Actions

Work Header

built to roam

Work Text:

Cas never really sticks around. Dean knows this.

In fact, it’s one of the things that makes Cas Cas. Pop in. Do the job, save the girl. Leave again. There will always be that inevitable goodbye with him. Dean had thought that that might change with Jack, but Cas is around even less now since Jack was brought back to life, if that’s even possible.

Asshole, Dean thinks, and feels a little bad. Angels can read people’s thoughts, can’t they? That’s part of their whole thing. He thinks for a second, scuffing his shoe on the tile. He thinks clearer. Asshole.

This had been one of the rare nights where all four of them were in the bunker together. Dean had made corn on the cob and pork chops for dinner because he got a new recipe from Kathy at kansasmama.com that didn’t look half-bad. Cas was grey and worn sitting at the table, listening to Dean and Jack chatter with very little commentary. If Cas hadn’t moved occasionally, Dean might have tried to do chest compressions.

After Jack and Sam leave to Dairy Queen for a brief sojourn for Dilly Bars, Cas disappears without so much as a goodbye. Dean was going to propose they watch a movie, something Cas would’ve liked. Maybe something stupid. Maybe that dumb Pixar movie about the robots. Wall-E. He thought Cas would like something like that. It’s a cute movie. Whatever.

“Typical,” Dean says out loud to himself. The festering blister Cas’ absence causes him has been rubbed open so many times you could probably see the movement of Dean’s insides through it, like those cows with the holes in their sides. Sometimes his skin feels so raw and translucent that you could probably see through him if you held him up to the light.

So there he is, leaning against the kitchen island. He is scuffing the tile below his feet. He is holding a beer but is not drinking it. He is feeling horrifyingly, spectacularly sorry for himself. It was stupid, he shouldn’t have even thought—

And then there is Cas.

Cas has explained how interdimensional angel travel works a thousand times. It’s never gotten that much clearer to Dean, but it always scares the shit out of him when Cas just appears. Like Dean thought too hard and Cas heard him and showed up.

“Jeez, Cas,” Dean says, breathing deeply against his beating heart. Cas tilts his head tiredly and doesn’t say anything. Dean thinks about trying the movie thing again — it’s just a movie, we could watch it in the Dean Cave in silence, I swear you wouldn’t have to say a word — before Cas walks up to him and places a hand on his shoulder.

It’s warm.

“Dean, can we go for a drive?” Cas says.

If Dean were a person fundamentally unaffected by Cas, someone he hasn’t been in thirteen years, he might’ve been able to hold onto his anger better and say no, but they’ve gone through it all. It’s Cas. It’s Cas, Dean imagines saying to an audience, begging them to see him. You don’t understand. It’s Cas.

“Yeah, man,” Dean says. “Where to?”

-

The configuration of their lives is like this — Dean sits in the front seat, and in the ten seconds it takes for Cas to open the door to the passenger side, he thinks about giving him the keys and asking him to drive.

He can feel a part of him, a younger Dean, recoil and goes yeah, yeah, I get it. He knows what this younger Dean's deal is, he knows why he’s there. Without younger Dean, he is a bag of wet skin and gristle. That Dean got him out of hell, got him past the thousand tiny apocalypses, that Dean watched his father die, that Dean held his dead brother’s body for hours until it cooled and then sold his life for him. He knows that Dean is ferocious over what is his. But sometimes—

Sometimes Dean wants to watch Cas drive his car, resting his elbow on the open window. Dean wants to watch Cas back up, his neck craned as he sees over the seats. Maybe his jacket is off and his shirt is rolled up, maybe to his elbows. Maybe he is wearing sunglasses too, those smaller ones that make him look like some kind of movie star. Maybe Cas looks at him when he’s driving and maybe he smiles at Dean, large and wide and uncomplicated. Maybe Cas calls him Dean in that voice of his. Maybe he watches Cas’ mouth form every letter.

The passenger door opens. Cas slides in, looking a little better already. Dean straightens up from where he was slouching.

“Ready?” Dean says, and Cas nods. Drive me, he thinks. He turns the key.

Cas points him along a little route, one that takes them past Lebanon onto highway 36. They both watch as the last hint of sunlight dips down below the horizon. Dean cranks Pink Floyd.

It feels like a dream that Cas is here. That they’re driving together, that Cas is sitting heavy on the seat next to him. His cologne curls throughout the car around him. It smells like some expensive wood. It reminds him of those perfume ads he used to flip through, waiting for Sam to get done his math tutoring. He breathes it deep in his chest, trying to commit it there permanently.

“Turn here,” Cas says eventually. They’re in some bigger city, one with actual bars and restaurants and movie theatres. The street they turn onto has a bar that has an actual lineup snaking down the block in front of it. Dean scoffs as they pass by it, craning his neck to see what could possibly be worth lining up for.

DOLL’S SALOON, it says in bright neon lights. Cas watches it carefully as they crawl past, stuck in the middle of Ubers and party busses.

“Gay bar,” Dean says. It’s the first thing he’s said since they left the bunker. Cas looks at him, considering. Dean clears his throat. “It’s, uh, a gay bar. Maybe it's a half-off night.”

“Half off of what?” Cas says, squinting.

“Clothes?” Dean tries. His hands are slowly sliding down the wheel, not of their own volition.

Cas’ eyes crinkle when he smiles. Cas turns to look out the window and Dean can see the outline of it on his profile — he sees it in the wrinkles near his eye, the movement of his cheekbone.

“Perhaps,” Cas says. Dean watches Cas watch the club, and decides to try this whole “being brave” thing out.

“You want to go in?” Dean says to the back of Cas’ head, too loud for the car. If they go in, maybe Cas will take off that coat, unbutton a button. Seriously, it’s like 86℉ after sunset. Maybe angels can’t feel heat.

Cas’ shoulders stiffen. Then slowly, slowly, he relaxes and turns to look at him, considering.

“No,” Cas says, searching Dean’s face. “There’s nothing for me in there.”

“Not into the half-off special, huh,” Dean says. It’s not all the way a joke, more like a piece of flesh Dean’s sloughed off and laid in front of him.

“You could say that,” Cas says, smiling again, lips closed tight. Some personal reference, something just for him.

Dean nods, and the Uber in front of them unloads the last of its passengers, and they slowly slide past Doll’s Saloon. Dean watches the sign get smaller behind them.

“Too bad,” Dean says quietly, and ignores the way Cas’ eyes burn holes in his jaw, the air around them suddenly thick. Dean presses the gas pedal, and Doll’s Saloon finally sinks out of sight.

-

Dean isn’t stupid.

Dean is a lot of things; a good cook, an okay brother, great at pool, bad at looking himself in the mirror; but he’s not stupid.

He’s been looking at Cas like he’s starving for the last thirteen years. He knows this. There’s a giant, invisible animal that waits between them, and Dean is afraid to move because it might rip his throat out. Dean is a friggin’ scarecrow held together with duct tape and bad whiskey. If Cas knew—

Well. He must look like roadkill to Cas. Human emotions, Dean thinks, peeking over his shoulder to switch lanes, nothing uglier. All of those emotions, all the time, all at once, like an elevator that only goes up. He looks at Cas and feels, not for the first time, a stab of envy. Not feeling any of that must be real nice, he thinks, watching Cas sit perfectly still next to him. He turns his eyes back to the road.

You see, Dean’s not that great of an actor. Sure, he’s got his moments, but when it comes down to it, he’s a crybaby. Just a little too soft to be a really effective weapon. He’s always straddled the line between caring too much and too little, never quite doing either well enough. He carries that big, awful heart everywhere he goes. Cas must see it from forty miles away, the things he does to Dean. Like a billboard of a car crash victim, his guts hanging past his socks. It’s nice of him to have never said anything.

“Right at this intersection,” Cas says. His voice startles Dean out of his thoughts. It’s dark now, the sky black and starless, the moon watching over them like a big ol’ eye. He turns right at the sign that says MILFORD STATE PARK, and they crawl past a couple of campsites before they see the lake, dark and shifting in the moonlight. Dean parks and cuts Baby’s engine, and they both sit there for a second, watching the twisting of the water in front of them.

Cas leaves first, and Dean scrambles after him. The wind when he opens the door is warm, and there is a muted buzz from the cicadas in the trees. Dean goes to sit on Baby’s hood and leans hard against it, the metal warm on his back. Cas joins him hesitantly, leaning awkwardly over the wheel well.

“Heard you can catch a catfish the size of a toddler in there,” Dean says finally, nodding towards the reservoir, the shifting waters, the rocky beach below it. He’s pretty sure he’s heard that.

“You would have to be careful,” Cas muses. “There’s a blue-green cyanobacteria that blooms in the water here.” He spares a glance at Dean. “Very toxic. Kills many dogs.”

“Figures,” Dean says. “Beautiful lake like that, course it’d find a way to kill your ass.”

“Everything needs to live,” Cas muses. He shifts his weight slightly, and Dean can feel every inch Cas wanders into. “Even algae.”

There’s a pause as they sit in their silence, familiar as a limb.

“What are we doing at Milford Lake, Cas?” Dean says finally.

Cas shrugs. “I wanted to enjoy something beautiful, I suppose,” he says, his tongue clicking against a dry mouth.

Dean considers the shifting lake, the sky, the wide and pale moon. He considers the warm breeze, the smell of smoke from someone’s campfire as they barbecue dinner, a radio left on blaring a shitty pop song. Humanity at its core — a man-made lake, a campfire in the distance, someone humming quietly beside you.

He looks back at Cas, and Cas quickly averts his eyes so Dean can’t tell what he’s been looking at. He is overcome with the desire to slide his hand into Cas’ jacket, around the warm dip of his waist. Ten years ago that would’ve scared him. He looks back to the lake.

“Cas—,” Dean starts. He kind of wants to see if he’s brave enough to finish his sentence. He clutches the inside pocket of his jacket, runs the material under his fingers.

“Why do you leave all the time?” Dean says finally. A brave question, but not the right one. Cas releases a breath he was holding, humming in thought.

“It’s not because of you,” Cas says carefully. He resolutely does not look at Dean, and Dean suddenly feels like he’s being coddled.

“I bet,” Dean snorts. “It just so happens that wherever I am, you don’t want to be.”

“Dean,” Cas says. Dean looks at him and sees the whites of Cas’ eyes, like a spooked horse. “I promise you that that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“Well, it certainly seems like the truth,” says Dean. He can feel a hard, cold pearl of anger in his chest form. He wants to give into it, say something petty and mean, to make Cas feel how he feels when Cas leaves him. He shouldn’t. He shouldn’t.

“Anywhere you are, I want to be,” Cas says earnestly. “But I do not trust myself.”

“Trust yourself with what?” Dean says, watching him. Cas’ face is lit on one side by the light coming from the setting sun, outlining his profile in yellow light. He’s no more readable than he ever is, but he is...

He is. He just is, alright.

“Not hurting you,” Cas says finally, looking toward the sky. They both sit in silence for a second, soaking in the sound.

“That’s bullshit,” Dean says finally.

“Is it?” Cas says.

“I want—,” Dean chokes on the word, but valiantly keeps going. “I want you with us. In the bunker.”

“There’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be,” says Cas. A wind comes by and ruffles his hair. His jacket flaps open.

“Then stay,” Dean whispers. God, Cas is making him say it. Out loud into the empty space between them.

“I can’t,” Cas says. “I can’t, Dean.”

This sentence feels less real, less pressing when it’s said in the dark. Dean can make out the edge of Cas’ cheekbone, the side of his mouth. He swallows and swallows and swallows.

“We’ll find Chuck, Cas. I swear to you,” Dean says. “If it’s the last thing I do, we’ll beat that bastard.”

“Yes,” Cas says tonelessly. “I’m sure we will.”

“I swear to you, Cas,” Dean says. He’s urgent with something, something loose jittering inside him. “We’ll beat him, and we’ll finally live our lives like we want. Hell, what did you think about that bar? From before?”

“It was a very nice bar,” Cas says, smiling subtly. With Cas, it’s mainly in the eyes.

“Yeah, well. We could maybe go there one day. It would be fun. They gotta have some Dolly, right? 9-5?”

“Sure,” Cas says.

“Hell, do gay bars have karaoke night?” Dean says. “You and me and Sam and Jack. A regular barbershop quartet.”

“There’s nothing that would make me happier,” Cas says, something bitter twisting the corner of his mouth. He looks down at the dirt below their feet.

“Last chance,” Dean says finally. Cas looks up at him, squinting. “Last chance to tell me what’s going on with you before I start asking around.”

“Nothing’s wrong, Dean,” Cas lies. He closes his eyes as a warm breeze comes off the water. “I’m just savoring the Earth’s pleasures as long as I can.”

“Alright,” Dean says. “I warned you.”

Cas smiles. Dean can hear it more than he can see it as the light leaves their side of the Earth completely. So when he hears a deep inhale and a heavy weight on his shoulder, he gently leans his head against it. Cas swallows and swallows and swallows next to him.

They sit there, their heads leaned together for what feels like hours. Just two men and the world slowly erasing every atom of them.

Maybe this is what escaping Hell felt like, Dean thinks, and closes his eyes. Must’ve not been so bad really. If you think about it.

-

Jack calls eventually because he and Sam came home two hours ago and Cas and Dean are still nowhere to be found. Their Blizzards, Jack adds sorrowfully, are completely melted.

“It’s okay, Jack,” Cas says, rubbing his eyes. “It's our fault for staying out so late.”

They’ve returned to where Baby is sitting in the dark, and Cas is grimly reporting their trip to a weirdly anxious Jack. Dean side-eyes Cas for the umpteenth time, his worry etching a hole in him.

“Are you having a good time, Cas?” Jack says. His voice is tinny and cracking on speakerphone, but Cas seems to be understanding every broken word.

Cas catches Dean’s eye and pauses. He says, “Yes,” very delicately. Dean looks away, shy like he hasn’t been in a while. Like Cas is the hot quarterback bringing him home from their date at the friggin’ soda pop shop.

“Anywhere else?” Dean says as they both say their goodbyes and Cas slides his phone back into his pocket. “Home?”

Cas is very still when he thinks. It’s like he’s mapping out every possible option and mentally rehearsing it before saying it.

“I—,” Cas starts and stops. “There are a couple of other places I’ve always been curious about.” His long fingers drum on the leather seats, bum-bum-bum-bum. “I don’t want to keep you up if you’re tired.”

“Ah, sleep when I die, right?” Dean says. He gets a sudden feeling that he’s jinxing something. “Just tell me where to go.”

-

Cas has them driving out of state, which means that Dean mentally catalogs every motel he passes by in case he needs to find somewhere to sleep.

There’s the Drive Inn just on the edge of Nebraska, which has shitty air conditioning but has free water bottles in the rooms. Then there’s the Motel Zed on the edge of the highway, which is weirdly named but has burgundy carpets in their rooms — very handy in case someone is bleeding out. There is the shitty Motel 6 by the old DVD rental store, but the beds always have crumbs in them. Dean’s sure as hell not putting them there.

“Dean?” Cas says.

“Yeah?” Dean says, clearing his throat. He tries to pretend that he’s definitely been focusing on the road for a little while.

“How would you feel about bowling?” Cas says. He looks pensive.

“Bowling?” Dean says, caught off guard. “I think Sammy got invited to go for a birthday party once. Why?”

“I saw a movie,” Cas says, looking uncomfortable at the prospect. “Focused around the subject. I feel like it would be an enriching experience.”

“Yeah, if seeing some eighty-year-old named Don throw out his hip enriches your life,” Dean snorts. Cas looks unimpressed. Dean changes his course. “But yeah. Of course, Cas. I’m game.”

“There’s one called Three Grave Lanes near Lincoln,” Cas says. He planned this whole thing out,Dean realizes. He stares at the hard set of Cas’ jaw and thinks, What if I had said no?

Then he probably would’ve asked Sam. Dean thinks. He bristles at the thought. Probably would’ve sucked.

“Well, settle in, it’ll be a while to Lincoln. Hey,” Dean says. He grabs the bin of tapes from underneath the front seat and shoves it into Cas’ lap. Cas receives it like someone might receive a Van Gogh — handling it like it might break, utterly confused why it was given to him in the first place. “Pick one.”

“I— Dean, I have no idea what any of this sounds like,” Cas says. Dean scoffs.

“Come on, man. Thirteen years in my car, you have no idea what bands you like?” Dean says, cutting a look over to him. Cas has a particularly guilty expression, just visible in the orange glow of the streetlamps. “I see that look. Pick whatever. I won’t get bitchy about it.”

Cas looks skeptical, but he starts digging anyway. Dean knows that Cas pretends to be so otherworldly sometimes, but he must have some sort of music preference. Not that there’s a wide breadth of musical genres in that crumpled box, but there’s enough for a man to have opinions. Just no Tchaikovsky or anything like that.

Dean surveys Cas digging through the box like a raccoon. Maybe he’ll pick up some Tchaikovsky next time he’s at that record store near Kansas City. They have a little cassette section. Maybe whatever Cas picks, he’ll get more of that too.

Cas has liberated a cassette tape and is squinting at the tiny tracklist on the back. Dean catches the neatly-written title and thinks Huh.

It’s DEAN’S FAVORITES 2001, made back when he thought he was all that and then some. Not that that has changed a lot, but this tape was in his white-hot and heavy days, where he would get any girl that looked his way and got into more bar fights than he could afford. Cas opens the clear plastic protective case and carefully feeds it into Baby’s tape deck.

"Gimme Shelter" is the first song that comes plunking out, and Cas leans over to turn it up, brushing close to Dean’s arm as he does so.

It’s strange how songs can bring you back to a moment in time like it just happened. Dean can feel his dad’s heavy leather jacket on his shoulders like armor, can feel the sweat gathering on his chin and under his eyes during their marathon drives in the summer. He remembers being so lonely it felt like the only thing that kept him alive was the fact that he was moving, like a shark. Same dead eyes too. Same pretty grin.

Cas’ eyes are closed next to him, listening. Dean can see the pulse fluttering in his neck and feels very, very warm all of a sudden. He rolls down the window and cool air floods into the front seat and it ruffles through the curls in Cas’ hair and Dean can live and die here in the car next to Cas, knowing Sam and Jack are safe. It’s enough to make him want to. It makes him want to. The feeling curls in his chest like a virus, like a root.

It’s just a kiss away, Merry Clayton sings. It’s just a kiss away.

-

They roll up to the bowling alley about an hour later, Baby’s tires crunching through the gravel of the mostly empty parking lot.

Three Graves Lanes obviously had its heyday in the ‘90s, covered in blinking neon signs and big, faded billboards. Dean hasn’t been to a lot of bowling alleys and only vaguely remembers back-to-school-specials featuring peppy kids getting drugs sold to them behind these, but this is about what he would expect.

They both get out of the car quickly, and the cool flow of air conditioning as they open the door makes Dean sigh a sweet sigh of relief. Sometimes it feels like he’s pushing through hot, muggy soup in these Kansas summers. This is just nice. The interior of the alley is rife with neon too: bright green cactuses and yellow stars and brown boots above the lanes, dimmed slightly with age. The soundtrack is some twangy, folky thing, barely heard above the din of the crashing pins and celebratory yells.

Dean leans close to Cas and whispers, “Is this a Western-themed bowling alley?” Cas ignores him, instead choosing to walk up to the front desk and converse with the teenage attendant very seriously. Dean is glad the conversation is out of his hands, because he’d have no idea what the hell he would even say.

He shoves his hands in the pockets of his jacket and stares around. The other bowlers are far from what he expected. Instead of all older, crusty-looking guys, it’s a couple of teenagers, a group of moms, and a couple of couples on dates or something. Dean checks his watch. It’s 9:46PM on a Tuesday. It’s a school night, for Chrissakes.

Cas comes back with two pairs of brightly colored shoes in his hands, offering the ones with the fluorescent green zig-zag detailing to Dean and keeping the ones with orange polka dots for himself. Dean flicks his eyes from the outstretched shoes to Cas’ very serious expression.

“Are you serious?” Dean says.

“Yes,” Cas says as Dean takes the shoes. “We’re in lane six.”

With that, Cas turns tail and heads to the lane christened with a single yellow neon star. Dean scampers after him, grimacing at one of the moms as she smirks at him from her lane.

Cas is already sitting down and yanking up his suit pants to edge off his boots when Dean gets there. Cas has pretty ripped legs for someone who doesn’t really exercise. Unless he does, Dean thinks, watching Cas’ calves flex. Maybe that’s where he goes when he disappears, to Crossfit or Soulcycle or whatever new thing he's read about on the mommy blogs.

Dean tears his eyes away and goes to the bench to shuck off his own boots. There are like ten thousand laces on these things. He’s glad he wore his nice socks today, the ones without any holes in ‘em. He slides on his puffy paint abomination of a shoe, and Cas waits until Dean ties the last bow before he gets up and takes off the trenchcoat, dropping it back onto his seat without a word.

Dean feels all the muscles in his body tense up. Crap, he thinks as Cas rolls his sleeves up past his elbow in efficient little twists, maybe Cas ain’t home. His mind flashes back to Lucifer, wearing Cas like a raincoat, putting Cas’ hand on the wrong shoulder. What if this is some sort of manifestation? What if this is a dream?

He pinches his inner thigh hard. He grimaces. Not a dream.

He watches suspiciously as Cas looks at each of the balls one by one, judging the weight of each and bringing it up to eye level to gauge roundness or smoothness or something. If this ain’t Cas, they’re being pretty convincing. But Dean knows that you need more than a feeling.

“Is that standard, Lebowski?” Dean says to the maybe-Cas imposter because he can’t help himself and he’s a smartass. He crosses his arms across his shirts, resting his arm on the knife he has up his sleeve.

“No,” Cas concedes, holding a hot pink number before putting it back on the rack. He grabs a sparkling iridescent one, rubbing it all over with his hands and closing his eyes in thought. Like he’s finding the vibration of the ball’s frequency or whatever.

This ball Cas deems adequate for his purposes, and he hefts with one of his hands. He walks and slings the ball down the aisle, hitting the pins hard and knocking all but the two outermost down. Dean whistles quietly.

The screen above them outlined with a scoreboard saying “DEAN” AND “CAS” on it flashes an 8. Cas tries two more times to hit the outermost pins, just glancing one on his last try. He receives his 9 gracefully. He sits down next to Dean, looking smug, and gestures Dean forward.

Dean stares at him, caught in the space between Cas’ exposed collarbone and his shirt. Cas tilts his head.

“Oh,” Dean averts his eyes, slapping his hands together. “My turn. Got it.”

Cas hums next to him, pulling his trenchcoat over his thighs like he’s cold. Dean stands up, and after a second of thought, sheds his outer layer too. Now he’s only down to his undershirt, his t-shirt, and his plaid shirt. He rolls up his sleeves too, because Cas did it and it looked good.

A lot of Cas looks good, a traitorous thought escapes. He lets it. The world could end any moment, what’s a little showboating to try and make his guy blush?

Dean peeks at Cas’ face. Cas squints at the screen above him, blushless. Dean sighs, not quite sure what he expected, and turns his attention to the balls instead. There’s a gray-ish beauty that’s calling his name, polished shiny like the Impala. He tries to heft it with one hand, but it’s way too heavy and he almost drops it before he grabs a good hold on it.

“Don’t pick a ball that’s too heavy,” Cas says.

“Got that, Cas,” Dean bites back. He looks at the hot pink one that Cas was looking at before and picks that up instead. It’s pretty good. Not too heavy. It’s just pink in an unmissable way, pink like frosting, pink like the sky as they were riding down the highway.

Well, Cas won’t care. Not that the angels can’t be homophobic or whatever, but it’s Cas. If Cas could feel emotions, Dean is like 99% sure he would be gay. Not in a stereotype way. The dude wears the same thing every day.

Wishful thinking, he thinks. He hefts the pink ball and doesn’t look at Cas as he swings the ball between his legs and lets it go. He’s no bowling savant, but it travels in a reasonably straight line and knocks the first three pins down flat.

He fist pumps and looks at Cas, who is smiling back at him. A group three lanes down erupts in cheering. Someone must’ve won large. Dean knows the feeling.

The game goes on for ten frames, Cas explains patiently as they bowl. Each frame is three tries. A strike is when you knock all of the suckers down on the first try. A spare is when you knock half down on one try and the other half on the other. Cas bowls two strikes, one after the other, as he explains. The scoreboard above them has a variety of different stupid animations to celebrate this.

Dean nods along and flexes his aching wrists. Dean is doing a pretty good job for a first-timer, he thinks. He gears up with Ol’ Pinkie and goes to try his Between-The-Legs technique, but there’s a hand on his back that stops him.

“I’ll show you another way,” Cas says gently. Dean lets Cas’ gentle hands move him around until he’s swinging with his back instead of gathering momentum with his arms. Cas digs his hand into Dean’s hip and moves the right side back slightly, his other hand on his shoulder. Cas’ face is warm next to his. If Dean closes his eyes, he could imagine Cas was about to dip him.

“Dean?” Cas says cautiously. Dean had sagged into Cas’ hands without realizing it. Dean straightens up and Cas keeps rearranging his limbs to where they’re supposed to go and winds Dean’s arm back for his turn.

They both throw the ball, Cas controlling Dean’s swing with his own arms and his own legs, strong and firm at his back. If he’s a shifter, he could kill me right now, Dean thinks, and stays put right where he is. He releases the ball and they both watch as the ball travels straight towards the pins, hitting them with a good amount of force and knocking them all down.

Strike.

Dean bounces on his heels and “WOO!”s loud enough for the moms to look their way for a moment. If this is a shifter, then the shifter will just have to let him have this for a few minutes. Cas watches him with amusement, his arms crossed across his chest.

“Hope you learned something,” Dean says, smirking as he collapses back into his seat. Cas nods at him, turns, and bowls another very efficient strike. The screen erupts in an animation of a hot dog smoking a cigarette.

“Bowling officials would call that a turkey,” Cas says. The game continues.

Cas wins by about fifty points, which Dean doesn’t really mind. Cas finally seems lighter, just a little bit, so he fights against the part of him that wants to be a sore loser. It’s not easy.

Dean slides his jacket back on when Cas does, and watches the security camera screen carefully as Cas goes to return their shoes. His eyes don’t flash when he faces the camera. Not a shifter. Dean sighs pretty hard in relief, nodding to the front desk clerk who looks suspicious.

They leave the bowling alley in pleasant silence, letting the night swallow the chatter and liveliness behind them, and they get back into the car.

Dean doesn’t reach for the ignition. He waits for Cas to look at him, which he does. They sit in the dark car, and Cas is looking at him all self-satisfied at his victory, and Dean could lean over and just kiss him and no one would know.

He just thinks that, lets it sit in his brain. He could kiss Cas. He’s been thinking about it ever since he almost lost him in Purgatory the second time. The first time, even. When Cas first walked into that barn. Even before then.

“Home?” Dean says finally. Cas is a couple of inches closer to him than normal. His breath smells like the candy they got from the vending machine right before they left, right next to the giggling moms. There was a blonde one wearing a hockey jersey that looked at Cas with barely disguised interest, and Dean scowled right back at her as Cas punched in the number for Sour Patch Kids into the machine, oblivious.

“If you’re truly not tired,” Cas starts. Dean is already shaking his head. How could he be tired of living like this? “If you’re sure. There’s a green space on our way back. Hopefully it won’t be too long a detour.”

“A green space? Is that some fancy way of saying “park”?” Dean says. Cas nods, looking out the window at the Three Graves. “Where is it?”

“Near Grafton,” Cas says. “It’s just a little park in the backyard of a restaurant. I’ve heard good things.”

“Yeah? From who?” Dean says, feeling jealousy curl up in his chest.

“Jody,” Cas says, keeping his eyes resolutely outside the car.

“You text Jody, but not me?” Dean says, affronted. Usually he just suffers his jealousy in silence, but his tongue has been loosened by ten or twelve Sour Patch Kids and a nice evening.

“She texts me about my day,” Cas says simply. He looks at Dean now. “It is nice.”

“I could—,” Dean’s voice wavers. “I could ask if you didn’t leave.”

“You don’t understand,” Cas says. He does look sorry, to his credit. “You’ll hopefully never understand, Dean.”

“That’s not fair,” Dean says quietly. Cas must know about Dean’s… affliction, this is just painful confirmation of it. Cas must see this love all over him like a stain.

“Our lives are rarely that,” Cas says. He starts raising his hand but pulls away at the last second, tucking it in his lap gently. “I’m sorry, Dean.”

“Is it me?” Dean says. His voice breaks again, and he suddenly feels like he’s an inch tall and ten years old again.

“It depends on what your definition of the word is,” Cas says quietly, which doesn’t make any damn sense at all. Dean turns the car on without another word and peels out of the driving lot of Three Graves Lanes, kicking up gravel and dust behind them. Conversation over. Dean works his hands out of the death grip they have on the wheel.

See, it’s not fair to get mad at Cas for not returning his feelings. It’s probably weird for him, like watching a bug love a fish. It’s so inconsequential it’s almost laughable. He does his deep breaths. He lets go of his little cold pearl of anger. The car smells like Cas’ cologne.

The music starts up again as they tear down the highway towards Lebanon. The warbling first notes of "Somebody to Love" come cheerily out of the speakers, which is sort of disjointed with the current mood. This one brings back memories of him and Lee doing karaoke as kids; the bright lights of the stage, Lee’s hand on his shoulder next to him, the warbling of his own voice. On top of the world.

Cas hums quietly along to the whole song next to him, lit by the streetlamps like they love him. Dean knows the feeling.

-

The “green space” Cas described is a little more than someone’s backyard with a gazebo and some of those little Christmas lights strung around it. There’s a little pond filled with squirming fish, and Cas lets them in with a furtive glance around him, like he’s waiting for the fuzz to show up. It feels like Dean is the good daughter’s bad influence boyfriend, covered in tattoos and smoking cigarettes in his leather jacket, telling her to skip church to listen to his awful punk band.

Dean hasn’t smoked in ten years and only has his sigil and a shitty hand-poked heart as tattoos, but the feeling is the same. Shit, Cas might have more tattoos than he does now. Cas might be the bad influence, what with his rebellion and all.

Rebelled for me, Dean’s brain sings. Which is true, but not necessarily something to be happy about.

Dean might be a little bit tired.

Cas steers him to the gazebo with a hand on his sleeve, and Dean doggedly follows him until they’re both parked on a bench in the gazebo, looking out at the tiny pond and the dark ghost of the building next to them. It’s well into the night now, the sun tucked directly under the horizon and the stars bright and shining. If Dean had the mind to, he would pull out his old tricks and tuck his arm over Cas’ shoulder, pointing out the constellations he recognized. Cas probably knows all of them already. Maybe even created a few.

Dean sneaks a peek at Cas through the corner of his eye to see Cas peeking back at him. They both look away. Jeez, what a pair.

“Dean,” Cas starts, sounding like a speech he’s rehearsed, like it’s step one in his twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The silence bends to him. “I am sorry I haven’t been more forthcoming with what I’ve been up to.”

“It’s fine, Cas. I freaked out a little bit back there,” Dean says. He doesn’t look at Cas, can’t stand to see Cas pitying him and his awful human feelings. “Let’s just sit here and look at the stars, huh. Bright tonight.”

“Dean, you must know—,” Cas starts, looking at his hands as they curl into fists. “You must know. You have to. You can’t make me say it.”

“Know what?” Dean says. “Know you’re an angel?”

“What?” Cas squints. “I know I’m an angel.”

“Yeah,” Dean says. “And I know that too.”

“Great. I am just telling you, Dean. You don’t have to be nice to me because of my feelings.”

“Huh?” Dean says. They both look at each other, simultaneously having the notion that they’ve missed something important. “Your feelings?"

Cas searches every inch of Dean’s face before chuckling breathlessly. “You don’t know,” Cas whispers to himself in amazement.

“Know what?” Dean snaps. He feels like he is being laughed at from behind a closed door. “What feelings? Mine?”

Your feelings?” Cas says, looking dismayed. “Why would I be talking about your feelings?”

“You probably see them from a mile away, right? Big and ugly?” Dean says, using his hands to demonstrate just how big and ugly these feelings were.

“I wasn’t aware that’s a power I possess,” Cas says, squinting.

“You can’t see feelings?” Dean says. Cas shakes his head. Dean leans back into the wood of the gazebo. Cas doesn’t know. It is a brief relief that curdles into pure worry. There’s no way Dean can drum up the courage to tell him, not like this.

Maybe I should just kiss him right now, Dean thinks. Cas’ lips are right there and everything. What’s the worst thing that could happen? He disappears? Not like that’s a huge change.

He doesn’t. He stews in his own self-pity until he’s practically bathing in it. Cas looks like he doesn’t know what to say, scuffling his feet on the ground, whistling sighs through his teeth.

“Thank you for coming with me, Dean,” Cas says finally. He is earnest in a way that hurts to look at. “I’ve wanted this for a while. I am glad it was with you.”

“I like spending time with you, Cas,” Dean says, aiming for casualness. Major understatement, but hey, who’s counting.

Cas nods next to him. Dean could move his leg two inches to the right and be touching Cas’ knee. He does. Cas lets him.

“You remember when you rescued me from that vision Zachariah put me into? 2009 or so?” Dean says.

Cas hums next to him. A wind chime from the dim building across the street rings.

“I don’t know if I ever told you this, but he— I was sent into his version of my future. 2014 Croatoan-style. I was there but I was awful. Lucifer was wearing Sam like a prom dress. You were—,"

“I was there?” Cas cuts in. “With you? In your dream?”

“Sure were. Full-blown hedonist too. Popped pills, orgies, the whole works. You were wearing a shirt that looked like it fell off the business end of a Cabela’s,” Dean chuckles. “You hated me. I was a jerk though. I would’ve hated me too.”

“I doubt that,” Cas says. “I don’t think I could stand to be there if I did.”

“You had nowhere else to go,” Dean reminds him. “It was the Walking Dead out there, what were you supposed to do? Jump ship? Nah, you were stuck in a bear trap. I probably didn’t even let you out to piss.”

Cas hums again. He leans his leg against Dean’s a little harder.

“Anyway. Seeing you and that stupid trenchcoat when you brought me back was one of the best moments of my life,” Dean muses. “I have no idea how you found me, but you found me. Thanks for that, by the way.”

Dean sighs. “Always saving me. One day, I’ll return the favor if you’ll let me. You know, I’m kinda good at it.”

“That remains to be seen,” Cas says neutrally. Dean knocks his elbow against Cas’ stomach, and Cas leans away from him to dodge it.

They fall into an easy silence. There’s a buzzing that Dean can barely hear, moths and mosquitos bumping up against the lights above him. He’s surprised he hasn’t been bit yet, even with all his layers on. Maybe Cas is a living mosquito repellant, just a little too inhuman to get blood from. Maybe the mosquitos would be baptized after. Maybe they’d go to bug heaven.

Jesus, Dean really is tired.

He stretches his arms out in a yawn and watches the side of Cas’ face as he looks out into the darkness. He really is a handsome sonuvabitch. He could be the talk of the town at any bar he ever went to, but he’s here with Dean in a gazebo, watching the stars with him.

“I wasn’t joking before,” Dean says, breaking the silence. He slides his eyes from Cas’ face to his sensible boots. They’re scuffed. It’s nice that there is something about Cas that is moldable, that can be touched by time. He can lean down and slash a mark in Cas’ shoes and it’ll stay there. Cas would bitch at him, sure, but it’s proof Dean was there, and that he touched him.

“About what?” Cas says.

“About going to the gay bar. We don’t have to bring Sam and Jack,” Dean says. “That was a cop-out, I think. On my part.” He laughs quietly to himself. “Maybe I could finally get you out of that coat.”

Cas is silent. After a moment’s pause, Dean checks Cas’ face, expecting disgust or pity at the very least. Instead, Cas is just frozen solid, like a block of marble. Like one of those shitty living statues. The only thing giving him away is his shoulders, rising and falling as he breathes.

“Cas?” Dean says worriedly. Cas’ eyes start darting around the courtyard frantically, obviously looking for something. “Cas, do you see something?”

Figures, the best part of the evening and some vampire decides to jump them. Well, some shitty vampire wouldn’t be a major problem, but damn would it ruin the mood.

Cas takes a second to break out of his stupor, looking down at himself with a seemingly surprised glance. He pats his chest and legs absentmindedly as he finally looks at Dean. “I’m... okay.”

“We’re in a gazebo, dude. The only thing that could really kill us here are rabid Pinterest moms,” Dean says. Cas relaxes incrementally next to him, kneading his hands like he’s working the blood back into them. “You’re good.”

Dean is trying valiantly to keep the conversation going in the same direction when Cas wordlessly gets up and offers Dean a hand. Dean takes it, deflating. Next time he’ll say it, and it’ll have all the gentleness that doesn’t come easy to him. He’s sure of it.

Dean takes a peek at his watch as he shakes out his numb leg. It’s just past midnight. They’ll get home around 1-ish. The world is spinning a little bit and he shakes his head to clear the fuzzies. He doesn’t know if he’ll even be able to sleep tonight. He remembers telling Jack that sometimes you get so sleepy that you’re not even tired. You want something so bad and you can’t even let yourself have it.

Oh shit, Jack.

“We gotta call Jack,” Dean says. He grabs Cas’ shoulders, the trenchcoat rough and warm under his hands. “He’s probably freaking out right now, Cas.”

“Dean,” Cas says patiently. “I texted him while we were at the bowling alley. He’s fine.”

“Oh.” Dean feels drunk, although he hasn’t had anything to drink since they left the house. He keeps his hands on Cas’ shoulders. He keeps his hands on Cas’ shoulders. He

“Anybody ever tell you that you smell really good?” Dean says.

Cas— well, blush isn’t really a word you could apply to Cas. It’s like saying a rock looked bashful. But whatever the swinging fairy lights were doing, or whatever Dean’s awful vision could suss out, it really does look like he is blushing. It’s up near his eyes and down his neck, pink pink pink.

“No,” Cas says quietly. “They don’t.”

“They should,” Dean says. “You’re.” He stops there, unable to say more. His tongue is thick in his mouth.

Cas’ eyes are very, very blue, and very, very pained. They are swaying back and forth into each other, like some orchestra is playing somewhere and their dance card is up.

“Don’t be cruel,” Cas says quietly, inexplicably. He lets himself be swayed though, gently moving his hips in time with Dean’s. Forward and back. Never quite touching.

“You either,” Dean says. Dean feels like he needs to take deep breaths to keep himself from passing out. Just being here, here in Cas’ proximity — it’s all he wanted.

They stand there for a while, haloed by fairy lights and sung to by the whooshing sound of the pond filter. Cas is the first one to pull away. Someone’s always gotta leave.

“We should make it back soon,” Cas says, eyes averted. Dean wonders where the line was, where he crossed it. “I hear we have Blizzards waiting for us.”

He and Cas have a lot of non-conversations. Dean doesn’t really mind. He would talk about the weather for hours if that means Cas would be right there next to him, pointing at the clouds and saying it looks like rain.

-

They aim to make it back just before 1:30AM. His old mixtape fills in all of the silences Dean wishes he could fill. When it flips to "Going to California," it makes Dean feel like he’s going to turn off the highway into one of these cornfields and just stay there, shucking corn and riding his tractor and making his own cornbread until he bites it.

Sometimes, when he gets knocked in the head on some of these hunts, he wishes he could get amnesia and forget all about monsters and demons and sigils and exorcisms and everything that his dad pumped into his brain since he was four years old. Sometimes he looks at a man in the line at IHOP and feels so jealous, like he’s a little kid and Dave or Bill or whoever has a shiny new truck he wants and is dangling it just out of his reach.

Would Chuck even let him give up like that, write himself out of the story? Dean thunks his head back against the headrest. Probably not. He’d probably raze his fields and dry out the rivers and send locusts to eat all the rest. It is Chuck after all.

Dean tries to imagine a life without monsters, a life on a farm, like the one Cain had. Some chickens, maybe some sheep. Dean might only have one rifle, hung over the door, for when the coyotes try to get his hens. Sam could maybe pop in every so often, eat enough for four people before staggering home.

Cas could be there too. Dean tries to wrestle the thought down but it comes out regardless. Shucking corn next to him and wearing overalls, petting the barn cat and sitting with his face in the sun. Would he be happy like that?

Cas hums along to Zeppelin, oblivious. The scenery passes in bursts, lit up by the occasion billboard or the glowing McDonald’s arches.

Grow up, Winchester, Dean thinks, turning his eyes back to the road. He doesn’t think about it anymore.

-

They come into the bunker to Jack face down on the map table, dead asleep, still wearing his clothes from earlier. For such a gentle kid, he snores like a freight train. Dean lags at the stairway, unsure of the protocol here. Jack and Cas usually have the important late-night conversations, while Dean strains to listen from his bedroom.

Cas makes no effort to sneak around Jack’s sleeping form. He flicks on the kitchen light as soon as he gets near it, which makes Jack startle. He tips the chair in surprise, just catching his balance by grabbing the edge of the table.

“Jeez, Cas,” Dean says, crossing his arms and leaning against the doorway “Way to scare the kid.”

“He’ll feel better sleeping in an actual bed,” Cas says. He eyes Jack. “Am I right?”

“Yeah, Cas,” Jack says, scrubbing something out of his eye. “Was just worried, is all.”

“Oh, Jack,” Cas says gently. “I’m sorry. I’m fine.”

Jack eyes Dean with some degree of suspicion, which Dean takes offense to. What, just because he’s human doesn’t mean he’ll let Cas die or something. Jeez.

“Let’s go to bed, hey. It’s late,” Dean says, feeling like he should be something like an adult. He and Cas usher Jack to his bedroom, turning out the kitchen and hallway lights on the way. Before Cas can disappear into Jack’s bedroom to talk about things Dean isn’t allowed to know about, he grabs Cas’ arm and holds him back. Jack stumbles into his bedroom, oblivious.

“Stay tomorrow night,” Dean says. Pleads. “I’m making pizza for the kid. Pepperoni and pineapple.”

“Dean, I can’t—,” Cas starts. Dean looks at him like please. Cas can’t tear his eyes away. Good, Dean thinks. Now you know what it’s like.

“I’ll be there,” Cas says quietly after a minute, like he doesn't want to hurt anybody by saying it. “I promise.”

-

Things are clearer from the cold floor of the dungeon.

Dean wonders what he would’ve done if Cas had gone to the Empty in that gazebo. Probably would’ve tried to grab his arm and go with him. Probably would’ve stayed there for weeks if he couldn’t, a guard dog looking for his last resting spot.

Asshole, Dean thinks. He knows no one will hear it. He curls his hands over his thighs and sobs. You asshole.

When you get back, Dean thinks a couple hours later. His phone has been ringing nonstop, but he cannot pick it up and answer it. That would be admitting something. I'm taking your ass to that bar, and I'm going to make you sing, and I—

There’s a curious blank after that. He’s going to what? He has no idea.

I'm going to be there, Dean prays. I promise you, Cas, I’ll be there too.

He tries to imagine what he’s going to say to Jack, what his face will look like when Dean tells him. He knew, Dean realizes. He was right to be nervous. If Dean had known, he wouldn’t have even gone. He would’ve locked himself in the dungeon and never come out.

I’m sorry I killed your dad, Dean prays to Jack. I’m sorry I’m turning you into me.

He doesn’t pick himself up off the floor until the morning. And then he goes. There’s a job to do.

-

Doll’s Saloon is a lot less intimidating in the daytime.

Looking at it like this, beige and squat in the middle of a small town, it’s weird Dean was ever scared of it in the first place. Not so shabby, Dean thinks warmly, and then they drive right past it.

Dean grimaces as the Impala slows and pulls a U-Turn right in the middle of the street. He slides into the door as the Impala turns haltingly into the other lane, and a Subaru honks at them as it speeds by, almost clipping the paint. Dean flips him the bird. Asshole.

“Jesus, baby,” Dean says, trying to move himself to the middle of the seat. “You’re going to kill us.”

“I will not,” Cas says resolutely. His sunglasses are falling down his nose, and he slides them back up as he cranes his neck, looking for a parking spot. “I am a fantastic driver.”

“Forgive me if I don’t trust the angelic driving school with Baby,” Dean says. He smiles at Cas’ pinched expression and looks out the window.

“We literally just passed a spot,” Dean says, pointing it out. “Right there, dude.”

“Can we fit the car in there?” Cas says, looking past Dean to the spot. Dean scoffs.

Can we fit the car in there. I know my own car, Cas,” Dean says. Cas’ eyes are covered by the cheap sunglasses, but he can feel the glare already. Cas then slings his arm across the back of Dean’s seat and looks over his shoulder as he maneuvers the car carefully into the spot.

Dean’s eyes want to roll back in his head. Jesus Christ. He kinda wants Cas to back up and find an alley somewhere, but they’re meeting Jack and Sam and Eileen here, and they’re already ten minutes late.

Unless we ditch, Dean thinks, looking at the way Cas’ t-shirt hugs his chest as he twists the wheel to and fro. Sam has waited longer for worse.

Cas, oblivious to Dean’s dilemma, switches the car off and pulls out the keys, handing them back to Dean who pockets them, and then he starts his breathing routine. Dean waits patiently.

Since he came back from the Empty, Cas has taken to just doing whatever he wants. After Dean stutters out his own confession, right after Cas lands in a pile of his own blood and black goo onto the bunker floor, Cas makes him wait a whole day before cornering Dean while he’s cleaning the bathroom and kissing him until he accidentally spills a bottle of bleach all over his pants.

They’re both working on trying to say what they want. It’s a hard process, but it is going well. That morning, Dean came up to Cas while he was getting changed and asked if he— If he wanted to drive the Impala. Cas, very somberly, nodded, accepting this like the gift it was. Though Cas probably thought it was more a symbolic thing than a Dean-is-horny thing, but they both win, so it’s all water under the bridge.

“Ready, Dean?” Cas says after he does his requisite number of deep, centering breaths. Dean leans over and kisses him, because he is there and he is wearing movie-star glasses and he is savoring every letter of Dean’s name like it’s the first time he ever said it.

Dean breaks the kiss, leaning his sweaty forehead on Cas’ sweaty, human forehead, and he pinches his own inner thigh hard. Not a dream.

“As I’ll ever be,” Dean says, smiling, and then gets out to live the rest of his life.