Actions

Work Header

what i mean when i talk about running

Work Text:

(i)  



He doesn’t quite know where to start with it, the tangled, unseemly mess that is his life: the ends of threads stick out from every angle he approaches it, and each string affects the other in some imprecise, unknowable way. While it is certain that he can name the one event that started it all — the nuns — it isn’t certain how he might crumple up and keel over, the quenchless melancholy lodged inside of him like a bone in his throat. Or perhaps it’s exactly the certainty that ails him — knowing that he would evaporate into the heavy air like a cloud of dust — if he were to address the guilt pulling at his feet.



When Dean talks about running, he isn’t sure what he means. Sometimes, he thinks running is about barking orders to Sam as they weave through old junkyards, a couple of banshees on their tail . Sometimes, he scoffs at joggers when driving past them on the road, his eyes dark and envious as he stares at their naked calves against the black street. Running is always related to desire. In the middle of a sprint, you look up and see the sky, how unusually clear it is, and the rage comes back. You ask yourself, why am I so angry? You answer, because I am filled with grief.. 



Dean finds that people who let themselves do it — run — tend to do other things, too, like eat, laugh, dance, cry, stop. They relax, take breaks, recover, have sex. He’s never had the heart to fully engage in those luxuries, not ever, and he sighs when he wakes up sometimes, not because he doesn’t dream, but because he wants for his dreams to end.



His dreams are strange, stubborn beasts. They invigorate him, diving deep into his chest to toy with his bloody heart, it too a strange and stubborn beast, it too prideful to die without having possessed the thing it wants most. 



Dean, a man of glances thrown only in the briefest shadows, looks at Cas sometimes with a ferociously wicked desire to tell him his ridiculous thoughts, the most ridiculous also being the most simple: “I want you.”



He would say he’s the type of person who lies to get through each day. No, he is agonizingly aware of his problems — Cas’s floppy hair under the honeyed sunlight, that soft smile — he simply chooses to live with the pain. For Dean, pain has been a scale by which he measures the vibrancy of his own life, to see whether he is alive or dead, and to underscore that he does not, in fact, know anything at all if he fails to assess the gentility of Castiel’s hands in this lifetime.



The greenish hue of the Iron Skillet’s neon sign blazes into their eyes. Their footsteps are loud, slapping on the asphalt, as they approach. It is a full-service rest stop right off the interstate five, a popular place among truckers. It’s nearing two A.M. 



 “Come on, man,” Dean eyes Cas accusingly, “you’re telling me that you don’t think it’s weird for you to be walkin’ around with a giant wet spot on your crotch? Around here, someone’s gonna kick your ass. Hell, someone’s gonna kick my ass.”



While Cas had never slept a day in his life, so it took him by surprise when Dean nodded off at the wheel just thirty minutes prior. It was Cas’s hand on his shoulder that prompted him to finally pull off to the side of the road. He hated to admit it, but he was tired — Dean was so, so tired, and he wasn’t sure if he could keep this up for much longer (this charade, this lifestyle). He’d look to his side and find Cas, always staring right back at him. The ghostly taunts from his childhood encircling him, Dean’s softened gaze would harden and shoot back to the long, dark road ahead, its asphalt illuminated by the bright headlights.



Glances were all it took for the ambivalence between them to take shape.



Savoring the sacred moments during which Dean Winchester stared back at him, Castiel wondered about the many aspects of human-ness. He often wondered what it might be like, to exist as a being that required sleep. 



After the fourth hour of driving on the interstate, he took note of Dean’s usually bright eyes subduing, the way his entire face tensed as if a flash of light were obscuring his vision. It had been three straight days of driving, drive-thrus, and brief stretch breaks — and sometimes a shot of whiskey or two. Cas always prefaced Dean’s drinking with gentle admonitions (“I thought it was illegal to drink and drive,” “What, are you a cop?”) as well as reminders that he could always sober Dean up if necessary (“I will never ask for that, Cas. Thanks, though.”)



Here, with Dean, the long stretch of the highway the only visible thing for miles, Cas felt oddly melancholic, as if he were mourning for humanity as a whole — or something like that. For how had humans been reduced to this — dirty convenience stores, poorly insulated houses, and unfulfilling wage work?  There used to be so much more free time and pleasure; fragrant autumn days of apple-picking in the golden twilight, singing and dancing, holding festivals to honor the moon, giant fires igniting under the black sky — catching the eyes of your lover across a room. How the deluge of adrenaline added to the push-and-pull of courtship; the anticipation of the first kiss, lips melting into the other, the simultaneity of fireworks and utter stillness. The romance of being in cahoots. 



And, always, the secret  knowledge shared between the two who wanted each other most — what  was that, Cas wondered.



Sometimes, he feared Dean could hear his thoughts. Once, in deep thought on the human mechanics of kissing, Dean had shoved a chalice into his hands which he nearly dropped. (“What’s the matter? You look flustered.” “I’m fine.”) 



It all confused Castiel greatly — humans, invention, Dean Winchester. As a young angel, Cas truthfully thought nothing of the humans. These days, he quivered at the sheer fondness he held for them, delighting in their intensity, their passions spilling over into violent storms. 



After these long, circuitous  thoughts on long nights like this, he’d look back at Dean, and the doubt would evaporate. Humanity’s creativity knew no bounds, it seemed, for all of god’s creations could not hold a flame to him, Dean Winchester. 



“Cas,” Dean said tiredly, “I’m pulling over.”



Recalling Dean’s blinks that lasted a second too long, Cas spoke. “I think that is a good idea. What are you planning on doing?”



Dean coughed a few times. “Need to rest a little. Gonna take a nap. That cool with you?”



Cas peered out of the Impala. “We are on the side of the road, Dean.” 



Dean shrugged, clicking his tongue. “Dunno what to tell you, man.”



It was a strange night in Bakersfield.



“Let me drive,” Cas demanded, his gravelly voice firm.



Dean’s gaze was unfocused and hazy. “You? Thought angels couldn’t drive. You barely know how to use the toilet.”



“That isn’t true,” he paused, “and I can do anything with proper instruction, Dean. Also, I have no need to use a toilet.”



Dean squeezed the bridge of his nose, thinking. Eyelids heavy, his vision blurred and suddenly there were two Castiels, two steering wheels, three speedometers…



“Dean?”



“Yeah, yeah,” Dean waved dismissively, blinking intensely. “Right one’s go, left one’s stop. Don’t go above seventy. And pull over at the Iron Skillet, should be in about an hour. Got it?”



Dean had fallen asleep by the time Cas walked around to the driver’s side. Before opening the door, Cas tilted his head, studying both his reflection in the window and Dean’s sleeping form. What was it he wanted, anyway? 



It took him a few tries to start the car, but after having seen Sam and Dean do it so many times, all he had to do was recall a few memories of their exact motions, and soon the Impala roared to life, heading northbound. Dean, resting against the passenger window, fidgeted a few times — even mumbled in his sleep. Cas ignored him politely.



“Cas,” Dean said suddenly. He looked like hell. “Can you do some woohoo-angel magic crap and help me sleep? I’m dying, man.”



“That’s odd. You usually never have trouble falling asleep immediately.”



After a moment, Dean said slowly, “there’s a lot on my mind. Anyway, can you help or not?”



Cas narrowed his eyes, rephrasing Dean’s words back to him. “You’d like me to induce norepinephrine—”



“Yeah, that, exactly.” He turned to face Cas, whose eyes were on the road.



“You’ll likely fall asleep right away, so I would suggest—”



“Cas.”



Sighing, Cas peeled his right hand from the steering wheel to touch Dean’s smooth forehead. In less than a second, Dean was out cold, and he fell head-first onto the angel’s  lap. Cas shuffled his legs, adjusting Dean’s head to rest on his thigh, and continued driving. He slowed to sixty and drove into the blackness — something otherwise thought of as lonely —  ignoring the sudden lightness in his chest. It was just Dean, he said to himself. Flannel-wearing Dean Winchester, eyes closed and mouth agape — sleeping.




(ii)



The two of them peer up at the glowing neon signs: EAT, SLEEP, SHOWER. 24-7.



Castiel’s expression does not change. “You were sleeping. Saliva trickled from your mouth and onto my pants. I don’t see the problem.”



Dean’s speechless for a moment, aghast how Cas could just say things . “Yeah, I was sleeping, all right — but on your lap?”



Dean, as usual, hides his embarrassment behind a fiery, self-righteous attitude at the expense of the person nearest to him.



 “You asked me to perform ‘woohoo-angel magic crap’ to help you sleep. So I did. Now you’re angry with me because I did that.” 



“No, Cas. I’m not angry. I’m just — concerned — that someone’s gonna have a problem with—”  he bites the inside of his cheek, looking for the right words, “ —you know what, forget it. Let’s go.”



Dean holds open the door for Cas, lazily ushering him into the restaurant. He notices a few guys — huge muscular men — eye them. After a moment of deliberation, he tightens his lips and follows Cas inside. Settling into the leather booth, Cas smiles weakly — if not awkwardly — at Dean. “I thought your kind was working on homophobia.”



Dean rolls his eyes. “Come on. It has nothing to do with that. Look around, Cas. Do you see where we are?”



But it has everything to do with that, Cas wants to say. He inspects the interior of the Iron Skillet. Confederate flags hang from every wall, the clashing red-and-blue vibrant, angry, and proud. Earth in a nutshell, Cas thinks. The other customers are nearly identical with their white skin, blue eyes, scruffy beards, and blank faces. Their plates, loaded with various fried foods and Norweigan vegetables, reveal where their tastes lay — in a world decidedly different from Castiel and Dean’s.



“I see,” Cas says as if in deep thought.  “I have seen no other men in boot-cut jeans.”



“What?” Dean balks. He really needs to sleep. “What do you mean, other men aren’t in boot-cut jeans?”



Cas tilts his head. “Dean, those are  the same type of jeans you wear. I am making a joke. Would you prefer me to explain it?”



Exhausted, Dean still manages a small smile. He shakes his head. “That’s not—” he glances under the table, checking his jeans, “ —well, whatever, man. Anyway, I just mean that you and I have to be careful in certain places. Alright? Because to some other people, it could look like we’re together. Like, together-together. And they just might try to hurt us for it.”



“Ordinary men are nothing to me. I could smite them in a moment.”



“True, but why invite that kind of chaos? Sometimes, I just want to stretch out, have a burger and a couple of beers. You know, relax? You could use a shot or two — or ten.”



But Cas doesn’t let Dean off that easily. “Why are you so concerned with how you and I are perceived suddenly? We have gone to countless places together. You didn’t care then.”



Dean leans forward, his voice barely above a whisper. “That’s because Sam was with us. No one cares if it’s a group of guys. It’s when it’s just two of us. They’ll think we’re, you know,” his eyes dart to the side, “a couple of dudes who prefer hard to soft, if you know what I mean.”



Cas is disappointed, of course, but unlike the other times this topic has come up — peripheral, at best, never this obvious — he is determined to let Dean know exactly how he feels about it. “Is it so strange,” he says, placing his hand on Dean’s with practiced lanquidness, “for people to think we are,” he stares straight at Dean, “together?”



Cas’s gaze is something to behold. Heaven collapses and he is the only thing left. Tens of thoughts swim into Dean’s head, but he is unable to find the words to respond, his mind still reeling at Cas’s point-blank statement.  His mouth goes dry. Could this mean…?



“What can I get you two boys?” 



Dean snatches his hand back, his heart leaping out of his chest. “Uh, how about some fries and two shots of whiskey? Well is fine.” He nods at their server, feigning ease. It’s like his soul jumped out of his body.



“I would like to please have the green salad.”



“Got it. Be right back.” The server disappears for a minute and returns with two large cups. She sets down a pitcher of water, lays down their silverware, and places a bottle of hot sauce between them. A bored-looking teenager comes up behind her and slides the shots to the center of the table, disappearing as suddenly as they arrived.



Dean clicks his tongue. “Thanks, kid.”



The server walks away, lazily calling back to them. “Holler if you need anything else.”



Dean’s smile is tight as he waits for them to walk out of earshot. “Green salad?”



“It is the least wasteful and least expensive option.”



“Toucheé.” Dean purses his lips, readying himself for a difficult conversation. 



Cas tries to start first. “Dean—”



“You know, Cas, after all this time,  you should know a few things about me. I like guns. I hunt demons. I have fought God — and I prefer whiskey to bourbon.” 



Dean holds up both shots, winks, and swallows one after the other, a burning dragon snaking down his throat. He exhales dramatically. 



“And why do I do all these things? Oh, right — because I’m me.” His voice turns dark and aggressive, laced with a lethality bordering on fear. But he has to let Cas know what he’s thinking because this charade can’t continue. “Because this is what my life has been, and this is what my life will always be. I don’t get the happy ending, the apple-pie life. I’ve tried, alright?”



Cas narrows his eyes, curious as to where his diatribe is going.



“So don’t give me that bull. Don’t think, for one second, that you’re the only one thinking about it too, alright?” 



If Cas could stop time, he would have stopped it right there — he’s never seen Dean’s verdant eyes like this, shimmering and liquid-sweet. That soul is not a blunt instrument, he thinks.



“I’ve thought about it. God, I’ve thought about it more than you could imagine. But that’s just not how it will work out for me. I’ve accepted it.” His eyes transform from soft to hard, brows furrowing. He juts his chin out at Cas — arrogant, proud, defeated. “You should too. Before you hurt yourself.”



Cas is quiet for a beat too long. Attention turned down to his hands, he clasps and unclasps them twice. His voice is light and hopeful when he speaks, though he fails to meet Dean’s eyes. “I am going to say what I said to you the first time we truly met. Good things do happen, Dean.”



Dean, stomach empty, starts feeling the alcohol. His sneer loses focus and morphs into a frown. He shakes his head, looking at his palms. “You know the first solo mission my dad had me do?”



Cas shook his head. “No. Would you like to tell me?”



Dean bites the sensitive inside of his cheek, scoffing at the memory. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll tell you. I was told to kill two nuns. They had been possessed by demons, went on a rampage killing Catholic teens who had broken their chastity.”



Cas listens intently.



“Sounds fine at first, right? Two nuns, evil, killing kids. Straightforward, easy. But it wasn’t — it wasn’t at all what you’d imagine. There I was, sixteen-years-old, pointing a shotgun in the mouth of a so-called evil nun, about to pull the trigger, when the other one came running into the room. Screaming. Crying. You know what she said? She told me it was a lie. It was made up. That John Winchester was insane and had sent his son to do his dirty work.”



“They weren’t possessed?”



“No. But according to my dad, they had violated the laws of nature. I thought this meant they had been possessed — but no, it didn’t. Turns out, they were just a couple of good old-fashioned lesbians.”



“But I don’t understand,” Cas’s eyes, the way they searched for answers, hurt Dean’s chest.



“It was because they were lesbians, Cas. That’s it.”



“That… That can’t be right. Your father sent you on that mission? Perhaps he had been wrongly tipped off—”



“No, he wasn’t, goddammit. He knew.” Exasperated, Dean runs a hand through his hair. “He knew about the nuns, he knew about —” he wants to say he knew about me, but the words fail to come out, “— he just knew. Don’t you get it? It was a warning.”



Cas steels himself, avoiding Dean’s gaze. He wants to keep talking; he wants to tell Dean that his father is gone now, that the horrible, dark truth of his father’s bigotry is wrong — so wrong — and that it is okay now. The world isn’t so much different as it is louder. There are people (and other beings) who want to love him with their entire soul. There are people (and other beings) who would do anything for him, Dean Winchester, because of love and love alone. He wants to ask Dean what he did to those nuns, but he can see in Dean’s eyes that that mission ended in blood, and that he returned from that trip a broken man. Cas has to move slowly, intentionally, with Dean — a human whose strength emerged as a response to the beatings, shame, and hatred it underwent. He wonders if he can ever convey to Dean the depth of his own feelings. 



He wonders if Dean understands that he, Castiel, guards him from behind a pair of heavy, burdensome wings.



Instead of asking this, Cas nods and looks down at the table.  “I think I’ll take you up on those shots you mentioned earlier.”




(iii)



Dean whistles lowly, his eyes reddened from the lack of sleep and profusion of 80-proof whiskey. “Sun’s comin’ up, man. Look.”



And while Dean’s eyes shift to the window, his attention drawn to the glowy sunrise, Cas steadies his gaze forward, focusing on the sheen of sweat coating Dean’s neck.



Cas knocks back his eighteenth shot. “I think I’m beginning to feel something.” 



Dean’s smile is cheery and bright. “That’s a relief. Thought I was gonna have to buy you the bar.”



The last time Cas had drunk this much was years ago, when all hope had been lost and Dean had cozied up to Crowley for that summer. It had been agonizing. Cas spent his free time off in remote parts of the world, scaling great mountains with the wind tearing through his hair; swimming to the deepest trenches in the darkest parts of the ocean — anything to distract him from the thought of Dean and Crowley, Dean with Crowley.



“You want another round?” Dean asks. Drunk as a fish, his eyes land on Cas’s with an intensity bordering on obsession. He runs his tongue across his upper lip. 



The Winchesters relished in their effect on people, how they could make someone’s heart leap with a toothy grin; but to Cas, it was nothing short of humiliating. It was too obvious the effects they (re: Dean) had on him. Dean could run a hand across his back and Cas would accidentally cause a power outage. This unknowable energy lent itself to the peculiar, itching excitement he felt around Dean. How could it be channeled — not into hunting or fighting or drinking — but in talking? In touch? In descending into Dean like a gentle wind?  In all of his years as a celestial being, he had never once considered such thoughts of the flesh.



Once, after a particularly harrowing case involving three Leviathans  and a crumbling warehouse, Dean found his way back to Cas and fell into his chest, wrapping his arms around his torso and murmuring, “finally found you. God, thank god.” A  series of tornadoes hit the town almost immediately. Cas recommended they leave the town right away to avoid any speculation, though he knew Sam had seen them from a distance — how they held onto each other, Dean’s hands in his hair — and found himself praying for Sam to keep his mouth shut. 



“So, Cas, any idea why four tornadoes suddenly hit the town?” Sam asked playfully, voice full of  mischief. 



Mortified, Cas met Sam’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “I have no idea. I can check angel radio if you would like.”



“Yeah — you do that.”



And now, sitting here with Dean, Dean whose gaze Cas feels like a bolt of lightning, is a nearly impossible task.



Cas’s stomach drops when he senses a thunderstorm forming in the sky above. Dean’s eyes on him, he says the only thing he can think of: “this is going to cost a lot of money.”



“Oh, please,” Dean drawls, “as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Smith is paying for these drinks.”



“Mr. Smith?”



“This guy,” Dean pulls a black credit card from his wallet, slapping it against the back of his hand. He smiles crookedly. 



“Mr. Smith is a good man,” Cas says, wishing that Dean could be this joyful forever.



“I highly doubt that,” Dean says, leaning forward, “but I gotta be honest. If you keep talking about Mr. Smith that way, I might have to leave.”



“I’ve said far worse and you’ve done far less, Dean.”



“Is that so?”



“Yes.”



Dean evaluates him for a moment, an eyebrow arching upward. “You might be right about that.”



Cas, his thoughts scrambled, remains silent. They stare at each other.



 “Do you wanna—?”



Dean nods. “I’ll take care of the bill. Meet me outside?”



Cas makes his way to the door, and Dean watches him walk out of the restaurant, taking note of the men whose gazes linger on Cas for just a moment too long. He grimaces.



“Repression’s a bitch,” he says to no one in particular.




(iv)



“What a wonderful feat of creation,” Cas proclaims as Dean opens the door to room thirty-four.



“This room?” His forehead creases.



“Yes. A place to stay for when you have traveled far from home.”



“Motels. Yeah. Crumbling walls, leaky showers, and dirty floors. Better not put a black light to the comforters!” As usual, Dean’s sarcastic gibes miss Cas’s grasp of the human world, so he just nods his head gingerly and follows Dean inside.



“Dean,” Cas says, suddenly serious.



Dean whips around.  “Yes?”



“You’re not expecting — Sam, are you?”



Dean freezes and looks around the room. “No. Why?”



Seeing his mistake, Cas panics. “Okay. I, uh, was wondering because I, um, would like to take a shower.”



Dean grins arrogantly, shrugging theatrically. “Shower away, Cas. Don’t let me stop you.”



Shoes still on, Cas makes a beeline for the bathroom and hastily pulls the shower curtain aside, staring at the faucet. He can really feel all those shots right now. He hadn’t used this kind of bathing implement in ages — did the “H” mean anything in relation to the “C”? His head starts pounding. 



“This is worse than the demon tablet,” he grumbles, fumbling with the spigot.



“Sure you know how to work that thing? I heard angels aren’t any good with simple tools.”



Cas tenses his jaw, unsure of how to respond. He certainly doesn’t want to make Dean feel awkward, but he does need help with the handle, and —



“Cas, move out of the way.”



He whips around to see Dean, who’s fighting back a smile. 



“Dean, I can figure this out.”



“No, you really can’t. Let me turn it on for you, at least. Here,” he sits on the edge of the tub and reaches over to start the water. “So, look, Cas. This way is for hot water, and the other way is for cold water. Adjust it however you prefer, and then when you’re done, pull this ring down. Got it?”



Cas rolls his eyes.



“Cas?” Dean turns back to face Cas after he fails to hear a response. “You good?”



“I’m fine, Dean.” He averts his eyes as Dean stands back up and makes his way to the entrance of the bathroom. “Oh, but Dean, could you hang this in the closet for me?”



He shoves his trenchcoat in Dean’s chest before he can object, and promptly closes the door, cutting off a “Really, Cas?”



Steam begins to splotch the mirror. A light film of moisture coats the sink, the toilet, the tile. The water is surprisingly loud as it sloshes around in the tub. Cas walks over and unplugs the drain. Angel or not, he knows a thing or two about the gravity of desire.



He steps into the shower. The patter of the water surprises him, reminding him of his time in the Sonoran desert — its warm, soft rain: the droplets, as if hands, drenched him with their touch. Closing his eyes, he loses himself in thoughts of Dean.



For as long as they’ve known each other, it’s often felt like the mutual silence — regarding that — has come for everyone but them. Lisa, Sam, Jo, Eileen, Bobby — hell, even Meg — have voiced the obvious tension between the two of them. It often felt like the long, private arguments between Sam and Dean, Sam and Cas, were on their behalf, the two who were most unable to express their thoughts for the other. The people on the outer periphery understood the dilemma — an angel and a human? — and Sam, more than anyone, understood Dean’s total aversion to acting on any romantic interest unrelated to a woman.



And now, so did Cas. He shivers in spite of the warm water, deeply melancholic. How could John have sent his own son to destroy those two nuns? No matter how he looked at the situation, what Dean said was true: it was a warning. 



No son of mine will sleep with another man. 



The first time Dean had bothered to understand his attraction to a man, it came with the huge price tag of that “man” being a real, blood-sucking vampire. But Dean couldn’t help it. For the first time in his life, he was safe to be his whole self — and the ultimate irony, of course, being that his soul hung in uncertain danger at all times. Purgatory, for the reason that it allowed Dean to finally — and without reservation — hold another man’s face and press his lips into theirs, released him from his human bonds. Removed from his terrible, lonely, drunken humanity, Dean was free to feel.



And Cas, because of his proximity to that same humanness, felt the white-hot jealousy singe everything but the tips of his wings when he discovered Dean and Benny in purgatory. It is a difficult memory. He wishes he could forget; he wants to remember it. It was the noticeable lightness of Dean that struck him: covered in mud, blood, and sweat, Dean’s smile dominated his eyes, his cheeks. It was how he moved with less caution, his chest sometimes grazing Cas’s (his chest constantly grazing Benny’s), the beautiful yet repugnant glow emanating from somewhere deep within his soul. Dean made no show of it — hardly touched Benny when Cas was around — but that’s what Cas hated the most. The total absence of touch became awkward, and by the end of their first week as a trio, he nearly ignited a few acres of trees out of pure spite. He hated that Dean felt the need to babysit his feelings, to repress something yet again; it hurt him to know that he had wandered into something sacred to Dean and unintentionally ruined it. 



And that damn vampire — Benny — his conniving smirks, his territorial closeness to Dean, his softened gaze meant only for Dean.



But that was a long, long time ago. 



Cas pulls the ring down, feeling adequately sober, and pulls the shower curtain aside. He has witnessed some of the most beautiful sights on Earth, but for whatever reason, this bathroom, steam like clouds, takes his breath away. He reaches for a towel and dries himself off, wondering vaguely if Dean has fallen asleep yet. He hopes so. 



“Finally,” Dean’s face is right in front of Cas’s as he opens the door, “thought you’d never finish. You all done in here?”



Surprised, Cas nods and tilts his head. “I thought you’d be asleep by now. Why are you awake?”



“What do you mean? I have to shower, too, Cas. Now, if you’ll excuse me,”



“Dean, wait. Is my coat in the closet?”



“Cas, we’re taking the day off. I need to sleep and rest up.”



“How does that relate to my coat?”



Dean rolls his eyes. “Nevermind. It doesn’t. Yeah, put it up in the closet.”

 

He closes the door.




(v)




John used to tell Dean that he was a country kid at heart, and that is true. Though he had been in-and-out of shelters for most of his life, Dean had lived most of his first sixteen years in or around Lawrence, Kansas, which was not much more than a domestic veneer roosting in a green spot alongside the Wakarusa River. The house with John and Mary — his parents — served only to trick their neighbors, covering up the horror of their daily lives with a fresh coat of paint every two years and a magnificent copper backsplash illuminating the kitchen in a soft amber hue. Mary hated the dinner parties as much as Dean did, though the two of them never dared speak of this for fear of igniting something horrible and wicked — a blackout rage — in their dear John who had the kindest brown eyes. 



Oh, father — do not forsake me.



On his sixteenth birthday, John plucked Dean up like a weed and took him plus his most valuable belongings (no, that’s not true — John did not bring Mary, the kitchen, the old chestnut tree, or the acoustic guitar, which all belonged to Dean) and they drove three hundred miles north and stopped in front of a pastel-colored house in Le Mars, Iowa.



“This where we’re staying tonight?” Dean asked, sticking his head out the window. “Doesn’t really seem your style.”



John’s grave look eliminated Dean’s cocky smile immediately. “No,” his father said. 



Dean paused. Realization setting in, he asked in a mute tone, “this where I’m staying tonight?” 



“This is 8744 West Fork Place. Dean,” John reached over to grab the passenger door handle, making a show of how Dean was merely an obstacle to him, “get out of the car.”



The passenger door swung open. A gust of wind chilled the bloated air of the Impala.



Dean did not move.



“Go on,” John ordered, this time more forcefully. “I’ve got a job for you. Now,” he tapped Dean’s shoulder, a threat of what would come if he failed to obey, “get out, son.”



The front door of the house opened and a lady with hair so black it shimmered navy blue stood there. Dean looked up and down the street. The houses were all jammed together like a row of birdhouses. He thought briefly of his nighttime walks with his mother, how they would peer over the fences of the three-acre lots, giggling as they spied on their neighbors. But in front of the houses here were tiny squares of grass, and in front of that were tiny rectangular mailboxes with red metal flags dotted along thin gray sidewalks.



“So what’s the job, Dad?” He asked at last. The woman at the front door walked to her car parked in the driveway. She eyed Dean and John briefly.



John motioned for Dean to walk to the trunk of the car. He popped it open and began rifling through the various tools. “Job is easy, son. But there’s a kicker. As part of your sixteenth birthday, this is gonna be your first solo mission. Think you can handle it?” 



John handed Dean a shotgun, a box of shells, and a wad of twenties. 



Dean took the supplies mutely, his eyes distant. His face, white as a sheet, showed no sign of the anxiety blooming inside of him. “Yeah, I can handle it,” he said at last. “You gonna wait here for me? I’ll just be a minute,” he hoisted the shotgun to his shoulder, ready to storm the house. The black-haired woman had just stepped back into her home.



“Easy there, Dean. This is an easy job, but it still requires some skill. But Dean, listen to me,” he grabbed his son’s shoulder, eyes glowering. “I’m leaving. You need to do this job alone. That includes figuring out how to get back home. When I’m gone and you’re a hunter, you’re gonna need to know how to do everything without me. Gotta start early. You understand son, don’t you?”



Dean understood nothing about his complicated father, but as a teenager who did not yet have the language to voice this, he instead faked an enthusiastic smile to avoid a fight. “Of course, Dad. I’ll see you home in a few days.”



John’s eyes lingered on Dean’s. Searching. After a few seconds, he patted Dean’s shoulder, as if embarrassed. “That’s my boy. I love you, son. Make me proud. Oh, and Dean —  here.” He gave Dean a slip of paper. It read, 8744 West Fork. Case details.



“See you, Dad.” Dean waved. His body hated him for what he made it do. 



“See you later,” John revved the engine. “And Dean — remember, it’s a simple job. Do it right and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.” 




(vi)



He wasted no time in reading up on the case, not bothering to wave goodbye to his father as he started the drive three hundred miles south to Lawrence, Kansas. A couple of nuns possessed by evil spirits; they had been killing teenagers who had broken their vows of chastity, most often reported sneaking out just before midnight. The kids were all found strangled to death in their bedrooms. Some of the kids’ had been slapped by rulers, as thin red welts about twelve inches long had been seen on their backs.



Wearing only a long-sleeve thermal and a red flannel in the crisp fall afternoon, Dean had walked to the nearest motel after hours of intuiting where the city of Le Mars had decided to build their only motel. Fortunately for him, the walk between the pastel-colored house on West Fork Place was short, though the night had fallen quickly and chilled him to his bones. He ran a bath and made himself a ham and cheese sandwich while the tub filled. Undressing, he looked at his own back in the mirror, briefly fantasizing what it might feel like for someone to flagellate him to death. 

 

He shook his head. It would be unpleasant. He finished his sandwich and headed to the bathroom to check the tub.



The warmth of it overwhelmed him, the water. He greedily sank into the tub and submerged his head a few times, an intoxicating yet uneasy sensation of newness diffusing throughout his body. A bottle of three-in-one soap sat on the lip of the tub, so he grabbed it and dumped it into the water, marveling at how the oil refused to mix. Its citrusy scent wafted up into his nose, making him think of dinnertime, his mom, hot sunsets.

 


After Dean dried himself with the scratchy white towel, he glanced at the mirror and nearly fell over. Two piriform shapes had been pressed into the glass — symmetrical, perfect — almost wing-like. Had he done that? He walked closer and touched the glass with his right hand. It left a similar mark. 



He shrugged it off and slipped into the bathrobe hanging in the closet before climbing into bed. He wanted to get a good night of rest before the mission tomorrow. The shotgun had been cleaned, the shells were ready, and the research completed. Two nuns possessed by demons. 8744 West Fork Place. And then, getting back to Lawrence. It might be difficult, but he figured a few buses — or in the worst case, walking — would do the trick. He rolled over and turned off the lamp, suddenly very tired. 



On the verge of sleep, the image of those wings on the mirror rushed back into him.



Alarmed, Dean shot out of bed, grabbing for the gun. He swung around the room a few times, rounding the corners with practiced grace. 



But there was nothing.




(vii)



Hot. He was very fucking hot.

 

Hot like a blazing fire was at his front, and an iron pressed against his back; hot like he had been dunked into a pool of magma and the burns overtook his body. Dean was sure he was being killed. His first thought was to scream. So he did. Nothing came out. He tried to flex his fingers first and then his toes — anything, really — but his body refused to move. Nerves set in as he realized, this could be it, and froze.



A horrible off-key screech resonated in the room so loudly he thought his eardrums had been busted open. To the left, a beam of white light shot toward him when he saw himself from above, and suddenly it all stopped. 



Dean shot up in bed. He reached for the bedside table and knocked over the lamp. It had the surprising effect of bringing him back to reality. “Shit.”



He palmed for his watch on the bed — it had to be here — and when he found it, saw the time was just past seven, said “fuck it,” and got up for the day. The day after his birthday was as good as any for killing a few rogue nuns. He shuffled around the room for a bit, brushed his teeth and thought about his odd dream. It had felt so real. He ran his hands through his hair — longer than usual, a point of mockery which John made sure to engage — a few extra times, as if checking that he was, indeed, real. He patted his cheeks. Touched his chest, stomach, ass. Yep — all real.



Wanting to get this over with, he grabbed a single wrapped muffin from the counter and opened the door to the street. He blinked a few times, exhaled, and his hair fluttered to the side just enough to expose the rest of the landscape. Asphalt and concrete, bleached by the sun, and busy intersections packed with small cars. Distorting waves of heat rose up from the ground throwing the rest of the world up in a watery haze. The splotchy windows of the bakery across the street. The flock of pigeons roosting lazily atop the gas station. The cracked earth.



This is it, he thought.



He was like that, commanding the earth and his actions in the same breath. He had a job to do, and it would be done well. 8744 West Fork Place. 8744 West Fork Place. South on Parker then west for three blocks on Piedmont. Sharp left on West Fork Place. Three houses down. 



He repeated this mantra the whole time he walked, not knowing if he was nervous because it was his first mission alone, or if it was because of the terrible things those monsters were capable of. His shotgun was hidden in a messenger bag John had left for him, but his hunting knife lay in plain view. Onlookers paid him no mind, but he knew well that it only took one lingering gaze from one person to blow his cover. Why was it like that — that he needed luck on his side for every risk he took, while the monsters only needed luck once?



Clouds shaped like anvils bloomed into the sky. Stark white contrasted with serious gray, and blue — the blue cushioned everything that dared to float. John never liked to talk about the natural world with Dean. He’d always tell Dean to focus on the hunt, the monsters, keeping Sam safe; that there was no time to give a damn about the sky or the trees or the flock of wild black birds above. Dean’s chest tightened.



And then he was in front of 8744 West Fork Place looking into the eyes of the woman with hair so black it shone navy blue. She had equally dark eyes, and they sunk into Dean. Her lips quivered as if she were about to speak. For a moment, he completely forgot about the case, lost in her soft black liquescence.



Then she pulled him by the shirt collar and threw him onto the floor of her foyer with all the strength she had. She slammed the front door shut, deadbolting it, and jumped onto Dean’s chest, pinning his hands down.



“Who are you?” She roared, her eyes fierce and murderous. “I saw you yesterday. Why are you here again?”



Dean struggled to free himself, but she was strong. Stronger than any woman he had met. “You know who I am!” he yelled back. He anticipated her eyes turning that terrible shade of black.



“Answer me or shut up!” She lodged her knee into his solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him. He gasped sharply, unable to breathe. The world spun in a hundred directions. His mouth went slack, and he truly thought she was going to kill him.



“Rosa, what are you doing down there?”



“It’s that kid! The one I told you about!” Rosa hissed, narrowing her eyes as the other woman bounded down the staircase, her face horror-stricken.



“Oh my god, that’s now what you’re supposed to do!” 



“Get away, demon!” He managed to shout. His breath would not catch up to him. He wanted to roll over and die. This was not going how he intended it to.



“Demon?” said the other woman. “I am no demon, and neither is she!” 



Rosa, her knee still perched atop Dean’s abdomen, looked down at Dean with quizzical eyes. “Did you just call us demons?” She couldn’t have known better when she lifted her leg from Dean’s body. As soon as the pressure yielded, he jumped to his feet within a second and pulled the shotgun from the bag, knocking her unconscious with the butt of the rifle.



He ignored the other woman’s blood-curdling scream.



 “Listen. I know you know who I am. You know why I’m here. So,” he stepped over Rosa’s body, aiming the gun at the other woman, “we can do this the easy way, and you follow me to your living room, or we can do this the hard way, and I kill you right now. Your choice.”



She pointed to the unconscious woman. “That’s Rosa. And I’m Marie,” she stood up and held her hands up to Dean as a sign of her total submission. Her wild red hair seemed to float when she walked, the delicate strands suspended in the air. It caught the angles of the dappled sunlight when she lay on her stomach in the living room, her hands still in the air, as Dean circled the two of them, his prey.



“Please,” she began, “whatever this is about, I’m sure we can come to an agreement.”



He eyed Rosa’s limp body on the floor of the living room, checking her for any suspicious tattoos or hexes. When pulling back the sleeve of her shirt, he caught a glimpse of a brightly-colored triangle, and immediately pulled back. He had never seen a demonic tattoo of that kind before. Pausing, he looked at Marie.



“Hey,” he snarled, “what kind of mark is this?” He lifted Rosa’s limp arm, showing her what he meant.



“That — that’s just a tattoo,” she said meekly. Her tears made a dark spot on the carpet.



“Yeah, I know it’s a tattoo, but what kind? Some kind of Catholic curse? A blood spell? Tell me what it is!” His voice hitched.



Marie panicked. “It’s — what do you mean?” Her eyes bulged. Something wasn’t right. “It’s a pride tattoo!”



“Pride? For what?”



For a moment, she was afraid to tell him. There was something — off — about him, his hollow eyes, a certain distant rage in his voice. It reminded her of the way her father spoke. 



“Answer me now, or so help me—”



“We’re lesbians, see?” 



She held up her own wrist and pulled the sleeve back. Dean stared back at her, mouth agape; he noticed how she shook, could see the ice-cold fear spreading across her cheeks. 



“Get it?” Marie yelled, pointing between her and Rosa. “We are lesbians, and while you may never understand, we do!” It was time to stop running, she thought. Her whole life, it had been about getting — away — from people like this; first, from her father, then her sister, and then her own so-called found family of San Francisco.  “We have matching tattoos to remind each other to — to be brave, no matter what!” She glared at Dean, tears streaming from her eyes. “ That’s all!”



Dean paled. 



He made a mistake.



“Are you — are you two… Nuns, by chance?” He began to slowly back away from Rosa and Marie. Scanning the room, looking for any signs of realness, he needed to know if he was losing his mind or if it was just one giant illusion—



Marie’s face went slack. She couldn’t make sense of him. “We’re nuns. We both work at the monastery.” 



“You’re lesbian nuns?”



“Yes,” she uttered, voice cracking. “We are servants to god. We have not broken any sacred promise. God, he — he loves all of his children. Gay or straight.”



“What about the demonic possessions? The strangled kids?” 



She shook her head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Observing Dean carefully, she began to get up from the floor. He raised the gun.



“You stay your ass right there.” 



“Listen, son, whatever you’re going through, we can work it out. Believe me, I’ve been there before. It’ll be okay. Trust me. Tell me,” she stood, smiling through her terror. She looked straight into the gun chamber — blackness — and held her hand out to him. “What ails you, darling?”



“Nothing,” he responded. “Get back down or I swear to god—”



“I will not. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on in that head of yours?”



“You monsters are all the same. Bite me.”



“Monster? Is it so monstrous to be exactly what I am?”



Dean glared at her. “Of course it is. You’re both a couple of demons who need to be killed. You’ve already killed too many kids around here. Strangled to death, beaten with sticks. Sound familiar?” He said. “Because it’s you two. We know it’s you two. And I’m here to make sure you both stop for good.”



Marie’s eyes lit up. “You said ‘we.’ Who is this ‘we’?”



“Oh, for crying out loud. Winchester ring a bell?” He sent her a nasty look. “As in John and Mary? As in demon and monster slayers?”



“John and Mary Winchester,” she said to herself, coiffing her hair. Her heart skipped a beat. “I know them from long ago. So,” she pointed her chin defiantly at Dean, “you want to murder us for our ‘demonic’ sins, is that it? Because we are no demons. John tried to kill us long ago, but he failed.”



“My father failed?” He said, incredulous. “And how did that happen? You call in your army of demons to scare him off?”



She shook her head sadly. “Mary stopped him.”



“Mary?” He lowered the gun. Confusion and anger pricked into his sides, threatening to turn his insides out. But he had a mission. He ventured a few steps toward her. “Now, what in god’s name does my mom have to do with this?”



Marie shrugged. “John always wanted us dead. Said we violated the laws of nature. But not because we’re demons or demonically possessed, son,” she gestured for him to let her finish, “but because we are of the covenant. And because we have violated that covenant.”



“And how are you violating that covenant?” Thoughts of Mary raced in Dean’s mind. Why had his mother suddenly come up?



“Because, Dean,” she directed his gaze to Rosa, still unconscious on the floor, “it’s exactly as I said. It’s because we are lesbians.”



It slammed into Dean so quickly he doubled back. And maybe you’ll learn a thing or two. He turned and needed to touch something right now, dropped his gun and crashed into the nearest piece of furniture. He brought his face to the table, needing to feel something solid against his face. 



How…?



John sat on the foot of Dean’s bed, shushing him. “Now, Dean, I’m your father and I support you, but you need to know something. No son of mine is going to know men how he ought to know women. Your little friend — Matthew, was it? — can’t come over anymore.”



But how, Dean cried aloud, not realizing the profusion of tears streaming down his face. Marie’s hand was on his back as he sobbed into the table. He tried to hide his face, humiliated, but she touched his shoulder so softly that he knew if she did it again, he would fall apart completely. He would break. 



“John Winchester sends his son to do his dirty work. I hope you find peace from him one day.” Marie returned to Rosa’s side, who was gradually regaining her consciousness. 



To this day, he doesn’t know where it came from, but a horrible, wrathful beast reared inside of him and without thinking grabbed his forgotten gun and fired.



He had never shot someone in such close quarters; the walls splattered with so much more than blood. Pinkish-orange brain matter and the splinters of bone mapped themselves onto the rug, the ivory curtains, his tongue. Where Marie’s face existed just moments ago there was now nothing but a gaping hole of nothing, the exploded back of her skull frayed. Her brilliant hair fell like gossamer in the wind, alternating in licks of yellow and red, faintly falling until, gentle, they touched the floor. 



He quickly cocked the gun and pointed downward, the recoil punching him in the face like the hand of an angry god. Rosa’s body exploded laterally, covering him in pearly-white skin cells and bits of shit. Her hair so black it shone like navy was all that remained.




(viii)



He knows. He knows about me. God, he knows — he knows, he knows. Dean had never dug two graves at once before. The cleanup was a brutal thing, first dragging the limp bodies from the house to the backyard where, luckily, there was a prolific garden. Mom knew, too. She knew, too, and left me. I’m alone, alone, so alone — god, this hell will never fucking end because Mom is gone and I’m alone and there’s Sammy and, god, he knows about me. He hates me. And I deserve it. Shoveling the dirt over their corpses brought him no joy, no sense of accomplishment — no, there was no righteous man inside of that man anymore. There was no man within Dean Winchester. There was no man. There was nothing. He knows. He knows — oh, god, he knows.




(ix)



Have you ever run sixty-six miles in a day? The vast majority of people will have never done this, and the few that could would never do something so foolhardy. But the day after his sixteenth birthday, Dean did. It was draining, physically, as you’d imagine, but the mental toll was worse — not because it was an excruciating exercise in boredom, but because he thought of precisely nothing and everything for the duration of it. From dawn to nighttime, he ran.



After he buried them completely, burned his clothes (evidence), scraped the sticky brain gunk and various humours from the walls, located a few pearly molars that presumably belonged to Rosa, bleached the floors, and dressed himself in the manliest clothes that either Marie or Rosa stored in their closets upstairs, Dean left town by foot.



He ran.



He ran down the highway, muscles raging and bulging beneath his thin layer of skin, ran until he puked and soiled himself, the piss and shit in rivulets down his legs — ran until he was sure that, when he stopped, so would the guilt, sorrow, and shame.



After that sixty-six mile run, he swore he’d never do that again. He could barely walk after that harrowing day. By some miracle, he found refuge at a church — a rather liberal one, he sees in retrospect — and they clothed him, fed him, showered him, and washed his feet with soda water. 



“Child,” said a woman whose robes floated behind her as if wings, “you have labored a heavy and arduous burden. You are meek and lowly in heart. Please,” she gently took Dean’s left foot into her hands, “let me give you rest.” 



Dean winced as soon as his foot broke the surface of the bubbling water. He tried to take it back from her.



“Lady, I — I don’t deserve this.”



“Okay.” She continued washing his feet, massaging the muscles in between his toes, and pouring oil over his calves. “The Lord and his Angels care not for what humans think they deserve.”



The rest of his journey he took by bus. He passed through random, small towns he would have otherwise never visited. Maintaining the hunter radii was paramount to the operation. Every second of that journey back to — Lawrence, he caught himself thinking of it as home again — left an indelible mark on his soul. Memory fogged up and got rid of the most grisly parts of what he did. He closed his eyes and leaned against the window of the Greyhound bus. Little by little, the surrounding green gave way to a jaundiced yellow. 



How long would it take for him to be forgiven?



On a Thursday, seven days after his sixteenth birthday, on the interstate-75 going southbound from Bancroft, Nebraska, Dean Winchester bowed his head in prayer as if in church.



He wasn’t sure how long that lasted. It wasn’t too much to ask, he thought, folding and refolding his hands together, afraid of offending god. His punishability threatened his very soul. The light that had once jumped through the branches faded, and the navy blue of darkness curtained him and all the living surrounding. A high pitched whistle roared in his ears, a sound he imagined as the prelude to his death.



He stopped praying and opened his eyes. But there was nothing.




(x)



The front door swung open.



“Dean!” Sam, elated and twelve-years-old, jumped into his brother’s arms.



“Hey, Sammy,” he smiled and ruffled his hair. “Nice to see you. Didja miss me?”



Sam pulled back from the hug, a solitary tear rolling down his cheek.



Dean clicked his tongue and wiped the tear away with his thumb. “Aw, Sam. Don’t cry. I’m here, I’m okay. See?” He cocked his head to the side, giving Sam a goofy grin.



“I thought you died and were never coming back!” Sam leaned forward and began to sob into Dean’s shoulder, unable to pretend. His cries were guttural and cavernous, sending chills down Dean’s spine. Hiding his concern, he instead rubbed Sam’s back, shushing him, repeating the same thing over and over: “It’s okay, it’s okay. Don’t worry. I’m here. Not going anywhere for a long time, I promise. Shh. It’s okay.”



From behind the door to the kitchen, their father listened with rapt attention, waiting for the moment Dean would start to join Sam’s cries — it confirmation of the job being done. 



“It’s okay, Sam. Really. It’s,” he stumbled, hugging Sam closer,  “it’s okay, don’t worry, I’m—”




(xi)



The first thing Dean saw after making it out of Hell was Castiel. Except, of course, he did not know it was Castiel. His whole life, he had seen that angel in the curves of the universe without knowing exactly what it was he had been seeing — in the sing-song quality of his Mom’s voice, in storm clouds, in gilded sunsets over the Pacific , in the throbs of his heart. It was just like Cas, too, to reside in the forking of the main road. He had made a plethora of human friends since his return to earth. The other angels, puzzled by his fascination with humans, took little notice of him, something Dean found astounding. It was always Cas’s resolve, the way he would rebel against god for the sake of his own opinion, that gave him pause. 



They all spoke of him well, Cas, touting his reliability, his wholeness, his power. For the brief stint that John Winchester did return, even he found the angel magnificent. It made Dean proud, to possess something with him so valuable a friendship. It took longer, he would admit, to analyze and tear apart, piece by piece, his fondness for Castiel. It was weekends in the forest and weekends with Bobby, a year in Purgatory and another as a demon for Dean to look at himself and see, for the first time, sixteen-year-old Dean Winchester staring back at him — whispering a prayer so sacred it silenced his soul: “Please, God and Jesus and all the angels, protect me from my sins.”



And Castiel appeared. For the worst sin of all was the hatred he reserved for himself.




(xii)



He’s doing that thing again where he stands at the side of the bed and observes Dean until he wakes up. It has never stopped being creepy.



“Cas, what the hell—”



“You were having a nightmare. I wasn’t sure if you needed me to wake you because you’ve told me to never do that unless something happens to Sam, so I opted to stand here and monitor you.”



Dean leans up from his sleeping position. The sheet slides down his body ever so slightly, exposing the upper portion of his bare chest. “And? How am I doing?”



“You are unwell.”



“I am unwell?” Dean crinkles his eyes. How is it that Cas operates like this?



“Indeed. Your heart rate is through the roof, and,” he leans down without warning and scanning Dean’s eyes, “there is too much cortisol in your blood. Here. Let me help you.” He presses his hands to Dean’s forehead and chest. A faint orange light emits from Cas’s hands.



Dean dry heaves over Cas’s feet.



“I must’ve done that too fast,” Cas notes. He stares at the Dean, now holding his stomach, for a moment longer, and retrieves a glass of water for him. “Here,” he offers, an apologetic smile on his face. “Sorry about that. Drink. You’ll feel better.”



“Thanks,” Dean gratefully takes the cup. A strange morning indeed, he thinks. There’s nothing but the sound of Dean sipping. Cas stands still.



Dean gives the glass back to Cas, muttering a thank you , and sits up. He looks around, expecting to see Sam — but he is not there. Guess he couldn’t make it, after all.



“You’re welcome, Dean.”



It’s just the two of them. He casts his eyes to Cas, a joke about angels and politeness in there somewhere. Cas feels the look like a lash across his chest, his skin erupting into goosebumps. The air is thick with tension. He is suddenly hot — hot like Phoenix in July — so very hot, as if walking on the surface of the sun. 



There is still water dribbling down Dean’s cheeks. His chin. He looks up at Cas. “What?”



“So what was the dream about?” 



“Oh, Cas. Nothing, nothing. I’m fine,” he gets out of bed and throws the sheets on the floor. Wearing only boxers, Dean is too sleepy to think about what effects he might have on Cas right now. Walking to the sink, still blinking the morning drowsiness away, Dean whips his head up and catches Cas staring at him in the mirror. But something is — different. His eyes are focused, sharp, and they narrow when Dean finds them. 



“Cas, what’s — up?” He slowly turns around to stare at him face-to-face. Cas, realizing far too late that Dean had caught him staring, shakes his head. 



“Nothing. I’m — I’m going to wait outside.” He darts to the door and slams it shut. Dean hears an audible sigh from outside. 



Squeezing toothpaste onto his finger, he feels a little bad. Not my problem. 



It is a few months after the dramatic talk at the Iron Skillet before either of them start acting normal again. 



Sam, ever-the-intuitive, noticed something right away after they had returned from that trip that something was off about them. At first, he chalked it up to a case gone wrong, but the more time that went on, the stranger their interactions became. Cas, the well-regulated if not boring angel, began to show more interest in Dean’s personal life, asking who was who, what really happened with Lisa (like he didn’t know?), why he tried to fuck Jo — that sort. But what was more shocking were Dean’s responses to Cas.



Dean had been outrightly lying to Cas. He made no attempt to hide it, either; and the worst part was he knew that Cas knew; he knew Cas could hear his heart rate increase rapidly, sense the sweat of his palms as he lied through his teeth. (“No, I hardly ever sleep with anyone these days. Can’t you tell?”)



Cas slowly discovered that Dean’s brief disappearances during the hunts were not, in fact, to grab food or beer or fix the car — exclusively. He’d conjure some excuse to escape the motel — to escape from Sam and Cas — and hit the town, looking for someone to fuck. His excursions would never last for more than an hour, and they helped him feel more at-ease with who (or what) he wasn’t: intimate without the intimacy, the Dean Winchester specialty. He’d take turns, too, with how he got laid, deciding if he would fuck or be fucked; some of them liked to tie his ankles together, the sight of Dean in bondage enough to make them come, while others preferred for him to dominate them in bed. 



It is after a particularly hostile dinner — Cas and Dean burning holes into each other’s eyes — that Sam yanks Dean from the booth, insisting that “they need to talk.”



“What the hell is the matter with you two?” Sam says, his voice raised. They’re a few feet apart from one another, standing in the parking lot of a Denny’s. 



Dean raises his arms defensively. “What, Sam?”



Sam glowers at him. The smell of a fresh rain permeates the air. Inside of the Denny’s, where Cas sits alone, a line wraps around the lobby.



“You guys have been at each other’s throats for months, now. Months! And do you really need to say such stupid shit to him?”



Dean rolls his eyes.



“Oh, really? So you think it’s a good idea to start talking about Benny right now? You can tell he’s getting pissed off. And since when are you so open with your bedroom fantasies? You think I wanna know that stuff? God, Dean, I’d even say you’re just making Cas—” but Sam stops short. He needs to find his cool again. Turning away from Dean, he takes a few deep breaths, searching for the last bit of patience inside of him. 



“I’m just making Cas what, Sam?”



“Nothing,” he cuts Dean off, “Listen. You either tell me what the hell is going on, or I’m going to make Cas tell me.” He crosses his arms.



Dean considers lying to Sam — he’s done it plenty of times before, so what’s one more? — but his chest constricts with the memory of Marie and Rosa. Their bodies a bloody pulp in his hands. “Sam, it’s nothing,”



“Bullshit.”



A beat of silence passes between them.



“Sam, it’s just —” Dean's voice breaks. He’s unsure of how to continue. “I — Sam, I told Cas about the nuns.”



Sam’s face contorts. “The nuns?” he repeats to himself. He tunnels to his earliest memories and — oh. The nuns. He wipes his mouth, trying to piece this story together. “Dean, why did you — how did you—?”



“We were drunk. I was tired. He and I, uh, were drinking, and I told him about the homophobes of rural America, and he asked if—” Dean’s voice trails off. He hates himself for it, but as he recalls when Cas held his hand at the Iron Skillet, he finds the memory strangely delightful. Or embarrassing. His cheeks redden. Asked if the idea of us together was — strange.



But Sam is pissed. “Um — what? You guys get in a fight, have sex, something?”



Dean aggressively points a finger at Sam’s chest. “Hey, you shut your mouth.” 



Sam feigns defeat, throwing his hands up. “Sorry.”



Dean takes a few steps away from Sam, groaning. “We — uh, no, didn’t get in a fight or — whatever. He and I were talking about being seen as a couple, and then he asked me if I would want to be with him, so I told him about the nuns. How I’m not allowed to be—”



“So you turned him down?” 



“... What?”



“Dean,” Sam rushes over to Dean and pulls the collar of his shirt, “Cas asked you if you wanted to be with him, right, and you just said no?”



Dean has no idea how to respond. “Um, not technically?”



Sam shakes his head, a wry smile on his face. He loosens his grip on his brother’s shirt. “You’re a freaking idiot. Son of a bitch, you freaking idiot.” Drawing a few stares, Sam lets go of Dean’s shirt and backs away, theatrically putting his hands in the air. “Nothing’s going on, it’s okay,” he says to a few passersby. They glance away from him and scurry across the parking lot. 



“Listen, Sam—”



“Go in there and talk to him. Now.” Sam points to where Cas is still sitting, cutting what looks like a pancake in half.



Dean widens his gaze. “Oh yeah? About what?” he says sarcastically.



“About your thoughts and feelings, genius. Seriously, go talk to — you know what, no. Give me the keys,” he holds his hand out. Dean eyes him suspiciously. “Give me the keys, Dean. You two need to figure things out. And you know what” — Dean reluctantly  hands him the keys — “I’ll do you one better. I’m going to a different motel tonight. Save your sob story for the motel if you need, but talk to him, or I swear to god, I’m giving up hunting. Thanks.” He makes one final face at Dean before turning on his heel and bolting to the Impala.



“Yeah, well, wouldn’t be the first time!” Dean shouts weakly. He chuckles when Sam gives him the finger. After he watches the Impala drive off, he turns back to face the Denny’s, where Castiel awaits. 



“Fuck.”




(xiii)



“Uh, hey Cas,” Dean nods his head. “Mind if I sit down with you? Sam isn’t coming back.”



“I heard.”



Cas stares out the window. 



“You — you heard all that, didn’t you?” Dean smiles sheepishly, motioning to where he and Sam stood just minutes ago. Cas nods almost imperceptibly. Dean smacks his lips, feeling awkward. “Yeah, angel hearing. Got it.”

 

Several punishing seconds pass when finally Cas looks up and holds Dean’s gaze. Where once a night like this — black as spilled ink, pleasant with the quiet hum of passing cars — would have made Cas feel safe, at-home, and calm, he now feels too exposed, too vulnerable. Frightened.



“It is your booth, after all. Of course you can sit down. But if you’d like to ‘talk’ to me, as Sam said, I think we should speak in a less public area.”



“Fine, yeah. But the Impala’s gone. So we have to walk back to the motel. Are you okay walking with me?”



“Of course.”



They leave cash on the table and exit the restaurant. On the road, everything seems easier. A high silvery moon hanging above them and ponderosa pines as far as the eye can see, and Dean wishes that everything could be solved with a simple apology. Castiel wishes he could destroy the burdens yoked to Dean’s soul.



Another thing about the dark is its stillness. Nothing but the wind or the occasional car dares to make a sound. The elongating silence frightens Dean, too, every tick of nothingness confirming his suspicions. He’s about to speak, unable to stomach the agonizing tension, when Cas breaks the moment first.



“What is wrong, Dean?”



“Cas, nothing you can solve.”



Cas shakes his head. “Do you remember that case in Bakersfield? The morning after, you had a nightmare. You cried out for me. It — it was such loud agony. I only wish I could have done something. I asked you then, what was wrong, and you said nothing. But it’s not nothing, Dean. I’m here for you, but you have never wanted me. So what is it, Dean? What ails you?”



Dean stops walking. “Cas, that — that’s not true!”



For the first time, Cas allows himself to see Dean — not the Dean he imagines or wants, but this one. The one in front of him. “What isn’t true?” 



“Um — just that— well actually,”



Cas waves him off, resuming their walk. “A while back, I asked you something, and I want to ask you again, if that’s okay.”



Dean sucks his cheeks in. Shit. 



“Do you find the thought of you and I,” he glances at Dean for emphasis, “together, repulsive? I would like to know, Dean.”



“Cas,” he manages, body tense, “we talked about this before.” 



He wants to melt into Castiel more than anything he’s wanted before. But he’s afraid. He’s afraid of closing his eyes one day and waking up with a shotgun pressed to his head, his father’s acidic words tearing through him as the last thing he hears as he is blown to pieces.



“With the exception of your prayers, Dean, I have no way of knowing what you want unless you tell me directly.”



Dean can’t let his guard down. Cas’s sincerity sends him into overdrive; it’s a burning sensation, an igniting of something he stowed away a long, long time ago.



“Yeah, yeah, I know. You hear my prayers, but I can only hear your words. Romantic, Cas, I know.” He tries to revert to his usual sarcasm, but even he knows it’s failing as the empty words tumble out of his mouth.



“That’s right, Dean. But would you please answer my question?” Cas presses the question, unwilling to back off. Dean would have to bludgeon him senseless if he wanted it to stop. 



The only sign of Dean’s desire, fanning out like an alluvial tide, is a red blush dusting over his cheeks, his body betraying him completely.



“Fine. You know what?” Dean frowns. He turns to face Cas. His eyes are narrow, cold, and cruel. He’s forcing me to do this. “No, Cas, I don’t think it’s so strange. You and me. In fact, I think it’s the exact opposite of strange. I think it’s the most goddamn normal thing about my life, okay? So you’re a fucking angel, who cares?” 



He is so close to Cas that he can feel his breath. He’ll have to scare Cas away by being his worst self — his horrible, aggressive, callous, and unfeeling self  — but is met with calculating, knowing eyes. It knocks him off center, if only momentarily. 



 “I — I  think the way I feel about you makes perfect sense. But I’m not good, Cas, I’m not allowed to be happy. Don’t you get that? I kill people for a living. And if given the choice to be who I am or a normal person, I’d choose to be who I am. Because it’s what I deserve. Remember those nuns I told you about? Every day of my life, I fear that they’re gonna come back for me and get revenge. And you know what? The worst part is that I think I deserve it.”



Anticipating this type of response, Cas’s eyes settle calmly on Dean. Their footsteps on the cold forest ground are all they hear. Thinking about what he said to Cas, Dean second-guesses his own thoughts. His hands become clammy, his breathing weak, desperate for the chaos of his inner monologue to settle down. He can’t breathe — Jesus Christ, he can’t breathe — he clutches his chest, trying to settle himself down, when suddenly hordes of lime-green orbs wink to life and surround the two of them. It’s only after one lands on Dean that he realizes what they are.



“Cas, are these fireflies?” Dean lets go of his chest, staring in awe. “Cas, look — one landed on my hand!”



Cas smirks — cute. 



A lamp post emerges from the thick canopies, and they’re spit out onto the street leading to their motel. 



“This way,” Dean motions. He’s still thinking about the fireflies, how beautiful and delicate their bodies are. 



They cross the street together, Dean scanning the parking lot for signs of the Impala. It is gone. 



“So,” Cas says after fiddling with the door, “you don’t think it is strange?”



Dean shoves the door open, cursing the cheapness of the motel room. He inspects the door frame for a moment. “What?”



“You don’t think it’s strange?” Cas repeats.



 The simplicity of the question takes the fight out of Dean. Castiel had a way of doing that — boiling complex issues down to its core piece. “You and me?”



“Correct.”



Defeated, Dean sighs. He goes to the chair, bending over to untie his boots. Angels — they really beat everything out of you.



He says it so quietly that Cas barely hears him. “Of course I don’t.”



Cas strides across the room to where Dean sits. “Good. Because,” his voice is full of resolve as Dean peers up at Cas from his shoes, “that was my question. Not ‘are you, Dean Winchester, a good person?’ or ‘do you, Dean Winchester, deserve happiness?’”



Confusion washes over Dean’s face as Cas reaches out and gingerly places his finger beneath his chin. “I asked a simple question. A yes or no, actually. And you said no.” Cas leans over, using his other hand to cup Dean’s chin. 



Dean stops breathing.



“Let’s try something.”



Castiel brings his face closer and closer to Dean’s until — 



It’s slow, and soft, and — fuck — Cas sinks lower, Dean’s hands wrapping around his torso, and they inhale each other’s scents — desperate — a hunger spilling out and over them. Neither of them pull away. Dean takes a deep breath through his nose, slowly standing up, pulling Cas closer and closer to him until their bodies are buckling from the pressure. For all the horrible things that come out of Dean’s mouth, his lips are velvety and yielding and remind Cas of molten rock. Dean forgot how mystical a kiss could be — to touch someone so intimately, to feel the tiny muscles of their mouth against yours, the way the world seems to spin out below you.



They fall into each other — Cas throwing his coat on the floor and Dean, unable to unbuckle his belt any faster than he already is — and then into the bed, Dean pushing Cas onto his back.



Cas’s stomach is hot and surprisingly smooth.  “Cas,” Dean whispers, his green eyes bewildered and bright, “you’re so warm. Didn’t know angels run hot.” He starts unbuttoning Cas’s shirt, hands shaking ever so slightly as they make their way down. Cas undoes the last few buttons, and Dean slowly pushes back the sleeves of Cas’s shirt. He eyes his torso — Cas blushes as he watches Dean look at him as if memorizing his body completely. 



Dean dips down and presses his body in Cas’s, mashing their lips together with increasing force. Cas shoves his tongue into Dean’s mouth, letting just the slightest moan escape when Dean bites down on his bottom lip. It’s unreal to Cas, the way Dean feels against his skin — he’s never felt a need this desperate.



Cas feels himself  being pulled up as Dean tumbles into the spot Cas had just been. Dean loops his fingers behind Cas’s belt and pulls their hips together, moaning when he feels Cas’s lips on his neck. He feels like his chest has burst open. He feels something physically changing inside of him.



Sure, he had made out with a couple of guys in his youth, thinking he had hidden himself from the wrathful gaze of his father (he hadn’t), and there was the desperate, aggressive sex with Benny  — but those had always been carried out in secret. Hidden. All his life, he had stashed his most basic desires behind a thick curtain, always a player in the shadows, an observer to his own life. Decade after decade, the act tired him out  — and he just couldn’t pretend that it didn’t bother him. 



Over the years, he had simply given up.



Cas leans up, observing Dean’s unfocused face. “Dean?”



“Yeah?”



“Are you — is this okay?” 



Dean chuckles when Cas tilts his head. “Yes, Cas, this is — this is totally okay. I’d even say that it’s even kind of good. Now,” he traces a finger down Cas’s stomach. “Let me show you something I’ve been thinking about for a while.”




(xiv)



It’s wintry out now, and there’s not a cloud in the deep blue sky. Summer passed in a colorful hue of reds, oranges, and goldenrod yellows, the wisteria-perfumed air blanketing the Pacific Coast. Vibrant persimmon trees gave way to the faint yellows of autumn, and soon apples hung heavy from their branches, ripe and delicious. Sam had an affinity for autumn, taking comfort in its crisp precision, the entire season feeling much like twilight. He loved how the earth cooled itself. And when winter came, though its cold sunk into his bones, the nights grew longer, and with them so did his wonder. The sky — a startling silver — beckoned.



But this winter, things are different. The three of them carry out weekly jobs, investigating mysterious deaths from town to town, but the desperation — the urgency — has vanished. As a group, stress levels have plummeted, and they actually… have fun together. Dean and Sam make it a point to stop in cool antique shops or duck into old bookstores — Sam’s favorite — and Cas has made a game of angel radio. 



After the night Sam left Cas and Dean to talk through their issues, something critical changed, he realized, but what he couldn’t say. All he could do was observe.



The hunts become more and more sporadic. There’s one in Vancouver — small-fry, just a couple of adolescent witches — and another in Yellowstone, both of which are solved in just a few hours. Cas and Dean disappear for hours at a time, doing heaven knows what, leaving Sam always in the motel room alone to “find more cases.” 



He’s almost offended by it, and after a particularly strange mission in Woodland Hills — a lesser tooth fairy terrorizing strip malls — Dean tells Sam that he and Cas are gonna go check out Malibu Canyon.



“Uh, okay. By yourselves?” Sam starts to close his laptop. “Again?”



Dean’s eyes widen. “Uh, yeah, that was the plan. That a problem?”



Sam tightens his lips. “Well, not really, except you two have been excluding me from — well, everything lately. I know I’m not a kid, and I can do things on my own, but holy shit, man. I’m bored.” He chuckles. “You two are my only friends. So what gives?”



“Ah,” Dean grins, guiltily taking his hand off the door handle. “Cas’ll have to wait,” he mumbles. He plops down on the foot of the bed, staring at the ceiling. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that things between Cas and me are different. And it’s because things are. He — he and I are, well, I don’t know what we are, but he said he loves me, and I feel the same. So.”



Sam’s jaw drops.



“So, uh,” Dean turns to face Sam slowly, and shrinks back when he sees his brother’s face. “Oh, come on, Sam. Really?”



“Sorry,” Sam says, hiding a laugh. He’s beaming. He closes the laptop and pushes out from the desk, staring at Dean. “This is — wow, this is — incredible. This is amazing. Dean. I can’t believe it.”



Dean’s heart flutters momentarily, but the enthusiasm fails to reach his face. The hollowness returns, his imagination running wild. “Yeah. I can’t believe it either.” 



Sam’s expression drops. He gets up from the chair and walks over to Dean, putting an arm around him as he sinks into the empty spot on the small mattress. “Talk to me.”



Dean ignores him. 



“Come on, Dean. You’re my brother. Just talk to me. Say anything.” Sam squeezes Dean’s shoulder, trying to coax him. He searches Dean’s eyes for any of the red-flag expressions — vengeance, rage, emptiness — but finds something much more troubling. Hatred.



“You know, these past few months with you guys have been awesome. We’ve been hunting, hanging out, exploring the towns we enter. I would even say I’ve been having fun. And the whole time, I’ve been thinking to myself, ‘well, someday this will end.’” He lets out a deep sigh. “It’s why I haven’t said anything to you. Seemed like if I didn’t talk about it, it couldn’t get taken away.”



“What are you afraid is going to get taken away?” 



“This,” Dean motions to the air. “You. Cas. Me. Everything I ever wanted. After I told Cas about the nuns, I thought it was the end of it. Finally off my chest, yadda-yadda. But no, Sam, it was the start of it.”



“So, what — you can’t stop thinking about them? Dean,” Sam pats his back, trying to reassure him, “like I said to you before: that was not your fault. Dad was so horrible to you, and you were just a kid. What matters is what you do now.”



Dean nods glumly at Sam. “Thanks, really. But I don’t mean the nuns. I mean I can’t stop thinking about dad.”



John Winchester. The name conjures images of twisted smiles and rows of weaponry. When Sam closes his eyes and thinks about his father, all he can see is his fist raised in the air, poised to strike. 



“Huh. After all these years,” Sam says, “and he’s still haunting you. Haunting the both of us.”



“It’s like he’s with me constantly. Judging me. Telling me I’m not good enough, that I — I’m not allowed to be me. He told me, Sammy, that if I was gay, I would be disowned. Did you know that?” 



Dean leans into Sam. He’s never said that to anyone. 



“I had no idea,” Sam confesses. “I’m not surprised. But Dean, you should know something. Dad was a fucking asshole. He’s nothing compared to you. I know that, Mom knew it — Bobby knew it, and even Cas knows it. You’re everything he wanted to be, Dean. He was so jealous of you that he tried to destroy you.” 



“Then why do I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t love — anyone — fully? Why do I feel so god damn empty, even when my world is perfect?”



Sam takes a deep breath. His voice is soft when he speaks. “Dean, love isn’t a lie. Alright? It’s not.” He leans over,  trying to catch Dean’s eyes, which overflow with tears. “And if you want it, you’ll find it. Against all odds, you’ll find all the answers to your questions. I promise.” He reaches over and squeezes his brother’s hand — something Dean used to do for him when they were in elementary school.

 

“I just — how? For me? I did horrible things because Dad told me to. I didn’t even question it. And I was so stupid, beliving that somehow Dad was right and everyone was always wrong. My whole life, it’s like I’ve been running away from him.”



“What you were was young, impressionable and — frankly, Dean — abused. Dad fucked you over. After Mom died, he lost his mind, and he took it all out on you. You never deserved that, not for a second. It’s not your fault. You were good for running.”



“But I want to stop running. And parts of what I did to those people, like those nuns, are my fault,” Dean responds, stumbling over his words, “and everyone I’ve ever loved has died. It’s like I’m cursed. I killed Marie and Rosa, so now they kill anyone and everyone I’ve ever loved. So why would it be different now? What about Cas makes it safe? How do I know if me loving him won’t kill him?”



Sam’s heart flattens. His eyes smart with tears. It is utter agony to see Dean so hurt — so conflicted. “Cas won’t die. He’s an angel, Dean. Not even the devil can kill him, right?” his voice hitches upward. “And the reason it’s different now is because it is safe. This whole idea of love being safe or dangerous — well, it’s a lie. Dad made you think that so you’d be his faithful servant. The truth is, Dean, there’s not one person on earth who isn’t worth loving. Including you.”



Dean hears Castiel outside the room. He had just landed on the outside balcony. 



“Dean?” Sam looks at him, concerned.



“I heard you, Sam. Guess Stanford really did teach you a thing or two, huh?” Dean brings his brother in for a long hug, rubbing his back. “Thanks, Sammy. I owe you big time.”



Chuckling, Sam responds, “you don’t owe me anything, Dean.”



“Actually,” Dean says, pulling away, “I owe you one thing.” He reaches in his back pocket and pulls out two white ticket stubs. “How about you and me go to the Malibu Vineyards for the afternoon? I know wine isn’t your thing, but it’s free booze.”



Sam’ smiles. “Nah, it’s okay. That’s for you and Cas!”



“Oh, Cas can hang back for a day. You and me haven’t done something for a while. Come on.” 



As expected, Dean comes face-to-face with Cas once he opens the door.



“Hello, Dean. Sam.”



“Hey, Cas,” Dean’s smile is infectious, “sorry to break it to you, but Sam and I are gonna go to Malibu instead today. Little bit of brother bonding time, you know? That cool with you?”



Cas looks between the two brothers. He senses that there has been some type of change. “That is fine. I will watch that show you told me about while I wait.”



“Wanna meet us on the beach at sunset?” Sam suggests. Dean nods emphatically, looking at Cas.

 

“The beach would be nice.”



“Great. I — or, Dean — will let you know when we’re there.” Sam rubs Cas’s shoulder as he walks past him and down the stairs.

 

 

Dean plants a small kiss on Cas’s cheek. “Sorry, Cas. Sam and I had a little talk. Gotta spend more time with him, you know?”



“No apology necessary. I’ll see you in a few hours. Oh, and Dean,” he catches Dean’s hand, “I hope you have fun. Try not to get into any trouble.”



Dean gives him his best wink. “No promises.”

 

 


(xv)



Dean doesn’t want Cas to forget the bad things he’s done, not at all, but it would be a hell of a lot easier for them both if he could. They say that to forgive is to free one’s self — but what about forgiving yourself? Is it possible to learn, move on, and effect change? For Dean’s whole life, he has always seen forgiveness as something you give despite one’s flaws, as if it is a gift. But the more he talks to Cas — someone rather versed in these ways — the more he sees it as something given because of your love for someone. It is a subcategory of devotion. It is love.



So Dean learns — slowly, always slowly — to look at himself the way Castiel does. He doesn't believe it for a long time, if ever, but when he thinks of himself as a righteous man motivated by love, he likes himself better. Hell, he even starts to believe in the shit he does every day. The long rides in the Impala take on new significance. His life is no longer cursed. There is no wrathful demon or god — or nun — chasing him, hellbent on revenge. When he drives the Impala, it is no longer a scorching sun beating down on him and all his friends — it is light.



John used to tell Dean: “you are nothing but excess.” 



Dean internalized it in the ways that most vulnerable adolescents do: that he was a walking abomination. His bones jut out of his skin at odd angles, his walk too hesitant, and his voice too shrill. He was too sharp, too dim-witted, too aggressive. He didn't love well enough, always sabotaging his relationships at the last moment. He was disgusting, too angry, too stupid. A loathsome bastard not worth a dime.



There was the time, days after his tenth birthday, when a neighborhood boy, riding by on his bike, saw Dean in his mother’s old wedding dress — he had put it on thinking he would look more like her — in the front yard while John was away on a case. At recess the next day, the kids would call him a freak, fairy, fag. He would learn, much later, that those words were also iterations of monster.



But here, splayed across the memory foam mattress in the bunker, the television playing something charming featuring Clint Eastwood, Dean looks at Cas over his shoulder and realizes they’re the same. They are monsters of their own kind, divine messengers of catastrophe. They are monsters of myriad origin: heaven, hell, earth. To be a monster, then, is to be a hybrid signal, both a shelter and warning.



Cas wraps his arms around him, extending his right leg behind Dean, and pulls him to his inner left thigh. Dean closes his eyes. His body melts into Cas, their breaths spiraling into the other's. Cas loves how Dean’s skin glows — incandescent. It shimmers and glistens and tightens with effort. In Dean, Cas sees something more closely related to holiness than any angel. A monster is not such a bad thing to be. It is a revelation, a beast, slumping toward Bethlehem. Dean Winchester, a harbinger — still beautiful —  has saved them all. 



“Dean, I need you to know something.”



He turns to face Cas.



“I’ve loved you for a very, very long time.”



Dean rolls his eyes playfully, an embarrassed smile forming on his face. “Keep sayin’ that and I’ll start to think you’re just a figment of my imagination.”



“This is no illusion, Dean. And if it were the case that you were trapped somewhere — beit Hell or Purgatory or one of those television lands — I would do what I do best.”



“That’s right. The Cas Specialty — raising me from perdition.”



Cas hums, tilting his head. “You forgot the part where I grip you tightly. Like this.” Cas pulls him into his chest.




(xvi)



In some lives, they meet each other right at the beginning.



Sometimes, Dean is a director of marketing and sales, other times he is a writer who wakes up at noon every day of the week. In all of these lives, Cas is still an angel who stumbles from heaven and into the life of Dean Winchester; and in every one of these lives, Dean picks the crown up from the floor and places it back on Cas’s head, reminding him that he is every bit as graceful with or without God, and whether he believes it or not. 



There is one life in which Dean and Cas don’t meet until very late in both of their lives, but the quiet peace of this life makes up for the time lost. Slow mornings and slower nights, their bodies knocking into each other, pretending to be teenagers again, madly in love. And for them, that love never leaves, it never dries up; instead, it simply redirects from one life to the next, shooting through the clouds and into the rays of the sun, twinkling as the days become longer and longer until, one day, the living stops, and every single piece of their lives lands where it ought to have fallen.