet he can’t bring himself to reach out, to give in to those thoughts.

Cas smiles over at him, corners of his eyes creasing, and Dean’s heart stammers in his chest.

Does he really have the audacity to try to reach out after making him leave the bunker?

“So, Cas, anymore escapades?” Dean asks, because if Dean is anything he’s a masochist. If Cas has it is only going to serve as a reminder of what he can’t have and if he hasn’t then it’ll only cement that weird portion of Dean’s brain that refuses to admit that Cas is capable of sexual desire. It hurts less, he thinks, for Cas to not want anyone instead of just not wanting him.

“If you mean of the sexual variety, there’s been a few.” Cas admits, “I’ve got a question though.”

“Yeah?” Sam asks, his curiosity now piqued as he leans over the edge of the table just so.

“Sex is meant to be good, right? You’re not supposed to be like, neutral or just okay with it?” Cas asks and Dean’s mouth slackens before he can even catch the motion.

“Uh, yeah Cas, I’d say so.” He says, albeit dry.

“Hm,” He pauses to take another long drink from the bottle in his hand, “In that case, I don’t think I enjoy sex with women.”

Dean’s brain starts spinning in absolute circles, overworking itself in an attempt to process what he just heard. He’s almost sure that if you listened hard enough that you could hear the same sound an overworked laptop makes pouring from his ears.

“It’s okay to not like sex, Cas.” Sam says and oh god, Dean is an idiot.

He meant it in the asexual way, not the gay way.

Which honestly, doesn’t feel quite like the gut punch Dean anticipated. If Cas just so happened to mean it in the gay and asexual way, he really doesn’t think it would bother him to go without sex if it meant having Cas at all.

Dean Winchester, hypersexual menace, willing to give up sex if it means getting to date his best friend.

Christ, he does not like what love has turned him in to.

“Thank you, Sam, but I do like sex. Just not with women.” Cas says, casual as ever about things that would’ve been like dropping bombs to other people.

“So you’re gay, then?” Dean’s mouth says before his brain has time to catch up. Sam kicks him under the table. He just barely manages to school his expression as pain bursts out in his shin.

“Your need to assign labels to everything astounds me,” Cas says with a note of humor in his voice that makes Dean’s ears flush. It reminds him of the other Cas that reeked out patchouli and stale smoke.

“Sue me, I’m curious.” He rasps, then takes a long drink from the near empty beer bottle that he had been fiddling with this entire time.

“I suppose I am then, yes.” He smiles at Dean, eyes alight and lips pulled just so.

“That’s nice, buddy.” Dean says and instantly represses a wince at his words. He can see Sam’s humored look from across the table and he aims a responding kick at his ankle.

Sam’s eye twitches when he connects, “Really Cas, I’m glad you told us.”

Cas doesn’t even try to hide his amusement, eyes damn near sparkling with it, “You two always seem to make the biggest deal out of nothing. I’ll get the next round.” Then he’s up out of his seat headed towards the bar before Dean even processes his sentence.

He watches him as he goes, eyes trained on the way his shoulder blades move beneath his thin shirt. He catches himself before the glance lingers, or so he thinks, but when he turns back Sam is watching him with a raised eyebrow.

“Man we’ve gotta talk about the overenthusiastic ally shit.” Dean mutters, biting down his need to call Sam out for the look he’s giving him like he normally would. He knows what Sam would say and he really doesn’t want to have that conversation with Cas across the room.

Cas who is waiting far more patiently than most people to get the bartender’s attention.

“Dean?” Sam calls and his attention snaps towards his brother who has his infamous puppy dog eyes locked and loaded.

“Yeah?” He replies, cautious.

“You’re in love with Cas, right?” He questions and Dean’s eyes snap back towards the bar. The former angel is blissfully aware, now making polite conversation with someone else waiting for their drink.

“Hell, Sammy, he could’ve heard you say that shit.” He bites out, scrubbing a rough hand down his face.

“I wouldn’t have asked if I thought he would hear.” Sam rolls his eyes like it’s the most obvious thing, “So?”

“So, what man? You’re giving me freaky deja vu.” Dean asks, knowing good and damn well what Sam is getting at. He’s focused in on him with those curious eyes, gauging his reaction in the same way he did when he tried calling him by his name for the first time.

“Yeah and the last time I was right. Your track record isn’t looking hot here, Dean.” Sam says, careful enough to add some humor to ease off on the bite of his words.

“Shut up.” A pause, “Okay, yeah, Sammy. I am.” He tries to say the words easily, but they come out of his throat like they’re trying to claw their way back down inside his chest.

“Okay.” The bastard doesn’t even have the audacity to look shocked.

“Okay?” Dean echoes.

“You don’t want me to make a big deal out of it, so I’m not.” Sam says, shrugging his shoulders, “I’m shocked you admitted it, though.”

“Seriously, man, freaky deja vu.”

Sam laughs, “It’s not intentional.”

“Right.” He drawls.

There’s a long quiet moment where Dean thinks that’s the end of the conversation.

“When are you going to tell him?” Sam asks, shattering the peace and sucker punching Dean in the stomach in the same breath.

“Never.” Dean says and powers through when his brother goes to open his mouth, “Seriously Sam. Just because he’s gay does not mean he has any interest in me whatsoever.” He smacks his hand gently against the table for emphasis.

“Dude, I know you’re emotionally repressed, but I figured out Cas was in love with you before I ever even considered you being in love with him.”

Dean rolls his eyes.

“C’mon man, he rebelled against Heaven for you. Gave up an army for you like, what, twice?”

“We’re friends, Sam. That’s what friends do.” He’s not even convinced of that himself as he says it.

“I’m not trying to be an asshole here Dean, but if what you two do is friendship he must think I’m just some guy he puts up with sometimes.”

He can’t help the laugh that pours from his mouth, more of an exhale of amusement than anything else, but he shakes his head through it, “C’mon man, you know he cares about you.”

“I do know that,” Then, “Listen, I’m not going to push you into anything, I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t. He’s in the life, we get along, you two definitely get along. He’s been around for, what, five years at this point? He’s clearly not going anywhere, so why not?” Sam asks with a fond exasperation.

“I just don’t think I’m built for that, Sammy.” Dean says roughly and he’s always thought that, but hearing it out loud in his own voice hurts.

“What? Love?” Sam’s voice is soft, “Dean, sometimes I think that’s all you’re made up of.”

His air punches out of him like Sam just balled up his fist and hit him in the solar plexus as hard as he could. He opens his mouth to refute, to brush it off even, but then Cas is sitting back down on his stool with his arm full of beers, efficiently shutting down any hope to deny Sam’s words.

He gives Cas a grin and tries not to melt under the sunshine that pours between the gaps in Cas’s teeth when he smiles back at him.

2015

Dean’s face is stinging, split skin weeping blood, and yet seeing Cas collapse in on himself sets an ache in his chest that’s damn near impossible to ignore. For a split second he’s sure that Rowena betrayed them and he’s watching Cas die, again.

“Cas?” His voice is hoarse, pained, something not quite like himself. It’s embarrassing how many times he’s heard himself sound like that today. He cups Cas’s face between his hands as he finally stops convulsing. He tries not to jerk him around, but Cas’s head is heavy-deadweight. Dean’s heart stops in his chest.

Despite himself, the words just keep spilling out in the same desperate way that would’ve embarrassed him otherwise. He pats the hand not supporting the weight of Cas’s face against the curve of his jaw and neck, “Cas? Come on, buddy.”

His eyelids flicker open, beautiful brilliant blue peering between two  heavy lids.

“Hey, there you are.” He murmurs softly as he helps sit Cas up, keeping his hands on him even as the angel comes to it. Suddenly he’s just hit with how tired he is of walking around this thing with Cas and not having him around. Tired of having him around and keeping him at a length, not taking him into his arms or be taken into Cas’s like he wants.

He thinks of Cas’s, “Everyone will be long gone. Except me.” and thinks of Colette who could only ask Cain to stop. Except the mark is gone and Dean isn’t Cain. He stopped and it didn’t take Cas dying to get to that point, despite the other man’s willingness to do so.

The realization slams into him at the same time Sam careens across the room and stays firmly rooted in his mind as they make their way back to the bunker, back to the control room.

He presses the ice pack to his aching face and wishes that he could press it against his chest to relieve himself of the longing that’s beating a tattoo into his chest. Cas watches him with those fond, sad eyes, and Dean tries not to meet them. His only savior in this moment is that Sam disappeared into his room after bringing him a beer and has yet to come back out.

“Dean, I... There aren’t any words.” He says softly, remorse heavy in his voice.

“Because there’s nothing to apologize for, Cas.” Dean replies, his own voice coming off gruffer than intended.

Cas opens his mouth to argue, because of course he does, and Dean gives him a tired look that actually shuts him up for once.

“Seriously Cas, we’re good.” He presses on, offering a small little grimace of a smile. He means the words, he does, and in many ways he feels he deserves the treatment he received. Cas’s bloody face beneath him as he begs Dean to just stop comes to mind and Dean knows then that he absolutely deserves the ache in his jaw that comes with a good beating.

“I can fix that.” Cas offers, his hand is already outstretched. Dean puts up his hand and waves him away, ignoring the way he so longs to have some point of connection with Cas. He’s basically been starving for it all day, though Dean’s sure he’s been hungry for it for even longer. Today, having Cas so close and so vulnerable, just reminded him of the rumble in his stomach.

“Nah, leave it.” He says and though his words come out passive, there’s clearly an underlying note of argument, like he’s daring Castiel to try to argue with him.

“Dean.” Cas says, almost scolding.

“No, Cas, leave it. I’ve done worse to you than this.” He spits, a little too harsh and a little too true.

“And I healed myself.” Cas argues, smacking a hand against the table in a gesture so familiar of Dean that it makes the heart in his chest absolutely shout.

He wants to give in, to curl up in the feeling that he gets when Cas heals him and stay there.

He scoffs instead.

“If not for you, then for me? I hate seeing you like this and knowing I did it.” He presses softly. Dean’s hard look drops, he knows it does. He knows what seeing Cas like that did to him, however briefly, and knows that if he had the power to heal him he would’ve that exact moment.

When Cas reaches out his hand again, Dean doesn’t resist.

Instead of pressing his fingers to his forehead, Cas cups his cheek in his hand. It stings, but Dean presses his face into it, dizzy with the feeling. There’s the warm feeling of his skin being knit together and bruises pulled from his skin, then it’s over. Dean’s been healed enough times by Cas to acknowledge that instantaneous moment, but the hand does not move from his face.

His eyes open, he’s not sure when he closed them, and Cas is watching him. He’s still leaned over the table, hand cupping Dean’s face.

“Aren’t you tired, Dean?” Cas asks and he knows exactly then what it means. He can’t deny the look on the other’s man face- cracked open with longing pouring from every crevice.

“God, yeah.” He breathes before he even considers the weight of his words.

Cas drops his hand from his face and Dean’s heart drops with it.

Then, miraculously, Cas is rounding the table over to Dean. Without even pausing, without even thinking, Dean falls into Cas as soon as he’s able to. He feels utterly pathetic and wrung out as presses his face into his stomach, hands grabbing at his trench coat in an attempt to keep him anchored.

Cas’s hands cover his own, gently tugging them from his coat, but not letting go of them or throwing them from him in disgust. Dean rears back, despite the gentleness, giving Cas the space to maneuver himself to the floor.

Cas, an angel, is at his knees at Dean’s feet with hands tightly clasped around his. His heart stutters pathetically at the image.

“Come here, Dean.” He says it and it feels so much grander than says. It’s soft, it’s kind, it’s otherworldly.

Seraphic , his mind supplies, and hell, could there be another word more fitting?

Dean doesn’t go so much as he collapses into Cas, folding in on himself. The way they’re sitting allows him to press his face into the crook of Cas’s neck, fingers slipping from the other man’s grip to smooth down his body and grasp just beneath the trench coat at the white shirt.

His hands clench and unclench in the fabric at the angel’s sides before finally wrapping his arms completely around him, hands pressing against his back. The change in position has Cas shuffling between Dean’s knees to press in closer. Their chests go flush together and they’re pressed so damn close Dean might as well join him inside his trench coat and stay there.

Cas’s arms finally, finally, enclose around Dean’s hips. He slumps completely, like a puppet with the strings cut off, and presses his full weight into the angel.

“It’s okay, Dean, I have you.” Cas’s broad hand is rubbing circles between his shoulder blades, slow and soothing.

It’s not until then he realizes he’s crying. Not little tears, but full on body trembling sobs.

He can’t find it in himself to be embarrassed, just pressing in closer to Cas and allowing himself this moment. All of the ache and hurt from his life set in all at once, especially the recent hurt. The regret for the things he did under the influence of the mark of Cain and the fear for what’s to come of the darkness adding fuel to the fire.

Cas doesn’t interrupt him, doesn’t speak or shift away, just keeps steadily rubbing circles into his back as he cries.

Only when Dean’s cries are reduced to stuttering hiccups does Cas pull back just a little.

He doesn’t go far, just far enough that he can cup Dean’s face in his hands again. He brushes his thumbs beneath his waterline, gathering up stray tears. Dean is sure he looks an absolute mess with red rimmed eyes and water clumped eyelashes.

“You’re so beautiful.” The angel mutters instead. Dean feels his cheeks heat up and sees how Cas’s smile stretches further as he catches sight of the red tinge.

“Shut up, asshole.” Dean replies with absolutely no bite and if he nuzzles into Cas’s hand no one is there to say a thing.

The hand he nuzzles into remains there, but the other hand trails down his body leaving fire in its wake, finally settling across his rib cage. Cas curls his fingers around his side, his thumb pressing right above Dean’s heart.

He feels short of breath, like he took a flying leap from a building and he’s waiting for the ground to rise up to meet him.

Cas’s eyes twinkle under the lights of the bunker and he thinks, no knows, that he won’t ever be hitting the ground if he has a say in it.

Maybe a bird would be a better comparison then, leaping from the building and instead of falling, he soars.

Dean tucks his face back into Cas’s shoulder, receiving a huff of a laugh in response, as his hand drifts from his cheek to the back of his neck. The other man plays with the hair at the nape of his neck and Dean’s heart flutters like a humming bird in his chest.

Dean is held, enclosed between Cas’s arms, and for the first time in a very long time, he actually feels free.