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Cas is done with heaven. He brings it up out of the blue one afternoon, after he’s been hanging around the bunker for a few days, helping Sam and Dean with research and pretending to enjoy the leftover takeout that he insists on joining them for. He announces it casually, just drops that fucking bombshell into conversation like it’s no big deal. He’s planning on extracting his grace – carefully, of course – and simply leaving it elsewhere, because he no longer has any intention of using it or returning to heaven. He’ll be human, for real now, on his own terms.

Dean nearly chokes on his beef lo mein.

Sam looks a bit taken aback himself, but he’s quick to recover, smiling good-naturedly and clapping Cas on the shoulder. “That’s really great, Cas,” he says with the kind of thoughtful sincerity he’s so annoyingly good at. “Seriously, good for you. Glad you’re doing what feels right.”

Dean wants to do the same, plaster on a friendly grin, playfully elbow Cas in the ribs and say what took you so long because that would be a fair reaction, wouldn’t it? An expected one to say the least – Cas hasn’t exactly been on the best terms with the other angels, in recent history. Hasn’t been for a long time, really.

He wants to voice his dismissive approval, appear blasé in the face of a decision that ultimately seemed inevitable. Instead, he says, “Shit, you really sure you wanna do that?” around a mouthful of noodles, in a tone that Sam would probably call ‘insensitive.’

To his credit, Cas only falters a little bit, but Dean feels a pang of remorse – Sam’s accepting the information so easily, offering supportive encouragement, like a friend’s supposed to do. Dean’s just sitting there with anxiety churning in the pit of his stomach, anxiety that only intensifies when he wonders why he’s not handling this as well as Sam is.

“I realize I won’t be as useful in a fight,” Cas starts, slowly – and goddammit, now Dean really feels like a shit-heel, that Cas thinks it’s his usefulness that Dean’s worried about. “But I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” he concludes, voice firm and eyes determined.

Dean scoffs. “What, like… a couple of weeks? A month?” He’s aware that he’s being deliberately difficult now. Even if he weren’t, the look he sees from Sam in his periphery – a look he’s stubbornly ignoring – would be enough to get the point across. But honestly, Dean thinks, Cas can’t possibly have thought this through. Dean can’t really be the only one who realizes how crazy this sounds.

Cas doesn’t look as annoyed as Sam does. He only smiles gently at Dean, in a weird almost knowing way that makes Dean feel fidgety and defensive, not understanding what he’s missing. “It’s hard to say when I first started considering staying on earth,” Cas says. “But I suppose it all goes back to the moment we met. Everything changed then, didn’t it?”

Dean doesn’t know how to respond to that, squirming uncomfortably under Cas’s gaze. It’s obvious from Cas’s focused stare that when he says the moment we met he doesn’t mean the three of them. That part was meant for Dean.

Dean attempts a laugh that dies weakly in his throat. “I stabbed you in the chest,” he says, aiming for flippant, afraid to be too sincere, excruciatingly mindful of the way his heart pounds and the fact that Sam is watching this, goddammit, Cas.

“Yes, well,” Cas says, still smiling, gamely playing along with Dean’s attempts to keep things light-hearted, “Perhaps humanity wasn’t at its most endearing, at that particular moment.”

Dean sets his takeout container down – the food’s gone cold anyway – and leans towards Cas, feeling serious. “Really, Cas, why are you doing this?” Maybe it’s unfair to question him but it’s… this is kind of a big deal. Cas doesn’t have the best history with major, life-altering decisions.

The amused look falls from Cas’s face. “To be honest, I’m…” his eyes drop to the table and he pauses, in thought. He sighs, “I’m tired,” he says eventually, with resignation in his voice, looking at the both of them.

Dean wants to teasingly point out Hey if you’re tired now, wait til you’re actually human, crack a joke, do something, because the look on Cas’s face is a lot for him to handle. He manages to squash that urge to say the wrong thing – the first time he’s done so during this entire conversation – because, well, he gets it. He really does. And his understanding only deepens as Cas continues to explain – how he’s been torn for a long time, exhausting himself trying to be in both camps. Heaven had seemed its most appealing when he didn’t know any better, when he didn’t think he had options besides mindlessly carrying out the will of ‘God,’ like a good soldier. But the idea of living on earth, for good, had been tugging at him for years, needling him into making a choice – and what was really keeping him in heaven, aside from a misplaced sense of loyalty and duty, or the last vestiges of whatever programming he’d broken free from ages ago?

“There are things that I care about,” Cas goes on, carefully, “That I wouldn’t trade for heaven, no matter how much more powerful I may be. Certainly not now,” he says with conviction. Cas’s eyes latch significantly on both of them – he might linger a bit longer on Dean, but, that’s probably just Dean’s imagination.

Even Sam finally seems unsure of what to say.

A brief, somewhat awkward silence ensues, and Cas clears his throat, effectively shattering the moment. “Though if I’m really being honest,” he says, amusement creeping back into his voice, “I miss being able actually to enjoy eating.” Cas directs a rather contemptuous look at the cardboard container in front of him.

Dean laughs at that, genuinely, the tightness in his chest easing ever so slightly. It only lasts a moment.

* * *

Cas leaves. He had insisted on doing this solo – whatever this is, anyway. Dean’s not clear on the process.

And he’s got absolutely no problem with that, he tells himself – Cas on his spirit quest or whatever, no back up in case something goes wrong and he’s left stranded and human.

Nope, Cas should be fine. He has made it on his own without his grace before, and at least this time he’s not roaming the country without a car or money or a place to call home.

The thought should encourage him, but Dean feels monumentally worse – that particular episode is not one he likes to dwell on. It’s never easy not to, though, especially right now. Instead he cleans the kitchen, his room and the library (between making three batches of chili) and absolutely does not worry, not even a little.

Cas comes back after three days – strolls right on in while Dean’s begrudgingly doing research in the war room.

“Hello, Dean,” he says with a small smile when Dean glances up, and Dean’s out of his seat and standing in front of him before he realizes what he’s doing. Sam’s downstairs, so – so Dean hugs him, wraps his arms around him tight, maybe just because he can. He tries to rationalize it in a hundred ways. Hugs are one of the nice things about being human, he figures – even if he doesn’t indulge as often as he secretly wants to – and Cas should learn that. Maybe he does it out of pure relief at seeing Cas alive and well, like in purgatory – only this time Cas returns his embrace, strong hands holding Dean close, a quiet sigh reaching Dean’s ear. Maybe this is for comfort, Dean thinks – Cas’s comfort, of course. He wasn’t exactly there for Cas the last time he showed up mojo-less. He can do better this time.

But this time is infinitely different, too. Cas won’t be flitting off to command a rebel army when they step out of each other’s hold. The two of them won’t be darting between dead gray trees, slicing up oozy black monsters. Cas is staying, he’s going to be living in a room that Dean set up two doors down from his own. The future stretches out in front of Dean, impossible and terrifying.

Dean draws a shaky breath, lets it out on a sound that could be called a laugh, but doesn’t quite make it. Cas smells like a couple of days on the road and McDonald’s fries. The guy gives up his grace for… for the food and that’s the kind of shit he wastes his palate on. Dean’s definitely making him some burgers tonight – the real deal, not some processed, mass-manufactured crap. He doesn’t care if Sam’s been complaining that the fridge is full of chili.

Dean finally pulls away when he hears Sam’s footsteps behind them. He tries not to do it too abruptly as if he’s… as if he’s been caught doing something, because he hasn’t been. Although, he’s embarrassed to realize that he has no idea how long they’ve been standing there. Probably longer than necessary, his brain unhelpfully supplies, but Cas didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t say anything about it, at least. Of course, Cas’s got no concept of how long it’s socially acceptable to hug a friend, so, he’s not the best judge of appropriate behavior.

Cas smiles at Sam as he approaches, and the two of them embrace as well. Dean feels a pang of… something, over that, but he ignores it. It’s stupid.

“So, what’d you do with it?” Sam asks after they’re all settled around the table.

Dean realizes he should’ve asked about the grace – that was sort of the whole point of all this – but he’s been too stuck on the fact that Cas is here.

“I put it in a jar, tied it to a rock, and cast it into the Great Salt Lake,” Cas says, sounding a bit proud of himself.

Dean is… surprised isn’t exactly the right word. He’d thought Cas would keep it on a shelf, or buried in the yard, or… or something – just in case. In case he got fed up with having to eat and sleep and catch a cold like the rest of them. In case he finally realized that whatever he thought he was trading phenomenal cosmic power for wasn’t actually worth it.

Dean smirks through the knots forming in his gut and says, “Extra briny to keep the demons away, huh?”

Cas shrugs noncommittally. “Actually,” he says, a smirk of his own creeping up, “I’ve just always wanted to visit.”

* * *

Cas (officially) moves into the bunker on an overcast Tuesday afternoon. He spent the weekend prior hovering around with uncertainty before he, as Dean later learned, worked up the nerve to find out if he was allowed to stay. Dean feels sick that he’d even have to ask if he has a home with them – Dean had just assumed, same as he had last time. Cas, it seemed, wasn’t making any assumptions, but like hell is Dean going to kick Cas out again, regardless of whatever circumstances might arise.

To say Cas ‘moves in’ is a bit of a joke. He doesn’t have much in the way of belongings, not even clothing, aside from what’s on his back. Dean lends him what he can – towels, sheets, t-shirts – but if Cas is really going all in with this humanity business then he needs… he needs his own things, necessities and sentimental crap to fill the empty spaces around him. Stuff that a person is supposed to have.

Cas has to cover the basics before he works his way up to useless knick-knacks and family photos. An arduous trip to Wal-Mart sorts that out.

Sam’s helpful, working on a list with Cas beforehand and steering him to the right aisles, letting him choose things for himself.

Dean’s kind of acting like a dick. Even he’s not sure why, at least not sure in any way he’s willing to address, at the moment. He says it’s because Cas is taking too long, that he’s too picky because for fuck’s sake, Cas, it doesn’t really matter, they’re socks, just make a damn decision – says it’s petty annoyances like that, that have him on edge.

Really, there’s something that doesn’t sit right with him, with all this. A former angel of the lord being reduced, of his own volition, to agonizing deliberation over what kind of toothbrush to buy. This can’t really be what Cas signed up for.

Cas seemed like he had some good reasons for giving up his grace, but he obviously made some kind of mistake. There’s no way that… whatever Cas was hoping for, could possibly be worth this kind of soul-crushing mundanity. He’ll figure that out eventually. He’ll realize he got a raw deal, that the Winchesters don’t have a lot to offer him, and he’ll leave, just like he always has – why should that be any different now that he’s human?

The three of them are uncomfortably silent by the time they get to checkout and Dean whips out a credit card. He figures he should probably apologize – to Cas, anyway, Sam’s used to it and will probably just call him out on it later – for being a rude, impatient asshole all afternoon. He watches the stringy-haired teenager at the end of the conveyor belt pile non-descript sweatpants into a plastic bag – a whole new ‘wardrobe’ for someone who used to feasibly wear the same outfit all the time – and decides not to say a word. If Cas finds him unpleasant to be around and seeks greener pastures sooner rather than later, well, that’s probably for the best.

* * *

Dean doesn’t exactly do it on purpose. There are all kinds of legitimate, understandable reasons that he might be a little prickly at having Cas move in with them. There are certainly the typical ‘inconsiderate roommate’ grievances – Cas getting in his way in the kitchen, hogging the showers, leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Cas isn’t well-versed in the art of cohabitation, and Dean’s admittedly a little fussy about keeping his home in order.

But Dean overreacts – over every minor, innocuous infraction – and he’s not particularly nice or tactful about it either. The first few weeks after Cas moves in are a near constant stream of “Cas, you drink the last beer, you say something or buy more,” and “Christ, you left the damn TV on again, Cas?” and “How many fucking times am I going to find wet towels on the bathroom floor?”

Cas puts up with it, but only at first. It isn’t long before he’s rolling his eyes at Dean’s complaints or making his own impatient comments in return (“Most of those towels were yours, Dean.”), glowering with defensiveness.

Sam is witness to a lot of arguing, followed by one or both of them storming off in a huff. Long periods of excruciating silence stretch out between each altercation.  Sam never makes any move to intervene or get them to patch things up – Dean’s trying to figure out how to feel about that – but he always watches with careful concern and a raised eyebrow. Dean makes absolutely no effort to engage his brother on the topic, so he can only guess at what Sam makes of all this.

He tries to imagine what it must look like from Sam’s point of view – Dean getting irritated over nothing, sniping at Cas, fleeing without apologizing. Maybe Sam just thinks it’s all those perfectly reasonable aggravations, Cas being all up in his space and not backing off, Cas forgetting to refill the ice cube tray for the fifth time.

Then again, it’s Sam. It’s not like Dean doesn’t like Cas, or would get on his case so much even if he did, after all Cas has done for his sorry ass – even Dean’s not that much of a jerk. Sam must know that. He must know there’s something else going on. He probably understands exactly what Dean’s doing, maybe even better than Dean does himself.

* * *

“You know, you could’ve cleaned the coffee pot.”

Cas has barely walked into the room, and Dean’s already after him. Dean can admit it’s a stupid thing to gripe at him for. It’s a reflex now, one that kicks in when he finds himself glad that Cas is around, despite bracing himself for the rug to be pulled out from under him.

Cas straight up ignores him as he peruses the fridge, which takes the wind out of Dean’s sails a little bit, just for a second.

“You’re just wasting electricity standing there with the door open,” Dean adds, suddenly irritated that Cas doesn’t even seem to be listening. He doesn’t know why he does this, why he has to push and push until it turns into a heated argument and even he can’t remember what he was picking a fight over in the first place.

Cas shuts the refrigerator and faces Dean, looking murderous. It’s been a long time since he’s acted apologetic over these matters – since he realized there was absolutely no pleasing Dean, most likely – but now he just looks pissed. “The coffee pot wasn’t clean to begin with, after you used it, so I cleaned it, used it, and left it the way I found it,” he says in a convincingly calm tone. “And if by some miracle you find an electric bill, I’ll pay it, so I don’t have to hear about this anymore.” He’s losing his cool a little bit. Dean’s searching for a suitable response to that as Cas shakes his head in disbelief, looking ready to leave now that he’s made his point. “I didn’t imagine living with you was going to be so difficult,” he mutters under his breath.

Dean’s not even sure he was meant to hear that, but he did, and he can’t just let the comment pass. “Yeah, well,” he says, barreling on before he can stop himself, emboldened over finally having a rebuttal, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.” He tries to say it with self-important authority, averting his eyes and feigning indifference, but his thudding heartbeat sounds deafening in his ears. Really, he doesn’t look at Cas because he can’t right now, he can’t face the way he just laid all his insecurities on the table – albeit in a veiled, belligerent way.

His genuine feelings are clawing their way to the surface, blotting out any of his staged anger. Cas is human, now, and Dean’s wrangling with immeasurable guilt over that – guilt that it happened, that Cas made such an insane decision and that Dean’s selfishly glad he did. But having him here is too much, too close to what he actually wants, and he can’t handle that, because… Cas can’t possibly want this, to be mortal and stuck here with Dean. He doesn’t know what it’s going to take to make Cas realize that, but maybe this is it.

It shuts Cas up, anyway, and Dean finally dares to look at him. He wishes he hadn’t – he felt bad enough over being a dick to cover up his own insecurities, but seeing the stricken look on Cas’s face, all traces of hostility gone, feels infinitely worse.

“That isn’t—” Cas says haltingly, struggling for words, brows knit in apparent confusion. “I don’t want to leave,” he says bluntly, and Dean can’t tell if he hears pleading or conviction in his tone.

But… Christ, Cas really means that, and it hits Dean all at once what an absolute paranoid ass he’s been. Cas chose earth over heaven on his own. He obviously knows where he wants to be, and which people wants to be with, too. He doesn’t need Dean badgering him into making a decision that, as Dean’s now realizing, was never going to happen. The decision was already made.

Dean doesn’t know what to say.

A few tense moments pass before Cas adds, quietly, “Is… is that what you want?” as if it’s occurring to him for the first time that maybe Dean really doesn’t want him around, is letting him say here out of obligation, or something like that.

Dean considers saying yes, just out of sheer masochism – just to see if Cas would actually do it, see how firm his resolve is. But he can’t, because what if Cas does? Dean might have more experience with humanity but he’s not any better at it – he’s weak, subject to his base, selfish desires, and the thought of Cas actually leaving scares him into honesty.

“No,” he chokes out, stumbling through one syllable over how badly he wants Cas to stay. “Shit, Cas, no, I don’t want that,” he says in a jumbled rush, before he loses his nerve.

The admission hangs in the air for what feels like an eternity. Dean’s not sure if he’s feeling hopeful or terrified.

Cas looks understandably confused. “Well… all right, then,” he says eventually, sounding wary. “Thank you.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Dean says awkwardly, already backing up in surrender. He’s not really sure what he expected, but, he’s feeling shaken and… vulnerable and he needs to get the fuck out of there. “Good talk, dude,” he says with the fakest laugh in the history of his existence, fleeing the room and shutting his bedroom door behind him, shaking with emotions he’s too tired and too stubborn to sort through.

* * *

It’s not quite a complete turnaround from that point, although Dean’s eased up on the complaints – except for the justifiable ones. Cas actually can be kind of a slob when it comes down to it.  The tension hasn’t gone away so much as it’s… changed.

Although, to say it’s changed would imply that there are new factors at play here, some recently introduced element that’s gumming up the works. The source of the current awkwardness is older than Dean cares to admit, but now it isn’t overshadowed by someone’s temporary death or, more recently, Dean’s crippling fear of abandonment. It’s hardly a novel addition to the mix, simply one that’s been bubbling underneath the surface – impatient, it seems, for the opportunity to present itself.

Sam still has to put up with some friction between the two of them – like when Dean finds that Cas’s gaze is lingering, smiling fondly because Dean’s allowed himself to laugh at something Cas said, the kind of wacky innocuous observation that only he could make.

Dean’s vigilantly aware of Sam’s presence in those moments, of how close he and Cas are standing within Sam’s field of vision. He invariably makes some snarky, but not entirely unkind comment that he barely means, and Cas rolls his eyes, and it turns into a whole thing, and the two of them are storming off in opposite directions again.

Sam still does little more than raise an eyebrow, but Dean swears there’s a touch of amusement on his face, at this point. Dean rarely allows himself to meet Sam’s eyes in those moments, afraid to confirm what he’s starting to suspect – that Sam’s got him totally figured out, the smug bastard. But by the mercy of some unknown deity, Sam never tries to do anything mortifying like have a conversation, so Dean’s content to carry on thinking that Sam’s none the wiser.

It’s different when Dean and Cas are alone, and that’s a big part of the problem. The distance between them, the safe measurement of personal space gets infinitely smaller, when they’re side by side at a diner counter, taking a break from interviewing witnesses while Sam hits the library. Or when they’re crowded together on the sofa at the bunker (even though there’s a pretty comfy lounge chair one of them could sit in, but the angle’s shitty for TV-watching, so of course that’s not an option), channel surfing until Dean gives up and they pick up where they left off in the original Star Trek series. Cas, apparently, finds Spock “relatable.”

“Why?” Dean finally asks one evening, when they’re three episodes deep and cuing up a fourth, “’Cause of the whole ‘no emotions’ thing?”

“No, not that part,” Cas says, looking at him strangely, like he’s on the verge of a laugh. Dean doesn’t get the joke. “Not even when I was an angel,” Cas adds after a beat, more thoughtfully – and yeah, Dean gets it now. Cas has never been like the other angels – that’s sort of his whole deal. Some half-remembered comment about Cas having too much heart flickers into Dean’s head and he dismisses it before it can fully settle.

It’s one of those nights where Dean’s trying to look at the TV, and not at Cas watching it – even though he’s anticipating the moment when something catches Cas’s interest, that he finds something simple and fun to focus on during the dull hours of human downtime. Dean’s also trying not to notice how Cas is radiating warmth next to him, the way Dean’s anxious fidgeting keeps shifting them closer together on the lumpy sofa cushions.

Cas glances over and their eyes lock – Dean’s suddenly nearly dizzy under the weight of…  of something, hanging between them. Cas looks like he’s going to say something, but Dean beats him to it.

“Hey, uh, actually,” He pauses, and leans back a few inches, wiping his sweating palms on his jeans, trying to school his voice into something less panicked and squeakily adolescent. “I think this is one of Sammy’s favorites. Lemme see if he wants to come watch with us,” he says, already scrambling to his feet. “Also, you’re kinda hogging the couch, man,” he adds as an afterthought. He can’t blame that one on feeling self-conscious over Sam watching, considering he’s not here, but, shit, Sam not being here is kind of the issue in the first place.

He doesn’t look at Cas as he leaves, but he can clearly hear Cas’s huff of annoyance, even over the rushing in his ears and the erratic thumping of his heart.

* * *

Dean takes up a new pattern, after the routine of argue, silent treatment, repeat that he fell into when Cas first moved in.

If Dean feels like he and Cas are gravitating towards one another, in a way that snatches the breath from his throat and sends his mind spinning, he simply shuts it down with a petty little comment. He’s not just doing it for Sam’s benefit, feeling insecure, exposed over the fact that Sam’s an audience to whatever the fuck is happening – or not happening. It’s just that they drift a little closer when Sam’s not there, and Dean’s still policing himself, still nervous and an absolute mess over the possibility – has to diffuse things even when they’re alone because… he can’t. They can’t. It would be ridiculous to even pretend.

He’s acutely aware of where too close is – even though it doesn’t feel close enough, sometimes – so he pushes Cas away. He does it less forcefully than before, but it’s enough to send them reeling in opposite directions, only to restart the cycle.  Get close, run away, repeat.

Dean’s in the kitchen one night, flipping through a book with one hand and eating chips straight from the bag with the other, when Cas wanders in. Dean’s lost track of how many late-night run-ins they’ve had like this by now, the two of them bumping into each other, half-dressed and half-awake but fully aware of how charged and suffocating the atmosphere gets when they’re this close to each other.

Cas washes the dishes he brought back from his room – probably so Dean won’t nag him about it – but he lingers, and Dean can feel his gaze like a physical touch. He starts out by pretending peruse to the fruit bowl, even though Dean’s never actually seen him eat something this late. But Dean knows lame stalling when he sees it, knows exactly what’s going on here – it’s the same thing that keeps him rapidly turning pages, too fast to believably look like reading, damn near vibrating with his display of forced casual posture.

Even through his peripheral vision he can tell that Cas is staring – Cas has no sense of decorum whatsoever, and that’s getting to be a problem in new ways – and watching with rapt attention as Dean licks the salt and oil from his fingers.

The possibility is hanging heavy in the air between them again, too enticing to completely be ignored, but too risky to spur either of them into action – certainly not Dean, anyway. When it comes to fight or flight he usually chooses both, and doesn’t stop long enough to think that another option might be a better course of action. He can’t even begin to wonder what goes through Cas’s head.

That’s what freaks him out – he looks at Cas, finally, and Cas doesn’t even pretend to be embarrassed at being caught – so Dean does what he usually does in these situations.

“Didn’t anyone tell you it’s rude to stare?” he asks, and it comes out harsh, just as rude as he’s accusing Cas of being. His voice is only faintly tremulous and he hopes Cas doesn’t notice, hopes he’s looking suitably unimpressed and not like a cornered animal. It should be enough to have the desired effect – derail things, give him an exit, start the routine over again.

But Cas doesn’t take the bait, doesn’t roll his eyes or walk out in a huff. He keeps his gaze and his voice steady and says, “Yes. You have. Several times.”

Dean should be thrown off by Cas’s reaction – and he is – but there’s a bit of a challenge in Cas’s tone. Dean’s not about to back down.

There’s a crumb tickling the corner of Dean’s mouth and he darts his tongue out, swiping his lower lip provocatively slowly. He has a moment of panic – god, what is he doing? – but he wants to see if Cas will keep staring, now that he’s been called out on it.

If anything, Cas’s focus only intensifies, his countenance only grows more defiant. He made it clear that he knows full well that that kind of attention might mean something and, son of a bitch, he’s doing it anyway.

If he’s trying to make a point, Dean definitely gets the message. Something… something’s going to happen if they keep this up. One of them is going to do something stupid, and Dean thinks it may very well be him.

He chooses to storm off, and fuck, maybe that’s the stupid choice here, he thinks, brushing off a fleeting pang of disappointment. He can’t stop himself from saying, “You’re a pain in the ass, you know that?” which is so unnecessary, maybe even bordering on too mean, and he’d feel bad about it if he weren’t one hundred percent sure that Cas knows what he’s doing with these little stunts. As he clears the doorjamb he can hear Cas sigh again and crumple up the empty chip bag – cleaning up after Dean like he’s the slob around here.

Dean stops for a moment in the hallway, considering going back to apologize, or get in a better exit line, or… or something else, but he quashes the idea as soon as it occurs to him. He locks himself in his room again, feeling more like a moody – and hormonal, Jesus – teenager than ever.

* * *

It’s not even safe during the damn day. Dean’s getting some pancakes together for breakfast when Cas saunters in after a run. That’s a thing he does now, and Dean doesn’t pretend to understand it – running, honestly – but Cas seems to like it.

Dean’s trying to focus on whisking batter, unfairly distracted by Cas a few feet away, breathing heavily and shining with perspiration. Dean’s been painfully aware for a long time that Cas is pretty easy on the eyes – he’s not deep enough in denial to pretend otherwise – but he’s used to seeing Cas buttoned-up and unflappable, looking straight-laced in a stiff oxford and an unflattering trenchcoat. Now Cas is sweating, Dean’s borrowed t-shirt clinging to his skin, flushed from exertion and Dean really can’t deal with that in his kitchen right now.

Cas is polite enough to say good morning when he walks in, and Dean mumbles a response of some kind – most likely nothing pleasant sounding or coherent.

Yeah, Cas is… aesthetically pleasing and that’s always been hard to ignore but it’s nearly impossible now, impossible not to be drawn to the easy way he moves, the raw physicality of him. He’s more at home in this body now, and learning to use it to its fullest potential. Dean resolutely does not think about what else that might entail.

Dean gives up on not watching as Cas goes to the sink to fill a glass with water. He takes a careless swig and Dean looks on helplessly as Cas’s throat works, as a few stray drops trickle down his chin.

Dean swallows. “Hey, c’mon man, you’re getting water all over the floor,” he says as steadily as he can manage. “I just cleaned in here.” He doesn’t even remember if that’s true or not.

“Sorry,” Cas says, not sounding particularly apologetic. He grabs the hem of his shirt to swipe indelicately at his mouth, and Dean’s eyes are shamelessly drawn to the way Cas’s bicep flexes, to the sharp lines of his hips, to his firm chest – far more exposed flesh than Dean can process before ten in the morning.

Then Cas is walking towards him and Dean freezes, an impolite jab on the tip of his tongue, ready to put a stop to something before his fluttering pulse gets completely out of control.

Cas lays a hand on Dean’s shoulder, where he’s hunched over the counter. “Thank you for cooking,” he says, with such blithe sincerity that Dean almost feels bad for thinking uncharitable thoughts about how Cas is deliberately fucking with him. Cas is much freer with physical affection as a human, and his touch lingers now, with this damn look in his eyes – one that Dean’s never seen directed at him, ever, so he’s not stupid enough to hope or pretend that he deserves it.

Cas doesn’t even wait for a response from Dean before he pulls away, his hand grazing lower, more vulnerable territory as he steps back, fingertips brushing the small of Dean’s back.

Dean tries to hide his blushing face by staring more intently into the bowl of overmixed batter as Cas slips out of the kitchen, no doubt heading to the bathrooms. He seems to enjoy a long shower as much as a long run and Dean… Dean’s not thinking about that either.

He burns the shit out of the pancakes, not thinking about that.

* * *

Sam’s been laid up for a few days with a nasty sprain, courtesy of their latest hunt, when something new materializes on their radar. It seems familiarly mysterious enough that they’re pretty sure it’s their kind of thing, but not so clear-cut that they have any reliable certainty of what they’re dealing with.

It merits checking out, but Sam’s apparently in no condition (or mood) to hit the road again so soon. Dean finds that out by blindly assuming otherwise.

“So, when do you want to head out?”

Sam actually looks around the room as if Dean could be talking to someone else. “What, me?” he asks, laying the incredulity on a bit thick, in Dean’s opinion. “Is that a serious question?”

When Dean mirrors his what is your problem look instead of answering, Sam gestures demonstratively to his ankle where it’s propped up with a pillow on the coffee table.

Dean doesn’t even try not to roll his eyes. “Well obviously we’re not gonna put you on the front lines, Sammy, but you don’t need two working ankles to use Google. C’mon, you’d love being stuck doing all the nerdy research shit,” he says with a grin that might be a little obnoxious, even for him.

Sam is clearly unimpressed. “I can also do all the nerdy research shit from here. I’m not super interested in cramming myself into the car for twelve hours, thanks.”

Dean’s trying to come up with another argument, but Sam keeps going.

“You know, it’s not like we really need three people, anyway. You and Cas can take care of it on your own.”

There’s not much room for debating that. It’s true, on the jobs they’ve done all together since Cas moved in, three people has started to feel a bit cumbersome, considering they’re used to hunting in pairs or, hell, even solo. And Cas might not have been ‘in the life’ as long as Sam or Dean, but he’s learning fast. He has instinct and solid millennia of fighting experience, to start with. And he’s willing to follow their lead but perfectly capable of improvising, summoning up the kind of desperate resourcefulness you can only pull off when you’re saddled with mortality. Dean had been pleasantly surprised, at first, but he had no reason to be – Cas was definitely a full-on lethal badass when he was in angel mode, and becoming a vulnerable, squishy human didn’t seem to slow him down any (although, Dean does wonder if he should be worried about that).

He still hesitates. “You could probably head out in a few days and catch up with us though, right?” he asks, almost thinking out loud. Sam’s giving him a look for being so weirdly insistent about it, a look that once again has Dean wondering what exactly is going through Sam’s head.

“Dean, I know you guys argue a lot, but you can work it out.”

Dean almost wants to laugh at the fact that Sam thinks he’s worried about him and Cas fighting. It doesn’t feel like as much of a relief as he’d hope it would.

“You know, when Cas moved in, it wasn’t really petty bickering I was expecting with you two,” Sam says off-handedly, almost to himself.

Dean nearly stops breathing because what the fuck is that supposed to mean?

Sam sighs, practically talking to himself at this point. “Yes, I can meet up with you if you really need me, but seriously, I’m positive you can handle this by yourselves. Just… try not to bite each other’s heads off?” he pleads.

Dean takes a deep breath and tries to compose himself. “Not before the monsters get a chance to do it first, right?”

Sam shoots him an annoyed look.

“Relax, Sammy. Me and Cas’ve got this.” Dean smiles in a way that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “We’ll be fine,” he says, aiming for convincing.

By the time he and Cas pack up and drive off, Dean’s even convinced himself, too.

* * *

They plan to make their trip in a straight shot – a dozen hours on a featureless stretch of highway, en route to some aggressively forgettable town in central Indiana.

Dean insists on driving the entire way, desperate for something to focus on, something to do with his hands.

It’s different having Cas sitting shotgun instead of Sam. Cas is quieter, doesn’t complain about Dean’s driving, smiles gratefully when Dean hands him lukewarm coffee from a shitty little gas station in Missouri. He doesn’t even roll his eyes when Dean blasts the radio and sings along with intentionally obnoxious enthusiasm.

It’s a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere, considering what they’d left behind at the bunker and what Dean’s still worried will be brewing once they’re holed up in a tiny motel room together. He’s not sure what it means, if this is the proverbial calm before the storm or something else entirely.

Cas actually hums along to a few songs, himself. Dean suddenly realizes he has no idea what kind of music Cas is actually into. He’s never asked.

“You like this song?” He keeps his eyes forward, firmly fixed on the road, for various reasons.

Cas hums again – in thought this time – and Dean swears the low resonance of that sound has his toes curling in his boots. “Music always sounds pleasant to me. I don’t notice particular songs.”

Dean almost finds himself annoyed, not getting the response he was hoping for. He risks a sideways glance – Cas is gazing intently out the window – and realizes he’s being ridiculous. This is Cas, for Christ’s sake. He’s not feigning indifference, trying to seem above it all or worldly and open-minded. This is a guy who could wax poetic about a damn PB&J.

“I do notice when you like a song,” Cas continues. Dean glances over again – Cas’s eyes are firmly fixed on his face now, and Dean swiftly looks away. “You always sing along, even if you’re just mouthing the words because you don’t want anyone to realize how much you’re enjoying it.”

Dean doesn’t know what to say to that.

“I like seeing you enjoy yourself.”

Dean’s officially blushing, goddammit. This is the kind of thing Cas does. It used to be easy, when Cas said something like that, too earnest and intimate for casual, friendly conversation, to chalk it up to his lack of social skills or inability to read a particular situation. But now Cas knows better, and Dean’s picked up on the fact that Cas deliberately waits until Sam is out of sight and out of earshot to sincerely compliment him, light up with a smile when he sees him, gently touch him on the arm.

Dean remains silent, face burning, thinking of Cas’s fingers, scant inches from his jostling thigh on the leather upholstery, and the room he’s going to share with Cas, only forty-five minutes away.

* * *

“Hmm, let’s see… actually, it looks like the last room we have is a single.”

Dean’s brain activity momentarily comes to a screeching halt.

But, no, that’s – there’s no problem there, obviously. If there’s only one bed then they’ll just have a fold-out bed sent over, or something, or if there’s a sofa one of them will have to sleep there, or on the floor, or in the car, of course, what else would they—

“Oh wait, oops, I lied,” the girl at the check-in counter says with a short laugh, clicking around on an ancient desktop computer, “There’s a double that just opened up,” she says casually, totally unconcerned that Dean is having about fifty heart attacks on the other side of the desk. “Uh, sorry about that,” she adds nervously, finally looking up at him and taking in whatever horrified expression he has on his face.

Dean talks himself down – he’s… relieved, that’s how he’s supposed to feel, he should be relieved that there were other rooms available – and slaps a credit card down in front of her with a tad too much force.

As soon as the door to their room closes behind them, Dean swears the tension settles in like a tangible weight. He’s going to be here for who knows how long with Cas, nothing but four walls and two beds, no Sam as a buffer, no interruptions once work is done for the day – Jesus, what was he thinking?

Cas is quiet, and Dean gets the impression he’s waiting for Dean to snap at him about something, which… isn’t totally unfair, given his track record. But Dean’s fuckin’ beat – all he wants to do is collapse into bed and get cracking on this case as soon as possible. He needs the distraction.

Dean’s spent most of his life as more of a ‘crash on top of the bedspread fully dressed’ kind of guy, often out of necessity, but having somewhere to call home and a bed that remembers him has really left him spoiled. Actually getting comfy between the sheets is kind of a requirement, now.

He’s never been shy about getting undressed when it’s him and Sam, or when the three of them are working together, but now he hesitates when he reaches for his belt. It’s not like he’s going to go change in the bathroom like the shy girl at the slumber party, but stripping down in front of just Cas feels weirdly… provocative, at this stage. It doesn’t help that he’s trying his damnedest not to think about Cas doing the same thing on the other side of the room. Cas doesn’t seem to be wasting any time – he’d only needed to wear jeans once to decide they were not for sleeping in.

Dean finally shucks his pants and any outer layers, gaze firmly affixed to the hideous wallpaper. He swears he can feel Cas’s eyes on him, and his heart’s beating a frantic rhythm at the meaning of it, the potential.

He should call Cas out on it like he usually does, make some smartass comment and get the tension to shift into something else – to not do it would feel like… admitting something, giving in. But he’s tired – he’s so many things, right now – so he climbs into bed without turning back to look at Cas at all.

“Uh, g’night,” he mumbles awkwardly, after Cas has turned off the light and climbed into his own bed.

“Good night, Dean,” Cas replies after a few seconds that feel like centuries.

Dean holds his breath like he’s waiting for something – for one of them, maybe himself, to say something, to… do something. But the moment never comes. He convinces himself he’s fine with that.

He exhales slowly, relaxing into the mattress – nothing like his own, but sorely appreciated after a whole day on the road. He drifts off trying not to think about how huge and empty his bed feels. His bed at home, for all its physical comfort, has started feeling that way too.

* * *

They check in with the local sheriff the next morning, then split up to cover most of an office complex, prodding some apathetic desk jockeys about their co-worker’s improbable and unspeakably gory death. Typically, it doesn’t seem like anyone had much of a relationship with the dearly departed (and disemboweled) Frank Whitaker. So, not much in the way of leads, but at least no one’s too busted up about the whole gruesome ordeal either. After the dozenth statement from a clueless intern, Dean gives up on his end of the search and goes to look for Cas, wondering if he’s had better luck.

Cas has the physical acuity part of hunting down, but interviewing witnesses and next of kin is still a bit of a process. Social interaction might not ever be Cas’s strong suit, but he’s not an idiot, and he’s more motivated than ever, now that he’s fully committed to the life. Hell, sometimes the interviewees even take to Cas more than they do to Dean – Cas is probably a lot better at selling ‘earnest concern,’ at this point.

More often than Dean likes to dwell on, it’s an attractive woman that takes a liking to Cas. Dean’s always a bit put out by that, and he tells himself it’s because he’s used to being the one to get that kind of attention.

Today’s no exception to that pattern, it seems. Dean finds Cas chatting with a slender redhead in human resources who, for all that she seems the ‘soft-spoken’ type, is quite obviously flirting with Cas. He tamps down a childish urge to interrupt and hangs back, waiting until Cas wraps up.

Cas finds him pacing outside the front entrance.

“This was a waste of time,” Dean says immediately – he can already tell by Cas’s face that he doesn’t have anything either. “Guess we should talk to the family?”

Cas sighs. “No next of kin that anyone knows of. He lived alone.”

“Shit,” Dean says emphatically. Cas has nothing else to add, but he nods in solidarity.

After a moment Dean says, “So, uh, HR lady seemed pretty into you,” almost without meaning to. Honestly, he already wishes he could take it back.

Cas shrugs. “I suppose.”

“You gonna go for it?” Dean mentally smacks himself for not just dropping it. Why can’t he just leave it the hell alone?

Dean’s half-expecting the whole befuddled, head-tilting I’m not sure what you mean by ‘go for it’ routine.

“No,” Cas says bluntly. He does look mildly confused by Dean’s question, but he in no way sounds uncertain about his answer.

“No? Why not, man? She was pretty cute. Bet she’d give you her number, no problem.” Dean’s not sure what he’s hoping to get out of this, why he’s pushing so hard.

“Because I’m not interested in her,” Cas sounds exasperated now, and when Dean’s feeling brave enough to look at him instead of his own feet shuffling awkwardly on the concrete, he nearly withers under the intensity of Cas’s gaze.

He doesn’t feel intuitive or optimistic enough to try to read between the lines and parse what he sees in Cas’s expression. He clears his throat. “Uh, okay. It’s cool, I get it,” he says, uncertain if he really does. He’s anxious to get out of there, as if any sanctuary awaits him in the Impala or the motel room. “Can’t all be your type, I guess.”

He doesn’t know what kind of response he’d been angling for with his interrogation, exactly, but if he had to guess, whatever that was, that was probably it.

* * *

They’re tired, hungry, and discouraged by the time they head back to the room. The takeout’s on its way (Cas insisted on Chinese – he didn’t get to ‘enjoy’ it the last time they’d had it) and the air’s filled with a deafening, stony silence. Dean would try to drum up some discussion about the case so he doesn’t have to hear how quiet it is, save for the rattling hum of the AC unit, but their work today had been so utterly fruitless that there’s nothing new to talk about.

Cas is seated at the tiny kitchenette table, absorbed in something on his phone, and Dean’s pacing again, pulling anxiously at his tie. He crosses the room one more time to toss the tie on his bed, and stumbles over one of Cas’s shoes.

“Jesus Christ, Cas, can you not leave your shit all over the floor?” he says, louder than necessary. It’s actually genuine annoyance that gets him to say it, but the sight of Cas’s shirtsleeves rolled up at the forearm isn’t helping matters.

Cas glances up from the screen, looking totally unmoved. “They’re shoes, where would you like me to put them? On the table?”

The fact that Cas doesn’t put up with his bullshit is probably a good thing, but right now Dean’s having trouble remembering why.

Cas isn’t finished. “You know, if I do something wrong, or I do something to upset you, there must be nicer ways of telling me.”

“Yeah? Cause you always respond so well to polite criticism?” He doesn’t know why he’s bothering – he’s got nowhere to run here, no door to slam behind him, unless he’s going to storm out and take the Impala but hell, he’s not that dramatic.

Things feel like they’re escalating, and Dean’s got no idea where they’re headed. He’s afraid to find out. He’s gearing up for whatever biting remark Cas is about to make, but it never comes.

Cas sighs and puts down his phone, scrubbing a hand over his face in an achingly human way. “Are we really going to do this the whole time we’re here?”

That shuts Dean down real quick. He’s rooted to the spot now, paralyzed with the realization that Cas knows exactly what Dean has been doing with the petty arguments, knows exactly what this is. Dean should know better than to underestimate him. Some frivolous, social cues might still escape Cas, but that doesn’t mean he can’t see right through Dean.

Dean feels physically deflated. How long did he expect to keep this up? He’s been lashing out to cover up some uncomfortable feelings and that’s not fair to Cas – it’s not fair to him either. He’s just going to push Cas away for real, for good if he carries on like this. That’s not what he wants. He feels just as tired as Cas looks.

“No,” he says, finally. “No, we’re not.”

Cas looks mildly surprised that Dean accepted without protest. Maybe he can see the way Dean is trembling minutely, torn between fear and excitement at what the near future holds, now that his defense mechanisms are rapidly being dismantled and discarded. “Dean—”

The delivery man knocks on the door before Cas can finish that thought. Dean hardly touches his kung pao.

* * *

Another body turning up is never the break in the case that they hope for, but at least it gives them something to work with. The M.O. seems totally different, and Dean would almost be convinced that it’s just a coincidence that this Podunk town has seen two grisly murders in the past week – but something just feels off.

It’s probably a fucking shapeshifter, Dean thinks with distaste. He sees enough blood and guts in his line of work without having to deal with some humanoid pain in the ass, sloughing off sheets of slimy flesh.

They dutifully play FBI when the local law enforcement calls them in, pursue the usual avenues. Their leads aren’t any more productive than last time, but at least the late Shauna Perkins actually had friends and family for them to speak to.

Dean’s no closer to solving this case than he is to figuring out where the hell he and Cas stand right now.

He meant it when he resolved to knock it off with the asshole commentary, but he hadn’t stopped to think about what’s supposed to happen instead. That… that pull that he feels is infinitely worse, now that they’ve cleared the air of prickliness and petty bickering – maybe even subtly acknowledged what the true source of tension is between them. It’s probably not as subtle of an acknowledgment as Dean would like to think. Neither of them can fully feign ignorance anymore, but it’s not… it’s not going further than that. Dean’s too chickenshit, no less terrified now that they’re being more civil, more… warm, exchanging friendly smiles and touches that linger. He manages to bite back the snide, irrelevant remark when he notices Cas’s gaze drop to his mouth, but he still guards himself, takes a physical step back, palms sweaty.

That afternoon they take a quick break, sucking down weak coffee at the local diner. They’re in a tiny booth and their knees keep knocking together under the table. Dean’s hopelessly distracted by Cas’s hands and mouth the entire time, and Cas catches his eyes wandering.

Dean panics and overcompensates by deciding to flirt outrageously with their waitress. She is pretty cute – nice smile and oh, blue eyes, he likes those – but he’d be lying if he said he was really interested.

“Can I get you boys anything else?” she asks pleasantly.

“How about your phone number?” Dean asks, with a faltering grin, managing none of the bravado that a cheesy, over-the-top line like that really needs. It’s the kind of thing that might’ve worked when he was younger, or if he actually had his heart in it, but either way she doesn’t look particularly impressed.

“…How about I bring you your check?” she asks with an arched eyebrow, and Christ, he feels like even she’s onto his bullshit.

“Yeah, thanks,” he mumbles, thoroughly shamefaced. He considers apologizing, but that would mean admitting that he’s acting like a tool. He’ll leave her a generous tip instead.

He can’t quite read the expression on Cas’s face – somewhere between thoughtful and annoyed – and he finds he’s not really sure what reaction he’d been hoping for.

Downtime at the motel room is nearly torturous. By the time they’re a few more days and a couple more bodies into the case, Dean thinks he’s going to lose his mind.

It’s the little things, minor moments that keep piling up, accumulating – like how some evenings, when they’re too tired to work anymore, they watch TV together back in the room, on their respective beds, and Dean has this absurd sensation that Cas is too far away from him, but stops that train of thought as soon as it starts.

Or when Cas takes his turn in the shower, and Dean practically bites a hole through the inside of his cheek, trying not to think about Cas getting undressed, completely, just beyond a splintering door teetering off its hinges.

Or when they’re crowded together around a laptop on Dean’s bed, when the files spread around them have gotten to be too much for the tiny kitchen table. There are a couple of traceable patterns in these unexplained deaths, but nothing universally consistent. The best Dean can come up with is some kind of hybrid, heretofore-unseen-in-reality creature like… like a chimera, or something. Cas doesn’t seem convinced.

He keeps poring over the notes while Dean soaks up the warmth of Cas so close to him. They’re using the same soap but it smells better on Cas, for some reason.

Both of them are fighting drooping eyelids by the time they decide to give up for the night.

“Welp,” Dean says, reaching his arms over his head and stretching luxuriously. “Better clear all this crap off if I want somewhere to sleep tonight,” he’s just babbling at this point, half-delirious with exhaustion and Cas’s close proximity.

He makes the mistake of turning in Cas’s direction. Cas gives him an inscrutable look, then unmistakably eyes his own bed over Dean’s shoulder, perfectly pristine.

Dean squirms at the implication, but if Cas isn’t going to say it, then he’s not about to either. He clears his throat, already getting to his feet. “You gonna help or not?”

* * *

They last another day before Dean concedes that they might need some assistance. Sam picks up on the third ring.

“Seriously? You haven’t even narrowed it down yet?”

Dean doesn’t really appreciate Sam’s disbelief, right now. “The deaths are inconsistent as hell,” he says defensively – the fact that he’s been… preoccupied has nothing to do with their lack of progress. “Just when we think something’s starting to make sense, a new stiff turns up at the morgue and fucks it all up.”

Sam sighs. “All right, well, my ankle’s mostly better if you want me to head out. Maybe you need a fresh pair of eyes.”

Dean comes up short for a minute. A few days ago, he would have jumped at the opportunity to get Sam over here. Now, he’s not so sure. “Nah, man, twelve hours is kind of a hike, isn’t it?” He’d really only meant to have Sam consult from afar but, shit, it’s not like they’ve got much for him to go on.

“I’m actually not quite that far away right now,” Sam says, sounding a bit sheepish. “Caught wind of something creepy-sounding in Illinois and decided to check it out.” Sam always gives Dean shit for not being able to say away from work, but he’s just as bad sometimes. “Turns out both deaths were run-of-the-mill homicides. Well, not run-of-the-mill, exactly – there are some sick people out there – but you know what I mean.”

Dean’s losing the ability to contribute anything meaningful to this conversation.

“Anyway,” Sam continues, unperturbed by Dean’s silence, “I could leave early tomorrow, get there around… 11? You know, if, uh… If you want.”

Dean doesn’t know when Sam started being so concerned about what he wants, but he doesn’t push the issue, worried it’s going to turn into a discussion he does not want to have, especially not over the phone.

The urge to tell Sam, we’re good, don’t worry about it is strong, but the body count is climbing and he’s starting to feel personally responsible. “We’re pretty stumped,” he admits – if nothing else, maybe Sam’s presence will keep him a little more focused on the actual case.

“Well,” Sam says magnanimously, “I’ll see what I can do. Talk to you tomorrow, Dean.”

Dean hangs up and turns to look at Cas, equally slumped and defeated on his own bed. “Sam’s coming tomorrow.”

“Oh,” is all Cas has to say to that, apparently, his expression and tone of voice equally unreadable. Dean thinks maybe he detects a note of disappointment, but his tired brain is probably just playing tricks on him.

A silence falls, the kind of tense, vaguely thrilling silence that Dean usually ruins or runs away from, and he still hasn’t quite figured out the alternative. “Hey, why don’t we hit that bar down the block, grab a couple of beers?” That’s something a two friends would do, right? It’s not like they’re making any progress on the case right now. “I think the game’s on,” he adds, as if that’s extra incentive – even he has no idea what ‘game’ he’s talking about.

“All right,” Cas says with a shrug.

It’s baseball, apparently. Dean’s never been good at keeping up with sports. The local joint is a standard, unremarkable dive, and they sit at the bar while Cas watches the screen with polite attentiveness, like he does with most things. Dean can’t really pay attention to it. They nurse their beers and work their way through a few plates of typically mediocre pub fare, making casual conversation, and it all feels relatively normal – the kind of thing a couple of guys would do. He briefly considers making a comment to Cas about the hot bartender, just to complete the effect, but the idea of it puts a sour feeling in his stomach.

By the time the game’s over, Dean’s scanning the crowd around the pool tables, looking for an easy mark. He could use a few extra bills to cover some more drinks – beer’s not cutting it right now. A group of frat boys from the local college immediately attracts his attention. They look like cliché trust fund babies – half the school buildings are probably named after their ancestors – all grown up into something just barely resembling adults.

He nudges Cas and nods his head in their direction. Cas grins and is out of his seat without another word. He’s got a bizarre gift for hustling pool – god knows he’s able to appear unassuming when he wants to – and he’s surprisingly eager to show off about it too.

It’s not long before he’s back, grinning wider than before and triumphantly slapping a wad of cash on the bar in front of Dean.

“I was hoping for more of a challenge,” he says, smirking at Dean, then signaling to the bartender. “I almost feel guilty, taking money from children.”

Dean barks out a laugh. “If it makes you feel any better, they probably didn’t earn any of that money anyway. They can always ask dear old daddy for more.”

The bartender puts two glasses in front of them and pours out some whiskey. “In that case, perhaps I should see if they want a rematch,” Cas says, knocking back his drink in one go.

“Bet they’d take you up on that,” Dean says, after he downs his own drink, a warmth suffusing his body that has nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with Cas’s firm thigh pressed flush against Dean’s. “I think you bruised their poor little egos.”

Cas raises his eyebrows. “Hmm, should I?” Playful self-assuredness is a good look on him.

Dean laughs again. “Settle down, slick, give ‘em a break,” He puts a placating hand on Cas’s arm, without even realizing what he’s doing. He doesn’t move it. “Hey, uh,” he hesitates until Cas stops eyeing his latest victims and starts eyeing Dean instead, “Why don’t we settle up and head back to the room?” It sounds… suggestive, coming out of his mouth like that. He’d been planning on a few more rounds, especially with their reinvigorated cash flow, but now he just wants to get out of here, and take Cas with him.

Cas looks at him thoughtfully, more serious now. The silence makes Dean nervous, has him licking his lips reflexively – Cas’s eyes track the movement, there’s no mistaking it. “All right,” he says at last, sounding considerably more interested than when he’d agreed to go out. He drops a few twenties onto the bar, practically ushering Dean off of his stool and out of the bar.

* * *

The motel room door closes behind them with an unnaturally loud click. Dean’s not drunk, by any stretch of the imagination, just pleasantly buzzed, and Cas isn’t a lightweight anymore either, but it’s enough to get their walls down, to smooth the residual, hostile tension between them into something less jagged but no less heady and compelling. Dean puts some distance between them to get his swimming head under control, far enough away for Cas to give him a leisurely once over. Dean nearly whimpers at how agonizingly good that makes him feel, to have Cas looking at him like that.

It’s absurdly obvious now, what they’re dancing around – both of them know it, even if no one’s going to talk about it. Dean sure as hell isn’t going to.

He’s more about taking action, in these situations, hardly one to beat around the bush when it comes to this kind of thing. They’re alone, truly alone right now, and Dean’s given up on actively sabotaging this, so what’s stopping them what’s fucking stopping them? But this— this isn’t his usual hook up or strike out scenario, though it’s been a long time since that’s been his approach. This is Cas for Christ’s sake.

All his common sense – or fear, he can’t even tell the difference anymore – comes back in an overwhelming rush.

Even if they don’t talk about it, it would still be… this would still be an enormous step. Dean would be putting it all out there, laying everything on the table. This is a life-changing, maybe forever kind of deal and he’s just – that’s… he doesn’t know if he can. Maybe this isn’t the time. Maybe it won’t ever be the time for something like that.

“We should, um,” he puts his hand on Cas’s arm again, and Dean’s resolve momentarily wavers, derailed by the flexing muscle under his fingers. “We should – I should probably get to bed. To sleep,” he’s rambling, what a fucking disaster this is, “Y’know, work to do tomorrow.” He pulls away suddenly, before he can change his mind. He can’t really meet Cas’s eyes, right now.

Cas sighs and scrubs a hand over his face. “Yes, of course. Work.”

Dean thinks he detects a note of sarcasm, but he chooses to ignore it.

He averts his eyes, scrambling out of his extraneous clothing and under the blankets, just like he did on their first night here. When Cas follows his lead and they’re both lying there in the dark, Dean tells himself he’s not disappointed.

He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to be able to sleep right now. He’s not sure how long he’s been trying when the sound of Cas’s voice gets his attention.

“Dean,” he says, one low, rumbling syllable. Just hearing his name in that voice, when he’s already in bed and half-dressed has Dean breathing a little heavier.

He turns his head to look over his shoulder, as if he could see anything in the darkness of the room. “Yeah?”

Dean almost thinks he can sense Cas’s apprehension, but maybe that’s bullshit, or…  or hopefulness. A beat passes, but it feels like it stretches on interminably, and he’s suddenly a bit irritable over the way it’s making his heart pound. “What, Cas?”

After another beat, Dean hears a sigh – quiet, but unmistakable. “Never mind. Good night, Dean.”

Dean won’t even deny being disappointed now, barely restrains himself from pushing the issue and coaxing something out of Cas, even if the thought of what he might say is as terrifying as it is tantalizing. It would be so easy to persist, to ask Cas what he was going to say, to throw aside the covers and crawl right in with him like Cas had been all but offering the night before. He lets the silence hang there instead.

It’s a long time before Dean falls asleep. This is the last night they’ll have alone before Sam arrives, and Dean doesn’t do anything, but he certainly thinks about it. God, he thinks about it a lot.

* * *

They sleep in the next morning and roll out of bed for a late breakfast at the diner across the street. Cas is slightly quieter than usual, and Dean can’t help but feel like he really fucked things up last night. He starts to wonder if Cas has given up, but considering the way he’s looking at Dean, it doesn’t seem likely.

They wander back into the room and Dean’s pacing, fiddling with their notes where they’re stacked on the nightstand, making his bed for no damn reason. Sam should be here relatively soon.

Almost as soon as he thinks it, his phone rings. He fishes it out of his pocket and talks to Sam, leaning against the kitchenette table and trying to ignore how Cas is lounging on his own bed, watching him.

When he hangs up, Cas is standing a few paces away. “Was that Sam?”

“Yep.”

“He’s… going to be here soon?”

“In a little bit, yeah. He’s gonna call when he’s outside.”

The pauses between each exchange feel weighty and significant – he knows what they’re both thinking, about Sam’s arrival being so close.

Cas seems to gravitate closer, and Dean picks up a takeout menu on the table behind him. “So, uh, I was thinking we’d try that pizza place around the corner tonight. Y’know, unless Sam’s feelin’ burgers or something,” he mumbles, unsteadily.

“Dean.”

Dean doesn’t look up, continues staring fixedly at overexposed pictures of under-ripe tomatoes. “We could – we could get sandwiches instead, if you’re sick of pizza. Or calzones. Or something, y’know, change it up a little.”

“Dean,” Cas says again, right in Dean’s space now. Dean can’t ignore him anymore. He’s hypnotized by the way Cas is looking at him, like he did last night, no less intoxicating in the light of day, totally sober.

Dean blinks and looks away almost immediately, licking his lips. He’s crushing the menu in his fingers now, not saying anything, but not moving away or intervening either – he could, easily, just to stop the embarrassing thudding of his heart, terrified and… exhilarated beyond all coherent thought. He waits, breathing shallowly, and meets Cas’s gaze again.

Cas makes a noise, somewhere between exasperation and frustration, takes Dean’s face between his hands, and kisses him firmly on the mouth. The paper in Dean’s hand goes fluttering to the floor.

Cas’s lips move against his with gentle but insistent pressure. Dean barely gets the chance to properly reciprocate before Cas pulls back, far too soon. He watches Dean thoughtfully, thumb softly stroking his Dean’s cheek like he can’t quite help himself, like he’s done it a thousand times before.

Dean waits again, thinking Cas is going to say something, but then he realizes – Cas is giving him an out. He’s giving Dean a chance to say he doesn’t want this, to push Cas away, to shut this down for good, and Dean – Dean isn’t taking it, no goddamn way. Even he isn’t stubborn or… cowardly enough to back out now. Fuck, he wants this, wants it so badly that his hands are shaking, but still sure, when he grips Cas’s shirt and hauls him closer, pressing their mouths together again.

He sags against Cas’s firm body, makes a noise of relief and utter satisfaction that Cas echoes. Dean’s still trembling faintly, completely overwhelmed by how good, how right it feels to be in Cas’s arms, have him warm and solid beneath his fingertips. Cas tastes like cinnamon and maple syrup, traces of the French toast he had for breakfast.

The proverbial dam’s been broken, and there’s no going back now. The whole confronting his feelings aspect of it gives Dean pause, but this part, at least, he knows how to do, and Cas is readily matching his enthusiasm. Cas isn’t exactly very experienced with this stuff – not compared to Dean, anyway – but that doesn’t seem to be slowing him down in the slightest. Cas was obviously holding back at first, unsure how Dean would respond, but now he’s eagerly pressing Dean against the edge of the table, languidly sliding their tongues together.

Dean’s hardly shy about these things, but he’s the more reserved one right now, terrified, mindful of the sheer gravity of this moment. Cas only grows more confident each time he presses his lips to Dean’s. He’s a hell of a quick study if Dean’s ever seen one, and every fantasy Dean’s ever had is being rapidly rewritten, infinitely more exciting than he’d dared to imagine before he knew what it would actually be like to kiss Cas.

Cas lets his lips wander, kissing his way across Dean’s cheek, mouthing roughly at his jawline and further down, settling at his throat. Dean lets out a shuddering moan as Cas affixes his mouth to a particularly weak spot, a hint of teeth that has him desperately gripping Cas’s broad shoulders for purchase. It’s been a long time since he’s felt stubble rough against his neck, scraping the delicate skin, and he’s realizing how much he’s missed it, how badly he wants more.

Cas touches him without an ounce of inhibition or hesitation, unafraid to experiment, to see how Dean reacts to calloused fingers sneaking under his shirt and roughly brushing across his nipple, or threading through his hair and gripping none too gently. Cas is fervently watching his reactions, dedicated to learning him, finding all the little secrets that make him gasp, stifle a moan, pull Cas closer, or let out a pleasured hiss that Cas only briefly mistakes for discomfort.  

Dean doesn’t think he’s ever gotten so worked up so quickly, just from kissing, just from the pressure of a warm body against him. The table scrapes backward a few inches as Cas presses against him insistently, like he’s trying to get even closer, wants to get inside him and fuck, if that doesn’t give Dean ideas.

Cas tugs at his hair again and pinches a nipple between his fingers, hips rolling against Dean’s with urgency. A whine tries to claw its way out of Dean’s throat when Cas pulls his lips away from Dean’s mouth.

Cas seems breathless, maybe as overwhelmed as Dean but totally unafraid. He looks ravenous, and god, Dean’s so hard right now, they both are, fuck, Cas is hard for him, he can feel that every time Cas roughly shoves up against him. Cas’s eyes are intense and determined, but for all that he seems impatient, he doesn’t rush, content to take his time. Dean gets it, the feeling of being afraid for it to be over, that this is the only chance they’ll get, but shit, they’re kind of on the clock here.

Cas rucks up Dean’s shirt even further, revealing more skin to his eager fingers, and Dean does the same, loving how firm and smooth Cas feels under his hands. Their bare stomachs touch when Cas leans in for another kiss, and Dean wishes again that they had more time – that they could take this to someone’s bed, strip down entirely, every naked inch exposed to each other’s greedy eyes, pressed together so completely there would scarcely be enough room to breathe between them.

Cas trails his fingers along Dean’s belly, flesh twitching under his touch, and lower, grazing Dean’s waistband. He fits one large hand to the front of Dean’s jeans, fingertips tracing the shape of him where he’s straining against the zipper, palm torturously hot through the fabric. Dean’s hips stutter into it, and he whimpers into Cas’s mouth.

Cas squeezes gently, slides his hand along Dean’s length a few times, and even that simple touch through the threadbare denim is agonizingly good. When Cas withdraws his fingers, Dean’s moments away from either protesting or shamelessly pleading for more.

Cas doesn’t ask, exactly, just mutters Dean’s name in a low rumble, fingers poised over Dean’s belt and Dean’s gasping yeah, yeah into his mouth without a second thought.

Cas makes quick work of undoing the buckle, teasingly unbuttoning his jeans and easing the zipper down. Dean’s panting, bunching up Cas’s shirt in his hands, as Cas takes hold of the waistband of his underwear, pulling the fabric out of the way and curling his fingers around Dean’s cock.

Dean swears he almost loses it right there, just from Cas’s firm grip on him. Cas isn’t inexperienced at this, at least, and yeah, Dean’s thinking of the long showers now, is never going to get the damn image out of his head. Cas strokes him confidently, just the right side of too rough, eased only by the sweat of his own palm and the steady leaking of Dean’s cock.

Dean manages to compose himself long enough to get Cas’s pants open, fucking thrills at the weight of Cas’s cock in his hand, Cas’s low groan resonating in his ear.

He’s already thrusting into Cas’s hold, trying to give as good as he gets, matching Cas’s pace, thumb smearing the fluid at the head. It’s too much, finally getting his hands on Cas like this, having Cas’s mouth all over him. He has no hope of lasting, Cas’s hands are everywhere, smoothing over his chest to pinch a nipple again, slipping beneath the back of his jeans to firmly squeeze his ass.

Dean feels like he’s fucking falling apart but Cas – Cas isn’t unaffected, certainly, but he’s steady, unwavering, taking charge. Dean’s as grateful as he is unbelievably turned on by Cas’s assertiveness. Dean’s never been with someone so ruthlessly determined to make it good for him. He’s used to performing, putting on the ‘moves’ – and with Cas, especially, he’d thought he’d be showing him how it’s done – but he’s not… he’s not trying to impress Cas, here. Cas is glad just to be doing this with him.

Cas is growling a steady stream of adoration into his ear now, both painfully sincere and shamelessly filthy – telling Dean how good he feels, how delighted he is to be able to touch him like this. It leaves Dean shaking with arousal and raw emotion that he is not about to own up to, not right now.

Cas speeds up, leaving Dean gasping, and softly kisses the shell of Dean’s ear before continuing with his litany. “I’ve wanted this for a long time,” he says, pausing again to kiss Dean thoroughly, “Want to make you come.”

Dean whines aloud at that, tightens his grip. “Cas.”

It doesn’t take long – couldn’t possibly, with Cas’s hand, brutally perfect, his words ringing in Dean’s ear. Dean buries his face against Cas’s neck, coming with a muffled moan, hips twitching restlessly as he spills into Cas’s hand and all over his own stomach. Cas coaxes him through as he floats back down to earth, stroking his back and murmuring words that Dean can’t quite make out right now, though they sound warm and soothing.

Cas is still unbelievably hard beneath Dean’s fingers, and he doesn’t seem all that concerned about it, but Dean is, resumes his ministrations once his racing heart is under control, wants Cas to feel good too.

He doesn’t even realize he’s murmuring a constant hum of yeah, yeah, c’mon until Cas cuts him off with an answering Dean, and fuck, hearing Cas say his name like that is almost enough to get him going again.

He’s vibrating with anticipation, anxious to see it, to see Cas fall apart – wants that tangible evidence of what Dean does to him, wants it dripping from his fingers.

Cas makes a sound when he tips over the edge that Dean wants to remember forever, or hear every day for the rest of his life. He can’t look away from how Cas’s face is slack from pleasure, the way he thrusts into Dean’s fist, adding to the mess on Dean’s belly.

After a few moments, he sighs against Dean’s cheek, kisses his flushed face affectionately.  Cas pulls back just a bit to look at him, and Dean has no idea what to say, but Cas seems content to not say anything, gazing at him fondly and gently stroking his hair.

Dean can’t remember the last time anyone touched him with such tenderness or such care. Maybe it’s never actually happened before. It’s so nice to be touched that way at all, let alone the fact that it’s Cas doing it, and all at once he’s shaking again – so fucking scared but so… so happy, and scared all over again, at how quickly that happiness could go away.

Cas puts his hands on Dean like he can’t get enough and… Dean’s okay with that, as it turns out. It’s hard to trust it – he never gets to have things like this – but he’s pliant and content enough to indulge in the moment, to let his trembling be soothed into stillness by Cas’s fingers soft in his hair, kisses gentle on his cheek. He only wishes they had more time for this, for him and Cas to just be near each other, more time for Cas to just hold him. That’s a thought that would normally embarrass him, but right now, he can’t bring himself to care.

It’s quiet, save for their still-ragged breathing. Dean reels Cas in again and they kiss lazily. The urgency is gone, but the moment certainly hasn’t left them.

All of a sudden, Dean’s phone buzzes, alarmingly loud on the Formica, and Dean breaks the kiss with a startled gasp. “Shit,” he hisses, trying to get his heart to start beating again.

He gropes around on the table behind him and picks up on the fourth ring. “Yeah?” he says, thankful for small miracles – he only sounds marginally breathless.

“Hey, I’m here.”

His brother’s voice isn’t exactly the first thing Dean wants to hear when he’s still half-dressed and mourning the interruption of the afterglow. “Yeah,” he says in one stilted syllable, warily eyeing the window, relieved to see that the blinds are drawn, “Yeah, okay.”

“Uh,” Sam says after a moment, “Are you gonna let me in, or…?”

“Yeah, just,” Dean grabs a handful of napkins from their takeout the other night, wiping his stomach down with a grimace. Cas shuffles off towards the bathroom – Dean misses his warmth immediately – and closes the door. Dean can hear the sink running. “Just, uh, just gimme a…” he trails off,  scans the room for the trash can and shoves the used napkins as far down as they’ll go, crumpling up a few clean ones on top for good measure.

“You… busy or something?” Sam asks, and Dean is in no mood to try to interpret his tone.

No,” he says, far too quickly, “I'm just—” he pulls up his zipper and hastily re-buckles his belt, “Jesus, Sammy, hold your damn horses,” he says irritably, hanging up and heading for the door, trying to smooth his hair out.

When he yanks the door open, Sam’s standing outside, already looking at him funny. Dean tries not to let it faze him – he’s doing a terrible job playing it cool as it is.

“You okay?” Sam asks as he steps into the room, sporting those irritating raised eyebrows.

“Fine, why?” Not being able to meet Sam’s eyes probably isn’t making Dean look any less suspicious.

“You just seem,” Sam eyes him for a moment – Dean braces himself for something, not that he knows what – but Sam only sighs. “Never mind.”

Sam crosses the room and plops into a kitchen chair. While his back is turned Dean’s fingers stray to his neck self-consciously, where he can still feel Cas’s mouth against the delicate skin. The more he thinks about it, the more certain he is that he must look unbelievably debauched. Maybe Sam’s just polite enough not to say anything.

“So,” Sam starts, drawing out the word, extending his long legs, making himself comfortable, “You guys getting along okay?”

“Why wouldn’t we?” Defensiveness most likely isn’t helping his case either.

“Oh, you know,” he pauses, smiling faintly, like he knows he’s about to say something that’ll get under Dean’s skin, “The squabbling.”

“We do not—” He manages to stop himself this time, seeing Sam’s eyebrows climb annoyingly higher. “It’s fine,” he says, aiming for composed and casual this time, “We worked it out.”

Sam only looks more pleased with himself. “You worked it out, huh?”

Dean doesn’t know what the fuck that’s supposed to mean – well, he can guess, but he’s going to feign obliviousness for the sake of his own dignity. He’s struggling for a reply when the bathroom door swings open.

Cas strides out and says, “Hello, Sam,” calm as anything, while Dean’s hurtling towards a full-blown freakout.

“Hey, Cas.”

Dean’s internal panic is so much worse now that Cas’s in the room and Sam’s eyes are darting between them. He’s trying not to look nervous and guilty as fuck because Sam’s got to know, he’s got to know what they were just doing – Cas is always mildly disheveled to begin with but it looks incriminating and obscene now, and Dean’s undoubtedly a mess from Cas’s fingers in his hair, lips on his throat, Sam can probably fucking smell it on them.

He’s vaguely worried Cas might say something amiss and give them away. Cas is getting better at social cues but this would be a hell of a time to find out just how deep his tactlessness runs.

Dean’s not ashamed, exactly, but there’s such a thing as discretion – like not letting Sam know that five minutes ago they were jerking each other off against the very table where he’s currently sitting.

An awkward silence has only just begun to settle in, but Dean can’t fucking stand it for one more second. “So,” he says to Sam, far too loudly. “You staying here?”

The smirk finally falls from Sam’s face as his eyebrows knit together. “Uh,” he says, apparently caught off guard, “You want me to? Won’t it be a little, um, crowded in here?”

This is actually one of the roomier motels they’ve been in, but it would be a good time to agree, yeah, bit cramped, maybe you should book your own room. Instead Dean says, “That’s what we usually do,” already back on the defensive.

“Well, yeah, but—”

“But what?” Dean challenges, cutting him off, just to be a dick about it, just to make a point of how aggressively he’s pretending that everything is normal. If Sam suspects something’s amiss, Dean doesn’t want to hear about it. Although, knowing Sam, he wouldn’t come right out and say it now anyway.

Sam deflates, either beginning to doubt whatever train of thought he was on or recognizing Dean’s stubborn denial when he sees it. “I just didn’t want to get in the middle of you two arguing,” he says. There’s the slightest hitch and hesitation before arguing, like he had intended to say something else. Dean chalks it up to his own paranoia.

Cas clears his throat. “Do you need any help with your things, Sam?”

“Thanks, Cas,” Sam says, only briefly glancing in Cas’s direction as he and Dean stare defiantly at one another. “But I got it.”

Dean looks at Cas apologetically when Sam heads out to his car. He’s just not ready to talk to Sam about this, to have that conversation. Hell, maybe there isn’t even a conversation to be had – Sam’s not slow on the uptake, and even Dean can admit he and Cas weren’t particularly subtle. If he’s got any marks on his neck, he’s sure Sam noticed – he just hopes he didn’t miss any stray fluids while he was sloppily putting himself back together.

Sam will find out one way or another. Dean’s in absolutely no hurry for him to be clued in anytime soon. The selfish part of him that wants to keep this a secret – something special, something intimate, just between him and Cas – gets increasingly persistent the longer he stares into Cas’s eyes.

* * *

Sam tries to make sense of their scattered notes and case files while Cas and Dean check in with the sheriff’s department about the two bodies that were called in overnight. One’s a fairly textbook definitely-not-anything-human kind of deal – a corpse with a hollowed out chest cavity. The second victim had an unfortunate encounter with an 18-wheeler, in circumstances neither the friends nor family can make any sense of. All the driver has to say is, “I swear, she came out of no where,” wringing the brim of his stereotypical hat between his nicotine-stained fingers. It could be irrelevant, possibly self-inflicted or truly accidental, but it’s the third scenario like that they’ve seen since they got here, and coincidences don’t really play well with this line of work.

Dean’s frustrated. The job, of course, is starting to give him a headache – has been for a while, though he’s been a bit preoccupied. And then there’s Cas. This afternoon the two of them have proceeded with the usual protocol – interviewing, visiting the morgue, traipsing around crime scenes – and Cas has been nothing but clinically professional, even with Dean.

It sets Dean’s teeth on edge, even if he can’t quite nail down why. He’s not sure what he expected, certainly wasn’t about to go strolling down the street arm in arm with Cas anyway, regardless of Cas’s behavior, but –

He reels it back a bit, stifles that nagging voice that throws around words like offended and hurt, reminds him how quickly Cas scurried away from him when Sam called. He tells himself that if Cas is acting indifferent, he’s probably just doing it for Dean’s benefit.

They’re done with their last interview for the day, and an excruciating silence ensues when they hop back in the car and the doors click closed.

“We gonna talk about this?” Dean asks after a moment or two of them staring at each other. It goes against every self-protective instinct that he has, but Cas has been acting too normal while Dean suffers one internal crisis after another. It just doesn’t seem right.

Cas, to his credit, seems to realize Dean’s not referring to the case. “What’s to talk about?” he says eventually, expression blank.

Dean wasn’t anticipating that response, doesn’t even know what that’s supposed to mean or how he’s supposed to deal with the sinking feeling in his gut. “Guess you worked it out of your system, huh?” he blurts out all of a sudden, affecting a hollow laugh, and he – he didn’t even realize how worried he was about that until he said it, until it just flew out of his mouth, leaving him sitting there, hoping that comment was vague and out of the blue enough that Cas will have no idea what the fuck he’s talking about.

“You—” Cas starts, eyes momentarily widening in apparent surprise. Dean averts his gaze, stares stubbornly through the windshield. “Did you honestly think I was… done with you?” Cas asks, tone calm but disbelieving. “Is that some sort of joke?” God help them both, that doesn’t even sound rhetorical coming out of Cas’s mouth, like he’s genuinely so baffled by the idea that he thinks Dean must be fucking with him.

Dean clenches his jaw, tightens his grip on the steering wheel – he can’t even look at Cas right now, thoroughly embarrassed by his own neediness, jumping to conclusions and almost ruining everything again, and not even sort of on purpose this time.

He has no choice but to finally glance over when Cas cups his jaw in one rough palm, turning Dean’s face towards his. “As if I’d ever—” Cas stops mid-sentence and looks at him sternly. Dean’s idly thinking that he kinda likes that when Cas leans in and kisses him. Cas has obviously decided that’s easier than trying to reason with him – Dean sees that being exploited a lot in his future, and he can’t find it in him to complain.

When Cas pulls away all too soon, hand still cradling Dean’s face, there isn’t a speck of judgment in his eyes, only a fond but exasperated Dean you idiot sparkling under the surface. And okay, yeah, maybe his thinking wasn’t grounded in reason – thinking that after everything Cas has stuck with him through, he’d toss Dean to the curb after briefly getting their hands in each other’s pants. But he can’t help it, this whole thing is making him crazy – Cas makes him crazy.

“Did you still want to talk?” Cas asks, and Dean’s not even mad about how smug he sounds.

“Um,” he says intelligently. “No. I’m good. Unless you wanna add something?” Dean doesn’t usually go for the whole talking about his feelings business, but he might be up for hearing more about Cas’s – within reason.

Cas huffs out something vaguely sounding like a laugh, mouth turning up at one corner. “I’m not really thinking about talking right now,” he says quietly, thumb dipping down to fleetingly trace Dean’s bottom lip.

Dean grabs his tie and pulls him in again, not even caring that they’re parked in front of the victim’s apartment and the landlord could be watching them make out through the window.

“I like kissing you,” Cas says when they break apart again, and Dean instantly feels a flush rise to his face. It’s been a long time since anyone’s said something like that to him, longer than he can remember. Cas seems to be enchanted by the pink spreading across Dean’s cheeks, and looks at him with a soft smile that quickly turns wicked. His thumb strays to a spot just under Dean’s jaw, where Dean knows he’s got a mark from Cas’s mouth. It’s mostly hidden, but Cas must remember leaving it there. “I like doing other things with you too,” he says in Dean’s ear, voice pitched deep, bordering on a growl and oh fuck that is not remotely fair. “Things we, unfortunately, don’t have time for right now,” he adds with an audible pang of regret, one that Dean emphatically echoes. “But later,” he says, “When we’re not sharing a room with your brother.” He’s teasing Dean now, playfully annoyed but not genuinely angry. Dean doesn’t blame him – squandering every opportunity to keep the room to themselves was kind of a fuck-up on his part, but in his defense, he kind of panicked.

“Yeah. Later,” Dean says eagerly, because he likes the sound of that.

Cas kisses him one last time, slow and thorough. “There’s so much I want to do,” he whispers, and shit, Cas has actually thought about this, and Dean suddenly wants to hear it all, hissed into his ear while Cas touches him all over. He wants to know just how much Cas has fantasized, if it’s as much as he’s done himself and hell, it’s got to be more. Cas doesn’t seem to do the whole ‘repression’ thing.

Dean can only nod faintly in agreement, and Cas’s eyes dip down, like he’s thinking of kissing Dean again, but he pulls away instead, back to his side of the bench seat.

Dean starts the car, wants desperately to finish this case and go home already. He doesn’t exactly know what… this is going to be like, going forward, but for the time being, he’s not completely afraid to find out.

* * *

After arriving in Indiana, Sam had announced he’d make sense of this case, with confidence that could be mistaken for arrogance. He’s looking downright harried when Cas and Dean get back to the motel room.

“Dude, I fucking told you,” Dean says, pointing a finger in his brother’s downtrodden face.

“This can’t be as complicated as we’re making it,” Sam says resolutely.

Dean sneaks a glance at Cas. He was quiet for most of the ride back, and now Dean can see the gears working, brow knit in thought.

“Is it typical for a monster to attack two victims in one night?” Cas asks, and Dean recognizes that tone – he thinks he’s onto something, but he’s deferring to their experience.

Cas points out that the time of death for each victim occurred fairly close together – plenty of time in between for a motivated human to make it across town, but relatively unusual for an unnatural creature taking out its rage on the nearest thing with a heartbeat.

“So what are you saying?” Dean asks, exaggerating his impatience because he doesn’t want to get his hopes up. “There’s two monsters?”

Sam’s already digging through the case notes, understanding dawning on his face. They all take another look at the town map, marked up with a black X for each victim. On a second glance, two points of focus emerge instead of one like they’d originally thought – in a town this small, it was hard to tell.

From there it’s laughably easy to sort the kill patterns into two piles. One’s for the corpses with holes where their hearts used to be – a skinwalker, stalking victims at the local dog park. The second pile – described flippantly as other – needs a bit more deciphering. It’s a handful of files, containing possible suicides or accidents, with some reports of victims appearing addled not long before their deaths. They narrow it down to a wraith, of all things, scouting out its prey from commuters on the same bus route.

With the three of them putting their heads together they get it worked out in time to take care of business that very night, splitting up for maximum efficiency. It’s late by the time they’re back in the room and washed free of any excess gore, but Dean’s antsy, buzzing with post-hunt adrenaline, among other things.

“Let’s get a drink to celebrate, or something,” he announces in the middle of his pacing. “The bar down the block’s open til three.” No one says anything. “We’ve got extra cash,” he says to Sam, who’s sprawled out on the fold-up bed. “Cas totally humiliated some frat bros at pool last night, it was awesome,” he says with genuine pride and a wide grin, secretly pleased with the smile that the compliment puts on Cas’s face.

“You guys can go if you want,” Sam says, sounding aggressively uninterested, “But I’m going to sleep. Don’t wake me up when you stumble back in.”

That changes things – a lot – and Dean looks at Cas expectantly, praying he won’t plead exhaustion too. Cas follows him outside, and Dean feels a mix of relief and anticipation that stays with him even after they’re seated at the bar.

They don’t drink much, content to just be alone together for a while, it seems, even if they still have to play it safe here. Dean can’t fucking stop staring at Cas, doesn’t know how he’s supposed to keep his hands to himself, how he’s supposed to stop thinking about Cas’s hands all over him now that he knows what they feel like. They feel… good, as it turns out, and maybe that term is woefully inadequate but he’s not a fucking poet, or something – Cas would probably have a more elegant way of phrasing it, if his unusual brand of dirty talk is anything to go by.

Cas is no stranger to lingering gazes, and the way he looks at Dean has only intensified, encouraged by having things out in the open, by whatever Dean’s projecting in his own heated glances.

Dean would’ve thought that actually resolving some of the unbearable tension that had been building between them would lessen the urgency but he was so totally, unbelievably wrong. This does not in any way feel resolved. Dean doesn’t know what this thing is, exactly – they didn’t talk about it, after all – but it’s far from over, and he wants Cas so badly he can hardly breathe. Before, it was about sating his curiosity, so damn eager to find out what it would be like, to be with Cas, but now he knows and he’s practically crawling out of his skin with his desire to do it again.

He’s almost tempted to drag Cas into the men’s room, at this rate, but it’s not – it’s not a rushed hookup he’s after, he realizes. He wants – god – he wants the full experience, wants to know what it’s like to fall asleep next to Cas. That’s so… so embarrassing, and so many other things that he can’t process right now, at two in the morning, Cas’s thigh warm against his and reasonable comfort and privacy still out of reach, for the time being.

It’s a slow, quiet walk back to the motel room and Dean hesitates in front of the door. The urge to kiss Cas is strong, and Dean easily recognizes the same want in Cas’s eyes, now. But they won’t be able to stop, he won’t be able to stop, and this isn’t the place for it, where Sam could see, where anyone could see – it’s still so raw and new that it freaks him out a little.

Cas seems to get it. Dean can see the resigned understanding in his eyes edging out the lust. He gently strokes Dean’s arm, grasping Dean’s fingers with his other hand and squeezing reassuringly before letting him go, unlocking the door and letting them inside.

With Sam snoring away by their feet, they lie on their sides, in their respective beds, eyes still on each other, even in the dark. Dean can’t even see Cas properly, but he looks anyway, knowing Cas is looking back. He keeps it up for as long as he can manage, until his eyelids finally droop and he begins to drift off, wishing the gap between them would disappear, longing for home.

* * *

Sam’s up at some ungodly hour because he actually went to bed at a reasonable time. Dean can’t sleep with him stomping around the room, so they all decide to grab a bite at the diner instead of spending the morning tiredly grousing at one another.

They’re in no particular hurry with their breakfast – they usually stick around for another day or so, just to make sure shit’s actually taken care of, so they’ve got nothing but time to kill. They haven’t caught wind of any more deaths, and even though it’s still early, Dean’s feeling reasonably confident that they can close the lid on this one, thank god.

Sam and Cas had sat on opposite sides of the booth before Dean got a chance, and even though visibly choosing to sit next to Cas made him a little self-conscious, it was kind of a no-brainer. He doesn’t regret it – it’s worth it to be close to Cas like this, even if a ‘socially acceptable’ context is all they can get right now. Cas keeps touching his hand under the table – not holding it, exactly, just gently running his fingertips over Dean’s palm, the backs of his knuckles. Dean’s both grateful for the contact and even more restless that they’re still stuck here for at least another day.

“You know,” Sam says, clearing his throat. Dean snaps out of a daze he didn’t even know he was in, eyeing the stubble on Cas’s jaw and the soft curve of his mouth. If Sam noticed, he doesn’t give anything away. “You guys could head back, if you want. We don’t all have to stay.”

Dean and Cas exchange glances. Dean’s not about to make up some stupid excuse, at this point, just to avoid suspicion, or something like that. He doesn’t care – if there’s an opportunity for him and Cas to get the hell out of here, he’s fucking taking it.

“…You don’t mind?” Cas asks Sam, when Dean raises no protests.

“I can always call you if I need you. But honestly, if there’s a third monster in this place, I say we just skip town and quit the business forever, because that’s more than enough bullshit for one lifetime.”

Dean can’t help but agree.

* * *

Dean lets Cas drive most of the way, worried he won’t be able to focus on the road with the way his eyes have been wandering. Cas may still be the worse offender when it comes to the shameless staring, but he takes driving very seriously.

It’s a mostly quiet ride – not uncomfortable, but thrumming with an expectant energy that only increases as they put Indiana further behind them. Dean’s already squirming, just from Cas’s hand resting warm and heavy on his thigh.

They pull up in front of the bunker in silence, dragging their bags inside and down the hallway. They get to Dean’s room first and pause there, wordlessly eyeing one another for a moment before Dean steps through the door. He doesn’t protest or question it when Cas follows.

After they’ve dropped their luggage on the floor, Dean shuts the door behind them. Cas is watching him, and the silence is growing unbearable now. Dean finally meets Cas’s eyes and tries to say something – he only gets as far as an awkward, “Uh—” before Cas crosses the room in three determined strides, pushing Dean’s body against the door with his own, cupping Dean’s jaw and kissing him thoroughly. It’s barely been a day and half but Dean’s already missed this, Cas’s teeth nibbling at Dean’s bottom lip, Cas’s fingers scrubbing through his hair, that intoxicating mix of rough and gentle that makes Dean soft and pliant in his hands, weak-kneed.

“There’s no one else here, Dean,” Cas says when he pulls away and they’re breathing each other’s air. “I want you,” – Dean stifles a pitiful noise at that, the spoken admission of Cas’s desire for him burning hot in his belly – “I’m not wasting anymore time.”

And really, who the hell is Dean to argue with that?

Cas kisses him just as intensely as the first time, and Dean feels a frisson of delight at the realization that that passion comes from Cas, not from the time constraints or the threat of being caught. Cas touches him with calloused fingers, mouth against Dean’s throat, one muscular thigh working its way between both of Dean’s, rolling their hips together until Dean’s so worked up he aches, gasping into Cas’s mouth. Dean indulges in it for a moment before he takes Cas’s hand and leads him to the bed, lies back on the soft mattress and urges Cas to settle on top of him. Cas fits nicely between his spread thighs.

Cas pauses a moment, hands braced next to Dean’s head, and just looks at him, eyes full of hunger and something Dean’s still not ready to try to name. He focuses on getting the rest of Cas’s clothes off instead. Then Cas is looming over him, completely bare to Dean’s greedy eyes and so fucking hard, undressing Dean slowly, eyes traveling the full length of Dean’s body with heated approval, leaving Dean squirming with arousal. Cas lays Dean out on the sheets and kisses every inch of flesh he can get his mouth on, until Dean’s so close to begging that it would be embarrassing if it didn’t feel so good. He can’t get enough of Cas’s bare skin hot against his own, so much more fulfilling than the hasty, fumbling intimacy they’d shared yesterday. He pulls Cas closer, holds him tighter, arches into each touch.

Cas is fearless in his exploration, fully taking charge, and Dean relaxes into it, content to let Cas take the lead. He treats Dean’s body with such care and reverence, absolutely worships it, and Dean soaks up the attention, not sure he deserves it but smart enough to take what he can get.

Cas is already demonstrating what he’s learned about Dean’s weak points, sucking a mark into his neck, getting Dean to cry out sharply when he wanders lower and takes a nipple between his teeth.

They languidly rut against each other, little patience or energy for much else. Dean’s reveling in the simple joy of just being with Cas, being so near to him, and he can see the sentiment reflected in Cas’s eyes. Dean’s already so close, approaching that peak with suddenly urgent certainty, when Cas reaches down to take them both in hand. He’s heavy on top of Dean, bearing him down into the mattress and thrusting into his own fist with controlled, sensuous movements.

Cas won’t let him hide his face this time, pins him to the pillow with his fingers tight against Dean’s scalp and a wild-eyed stare, growling out, “I want to see,” just before Dean comes with a long groan, spilling over Cas’s clever fingers.

Cas kisses him through it until he’s settled again, then takes himself in hand. Dean watches eagerly as Cas gets himself off, nearly moans along with him as he comes. God, god, this is what Dean wanted, the two of them a sated mess, as close as they can possibly get, skin touching everywhere.

Even after they’re cleaned up and lying on their sides, Dean kisses Cas with lingering desperation, can’t quite manage to let go of him, needs him closer. Dean doesn’t know how to navigate these desires without shame, definitely doesn’t know how to fucking ask for what he wants, but Cas seems to understand. He takes Dean in his arms, strong and comforting, pulling Dean towards him until he can tuck his face against Cas’s neck. Dean barely stifles a noise of absolute relief and contentment. He’s not ready to sleep just yet, not ready to miss a moment of Cas’s soothing fingers tracing patterns on his back, petting his hair, or Cas’s steady heartbeat beneath his palm. They settle into a quiet, comfortable stillness.

After a few minutes, Cas clears his throat. “You know,” he says conversationally, and Dean secretly enjoys the way he feels the words reverberate against him. “That wasn’t actually the first time we met.”

Dean waits for clarification and gets none. “What?”

“When you ‘stabbed me in the chest,’ as you so delicately put it.” There’s a trace of a smile in Cas’s voice.

“Oh,” Dean says, at a loss. “It wasn’t?” He’s racking his brain, but he’s pretty sure that was the first time.

“You don’t remember,” Cas says. Dean tries to interpret his tone – it’s not disappointment, not exactly. “You don’t remember when I pulled you out of Hell,” he continues quietly. “But I do. I remember exactly what your soul looked like – how brilliant it was.”

Dean’s heart is pounding thunderously, and he’s grateful that Cas can’t really see his face right now. “I don’t think my soul was looking so pretty at that point,” he says, attempt at humor completely failing to land.

Cas leans back and grips Dean’s chin, tilting his face so their eyes meet. “I’m the one who remembers it,” Cas says firmly, “And I disagree.” Dean blinks, flustered, speechless as Cas’s gaze softens even further. “It’s still brilliant, even now.”

Dean can’t help but ask. “You can still see it?”

“I like to think I can,” Cas says with a strange little smile. “Even without my grace.” A pang of guilt overcomes Dean. It must show on his face, because he sees a flicker of recognition Cas’s eyes. “You seemed surprised that I was willing to give it up.”

Dean’s silence is enough of an agreement, even if surprised doesn’t quite cover it.

Cas strokes Dean’s cheek with his thumb, his gaze open, terrifyingly honest. “Do you understand now? Why I chose to live on Earth?”

“No,” Dean says instinctively, with more force than he’d intended to, pulse fluttering rapidly. “I mean, I know what you’re trying to say, but that can’t be it, Cas, it just can’t, why would you give all that up for—” He lets the end of his sentence hang there, can’t bring himself to say it. He closes his eyes and trembles in Cas’s hold. He knows the reasons Cas had, the ones he explained to him and Sam about being tired of heaven, weren’t lies. But it wasn’t entirely about that for Cas, Dean realizes with terrifying clarity, not really. “Stupid fucking reckless thing to do,” he mutters, not really intending for Cas to hear him, but he’s sure Cas catches it.

“It was a risk I was willing to take,” Cas says calmly. “You used to accuse me of mind-reading,” he adds after a beat, and Dean knows him well enough to understand that that’s not a complete non-sequitur, even if he’s not seeing the connection yet. “But it wasn’t that, exactly.”

Dean can feel Cas watching him, and he forces himself to be brave enough to open his eyes.

Cas lays one warm palm against his chest. “I knew what was in your heart. I knew there were—” he searches for the right word, “Longings. But I could barely perceive it under the fear.”

Dean wants to hide again – this is all coming out in the open now, he’s finally getting proof that Cas has been onto his bullshit from the very beginning – but he can’t tear his eyes away from Cas’s.

“I didn’t understand that part until I started living here,” Cas continues. “You were afraid I wouldn’t want you. That I’d leave.

Dean’s silent and Cas keeps going, confident enough in his assessment that he doesn’t need Dean’s confirmation, it seems.

“I didn’t have my grace for that, I had to figure it out,” He pauses and smiles at Dean. “But I like figuring you out,” he leans in to kiss Dean, “I find it… rewarding.”

It’s a relief, if nothing else, that Cas gets him without Dean saying much because Dean’s – Dean’s terrible at this kind of stuff. “I thought we said we had nothing to talk about,” he says weakly, grateful that Cas knows him well enough not to be offended by his deflecting.

“Should I stop?” The question is sincere, but Dean can see the glint in Cas’s eye, the one that says he knows Dean will soak up all this affection, even if he’ll be grumpy about it in the process.

“No.” The part of him that’s curious and flattered is swiftly overcoming the part that’s uncomfortable and terrified.

“I’m almost finished,” Cas says. He takes Dean’s hand, holds it close to his own heart, maintains eye contact. “I promise you, it’s been worth every second, giving up my grace.”

Dean clenches his jaw, eyes burning.

You’re worth it, Dean. To me you are.”

Dean wants to shut his eyes, turn his head – something, anything, to disguise the fact that he’s dangerously close to tears – but he’s not about to look away from Cas. Not now.

“Besides,” Cas says with a sly smile, tone suddenly light, as if he can tell that the emotional weight’s getting too heavy for Dean. “How else was I supposed to enjoy sweet and sour pork?”

Dean surges forward and kisses him then, until the exhaustion finally sinks in and he sags against Cas, warm and satisfied, and lets Cas hold him until he falls asleep, sounder than he has in ages.

* * *

Dean could definitely get used to waking up in Cas’s arms. For a moment, he relaxes into Cas’s warm body pressed flush against his back. Before he can doze off again, he hears a soft, sleepy noise behind him, Cas’s arm tightening around his waist. Cas hums contentedly when he wakes, tenderly kissing the back of Dean’s neck, fingertips slowly caressing Dean’s belly.

Dean’s almost afraid to turn around, to break whatever spell they’re under, for them to find themselves face to face and open up the floor for more talking. He does it anyway, just to feel Cas’s bare skin beneath his hands, just to see the way Cas looks into his eyes.

Cas spares him more conversation – although that’s a little scary and exciting too, the way Cas seems to consider his needs, the way he just knows – he simply pulls Dean closer and presses a kiss to his temple, fingers gently threading through his hair.

Dean’s absurdly comfortable, except for the persistent, gnawing feeling in his stomach. Thankfully, that’s not emotion or anxiety – he’s just fucking starving.

“I don’t know about you,” Dean says. “But I could use some breakfast.” It comes out as more of an intimate murmur than he planned.

“Breakfast sounds good,” Cas agrees, and Dean detects a note of hesitation. “Although, I was hoping to go for a run first,” he adds, almost sheepishly. “If that’s all right.”

Dean huffs out a laugh. Cas always gets anxious to properly stretch his legs after being cramped in the car or a motel room. “Long as you come back,” he says with a smirk.

He meant it as a joke – he thought he did, anyway – but Cas palms Dean’s cheek, face gone serious and earnest. “Of course,” he says emphatically. “Always.”

Dean feels an embarrassing rush of emotion, a flippant comment on the tip of his tongue, ready to deflect. He surges forward for a brief kiss instead, just to hide the flush that’s creeping all the way down his chest – he can complain about morning breath later, when this whole thing isn’t overwhelmingly new. “Go on, get outta here then,” he mumbles, playfully shoving Cas away, feigned grumpiness belied by the smile slowly forming on his face.

Cas grins at him and swoops in for another kiss before he hops out of bed. Dean watches him get dressed with undisguised interest and lounges there for a few minutes after he leaves, already hating the empty space next to him.

He eventually drags himself out from under the blankets, in the mood for making pancakes. Cas always says he likes them.

When he’s in the kitchen and Cas strolls in after his run, Dean doesn’t have to pretend not to take notice – can drag him closer by the collar of his sweaty shirt and kiss him, get a handful of Cas’s ridiculously distracting ass while Cas pushes him against the counter. He gets to waggle his eyebrows suggestively when Cas says he’s going to take a shower, toss out a teasing don’t have too much fun without me, instead of telling himself he’s not picturing Cas wet and naked.

He doesn’t have feign anger if he catches Cas staring at the way he licks syrup from his lips. It still makes him blush, though, which he’s been doing a lot lately, but he manages to smile through his sudden bashfulness. He’s been doing that a lot lately, too.

He’s thinking about how to get Cas back into bed right fucking now, while they’ve still got the place to themselves – he’s weirdly unsure of how to approach it, but he’s feeling pretty good about his chances – when his phone buzzes, with a text from Sam. Think we’re in the clear. Heading to Sioux Falls to help Jody with something. See you in a few days.

Dean frowns at the screen and okay, yeah, so, that’s probably not a coincidence – maybe Sam is completely onto them. And maybe that’s as close as they’ll get to having a conversation about it, if Dean’s lucky. He’s feeling pretty damn lucky, right about now.

“Sam won’t be back for a couple of days,” Dean says while they’re sipping their coffee after breakfast, trying to sound casual. “Gonna stop by Jody’s.”

“Oh,” Cas replies, the shift in his demeanor immediate. “Is that so?” He sets his mug down, looking like he’s going to devour Dean.

Dean shifts in his seat, anticipation working its way through him. There’s that tension, the now-familiar build-up, and he’s only slightly more certain what to do about it than he was before.

Cas rises from his seat, so Dean does too, transfixed by the look in Cas’s eyes as he takes a few steps closer to Dean. Dean sort of thought he was past this – the shaken nerves, the sweaty palms, breathlessly awaiting the moment Cas actually gets his hands on him.

Ever since Cas gave up his grace, Dean’s been restless, uneasy, waiting for the other shoe to drop – for Cas to leave, for Cas to make a move on him, for the whole terrifying situation to reach some kind of foregone conclusion. But Cas is here, he’s staying, all their irrepressible feelings are out in the open, and Dean’s still wondering why this doesn’t feel like a closed case, like a lived, accomplished experience under his belt.

Cas must read something on his face, and he holds out his hand. Despite his chaotic emotions, despite his lingering confusion and hesitance, Dean takes it.

When Cas smiles at him, Dean feels sudden calmness wash over him, sudden understanding – there’s no use waiting for a resolution, for an ending, because this is the start of something. That’s an infinitely more nerve-racking prospect, but he’s actually… okay with that. He’s not doing this alone.

Dean smiles back and Cas kisses him, quick but thorough. He’s got a promising smirk when he pulls back and kisses Dean’s cheek, leans close to his ear. “Let’s try my bed this time,” he says wickedly, already tugging Dean away from the table.

Dean laughs, heart still pounding but feeling lighter than it has in years, and lets himself be led.