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It happens in a dream. It’s weird, because Dean’s in a grocery store taking his cart up and down the aisles until he lands himself in the bakery section at a table stacked full of different pies. Their little shiny plastic lids glint under the fluorescent lights while their matte labels show off their flavors.

Dean frowns at one of them. “What the hell is treacle?”

The store is deserted, so there’s no one there to answer him. Behind the bakery display cases where there would usually be an attendant stands a skeleton wearing a blue apron. Dean doesn’t give it a second glance.

The PA system clicks and buzzes.

“Dean.”

The word echoes through the barren store, off of its linoleum floors and too-high ceilings, until it becomes hollow in radio. The hair on Dean’s arms stands on end. He blinks down at the treacle pie. It feels like everything is moving in slow motion where his eyelashes catch on dust particles and the closing of his eyes lasts almost a full second before they open again. Slowly, he looks towards the ceiling where the PA speaker is.

“Dean,” it says again in a gravelly voice that Dean recognizes as safe. “Can you hear me?”

It takes all of his effort to open his heavy mouth. “Yeah,” he finally manages, “I can hear you, Cas.”

“It seems I’ve run into a… problem.”

Dean laughs at half-speed, a warped distorted noise. “Of course you did, huh? What’s up, buddy?”

All that follows is static. “I-” Cas says. “Need- ex-el- ss-l-”

“What?”

“D- ean- I-”

Dean startles awake on an inhale, staring at the concrete of his bedroom wall. There was something- something-

“Treacle?” he mutters into the empty room.

He’s waiting in an airport, but he’s not afraid. He’s not even anxious, really. Just here to pick up Sammy’s ass from his study-abroad program in Greece. The stupid little nerd is about to come back with a deep tan and too many stories that he’s too excited to tell, and Dean can’t wait to hear all of them.

The baggage return is empty in front of Dean for now. Its metal grates clack around and around, over and under each other like fish scales. Dean bounces his knee as he looks back down at the Better Homes and Gardens magazine he’s flipping through that advertise loveseats and end tables and beds big enough for two. He’ll throw it away before Sam gets here, but for now, he indulges himself with fantasies of domestic little farmhouses in the middle of nowhere that have a person making him coffee in the kitchen.

It’s the wrong part of the airport for announcements, but he doesn’t think it’s all that weird when he hears a female voice come over the speaker. “Now boarding: Flight 401. Dean, can you hear me?”

He startles in the hard plastic chair, dropping the still-open magazine into his lap as he whips his head around, but the sporadic spread of people also waiting at the baggage claim don’t seem to notice the voice at all.

“Hello?” Dean calls.

“Dean, it’s Castiel,” the female voice says.

Cas?

“I need you to listen to me,” the announcement chimes.

“Okay, okay, I’m listening.”

“I’ve been expelled from my vessel. I need your and Sam’s help.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Dean says to the ceiling, frowning so hard that it draws his eyebrows into a scowl too, “back up there for a second. What do you mean you got expelled from your vessel?”

There’s a pause, before Cas as the female announcer says, “It’s- slightly embarrassing.” The voice is all bashfulness. “I may have overextended myself when I was testing the strength of my grace and it became detrimental to my vessel. I forced myself out so that I wouldn’t cause too much damage but now I’m- well, I’m having trouble getting back inside.”

“That’s what she said. Literally this time.”

Dean.

“Alright, I hear ya.” Dean raises his hands placatingly. “Why didn’t you just come back to the Bunker instead of playing DreamWeaver?”

“I’m staying close to my vessel so that I can use my grace to keep it from deteriorating while I’m not inhabiting it. I don’t feel comfortable leaving it here by itself, so you and Sam will have to come to me after you’ve figured out a way to allow me entry again.”

Dean snickers, and to his shock every one of the ten or so people scattered around him turn to him and roll their eyes. “Damn, alright, sorry Cas. Not a joke, got it. Sam and I’ll look into it as soon as I’m up.”

“That sounds acceptable, thank you.”

“What about you, though? What if it takes us a few days to figure it out? And where the hell are you?”

“I was able to get both myself and my vessel somewhere safe before I was expelled. I’ve already been this way for three days and nothing of interest has happened yet. I’m sure a few days longer won’t change anything-”

“Three days!” Dean interrupts. “What the hell, man?”

“I’ve been trying to reach you every night since I was expelled. This is the first time I’ve gotten through all the way.” Now Cas sounds annoyed again. It’s weird to hear his fed-up tone as a woman.

Dean scoffs. “Right, so where are you, exactly?”

“I believe I’m in an orchard of sorts in the state of Iowa.”

“Could you be a little more specific?”

“You’ll find my coordinates on the back of your magazine.”

The words make Dean jolt, looking around guiltily, anywhere but his fucking Better Homes and Garden magazine that he’s half tempted to try hiding under his lap between his thighs and the plastic seat. But it’s too late anyway, and Cas is a lot nicer than Sam would be because he doesn’t mention the fact that the magazine is currently open to a recipe for lemon bars.

And sure enough, when Dean closes the glossy pages the back cover is just bold, serif text displaying numbers. He mumbles them out loud to himself as he reads them and tries to sear them into his memory.

“Okay, got it. We’ll be there as fast as we can, alright? Don’t try anything crazy, look after yourself.”

“I will, Dean.” The female voice makes the words sound so much more weirdly affectionate, and Dean clears his throat. “I hope to see you and Sam soon.”

Just like that, the announcement line goes dead. Dean almost expects to wake up in a cold sweat, the way he does after Cas does this dream-walking shit, but he doesn’t. He blinks, pinches himself. Still nothing. So with that, he shrugs his shoulders and goes back to looking at bathroom color stories while the baggage return rattles on a few feet in front of him.

It does, in fact, take a few days. Well, two and a half. After hitting the books in the early waking hours and deep into the night, Sam and he come to the conclusion that Cas can’t get back into his vessel because there’s no one inside to give him permission to hop back on anymore, now that Jimmy’s doing the dead man’s rumba up in Heaven. Meaning, they’re gonna have to brute-force Cas back in.

There’s a spell, though, that can waive the leasing contract and grant Cas his own ownership of the body. It’s not all that complicated either, just some of Jimmy’s blood, some chanted words, and Cas’s grace to get the ship sailing again. Not even a bowl to hold the blood or anything, just the blood itself. Dean could kiss the motherfucker that wrote it if they weren’t very much dead probably a thousand years over.

It’s easy enough to pack, a one day-one night sorta thing that has Dean just throwing a t-shirt, flannel, and some boxers in his smallest duffel. He hikes it up onto his shoulder and carries it out into the hallway where Sam is already standing. Without his bag.

“Where’s your bag, man? You know my clothes ain’t gonna fit you, and you’d complain about the smell even if they did.”

“Umm,” Sam starts. His feet shuffle on the concrete floor. “I thought maybe you could handle this one on your own, ya know, since it’s an easy fix.”

Dean stares at him. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Sam holds his cellphone up awkwardly. “Eileen, the, uh, girl that we met on that banshee case at the senior living complex, she just texted me that-”

“Say no more, little brother,” Dean cuts Sam off with a sleazy grin and a clap on the arm. “I got it taken care of.”

“Dean, that’s not-”

But Dean is already walking down the hallway towards the garage. He calls over his shoulder, “You don’t have to give me the talk, Sammy, I know all about the birds and the bees. And for the love of God, use a condom!” Before Sam can get out another word, Dean closes the garage door between them as he laughs to himself. It’ll be a lonely trip, but at least he won’t have to listen to Sam complain about Zeppelin playing the entire time.

It’s just under a seven-hour drive to buttfuck Iowa, including the time it takes for Dean to stop for a coffee and to put some gas in the tank. Still, he’d headed out as soon as he and Sam had a plan on how to get Cas back into fighting shape, which had been just after dinner. With autumn on its way, Dean makes more than half of the drive in the dark, staring down the barrel of headlights flashing by in the opposite direction. It’s rounding on eleven, then midnight, then approaching one by the time that Dean rolls up to an apple orchard off of a semi-decent gravel road.

It’s got a wooden fence spanning the length of it, as far down the acre as Dean can see, so he jumps it before wandering into the maze of trees. It reminds him of that orchard from years ago, more years than he wants to think about, when there’d been that killer scarecrow in a town full of crazy people. Somehow, life was easier back then, when all he had to do was save the damsel in distress from the monster flavor of the day.

Now the damsel in distress he’s rescuing is the angel that pulled him out of Hell. Go figure. He doesn’t really wanna linger on the fact that he’d choose Cas to save any day. Even if it was just from the self-checkout machine at the grocery store.

“Hey, uh, Castiel, got your ears on? Well, I guess you don’t, technically speaking. Doesn’t matter, where’re you at, man?” Dean prays, looking up at the sky to a beautiful clear night that lets the stars peak through.

From the corner of his eye, down on Earth’s surface, he sees a glow flicker on like a lightbulb in the distance. Bingo.

“Alright Cas, I see you. Making my way towards you now.” And then, ‘cause Dean thinks he’s funny, he finishes with, “Copy. Roger. Over and out.” With that, he starts his trek towards the glow coming from about the length of a shooting range off from him. Through the trees that smell like apples, while some of the fallen fruits that didn’t quite make it to maturity squish decayed under Dean’s boots every few feet.

But the thing is, as he gets closer, he has to blink his eyes to make sure he’s seeing things right. Because that’s definitely Jimmy’s body slumped over against the trunk of one of the apple trees, but floating above him is- well, it’s a floating light, a sphere with a one-foot diameter, just hanging out at Dean’s chest level. Dean approaches it carefully with a furrowed brow and half-raised hackles.

“Cas?” Dean prompts slowly. “Is that-”

And the orb is glowing out sweet and white like it could easily be used to keep away the dark in a child’s nursery. It’s so welcoming. Like Dean could just reach out, out, and catch that gentleness in his hands without any sort of consequence.

“Hello, Dean,” the orb hums. It’s a voice, technically, but it’s- it’s almost more of a chiming. That brass of windchimes that people hang out on trees in the springtime, where the hollow metal pipes clink together into pitches both high and low until they overlap into one sonic melody. Indistinguishable. “It’s good to see you. Did Sam decide to stay at the Bunker?”

“Dude,” Dean says to the orb that’s definitely not a dude at all. “What’s with the voice?”

“What voice?” the windchimes play. Then, urgently, as the orb grows a strange sickly green core under the white glaze on top, “I’m not hurting you, am I?”

“No, you just sound weird.”

“Weird… how?” The orb very slowly brightens again.

Weird like there’s no gruff gravel that Dean associates with a stern face and an oddly gentled demeanor, that these days is as comfortable and familiar as Sam’s patter footsteps in the concrete Bunker halls. Weird like you don’t sound like a person. Weird like you don’t sound like a man.

“Like, I don’t know, not all-” Dean clears his throat and pitches his voice down into a rumble, “My name is Castiel, I’m a warrior of God.” His head swings back and forth as the words come out.

The orb does a funny little wiggle that throws moving shadows over the apple trees around both of them. Dean’s eyes widen in alarm and the wind chimes twinkle. “That was a very good impression, Dean.” The ringing is higher now. It almost sounds like…

“Wait- Are you laughing at me?

“Yes,” Cas But Not Cas replies. “It’s really quite comical to hear you imitate my vessel.”

Dean can’t help his frown from deepening as he stares at the orb. It bathes him in that same soft light until it becomes a little moon just a few feet off of Earth’s surface. Because that orb is Cas, and those windchimes are Cas, and Cas is laughing at the fact that Dean is imitating- not him, but his vessel. Because Cas isn’t… Jimmy. Cas isn’t the body laying limp propped up against an apple tree right now. Cas is, apparently, a little moon.

“So you’re saying what you sound like right now, that’s you? That’s your real voice?”

The orb sorta squishes on itself a little and makes a Hmm noise. Dean can almost imagine Cas’s- or Cas’s vessel, at least- eyebrows drawn in thought. “It’s as close to my real voice as I can project without causing you harm.”

“Right…” Dean draws out the word. “And this is…” he gestures to the orb, “what you look like, too? A little light ball?”

“I was wondering how I would appear to you in this form. And no, I do not actually look like a… ‘little light ball’. That must just be how your brain is perceiving my grace.”

“Uh-huh,” Dean says dubiously. “Weird. Gotta say Cas, it’s not exactly the most intimidating thing I’ve ever seen.”

The orb’s easy floating motions pause as it stills, its color turning into an icy gray. Dean is almost positive it’s Cas’s version of glaring right now. “Well,” the chimes are definitely sarcastically mean, “considering my actual true form would burn your eyes out of your skull, I believe this is a better option for both of us at the moment.”

“Yeah, alright, I got it,” Dean rolls his eyes. “This one’s on me and my fragile humanity. Either way, let’s cram this cat back into the bag, huh?” He rubs his hands together.

“This spell requires a cat?” the chimes ask warily, and their tone makes it much easier to believe that it’s really Cas talking.

“Figure of speech, Cas,” Dean pretends to sound annoyed even though he’s smiling. He walks the few feet over to Jimmy’s slumped body, head lulling down to his chest, and Dean crouches beside it. For a long second, with Cas’s floating orb at his back, Dean stares.

He stares into that lax face. Those closed eyes so easy it’s like Cas is asleep, and that’s a miracle all on its own. There is something in Dean’s chest that is telling him to reach out and touch soft brown hair, to comfort, to shush, but he’s gotten good at ignoring it. He’s gotten good at keeping his hands to himself. With a grunt, Dean stands back up to face Cas’s moon orb.

“Alright, Sammy said this should be pretty easy. We just have t-”

From somewhere twenty yards to Dean’s right, there’s ruffling in the otherwise still orchard. The sounds get a little bit louder, too rhythmic to be anything but human footsteps. His whole body goes cold.

“Someone’s coming.”

A pause. “It’s the farmer,” Cas hums back lowly.

“Jesus, okay, I’ll deal with him. I’ll-” Dean looks around before his gaze lands back on Cas again, the glowing moon of him that is very much not something he can explain away. “You need to hide. Like, now.

At his words, Cas’s orb zooms behind one of the far apple trees. The tree’s width covers Cas, but he’s- it’s- no, not it, he’s- glowing so bright that the light shines out onto all of the other trees as well very obviously. The footsteps are drawing closer.

“Cas,” Dean hisses, “Cas, that ain’t gonna work. Just- just-” his eyes scan the area frantically, landing on Jimmy’s still slumped body. But that’s the whole problem in the first place, isn’t it? That Cas can’t get back in. So where- Dean’s eyes look down the line of his own body with sudden inspiration. “Get over here!”

The orb approaches him again. The sound of footsteps is so close now, accompanied by their own glow of what appears to be a flashlight. And if Dean can see that, no way that the farmer can’t see Cas right now.

“Get in here. I mean, yes- permission granted- whatever!” Dean points to his chest with moving flicks of his wrist, rapidly. And Cas, that little light, hesitates. “Hurry! C’mon, man!”

“Dean, are you sure-”

“Yes!” Dean’s feet shuffle nervously and he can’t stop throwing glances over his shoulder at the rapidly approaching light. “Right now, Cas!”

With that, Cas moves closer until the orb is just inches from Dean’s stomach. It pauses there for one final long second like Cas still isn’t entirely sold, before it passes through Dean’s skin in gradual movement so slow that Dean can actually see the orb’s glow get fainter and fainter as it disappears into Dean’s body. Because that’s exactly what it’s doing. Dean hadn’t really thought ahead about what exactly he was giving permission to, but he had assumed it was gonna be possession on some account. To be honest, Dean’s sorta surprised it’d taken this long for that to be the only option to get out of a sticky situation like this. Hell, he’d probably say he’s even mentally prepared to be a living puppet at this point.

But Cas isn’t possessing him. Cas is… in him. A ghost through walls, a phantom caress. All at once, Dean is hyperaware of the sensation of his own anatomy. Of the way Cas is now a part of it. Cas.

“Cas,” he breathes out. Trembling. His breath and his fingers and his body and his heart. “C- What-” He’s dizzy. Everything is fog-thick like a dream, like when Cas had spoken to him over imagined intercoms. In his stomach. Holy in the very literal sense of the word. Dean looks down the length of his body to the spot on his shirt that Cas had faded into. In his stomach. Out of his own skin and control, Dean places his right hand flat over his abdomen.

It’s warm, that little moon. Warm like bathwater that’s just the right temperature and warm like greeting an old friend. It fills Dean up past capacity with what must be the softest affection known to man.

He blinks. He breathes. He breathes around it until his exhales taste like morning mist and Christmas gingerbread houses.

A flashlight shines directly into his fuzzy eyes and his whole face scrunches up as his left hand raises to block the light on instinct, while his right remains on his stomach.

“What the hell are you doing out here, son?” The farmer asks. His tone isn’t angry so much as concerned. For good reason, Dean guesses, considering it’s about one in the morning and there’s some dumbass grown-man standing out in the middle of an apple orchard looking like he’s about to puke.

Dean uses all of his willpower, every red-alert button in his brain, to try to steer this thing back into safe territory. A place where Dean is controlling the conversation. Because Cas’s human vessel a.k.a. a dead fucking body is just sitting there on the ground behind him, and Dean knows if he lets the farmer get too close, the dude’s gonna realize the body doesn’t have anything going on upstairs. Even then with all of Dean’s practice in bullshitting, it’s harder to focus on the task at hand than it should be with Cas making a living room out of his soft belly.

“I am so sorry, sir,” he says, and even manages to make it sound earnest. “I didn’t mean to surprise you. My buddy back here,” Dean motions over his shoulder with a pointed thumb, “he’s drunk as all get out. Completely wasted. Called me up to tell me where he was and when I got here he was passed out.”

The farmer cranes his neck to peer across Dean to where he’d just pointed, and the man’s eyebrows raise when his gaze settles on Jimmy’s body. “Is your buddy alright?” And, bless his heart, the guy actually sounds worried. Some of Dean’s defense drops.

“Oh yeah, he’s fine. Ya know, besides the horrendous drinking problem. Second time this week I’ve found him like this,” Dean waves off the farmer’s anxieties. “I just gotta haul his ass back to my car and get some water in him, he’ll be right as rain by- well, it’ll probably be tomorrow afternoon with the hangover he’ll have, but he’ll get there eventually.”

The farmer huffs out a chuckle and shakes his head. “Had a buddy just like that myself when I was younger. They might give you a few gray hairs, but they certainly keep you entertained.”

Dean smiles with something genuine. “You read my mind, sir.”

Nudging his chin in Dean’s direction, the farmer adds, “I’m assuming that light from down here was you?”

“Yep, just my cell phone flashlight. Making sure the big guy didn’t have a concussion,” Dean lies easily. Totally not my best friend who’s currently hiding inside of my literal body because he’s an angel of the Lord, and to be honest, I’m not even sure if he’s as much of a ‘he’ as I thought he was.

The farmer nods now, seemingly satisfied. “Alright, well, I’m just up on the hill over there,” he gestures to the left, “if you need anything or if he starts choking on his own vomit.”

That makes Dean laugh out loud, and something about the farmer reminds him a little bit of Bobby. “Absolutely, sir, I appreciate the offer. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be out of your hair before sunrise.”

But the man just waves Dean off even as he turns to start walking away. “Take as long as you need, son. Hell, grab a few apples if you want. Just don’t piss on any of my trees.” And with that, the farmer disappears into the night.

It leaves Dean alone with his rapidly decreasing panic and rapidly increasing awareness of the fact that Cas’s grace is still under his skin. Still warm beneath the flat area of the palm he has spread open over his abdomen. And weirdly- or maybe not weirdly at all- Dean doesn’t want Cas to leave.

“That went well,” the chime of Cas’s melodic voice echoes through Dean’s bones. It feels intimate and calming like the soft rasp of fingernails down your back. Goosebumps raise on Dean’s forearms. “He seemed like a nice man.”

“Yeah, he did,” Dean agrees. His voice has lost some of the cool suaveness he’d spoken to the farmer with, giving way to something a lot more shy and unsure than he’d like to admit. Which reminds him- “What the hell was with the ghost orb thing, Cas? I was giving you the go-ahead on running the show, not- putting a bun in my oven.” Why the fuck did he just phrase it like that? His cheeks burn hot and red, and he hopes to god that Cas doesn’t understand the implications of the phrase.

Luckily, Cas just says all annoyed, “Believe me when I tell you that this was a much less strenuous process than possession. Not to mention that it worked. I’m sorry for surprising you, either way. I’ll just-” The warmth in Dean’s stomach tugs forward as Cas starts his exit.

“No!” Dean exclaims. He wants to slap a hand over his mouth as soon as the word comes out.

But it makes the warmth stop tugging. “What’s wrong?” Cas asks.

“Just-” and Dean can’t even think of a bullshit response. “Just stay there for a sec.”

There’s a beat before Cas answers with an affronted, “Alright.”

Dean gnaws on his bottom lip. “It’s-” he starts, but he cuts himself off with a sigh. He needs a minute to sit and think while he still has Cas here, so he plops his ass down right there in the morning wet grass. Some of that cold moisture seeps into the denim seat of his jeans as he shifts around. “It’s weird to see you like this. Outside of Jimmy’s body.”

“I… don’t understand,” Cas responds with worried apprehension.

“It’s- Shit, I don’t know how to explain it.” He throws a glance back over his shoulder at Jimmy’s empty shell of a body and thinks about how weird it is that the thing usually animating the body is Castiel. Because Cas has always just… looked like that. But he doesn’t. Cas doesn’t look like that at all. “This is the closest I’ll ever get to knowing what you actually- are. Angel-wise. ‘Cause at the end of the day, you’re not human. And you sure as hell don’t look like Jimmy. You don’t even sound like a dude when you use your real voice.”

There’s a pause and Dean swears he can feel Cas’s grace swirling around gently in his gut.

“No, I don’t,” Cas says finally. “My grace doesn’t exist on the same spectrum as the human binary.”

Okay. Dean needs to lay down. He settles onto his back in the dew-damp grass between trees, so that the wetness under him seeps to his scalp between his hair. He stares up at the navy sky that holds the stars. There’s no moon out, or maybe Dean just can’t see it from the angle he’s at. Just stars. Just stars. The moon is in his stomach. Dean puts his hand over it again.

“When were you gonna tell me- Us?” Dean frowns. “Doesn’t that bother you? That Sam and I think you just- I don’t know, look like Jimmy?”

It’s an odd and jarring sort of understanding that slots into place against the very comfortable beliefs that Dean’s been living with. And that’s it, isn’t it? Dean got too comfortable about it all, this angel stuff, this otherworldly creature that sometimes sits across from him in his kitchen when he’s making dinner. Dinner that this creature doesn’t eat.

Maybe even creature isn’t right, because creature implies animal implies tangibility of form. No, no, Cas is in the abstract. Cas is in the unreachably flat second dimension and the fourth and the sixth and the nineteenth until a little moon feels like coming home. In his stomach. In Dean’s cells and full of comfort that is undeniable like this, pressed this close and overlapping.

They seem to vibrate from the inside out when Cas responds, “There’s no way for you or Sam to comprehend my true form at any rate, so no, it doesn’t bother me. You perceive me and you understand me, and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing. I prefer a method of communication that doesn’t make your ears bleed.”

Dean huffs a humorless laugh, pouts his lips out and rolls his head back and forth in a shake. “Yeah, but- that’s not you! You’re a capital A-angel stuffed into some dude’s body and- you’re not even a dude. Not really.” He swallows. The stars twinkle above him. The hand Dean still has resting on his own stomach tightens slowly around the fabric of his t-shirt. “Like the moon or something.”

A gentle breeze starts through the trees and rustles their leaves in quiet song. It’s a whisper of a thing. Cas could be that wind, Dean thinks. He doesn’t feel like crying but his eyebrows pull up like he’s going to anyway, his bottom lip shaking. Because here he’s been so worried, so caught up in distancing himself from- from whatever this thing between him and Cas is because Cas is a dude and Dean is a dude and he’s never- he shouldn’t- even though he wants- and he never even realized that somehow he started feeling things about a warm light on the inside of that male body that Dean maybe likes a little bit too much in the first place. A warm light that can give hugs goodbye, a moon that uses emoticons in texts. Dean’s best friend.

And from this close, their molecules are talking.

“If it helps, I’ve certainly begun to see my vessel as an extension of myself. Now that Jimmy has moved on, I’m much more comfortable seeing it as my body. And for all intents and purposes, it is my body, Dean.”

Dean’s lip trembles harder. It’s like the way Cas is in his stomach has knocked loose all of his emotional debris that had been clinging to the lining of his lungs. It comes out a whole lot easier without Cas’s sharp blue eyes on him. “But it’s not your body. Not the way Sam and I’s are.” The stars seem to stare Dean down now, like they’re all watching his unraveling with persistent eyes. Millions of years old, millions of years left to shine on. “Bet you made some of those stars, huh?”

There’s a long pause like Cas isn't exactly sure how to interpret Dean’s words or emotions. Dean isn't too sure himself.

Finally, “Yes, I helped craft some of them.”

The confirmation is overwhelming, overbearing, the ageless vastness of Castiel. Until Dean doesn’t know how to handle the fact that a being that held stars in its hands is also Dean’s best friend who Dean has made ride in the backseat of the Impala. A being that’s currently riding in Dean.

“Which ones?” He clears his throat before asking, but it doesn’t do much to help his case. Cas is gracious enough not to mention it.

“I don’t believe any of them are visible right now, but I created eight in total. Humans refer to them as the eight Bright stars of Orion.”

Dean blinks. “You mean… The Orion constellation? Like, one of the most famous constellations of all time?”

“Yes, I suppose that’s them,” Cas says slowly, as if he is not shattering the very last of an illusion Dean has clung to. He doesn’t know what to say. His mouth opens just for him to shut it again. What do you even say to that?

Apparently, all he can manage is, “Right. Sure. No big deal.”

Cas seems to sense some of his distress, because his chiming tone is oddly comforting when he replies, “They’re just stars, Dean.” And when Dean barks a watery, disbelieving, manic sort of laugh, Cas repeats all steady in vibrations like rain falling, “They’re only stars. Big burning masses of hydrogen and helium. That’s all they are.”

“That’s all they are,” Dean parrots back because he doesn’t know what’s left of him besides his last line of defensiveness, even though he doesn’t even really fucking mean it. He never does with Cas, yet somehow, that never seems to stop him. He scowls up at the sky.

“I’ve upset you,” Cas says. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. Perhaps you should help me back into my vessel now.”

You didn’t, Dean wants to say. Or maybe you did, but it’s not your fault that I’m minuscule compared to what you are. Don’t leave. You don’t have to leave. When you’re here in my stomach I know you’re okay. And I like it. God fucking help me, but- but this is the closest I’ll ever get to you because I don’t even have the guts to give you a hug when I want to, when you look like a dude.

Of course, he doesn’t say any of this.

If he is anything, he is steadfastly a coward.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” Dean grunts as he stands up and blinks back the residue of tears that’d been pooling in his eyes. He sniffles once, deep.

And then Cas is peeling away back out into the open. He takes all of the soft calm with him, all of that sturdy home, leaving Dean emptier for it. A hole in a hole is just a bigger hole. Dean is held together by unforgiving threads of himself that feel a lot lousier now that Cas isn’t a part of them. He looks at the moon a few feet in front of him. Clears his throat and pretends he’s not experiencing internal collapse. He’s gotten really good at it.

Cas doesn’t respond, so Dean starts towards Jimmy’s body. “Like I was saying, Sam said it should be pretty easy.”

Dean’s sitting with Cas on a wooden bench at some sort of county fair. The autumn air is crisp and full of the sounds of laughter, mechanical whirring, and delighted screams. He likes the chaotic peace of it, where he and Cas seem to blend into the background of the whole scene. They’ve already wrapped up their werewolf hunt a town over, somewhere in rural Iowa, and Sam had seen the big wooden sign advertising the fair from the road as they drove by. It’s nice to just sit for now. Nicer with Cas beside him.

“God, I wish Sammy would hurry up with those hot dogs,” Dean groans. “What’s taking him so long?”

“If I had to guess, I’d say there’s a line,” Cas replies flatly. What an asshole.

“Asshole,” Dean mumbles without any heat. “You don’t even get hungry.” In the back of his mind, he thinks about a ball of light. A memory that clings to him like an unshakable tick even though he thinks it might be easier to just forget about it. He can’t forget about it. Little moon, little star-maker the size of the Chrysler building.

“No, I don’t,” Cas agrees. They fall into an easy silence again.

But as the seconds pass by, it’s obvious that something is… off. Like the air is stretched too thin at the center and it’s too bunched around the edges. Dean sits up straighter. The breeze blows heavier, more biting, while it gathers brown fallen leaves in its hold and whips them around. In the distance, people scream on their rides.

“Cas…” Dean hedges. When he looks over, Cas is already staring at a figure a few yards off. It’s dark, that’s the first thing Dean thinks. Dark and buzzing like flies on a carcass, like no monster Dean has ever seen before. It’s grotesque. It’s disgusting. “Cas, what the hell is that?”

If Cas was going to answer, he doesn’t get a chance to, because suddenly the figure is standing over them. It smiles with teeth even though it doesn’t have a mouth and its breath smells like rotting flesh. Dean tries to stand, can’t, pinned down to the bench with some invisible force as he gags at the scent. He tries to raise his hand to cover his nose, but he can’t do that either.

And the figure crooks a spindly needle finger at Castiel, and the little light orb of him floats out of his chest. Beside Dean, Jimmy’s now empty body slumps. “Cas!” he yells. He can’t reach out to grab onto Cas’s grace, can’t do anything but watch terribly. Watch as that charred finger finishes its hithering motion until Cas is right in front of it.

“Hello, little moon,” it buzzes with syrup sadism. Dean’s going to puke. Dean’s going to puke.

It starts tearing Castiel apart between its fingernails. It stretches the light into unnatural taffy strands that burn hot enough that Dean feels the singe of his eyebrows. There’s vomit in his mouth. And the shrieking. Cas is- Cas is shrieking, being torn apart by the molecule. Louder until it is a ringing that deafens Dean to anything else. It’s the sound of torture, the sound of Castiel being maimed alive.

Dean pukes down between his shoes.

“Cas!” he screams around the stench and the taste. It’s messy on his chin. He’s crying. “Cas! Stop! Fuck! I’ll fucking kill you, I’ll fucking- fucking-” His arms won’t move.

The thing turns its head to look at him as it rips Castiel down the center.

Dean is in agony. Dean is not alive. Dean is screaming.

A voice cuts through the noise so suddenly that Dean is ripped from the fabric of existence by it. He’s gasping up at his ceiling while he lays in his bed, his sheets drenched in cold sweat. Another bead runs down his temple and into his hair. His chin quivers as he struggles for breath.

“Dean,” he hears from the doorway, and when he whips his head over it’s to see Cas standing there with tension in the hunch of his shoulders. Blue eyes big and worried. Dean lets his head drop back down onto his pillow. “You were… having a nightmare, I assume.” Cas’s voice is hesitant and he doesn’t try to come into Dean’s room any further. His hand is still wrapped around the doorknob.

“Something like that,” is all Dean can manage out. The images from the dream echo around in his head in pulses that make his stomach lurch so hard he has to clench his eyes shut against the nausea. Because Cas is okay, all suited up in his Jimmy costume, hovering just within the perimeter of Dean’s bedroom like a worried grandma.

There’s a long moment of silence, but Dean knows Cas didn’t leave because there’s no sound of fading footsteps. Cas breaks it when he says, “You were yelling my name.”

Dean doesn’t know how to answer the implied question in the statement. With a groan, he forces himself to sit upright, bringing his knees in towards his chest and hanging his head between them the way he’d taught Sammy to do when the kid got the flu in eighth grade and couldn’t stop puking. He breathes.

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” he finally answers. When Dean doesn’t get a response after a second, he sighs. “You can come in, ya know.”

He hears Cas walk into the room, hears the rustling of his trench coat, and the scrape of the wooden feet of his desk chair being pulled out for Cas to sit on. “Would you like to talk about it?”

“Not really,” Dean mutters. The idea of trying to convey- of reliving- of trying to put words to that sight. But it wasn’t real, he reminds himself. Cas is here, literally right in front of him.

Another moment of silence. “Is there… anything I can do?” Cas asks. He’s so good. He’s too good to Dean, when Dean is being such a little bitch even though Cas is just trying to help.

So Dean sucks up his pride and says, “No, it was just- one of those dreams. You died. It happens, just gotta wait it out. I’ll be alright in a few.”

Cas hums a sympathetic noise, but Dean still can’t see his expression, staring down at the dull pink of his bedspread instead. He takes another deep breath through his nose. It prompts Cas into saying, “Is your stomach hurting you, too?”

“I’m fine,” he doesn’t even bother trying to make the lie sound like the truth.

And sure enough, Cas responds with a soft, “You’re not fine.”

Stop being nice to me, Dean wants to say. Never stop being nice to me either. I don’t think I can stand it either way. I don’t deserve your kindness even when it's the only thing I want. Please keep being nice to me.

Instead, Dean huffs a sigh. “Right. Yeah. I was blowing chunks all over the place in the dream. Must’ve really done me dirty, ‘cause I still sorta feel like I’m gonna ralph.”

There’s the squeaking of the desk chair as weight shifts from it, Dean guesses from Cas standing up. His assumption is confirmed by the sound of shuffling footsteps that precede a broad hand landing on the crown of his head that’s exposed upwards from between the mountains of his kneecaps. It’s so gentle. If a stranger would have tried doing this, the too-intimate sensation would have made Dean’s skin crawl. But it’s Castiel’s warm touch in the solitude of the room, so Dean is greedy for it, a stray learning to trust close human contact again for the first time. Of course, Cas isn’t exactly human. Dean suppresses a shiver, suppresses it even harder when that comforting hand pets back over his hair just once, taking his nausea with it.

Cas doesn’t linger though, as the air shifts when he walks back to settle into the desk chair again.

“Thanks,” Dean mumbles. He finally looks up, and Cas’s worried gaze looking back at him is a comfort in the semi-darkness. Somewhere down in that chest, too, is a little light ball glowing away. Safe inside of Jimmy’s body, here in Dean’s bedroom. For now, at least, they’re both okay. “And uh- for waking me up.”

“Of course. To say that it seemed like an unpleasant nightmare would be an understatement.”

“It definitely wasn’t rainbows and cotton candy, I’ll tell you that.”

There’s a heavy moment of quiet again. Every moment of quiet between them is heavy, what’s new? Filled to the brim with a bizarre tension that mars the peace of being in each other’s presence.

“You said… that I died,” Cas prompts. And now Dean understands that pause of uncertainty. A topic that Dean has already dismissed being brought back to the light again. This crossroad where Dean The Stray will either bite the hand that feeds him or accept the bowl of food. A precarious line between habitual violence and wanting, oh god, wanting, wanting, wanting the fingers patting across his flank to be loving.

As if Cas’s fingers aren’t always loving. As if they wouldn’t pat Dean’s flank if he could just keep his defensive teeth covered for a little bit longer.

“Yeah, you died. Or your- uh- grace, I guess. What I saw at the apple orchard.”

“The… ‘moon’?” Cas quotes Dean’s own word from that night back to him in a stunted tone.

“Yeah.”

“May I ask what happened?” Cas’s voice is so considerate, gentle, and he’s getting braver. Braver now that Dean hasn’t bitten yet.

Dean looks back down at his comforter and frowns so deeply that it furrows his eyebrows with it. “Some weird thing, like- it looked like a person, but it was all burnt. Like, like charcoal-looking. I don’t even think it really exists, monster-wise, but it was really, really- it smelled awful, man. And it knew how to get your grace out of Jimmy’s vessel, so it sorta…” Dean pauses now. There aren’t words for the horror, not really. “It pulled you out of Jimmy and started- um- tearing your grace apart. But you were still alive, ya know, so it- it wasn’t exactly pretty.”

“That sounds horrible,” Cas responds quietly. When Dean glances up at him again, Cas is softened with compassion. The line of his shoulders and the curve of his lips. “I’m sorry that you had to experience that.”

Dean feels his defensive teeth slip a little, his feathers ruffling up against Cas’s understanding. “It happens,” Dean shrugs. Strong. I’m too strong for shit like this to bring me down. What’s another nightmare? What’s another death happening in front of these eyes? A breath in, a breath out, keep going when sometimes he doesn’t even know what he’s going for anymore. Maybe this? Maybe these fleeting moments of Castiel in his bedroom.

Let’s pretend, Dean thinks, that we’re married. That I’m not too much of a coward to ever marry you. Let’s pretend to be two little moons at an altar, crying happy tears and holding hands on a day that leads us to five years later when everything is comfortable and lived in. Not a monster in sight, just Jeopardy on the TV after dinner, and you’d know more of the answers than me because you lived through them. Play house with me? This is your bedroom, too. I’m saving the left side of this tiny bed for you.

“Yes, and it’s upsetting every time,” Cas says in defiance to Dean’s nonchalance.

“Not much I can do about it.”

Cas squints at him. “When I was human… Well, perhaps it’d be helpful for you to see that I’m alright. That I’m in one piece, so to speak.”

The words don’t really make much sense to Dean, what Cas is trying to say, until he watches as Cas slumps back limp into the desk chair. Dean sits up straight, heart lurching in his chest- but it’s not Cas slumped over in the chair, it’s Jimmy’s body. Cas, the real Cas as Dean’s brain processes him, is floating out gracefully towards Dean, turning the room watercolor gray in Cas’s illumination.

Dean didn’t realize how much he’d missed that light. And the memories of it don’t do it justice, how sweet and kind it is on the eyes. The way it banishes the monsters of Dean’s bedroom back under the bed so that there’s no chance of any dark figures sneaking their way in and causing irreversible harm. Cas was right, too, because the sight of that grace in one piece makes the last of Dean’s skittering skin settle.

“Oh,” Dean breathes out in relief. “Good to see ya, pal.”

“I’ve been here the whole time, Dean,” those chimes say in a feigned annoyance that doesn’t work at all because the tone is too kind.

Cas is- Cas is so beautiful. There’s a full moon bobbing gently at the foot of Dean’s bed, and Dean is in love with it.

“Guess you’re right,” and the crack in his voice is only loud enough for him to notice. Dean’s fingers itch. Traitorous fingers, filthy hands covered in blood that don’t for a second deserve to be in contact with Cas’s nightlight, that he’s been so good at keeping in line for so long until in this exact moment he feels like he might go crazy if he doesn’t reach out. Just for a second, he reasons, just to make sure that Cas is really okay. That’s how he finds his arm raising from his side, hand extended. “Would it be weird- I mean, can I-”

What is he saying? What is he doing?

Backtrack. He needs to not be doing this. Maybe he can pretend he was delirious from sleep exhaustion and terror. Dean’s about to recoil his outstretched and open palm when suddenly, there’s warmth against his fingertips. Oh God. He’s made fragile in its wake, shaking even though his hand is steady, and his heart- his heart is his own in a way that it hasn’t been in years, beating out. Oh, it’s beating out.

And when Dean looks down the line of his arm to his hand, it’s to see the pads of his fingertips in contact with Cas’s orb, just like he knew they would be. “Hah,” he says very articulately.

Cas just rests there. There’s no weight to the light, but it’s sorta solid, has mass. Something that can be held in the first place. It’s not as intense as last week when Cas was all up in Dean’s molecules, but that same weird sensation is still there, like morning fog, like Christmas. Actually, the Christmas thing is a little ironic if Dean actually thinks about it. And he’s starting to wonder if maybe that feeling is just… Cas. Really, actually.

Very suddenly, he is struck by the fact that he is touching Castiel.

But then- “What does this even feel like for you?” Dean asks. “I’m, like, touching your soul.”

Cas squishes in a way that Dean has definitely concluded is a thinking face when Cas is like this. “It feels like… It’s pleasant.”

“Pleasant,” Dean repeats back plainly.

“I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

Dean frowns, an eyebrow raising. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Wait. “Wait- Is this- Am I touching your angel dick right now?” His voice is freaked out, rising in pitch and volume as his eyes widen. For some reason, he still doesn’t take his hand away though.

No, Dean,” Cas says exasperated. “That’s not what I meant. At all.”

“Oh, okay. What, uh, did you mean then? I’ll be cool about it. Cool as a cucumber.”

There’s a pause, a hesitant beat before Cas chimes, “The sensation, I imagine, would be comparable to the way a cat feels when it’s being pet.”

Dean gets why Cas thought that would make him uncomfortable, because his first instinct is exactly that, more because he knows he’s supposed to be than the fact that he actually is. But hasn’t he been enjoying Cas’s moon touch a little bit too much, too? Out here describing it like a steroid shot of holiday spirit. Maybe he doesn’t have any room to talk at all.

“Huh. That sounds nice, actually. You know, I could see you being a cat. Like a house cat taking naps by the window all day. And the claws, too, you’d have those.”

“If only there was a feline lineage strong enough to be my vessel. I think you’re right, I’d enjoy being a cat.”

“Cas, The Moon Cat, smiting his enemies with his holy claws and his taste for tuna,” Dean taunts. Still, he smiles as he moves his hand out from under the orb to pass it across the top in a petting motion instead. “Like this, huh?”

The orb starts humming. It’s a harmony, a strung-out melody, that reminds Dean of the orchestra warming up at the ballets he’s snuck into over the years.

“Seems like you even got the purring down already.”

The humming stops. “Are you mocking me?” Cas asks snidely.

“Absolutely.” But Dean doesn’t stop the slow movement of his hand. The reaching out to touch isn’t so scary now that he’s done it. When Cas is like this, too, it doesn’t feel so unattainable. Easy enough to reach out to a light, much harder to reach out to a person with facial expressions that can give away annoyance, disgust. Eyes that can meet Dean’s and can see every pathetic wanting written so plainly in them.

But there are none of those things now as Cas almost seems to deflate a little bit as though he’s giving a big sigh of contentment. “It’s been a very long time since anyone has interacted with my grace like this.”

“Back up in heaven?” Dean guesses. The wisps of Cas’s orb mist float hazy through the cracks between Dean’s fingers.

“Yes, many hundreds… thousands of years ago, I’d say. Angels aren’t the kindest of species by any means, but there were a few of us, when we were young, who would sneak away to… I’m not sure if there’s a word in the English language to describe it. I suppose the closest comparison would be braiding a friend’s hair, the same way that human children do. It was frowned upon even then, but there have always been angels that have felt too much. That phenomenon isn’t new.”

Dean imagines it, a sweet little Cas before he became a warrior, before he became depended on, when his most basic nature was to find a way to be gentle with others like him. Others who wanted to be gentle too even when they were condemned for it.

“Weird to imagine you being a kid.,” Dean says as he continues the smooth motion of his hand. “Like a softball-sized light instead of a volleyball-sized light, huh?”

“I wasn’t a child so much as I was just new to the universe. Very new.” Cas’s chimes are weary now, sad in a distant sort of way like mourning yourself, mourning the things that other people did to you. But there’s no going back, and maybe that’s the tragic part. You can mourn yourself for as long as you like, but that child, that new being, is on a path towards destruction that only you now have the exact roadmap for. A four-year-old not knowing his mom would die. A little moon not knowing it’d be outcasted by its family.

Dean thinks about Cas’s words from before, and how he hasn’t been touched like this in thousands of years. The fact that Cas had to sneak away to be touched with care in the first place. Lonely, lonely, lonely.

“Well, look at the universe now, better off with you in it, buddy,” Dean says only half teasingly.

Cas plunges into the same sickly green color that he had that night at the orchard. The change is so sudden that Dean jerks his hand back in surprise. “Dude! What the hell?”

“Don’t say that, Dean.” The windchimes are forlorn, whistling in a funeral breeze.

“Say what?”

“The things I’ve done-” Cas’s orb shudders, “they are horrific. I have- This universe is not better off after what I have put it through.”

Dean shakes his head against Cas’s words, scoffing a noise of disbelief. But it’s all so familiar. It sends Dean back a few years in time, to a dingy hotel room, Cas sitting on one of the beds. The way Cas had said he might kill himself. Dean knows anguish, and this is it.

He scowls through the hurt. “Bullshit. That is such horseshit, Cas. You did what you did for the right reasons.”

“Do not defend my behaviors,” Cas says back with something resigned in those chimes. “Reason means nothing.”

“Reason means everything!”

Cas swells like a prodded bruise, like maybe now he is the stray dog. “The universe does not care for reason. Reason caused the near extinction of my species. Me, Dean. I did that. And you think that this reality is better off with me in it? As if I am not a slaughterer.”

I do!” Dean demands more fervently than he thought he knew how to through a pinched expression. “Fuck, Cas! I don’t care what you did! Don’t you get it? It’s not about some holy mission or mistakes or- whatever. In my fucking universe, Cas, in this universe I’m living in right now- after I just had a dream that you got torn apart by the goddamn molecule right in front of me, and I couldn’t do anything about it- Yeah, I’d say I’m pretty fucking happy you’re here!”

Those same apple orchard tears are building up again. Too big, too big. Emotions that Dean doesn’t know how to break down and deal with even though he feels them anyway.

“I’ve killed people, too,” Dean continues jagged, pointing into his own chest. “Plenty of people, actually. Reason or not, those people are dead because of me. You blame me for that?”

“Do not compare-”

“I’ll compare as much as I damn well please. All those people I hurt, all those souls I tortured in Hell, and you still told me I deserved to be saved. So you don’t get to tell me-” Dean’s upper lip curls against those tears that are dangerously close to the brink of his lash line, like they’ve been waiting to come out since the moment he woke up from his nightmare- “that this world is better off without you. You don’t get to say that to me.”

Finally, Cas falters. His orb draws back a few inches back to the foot of the bed, putting distance between them. “I’ve upset you again.”

“Stop!” Dean cries out. He shakes his head, clenches his eyes shut, clenches his jaw. “Just- stop saying that.” Cas’s guilt is the most terrible flavor in Dean’s mouth. He doesn’t want Cas’s guilt. He doesn’t want the distance. He wants to hold him. And it’s too much of the same until Dean can’t stand it anymore, and the coward that’s been wearing his skin is finally forced into bravery.

So he opens his watery eyes and looks at that moon of a best friend. Dean reaches out to touch.

He reaches out to hold.

Both hands now, palms cupped underneath Cas. Dean doesn’t know if he’s ever truly been in awe of something in a way that doesn’t involve being terrified for his life. But here in his bedroom, he feels awe, the reverent kind that blooms carefully into a fuller understanding of exactly what Dean is holding, both in the objective and subjective: of cradling an angel, more importantly, of cradling Cas. The hidden Christmas of him that seeps into Dean’s skin and creates little pockets of winter in Dean’s hands.

He brings the white light in closer to contradict the inches that it just moved away so that it’s right in front of his chest. He stares down at it and hopes that he’s looking in the right spot to meet Cas’s angel eyes. Maybe any spot is the right spot.

“Stop making it sound like you’re this monster that isn’t redeemable. Or- or that you’re expendable because of what you did. We’ve all fucked up, okay? This ain’t just a you situation.” Dean’s voice is softer than he means for it to be, wet grains of sand, but maybe that’s okay right now. “You, and me, and Sammy, we’re in this together. The good shit and the ugly shit.”

Dean doesn’t know how, but it feels like he can almost imagine Cas’s expression, the one on Jimmy’s face. A frown that isn’t so much hurt as it is emotional. Blue eyes watching Dean back like they’re not quite sure what he’s trying to get at or if Dean means what he’s saying or if this is all some trick. But underneath the surface layer of rightful distrust, there’d be something moved. Something that questions the truth of Dean’s words because Cas wants them to be true so badly that there’s no way they could be. But they are.

They are, they are, they are.

“Dean…” Cas chimes in some unreadable tone. It tells Dean to keep going.

“We do what we gotta do. It’s not always easy, and it ain’t always clear-cut. This job can get real messy real fast. And I’m not saying don’t- don’t feel sorry for what you did. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t change anything. Not to me.”

The silence is back again, but this time it’s gentle with them both. It settles while Dean watches the almost indistinct whirls within Cas’s grace spin around.

Finally, Cas says, “They weren’t a very good family, but they were my family nonetheless. My brothers and sisters.”

Dean doesn’t know what to say other than, “I’m sorry.”

“I’m the one who did it.”

“As if that makes it feel any less shitty.” Dean isn’t always the best at comforting, or ever the best at comforting, but it feels easy to run a gentle hand across Cas’s grace again. His other hand stays underneath to hold Cas even though he doesn’t actually have to. He does it because he wants to. “Cas, you gotta let some of that go or it’s gonna eat you alive.”

Cas’s little moon deflates again. “It’s… much harder than it sounds.”

Dean huffs a humorless chuckle. “Yeah, it is, huh? Sorta fresh for me to say that to you.”

“Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not good advice. You give very good advice, Dean.”

“You sure we’re talking about the same Dean here?” he asks, because he doesn’t know what else to say. His chest is boarded up against the compliment, but his heart underneath that wood is too soft.

“I don’t know any other Dean’s,” Cas deadpans in a way that Dean now knows is Cas making fun of him. “If I did, I’d still be talking about you.”

Dean rolls his eyes because he doesn’t know what else to do when his stomach feels like this, when his cheeks are turning rosy. “Yeah, alright. Just- promise me you’ll at least give it a shot?” He’s too tired to stop himself from adding, “I worry about you, man.”

Cas starts humming again. “Yes, Dean,” he replies quietly, “I promise.”

A little sliver of Cas melts into Dean’s stomach again, almost like he’s trying to give Dean a hug. And Dean isn’t strong enough to even pretend he doesn’t enjoy it, the closeness, the warmth. Cas under his skin is more than welcome. Maybe Cas can just live here. Maybe Cas can just make a home out of his body and exist in the spaces between his cells that would undoubtedly make way for the grace with very little complaint.

The light of him feels like it’s running hotter than Dean remembered, too, like a furnace curled up along Dean’s body, magnified until it’s a blanket instead of a fabric patch. The Christmas and the morning sensation is so strong that it almost makes Dean dizzy. His eyes want to fall closed in peace against the way his heart thuds on, and what even is that, if not just Cas? It’s so safe, and so affectionate, and it feels like- like-

Dean’s eyelids reel, they fly open so quickly.

He stares down at the orb with disbelief as he runs an unsteady hand across it. And again- oh, again- that feeling of something that can’t be anything other than- It builds on itself in overlapping layers that go from transparent to translucent to opaque until that outside feeling is impenetrable by light. Matte and solid and aching.

Oh God.

There’s not- That’s not- Oh, but it is. Denial is one thing, but to be in denial means there has to be a truth to deny, and the truth is that Dean is full up with Cas’s love right now. Love in the shape of cosmic bodies and pine trees covered in homemade ornaments. Not the familial kind, either. It burrows into Dean’s chest like it’s- Cas- is trying to get at his heart so that Cas can hold it.

And all at once, Dean’s fear was for nothing.

He almost wants to laugh because they’re both so stupid, and this is all so stupid, but the overwhelming feeling of love isn’t funny at the same time that it’s fucking hilarious.

“Cas, you dumb son of a bitch,” and words that are meant to come out teasing are breaking over crests instead. There are tears in Dean’s eyes that never really went away and there is a swollen lump in his throat. “You should’a told me.” It’s whispered through clenched teeth.

Dean wants to pull Cas back under his skin again, back into his stomach again, but if he does that then he can’t hold onto the sweet light anymore. More than anything, Dean wants to be closer. He needs Cas to understand that all of the love being projected in osmosis through each of Dean’s cells that then carry fondness into his bloodstream and affection down to his toes is reciprocated. Dean isn’t just full of Cas’s love, he’s full of his own.

“You should’a told me,” he repeats even more quietly on a tightened breath.

Bringing Cas’s moon up higher to his mouth, Dean kisses the soul of him.

There’re no lips to move back against Dean’s, but there is a sort of pressure. Cas sits in some bizarre plasma state, trapped lightning, that takes up space at the same time that it is a wisp of a thing. So when Dean presses in, Cas presses back. It’s warm all over his nose, his mouth, his chin, and his jaw, like he’s holding a hot washcloth over the bottom half of his face after he’s shaved. And that Christmas feeling is so strong now that Dean realizes maybe it was never Christmas at all, but a low-dosage of Cas’s love that turns any room into a quiet snowy field, a dining table full of family, a morning of excitement and hugs and kisses.

Oh, Cas is love. Oh, Cas loves him.

I love you, too, Cas. What does my love feel like?

Around them, the bedroom shudders from some invisible force. Dean can feel the whole mattress shaking, hear the items on the shelf behind him rattling around and clanking together. He ignores it.

There are more important things to think about, like the way that when Dean parts his lips just a little bit, just to move them, some of Cas’s grace slips inside of his mouth. It’s frosted and warm against Dean’s molars, and it wraps around his tongue in a caress so tender that it’s like Dean is being held from the inside out at that small point of contact. Nothing’s ever felt so good. Nothing else has ever been Cas, either. Little moon that kisses like coming home.

And when Dean pulls that grace a little further into his mouth with a hollowing of his cheeks, thunder swells into a sharp clap in the world outside of the Bunker.

It’s sudden enough that Dean jumps in surprise, a movement that breaks him away from the kiss. Still, Cas rests in Dean’s cupped hands. Peering around with wide eyes, Dean sees the items of his bedroom in disarray, books and papers all over the floor like a library exploded. Thunder rumbles on in the distance.

“Damn, Cas.”

“Dean…” Cas chimes, and there’s a semi-familiar ringing that ripples the air. The orb puffs up, gets brighter until the entire room turns illuminated in Cas’s wake and Dean is forced to squint his eyes from his close proximity. “Dean,” the chimes are turbulent, “I have to-”

Cas’s grace darts from Dean’s hands and across the room into Jimmy’s chest, dousing the room in darkness again. For a second, Dean blinks and blinks but can’t see anything in the rapid change, just the circular ghost of where Cas is burned into his pupils in black and blue, blotting out anything Dean might be able to see in the unlit bedroom. Still, he squints in the direction of his desk chair and tries to make out Cas’s face.

Before he can get a clear image, Cas’s gravel voice floats towards the bed almost as disembodied as the orb was. “Dean, you- you just-”

“Slipped your soul some tongue?” Dean fills the gap in Cas’s sentence for him with a grin growing on his face. His own hand reaches up to touch his lips, pressing just a little bit, until maybe Cas left some grace behind that Dean can force down into the sensitive nerves there. “Not too shabby, considering you almost went nuclear on me. The storm’s a nice touch, by the way.” Dean nods up towards the ceiling.

When he looks back down, Cas’s face is finally coming into view. His eyes are wide and startled, almost a little scared, and they meet Dean’s with something shaken. Dean feels his smile fall. The jovialness of his teasing leaves with it.

“I… don’t understand,” Cas says. There’s an emotional edge to the words, like now that Cas has a throat again he’s learning what it’s like for it to tighten up.

Dean’s jaw clenches and he swallows.

I felt your love, stupid. I could feel how much you love me and this whole time I’ve been dancing around it- around you- because I thought you could never feel that. Not for me, not for anyone. But you do and you do and you do and what am I supposed to do other than kiss you? After all of these years, of course I kissed you.

He looks back at that sharp nose and that scruffy face that is as much Cas as any nightlight is, and he’s not afraid anymore. Scared as hell, maybe, but not afraid. To want to touch a five o’clock shadow or to know what broad shoulders feel like under his palms or the way that those very real, very human, very male lips would feel kissing him.

“C’mere, Cas,” he manages out rusty. He wets his lips with his tongue. “C’mere.”

Cas stares for a drawn-out second longer before he stands from the desk chair. Dean watches him shuffle closer until he resituates himself awkwardly just up from the foot of the bed with his legs off of the left side of the mattress. Then he turns to Dean expectantly, still so unsure, but he doesn’t say anything.

And Dean’s never been good with words, or even just okay with them, so he lets his reaching fingers do the talking when they cradle Cas’s cheek the same way they cradled his grace. It’s a realization that builds so gradually that Dean doesn’t even realize he’s had it until he’s already hit the conclusion; The little moon is Cas, and this body is Cas, and there’s never been much of a difference at all.

So it’s Cas’s sweet blue eyes glazing over with wet tears as he looks at Dean with the most feeble sort of hope. Dean’s thumb rubs over Cas’s high cheekbone.

I felt your love, stupid.

I love you, too, stupid.

“I love you, too, stupid.”

That part of him that’s still scared as hell doesn’t want to see Cas’s reaction, so Dean leans in with his eyes clenched shut to press their mouths together. The sides of their noses bump while Dean’s top lip catches Cas’s bottom before he lines them up properly, tilting his head to the side. Trying to remember to breathe in any capacity because Cas’s lips are trembling so intensely that Dean can feel it. The same as Cas’s trembling hand that cups Dean’s cheek right back until they’re two shuddering mirrors of each other.

If kissing the little moon had been coming home, kissing Cas like this feels precious. As fragile as beating moth wings fluttering around Cas’s light, paper-thin yet impossibly able to stay afloat in the air. And when the warm, damp insides of their bottom lips brush, Dean thinks he wouldn’t mind being that moth at all.

Finally, Dean pulls away. He doesn’t get far though, stopped by Cas’s big hand that holds him close enough that even if Dean opened his eyes he wouldn’t be able to focus them on Cas’s face.

“You could feel it,” Cas says. It’s not really a question, but more of an answer. “My love.”

“Yeah,” Dean says.

“And you…”

“Yeah.”

Dean can hear the breath that catches in Cas’s throat, feels the way that Cas’s fingertips pet fragile along the hollow of his cheek. “This body- I know that it’s not-”

Cas’s words get lost in Dean’s mouth when he pushes forward again. He nips at Cas’s full bottom lip once, twice, before leaning back just enough to say, “It’s a nice body, Cas.”

There’s a tremor in Cas’s voice despite the bravado of his tone when he replies. “I’m glad you think so. I’m rather attached to it myself.”

“That’s good to hear, considering we just got you back inside of the fucker.”

It earns Dean a chuckle that puffs air across his face before Cas moves all the way out of Dean’s orbit. His hand stays on Dean’s cheek though, a grounding presence. When Dean finally opens his eyes, he’s met with the sight of Cas’s joy, of the tiny crook of a smile that he wears. Until there’s nothing scary about any of this at all.

Cas’s thumb is gentle when it runs across the dark bag underneath the set of Dean’s eye. “You should rest now. It’s only three o’clock.” With that, Cas’s hand falls back into his lap as he moves to stand.

I’m saving the left side of this tiny bed for you.

Dean snatches the sleeve of Cas’s trench coat in his fingers. “You could stay, ya know.”

Cas just blinks at him in surprise. Then, “In… your bed?”

With an impish smile, Dean lets go of Cas to scooch back up the bed and lay his head down on his pillow. All the way over on the right side. He pats the open mattress beside him. “Lose the jacket and get in here, tiger.”

There’s a giddiness in his stomach that grows as he watches Cas shed his khaki coat as well as his blazer, which he then drapes carefully over the back of Dean’s desk chair. “Tiger,” he says flatly as he returns to the bed, “I thought I was a moon.”

“Tomato, to-mah-to.”

“So now there are vegetables involved?” Cas knees up onto the bed and haphazardly lays himself down, like even though he was human for a period of time in the past his body’s already forgotten how to rest. He settles facing Dean after a few seconds of shuffling, using his arm as a pillow under his head. Their faces are only a foot apart.

“You think you’re real funny, don’t you?” Dean says.

“Frankly, I think I’m hilarious,” Cas says on a deep sigh.

They stare at each other in that small space. Dean feels the beginning seed of a smile take root, feels it blossoms open into a stupid grin. Cas smiles back wide enough that Dean can see the white of his teeth in the dark. Cas’s eyes are crinkled up around the edges, and they are the eyes of a little moon. Together here, the two of them become kids in a blanket fort, getting away with a secret that only they know about. What a lovely secret.

Dean moves in slowly to get to know that smile a little better. A gentle kiss that tastes nothing and everything like gingerbread houses.

His head falls back onto his pillow, The exhaustion catches up with him in the peace, in the presence of Cas’s warm body.

“G’night, moon,” Dean mumbles as he shuts his dry eyes. He doesn’t know why the phrasing sounds so familiar until he remembers a children’s book, one that he’d definitely stolen from some local library as they rolled through so that Sammy could have a bedtime story. Dean used to have the little poem in it memorized, but these days the words are lost to him.

Or maybe they aren’t. Maybe Cas is just holding onto those comfort words for Dean in his warm hands. One of them runs lightly, hesitant and somehow so sure, down Dean’s side, until it lands in an anchor on the swell of his hip. Cas is here, and he’s going to stay.

In that gravelly voice that Dean recognizes as safe, as Cas’s, Cas responds, “I see, like the children’s book. Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere,” conjuring up the forgotten story. Cas’s breath puffs against Dean’s face when Cas leans in so close that the tips of their noses bump together, just for a second. “Goodnight, Dean,” Cas whispers into the inch of space between them.

Yes, Dean thinks as sleep pulls him under much more kindly than it has in years, it is a good night.