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and he's back (with a mind of his own)

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The walls bleed black again, and Castiel is deposited back into the room he was snatched from in a far more undignified manner than he left it. 

His head spins as he hits his knees, hand coming up to press hard against his chest. There is the empty, cavernous feeling of having absolutely no grace inside him, fleeting and flickering as it may have been there at the end. It is not agony, but a mere discomfort. No, agony comes with being a human. It is no more pleasant than the first time. Being human is an intrinsically painful experience, overwhelming, though undeniably wondrous. 

He is slightly more prepared this time, adjusting to the sensation of being something other. For all that being an angel seems alien to humans, it is in reverse for him. He would like to see how well the Winchesters would take to suddenly becoming angels. They would hit their knees, too. 

Fortunately, there does not seem to be anyone present for his indignity. Only Jack. Castiel does not mind so much if it is him. He breathes carefully for a moment, head throbbing. His senses feel dull and more alive simultaneously. Humans are so strong and so very weak, all at once, which is fascinating, but now it is a mantle he must take up. 

Jack is quiet. He does not try to help Castiel up. Instead, he simply joins Castiel on the floor, sinking down beside him with his hands spread awkwardly on his knees as he slowly sits—as Jack would call it—criss-cross applesauce. For him to be so young and so industrially childish in the best way, he can be very perceptive and unflinchingly kind. 

Finally, after some time, Castiel drops his hand and lets out a deep exhale. He lifts his head, glancing around the room. Something inside him outright recoils when he remembers the last time he was in this room, only moments before the Empty stole him from it. The instinctive flinch inside him tightens in his chest, turning into a harsh knot, and it takes him a moment to identify what it is. 

Shame. 

Castiel clenches his jaw and stands swiftly, waiting for Jack to do the same. "Where is Dean?" 

"He and Sam are not here," Jack tells him softly. 

That is good. That is better than Castiel could have hoped for. The more time he has to adjust, to gather the shredded tapestry of his embarrassment, the better. Surely, given the opportunity, he can stitch that tapestry back together to hang it up and away once more, unhindered. He has survived worse things than mortification. He just needs time. 

Upon reflection, what he needs first is something to drink. His tongue scrapes against the sticky, dry roof of his mouth. His teeth feel tacky and unpleasant. He doesn't think he has been this thirsty in his life, though he recognizes the sensation from his time as a human before. There is something strangely invigorating about easily identifying his needs in this state. Independence, perhaps. 

Castiel nods at Jack and makes for the door, following the familiar path to the kitchen. He ponders on the way what his life will be like now. He is not angry to be yanked back, not exactly, because he would endure any discomfort for Jack. He would spend every day with this burning shame coursing through him so long as Jack needed him to be around, and he clearly does if he risked so much to free him from the Empty. 

There is the question of how, precisely, Jack managed to do that. As he enters the kitchen with Jack trailing after him, Castiel asks it. He murmurs a very careful, "Jack, what did you do to get me back from the Empty?" 

There's not an immediate answer, so Castiel pauses halfway to the refrigerator. He turns, slowly. Jack is staring down at his scuffed shoes with a small frown, his head tilted to the side. There is something different about him, something that Castiel can't quite put his finger on. He seems both too big for his skin and too small. 

"I...demanded it," Jack says slowly, finally. He lifts his gaze, lips twitching down further. "I never wanted to interfere, but so many have failed you, Cas. I couldn't leave you there. I didn't the first time, and I couldn't this time." 

"Jack," Castiel croaks, softening, "it was never your responsibility to do that." 

Jack's lips curl up quickly, gaze warm. "I know that. I wanted you to be home, though." 

No shame or mortification can exist in a world where Jack is here and needs him to be as well. Castiel is quite confident that Dean could treat him with disgust or scorn forever, but that would not matter so long as Jack wants him here. He would endure it with ease, with no strain, because Jack has been through so, so much and deserves to live freely with his family—and, if he's decided that Castiel must be a part of that, then so be it. 

"Whatever you need, Jack," Castiel murmurs. He turns, heading for the refrigerator again, opening it and peering inside curiously. 

Sam has water in here. Dean has beer. He takes a beer before he can stop himself, standing there with the door open as he twists the top off with a hiss that immediately makes him think of Dean all over again, which is counterproductive to helping rid himself of the shame and—and—

As Castiel wraps his lips around the mouth of the bottle, he thinks about Dean doing the same, thinks about the way Dean's throat bobs with each swallow, thinks about how his lips glisten and how he licks them. He quickly identifies what other emotion accosts him with the shame—a sharp, heady desire. 

His face is hot when he pulls the beer away from his mouth, a rising sense of panic fluttering in his chest. He has thought these things, known them, of course, but it feels so different now because Dean will know. He is going to look at Castiel and know exactly how he feels, what he thinks. That is...distressing. 

Perhaps Dean will avoid it. He is very good at doing those things. When faced with something he simply doesn't want to acknowledge, that's his first method of handling the situation, and Castiel is sure that it will go this way again. He is banking on it, in fact.  

It will be fine. He has Jack. Sam will be here, a welcome presence and a perfect buffer. 

"Castiel," Jack says, "I must go soon." 

Blinking, Castiel shuts the refrigerator and moves over to stand behind the counter, still holding his beer. "Go? Where do you need to go?" 

"Heaven," Jack murmurs, watching him with a strange hesitance in his gaze. 

"You need to go to...Heaven," Castiel says, staring at Jack with a wash of confusion sweeping through him. A mounting sense of dread joins it. "Jack, why would you need to go to Heaven?" 

"Cas…" Jack trails off, shifting, his shoes scuffing against the floor. He opens his mouth, then closes it, then closes his eyes. After a beat, he opens his eyes and proceeds to explain. 

Castiel listens. He does not interrupt once. He can't. His jaw feels wired shut, teeth clamped together so hard that they're grinding. With each word, falling faster and faster from Jack's lips, Castiel feels a fury unlike any other swelling within him. 

Jack is—he took— 

No, he wants to snarl, but he can't. Because he can see it right in front of him. The differences in Jack are subtle, but Castiel can see them. It's as if the world is shifting and shaping around his body, an extension of who he is, fitting him inside it—not because he belongs, but because he commands it to. 

When Jack falls silent only a moment later, Castiel tips the beer back and downs the rest of it, distantly infuriated that it tastes good, that he likes it. 

It's Dean's favorite beer. 

Disgusted with himself, the beer, Dean, and absolutely everything that has allowed this to happen to Jack, Castiel turns and tosses the beer into the trashcan with a sharp clatter that fills the otherwise silent room. He feels like his bones are about to rattle out of his skin, shaking with how hard he's restraining himself from stomping out right now and finding Chuck with the sole purpose of setting him on fire. 

He leans harder into the counter, making the pots overhead swing and clank into each other. He tries to breathe. Round two as a human isn't going so well if, five minutes into it, he's already struggling with the most fundamental and necessary part of it. 

Finally, he snarls, "God?!" 

"Castiel," Jack says, his gaze very sad, "don't." 

"Do not tell me what to do," Castiel says sharply, nostrils flaring. Don't? He must be trying to tell a joke again, though not a very humorous one. Don't—as if Castiel will do anything else. "I never wanted this for you, Jack." 

He did not. He has never wanted this for Jack. Not this young boy who deserves far better. After all that he has been through, even from the moment of his birth; after all that he has done, all that he has given. It is wrong. Castiel will not stand by and allow Jack to go through it alone, not if he can help it. 

"It was my purpose, even from the beginning. I do not mind. Everything is okay now," Jack tells him, sounding all for the world as if he truly believes that, as if he has made peace with it.

He shouldn't have ever felt the need to. 

"Not for you," Castiel snaps. There's a sickening, human twist in his chest as he realizes that Jack has no intentions of taking him. "You'll just never come back, then? How will I know if you—" He shakes his head. No, that's not an option. He will go. "I will come with you. Sam and Dean need not know." 

It would work out for the best if they didn't know, especially Dean. Actually, Castiel doesn't need to struggle with shame as long as Dean doesn't know. He is not eager to be here, to stay here, if Jack isn't. 

"They already know," Jack murmurs. "They're here, outside the kitchen. And you cannot come with me. You know why. It's okay, Castiel." 

Castiel feels all the color drain from his face. He presses his fist to the countertop, curling his nails into his palm just to feel the bite of the pain. No, no, he doesn't want them to be here. He doesn't want to do this, or face it, especially not without Jack. 

He has the phantom flutters in his chest like he's about to take flight, that instinctive need to get away, but it's only a missing limb that provides him no help now. He is human and he goes nowhere. All he can do is stand there and stare at Jack, knowing he cannot go because he is human, knowing that Jack could bring him if he truly wanted to. Perhaps even through death, though Jack has no desire to interfere. Castiel would agree to it, he has to know that, but it will never happen. 

That doesn't mean Castiel won't ask for it, anyway. Desperation tastes like the way blood smells, metallic in the back of his throat. "Fine. I do not care if they know. You can take me if you truly want." 

"I could," Jack agrees, nodding. He smiles again, this time tinged with sadness and an understanding that speaks of secrets, as if he knows every single whisper of the universe. A God. The God. From Castiel's father, to his son. It's not fair. "I would if that's what would make you happy, but it is not. We will see each other again when it is time."  

Happy? Happy? Another joke, surely—this time it is far more painful than Jack could ever know, no matter if he is omnipotent or not. How could he think Castiel will ever be happy? He has only experienced that feeling once, just once, and it was in the brief breath of a moment where he could simply bask in loving Dean Winchester openly, without the risk of losing everything. He had the promise of death to save him from that at the time, and now, he does not. 

The truth explodes out of him, loud and furious and torturous, "It doesn't matter if I'm truly happy! I won't be anyway. Take me with you." 

"No," Jack says gently, tenderly, his face warm and open with naked and simple love. He smiles and lifts his hand in his familiar, awkward greeting and farewell. "Goodbye, Castiel, and good luck." 

"Jack," Castiel starts, only to snap his mouth shut when Jack is simply no longer there. Gone as if he wasn't ever there to begin with. 

Castiel places his hands flat on the counter and bows his head, breathing deep and slow, trying to get a grasp on the swirl of anger, hurt, and rising panic that riots within him. For emotions to be so inherently impactful, they're not at all physical, despite the effects they have, and he cannot wrangle them. His eyes burn. He's thirsty again. 

It feels like he stands there for years and seconds, all at once, frozen in place. It feels like he has lost Jack all over again. Not only that, but Castiel had been so sure that being back was worth it for him, not for himself. And for what? It feels less like something he will settle into now and more like an approaching storm that will sweep him away. He has no control over this, none at all. He feels untethered. 

There's the sudden sharp sound of Dean's voice from just outside the kitchen, snapping, "Just shut the fuck up, Sam." 

Castiel jerks against the counter without even meaning to, causing the hanging pots to run into each other again, clanging. His heart—his traitorous and very human heart—thumps in his chest, faster and heavier than it ever has before. This is such a different fear from what he's ever experienced. It would be intriguing if it wasn't him. 

He stays very still. It's an exercise in control, taking measured breaths, not twitching or simply sinking to the floor. He is not ready for this. He is not ready to see Dean, not yet, not after… 

And it is not Dean he sees first, thankfully. Sam suddenly comes marching into the kitchen, fully just beaming at him, so outwardly pleased that Castiel feels something within him soften. It only soothes him a bit, but even that seems a miraculous feat. Out of everyone, perhaps only Sam could manage it. Sam is safe. He is family and he is not Dean, so this is good. This is the best outcome, really. 

The very first thing Sam does is move right up to him to wrap him in a hug. He is still tall, and he still has to stoop down a little, but the hug is familiar, even if they do not do it as often as he and—

No. That does not bear thinking about. Castiel will not be hugging Dean ever again. 

As soon as Sam pulls back, he tugs Castiel around the counter, excitedly saying, "It's so good you're back, man! How did—" 

"Jack," Castiel cuts him off. "He claimed he wanted to be hand's off about everything, as...what he is now, with only me as an exception." 

"You sounded pretty upset about it," Sam tells him with a grimace of sympathy. "He's—" 

It is rude, perhaps, but Castiel interrupts yet again to say, "I never wanted this for him," because he didn't, and he needs someone to understand that. 

"Yeah," Sam mutters, "but he seems alright. He wanted to do it, wanted to stop Chuck and—and help with everything. It's hard, not having him around, but he claims we'll see him again." 

"He should have taken me with him," Castiel says harshly, the words escaping him as angry as he feels. It's true. It would have been so much better. 

"Ah, don't be like that, Cas." Sam laughs softly and reaches out to squeeze his shoulder, friendly and supportive. It is so easy with him. "I can tell you're grumpy, but dude, it's not so bad being here with us, is it? We're grateful you're back. It's just—it makes sense. All of us." 

For some reason, Castiel cannot bring himself to agree with most of that. It is absolutely terrible that he's back, though it could be worse. At least Sam is here; at least he isn't alone with Dean. He severely doubts that Dean is grateful that he's back, outside of the initial relief of his friend not being dead. He does not think Dean is cruel. No matter his discomfort, he would rather Castiel alive than dead, if only because he considers him family. But only family. A brother. The knot in his chest churns and quivers—being a human is dreadful. 

Frustrated with it, with all of it, Castiel can only say the truth, which is, "I don't want to be back here."

"And why the fuck not?" is not the reply he's expecting, but it doesn't come from Sam anyway; it comes from the doorway, from—

Castiel's eyes are snapping over to Dean in an instant before he can think better of it, and that knot tightens in his chest so quickly that he's fortunate he doesn't have anything to heave up. Looking at Dean Winchester is a detriment to his health, clearly, and he doesn't know when these feelings will pass, if they ever will. It infuriates him. He can feel his face twisting with his anger as he looks away, unable to hide his displeasure. 

The worst part is that Dean is still so, so achingly beautiful that it actually hurts a little bit. Castiel is glaring at the wall, but it takes everything within him not to look at Dean again, not to take him in and appreciate. The last time he saw him, Dean was staring at him with wide, shining eyes full of fuzzy confusion and disquieting hurt. 

"Cas?" Sam asks slowly, carefully. 

Sam is safe. Castiel can look at Sam, can talk to him, without feeling that knot thrash around in his chest. So, he says, "Yes, Sam?" 

"You alright, man? Like I said, I know it's kinda messed up about Jack, but things could be a lot worse, right?" Sam raises his eyebrows just a little with no judgement, an uncertain smile twitching at the corners of his mouth, almost hopeful. "I mean, being left in the Empty would be, if I had to guess. It's better that you're out." 

Castiel's next words fall out sardonic and dry, and they're not exactly a lie. "I don't know. I think I'd rather that. Eternal rest in oblivion seems better by the moment." 

"Cas, what the hell?" Sam blurts out, eyes wide. 

Alright, perhaps not his smartest response, but… Well, it's true. Questionable, but true. 

And suddenly, Dean is saying, "Yeah, Cas, what the hell? Don't tell me you're throwing a fit because you want a goddamn nap." His voice turns sing-song, lightly mocking, the undercurrent of something bitter and sharp mixed in. "Also, no hi, no hello, no how are you? Nothing?" 

Yes, nothing. Castiel cannot and will not look at Dean, or speak with him. Ignoring him is the only option. The safest option. 

Sam's jaw goes tight, gaze darting between Dean and Castiel, and maybe he is no longer a safe alternative. That remains to be seen. "Okay, what the hell is going on? There's obviously something wrong between you two." 

No longer safe, definitely not, especially if he's pointing out things like that. Did Dean tell him? Does he not know? Castiel cannot imagine a world in which Dean would ever tell Sam about what Castiel confessed to him before dying. Perhaps that is for the best. He isn't sure he wants Sam to know. 

"Well, I've just been real fucking swell," Dean says, sounding oddly playful, but only in the way people who swallow swords do, with just an edge of danger thrown in. It should not be so tantalizing. "Thanks for asking, by the way. I figured you'd be interested, considering the circumstances in which you made your very fucking swift exit from this world." 

Castiel thinks he might be adapting to being a human for the second time very quickly. He's certainly more capable of control than he was before. At the very least, he can try to melt the wall with his gaze, rather than Dean. Ignoring Dean is difficult, but it is strangely rewarding. He would like to keep doing it, possibly forever. 

A phone goes off. Sam sighs. "Look, you two need to talk about whatever it is you're fighting about now. I've got to take this, but just—just figure your shit out, both of you. The world's saved, Chuck is handled, it's just us now, okay? Time to move on and let shit go. We're finally free, right? So just...stop being idiots." 

And then he's gone, leaving Castiel alone with Dean. Sam is not safe. That's settled, then. He's a traitor of the worst sort. Castiel does not know why he feels betrayed. He should have anticipated this. 

There's a long beat of tense silence, but Castiel is good with those. He knows how to hold his ground. He knows when to keep everything in and settled, when to step back and wait the worst parts out, when to hold the line of defense. He can't leave, not yet, not with Dean still too close to the doorway. 

"You got anything to say to me?" Dean's words are harsh and pointed, making Castiel bristle inwardly. No, no, he doesn't have anything to say. He will never speak again. Ever. He'll bite his own tongue off again before saying another word to Dean Winchester. "So, you're just going to ignore me? Cas. Cas! Are you fucking—" 

Castiel sees the movement out of the corner of his eyes, catches the way Dean starts forward, and he's moving away before he's even made the decision. The knot in his chest is tangled, pulsing hot. He wants Dean to stop, to back away, to leave him alone. He wants Dean to get closer. 

"Dude," Dean blurts out, sounding absurdly appalled, "are you seriously being unreasonable like this right now?"

Unreasonable? No. Castiel doesn't think he's being unreasonable at all. He's doing both of them a favor, in fact. The sooner they can fall into the waiting rhythm of ignorance, the better off they will be in the future. Castiel just needs time. He needs space. If Dean will get the message, if he'll just...back off, then Castiel can relax enough to at least be able to pretend that everything is okay. 

Things aren't okay, Castiel knows that, but he thinks they could be one day. He cannot stop loving Dean Winchester, but he will not ruin their friendship because of it. The knot seems to loosen at that thought, at that plan, even if he is angry. So very angry about Jack, about the fact that Dean and him are already tense and prickling for a fight about this. He does not want to fight. There is no point. 

He cannot win. 

"Well, fuck you," Dean snaps, then lets out a derisive laugh that cuts right through Castiel's good sense as he continues. "Or, actually, fuck me, I guess. Isn't that something you want to do now, or—" 

The shock that slams into him is hard and heavy-hitting. It jolts through him with a number of other feelings at Dean's insinuation. Horror, because Dean is just calling attention to it. Desire, because yes, actually, he does want to do that. Shame, because of that desire. And, loudest and worst of them all, the emotion that grips him the hardest and pushes him to react before Dean can finish is absolute, unequivocal rage. 

Because how dare he? The audacity of Dean Winchester to allude—no, not even allude, but explicitly state that Castiel wants to fuck him. And it is true, of course it is, but it is one of the cruelest, most heartless things that Dean has ever done to him. To point it out, when Castiel is actively pissed about it, when he wants nothing more for it not to be true because it would be so much simpler if it wasn't… He never took Dean as someone who would knowingly taunt him in this way. 

Castiel has Dean pinned under a glare in seconds, relishing in the way he snaps his mouth shut, eyes widening just a fraction. His eyes—his eyes— 

To the molten core of Castiel, to his most human parts that shined brightly even as an angel, Dean's eyes have always done something to him. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. Castiel knows this to not be true, but Dean's eyes are surely the inspiration for such a quote. Looking at them has always felt like home in the way Heaven never did, and now, now, Castiel is so furious about it that the knot in his chest urges him to lash out. 

Wisely, he does not. 

"Still nothing?" Dean asks, narrowing his eyes just a small bit. "Okay, casanova, we're going to have to work on your wooing skills because this—" 

Again with the pointed jabs. Again with the audacity. Castiel has never wanted to hit him more than he does at this moment. He also has never wanted to kiss him as much as he does right now. He realizes with a pained sort of pang in his heart that he misses Dean, and he will continue to miss Dean, and there's absolutely nothing he can do about it. That only serves to anger him more. 

Castiel is moving before Dean can even finish speaking, inwardly stung as well as inwardly furious when Dean's eyes bulge and he scrambles to the side to give him a wide berth. As expected. Very well. It suits his needs just fine. 

He can escape more easily that way. 

 


 

Castiel's phone was thankfully not in his pocket when he was swallowed up by the Empty, which means that it is in his room. Where he hides. He feels that it is well within his right to hide. 

The first thing he does is check the date. He has been gone for nearly—but not quite—a month. Somehow, that just makes this all that more humiliating. His sacrifice, tarnished by a child God that he does not at all approve of, smeared before even a month is up. If he'd known—

Well, if he'd known, he would still have done the same to save Dean's life. Or, perhaps, he could have found another way. In that moment, it had felt like such a relief to confess. He meant every word. He has never meant anything more. Now, that confession feels like the metaphorical nail in the coffin of his and Dean's normalcy. They will always be different because of this, never the same, uncomfortably altered. Castiel still cannot force himself to regret it. 

That is one feeling he doesn't experience. Saying the things he did to Dean isn't something he can ever regret. He should be loved. He should be told that he is loved. He deserves that, and more. Castiel only wishes that they could have avoided this part, the after, the most complicated thing he's sure to ever face—and he has faced the apocalypse. Frequently. 

There are two messages on his phone, unopened and recent. Only a little over a week ago. He sits on the edge of his bed, and he thumbs them open. 

Claire 
It sucks that you're dead. Kinda wish that you weren't. 

Claire 
Not kinda.

Castiel frowns, reading the two messages again. He wonders who told her. Do they tell her every time he dies, or only when it seems permanent? Every time seems permanent, until it isn't, but this time… This time felt like the final time. 

Until it wasn't. 

For a long time, Castiel isn't sure how to respond or even if he should. He places his phone on the bed and stands up, vaguely annoyed with how everything feels so uncomfortable as a human. His clothes, the pinched toe of his shoes, the hollow ache in his stomach that he recognizes as hunger—he knows that one well, but it's no easier to endure this time around. He already wants to be dressed in something that feels nice, rather than what he has worn for years with minor adjustments. His trenchcoat always seems different when he comes back to life. This time, there's an extra button. 

The only thing he can find is a shirt that he's quite sure is Sam's, a simple t-shirt that's big on him, but he doesn't mind. It is soft and a little wrinkly, not stiff, not restricting. He trades it out for his coat and button-down, then rids himself of his shoes and belt, leaving his socks because those, at least, are quite comfortable and warm. After, he slips into his bed and picks up his phone again, hesitantly typing out a quick, simple message. 

Castiel
I am not dead. I am back. Hello. 👋

The reply is surprisingly quick, lighting his phone back up before the screen can fully go dark. 

Claire
Ignore me. I was drunk. How are you back? Is this really you? 

Castiel is typing out a reply, but he can't find the right emoji in time before his phone is vibrating in his hand, Claire's name on the screen. He's almost faintly amused that she doesn't trust him enough not to hear his voice and get the story in full. It's the Hunter in her. She's naturally paranoid. 

"Hello," Castiel answers calmly. 

"How?" Claire asks, first thing. 

"Jack," Castiel says, because that's generally a good answer to give people. Short and simple and to the point. No one ever doubts it. 

Claire is silent for a beat, then mutters, "Well, he can do shit like that now, can't he? 'Cause he's God or whatever. That's a little, uh…" 

"Odd?" Castiel suggests, lips twisting. 

"He's three-years-old," Claire says. 

Castiel nods against his pillow, releasing a deep sigh of exhaustion. "Yes. I am...adjusting to the news."

"That means you were pissed, doesn't it?" Claire snorts inelegantly, then there's a shift over the phone, like fabric fumbling and shushing over the receiver. Movement. "Well, maybe a kid would be better suited for the job, weird as it is. I mean, he seems...more optimistic, so that's—well, kids tend to be better than adults anyway, instinctively." 

"You've spoken with him?" Castiel murmurs. 

Claire grunts, a displeased sound. "He reached out to me after you—well, after. Thought I'd want to know, I guess. Dean and Sam usually tell Jody, and then she tells me. Never really heard it straight from the horse's mouth, if you know what I mean, so I don't always get the full story. Jack was pretty upset about it, so it makes sense that he pulled you back out. He said…" 

"What did he say, Claire?" 

"He was confused, Cas. He didn't understand how it could have happened. He told me about your deal, you know. Can't say I'm surprised." 

Castiel grimaces. He clears his throat. "Ah, well, I did what I had to at the time." 

"That's always what you and the other two idiots do. Anyway, I tried to calm him down. He was pretty fucked up about it, and then he was worried about his powers, said that things were getting strange. I vanished with everyone else after that, but I don't remember it. I was just here one day, then back the next. I don't think we'd have known if Sam hadn't told Jody, who told everyone else. That woman should get a goddamn award, you know." 

"Claire, I am...very sorry that happened to you. Jack explained what happened after I was gone. I cannot say I expected anything else from Chuck, but…" 

"Yeah," Claire agrees, "but it's whatever. Jack plucked us all right back and put us where we were supposed to be, so that was nice of him. I know you're not happy about it, but that's one good thing, at least. Kaia says we gotta look at the brighter side of life, or whatever the fuck." 

"How is she?" Castiel asks, vaguely amused. He wonders if Claire knows that her voice automatically softens when saying Kaia's name, even if the rest of her words are harsh and flippant. It's very...cute. 

Claire makes a small sound, a content thing. "At the moment? She's drawing on my thighs. I believe it is a...babe, what the fuck is that?" 

"Can't you tell? It's a butterfly, Claire," comes Kaia's voice, a little distant, a little soft. 

"That looks like a lump of charcoal." 

"If you'd stop moving…" 

"Oh, shut up," Claire grumbles, then heaves a very loud sigh. "Cas says hi, by the way." 

"Tell him I said hey," Kaia replies, her voice muffled. 

"Kaia says hey," Claire tells Cas instantly. 

Castiel's lips twitch up. "I heard. Are you two still hunting?" 

There's a long beat of silence, then Claire clears her throat. "Well, actually, Kaia insists on taking breaks every now and again. I don't need one, but she says most jobs have vacation time, or whatever. She bullied me into it, even got Jody to back her up, but it isn't so bad. We're in Florida, enjoying the motion of the ocean, if you catch my drift." 

Castiel does not, but Kaia makes a faintly alarmed sound and hisses, "Claire," so he's going to assume it was inappropriate somehow. 

"Then I shall leave you to it," Castiel tells her, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling. "If you ever need anything—" 

"Yeah, yeah," Claire cuts him off, "I know, whatever. Same goes to you, I guess. Don't be a stranger, and try not to die within the next week, okay?" 

"I will do my best," Castiel says solemnly. 

Claire snorts, then says, "Bye," and hangs up. 

A moment later, Castiel puts his phone aside and releases a long, deep sigh. He relaxes back into the bed in a way he hasn't ever really done as an angel. There are benefits to being a human, along with the downsides. It is much easier to enjoy the small comforts of life when they affect you so starkly. Despite his tension, it feels nice to just...lay down. 

Selfishly, for just a moment, he wishes Claire and Kaia were still hunting. It would have given him ample opportunity to form an excuse and leave, at least for a little bit. He knows he won't go, though. Jack left him here with Sam and Dean, so this is where he shall stay in case Jack changes his mind, or needs him for anything. 

He didn't ask for any of this. Jack brought him from the Empty and deposited him here. Jack made him human. This life, this permanence—it is not his fault, and he cannot be blamed for it. 

Castiel closes his eyes, distantly fascinated with the strength of exhaustion, with how it hooks into him and drags him under. Sleeping as a human was always his favorite thing. While sleeping, he drops off into nothingness and feels no pain. He does not dream. He never has. Perhaps a leftover angel quirk, but he is thankful for it all the same. 

He does not remember falling asleep, and it feels like he has only blinked when he's yanked unceremoniously back to wakefulness. He's immediately annoyed by it, his eyes watery and scratchy in the way that lets him know he hasn't rested nearly enough. Someone's knocking on his door. Banging on it. 

Castiel scowls and whips the covers back, irritated that he has to be awake now. He would much rather be asleep. That had been—objectively—the best thing that's happened to him since getting back. 

He rips the door open, only to realize who's going to be on the other side of it once it's swinging open to reveal the offending visitor. Dean. Of course it's Dean. Why would it be anyone else? Castiel is arrested by the sight of him for a second, heart stumbling in his chest, the knot twisting and pulsing right next to it. 

Dean's face does something strange, his eyes trailing over Castiel slowly, lips parting. Castiel decides immediately that he doesn't like it, nor does he want to be awake to see it. He releases a small grunt of frustration, a grumble, just to appease the steadily rising annoyance in his chest, and he comes to the conclusion that the only solution is going back to sleep. And so, he turns around to march back over to his bed, sliding back in, abandoning Dean to hopefully go away. 

Of course, Dean does not go away. That would be far too easy. Instead, there's the sound of him moving into the room, saying, "What the fuck?" 

Castiel thinks that it's rather obvious. He couldn't have non-verbally communicated his intentions better if he tried, covered under the blankets from head to toe the way he is. Clearly, he is tired and would prefer to be asleep. Dean is smart; he must be able to work this out. 

Apparently not, or he just does not care, because Castiel feels the covers wrench away from him as Dean blurts out, "Cas, are you sleeping, dude? Since when the fuck do you sleep? Are you—is this—" 

Resolute in ignoring Dean for the foreseeable future, Castiel does not respond or so much as twitch. His heart is racing, but he uses this to his advantage, closing his eyes and focusing on the disconcertingly heavy thump-da-thump of his current least favorite organ. It is betraying him, and he hates it, but it also provides a willing distraction. 

The pillow is suddenly snatched from under his head, and Castiel's eyes snap open. His annoyance is starting to grow. Dean can be immature, this is true, but he's never resorted to such childish things like stealing pillows. And, no sooner than he has thought this, the stolen pillow comes down over his head, a direct hit that makes his annoyance turn hot and loud. He whips around immediately, glaring at Dean, mildly vindicated when Dean clutches the pillow to his chest and looks a little wary. 

Good. He should be. 

"Well, if you'd just talk to me, this wouldn't happen," Dean mumbles, his lips turning down at the corners. That unconscious frown seems to almost instantly curl up into an unconscious smile, his eyes bright with humor, his words turning a little playful and mischievous, borderline unfair. "I mean, I get that you'd rather use your mouth for other things when it comes to me, but—" 

The knot in his chest twists, and he follows the tug, moving to get up, get out, get away. He is once again furious—absolutely furious because Dean's right. He's right, and he knows it, and Castiel has never despised anything more. 

There are fingers abruptly curling around his arm, warm and broad, skin-on-skin, turning him around and yanking him to a halt. His mind immediately latches onto the feeling, desperately reviewing it, cataloguing the warmth of Dean's palm, the rough texture from calluses on his hands and fingers from fighting, from holding guns, from cutting open his palm. The knot tightens in his chest, harsh and unrelenting, and with it comes the heady rush of want in his veins. He wrenches away quickly. 

No. No touching. Absolutely not. 

"Oh, fuck off, don't even act like that," Dean mutters, eyes narrowing. "My touch probably makes you, like, warm on the inside, or something, so I don't know who you're trying to fool." That's not exactly what Castiel would call it—rather, his touch makes Castiel burn with things that only feel heightened because Dean knows them now. It is very distressing, but Dean just continues, ignorant to his plight. "Are you going to be a dick about this forever? So you're gay, or whatever. Cool, fine, great. Totally acceptable in the house of Winchesters. Sam accepts your love for bees—literally." 

Castiel has absolutely no idea how his appreciation for bees correlates to his rather complex sexuality, nor does he understand if this means that Sam knows or not. As much as Castiel would like to be grateful that Sam and Dean do not care about his preferences, he can't when his main preference is Dean. These words are not a comfort. They're not helpful. What do bees have anything to do with this?

Dean pulls a face, sort of a grimace, something a little sheepish about it. "Don't ask, you don't want to know," he mutters, shaking his head. After a beat, he raises his eyebrows. "Look, I get it, okay? You love me, I changed you, yada yada yada. I remember it, all of it, so I won't rehash it. But don't you think it's a little fucked that you did all that, and now you're acting like this?"

Yada yada yada. As if the words that Castiel said, the words that shorn him apart and bared his bleeding heart, are just...nothing. Easy to ignore. Something to hand-wave away. It shouldn't hurt, but it does. Castiel isn't expecting anything else, and it still manages to slam into his center, taking that knot in his chest and coating it with poison. 

He is only vaguely surprised that Dean is just saying it, talking about it, not avoiding it outright. This is not good. This is worse than if Dean refused to look at him for the rest of eternity. It makes him angrier than he already was, and before he knows what he's doing, he's breaking his own vow to speak. 

"I have no desire to speak to you," Castiel declares, and that is very true. He doesn't. He has nothing to say to Dean. He has already said enough. 

Dean's looks triumphant immediately, a spark entering his eyes, something beautiful that makes a part of Castiel want to lose. It's unfair. It's cheating. Dean doesn't seem to care as he shamelessly replies, "Liar. You sure had a lot of shit to say before you fucked off and died." 

"Those were the last words I was ever meant to say to you," Castiel informs him, short and terse. 

"Says who? You? Yeah, buddy, life's not lucky enough to land like that. 'I love you. Goodbye, Dean' might have been what you wanted your last words to be, but now the first thing you've said to me since getting back is 'I have no desire to speak with you', and damn, talk about some character development." Dean clicks his tongue and shakes his head, no longer looking smug, simply just angry now. "Didn't see that plot twist coming, I won't lie. Actually, there's some plot holes in it that just don't sit right. Not quite romantic enough." 

Castiel understands why Dean is angry. He expects it. This is not a burden that he wants to be saddled with, and Castiel cannot save him from it. "Dean, I understand you're angry—"

"Angry? Angry? No, Cas, I'm fucking livid. Who the fuck do you think you are, huh? You waited until the last possible fucking moment to tell me that, and then you just—you made me sit there and watch you die! Do you have any idea—" Dean releases a shaky breath and reaches out to jab Castiel in the chest. "I fucking sobbed when the Empty swallowed you up, you know that? I—I ignored Sam and Jack, gave no fucks about Chuck, and I got blackout drunk. Then Lucifer showed the fuck back up and pretended to be you, and I—Cas, I was… Yes, I'm fucking angry. What did you expect?" 

Castiel isn't particularly surprised by most of this. He knows that Dean would mourn him, even just as family. Lucifer is a shock, however. Jack never mentioned that Lucifer tricked Dean. Had he just not known? This is bad. 

"Lucifer? What did he do? Dean, what did he do?" 

"Yeah, your daddy called him back onto the playing field but couldn't be fucked to—to do you the favor. He just—he called me, using your voice, because he knew I'd let him into the Bunker. And I did. Didn't even ask questions, just ran to the door and let him right the fuck in because I thought—because I hoped it was you." 

"That was...cruel," Castiel says quietly, a strange sense of guilt quivering in his stomach. 

Dean's jaw clenches. "Ya think? You know what pisses me off the most? You're actually back now, and you're acting like—you're being like this." 

"As opposed to what?" Castiel's annoyance comes alive all over again, lying in wait. Dean's just as pissed off as he is. This isn't going well at all, though Castiel never expected it to. "How do you expect me to act, Dean?"

"Oh, I don't know," Dean snaps, seemingly genuinely furious, "maybe a little more in love for a guy who literally confessed his love!" 

Castiel's hands itch to reach out and show Dean what his love could look like, but he restrains himself. He tucks it all away, arching an eyebrow, uninterested with stroking Dean's ego, or whatever it is that he's seeking. "Sorry to disappoint. Forgive me, I don't know how I could act more in love when my feelings are known, and you're aware of them." 

"Well, you haven't offered to suck my dick, not once, so chivalry is dead, apparently. The way I see it, you got one romantic bone in your goddamn body, and you broke it on your trip to the Empty," Dean tells him, apparently angry about this. 

"Ah, of course," Castiel says, because of course. Fine, if Dean wishes to mock him, then Castiel will allow it. He will lean into it. After all, he would gladly suck Dean's dick, and they both know this, so hiding it would do little good. "Consider this my official offer to suck your dick, Dean. Now, will you leave me alone?" 

Dean's mouth snaps shut, his whole body going still. Castiel is preparing for Dean to shut him down, or even shout at him, or possibly try the nice route and quietly ask that he never say such things again. He is not expecting Dean's eyes to glaze over, or the way his throat bobs on one long, slow swallow. He is apparently rendered silent. 

Castiel thinks that might be helpful in the future. Anything to get Dean to shut up. 

"That's what I thought," he says, because truly, it is. He isn't expecting it to look like this, but he'd known from the moment he opened his mouth with that offer escaping him that Dean would not agree to it. That doesn't hurt very much. He thinks he might even be able to look back one day and see the vague amusement in it. 

Not today, however. Not today. 

 


 

Castiel needs a shower, meaning he needs clothes. He is still furious, an angry pulse in his temples, and he wants to do the thing that will piss Dean off the most, or at least get him to shut up. He's quite sure that leaning into Dean's mockery will work, and so he leans. He leans hard. 

Dean's room has not changed since Castiel last saw it. He goes right for Dean's clothes, unwilling to linger in case Dean comes in here. He steals a t-shirt, as well as jeans, though the jeans look fairly new and mildly stiff, as if they're not worn often. Castiel decides to break them in himself. 

It's as he goes to leave that he sees it. 

Castiel comes to a screeching halt when he sees the jacket draped over the back of the chair, on full display, something anyone will look at by simply being in the room. It's a jacket Dean has worn often, and it is the jacket that Castiel touched when pushing Dean to safety before dying. 

His bloody handprint is still there, dry. It's very visible. The jacket has clearly been shifted and moved with the sole purpose of putting the handprint on display, hanging a little awkwardly and folded, not like someone just tossed it over with plans to grab it later. Castiel stares at it for a long time, not understanding why or what he's looking at. 

He cannot fathom why it is there, why Dean hasn't washed it, why it's so blatantly presented, almost as if it's an occupant of this room the same way Dean is. Surely Dean likes this jacket and wishes to wear it again, preferably without the bloody handprint on it. This makes absolutely no sense. 

Castiel presses his lips into a thin line and leaves, going to take a shower, trying not to let the mystery of it get to him. He pushes it away, focusing on the shower itself. This is another human experience that he enjoys—the hot water feels good, the chance to be clean, and by his own hands, is a wonderful thing. He refuses to feel as if he's intruding when using Sam and Dean's things, their shampoo and body wash. If they don't like his presence, then they can take that up with—quite literally—God. 

As he showers, he makes the mistake of thinking about what other human experiences he enjoys. It starts innocently enough. He is hungry. Enjoying food, enjoying the sensation of a hot meal to fill him up...it is nice in a way only being a human can make it. As an angel, it never was. As a human the first time, it was a luxury he came to love, when he could sometimes afford it. 

Another human experience—sex. Venturing into this territory is...dangerous, and he knows that. He does it anyway. Sex had turned out to be something of a relief as a human. He had never quite enjoyed it with Daphne, but he was an angel then, and he's sure now that it had less to do with that and more to do with the fact that he simply was not attracted to her. He wasn't particularly attracted to April, either, but the sex had been good. It was the first feeling of comfort that he'd experienced as a human, a surprisingly emotional thing that he was not at all anticipating. That had ended terribly, but it did help him discover the wonders of sexual release. 

Nothing quite soothes stress the way that does. 

Castiel is very stressed right now. 

He is not quite sure how what happens next even happens next. He knows it is a terrible idea before he even does it, but his self-control has fled him. His mind provides him with the image of Dean's eyes flashing, that small grin curling at the corner of his lips, and then Castiel is touching himself with a hot, wet hand. It unravels from there. 

It does not take very much. Simply thinking of Dean and indulging himself in this way is enough. He never has, not once. He knew better. Oh, he wanted to, but he did not allow himself to, and there was rarely any opportunity to do so. He kept himself quite busy, and he did not often have privacy like this. Something about showers. 

In any case, he knows almost instantly that whatever he had with April and Daphne does not even qualify for what he feels for Dean. It's almost laughable. The comfort of sexual release with them pales in comparison to his release now. It punches out of him, makes him gasp in a way he has never before heard from himself, nearly sends his shaky knees to buckling beneath him. He has to lean against the wall, staring blearily down at his shaking hands, his whole body thrumming with pleasure. 

Ah, this is very, very bad. 

He'd only thought of Dean. If this is how it affects him, how is he meant to spend any time with Dean at all, ever again? How is he supposed to look at Dean ever again? He can't. This is too shameful. 

When he gets out of the shower, the knot in his chest is constricting, almost like a punishment. He ignores it and goes searching for Sam. Distantly, he can hear Dean in the kitchen, making a lot of unnecessary noise for no reason. Castiel can only hope that Sam will walk with him to the kitchen to get something to eat, providing him the chance to avoid Dean and breathe as much as possible. 

Only, Sam is gone. 

Not only is Sam not in his room, but he's just gone. Castiel knows this because Sam's travel bag is gone, and his bed is made nice and neat the way it is when Sam will be gone for more than a day. 

He always makes it up crisp and without a wrinkle in place. He told Castiel once that it was something their dad made them do, withholding breakfast or even the chance to use the bathroom first thing in the morning until it was fixed perfectly enough that it would pass—as Sam said—military inspection. Sam had confessed, lips twisting and oddly sheepish with just a touch of shame, that it's a habit he does instinctively when leaving somewhere for longer than a day, as if perhaps John Winchester will suddenly show up in his absence and be furious that it's not done correctly. 

It feels like Castiel's stomach falls right out from under him. He knows, he just knows, that Sam is gone. Sam is safe, and Sam is gone, and Castiel feels ridiculously betrayed all over again. 

He has to venture into the kitchen on his own.

Bravely, he does. He's very hungry and comes prepared to lean into anything Dean throws his way, if need be. As long as he doesn't directly look at Dean for too long, it should be fine. 

"Is that my shirt?" 

"Yes," Castiel answers bluntly, then settles into the stunned silence, getting his breakfast, making himself some coffee, letting Dean recover. 

"Why is that my shirt?" Dean asks. 

What an odd question. He can feel his eyebrow twitching with the urge to go up. "Because you once purchased it, I presume." 

"Okay, yes, you asshat." Dean lets out this tiny huff as he slowly starts inching towards the table. "I meant, why are you wearing my shirt?" 

"Because it is comfortable and it smells like you." Castiel flicks his gaze over, arching an eyebrow. Both of those statements are true, and he's expecting Dean to be a little more pissed off about it than he seems, or even uncomfortable. There is also the fact that the jacket is in the room and Castiel has now seen it. Is it meant to be a secret? Perhaps it would be rude to bring it up, but Castiel doesn't care about being impolite when Dean has done nothing but infuriate him since he got back to life. "Why do you still have the jacket with my bloody handprint draped over a chair in your room, Dean?" 

Dean's eyes bulge, and there's a twitch right beside his mouth. "Did you go into my room and steal my shirt?" 

"Yes," Castiel admits brazenly. "Answer my question." 

"Hey, fuck you, don't go stealing my shit," Dean blurts out, picking up his pace towards the table, averting his eyes just a bit. 

Castiel isn't letting this go. "You're not answering my question." 

"Just haven't gotten around to washing it yet, that's all," Dean mutters as he sits down, and now Castiel has to break his own rule and stare at Dean, right at him, because that's the most ridiculous thing he has ever heard. 

"You haven't done laundry since I died? I find that hard to believe, Dean," Castiel says. 

Dean says something indecipherable around a mouthful of his omelet. Castiel watches and waits, and when he swallows and looks up, Dean looks vaguely annoyed—which is oddly nice. "The fuck does it matter? Shut up. Can we focus on the fact that you're stealing my shirts? Are you just going to do that now?" 

"Yes." Castiel hadn't actually planned on it, admittedly, but now he's quite sure that he will be doing it for the foreseeable future. He wants to know if Dean will let him, if he can get away with it. Does it make Dean uncomfortable? Would it make him more uncomfortable if Castiel walked around with no shirt at all? He reaches down to test it, getting ready to take the shirt off. "Unless, would you like it back, Dean?" 

Dean jerks so quickly to motion him to a stop that it would be slightly amusing if there surely wasn't an insult in there somewhere. His eyes are a little wide, and he makes an odd choking sound as he rushes to say, "No, it's fine. Keep it. Whatever."

"Thank you," Castiel says indulgently, then goes back to ignoring Dean as much as he's able. 

"You got a shower," Dean tells him a few moments later, and Castiel's first thought is what happened in the shower, but he is careful to keep his face blank and his reactions calm. "And you're eating. Sleeping, too? Are you—"

"Human? Yes. There were certain measures Jack had to take to ensure that my leaving the Empty wouldn't pose a future problem. I wasn't in a position to argue." 

"Right. You mind?" 

Castiel sips his coffee, mind still stuck on what happened in the shower. That alone, he thinks, would make being human worth it. Truly, that experience was...wonderful. He does not tell Dean this, of course. Instead, he says, "Being human? No, not at all. My grace was fleeting at the end, and...there are some benefits to it." 

Dean falls silent, seemingly lost in thought, and Castiel takes the opportunity to go back to ignoring him. Well, he's not very good at that, admittedly, but he's very good at looking like he is. 

Castiel spends the rest of the day ignoring Dean as much as he's able. He wants to lock himself in his room, but he knows that won't solve anything. It won't help prepare him to be in Dean's presence in a normal capacity. Even as a human, Castiel feels finely tuned to Dean. Every move he makes, every time he sighs a little too loud, every single second that his eyes are on Castiel. Dean keeps looking at him, and Castiel can feel it—the sensation is like a trail of heat over his skin. He doesn't dare turn and look to be sure, unwilling to meet his eyes head-on. 

He goes through the motions, speaking when spoken to, making sure to keep space between them, distracting himself only a bit with other things. Yet, he is still too aware of Dean. He knows it when Dean approaches him and has to force himself to ignore it. That plan is ripped right from him when Dean rips the book right out of his hands. 

"A little redundant, don't you think? It's not like you don't already know," Dean says with a snort, reading the title—Angel Anatomy. 

"It's interesting to examine how humans approached it with what information they had." Castiel narrows his eyes. It isn't actually something he's terribly interested in, but it doesn't require all of his focus when reading, seeing as he knows the material already. He can be distracted by Dean and read this book. "Give it back." 

"Nah," Dean drawls, "I don't think I will. Been a while since you and I had any downtime, Cas. Why don't we watch a movie?" 

Castiel resists the urge to say yes immediately. No, they need space. They need to be able to coexist without doing things that will make Castiel feel even more—well, compromised. "I'd rather read." 

"Okay, nerd. But, also, you sure about that? Movies usually come with low lighting and close proximity. Hey, you could finally make your move," Dean tells him with a pointed look, a small smirk dancing at the corners of his lips. Mockery again. 

Very well. 

Castiel steps forward with an arched eyebrow, testing Dean's limits. It seems Dean has a lot of them, because he rips himself backwards and slams into the bookshelves behind him. Castiel watches, interested despite himself. Dean's eyes have gone wide again, glazed over, throat bobbing. It's not fear, exactly, but it's something. Discomfort, perhaps? 

Whatever it is, Castiel does not want to be the cause of it. "Dean, there are no moves to make. If I planned to do anything, I would do it with or without low lighting and close proximity. Rest assured, I've made no such plans." 

He goes back to his room, slamming the door shut with possibly too much force. It's infuriating to know, to have visible proof, that Dean is no longer comfortable with his proximity. He makes jokes about Castiel making a move, but he cannot even stand to be too close to Castiel at all. 

That is for the best. Castiel does not need to get close to Dean, no matter how much he might wish to. He knows there is no point. 

There are more text messages on his phone. 

Sam
Sorry I didn't get to say goodbye, man. I checked in on you and you were asleep. I'm with Eileen now. She says hi! 
You can talk to me if you need to, by the way 
Dean's really glad you're back, just in case he didn't tell you that 

Castiel squints at the last two messages. Yes, he's quite sure that Sam knows of his feelings now. When Dean told him is a mystery, just as well as why. He's not upset about it, not really. There's a chance Sam already knew, or at least had an idea of it. In the end, he decides to ignore it. 

Castiel 
Tell Eileen I said hello. Thank you, Sam. 👍

From Claire, there's a picture of her and Kaia sitting on a beach, hair wet and sand sticking to their necks. They look very happy. Castiel's lips curl up, and he sends back a smiley face because it seems appropriate. It also confirms that he is, in fact, still alive. He's sure she appreciates that. 

Castiel stays in his room until dinner, trying to sleep again. That would be a relief from the strain that comes with being awake and reliving the encounter that happened earlier. Does Dean truly expect him to do anything untoward? Castiel will not. Ever. 

As infuriating as Dean can be and is, Castiel still respects him. He respects his choices, and that Castiel isn't one of them is not surprising or a source of contempt for him. He has never had the misguided belief that Dean would ever want him in this way—that's an instinct he's owned for as long as he's come to know what his feelings even were. It's for the better. He's had years to make peace with the fact that Dean does not feel that way and never will. He's content with what he has. Or, what he had. 

Things are different between them now, and Castiel can sense it. Dean is always watching him, gaze flicking to him over and over, assessing. He knows now, so he's surely seeing Castiel in a new light, trying to understand. It's not the curiosity that bothers Castiel, but rather the mockery that puts him on edge. Just because Dean is uncomfortable does not mean Castiel will stand by and allow himself to be pushed over and over, not for something he doesn't even regret. 

Dinner passes in silence, and Castiel is thankful for that. Dean keeps watching him, but Castiel ignores that, too. The food is good. He focuses entirely on it and the chance to escape as soon as he can. 

Except, as he goes to leave, Dean says, "And where the fuck do you think you're going? You can help wash dishes like the rest of us worker bees, now that you are one. You wash, I'll rinse." 

The bee thing again. Castiel rolls his eyes, but he doesn't see the harm in helping clean up. It's only fair. Standing next to Dean at the sink invites close proximity that Castiel feels prickle over his skin. The knot in his chest jerks viciously, but he ignores it. He isn't doing anything wrong. 

"Worker bees are very important," he finds himself saying, trying to ignore how close they are, how Dean is staring at the side of his face, his gaze heavy. 

"Says the Queen." 

"Not anymore." 

"You sure you're alright with that? Last time you were human…" Dean trails off, the sentence hanging there in between them. 

The last time Castiel was human, Dean kicked him out of the only place he would have dared to believe was home and a sanctuary. "Oh, do finish that thought," he says, curious as to where exactly Dean plans to take it. 

"Fuck you," Dean mumbles, and Castiel fights the urge to smile triumphantly. 

"Are you planning to make me leave again?" 

"No, of course not. Actually, I'll drag your ass kicking and screaming right back here if you do try and leave, so keep that in mind." 

Ah, that's kind. Castiel doesn't particularly care, however. "You needn't worry. I didn't ask to be brought back. Jack left me here, so you'd have no luck in trying to get me to leave. I've decided my existence is no longer my problem." 

"Have you? That's one way to look at it, Cas. Good for you, man." Dean snorts, sounding amused. "So you're my problem now?" 

"Sam's, preferably." Castiel honestly does prefer it that way. The further he can remove himself from Dean's sense of obligation, the better. Besides, Sam is… "He's better equipped." 

There's suddenly an elbow poking into his arm, the soft flannel rubbing across his bare skin. The knot in his chest yanks, and it takes everything within him not to stiffen, pull away, or lean in. Castiel very carefully does not initiate contact, focusing entirely on the dishes he's washing, willing his heart to stop reacting so ridiculously. 

"Why does he get all the credit for it? I raised the kid. I must have done something right for him to turn out so good." 

"His personality is his own."

"And what? You like his better, or something?" Dean asks, sounding vaguely affronted. 

Castiel smiles slightly. "Generally, yeah." 

"Why didn't you fall in love with him, then?" Dean mutters, the weight of his gaze brushing the side of Castiel's face. It feels like a test. 

The thing is, Castiel doesn't mind the curiosity so much. It makes sense that Dean would have questions, that he would try to understand something he can't relate to. Answering these questions doesn't feel like partaking in his own mockery. Dean just wants to know, and Castiel does not mind telling him. The chance to get to be honest about his feelings is not a luxury he ever had before, and he won't miss it now. 

"I suppose he's not my type," Castiel muses with a shrug. "It might be the hair." 

"Oh my god." Dean leans on the sink and proceeds to burst out laughing, hearty chuckles making him bend over the counter as he nearly wheezes. It's a delightful, joyous sound. It brings a spark to his eyes, a flush to his cheeks, and he is only more beautiful with a smile on his face. Castiel can only stare at him, gazing, unable to stop himself. Not even when Dean relaxes and catches him in the act, straightening up and clearing his throat. "Yeah, I guess the hair could be a deal-breaker. Or, it could be just because you met me first." 

Castiel knows that this assumption is not true. His love for Dean Winchester is not circumstantial. It is something that exists, no matter the circumstances. "I'm quite sure that isn't the reason. No matter the circumstances, you are you, Sam is Sam, and I am me. It was always going to be you." 

The plate in Dean's hand goes clattering in the sink, and Castiel glances over at him. He goes very still, staring. Dean is looking straight ahead, jaw clenched, and there's a steady tinge of red flooding his cheeks—a blush. It makes his freckles stand out. 

Castiel just stares at it, mildly fascinated. He's never seen Dean do that before. He's seen him flustered, yes, but never so much that he outright blushes. It is so bad that Dean drops the plate in his hands a total of two more times, his head ducked, not looking at Castiel at all. He looks beautiful. 

It makes Castiel want to reach out and touch, to feel the heat under Dean's skin with his hands, to trace the path the blush makes underneath his freckles. The knot in his chest tightens, a steady reminder that the desire isn't encouraged, but it's not too upsetting this time. Mostly, he's just pleased that Dean is reacting like this at all. It's amusing. 

"But, like, when? I mean, since we met? Was it a 'love at first sight' kind of thing?" Dean eventually says, the words escaping him all at once. 

"That is one way to interpret it. Perhaps it began there. It was gradual. I always knew, I think, even though I somehow also didn't. We've been through much together, so there were times it became so apparent that I couldn't ignore it." 

"You must have been confused as fuck. Being an angel and all, I mean." 

"No, not really," Castiel says. "You met Lily Sunder. It is not the first time an angel felt this way for a human. It was, however, the first time an angel was so brazen as to feel this way for a human known to be entwined in Heaven's plans." 

"Right." Dean laughs—a soft, faint thing. "You're a regular rebel, I know that. Actually, that's probably why you fell in love with me to begin with. It would get you in the most trouble, and you're all about that."

"It has been the least troubling part of my existence," Castiel admits, because it is true. "It came to me naturally."

Dean sucks in a sharp breath, and Castiel can feel him looking once more. "Why didn't you ever say anything?" 

This is where the curiosity no longer seems acceptable. Castiel does not wish to talk about this part. He could go forever without admitting to Dean that he's carried this around with him for years, a simple feeling that never lessened over time, that never stopped being the thing that motivated him. After some time, it felt like his. Sharing it would be giving the security of it up, and he did not want to. He still does not, but he already has. At least now he can admit why never wanted to. 

Because what would be the point? 

"Do you often speak of a father who did better? Do you ever mention a life without pain, or one without ever having gone to Hell?" Castiel murmurs, cleaning the last plate and passing it to Dean. 

"I mean, no, but what would be the point?" Dean asks, and the words strike Castiel right at his center. 

"Precisely," Castiel agrees, the knot in his chest only growing more tangled by the moment. He flicks the water off his fingers and leaves without another word. He has nothing else to say. 

The rest of the day passes...awfully, to be frank. 

Castiel had hoped that admitting to Dean that his feelings are pointless and that he's aware of that would make Dean back off and stop with the mockery. It does not. In fact, if anything, it somehow seems to get worse. 

When he tries to read, Dean wanders over to steal his books and make comments that get under Castiel's skin. He mocks and makes ridiculous expressions and won't leave Castiel alone. He continues to try and tempt Castiel into spending time specifically together, presenting the opportunity to watch movies with so much insinuation packed into his tone that Castiel wants to get up and leave. He has never wanted that so starkly before, and he has never wanted anything less. 

The worst part, Castiel thinks, is how much he's secretly enjoying it. Oh, yes, it does displease him. It even hurts to a degree, especially when it comes to the mockery. It most certainly tests his patience and infuriates him. And yet, despite all that, there is something so thrilling about Dean consistently getting closer to him, trying to talk to him, seemingly unwilling to leave him be. 

In a way, there's relief in it. He'd been so worried that Dean wouldn't even be able to look at him, and now he's doing it too much. 

Unfortunately, shame and irritation drowns out that secret enjoyment and relief. He knows how Dean feels about him, and he knows that won't ever change. Being mocked for his own feelings is the worst part, he thinks. He's never thought of Dean as genuinely cruel, because Dean never sincerely endeavors to hurt someone he cares about—and, despite all of this, Castiel is quite sure that Dean does care about him—but what he's doing now… 

It's crude and childish. It's Dean being as much of an asshole as he can be, and he's very skilled at that particular trait. It should not be in any way enticing, and yet, frustratingly enough, Castiel's fingers itch with the urge to touch Dean, to cross lines that he knows he can't. He is, in so many ways, endlessly weak for Dean Winchester and so, so in love with him that it makes him angry like he never imagined he could be. Dean has always made him feel things that he didn't even know were possible, and this does not appear to be an exception. 

When it's finally an acceptable time to go their separate ways for sleep, Castiel is relieved. He is more than happy to escape and get some much needed reprieve from Dean's...everything. 

It's as they're walking down the hall that Dean blurts out, "Isn't this where you're supposed to toss me over your shoulder and take me to your bed?" 

Castiel narrows his eyes at him. Dean has always been very ridiculous in certain moments, but this is starting to get annoying. "Why would I ever do that?" 

"It's like you keep forgetting that you're in love with me," Dean says, tossing up a hand as if he's irritated with the mere idea. 

"I couldn't," Castiel grits out, scowling at him. The knot in his chest burns, fueling his anger. "You seem to feel the need to remind me every five minutes." 

Dean's eyes brighten, alight with amusement, and it's terrible because it's so lovely. "Hey, it's not easy work, but someone has to do it. So you're not going to toss me over your shoulder and take me to your bed? You're strong enough for it, aren't you?" 

"Yes," Castiel admits, because he is. For a brief second, he gets a flash in his mind of doing precisely what Dean suggested, and he quickly smothers the internal image. No. No, he's not going there. "And no, I will not be doing that. I don't know why you're under the assumption that I would. What gave you that impression?" 

"Well, I kinda figured you'd want to get me into your bed," Dean says, and it's clearly teasing, so Castiel will lean into it. Dean wants to be an asshole? Well, if he insists on serving it, he should be prepared to ingest the same. 

"I'm not opposed. You're more than welcome to join me," Castiel tells him, arching an eyebrow. Truly, Dean has no idea just how true those words are. It only angers him further, just how deeply he wants exactly what Dean cannot and will not give him, especially when Dean continues to mock him for it. 

Dean's suddenly no longer amused. His eyes grow a little wide, glazing over again as he starts taking steady steps back towards his door. His throat bobs on yet another dry swallow. "Ah, I—um… Actually, you know, kinda tired. Uh, goodnight." 

Castiel watches as Dean abruptly whirls around quickly—too quickly, making him run right into his door. After a day such as today, Castiel finds it to be almost liberating to see Dean do something so mildly embarrassing simply because he's flustered. 

"Goodnight, Dean," Castiel says, smiling to himself as he slips into his room before Dean ever manages to remember how doorknobs work. 

If he just so happens to indulge in human pleasures before sleeping, well...he's had a very long day dealing with Dean, so he forgives himself for it. 

 


 

When Castiel wakes, he does so in a state that would embarrass him if anyone were around to see it. He squints at the tented sheet, curious more so than annoyed or confused. 

He doesn't think he dreamed last night—that leftover angel quirk of his—but apparently his body finds something to do in the absence of what would likely be nightmares. This is certainly preferable, to be fair. It's just that Castiel can't help but wonder what has brought this on. 

In truth, he was aroused by Dean before he even understood what arousal was. Not even necessarily in a body response—just in general. He reacts to Dean, and he only reacts louder when Dean is spurring him on. Ah, so this is his doing, then? Castiel should be angry about this, perhaps, and he is angry about the way Dean is treating him...but he genuinely can't complain about the results. They do bring him to this point, where he sets aside his shame and restraint to indulge in hedonistic pleasures that might only be amplified for the reaction Castiel imagines Dean would have if he knew about them. Not that he will ever know about them, because Castiel likes living in ideals. 

In short, his morning starts out so well. 

He's in such a steady mood that he has absolutely no issue with just barging into Dean's room, practically daring him to say something unacceptable. It's a dare that goes unanswered because Dean is not in his room at all, and the jacket with the handprint has been removed from the chair. Castiel narrows his eyes at the empty space, wondering. 

He's still unsure what all of that means. He can't quite find the logic in keeping the shirt for nearly a month, forcing oneself to look at it every day, only to get rid of it when your once-dead friend comes back to life and points it out to you. The idea of keeping a shirt that will only serve as a reminder is something he doesn't understand, and why put the handprint on display? Castiel can't work it out. 

Huffing, he forces himself to let it go. The chances of Dean explaining are slim to none, and he knows it. Dean doesn't talk about things, not what he does or why he does them and definitely not what he's feeling. Castiel has to pluck that out of him with careful precision, like the game of operation, working very hard not to brush the corners of something greater and getting a buzzer for his efforts. It would be exhausting if it wasn't Castiel's favorite game. He could play it every day. 

He wants to. 

Castiel takes a shirt for his shower, and as he slips out of the room, Dean's voice pipes up with, "You know, we could just buy you your own wardrobe, Cas," and Castiel immediately frowns. 

"I do not mind," he says, because he doesn't. He actually quite likes stealing Sam and Dean's clothes, especially Dean's. He doesn't even know where he'd start with having his own, and frankly, it might just be a waste of time and money. 

"Oh, wow, glad we cleared that up. Whatever. Look, I'm about to make breakfast. What do you want?" 

"I don't have any particular request." 

"You sure?" Dean asks, watching him seriously, his gaze clear and sharp and meaningful. 

Castiel gets the feeling that he could ask for anything in that moment, and Dean would bend over backwards to get it for him. His mind turns to places it shouldn't, places he's appalled at himself for even going, and the knot twists in his chest like a harsh reminder. He has to stop. So far today, Dean has been kind to him, and Castiel loves him so much. No matter how or why Dean has awakened his libido—that was never actually asleep to begin with, really—Castiel won't let it control him. 

"Yes, Dean, I'm sure," Cas says, resolute in more ways than one. 

"You're going to get a shower, then?" Dean asks, jerking a nod at his shirt in Castiel's hands. 

Castiel can feel the first flicker of suspicion spark at the base of his spine. "Yes." 

"Uh huh," Dean says, his tone going sing-song and light with amusement, his eyes lighting up like he's settling in to have the time of his life. He leans up against the wall with his arms crossed, ducking his head a little and crowding in closer to Castiel, probably as close as he dares. Too close, in Castiel's opinion. Not close enough. "I bet you'd like to get me in there with you, wouldn't you? Save some water, and all that." 

There it is. Castiel feels his face fall flat into anger, his eyes narrowing as he looks at Dean. He'd hoped this would stop after a day, but apparently that's not the case. "Water conservation is important."

Dean grins at him, swaying closer and not even seeming to realize it. "Is it? How is it important, Cas? Tell me more about that." 

"Fresh, clean water is a resource—not an infinite one, and certainly very expensive."
 
"Right, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you wanting to get me naked, does it?" 

"Well," Castiel declares dryly, flicking up an eyebrow, "that, too." 

Yet again, Dean's response is a curious thing. His eyes glaze over, going a little hazy, and he seems to just—freeze for a few seconds. Abruptly, a considerably higher-pitched laugh than he usually creates just falls from his lips as he flexes his fingers, shaking his hands a little as if he just punched someone, except he hasn't. Perhaps he wants to? Castiel isn't sure what he would do if Dean decided to react violently. A part of him almost welcomes the idea, if only to find out. 

"Breakfast," Dean rasps as he walks away, and Castiel watches him go with his head tilted. 

In the shower, he tests a theory. As it turns out, yes, his body's sudden awareness is Dean's fault. The fact that he knows likely would be enough, as if some part of Castiel is finally tired of the restraint, like he can have this, at least, after all these years. It doesn't help that Dean is being—well, frankly, he's teasing Castiel with things, or about things that he hasn't even allowed himself to think about in detail. 

Castiel doesn't think he's even had a full fantasy involving Dean. He rectifies that shortly, giving into the tide of his most shameful thoughts. Thoughts that Dean started, that he's responsible for. Just the thought of Dean in the shower with him, and it really doesn't take much after that. It's another one of those knee-wobbling revelations that leave him leaning up against cool tile, his eyes closed, his chest heaving. Oh, the things Dean does to him. 

He can never find out. 

Breakfast goes smoothly, as far as Castiel is concerned. He's tentatively hopeful that he and Dean are finding common ground again. Well, he's not looking at Dean, or engaging with Dean, but that's probably for the best. Castiel knows he's watching him, but he's almost sure Dean can't tell what happened when he first woke up, then in the shower, just by looking at him. 

His hopes that they're finding their rhythm again are promptly dashed when Dean crowds right up next to him at the table in the war room after breakfast. He braces his hands on it, leaning in and down as far as he dares without touching, quite literally breathing down Castiel's neck. He's so close that Castiel can taste the heat coming off of him. 

It takes grandiose effort to keep flipping through his book, pretending Dean isn't there, that he can't feel him in a way that makes his arm-hair stand on end, goosebumps traveling over skin. It's such a stark, near-alarming human response, but it's also heady. Castiel keeps his head turned down and away, hiding how his eyes flutter shut, how he has to grip his own thigh with his free hand under the table. The knot squirms in his chest, so damn distracted that it doesn't know whether to relax or tighten. Castiel is somehow sure that it's a minor miracle he doesn't snap and just—just— 

"Cas," Dean says, still so close enough that his breath literally ruffles Castiel's hair, skittering hot and ticklish over his ear. "Whatcha reading?" 

Castiel isn't sure he can talk, actually. He doesn't dare open his mouth. Stupidly, he feels like he might gasp out a breath, or groan, or just give up and verbally rip Dean to shreds for being so...so… 

Dean huffs. "Seriously? Do you even know I'm here? Dude. Cas. Cas. Not this shit again. Cas!" 

"What?" Castiel snarls, slamming his book shut and whipping his head around to glare at Dean directly, and it's Dean's fault that they're this close to begin with, so it's Dean's fault that their noses brush. 

Dean makes an odd, distant noise that's small and quiet, his head wrenching back as he starts unraveling from where he folded in close, and Castiel follows him up. He just—forgoes common sense and follows, standing up at the same time that Dean stops bending down, raising up at the same pace, keeping them that close. Dean nearly knocks over the second chair to start backing up, but he also doesn't really seem to know where to go, his eyes wide in a way that makes Castiel want to just— 

Suddenly, vividly, Castiel remembers how heartbreakingly beautiful Dean Winchester looks on his knees. Before him, specifically. No one else. Anyone else, and it's wrong. The urge to put him there now is strong, but the knot writhes around to grasp his lungs and yank tight, drawing him up short. There's a clatter as Dean backs himself up against the table, running and trapping himself with nowhere to go, and Castiel could follow all the way through, he could, but he halts himself. 

With a scowl, he swings right past Dean with feigned disinterest, pointedly walking around the table. Dean swivels, never leaving his back to him, his eyes still wide. Castiel takes the seat across the table and drags his book back in front of him, his eyes set into slits. Dean stares at him. 

Castiel flicks his gaze to the chair next to Dean. 

Dean sits very slowly, still just staring at him. 

Castiel goes back to his book. 

And so it continues. 

The moment Dean recovers, he's right back to it, and Castiel thinks of the scripture—love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. So, as it turns out, that was a lie. Whichever man wrote that did not anticipate Dean Winchester.

Over and over, Dean pushes him. He gets closer, then backs off when Castiel leans into it. He says things that give Castiel so many ideas that he can't actually stand for fear of giving himself away. His body betrays him, and he's so angry, but the only way he can retaliate to get any reprieve is to take it even further than Dean does. 

It's a cycle that infuriates him. It's also something that makes Castiel's body sing. It's better even than the powerful surge of grace, better than the brief headiness of being God. Truly, the effect Dean has on him is outright ridiculous. 

Dean doesn't give in. He only pulls back, then returns to whatever mockery he's assigned to himself as his new mission in life with a determination that Castiel didn't think him capable of when it came to this subject. At one point, Dean gets away to make sandwiches, but when he comes back, he's right back to it. 

"So, like, did you know you had the hots for me before Jack was even thought about?" Dean asks, watching him without even blinking. 

Castiel—who is discovering his distaste for tomatoes—sighs and says, "Yes, Dean." 

"Huh. Before Amara, then?" 

"Yes." 

"Before I was a demon?" 

"Yes." 

"While I was a demon?" Dean asks, his voice getting a little higher with—interest? Surely not. 

"Yes," Castiel admits, glaring because yes, and maybe he should be more ashamed of that than he actually is. But, again, no matter the circumstances.

"You would have fucked me while I was a demon?" Dean asks, his voice getting even higher. 

"Given the chance—probably," Cas mutters, sitting the sandwich down with a scowl, knowing there's really no probably about it. 

Dean sounds a little breathless—probably with horror—when he says, "Kinky." He's staring down at his sandwich with wide, glazed eyes. "Right, so...when you were human, too? Before that? Purgatory?" 

"Yes, Dean," Castiel declares with a gusty sigh, looking up at the ceiling. He has no faith left to beg anyone for patience, outside of his faith in Dean, and he's surely not going to grant it to him—that much is obvious. "Just assume that at any point in all the time I've known you, I would have gladly had sex with you. A decade ago, yesterday, tomorrow, and a decade from now." 

"Cas, what the fuck, dude?" Dean blurts out, and he is right to judge Castiel for this, but he did ask. 

"Do not ask questions you don't want the answer to, Dean," Castiel warns, dropping his head and glaring at him. He spreads his hands, helpless to the bitterness he feels as he says what he does next. "I am at your disposal. Use me as you see fit." 

He knows Dean won't. He knows he wants Dean to do it anyway. He knows neither of these things would be a problem if Dean would stop drawing attention to them. Castiel can admit that they've failed each other as friends before many times, but this is a little far, even for Dean. 

Fortunately, this is just enough push-back to send Dean scurrying off to the kitchen, his face a curious red as he goes. Castiel watches him leave, then very pointedly takes a chair with his back to the rest of the room, focusing on his book. 

For the next four hours, they don't interact at all, and it's both glorious and torturous. Castiel can feel Dean staring at him, even if he's not looking. Everything about Dean is loud, always has been, especially when Castiel was an angel. It's still that way when he's a human. He can't escape it, and perhaps it's stupid and an unreasonable draw to misery, but he doesn't particularly want to escape. 

Dean breaks his silence with, "Hey, Cas." 

Cas—having learned his lesson on ignoring Dean too much—hums and says, "Hm?" 

"Whatcha reading?" 

"A thrilling analysis on how Egyptians were far superior and ahead of their time in every way. Why?" 

"Just asking. You, uh, seem pretty...you know, focused." 

"Mhm." 

"On the book," Dean points out, like this is an issue Castiel should be fixing. Castiel doesn't even know what the issue is. What, he can't read now?

"Yes," Castiel murmurs, hoping his disinterest will make Dean back off, though he should know better than that by now. 

"You don't have to sit all the way across the room, Cas. You do know that, right? You can sit next to me. I won't bite," Dean offers with what seems to be forced casualness. 

Castiel isn't an idiot. "I'm fine here." 

"You'd probably like it if I did bite," Dean muses, sounding like he's grinning again, and Castiel's entire body goes tight. "Or maybe you'd like to bite me. Anywhere in particular?" 

Yes, Castiel would like that. Both or either, it hardly matters. Dean doesn't have to point it out. His nostrils flare, and he snaps his book shut as he slowly turns in his chair, even more furious when Dean's eyes light up with triumph. He's being childish. He's being purposefully awful, and Castiel loves him so much that he can barely stand it. The knot in his chest is starting to squirm again. 

"Dean, shut up," Castiel orders sharply, because at this point, playing nice is getting him nowhere. 

"Okay, so the biting is a thing. Very naughty of you, Cas," Dean says playfully, his eyes fully sparkling. He looks so pleased with himself at Castiel's expense, and Castiel is so ridiculously in love that he's almost proud to be the reason that Dean looks that happy, as underhanded as it may be. "No, but seriously, where?" 

That's like asking someone to pick a beautiful star in the sky; there are so many options. Castiel does not do well with options. He never had options until he made them for himself, and then he grew to fear them because he made too many mistakes with those options. He'll do the same now, he's sure, but refusing Dean anything has never been an option to him at all. It isn't now. 

"At the moment?" Castiel asks, reaching up to pinch his nose, feeling the headache start right in between his eyebrows. Dean is a headache. 

Dean goes still, staring at Castiel with his mouth hanging open slightly. "Wait, like right now? You'd—you want to—" 

"Yes, Dean," Castiel says, leaning into it, leaning as hard as he can. Blunt and truthful. It's the only thing that seems to work. He drops his hand. "Desire and attraction are continuous, constant things for me, in regards to you. You'll have to be more specific when referencing my never dormant desires." 

"Never dormant?" Dean parrots, his voice going pitchy again, and then there's the beautiful sound of him springing to his feet. "The soup. I have—I should check on the soup." 

Castiel relaxes as Dean flees yet again, and he focuses on his book. He hasn't read one word and doesn't now. Instead, his gaze goes distant as he stares at the words, his mind fixated on the mental image of leaving marks all over Dean's neck. He shakes his head at himself, then indulges himself with the fantasy. He is human, after all. 

Over dinner, Dean brings up the last thing that Castiel would ever expect him to. 

"What about marriage?" he asks, swiveling his spoon through his soup. 

"What about it?" Castiel replies, squinting. 

Dean coughs, resolutely staring down at his bowl and the spoon he swirls through it. "Did you ever, you know, think about it with me?" 

"No," Castiel admits, shaking his head, thankful to have the right answer to give to this, at least. Or so he thinks. 

"No?" Dean echoes, snapping up straight and staring at him head-on, looking absurdly affronted. "What do you mean no? You don't wanna marry me?"

"No." 

"Well, why the fuck not? You wanna fuck me five ways to Sunday, but I'm not good enough for marriage? Fuck you, I'm husband material. I'd make a great goddamn husband." 

Castiel blinks. This...is not the response he's expecting. Dean seems genuinely offended, as if Castiel not wanting to marry him is a personal slight, even though it's not. Truthfully, he simply never fooled himself into entertaining that idea. Another pointless endeavor. 

"Dean, in what world would you have ever agreed if I did happen to consider it and want it?" Castiel asks pointedly, raising his eyebrows. When Dean snaps his mouth shut, he nods. "Exactly." 

Dean doesn't look any happier. He's frowning when he mumbles, "No, fuck off. We both know there are a lot of universes out there and shit. Who knows? I mean, we can't know. So...shut up." 

"You're suggesting there is a world in which you might have agreed?" Castiel asks cautiously. 

"I mean, yeah, sure. Why the fuck not? There were squirrel versions of ourselves, Cas. It can't be that farfetched that there's a Dean out there somewhere who would have said yes if you asked." 

"I see." 

Castiel does not see, but that's besides the point. He can't understand what Dean's attempting to do by saying this to him. Is this supposed to be a comfort?

Dean focuses back on his spoon, his eyebrows drawing together. "Would you—I mean, if you could, would you go get your happily ever after with that Dean?" 

"No, Dean," Castiel murmurs, pulling his gaze from his own soup. The moment feels oddly fragile, and he can't imagine why. "I only want you." 

"He would be me, just a different version," Dean insists, his voice growing quieter and quieter. 

Castiel shakes his head. "Then he would not be you." 

"Yeah, but it would be easier for you, right? Existing with that version instead of—" Dean cuts himself off, staring down at his soup in silence. 

Ah, Castiel thinks sardonically, suddenly getting it. Or, he thinks he gets it. Even in this, in something he doesn't even want, a burden, Dean will find ways to believe himself inadequate. Castiel almost holds the truth of it close to his chest out of sour derision, but Dean means too much to him for that. He sighs softly, a sort of tragic sadness making the perpetual knot in his chest quiver. 

"I understand existing better when doing it with you," Cas tells him, soft and tender, meaning it because he's helpless to it, "but this you. It can only be you." 

Another curious response comes from Dean, and Castiel finds that he likes it. Dean's breath hitches and escapes him, and then he's groaning, reaching up to cover his face with both hands. Castiel can see the tinge of pink on the other side of his fingers, and he wants to reach out and peel Dean's fingers away. He wants to bask in it, utterly delighted. 

He has no right to, so when Dean drops his hand and mutters, "Right. Eat your fucking soup," Castiel shuts up and does exactly that. 

While Dean is in the shower, Castiel has to talk himself out of yet another shower, simply for more knee-wobbling experiences. He's frustrated and pent up from Dean constantly pushing him all day, but he's quite sure an additional shower would be ever so slightly suspicious. What he does in the privacy of a room that's never felt like his anyway, however...well, that's his business. 

The thought lingers. His body responds. It's so very responsive when it comes to Dean. A part of him wishes that he could blame it on humanism, but that would be a blatant lie. He's almost positive that it would be this bad if he'd told Dean his feelings earlier and got this response while he was an angel. Perhaps it would have even been more obvious. Broken wings trying to unfurl, grace surging forward to bust lightbulbs, eyes glowing in a way that simply shutting his eyes couldn't hide. 

He wonders how Dean would react to that. It makes him envy being an angel almost, just because he thinks Dean would leave him alone about his feelings if he knew how severely they affect Castiel. Perhaps he should tell Dean. 

Almost as soon as he's had the thought, he dismisses it entirely. Nothing good could come from it. 

Castiel thinks pleasure is healthy, in that it keeps him from treating Dean intolerantly for something that's not actually his fault. Yes, he is perpetuating the problem, but the problem itself? The blame goes to Castiel for that. If he can just figure out how to manage it, things might be easier. Why Dean feels the need to make it harder, Castiel will never know.

So, sexual release is a...bandaid, at the very least. It's something that can help filter this, acting as debris in a dam to redirect the flow of water. At the moment, it's the only thing he has. 

He stands up, his mind focused on getting to his room and relieving some of the pressure. He doesn't like how much frustration has built up in him throughout the day. It's a tight, heated feeling under his skin that sends his mind in directions it can't go. 

On his way to his room, Castiel comes to a screeching halt when he sees Dean do the same across from him, pausing right in front of Castiel's destination. Ah, this is… 

Castiel narrows his eyes. Dean looks just as wound tight as Castiel feels, though he can't imagine why. What does he have to be frustrated about? Castiel can feel a prickle start up under his skin, making him tense as he surveys Dean, who is surveying him with equal agitation. 

"Going to bed?" Dean asks, his voice curt. 

Castiel nods jerkily, thinking of why he's going to bed. "Not to sleep, as I'm not tired, but yes." 

Dean's body doesn't relax, but his eyes light up yet again. "Right, because you have a lot of things you'd rather be doing than sleeping." He grins, gesturing to his own body and waggling his eyebrows, seemingly smug. "Namely me, obviously." 

"Obviously," Castiel agrees, because that's a foregone conclusion and Dean continuously pointing it out is beyond ridiculous at this point. He rolls his eyes and sighs. "If you'll excuse me, you're in front of my door." 

"Am I? Wow, that must be very tempting for you, Cas," Dean mocks, crossing his arms and going solid as if he has no intentions of moving. He sounds mean, borderline harsh, and Castiel is bristling before he can stop it. "You've never asked me to move before. What, you scared to touch me now?" 

"I'm not sure what you're implying," Castiel says stiffly, inwardly pleading that Dean won't push this issue. He can't touch Dean. He can't. Not now, not when he's this—this—

Dean flashes him a grin, showing his incisors, his playful canines. It's a smile made of art, the same way blood is beautiful before you realize it's blood. "Oh, I think you are. You've been back for two days and haven't touched me once. What's that about?" 

"Dean," Castiel grits out, grinding his teeth. It's not a pleasant sensation, not with the sound of it echoing in his head, racketing the tension up higher, but it does take the edge off. 

"So you are scared to touch me?" There's a challenge in Dean's voice that's hard not to fall prey to, a curl at his lips that's hard not to kiss. "Hey, man, you gotta face your fears some time. Trust me, I would know." 

"I have no desire to touch you, Dean," Castiel lies. It's an outright lie and they both are aware of this, but he's hoping that Dean will be kind enough not to mention it. All the times in the past that he's let Dean exist safely in his lies, surely he can grant him the same just this once in return. 

Dean snorts and evicts him from the lie viciously, because of course he does. "Yeah, no dice, buddy. We both know that's complete bullshit. A for effort, though." 

"Move out of the way, please," Castiel manages to bite out through a clenched jaw, and he's trying. He's trying so hard to handle this properly before he overflows. He feels like a corked bottle about to shatter under the pressure. 

"Oh, how polite," Dean teases, satisfaction flaring in his eyes. He's awful. He's lovely. "What are you going to do if I don't? Stand out here all night?" 

The cork works itself free with a metaphorical pop. For one second, Castiel considers doing exactly as Dean suggests, if only to be spiteful, but he would much rather get into the safety of his room to find release that won't change things between him and Dean even more. The frustration spikes hot, slamming into him hard, because Dean just keeps pushing, and pushing, and pushing. 

Why won't he stop pushing? Castiel's restraint has been hanging by a thread for a long time, if he's honest with himself, but Dean's just tugging on it now. It hurts. It feels so good that Castiel doesn't know what to do. 

In the moment, the unfairness of the situation washes through him. Yes, he may have brought these feelings on himself, but Dean doesn't need to toy with them. Castiel doesn't think Dean is being intentionally cruel, but at this point, it is cruel. It's not right. If he keeps pushing, Castiel may have to leave, and that's the last thing he wants to do. 

The only option is to push back and find safety in release, because without it, he's sure that things will get infinitely worse. He and Dean have a knack for getting into very serious fights, and Castiel doesn't want to fight about this. He can't. Yet again, he's struck with the thought that he won't be able to win. 

A draw is something else entirely. That, he can do. 

It's possibly wrong to utilize the fear Dean has of his proximity, but it's definitely wrong for Dean to make a mockery of his feelings and twist the knife deeper when he doesn't have a reason to. Castiel is very familiar with the term two wrongs don't make a right, but he's also familiar with the heat seeping into his veins right now, the itch in his hands. 

Dean wants him to face his fears? Dean wants him to touch him? Fine. Very well. Castiel will. 

Castiel surges forward and fists his hands in Dean's outer flannel, roughly yanking him to the side, away from the door, and he shoves him back up against the wall hard enough to feel a vindictive surge of delight at the way Dean's breath leaves him, small and shaky. His eyes widen, glazing over again as if he's checked out entirely just that quickly, and there's a notable change in his expression. It seems to just—fall open, his lips parting despite how he isn't breathing, his chin tilting back as he hunkers down, his shoulders dropping. It's as if he's folding himself down to make himself smaller, like he's trying to look up at Castiel, too dazed to remember that he's actually a little taller. 

Frankly, Castiel would call it...blooming, or unraveling, or opening up—all without the conscious desire to. Even in his anger, he fears that it's a defense mechanism Dean has, as if he has no other options. It doesn't excuse anything, but it does drag Castiel back into himself with the force of a slap. He's still practically vibrating, so frustrated that he's being rough without meaning to. 

"I said move," Castiel declares, getting his point across and ripping himself away almost violently, knowing he needs to before he can't. 

He shoves himself into the room, slamming the door shut and almost immediately leaning back against it, exhaling slowly. He still feels like he's shaking, and he's so aroused now that it's borderline painful. One hand falls down of its own accord, while his other hand darts up to clamp over his mouth the moment his breath stutters around a nearly-silent whimper. His eyes fall shut, and he stands there, his ears perked and his hand moving where it shouldn't when he knows Dean still hasn't moved on the other side. He is very aware that Dean is there, and it only heightens the feeling that claims every inch of him. 

Castiel thinks about it, about the feeling of Dean's body fully just relaxing along his, about the way Dean stared at him without seeming aware of anything at all, as if somewhere between his back slamming into the wall and Castiel slamming into him, he actually lost his mind. He thinks about what he wanted to do, where he wanted to touch, how he wished to shut Dean up with his own mouth, biting him if he had to. He would. He would in a heartbeat. 

Another sound tries to escape him, and Castiel squeezes his hand over his mouth harder, tightening enough to make his jaw ache. His head tips back, his chest heaving. He can feel the approaching release swell within him, rushing him before he can get his bearings. It's quicker than it has ever been and brought forth from such small amounts of stimulation—just the heel of his hand rocking faster, faster, faster. He clings to the memory of Dean against him, his warmth, his smell, that little breathless ah when his back hit the wall.  

Outside, there's the distant sound of Dean roughly clearing his throat, and the confirmation that Dean is still there, as well as the sound of him, makes Castiel lose it entirely. He frantically turns the back of his hand towards his mouth, biting down on the thin skin there, breathing harshly through his nose as he muffles the groan that wants to break free in the space between his teeth and his throat. It works, miraculously enough, and he slumps back against the door, holding his breath as he listens to the thud of Dean's boots fade away. 

Slowly, Castiel sinks down the length of the door, panting. It takes him a few moments to sort out his thoughts, and then he opens his eyes and looks down at his lap with judgement. He arches an eyebrow at the mess, as if it is to blame. 

"That was excessive," he notes, unsure if he's informing his genitals of this, or just checking with himself to make sure he's aware. 

He's very aware. 

Well, at least when he goes to bed, he does so sated, satisfied, and very comfortable. 

 


 

Castiel can't bring himself to leave the room the following morning. Immediately upon waking up, the knot lodges up into his throat, and he's too weighed down by it to move. 

What did he do? What was he thinking? 

He replays the night before in his mind. To run through it again, he lashed out against Dean, touched him without permission, then proceeded to...ah, well, use it for ammunition in his plight for sexual release, all while Dean was just on the other side of the door. In the moment, of course, it had seemed a completely rational thing to do, if not a bit dramatic. Now? Not quite. 

A part of him worries about what this is supposed to achieve. What is it that Dean's hoping for in doing this? Does he want Castiel to do something unforgivable, something that will provide an excuse to make him leave? If that's the case, he doesn't have to go to such desperate measures. Castiel thinks leaving might be in his best interest. 

He sincerely doesn't want to, for more reasons than just because he's drawn irrevocably to Dean. What about Jack? He wanted Castiel here. 

Though, really, Castiel is starting to think that's just an excuse. Jack is God. He could locate Castiel anywhere at any time. The only true link Castiel has to this Bunker is Dean—and, belatedly, he thinks of Sam. That's not very kind of him, because he does consider Sam a friend. It's just that he considers Dean so much more, and he always has, which is overstepping in the truest sense of the word. 

Another day. Castiel can do another day. If things don't calm at all, he'll just quietly go. He's almost sure that that's what Dean wants and doesn't know how to ask for. Perhaps he's worried about coming off as an asshole more so than he already is, in a definitive way that would lead him to be guilty. Castiel thinks if that is the case, he shouldn't concern himself with it. He's very aware that it's not his ability to feel romantically and sexually for men that's the problem. It's that he feels that way specifically for Dean that is. 

Even still, it gnaws at Castiel—the way Dean has been acting towards him. Riling him up on purpose, running when Castiel responds. It isn't right. Castiel should be a lot angrier than he is, perhaps even disgusted, but he doesn't know how to see Dean's flaws for what they are and not pick them apart, finding the source, examining them in a way that will excuse him. If he can't, he simply ignores them, because loving Dean is more than just something he can't stop himself from doing. It's something he wants to do. Something he chooses to do, every single day. He never wants to choose differently. 

There are more text messages on his phone from Claire and Sam, but also surprisingly from Eileen. They have no text threads, even though they traded numbers back when Sam nearly died and Eileen held a grown man up against the wall by his throat. He had liked her the moment he met her, but in that moment, he had felt an understanding settle within him that she felt the same for Sam that he did Dean, at least in that she was willing to do seemingly unacceptable things on his behalf. Honestly, it was a strange comfort. He was beginning to think it was limited purely to the Winchesters, and he was the one who just so happened to take it too far. 

In Claire's case, she just asks if he's still alive, to which he responds with an affirmative and a smiley face, yet again. In Sam's case, he's just checking in, asking if everything is okay. Castiel thinks Sam knows his brother very well, if he's so worried. 

As for Eileen, well… 

Eileen
If it makes you feel any better, Sam told me this story where Dean once fell in a sewer. He said Dean jumped in because the impala betrayed him and tried to run him over. He also said that Dean smelled really bad. 

Castiel stares at the message, not quite understanding why this is supposed to make him feel any better. He decides to ask. 

Castiel
Why is this supposed to make me feel better? 

Eileen
Because Dean smelled bad? 

Castiel
Why would I want him to?

Eileen
Yeah, that's fair. 
Well, there is something to him loving his car even though it tried to run him over.
He probably didn't express it to the car. 
He's not a very expressive guy. 

Castiel
Dean speaks to Baby fondly very often.
He isn't very expressive, you are correct.
He usually isn't. 💢

Eileen
Oh, so he has been?
Since you got back, I mean. 
Expressive how? 👀

Castiel
You like emoticons, too? 🙂

Eileen
I'm very expressive. 
That also wasn't the question. 
👀

Castiel squints at his phone. The minutes tick by. He should not respond to her on the subject of Dean. She'll only tell Sam, and Castiel does not want these issues drawn out across the brothers. They tend to find things to argue about that they don't actually need to, and he refuses to be fuel for that. He's about to set his phone aside when it lights up yet again with another message. 

Eileen
Sam is in the shower. 
I'll tell you another embarrassing story about Dean that I know.
And I won't tell Sam. 

Castiel caves. 

Castiel
He won't leave me alone.

Eileen
Dean? 

Castiel
Yes. Dean. 😟

Eileen
Do you
Want him to? 

Castiel
No.

Eileen
Is he being a dick? 
Sam thinks he's being a dick. 
I'm inclined to agree. 
From what I know of Dean, he's probably being a dick. Just for reasons that probably aren't as bad as you think they are. 

Castiel
Dean is a good man.

Eileen
So is Sam. Doesn't mean he's not a dick at times. Because he is. 
I think it comes with the last name. 

Castiel
You might have a point.
I've never met a Winchester who's default is kindness.
Jack, perhaps.

Eileen
I think if you want Dean to leave you alone, you're going to have to tell him. 
A little bit of space might be helpful before things get out of hand. 
If that's what you really want. 

Castiel
I think I want to know the next embarrassing story about Dean.

Eileen proceeds to send him a long stream of messages listing various embarrassing moments in Dean's life, courtesy of Sam. All of it predates Castiel, which is nice. He likes knowing things about Dean that he wasn't present for, and it's not often that Dean will share them. 

Apparently, when Dean was sixteen, he tried to break into a vending machine to steal the money out of it, but panicked when it started raining coins, which caused him to slip in the pile of quarters and get a nosebleed. Castiel doesn't find this very embarrassing, even though Sam supposedly does, but then again, he doesn't think Sam has considered why Dean was trying to steal the money in the first place. However, Dean walking around with tissue stuffed up his nose for the next few hours and getting flustered when the girl he had a crush on at the time who stayed in the hotel happened to see his state is actually amusing. 

Eileen keeps the stories coming. Most of it has to do with Dean as a teenager, trying to be cool and making a fool of himself instead—according to Sam, passed on through Eileen. Instead of making Castiel feel better, it just makes him feel fond. 

Eileen 
The teacher apparently made him stick his head into the locker after that and 
Oh, wait. 
Sam is out of the shower. 
Nevermind, he's calling Dean. 

Castiel
You don't feel upset about not telling Sam you're talking to me?

Eileen
Nah. I can talk to him and text at the same time. Sam is really good at signing these days. 

Castiel
That is not what I meant. 
I don't wish to pressure you into keeping things from Sam.

Eileen
You've never had many friends, huh?

Castiel
Sam and Dean.

Eileen
Does Dean count?

Castiel
😟

Eileen
That's what I thought.
It's not betraying your boyfriend to keep secrets between friends, Cas. 
Keep that in mind when I tell you things. 

Castiel
I don't have a boyfriend.

Eileen 
😏
Ha, Dean just told Sam that you two are doing perfectly fine. 

Castiel stares at his phone, his face slowly falling flat, a surge of annoyance hitting him in the chest. They're doing fine? They're doing fine? 

Castiel
Dean needs to reevaluate his definition of "fine" 😠

Eileen
Sam offered for us to come, but Dean said no. 
Do you want us to come? 
We will, no matter what Dean says. 

Castiel
No. I think it will be fine.
Maybe today will be better.

Eileen
Dean just called you a turtle
🐢 

Castiel
A turtle?

Eileen 
He thinks you ignoring your feelings for him will be a problem. He's trying to make sure things aren't awkward between you two. 

Castiel
Should you be telling me this?

Eileen
Friends. It's what we do 🤝

Castiel
I like you very much.

Eileen 
My own personal stamp of approval from the angel himself? Doesn't get better than that. 😇 

Castiel
😇
Though, not to alarm you, I'm no longer an Angel. I'm unsure if you've heard.

Eileen
Sam told me. Still. 
Also, have you by chance seen the Bee Movie?

Castiel
What's the title?

Eileen
The Bee Movie.

Castiel
Yes, you said. What's the title?

Eileen
Cas, the title IS "Bee Movie" 

Castiel
Oh. No, I haven't watched it.
Do you recommend it?

Eileen 
You have no idea.
You and Dean should watch it together.

Castiel
I refuse to watch movies with Dean.

Eileen
Okay, harsh. 
Why? 👀

Castiel
He said it was ample opportunity for me to "make my move"
I have no moves, Eileen. 😠

Eileen
Oh my god. 

Castiel
What?

Eileen
Hey, did you know there are cleaning supplies under the sink in the Bunker? 

Castiel
No. How is that relevant?

Eileen
Just thought you should know. 
Dean wants to take you out for soup. 

Castiel
I don't think that would be a good idea.

Eileen
Then you better run. 

Castiel
😟

Eileen
Good luck, sweetie. 
Go get your man. 

Castiel
What?
Eileen?
😠
I take back your stamp of approval.

Eileen
😇

Castiel sighs, pushing himself to his feet the moment he hears Dean's boots approaching his door, being unnecessarily loud. When he knocks, he's equally loud. It's more of a bang on the door, and Castiel can hear the annoyance in it. 

He doesn't think it's fair for Dean to be annoyed. Castiel hasn't done anything to be annoyed by. He certainly isn't telling other people that they're fine. Is that what Dean thinks? Does he honestly believe that they've been okay since Castiel returned? Is this just how Dean wants to carry on for the rest of however long they're around one another? Castiel doesn't think he can do that. 

He so desperately wants to do that. 

When he yanks open the door, Dean looks just as wound up as he did the night before, if not more. He's holding a coat, one of his, and he flicks his gaze over Castiel before narrowing his eyes. He shoves the coat at Castiel with a glare. 

"Here. Put that on. We're eating out today. Don't feel like cooking," Dean snaps. 

Leaving with Dean is not a good idea. Castiel frowns. "I could—" 

"And burn my kitchen down?" Dean snorts and steps back. "I don't think so. Get dressed. Meet you at Baby in five." 

With that, Dean turns around and walks off. Castiel huffs and slams the door shut, glaring at the jacket. He's tempted to toss it aside and wear his trenchcoat, simply because he knows that's exactly what Dean's trying to avoid. He holds the jacket up, then draws it closer, blinking. It's—

It's the jacket Dean had on display in his room. The handprint is gone entirely, no traces of it at all. Castiel smooths his thumb along the fabric, the knot in his chest seeming to roll up with endless string, getting heavier and bigger. It makes him feel cramped on the inside, like the knot is shifting up to put a lump in his throat. 

Slowly, Castiel slips into it, careful about it. The jacket is only slightly snug on him, but seeing as it's loose on Dean, that makes sense. He drags his fingers up the sleeve slowly, shying away from where he placed his hand before he—before he—

Castiel's next breath leaves him in a rasp, and he sinks down on the edge of his bed, ducking his head and turning his face into the collar of the coat. He inhales, feeling unreasonably bereft and achy because it doesn't smell like Dean anymore. It smells fresh and clean, like laundry detergent and the slightest hint of other fabrics. Dean must have had it hanging in his closet. 

For a long time, Castiel sits there and pulls the jacket around him as tight as it will go. He squeezes his eyes shut, wavering between a deep sadness he can't shake and something else. Something he doesn't want to acknowledge. 

A longing unlocked and fully formed. 

In the simplest terms Castiel can think of, he longs for Dean. He has for years, but it was hidden before, or as hidden as he could make it. Now, it has seen the light of day, and it has no intentions of receding to the dark once more. Castiel did let the sun shine on his face, and for all that he feared it happening, he never prepared himself for the loneliness that would cling to him in the aftermath. 

He misses Dean so very much. He misses when they touched, when interacting with him did not lead into inevitable anger and hurt. He misses when Dean had all the power and wasn't aware of it. Now that he is, he uses it for as long as he can stand it. You reap what you sow, Castiel thinks, except Dean can stitch anything he likes into who they are and never suffer through the unraveling. It's just Castiel who has to endure. 

Castiel breathes out, slowly picking his head up. He checks his phone to see if he has any new messages. Just Sam telling him to call if he needs anything. Sam is a wonderful friend. 

Four minutes have passed. 

Castiel waits an additional two on purpose, then he goes to the garage and does not speak to Dean. 

It's very hard not to, as it turns out. He can feel the tension radiating off of Dean as if he's yelling it at the sky. Dean also continues to glance over at Castiel every few minutes, looking more and more annoyed each time that he does. Castiel can see it from where he's watching Dean's reflection in the passenger side window, studying his features secretly, because he does enjoy doing so. 

When they arrive at the diner, Castiel eases into the kindness of a waitress familiar with Dean. He's always enjoyed watching Dean interact with women. It's something that comes to him naturally, and he appreciates how it has evolved through the years. It's different from how he interacts with men, though Castiel has never really understood why that is. Dean is more open with women, kinder, playful. He's even flirtatious, though the seriousness of that has lessened through the years. With men, he's gruffer, more serious, only playful in sarcasm if he doesn't like the man at all. 

It comes as a surprise when Dean's slightly awkward with Tabitha—who asks to be called Tabby. He keeps his responses shorter than normal, staring over Tabby's left shoulder as he places his order, his gaze darting to Castiel more than once. Surely he's not hoping that Castiel will be the charming one between the two of them. That's Dean's specialty, for which Castiel is more than thankful, because he has no desire to try his hand at it. 

Well, Tabby is nice, at least. 

Apropos of exactly nothing, Dean drags his drink to him when Tabby drops it off and leans towards Castiel, blurting out, "Jealousy. Are you—did you ever get jealous?" 

"Over you?" Castiel asks, his irritation with Dean coming back slowly, trickling through him. It's not quite what it has been for the last two days, but it looks like it could get there. For now, it mostly seems to be curiosity. 

"Who else?" Dean asks, rolling his eyes. 

Cas sighs. "Yes." 

"Yes?" Dean jolts in his seat, staring at Cas, completely focused on him. "Of who? I mean, I've had my fair share of hookups over the years, and you were around for most of them. So…" 

Castiel ducks his head to hide his swallow. He doesn't particularly want to talk about this subject. Jealousy was one of the first clear emotions he actually felt, though he hadn't been able to identify it at the time. All of his emotions before it were muddled, not sharp. They seemed to come through a clogged funnel. Jealousy, however… That one was brutal and poignant. He hadn't been able to feel it without feeling all of it. He remembers that sensation, that burn that shot through him unexpectedly, watching Dean's face tilt down, Anna raising up. Their kiss had been tender. 

"Anna," Castiel admits quietly, focusing on the menu, willing the distant hurt to fade. 

"Who?" Dean asks, and ah, well, that makes it fade quickly. "Oh. Oh. Fuck. Your sister. Jesus Christ, I fucked your sister." 

"You did," Castiel agrees, because he did. He doesn't particularly want to think about it, but he's aware that Dean never did it to hurt him specifically. 

Dean releases a low groan, sounding—embarrassed? Why? "Dude, that's really—fuck, I'm so sorry. I'm—" 

"Why?" Castiel asks, confused, head tilting. He doesn't understand why Dean's apologizing. "You have nothing to apologize for, Dean. You didn't do anything wrong." 

"Yeah, I know, but like...your sister, man," Dean mumbles, grimacing. He still looks mortified, for some reason. "That's—you know what? That's completely fair. Uh, anyone else?" 

Castiel thinks about it for a moment, though he hardly needs to, then he hums. "The vampire." 

"Which one?" Dean asks. 

"Benny," Castiel says, resisting the urge to grind his teeth. That vampire. 

Dean's eyes bulge. "Benny? Are you fucking with me? What the hell did you have to be jealous of him for? We never—he and I never—" 

"I know," Cas assures him, though he also wonders if perhaps they did, but Dean just rewrote those memories as well, "but you two did share a bond. You cared for him very much. I...didn't like it." 

Dean releases an incredulous laugh. "You didn't like it. Wow, okay. So, the way you acted towards him in Purgatory was you pitching a fit, basically?" 

"He provoked me," Cas mutters, and the vampire certainly did. The way he would look at Castiel when Dean wasn't paying attention wasn't anything short of amused and—well, very knowing. The vampire took great enjoyment in showing off just how much Dean seemed to like him. It's a shame he's dead, or else Castiel could make rude commentary. 

"Wow. Wow. Okay, that's—that one is a little stupid, gotta admit. Alright, who else? Lisa?" 

"No. Never Lisa. I was...envious, perhaps, but never jealous. She made you happy and offered you a life you deserved. I could never hold any ill will towards her for that." 

"Oh," Dean says softly. "That's really, uh, mature of you, I guess. Right. I mean, good, because Lisa was great. Anyone else?" 

Castiel resists the urge to curl his lip when he thinks of Crowley. "Sometimes, I could not tell if my dislike for Crowley existed out of jealousy, or simply because I never liked him, or both." Cas holds up a hand when Dean's mouth drops open. "Before you add your comments, I'm not insinuating anything between you and Crowley—though, I am aware that he likely took advantage of your time as a demon. That being said, Crowley had feelings for you and absolutely no shame in expressing them, complicated as they may have been. I'm not suggesting he was in love with you, but I wouldn't count it out. He wouldn't have turned away the offer to have sex with you, at least." 

"Dude, you have no idea…" Dean makes a face, tipping his head to the side. "Actually, maybe it's best if you don't. "Goddamn, I can't believe—no, actually, I kinda can. Who else?" 

"That's mostly it," Castiel tells him, peering at his menu again. "Your—as you called them—hookups were a mere irritation, at best. Amara's infatuation with you did not make me jealous. It frightened me. I worried for you. Most of the time, if you recall, I was generally focused on other things. Usually the end of the world."

Dean's face clears as he blinks, then his eyebrows drop into a displeased scowl. "Oh, so you just...didn't care that I was getting laid at my leisure?" 

"Why would I have the right to? I do not own you, Dean. You are not mine." 

"Right, but—come on, seriously? You never even said anything… You let me just...do whatever. And Anna, dude. Anna!" 

Castiel stares at him for a second, his brain latching onto you just let me do whatever. Was Castiel meant to stop him? Does Dean have any recollection of their shared history at all? The only way Castiel could have stopped him was by forcibly ripping Dean away and declaring that no one would ever touch him, and surely Dean doesn't want that—not then, not now. 

He doesn't want to examine the part of him—a very large portion—that wants to do exactly that. He has no right. He never did. 

"Your actions are your own," Castiel murmurs. 

"Yeah," Dean starts heatedly, "but—" 

Tabby abruptly sweeps in, placing their plates down on the table between them, making them jerk apart. Castiel doesn't recall them getting that close. "Here you are, boys. Everything looks alright for you guys?" 

"Looks great, Tabby, thanks," Dean mutters, slumping a little but still shooting her a tight smile. 

"Alright, you enjoy it, sugar. And you," Tabby declares, swinging towards Cas with a broad smile, winking at him, "I hope your food tastes as good as you look, darlin'. You let me know if you need anything at all, okay?" 

"Thank you. I will do that," Castiel says, smiling at her in a way he hopes is kind and not awkward. He doesn't mind compliments; he just doesn't know how to react to them. 

As she leaves, Castiel tries the soup. He wants it to taste bad, seeing as Dean apparently wanted him, specifically, to try it. That's spiteful, he knows, but alas. Unfortunately, the soup tastes good. 

"So," Dean drawls, "does it taste as good as you look?" 

"I don't know, Dean," Castiel replies dryly. "How good do I look, exactly?" 

Don't answer that, Castiel internally pleads.

"I mean, I don't—how the fuck would I know? You're—you've got the eyes, and the hair. Like, with the blue and the messy. Just—just—" Dean makes a sort of helpless gesture at Castiel, his eyes a little wide. He starts scowling almost instantly. "You know what? Why don't you ask Tabby, huh? She seems to like you well enough. I think she's joking when she flirts with me, but she looks like she'd actually give you a spin. Probably one of those types to call you Daddy while she's at it." 

Castiel stares at him. He...doesn't know where to start with that. He's not sure where it's coming from, or why Dean sounds so—bitter about it. Dean's usually the last person to judge anyone for what they like when it comes to sex, and Castiel had the idea that Dean liked Tabby.   

"I think I won't be asking her that, actually." 

"Yeah, fair enough."

Dean looks chastised when he starts in on his meal, and Castiel returns to his soup. They do not talk. 

It's stilted between them. Uncomfortable. Castiel despises it. He misses Dean fiercely, and Dean is sitting right across from him. Is this all they can be now? Castiel doesn't regret doing what he did to save Dean's life, but he sincerely wishes there had been any other way. He'd been happy to die with the assurance he wouldn't have to lose Dean. It's a relief that did not last. Castiel feels as if he's watching Dean slip right through his fingers, and there's absolutely nothing that he can do to stop it. 

It's infuriating. His mistakes are always too big. If he's not ruining the world, he's ruining his world. He thought a lot about the saying damned if you do, damned if you don't while summoning the Empty; it was true, and now he's damned to live with it. 

Dean's shoe abruptly collides into his under the table. Castiel snaps his gaze up, his eyes narrowing. He's apparently damned to being kicked now. Wonderful. Marvelous. He turns away, ripping at his garlic bread with possibly too much vigor. Dean kicks him again, his boot heavy and harsh. He does it once more, then once again, and Castiel snatches his leg back further, sure that there will be a bruise. 

"Dean," he hisses, "stop it." 

Clearly irritated, Dean mutters, "You know, you could be taking this opportunity to try and play footsie, Cas." 

Oh, this again? Castiel knew it was coming. He's in no mood for it. His voice is harsh when he snaps, "The only person here who seems interested in doing so is you, Dean."

At the insinuation, Dean yanks his foot back and focuses on his food, looking angry.

They go back to not talking. 

Castiel's chest hurts. 

The drive home is stifling. It's silent in the car, but only in the way silence is when it's very loud. Castiel still stares at Dean in the mirror, his own anger mounting with the fury he can see etching into Dean's face. Why is he angry? What does he have to be angry about? Because Castiel is in love with him? 

Well, he's just going to have to get over it. Not even God could stop that from happening, and though Dean is a force unlike any other, this is something Castiel will not be swayed on. He will take it elsewhere if it comes to that, but it will remain. 

When they pull into the garage, Dean cheerfully sing-songs, "Hey, Cas," in a way that puts him on edge immediately. 

"Whatever you're about to say, Dean, just don't," Castiel warns, the knot in his chest seeming to tighten in anticipation. 

Dean's eyes flash, and he casually says, "You know, Anna and I fucked in Baby. Like, right there in the backseat." 

Castiel has never actually held any ill will towards Baby, but in this moment, he wants to set her on fire. He's frozen in place for a moment, feeling as if he's been kicked right in the chest. The knot has tightened like a corset, yanked in by one simple declaration from Dean's careless mouth. Castiel wonders if Sam would understand if he came home to find Dean's jaw broken. Castiel wonders who he's trying to fool—himself? If he could get his hands on Dean's jaw, it wouldn't be to break it. Not even right now. But oh, his fury disagrees vehemently. 

"How was that information in any way important to me?" Castiel bites out coldly, his lip curling. He doesn't wait for Dean to answer, just releases the sound of disgust crawling up his throat and throws open his door to haul himself out of the car. 

Dean hurries to follow, calling out, "I think it was pretty damn important. You know what else she did?" 

"No," Castiel snarls, glaring as Dean steps right into his path, "and I don't care to know." 

"Gonna tell you anyway," Dean declares, stepping to the right at the same time that Castiel does, staring at him with focus. "If I remember correctly, she put her hand on the mark you left on my arm. You think she could sense the grace in it?" 

Castiel doesn't know how he's breathing. It feels like he shouldn't be able to. The knot in his chest is strangling him, and he makes the executive decision to embrace his anger, rather than acknowledge how much those words actually hurt him. He doesn't want to talk about this. Why is Dean doing this? 

He's actively choosing to hurt him. He knows he is. This goes past mockery. Castiel told him how he felt about Anna, and Dean weaponized that knowledge. They've hurt each other before, but never like this, and Castiel can't fathom how Dean can just...do it that simply. It's wrong, and it comes from a place of anger, except Castiel doesn't know what Dean's even angry about. And, still, Castiel loves him, loves him, never wants to stop loving him so. 

He just can't do this right now. Actually, he doesn't think he can do this at all. He's clearly making Dean's life worse, and this? This is going too far in search of something. Castiel thinks it's a push to get him to snap and leave. If that's it, well, he's succeeded in that. As the saying goes, this is the hay that breaks the elephant's hip. 

Stiffly, Castiel says, "I'm sure that she did not. Move, I'm going in now." 

"Yeah, but like, wasn't that kinda fucked up for her to do?" Dean asks, his head tilting, his lips curling up as if he's enjoying himself. "You all but tattooed your name on my ass, metaphorically speaking, and she went and—well, you know." 

"Is this fun for you? Tormenting me?" Castiel asks, needing to know, because surely not. Why is Dean enjoying it? He doesn't understand. 

Dean grins at him. "Yeah, actually, it kinda is. I'm enjoying myself anyway." 

Castiel's hand has a phantom spasm and throb set in, and it takes a lot of effort not to follow through on his earlier thought of just—well, punching Dean. Love is not patient. Love is not kind. Castiel is fed up and ready to fight. 

He won't, however. He forces himself to inhale, then exhale. It does little good, but he won't give Dean the satisfaction. Whatever he's doing—whatever the reason he's outright goading him—Castiel wants no part of it. The only thing he wants is—

—the exact thing that landed him right here, shriveling a little on the inside when picturing Anna's hand fitting over the claim Castiel laid on Dean Winchester. She had no right. Neither did he, to be fair, but he wasn't the type to ask for permission back then. Apparently Anna wasn't either. He'd think of her more fondly if he didn't have this to accompany it. Why did Dean ruin this for him? What is his goal? 

Castiel doesn't actually have any intentions of sticking around to find out. "I am not. Now, move." 

He thinks this will be enough to get Dean to back off, because it usually is. It isn't. Dean's eyes light up finally, just as they often do as of late. His tongue darts out to lick his lips, and Castiel internally berates himself for noticing. 

"Nah," Dean says easily, holding his gaze, goading and pushing and daring. 

And Castiel is just—not doing this today. He is done playing this stupid, childish game with Dean. When he reaches out to grab Dean, it's not about pushing back. Slamming him up against Baby isn't about getting relief. This is purely his frustration bubbling over, causing him to haul Dean up when he slips down, stumbling a little and staring up at him like—

He does it again. The look on his face. He looks cracked open, his eyes so glazed that he seems inebriated. His chest stutters under Castiel's hands, and the breath that falls from his mouth is so faint and thready that it's barely audible. It comes out in a small croak, like his throat is dry or thick, or both. 

Dean leans back, but he's still staring at Castiel like he isn't half-aware of what's going on, like the garage could be burning down and he wouldn't notice. He doesn't look afraid. 

"Do not test my patience, Dean. I assure you, I have very little," Castiel warns, the words escaping him through gritted teeth. He can feel Dean's body unclicking, turning supple against his, inviting. 

For a moment, he stands there and stares at Dean's mouth, thinking about it and thinking about it and forcing himself to stop thinking about it. Fortunately, Dean doesn't even seem to notice. He's too busy slumping, his breath caught, apparently having some sort of crisis. Castiel leaves him to it, wrenching away and stomping out of the garage. 

He goes to his room and slams the door with a low sound of fury, resisting the urge to punch the wall next to it. He won't. It would do little good. He whirls around and glares down at the traitorous part of his body that seems perfectly happy to fixate on the way Dean felt against him. Now is not the time. 

Though...maybe it is? 

It could clear his head. 

Castiel settles a little at the thought. He'll apply his metaphorical bandaid, then make a solid decision on what to do next. He's leaning towards leaving, but he thinks he should be sure before he does. It would be stupid not to at least be level-headed when making this decision, because once he has, he can't allow anything to sway him. 

Perhaps it's just an excuse to fantasize about Dean yet again, but at this point, Castiel doesn't even care. He's so pent up that he takes far too much relish in moving to his bed and sprawling down on it, his hands working his pants open. His eyes drift shut as he puts his forearm over his mouth to ensure no untoward sounds escape, and his other hand starts something it is intimately familiar with now. 

He's still doing it when he hears Dean's boots stomp up the hall, pausing at his door. Castiel's eyes snap open, and he drops his forearm, holding his breath and holding still and holding a full-blown staring contest with the door. He waits for Dean's steps to continue on, but they don't. He waits for Dean to barge in and see something he won't like, but he doesn't. He waits. Dean eventually walks away. 

The shower starts up, and Castiel closes his eyes again, tipping his head back and covering his mouth with his forearm again. 

When the pipes shudder in the walls from the shower turning off, so does Castiel's body. 

Dean sounds even more furious when he stomps by. 

Well, Castiel does feel better, at least. He sprawls out in bed, only slightly calmer, though he doesn't doubt that Dean will infuriate him again. He ponders this cycle they're stuck in, wondering if there's any solution in sight. He can't find one. Dean's going to just keep pushing him, and pushing him, and pushing him. Eventually, if Castiel doesn't crack first and do something unforgivable, Dean will explode and let it all out. 

Castiel doesn't particularly want to be around for that. It's going to hurt even more than this already does. This is a problem, and he does tend to avoid them, outright running from them if necessary. He's done it with Dean often enough. He never wants to leave Dean, and he doesn't now. He just doesn't want to face the problem, especially—as Dean once said—when he's always the source. 

He changes clothes before making the call. 

"Still alive, I see," Claire declares as soon as she answers. "Want a cookie?" 

Castiel squints. "What kind?" 

Claire snorts. "Fuck that. What's up?" 

"Are you still on vacation in Florida?" 

"Mm, at the moment? Yes. We leave tomorrow, though. Don't tell Jody or Kaia, but they may have a point about this whole vacation thing. Do you know what it's like to watch your girlfriend walk around in a bikini all day? Well, no, 'course you don't, but trust me, it is so worth the break in routine."

"I'll...take your word for it, I suppose. Is Kaia not with you right now?" 

"Nah. She's getting hit on by some frat dude. I bet his name is Chad." Claire laughs. "She looks so unimpressed right now." 

"Claire, this goes without saying, I'd hope, but to be sure...do not shoot this possible Chad." 

"Long as he keeps his hands to himself, I won't. So, what's up? You're not calling just to check in. I can hear it in your voice. Your halo fall off, or something?" 

"I don't have a halo, and you know this." Castiel sighs, his lips curling up. She can sound so much like Dean at times. "Do you plan to go right back to hunting tomorrow?" 

Claire hums. "Yeah, that's part of the reason we're leaving. Why, you wanna tag along?" 

"Yes, actually," Castiel admits. 

"Hm." There's a long beat of silence, and then Claire heaves a sigh. "Look, it's not that I'm—against the idea, okay? I don't need your help, but I don't mind if you want to come. It's just, why do you want to come, Cas? And don't feed me a line of bullshit." 

Castiel stares at the ceiling with a frown. "I think it's in my best interest to...spend some time away from the Bunker."

"Uh huh. From Dean, you mean." 

"Claire." 

"Cas," Claire mocks, and he can't see her, but he knows she's rolling her eyes. "It wasn't that hard to put it together, you know. Jack told me about the deal, and I thought—hey, what would make that sad sack really happy? Had a good, little think on it. By little, I mean it took me less than a minute to figure it out. How's being gay going for you?" 

"Honestly?" Castiel asks flatly. "Terribly." 

Claire coughs around a laugh. "Yeah, that kinda comes with the experience. It's normal. You want the good news or the bad news first?" 

"I'm wary of your version of good news." 

"Smart angel is smart. I'm saving you a cookie. Okay, good news first. There's only a twenty percent chance that Dean doesn't want to suck your dick, and most of that percentage is made up on my confusion on why anyone would want to anyway. Also, there's—oh, gross. Why the fuck did I just say that? Gross, gross, gross. Sorry, no, I can't. I thought I could be, like, your gay Obi-Wan, but Cas, that requires talking about anatomy I'd rather pretend you didn't have. That's all you're getting out of me, besides maybe some vomit." 

"Claire, I'd rather you didn't talk about it at all. Frankly, I'm looking forward to the bad news," Castiel says, his voice strained. 

"Jesus. Yeah, okay, let's pretend that never happened. Moving along." Claire huffs out a harsh breath, sounding genuinely disgusted. "Bad news incoming. Brace yourself. The thing is, Dean's kinda the worst in a lot of ways, so no matter what his feelings are, you probably won't find 'em out. He probably doesn't even know, in his defense. I mean, he's still the worst, but the whole gay thing is a struggle on its own without trying to figure out if you're gay for an angel, ya know?" 

"I'm not an angel anymore." 

"Yeah, good luck removing that brand. Dean's been looking at you like the furby he wants to cuddle and knows it'd be weird to for as long as I've known him. Doesn't matter if you take all the stuffing out and put it in a cute, little bear. You're still a furby at heart, and that's all there is to it." 

"I don't know what a furby is," Castiel admits. 

Claire chuckles. "I'll send you a picture when we hang up. My point is—and this is where it really gets bad—if you leave before Dean figures things out, you're never gonna know either. And listen to me, because this is important. If you leave before that, three days after getting back, he will never let himself figure it out. Can you live with that?" 

"Claire, I appreciate your support, truly, but I think you're mistaken on what Dean feels for—" 

"No, no, I'm not. I can make assumptions all day long, but that's not what I'm doing. I'm saying you don't know until he knows."

"I think he already does." 

"Has he told you anything?" 

"I'm...quite sure you don't want the details," Castiel informs her, his eyebrows drawing together. 

"Oh, so it's like that? And you're trying to leave? Cas, what the hell is wrong with you?" 

"I don't know what you mean." 

"Is it gay chicken? I bet it's gay chicken." Claire releases a scoff. "Dean Winchester would play gay chicken. He's so stupid." 

Castiel frowns. "No, he isn't. I also don't know what gay chicken is." 

"It's this thing people who aren't straight do. Usually when they're trying to figure out if the other person is interested. Me and Kaia played before she, uh, went away for a while. Showed each other our scars, held hands, tried to die for each other. It's a thing. Anyway, Dean already knows you're interested, though, so it's just a different version." 

"I don't think that's what Dean is doing." 

"Well, what do you think he's doing?" 

"I think…" Castiel closes his eyes, releasing a soft breath, the knot in his chest flaring hot. "I think he's trying to push me into leaving." 

"How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days style?" Claire asks, sounding dubious. "Dean? Uh, Cas, you're gonna have to trust me on this one, but there's no way in hell he's doing that. Anyway, even if he is, they fall in love by the end of the movie, so he's shit out of luck. I'm telling you, stick it out. Because, at this point, you're just making assumptions." 

Castiel opens his eyes. "I don't want to offend you, but I believe I know Dean better than you." 

"Yeah, but that's kinda my point. You're a little too close to this. Look, Dean's not that hard to figure out, okay? He's big on family. He's big on keeping his shit on the inside so far he doesn't even see it. Even if he's not keeping whatever he feels for you on the inside, you're still his family, right?" 

"I believe so, yes." 

"And does Dean want family to leave?" Claire asks pointedly, sounding smug.

"Not...usually," Castiel admits grudgingly. 

Claire hums in approval. "Well, there ya go. Step back from the gay ledge, Cas. Don't do anything drastic. At least last a week, or Dean will feel like he's so terrible that even the guy who's in love with him doesn't wanna stick around. I mean, I don't blame you if that's what this is. Is that what this is? Because, if it is, run. Run as fast as you can and seek shelter. I'll take you in, cross my heart. I'll even load him full of rock-salt if he shows his face." 

Castiel's lips curl up despite himself. "No, Claire, that's not what this is. I never want to leave Dean. I leave because—well, he doesn't ask me to stay." 

"Right, 'cause he's great at shouting what he wants from the rooftops. Dean Winchester? Oh yeah, he's like open mic night when it comes to his feelings." 

"Your sarcasm is not helpful." 

"Funny, though," Claire says cheerfully. 

"Hm." Castiel smiles wider. "Vacation suits you, Claire. You sound extremely happy." 

"What? Oh, I'm watching Kaia break Chad's heart right now. It's fucking glorious, Cas. He looks like his dick is shriveling as we speak." 

"I worry for you, you know." 

"Two cookies. Reinforcing good behavior. Ever heard of Pavlov? I bet you could Pavlov Dean. Every time he does something you like, tell him he's a good boy. Feed him Scooby Snacks while you're at it. Pat him on the head and send me a picture of his face after you do it," Claire teases.

"I'm glad you can find the humor in all this." 

"Yeah, well, you've helped me out every now and again, here and there. Tit for tat, I guess. Plus…" 

Castiel's eyebrows raise at the hesitancy in Claire's tone. "Yes?" 

"Don't get all, uh, sad and sappy adult on me, okay? But uh, I guess it's kinda nice. I mean, I always knew I liked girls, ya know? Had a crush on a girl named Natalie when I was in first grade. I tried to hold her hand and she told the teacher. Anyway, the teacher told my parents, and they, uh—they—"

"They weren't kind about it?" 

"No, they were. Just." Claire is silent for a long moment, then she clears her throat. She's quiet when she speaks again. "They were religious. Well, you know that. They weren't mean, and they didn't actually think I was—I mean, I was just a kid. They just kinda sat me down and told me why I couldn't do things like that, why it was wrong." 

"I'm sorry," Castiel says softly, reflexively. He is. 

Claire grunts. "I just told you not to react like that. And don't—don't think you, like, saved me from them, because you didn't. You fucked up my life. You still fucked up my life. You know that." 

"I know," Castiel agrees, swallowing. He knows. 

"But my life isn't—I don't regret it. It hasn't been easy, but this part—the gay stuff—has been. Jody and Donna are fucking saints about it, you know. So, it's just—it's kind of...nice, I guess, to get to be your saint about it. Everybody needs a saint about it, and I don't really think Sam and Dean would deliver." 

"They're not—mean about it, I suppose." 

"No, I know, but it's still… There's some shit you can't talk about to the person you're in love with. Maybe you could talk to Sam, but that's gotta be kinda weird, I think. So, there's me. It's me paying it forward, so to speak, so let me. I don't do shit like this very often, Cas. Thank me right now or I'm hanging up," Claire says. 

"Thank you," Castiel tells her immediately, meaning it. "Seriously, Claire, thank you." 

Claire makes a small sound, amused. "That's what I like to hear. Now, go forth and live out your big gay dreams. Wanna hear my theory on how it goes?"

"I'm quite sure that I don't, actually, but you've indulged me, so I'll indulge you." 

"I think Dean's going to just explode and melt away the moment he tries to tell you he thinks you're pretty. I hope he cries." 

"Claire, that's not very kind." 

"Yeah, well, Dean's not a very kind person either. He's giving you a terrible gay experience, and that's just fucked up. Go date someone else." 

"I don't want anyone else," Castiel murmurs. 

Claire snorts. "He's not even cool, Cas. He's old. I mean, so are you, but still. Listen, if you tag along with me, I'm gonna force you on so many blind dates that one will eventually stick, and then we can laugh while steam comes out of Dean's ears. You'll think it's funny the moment you move on." 

Castiel shakes his head slightly, though she can't see it. "Nothing would stick, as you say. I won't move on. He is, quite literally, everything to me." 

"You sound like a teenage girl. But Daddy, I love him! Girl, you are fifteen and you've known him for three days. Calm down." 

"Do you know, comparatively speaking, that's not actually that inaccurate? I've existed for a long time, and he's a significantly short portion of it." 

"That's the spirit. You've known him for three days, and they've been three very shitty days. Live a little."

"The problem is that I did not start living until I met Dean. I existed, yes, but I did not live. I did not know how to, or what it meant. He taught me." 

"I don't think I could pity you more than I do at this moment," Claire says in mock-sympathy. "Dean was your mentor? I'm so sorry." 

Castiel laughs, despite himself. "He was actually a very good teacher. Without him, I would not care about things the way I do now." He sobers a little, his smile slipping. "You may not wish to hear it, but without Dean's guidance, I don't know if I would have cared about you. I'm sorry about that." 

"Ain't no point in crying over milk that didn't even spill. Relax, Cas. You care. That's enough." 

"Regardless of my issues with Dean, I would come if you needed me. You know that, right?" 

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Sucks for you, though, 'cause I'm not giving you the excuse. I'm doing just fine, and I'm living my big gay dreams. Looks like it's your turn, furby," Claire mutters. 

"Thank you. I will...stick it out, as you said."

"At least for a week. If it doesn't work out, call me. I'll swing by, give Dean a swift kick in the dick so he can never use it again, and then we'll drive off while he's crying in the dirt. Sound good?"

"Not...particularly," Castiel ventures cautiously. "I would prefer Dean to go uninjured." 

Claire hums. "Yeah, and I want world hunger to disappear. Life sucks, people are hungry everywhere, and Dean Winchester will sustain multiple injuries if he breaks your fragile heart." 

"Fra—" 

"You're a softie, and we both know it, you dork. Don't argue with me." 

"A so—" 

"No cookies for you. I'm gonna eat them all. And listen, not that this hasn't been fun, but Kaia is starting to look antsy. I know it's bad when she wants to punch someone, so I gotta go do it for her, okay? Update me on whether I need to kick Dean's ass or not." 

"Claire," Castiel blurts out, "don't shoot Chad."

"No promises," Claire declares, then hangs up. 

Castiel lets his phone fall to the pillow beside him with a dull thump. He stares at the ceiling some more, thinking things over. He doesn't actually think Claire was fully correct, but she doesn't fully know the situation. She was kind, though. 

He weighs the problem in his mind. Perhaps he should just see it through to the end. He has suffered many different things. Dean wanting to pester him consistently in a way that usually ends with him hiding away to find sexual release really isn't something he can wholeheartedly label as suffering. The parts that hurt truly do, but the rest? Well, if Dean hurting him was enough to make him leave without ever coming back, he would have left long ago and never returned. This is just a new form of pain he's not used to. He can adjust. 

A week. Four more days. He can do that. He doesn't think he'll have to, however. Dean's so pent up that Castiel suspects he'll break by tomorrow. 

His phone pings about twenty minutes later, and he frowns at the picture Claire sends him. He stares at what is apparently a furby and sees no resemblance. Perhaps she meant metaphorically. 

For the next couple of hours, Castiel texts Eileen and Sam. They're apparently enjoying their time together. He asks them both if they think it makes sense to compare him to a furby, and he doesn't know if he should be offended or just confused when they both say yes. Do they mean metaphorically? He's tempted to ask Dean, only to remember that he and Dean aren't fine right now. The thought makes his chest pinch, the knot twisting sharply, always there. 

Dean's unreasonably loud while cooking dinner. Castiel listens to him bang around, making enough noise that he's sure it's on purpose. Again, Castiel doesn't understand why Dean's angry. 

Castiel nearly smacks himself in the nose with his phone when he hears Dean shout, "CAS, PULL YOUR HEAD OUTTA YOUR ASS AND GET IN THE KITCHEN! JACK'S HERE!" 

As it turns out, Jack is here. Castiel pauses in the doorway of the kitchen, taking in Jack's soft laughter and Dean's soft grin. The knot in his chest almost unravels entirely, and he sucks in a sharp breath without even meaning to. 

"Jack," Castiel greets, smiling as he enters the kitchen, "it is good to see you. Why are you here? Do you need—" 

"Dude, let the kid breathe," Dean cuts in, rolling his eyes as he waves a hand to the open chair with a beer sitting in front of it. "He's staying for dinner, so you've got plenty of time to fuss over him." 

Castiel ignores Dean for his own sanity, moving over to the chair and focusing entirely on Jack. "You're staying?" 

"For dinner," Jack says. "I told you that you would see me again, Castiel. I am not technically interfering in anything by...visiting. I should not stay too long, though." 

Castiel huffs, displeased, but he nods. "Yes, well...I'm glad you're here for now." 

"I know," Jack says, smiling. 

With Jack back for the time being, Castiel feels centered on something that doesn't come with any strain. It is so, so very good to see him. He looks well and happy, smiling freely and enjoying the meal that Dean put together. Castiel soaks in his presence, trying not to think of how unfair his situation is. 

Things ease up between Dean and Castiel while Jack is present. It's simpler, somehow, and Castiel doesn't know why. He basks in that, too, grateful to see that they still can be some semblance of what they once were. He'd think it was an act if not for how genuine it all feels. Dean's smiles are warm, his laughter lovely, so beautiful and bright that he's almost blistering. He's so often overflowing with love that he can get away with never saying it. For all that he thinks he's a stain on those who get too close, he's more like a hearth—the moment he allows himself to embrace the love he has for his family, he warms everyone around him. 

Castiel focuses on Jack, mostly. He's glad, more so now than ever, that he stayed here. If he had left, he might have missed him. He never wants to risk that. 

However, when Jack leaves, Castiel feels the loss of him sting. Jack hugs him before he goes, then smiles as he pulls away. He looks so—settled, but that doesn't mean any of this is fair. It wasn't what he wanted for Jack. More to the point, it wasn't what Jack wanted for himself. 

After Jack is gone, Castiel sits at the table and listens to the far-off sounds of Dean cleaning up. It seems far off, at least, even if it's in the same room. He stares at his hands on the table, studying them, thinking about Jack on a constant loop. 

"You're upset," Dean says quietly, suddenly at the table with him, and Castiel doesn't even spare a thought to what changes they might have gone through. He just—talks. 

"I never wanted this for him. He deserves—he should be able to stay," Castiel croaks.

"Hey, all kids grow up and leave the nest at some time or another," Dean tells him, leaning forward, and Castiel looks at him. He looks sympathetic. "I know it sucks, okay? But you gotta admit, he seems pretty fucking happy, all things considered. He knows this is his home. He knows he's always welcome here. Clearly he does, because he just showed up outta the blue. So, I mean, he knows. He's fine, Cas. He'll be around." 
 
"I understand that, but I just—" want better for him, and I can't give it to him, Castiel finishes inwardly, unable to say it out loud. He looks away. 

There's a quiet tap, and Castiel looks over to see Dean holding his hand out on the table, wiggling his fingers. "Here, give me your hand." 

"Why?" Castiel asks suspiciously, eyes narrowing. 

"Just give me your fucking hand." 

Slowly, Castiel does. He knows he shouldn't, but he's just—well, he's weak, perhaps. He wants to touch Dean so badly that he's holding his breath in anticipation. He's careful about it, laying his palm over Dean's, loose and unobtrusive. 

"Jesus Christ, Cas, your hand is so cold, what the fuck." Dean's eyebrows furrow, his fingers curling up to hold on, his other hand flying over to cover the back of his hand. He's warm to the touch. A hearth. He starts rubbing Castiel's hand, and it feels so nice. Dangerously nice. "I was just gonna let you hold my hand so you'd feel better, but this thing is like ice."

Castiel yanks his hand back instantly, the knot in his chest making itself known, twisting up within him and catching flame. There it is. It's always this. It's always something with Dean. This is a new form of mockery, and it's somehow even worse than the sexual implications he usually goes for. It's not worse than what happened in the garage, but it is a very close second. Why won't he just stop? 

"I have poor circulation," Castiel snaps at Dean, then turns around and marches away. 

Castiel's hand is shaking, and why won't that stop? There was nothing sexual about Dean's touch, but that doesn't stop Castiel from turning to his metaphorical bandaid for the second time today. A shower. He needs a shower. 

He takes his time gathering his things, then locks himself in the bathroom. It's not until he's under the spray that he realizes he's not—aroused. That's not what this is, or why he lashed out. He's not being pushed. No, that was more like being led into a false sense of security, a trap, and Castiel just walked into it. There's something so viscerally terrifying about that, about how easily Dean could fool him if he tried very hard to. Castiel can't imagine why he would, but Dean basically said it, didn't he? 

I was just gonna let you hold my hand so you'd feel better, he'd said. For the first time, Castiel considers that Dean might do things out of a sense of obligation. It's yet another thing he has to worry about now, on top of everything else. 

He does not apply his metaphorical bandaid in the shower. Not tonight. Not with the hand that Dean held onto. 

When Castiel leaves the shower, he is heading directly for his room, allowing no space for possible explosive arguments. He should say goodnight, he knows that, but he's clinging to a vague sense of self-preservation that he didn't even know he had. He cradles it close to his chest, keeping his head down and pushing onward. 

This is why he doesn't see Dean coming. 

They both collide into each other as they swing around the same corner, and Castiel instantly sucks in a sharp breath, purely out of sudden awareness. It's like his whole body wakes up. He jerks back quickly, glaring at Dean for ruining his plans, glaring harder at the way Dean is looking at him. 

"Hey, Cas," Dean starts, and Castiel is so done with this. Truly, he has had enough. 

"What, Dean?" Castiel growls, his eyes snapping open from where he squeezed them shut, fumbling for a flimsy feeling of calm. "What could you possibly want now?" 

Dean's eyebrows jerk up. "Okay, no need to be a dick, Cas, damn." 

The first and only thing that flies through Castiel's mind in response is the audacity. Yes, he's always known that Dean has it—he punched God in the face—but this is something else. 

"Be a—me? Me?" Castiel's fists curl in, forming, and he tells himself that he can't—he can't hit him. He presses his lips into a thin line. 

"Getting tired of me already?" Dean asks, staring at him hard, like he's waiting for it. Planning it? Hoping for it? Castiel can only assume, and Claire said he probably shouldn't. 

Castiel exhales and tells the truth. "I never tire of you. Now, I'm going to bed." 

As he starts moving, Dean swivels to fall into step with him, grinning as he needles, "Not gonna try to get me to come with you?" 

"No." 

"Why not? It's kinda late. Been a long day. Perfect time for some late-night fumbling in the dark." 

"As enticing as that sounds, I think I'll pass," Castiel says sharply, seeing his door, seeing freedom. They may escape an argument yet. 

"I don't believe you for a second," Dean tells him. 

"Can you just—" Castiel pauses at his door, turning to examine Dean with a frown. He hasn't told Dean what this feels like, or even expressed seriously that he wants Dean to stop. He doesn't actually want that, and he's somehow sure that that's the problem. He could try telling him. "Dean, will you please stop? I'm sure you think this is funny, but it is not a joke for me." 

"Well, maybe if you weren't so set on being an asshole about it, I wouldn't be one back," Dean snaps at him, his jaw clenched. 

Castiel immediately pivots and heads into his room, because he doesn't know how he's supposed to look Dean in the face after he just said something that ridiculous, all without punching him. There's no way. He doesn't think he can pull it off. 

"Oh, no you don't," Dean declares, catching the door and shoving his way in to follow him. 

Castiel lets him, so thrown on Dean calling him the asshole that he doesn't even bother fighting. He can't figure this out. He doesn't get it. "I don't understand why you believe I'm being an asshole," he admits as he moves towards the bed. 

"Because you are," Dean announces as he shuts the door behind him, crossing his arms and nodding when Castiel pauses halfway across the room to look at him incredulously. He can't be serious. He can't be. "First, you know how much it fucking sucks for me to have to watch you die. I hate that shit. It fucks me up. But, on top of that, you decided to add insult to injury by confessing your love before sacrificing your life for mine." 

Ah, so they're doing this, then. Great. Try to avoid the explosive argument, only to walk right into it. 

"Dean." 

"No, shut the fuck up. You don't get to come back here and act like—like what you said doesn't mean something. Why the fuck would you say it if you weren't going to—if you didn't—" 

Castiel stares down at the space between his shoes, the knot in his chest getting more and more restricting by the second. "I only said it because I was under the impression that it would have to be the last thing I ever had to say to you. I carried that around with me for years, and just confessing it made me happy enough to die. To die, and nothing else. Because saying it, accepting it, being it...that was supposed to be the end." 

"Right, yeah," Dean mutters. He laughs harshly. "Well, boo-fucking-hoo for you. That's just tough. Here's the after part, Cas. Not so fun, is it? Having to deal with it after. Because that's what I had to do, and you have no idea what that did to me." 

Castiel thinks he does, now. He doesn't want to hear it, because it's crystal clear. He's not sure if Dean could have made it any more obvious how his feelings have changed them irreparably. He drags his gaze up, aching with it, with knowing that he made yet another mistake, knowing that he would do it again to save Dean's life. 

"I understand that you hate it, Dean," Castiel croaks. "I know it is a burden on your life. I—"

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Dean bursts out, interrupting with anger threaded through his voice. Castiel almost rears back in offense. "It's not a goddamn burden on my life, Cas! I don't hate it! Don't you—that confession is my one redeeming quality. To think that you could actually—that you really do love me. And how fucking stupid are you, going off and doing that? I'm the dumbest choice you've ever made, and you've made some real dumb choices in the past." 

Castiel frowns reflexively, still thrown by this abrupt one-eighty. He wasn't expecting that response at all, and he's not sure how to respond. "Don't talk about yourself like that," is all he can think to say. "How I feel is the only thing that has never, never come with regrets. It's the best thing I've ever done or will ever do." 

That, at least, is the truth. 

"Okay, great, glad we cleared that up," Dean mumbles, seeming to stall out a little bit. He's working his jaw, and there's a faint splattering of pink trying to raise under the surface of skin, though he seems to be fighting it through sheer force of will. "So, so, why are you—why do you keep acting like this?" 

"Like what, Dean?" Castiel grits out, frustrated beyond measure now. He has no earthly idea what Dean's even talking about. He rarely does. 

Dean's nostrils flare. "Like you'd rather be dead than have to face your own goddamn feelings!" 

"Because I was supposed to be!" Castiel shouts, because he was. He should have been. That should have been the end of it. 

"Well, that's just too damn bad, Cas. Fucking newsflash, that's just how life works sometimes! Shit happens, and then you've gotta deal with it!" 

"I am doing my best. You make it very difficult, do you understand that? You won't go away. You won't leave me alone. You won't give me space. You won't stop bringing it up." 

"Well, yeah," Dean says forcefully, glaring at him as if he's the one in the wrong here. "What else am I supposed to do? You don't want to look at me, or talk to me, or—goddammit—pay attention to me. I know you want me, but it's like you've forgotten!" 

Castiel has never heard Dean be this ridiculous. They both know that all of those things are simply false, and even if they were possible, Dean seems dead-set on stopping it from happening. "I assure you, I have not forgotten, nor will I ever forget. If I tried, I'm somehow very certain that you would just remind me." 

"Oh, fuck off," Dean snaps, scoffing. 

"This is my room," Castiel feels compelled to point out, his fingers flexing. Maybe Dean will just leave before this all gets out of hand. He doesn't want Dean to go, though. He never does. 

"Don't be a dick." Dean jabs a finger at him. "So what if you're gay and in love with me, or whatever? Fine, okay, awesome! That doesn't mean you can just—just do a whole one-eighty to try and make it go away! It's out there now, Cas, and that's all there is to it." 

Oh, Castiel is well aware. Dean has made that abundantly clear. "I'm aware of that, Dean. I just want to make peace with it and return to how things were, that is all. You're making it very hard." 

"You want to make peace with it. Return to how things were. Really? Why is that, Cas? Why the fuck do you feel the need to do that? Why should you have to do that?" 

Okay, now Castiel is even more confused than he was prior, which is not a feeling he enjoys when it comes to Dean, for all that he deals with it frequently. He doesn't understand what Dean isn't getting about this. Does he just...not want to be okay ever again? Their friendship relies on Castiel's ability to keep himself together and his feelings in check. It always has. 

"What other option is there? My restraint is a key piece in the continuation of our friendship, Dean, and you seem very fixated on testing that restraint." 

"Well, maybe I don't want you to be restrained," Dean hisses, then immediately seems to fumble when Castiel's eyebrow arches reflexively. Yet another innuendo? Surely Dean doesn't know what he's hinting at. "I just—I meant… I don't know, okay? I have no clue, but it's pissing me off. So just—just stop acting like you're not into me, because it's complete bullshit, and we both know it." 

"I'm not acting like that. The only thing I do is ignore any urges that have to do with you, any that could potentially make you uncomfortable, and you continuously push, and push, and push." 

"I know." 

"And when I push back," Castiel snarls, "you can't handle it. So why push at all?" 

Dean's throat visibly bobs up and down. "I don't, uh, actually know? Okay, so maybe I'm being an asshole, too. Fine, whatever. I just want—I just think you should do something." 

Castiel's eyebrow lifts yet again, but he means for it to this time. "You'll have to be more specific. If you want anything from me, Dean, you need only ask. 

"I don't know what I want you to do, but I'm pretty sure you should do it," Dean tells him, which is a rather unfair assessment, in Castiel's opinion. He purses his lips, narrowing his eyes a bit. "Also, I'm still pretty fucking pissed at you for dying, man." 

"I apologize. I will endeavor not to do so again."  

"Great, thanks. If you do, I'll just fucking go with you that time. Should be motivation enough for you to avoid it, right? Don't want the guy you're in love with to kick it." 

"Don't joke about that." 

"I wasn't." 

The way Dean is looking at him, unwavering, unyielding. He means it. He means it, and Castiel doesn't think he's ever had words strike this much fear into his heart since—since Metatron told him Dean was dead. It's always Dean. Nothing scares him like Dean, in every single way imaginable. 

"Dean," Castiel says sharply, just for something to say, like he can possibly make Dean take it back. 

Dean's lips turn up at the corners, but there's no humor in his smile. "Yeah, how's that feel? You're not the only one who's willing to die for the other."

He doesn't get it. He doesn't know, and he can't know because his feelings aren't the same, which is perfectly acceptable, but this isn't. If he's just doing this out of spite, making this threat… He can't. Castiel needs him to understand. 

"I'm willing to do that, and anything, because I love you, Dean," Castiel tells him, willing him to get it, to understand, to realize the root of all of this. 

Instead, Dean just—shuts down. 

His entire face goes blank, and all the anger just slides right out of him all at once, and he doesn't look like he's breathing. Castiel's instantly worried that he overstepped by saying those three words. He hasn't since the very first time he did, for all that he's hinted at them, for all that Dean's hinted at them. Saying them is different, perhaps. 

He waits, because he isn't sure what else to do, and he watches. There's a shift in Dean's expression, life coming back to his face. A twitch in between his eyebrows, like a small crack forming that slowly grows until it eventually shatters. Dean is abruptly looking right at him, focused, his eyes wide and his lips parting as his breath leaves him all at once. 

"You're in love with a fucking idiot," Dean announces, his voice cracking. He looks like he's about to cry, and oh, no, absolutely not. Castiel can't handle that. He will break his own back bending over backwards to make sure that doesn't happen. 

"Dean, you are not a—" 

"No, I am. Because I've spent the last three days going fucking crazy, all because I wanted you to just solve the problem for me. I kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing because I like it. I like that you love me. It's, like, the best thing that's ever happened to me, man." 

Well...that's a development Castiel can work with. Wonderful, they're on the same page. "It is nice to be loved." 

"Okay, bigger words, got it." Dean clears his throat and takes a deep breath, as if he's bracing himself for something. "I love that you love me, how about that?" 

Castiel's ears catch the wordage, the shift. He immediately dismisses it based purely on the paranoia that's haunted him for the last three days. Even still, there is a cautious note of confusion in his tone when he says, "It's...very nice to be loved?"

Dean's head shakes, and he's looking at Castiel like he's looking at him for the very first time, like he's been looking at him for years. He huffs out a soft laugh and croaks, "Okay, great, so I'm in love with an idiot, too. Wonderful." 

The sound that records make. The scratch. That occurs somewhere. "What?" he asks, blinking. Because what. 

"This isn't really my area, man. I mean, I'm not the best with words. I've never—I don't know the first thing about making epic, sappy speeches. Just. I don't know, I didn't have time before. You said your piece, and I never got to—" Dean shakes his head, visibly frustrated. "What was the point in figuring out what I felt about it if you were dead? So, I just didn't. And then, you were back and not—not confessing your love again, which was very fucking frustrating for me, okay? But, I mean, yeah. Yeah, Cas. Me too." 

No, Castiel thinks immediately. Because no, no, Dean does not get to do this to him. Not about this. Castiel will tolerate a lot from Dean, but not this. If he's—if this is… Castiel doesn't trust it. 

"Dean, if you're just indulging me, I will—" 

"Would I fucking do that? Get a fucking clue, man. I think I'm kinda obsessed with the idea of us having sex. It's literally all I've been talking about for the last three days." 

"You're not interested in men," Castiel says, grasping at straws at this point. He's quite sure that Dean is, in some way, but that hardly matters if Dean doesn't know, if he won't admit it. 

Dean holds up a finger, grimacing. "Get back to me on that after I've had at least a week to freak the fuck out about it. At the moment, it's tucked away in a nice, neat little box in the corner of my mind that I will eventually get around to unwrapping later. Lots of childhood trauma in there, you understand. Is it good enough for you now that I'm interested in you, and I know that for damn sure?" 

Oh, that's admitting it. That's admitting it. Why did he do that? He didn't have to do that. He wouldn't have done that if—

"You're...serious." Castiel blinks again. "You're actually being serious." 

"Well, I wouldn't joke about it. Jesus Christ, I'm not that much of an asshole," Dean mutters. 

Dean doesn't seem to be aware that he's spent the last three days doing exactly that. Someone should tell him. Castiel absolutely will not tell him.

"Oh," Castiel says instead, his voice soft. 

"Yeah," Dean agrees, "oh." 

Oh, Castiel thinks again. Well. That's...something. It is something, surely, but he isn't sure what. He needs a moment to process the sheer magnitude of this something. He tries to confer with the knot in his chest, but it seems to have disappeared. 

It's just...gone, as if Dean's recent reveal finally plucked the proper string to unravel it all and tug it firmly from his chest, a process handled so smoothly that Castiel didn't even notice it happening. He almost doesn't know what to do now that it's gone. 

So. Oh. Yes, oh. This is so much oh that Castiel can't quite get past it. He's trying to come up with some counter-argument because this isn't how it works, because he knew and has always known that this would never happen. He didn't even allow himself to hope for it. This can't be right—a trick somewhere, or another Anna situation, perhaps. But no. Just oh. 

Dean wouldn't say this. Castiel knows that down to the very core of him. He wouldn't. If he didn't mean it, he wouldn't say it. That means Dean has to mean it, except Castiel is struggling with that conclusion. 

Dean is fidgeting. Strangely enough, Castiel wants him to go away. He wants Dean to never leave, of course, but he wants Dean to walk out the door, count to ten, then come back. Maybe re-enter the room and jog his memory, so he can recall that this isn't how things work. Except, apparently, they do. 

Castiel remembers the feeling of Dean's soul cradled in his essence. Not his hands, as he didn't have any, but held within him, shielded and safe. His soul had been so bright, so hot that it had almost burned, the intensity branding Castiel in a way that wouldn't leave a visible mark, but would linger forevermore all the same. It was partially the reason he branded Dean—rebellious retaliation, even then, a strange urge to leave an impression since Dean certainly left one on him. He thinks about it, about how Dean had wept, how his soul wept, when they met. 

Take me back, he thinks, so I can do it all again and end up right here. 

"Hey, Cas," Dean says, his tone careful, "not that I don't want to give you your time, but uh—" 

Castiel comes back to himself with the force of a slap, blinking, ready to act immediately. He steps forward, only to pause at how Dean's entire body goes stiff like he's bracing for an attack, even though he's well aware of how to take a hit, and tensing like that certainly isn't it. He steps closer, noting the minor shift back Dean responds with, just a tiny lean away. Castiel narrows his eyes, suspicious again and unable to help it. 

"You're not breathing," Castiel informs him, curious if Dean even realizes it or not. 

Dean exhales instantly. "What? Yes, I am. Fuck you, I'm fine." 

So, no, he hadn't been aware. Interesting. It occurs to Castiel that Dean is not consciously aware of his own bodily responses, finely attuned to them, the way he is. He steps forward again with a doubtful sound, and he's so close that he can feel the heat off of Dean, close enough that he can see the fine tremors that run through him. Dean steps back. 

Castiel arches an eyebrow, his interest piqued. He may need to reevaluate Dean's responses to his proximity. He's starting to doubt that it comes from a place of fear or disgust. Discomfort still seems to be mixed in, but Castiel isn't sure if that's the prioritial feeling Dean's experiencing. He steps forward again, mostly for experimental purposes, and Dean steps back at the same time. 

"Why are you running?" Castiel asks, wanting to know. It would help him understand whatever storm is brewing in Dean's brain at the moment. 

Unhelpfully, Dean says, "I'm definitely not doing that."

Castiel steps forward, fixing Dean with a pointed look as he automatically—almost instinctively, it seems—steps back at the same time. "No, not at all."

"I'm really—" Dean's words cut off the moment he backs into the door, and he's got that look again, the wide eyes. "Ah, that would be the door." 

"You're welcome to leave through it," Castiel offers, because Dean can. He always can. He's also curious if Dean will take the out. 

Dean doesn't. He shifts, starting to cross his arms, only to drop them again. "I'm not going anywhere."

"So you'll stay?" Castiel asks, cocking his head. 

"Yup," Dean replies, almost defiant about it. 

Castiel hums. "No matter what I do?" 

"Yessiree," Dean declares in a way that suggests false bravado, like he's trying so very hard to be as aggressively casual about this as he can. 

"Do you realize that you're shaking?" Castiel murmurs, his lips curling up. Dean is. Dean has been, but it's more obvious now. What does he feel the need to do? He's already given Castiel absolutely everything. There's no need for more. 

"No, I'm not." Dean pauses, then his face twitches at the same time that his fingers do. "Okay, whatever. Jittery. I'm fine. Ignore it." 

Castiel thinks Dean's being a little ridiculous about this. He's not going to—ah, what's the saying? Attack Dean's bones? Jump them? Something to that effect. At most, he just wants to touch Dean in a way that's already established as acceptable. He won't push for anything more unless Dean asks.

As for ignoring it… Castiel rolls his eyes. "I will not. Come here." 

Dean stays plastered to the door like he's made the decision to become one with it, which is very inconvenient for what Castiel is trying to do here. He sighs and reaches out to—quite literally—pull Dean away from the door he's treating as his safety blanket and right into a hug. They've hugged before. Castiel has loved him through every single one, so this one isn't very different from those. 

The familiarity in it seems to settle Dean, because he hugs back. He coughs out what seems to be a tiny, incredulous laugh, but he hugs Castiel just as he always has, complete with Dean even lightly clapping him on his back. He's mistaken if he thinks this is going to be a short hug. 

It's not, and personally, Castiel is having a marvelous time. He thinks he'd like to do this every day for however long he can get away with. Just this is enough. Less than this was enough, so really, this is exceeding his expectations—mostly because he didn't actually have any to begin with. 

Dean, on the other hand… He seems to grow agitated a little. Not in the way that suggests he dislikes the hugging, but more restless, as if he can't hold still for too long. Castiel is quite sure that's it until Dean says, "Not that I'm complaining, but—"

Ah, Castiel thinks, realizing what's actually happening. He's restless for more. Something not already established as acceptable. He's not very good at coming right out and saying things, so Castiel doesn't force him to. He just pulls back enough to do the next, most innocent thing he can think of. A simple kiss that's really more of two mouths brushing than a kiss at all. 

Dean yanks back immediately, and Castiel looks at him, trying to brave his inner storm. He looks like he's on the verge of a minor breakdown. His eyes are wide again, and unconsciously or not, his fingers have fisted the back of Castiel's shirt like he needs to hold onto something. He's not breathing. 

"Breathe," Castiel reminds him, arching an eyebrow.

"I am, I just—" Dean's breath explodes out of him, and his pupils are expanding and shrinking back and forth. Fear? Desire? Both, Castiel thinks. Dean is a lot of both. "My dad is going to kill me." 

Castiel blinks, surprised by that admission. He sincerely doubts the probability of such a thing. Frankly, it's impossible. "Dean, your father is dead."

"Oh, right." Dean relaxes slightly, seeming to take comfort from the words. Castiel supposes it's a comforting thing to be reminded while you're in the arms of a man and your father is John Winchester. Dean swallows and tugs at him. "Okay, do it again."

"Are you sure?" 

"Shut up and just—yeah. Just do it again." 

Since Dean is asking, this time even more verbally than before, Castiel leans in to do just that. He doesn't do anything untoward, he's sure. The second kiss is just as simple and light as the first. Castiel is pleased with it, seeing as it's a sign of affection, and he quite likes the feeling of Dean's lips against his own. Or, well, he does until Dean pushes him away. 

Castiel can't understand why he's forcing himself. If it's genuinely that difficult, he shouldn't do it. "Dean, you're not required to—" 

"Shut up," Dean interrupts, holding his gaze, setting his jaw. He's being unnecessarily determined about this for some reason Castiel can't fathom. "Stop holding the fuck back, man. It's—I can still think, and I do not need to be thinking. It's a mess up there, so just—just kiss me like you mean it. Like you want to."

"I do want to," Castiel points out, because Dean has to know that. It's not him struggling, and he doesn't understand why Dean is forcing himself to struggle. 

"Awesome, but I mean...kiss me like you really, really want to, very badly, and you don't give a fuck if I protest or not," Dean mutters, swallowing. 

Castiel stares at him for a moment. He's not sure if he can do that, if he can provide help to Dean's apparent need to force this. If he doesn't want to do it, then he shouldn't do that. It doesn't have to mean he doesn't mean what he said, if that's what he's worried about. Castiel believes him. At this point, with how Dean reacts, with how hard Dean is trying, it would be unwise to doubt him. 

"I don't want to kiss you if you don't want me to, Dean," Castiel says softly. He doesn't. He always wants to kiss Dean, yes, but he has no desire to do it if Dean doesn't feel the same. 

"No, that's—" Dean makes a sound of frustration and tugs at Castiel, staring at him seriously. "Yes, great, you're a wonderful person who has a grasp on consent. Awesome. Thing is, I do want you to, but I'm just gonna keep pulling away if you give me the chance to, and I don't want to do that, so...don't give me the chance to. Like I said, I'm a mess. If you just do it, and keep doing it, I'm going to eventually give in, and that's exactly where I wanna be right now." 

Castiel turns that over in his mind, curious about it. He thinks about Dean's response to Castiel slamming him against various surfaces, the way he just—gives into it. He thought it was a defense mechanism, and perhaps it can be, but there is a chance that it's just… Well, maybe Dean simply enjoys not having to decide whether he wants something or not before sensation takes over for him. At least in some cases. 

He has watched Dean mock deities. He has watched Dean kill monsters, subdue them, defend himself with—frankly—commendable skill. If Dean truly, truly wanted to, he could harm him. Just as Castiel has gotten rough with him, Dean has the same capability—he just hasn't. If he wanted to, he would. If he was angry enough, he would.

Castiel trusts that Dean would stop him in whatever way necessary if he needed to. But this—he's outright asking Castiel to silence the storm in his mind, and if he's absolutely sure, Castiel will do his best. He genuinely can't refuse Dean anything, but this only works if Dean is sure. 

"If you're sure," Castiel says, staring into his eyes, searching them. There's no fear, just a swirl of desire and anticipation that rocks between the good kind and the bad kind. He can't seem to figure out if he's looking forward to it, or if he should be running in the opposite direction, and Castiel supposes that's what he's meant to be stopping. 

Dean's voice only wavers slightly when he says, "Hundred percent positive," but what quivers in his tone is not doubt. It's suspense. 

Castiel checks once more to be certain, waiting for even the hint of anything too negative, but Dean just seems to be waiting with a bated breath. Perched precariously on some sort of edge he's asking Castiel to push him over. Some need that push, apparently, and Castiel won't deny him if he's asking. 

He slides his hands down Dean's arms, grabs his wrists, yanks them up and pushes. Dean hits the door with a thud, and Castiel is on him before he can even react, wading into the storm. It's a lovely thing, getting the permission to do so. There's no room for doubt here on his end either; he has to trust that Dean isn't lying, that Dean will do whatever is necessary to end it if he can't do it, or doesn't want to. Castiel can't exactly do this gently, and perhaps he's enjoying that a bit too much. 

Dean doesn't fight. He gives in very quickly, actually. The kiss is deep from the moment it lands, Castiel pressing in and immediately sweeping his tongue out. Something curious happens to his head as he does it, as he gets the very first taste, just this odd sloshy sensation like he's swimming through his own thoughts. He's lost among the current, losing sense of his body for the very first time since it truly became his. He doesn't recall shoving his thigh in between Dean's legs, but it's there. He's so glad it's there, but he honestly can't take credit for that particular brilliance. 

Dean moans into the kiss, opening his mouth wider, gasping. He gives, so very malleable, as willing to be covered with Castiel's body and kissed as deeply as possible as Castiel is to do it all. Dean is generally a giver—a caretaker, for all that he would deny it. But, in this, he takes. He takes, and takes, and takes, and seems so very eager to do so. 

Yet, when he wants, he makes that clear as well. He starts twisting his wrists, making a muffled noise against Castiel's mouth, tugging. Castiel lets him go, not very surprised when Dean's hands land in his hair, holding him in place, unwilling to let this stop. Castiel thinks Dean is the smartest man he's ever known. Castiel can barely think at all. 

Kissing Dean is better than anything Castiel has ever felt, and he's felt very many things, both in abstract and in the literal sense. He can only imagine what touching him intimately, with permission, would be like. He tries it, slipping his hands under Dean's shirt, spreading his fingers out over warm skin. Dean barely seems to care, focused as he is on groaning when Castiel catches his bottom lip between teeth and tugs. Dean jolts slightly, his hips jerking, and then he makes a choked-off sound into Castiel's mouth. 

Castiel knows power. He has been the most powerful being in the room many times. Absolutely none of them compare to this. He could ruin worlds off of this, just grind them into dust without trying very hard at all. It's a heady feeling, something he could get addicted to. He's already addicted to it. Briefly, he forgets that he's human. 

When Dean rocks against his thigh again, Castiel hums in approval, dragging his hands up his shirt further, cupping his ribs. His grace exists in these very bones, down to the most miniscule fiber, clinging to Dean in every way possible, never fading. His grace has always been attracted to Dean, the way bees are attracted to nectar, and something about it pleases Castiel. Human as he is, that's still there. He's given every part of himself to Dean in every way possible through the years, and Dean has contained it all so well. 

Dean makes another noise into the kiss, his hips moving with fervor now. Castiel can feel the way his body moves under his hands, against his thigh. It's inelegant and desperate, almost frantic, and Castiel is positive that it's the loveliest, most sinuous thing. Castiel kisses him in encouragement. 

He bites at Dean's bottom lip again, delighting in his responding groan as he curls into it, his hips stuttering, then picking up pace. Castiel is more than happy to do this, to kiss him through it, no matter how long it takes, but Dean yanks back with a sharp inhale. His chest is heaving when Castiel opens his eyes to look, and his head tips back, his mouth hanging open, eyes still shut. He has clearly given in completely, given into sensation and Castiel entirely, as if he has been wanting to. 

Under his breath, Dean starts chanting, "Please, Cas, please," as his fingers shift down to fist Castiel's shirt. He's holding on and rocking harder, and again, louder, "Please, please, fuck, please," as he yanks a little at Castiel's shirt. He's seemingly doing it all mindlessly, not thinking. It's beautiful. Dean is so very beautiful, he always is, and this is no exception. Even as his face twists with visible frustration, yet again panting out, "Please, please, please," he looks like the most beautiful thing that Castiel has ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on. 

Castiel can see his effort. In so many words, he's coming undone, very close—as that saying goes. He wasn't aware that this is what had Dean so pent up, but it suddenly makes sense. Why hasn't he found sexual release as Castiel did?

It takes Castiel a moment of losing himself into the bend of Dean's neck to realize it. He couldn't. He can't. Dean hasn't found sexual release because he isn't allowing himself to, because he's holding himself back, because he needs the push. It makes heat crackle in Castiel's veins to think about it, about the last three days Dean must have spent trying his absolute best, wanting exactly this, only to be kept on the edge by his own psyche. 

Castiel reacts to the realization with perhaps too much enthusiasm, biting slightly too hard at the curve of Dean's throat, dragging his tongue over his rapidly fluttering pulse. This earns him a loud moan, Dean's fingers clenching his shirt even tighter as his hips jerk back and forth out of rhythm. The moan fades into a faint whimper Dean likely doesn't even register—it's needy and catches Castiel's attention immediately, making him draw back. 

"Dean," Castiel says, trying to get his attention. 

This doesn't work very well. Dean is single-minded and focused at the moment. He does manage to choke out, "What, what? Cas, I'm—fucking fuck—"

"You're the one holding back," Castiel tells him, willing him to get it, to grasp it, to let go. "Stop restraining yourself and just do it." 

Dean's body locks up immediately, his hips jerking only once more, and then he's moaning—low and long and loud. He twitches, his head ducking forward as he gasps, his fingers working at the fabric on Castiel's shirt. He shudders, he shakes, and then he slumps back. He's still panting. 

"Okay," Dean announces breathlessly, his eyes cracking open as he lifts his head to look Castiel head-on. There's still a dazed look in his eyes, and he's still holding onto Castiel's shirt, albeit not as tightly. "Yeah, this is going to work." 

He had doubts? Castiel's lips twitch with faint amusement at the thought. "I would say so." 

Dean licks his lips again, grinning when Castiel looks down to watch. "Awesome. Yeah, I'm—I'm good now. I mean, I'm sticky, and that's not great, but otherwise. Yeah." 

"You've showered today." 

"So have you." 

"Well," Castiel murmurs, "we'll need to again." 

"Did you—" 

"Not yet." 

"Kinda presumptuous of you, Cas, but I can't say you're wrong. Okay, showers. Oh, but think about the reckless use of water, man. It's not an infinite resource, you know." Dean raises his eyebrows at him. "Ain't cheap either." 

"I'm aware." Castiel can't figure out how to stop smiling. He doesn't really want to. "Water conservation is very important, Dean." 

"Yeah," Dean agrees, "I think we gotta share at this point. Like, for the planet and shit." 

"It's the right thing to do," Castiel adds, doing his best to apply some gravity to his tone, but he thinks he's failing. He thinks he looks happy. He feels happy.

"Come on," Dean mumbles, fumbling for the doorknob, his gaze exceptionally soft and fond. 

Castiel follows him. 

As it turns out, Castiel's fantasy about Dean joining him in the shower pales in comparison to the real thing. 

 


 

"Dean." 

"Uh, yeah, Cas?" 

Castiel turns over to stare at Dean from up close, watching the way Dean watches him. "I thought you wanted me to leave. I thought—well, with the way you were acting, I assumed—" 

"Oh shit," Dean blurts out, popping up on his elbow to peer down at Cas from above, his eyes open and clear. "Jesus, Cas, you must have been so—I mean, I saw how pissed you were. Why didn't you just hit me? You should've kicked my ass." 

"And what would that have solved?" 

"Oh. Well, damn. I was expecting something kinda sappy about how you never wanna hurt me." 

"No," Castiel clarifies, "I was tempted. Often." 

Dean flicks his gaze over Castiel's face, and instead of looking upset or offended, there's a spark in his eye. "Uh, you could—you could, um—" he pauses, his gaze sliding to the left. He's still struggling, and Castiel expects he always will, at least without aid. He reaches out and slides his hand up the side of Dean's neck, across the hollow of his throat, pushing up under his chin to fit his thumb and finger beneath the bolts of his jaw. Dean's eyes flutter shut, and his words come out strained, but they do come out. "You could, um, get rough with me, Cas. I really don't mind, man. Was—was kinda hoping you would. So, I mean. I—yeah." 

"You mean in a sexual setting." 

"Dude, I don't think I really, ah, separate you out of a sexual setting in my mind. The moment you told me you loved me again, it was like something lit up in my brain and said, hey, you could have sex with him. I kinda can't get it out of my head. Whatever." 

"Hm." Castiel's lips curl up, and he slides his thumb along the line of Dean's jaw, tapping when he gets at his chin. Dean's eyes open, brighter than before, darker as well. "What did you enjoy with other partners, in terms of—roughness?" 

"You seriously asking?" Dean mumbles, his eyebrows jerking up. "I don't—I mean, I know the Anna thing was kinda—" 

Castiel squeezes Dean's jaw, adjusting his grip to slide his fingers into the hollow of Dean's cheeks, pressing in until his mouth is forced open with a very tiny ah. He glares. "Do not talk about Anna to me. Ever again." 

"Okay, okay," Dean rasps the moment Castiel's fingers slacken. He blinks rapidly, his cheeks rounding out as he releases a shaky breath. "Jesus. So, like that. You can—you should do shit like that. It, ya know, kinda works for me, or whatever. But wait, about—hear me out, okay? About Anna…" 

"Dean," Castiel snaps, "I just said—" 

Dean shakes his head rapidly, leaning into him, his gaze soft and sweet and kinda sad. "No, wait, it's not like that. I just—I want to… I shouldn't have done that. I know I shouldn't have done that. It was fucked up, but it was never about—I wasn't trying to hurt you, Cas. I just wanted you to—to finally snap. I mean, I didn't know it at the time, but I was hoping you'd shove me up against Baby and rock my world a little, if you catch my drift. It was never about Anna. I forgot about Anna. I couldn't forget you if I tried, and I mean—I get it, you know? The jealousy. Just, I thought about you and...anyone else, really, and it turns out I don't, uh, actually like the thought? So."

"I wanted to break your jaw," Castiel admits in a whisper. "I wanted to kiss you, too, even then. You can't possibly know what I—" 

"S'why we're having this talk, right?" 

"I'm not sure what you mean." 

"Ya know, finding the shit that's a big no-no." Dean shoots him a look from the corner of his eyes, almost tentative. "For you, that's...your sister." 

"You can say her name," Castiel tells him, amused. 

Dean coughs. "Right, well, Anna." 

Castiel frowns and trails his thumb around Dean's jaw again, pausing once more at his chin. "I take it back. Don't say her name. Just forget her again." 

"I don't think that's gonna be possible, sorry. Just in reference to you, though. Ya know, knowing what's too far. Where the line is." 

"And yours?" 

"What a fuckin' question," Dean mutters, tilting his head down with a sigh. "Like, not physically? Just shit we don't ever talk about? Something that'll piss me off and get me ready to fight?" 

"I suppose. That, or anything you don't feel you are capable of talking about." 

"Okay, I gotta list. You got your ears on?" 

Castiel blinks. "Yes." 

"Charlie, Lisa, my mom, and my dad. I guess all of that depends on what you're saying. Nice little comments, or just talking about something that happened once while they were there, that's fine. Anything to do with—with how they—" 

"Alright," Castiel cuts in, because he's very certain he understands this about Dean already. "On that level, you can't talk negatively about Jack. Or Claire."

Dean looks wounded a little, like having to be told this is insulting. "What? I wouldn't even—" 

"I don't want to get into it with you, Dean. The line is there. Don't cross it." 

"I—yeah, for sure. Definitely. Jesus. So, Anna—I mean, shit, your sister is basically the buzzword for it was at this moment, he knew, he fucked up. But making snide comments about your kids—not that I would, to be clear—is like my, uh, thing with Charlie, Lisa, and my parents. You can talk about them, but there's certain shit you don't say." 

"Exactly," Castiel says, nodding. "What's your Anna?"

"Hm?" Dean blinks at him. 

Castiel arches an eyebrow. "What's something I should not bring up at all?" 

Dean stares at him, his throat bobbing, and then he blurts out, "Leaving. Don't—don't leave. Don't even fucking talk about leaving." 

"Dean, I only said I thought you wanted me to le—"

"Well, I didn't. I never fucking do, and you always do, so just—just fucking don't. That's my line."

"Okay," Castiel murmurs, brushing his thumb up and down the curve of Dean's chin, studying his face. Something tender flares in his chest. "Has it always been your line?" 

"Pretty much," Dean mumbles. 

"I've crossed it many times." 

"Yeah, you did." 

"I'm sorry," Castiel murmurs, frowning. 

Dean reaches out with his free hand to hesitantly touch the wrinkled skin between Castiel's eyebrows. He's still unsure about it, just a little. Slow in the touching he does when he's not primarily focused on sex. "S'okay. I mean, it's not, but that's kinda a hard line not to trample all over anyway. Everyone does. It's a pretty big expectation to have." 

"No, Dean, it's not." 

"Yeah, it is, and I know it is. Doesn't mean it isn't still the thing that—that gets me. Especially when it comes to you. God, when it comes to you, I just… I don't wanna do it anymore, Cas." 

"I won't leave. I don't want to leave. I'll stay as long as you'll have me," Castiel says softly, drifting his thumb up to catch lightly over Dean's bottom lip. When it pulls free, Dean's lips twitch. 

"Could be a while." 

"As I said, I never tire of you." 

"You fuckin' sap," Dean mutters. He seems to finally catch onto the soft bubble of safety around them, something light and sweet and vulnerable. As per his nature, he immediately works to break it in the swiftest way possible, which apparently involves him ducking his head and biting at the tip of Castiel's thumb playfully, waggling his eyebrows.

Castiel allows the change, humming. "What about physically? Your lines, I mean." 

"Oh, dude, that's a whole different ball game. Wait, you're cool with me talking about people who aren't, ya know, related to you?" 

"I told you who I didn't like. The vampire. Crowley."

"The vampire, he says." Dean chuckles and leans in, grinning at him. "His name's Benny." 

"Continue," Castiel says, pressing his thumb harshly into the line of Dean's jaw. It twitches under his hold, flexing a little. 

Dean clears his throat. "Right. Well, I mean, I've done some pretty kinky shit, man. I think my line is just—like, don't kill me, ya know?" 

"That's it?" Castiel asks dubiously. 

"I could probably be talked into anything else, or I've at least thought about it before. I was made for fuckin'." Dean flashes him a grin, playful and cheeky, his eyes bright. Oh, he likes this conversation. Of course he does. "I've been slapped during sex before, and that was—yeah. Scratching, biting, all that jazz. Once, a lovely lady from Minnesota saw my angel blade and got the hots for it, you know, so I—" 

Castiel's eyes fly open wide. "You put an angel blade handle in a woman's—" 

"No! Jesus, no. I mean, I...probably would have, if she had asked, but no. That's not what she was into anyway. Um, it was more the...blade part," Dean says, raising his eyes meaningfully. 

"You mean—lacerations?" 

"Nothing crazy. Safe shit. It can be hot in the moment, that's all." 

"Well, you are more aware of what areas to cut than most," Castiel murmurs, his eyebrows relaxing. 

Dean bears his teeth in a grimace. "Cas, pal, I hate to tell you this, but it wasn't me doing the slicing."

"I—you let a strange woman cut you?" Castiel hisses, leaning up and pushing Dean back by—well, by his face. "Dean, are you out of—" 

"It was fine. Completely fine. I mean, okay, so I was kinda, uh, tied down, but—but hear me out! Stop looking at me like that. This was purely sexual." 

"You can't just do that, Dean, and I would have thought that you were aware! She could have been anyone. She could have been—" 

"Hey, what do you take me for? I ran all the tests, just to be sure. She was your regular every day Jane with a nine-to-five. Just, ya know, kinkier than most of 'em," Dean says, staring up at him with amusement in his gaze. "Besides, I haven't done anything like that in years. I was younger, then. Also, I mean, I don't really gotta think about shit like that if I'm doing everything with you. I know you won't hurt me." 

That draws Castiel up short. He squints. "Well, no, I won't. Are you—do you want me to—" 

"What? Woah, uh." Dean blinks rapidly, looking as if he just bumped his head a little too hard. "I wasn't asking. I was just telling you that my lines are very thin, dude. More...emotional than physical. But, uh, I'm not gonna say no, because I mean…" 

"Hm," Castiel says at Dean's significant look. "We can revisit it. So, you genuinely have nothing?" 

"Nah, not really. I mean, tell me if you're gonna do something wild, most of the time. Not all the time. Some surprise is good. I mean, don't just whip out a knife and start doing…" Dean trails off, getting that glazed look in his eyes again. It takes a second, but he blinks and clears his throat. "Ya know, on second thought, I take that back. Just—do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want." 

"You do realize that requires a significant amount of trust, yes?" 

"Well, I trust you." 

"Do you?" 

"You think I'd be here with anyone else? Not—not the sex part, but the...um. Ya know." 

"The love part?" Castiel suggests, amused. 

Dean's face gets hot under his hands, and of all things, it's that that gets him to blush. "Yeah. Stop smiling, asshole. Shut up, you know what I mean. If I'm gonna trust you with all that, my body is a piece of cake. It's practically yours at this point." 

Castiel's smile slips, his eyes fluttering shut. Distantly, he thinks that he shouldn't be so enticed by the idea of ownership, but it's very distant. His breath shudders out of him, and he says, "I'll keep that in mind. I tend not to want to mistreat my things, so you have to tell me if something is bothering you in any capacity." 

"Wait, call me yours again," Dean mumbles, laughing slightly, breathless, and he's raising up to hum into Castiel's mouth, kissing him hard. 

"Dean, you didn't agree," Castiel chokes out, turning his head as Dean lazily kisses along his jaw. 

Dean hums into his skin, sounding pleased. "I guess the whole point of giving yourself to somebody, or something—a cause—is to not have to decide what's good and what isn't. You can mistreat me, or not, right? What's the difference? How am I gonna know if I'm just—ya know, off being yours? It's my one job. Easy enough. You figure out the rest, man, I'm so lazy." 

"You cannot give me full agency over you, Dean," Castiel rasps as Dean's teeth graze over his pulse. 

"Why not?" Dean murmurs. 

"Because I'll just—I don't know. I'll make you think of all the ways in which you are good, and beautiful, and worthy. I'll make you list them and come up with new things every day," Castiel warns, knowing that's a bigger threat than if he said he was going to give Dean a bruise every day of his life. 

"Ah." Dean stiffens, his mouth leaving Castiel's throat. He pulls back, blinking up at him. "Okay, no, you can't have full agency over me, 'cause there ain't no way in hell I'm doing that." 

Castiel sighs. "You see my point. You have to have some input. You are a person, Dean, one with desires and dislikes. I need to know those." 

"Yeah, yeah, you're right and I'm wrong, whatever. But you'll still just—I mean, whenever you wanna fuck, you'll just do it, right? Like, with the shoving around shit, 'cause uh—" 

"If the situation is appropriate, yes." 

"Okay, then we're cool like cream cheese. Wanna do that right now?" Dean asks, waggling his eyebrows and shifting up underneath him. 

"Do you want me to tell you, or show you?" 

"Didn't we waste three days of me trying to get you to show me?" 

"You could have asked." 

"Turns out it's hot when you're mad." 

Castiel narrows his eyes slightly. "You won't do that on purpose, Dean." 

"Not like in the garage, no, but if you think I'm not gonna flirt with you as obnoxiously as possible, you don't really know me. Now, are you gonna do something fun here in the next few seconds, or am I gonna have to start talking about the way I've been kinda obsessed with the idea of you fucking me up against a wall? 'Cause I can talk, or you can—" 

Dean's groan of approval sounds like that's what I thought, and Castiel licks his triumph right out of his mouth. He marvels at the power Dean has, even when he aches to be powerless. 

Well, what he doesn't know won't hurt him. 

At some point later, when they're both sprawled out lazily in the bed beside each other again, Castiel blinks up at the ceiling and says, "Did you tell Sam?"

"Yeah," Dean admits. "I don't think he's gonna be surprised about—us. He told me where the cleaning supplies were, so. I mean, he wasn't subtle, I was just kinda stupid 'cause I was so focused on you." 

"Eileen brought up the cleaning supplies to me as well," Castiel murmurs. 

"You talk to Eileen?" 

"We're friends." 

Dean grunts. "Huh. Well, that's nice." 

"Claire knows," Castiel offers. "Jack told her about the deal, and she figured out the rest. She doesn't know your feelings on the matter, just my own." 

"Yeah, but she's Claire. She must have had some opinions. What'd she say?" Dean asks. 

"I called her, because I planned to leave and meet with her tomorrow, but she...changed my mind. She insisted I stick around for at least a week and see where things went. She was remarkably kind to me about the entire thing, and she said there was only a twenty percent chance you didn't want to suck my dick," Castiel explains. 

"That's generous," Dean mutters, then coughs. "I should probably get her a fruit basket or something. For getting you to stick around, I mean. It probably would have driven me insane if you left. I don't even know what I woulda done, so really, Claire has definitely earned—well, maybe not a fruit basket. That's a little, uh, too on the nose. Maybe I'll do something cool for her car, if she'll let me." 

"Mm, I'll mention it to her when I call her and let her know that she doesn't need to cause you injury."

"She...wanted to?" 

"She said you were making my gay experience terrible, and my heart is very fragile because I am a softie, and she planned to, ah, kick your ass if you did something wrong," Castiel mutters. 

Dean makes a low sound. "Jesus. Did I make your gay experience terrible?" 

"It has rapidly improved," Castiel assures him. 

"Well, there's that, at least," Dean mumbles. "Sorry."

"It's fine." Castiel turns his head and looks at Dean with a tiny frown. "Dean, do you think I could be compared to a furby?" 

"Uh...no?" Dean says cautiously, his eyebrows drawing together as he looks at Castiel like he might have randomly misplaced his sanity. 

Castiel narrows his eyes. "Not even metaphorically?"

"No, Cas." 

"Are you sure? No similarities at all?" 

"I'm positive. You're not a goddamn furby," Dean says firmly, and he blinks when Castiel reaches out to cradle his cheeks. 

"I love you so very much," Castiel informs him sincerely, gratefully. 

"Because I don't think you're a furby?" 

"Among other things." 

"Oh. Good to know." Dean clears his throat, sort of sagging forward to lean into his hands. "You know I… Well, I—you know. Me too." 

Castiel smiles. "I know." 

"I can totally say it normally. I'm just choosing not to," Dean tells him in the way that means the exact opposite. 

"Okay," Castiel says, noting the strain at the corners of Dean's eyes. An approaching storm. "Do you want to say it normally?" 

"Gonna make me?" Dean asks, flicking his gaze back and forth over Castiel's face, and there's so much unbridled want in his eyes that the mockery in his tone is really more of a please. 

"Say it backwards," Castiel prompts.

"Uh, you love I?" 

"Well, that's true, but no. The backwards of that."

"I love—" Dean snorts and holds up a finger, waving it under his nose. "You almost got me, you little shit. That was pretty good, I'll give you that." 

Castiel rolls his eyes. "The point is, Dean, those are just—words. A stranger can say them and not mean it. Words only have the power we grant them. You tell me you love me in your every sentence, and I know to listen for it now. I hear you love me when you breathe." 

Dean stares at him, then swallows. His fingers go slack, touching Castiel's cheek. He looks cracked open, exposed, vulnerable. "Got me all figured out, huh? So—so, cat's outta the bag, I guess." 

"It's okay, Dean. If it makes you feel any better, my cat was never really in the bag to begin with."

"We really are just—just in love, aren't we?" 

"Yes," Castiel confirms, smiling broadly, aware that he looks overjoyed right now. 

"Ah, hell," Dean says, his voice cracking. His fingers brush under Castiel's eye, and he's gazing at him like he's a miracle. "I'm pathetic about you, ain't I? Jesus. Yeah, okay. Okay, uh, love. It's that. We're that. Just—you know already, but I do. Love you. I love you, and I'm so fucking lucky you love me." 

"Well, yes," Castiel agrees, "you are." 

Dean swallows. "Say it back." 

"I love you, Dean," Castiel murmurs, and he does. 

"Yeah," Dean whispers, "I know," and he folds in to kiss him slow and deep, warm and unhurried, as if they have all the time in the world to have this. 

Castiel is quite sure they do.