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“Dean, what’s going on?”

“What? Nothing man, forget about it.” Dean took a deep drink, finishing his second beer. Cas didn’t have that much to go on. It’s not like this wasn’t their routine. He and Cas usually shared a beer while they settled in, not enough to compromise their objectivity for the scene but enough to give them time to get into the right headspace and to help Dean calm down.

It didn’t matter how many times they had done this now (whatever this was), every time he opened the door to unruly dark hair and criminally impressive shoulders he felt like he was on a first date back in high school: excited and nervous; afraid of screwing up but determined to look like he knew what he was doing; thrilled and terrified. From the second he walked through the door Cas put Dean on edge. It was mostly a good anxious feeling, but there was just the hint of bad anxiety too. Particularly tonight. Every time they got together Cas pushed Dean further and further, and caught him as he fell apart. It was exhilarating and exhausting and the best damn feeling Dean had ever experienced, hands down. But he knew the truth. He knew that one day Cas would dig just a bit too far, learn a little too much, and that would be it. He’d never see him again and he would have pushed someone else away. They all left eventually; it was only a matter of time.

As he reached for a third beer he felt guilt for a moment, then pushed it away with his first sip of the cool elixir. He usually only drank one when Cas was over. Tonight though, tonight he needed more. Which is why this was technically only his third with Cas. He had downed a few after work trying to build up for tonight, but hoped that Cas hadn’t seen into the fridge to do that math. Judging from the piercing gaze and disapproving scowl Dean had to guess that Cas had in fact noticed that particular detail, but hell if he was going to bring it up.

His mind involuntarily retraced his day, picking out everything he had done wrong, all the times he had fucked up. He replayed the wince on Charlie’s face after he yelled at her over something stupid at work. He pictured Benny’s head shaking when he thought Dean wasn’t looking. He heard the disapproving sigh that came through the line loud and clear as Sammy asked yet again if he was getting the help he needed. Fuck him. Kid doesn’t know what I need, he thought to himself for the hundredth time that week. Sam was, of course, right. Dean had sunk deeper than ever this time, and it seemed everyone around him could tell too. Despite his best efforts he was getting a constant stream of “hey kiddo, everything ok?”s and “how you holding up?”s and innumerable lingering touches from concerned friends and colleagues. Fuck all of them, they don’t know. Even as he said it Dean knew that he was wrong, that they did know, and that he couldn’t keep doing this alone.

Weak.

The word oozed into his mind before he could stop it. There was a deep, gruff tone to the voice that Dean recognized but couldn’t place –wouldn’t – and the accusation wove its way through his mind, poisoning every thought with its inky blackness. He thought about when he was younger and his mother got sick, how afterwards a teacher of his had made the mistake of suggesting Dean and Sam could benefit from professional assistance. John had flown into a rage, screaming that they weren’t going to see “no goddamn whack job” because Winchesters were stronger than that. They were survivors. They didn’t need anybody. They didn’t need anyone’s help. Winchesters got by on their own, like real men. You turn to the bottle before you turn to some godforsaken shrink. Winchesters don’t need help.

“Dean?” The sound of his name pulled him out of his head sharply, at which point he noticed several things. First, Cas was staring at him as if he had just asked him a question. Second he felt a little like he might be sick, and third somehow his brand new beer was empty. He started with the last thing first. He double checked his beer just to be sure, then, still slightly confused, placed the empty on his coffee table. Next he made the conscious decision to actively ignore his stomach and pretend that wasn’t happening. Which brought him back to Cas, and the question he was sure now he had missed.

“Sorry, what was that?” Dean tried to go for nonchalant, but even he could tell he had failed spectacularly. The exchange had a familiar tone to it, and he was trying to place it when he saw Cas’ concerned face and added “Cas, I’m fine. It’s all fine. How are you?” It was then that he realised he had pulled off “casual” about as successfully as Han Solo.

With a sigh that seemed to be drawn from his very toes Cas repeated himself. “I had asked you what you were looking for tonight. What you needed.”

“I don’t need anything,” Dean answered reflexively, without even thinking about it. Cas’ eyebrow shot up accusingly, nearly of its own accord, challenging the assertion. He waited. Somehow Castiel had learned early on that Dean tended to ramble if put on the spot. Accordingly, when he was not getting the cooperation he sought, he would just sit back and wait, and damned if it didn’t unnerve Dean enough to work every damn time. “What I meant was, um, there’s nothing, uh, nothing in particular that I had in mind, just….y’know…whatever you want.” He finished lamely, feeling like Cas still wasn’t satisfied by that answer. Reluctantly he added “Cas, do whatever you want to most. I just want to check out for a bit, that’s all.”

That was definitely what Cas had been waiting to hear, though Dean wasn’t sure what he had said then that was so different from the rest of it. It didn’t matter though, he’d managed to be good, to answer correctly, and soon he could just tune it all out, forget about his fuckups, forget about how alone he felt, how confused, how weak and broken, and just be for a few glorious moments.

Cas standing up brought his wandering mind to heel, and for a moment he feared he was in trouble again. Cas’ face was damn near impossible to read, and despite their times together Dean still felt like he had no idea what was happening inside that man’s head most of the time. Cas seemed to sense his unease though and reached forward, clasping his hand gently on Dean’s shoulder.

“Nothing’s wrong, Dean. Try not to worry so much. Please go into your room and get ready. I will be in momentarily.” He held Dean’s gaze just a moment too long, then nodded almost imperceptibly before letting go of Dean and turning to the bag he had brought.

Dean felt that nervous but excited thrill course through him again at the sight. Cas’ bag of goodies was amazing. Dean was constantly surprised by the things Cas pulled out of there, and each time Cas managed to select the perfect tools to take Dean completely apart. He knew better than to try and peek though, so he quickly turned and went to his bedroom, shucking his clothes along the way and then folding and placing them carefully on the chair by the window. He liked keeping his room orderly, and Cas seemed to appreciate the self-control implicit in the gesture.

Dean usually avoided distractions at this point, knowing he only had so long while Cas picked his implements for the evening before he came in, expecting to find Dean on his knees. But as he was walking towards the foot of the bed his reflection in the mirror over the dresser caught his eye, and he stopped short, overwhelmed with a wave of repulsion. The thoughts seeped in before he could stop them. Who the hell did he think he was, thinking he deserved some kind of happiness? Who the fuck was he? Just some broken thing, too weak to take care of himself? So weak he has to get his best friend to beat the shit out of him just to keep him going? Nobody should need this just to keep their head above the water. He shouldn’t need anything. How dare he think he could be happy? How dare he waste Cas’ time like this, he obviously doesn’t want to be there and is just doing this as a favour to Dean. He probably dreads seeing Dean’s name light up his cell phone, knowing it’s another needy request because he’s just not strong enough to make it alone. What right did he

“Ahem.” A throat cleared behind him, and he spun around horrified to see Cas standing there, eyes narrowed but concerned. An eye mask dangled from his left hand while yards and yards of jute rope hung from his right. A riding crop spanned the two, resting in the palm of his left hand. Dean’s mind raced as he tried to explain himself, tried to process what his eyes had just taken in, tried to make up for already screwing up. He was naked and exposed and Cas must feel so much contempt for him. God he was so fucking broken, what the hell was he

“Knees. Now.” Castiel’s voice came out in a near growl and Dean dropped so hard he winced as he hit the hardwood floor. He didn’t complain or slow down though, he had earned that pain. He quickly placed his hands together in front of his chest, then bent over so that he was curled in on himself, fully presented, fully submissive, ready for whatever Castiel wanted. He shivered slightly with the guilt of having fucked up so much before even starting. His brain rushed to catch up to his body, the position nearly a reflex now, but he couldn’t assume a submissive mind quite as suddenly. He tried to focus on his breathing, slowing it down, and listen to Castiel pacing around him, let the sounds of it ground him. He heard a disapproving tut before feeling a cool, long finger firmly trace down one shoulder to his lower back.

“Dean, what on earth were you thinking? No, I don’t mean you’re in trouble, though you certainly are. You weren’t supposed to see what I had in store for you, and you’ll pay for it. No, I mean it quite literally. You were deep in thought, a million miles away when I walked in. So tell me. What. Were. You. Thinking?” He punctuated each of the last words with a finger dancing its way back up his back, cresting his vertebrae as if mocking him.

Dean struggled to answer. They had established at the beginning, before they had ever touched one another, that they would never lie to each other during a scene. Dean lied out of self-defence and Cas guarded his privacy ferociously, so neither expected the truth from day to day, but during a scene, when they were so intimate, so vulnerable, they had agreed it was a necessary precaution. They had agreed to that even before choosing safewords or setting hard limits; it was that important to them. Which is why Dean struggled. He wasn’t supposed to lie, but he also wasn’t supposed to say negative things about himself. He didn’t know what to do. He felt torn, and wasn’t sure which rule was best to break. He sighed, though it came out as a shudder. Suddenly he felt fingers lovingly caress his face.

“Hold on, Dean, it’s alright. Just hold on.” Dean leaned forward, motionless, certain the scene was over before it had begun. Instead he felt dextrous fingers slide something soft and familiar across his forehead, then slide it down over his eyes and fasten it behind his head. The mask Cas had bought just for him. It was leather on the outside and black fur on the inside, and once on Dean couldn’t see a damn thing even if he tried. The fur pressed just slightly against his eyelids, keeping them closed like a soft kiss, keeping him safe. A finger slipped in behind the strap behind his ear. He felt Cas’ voice whisper right beside that finger. “That good?”

He nodded, thankful to be asked a question he could answer, thankful to be given a chance to be good. He never wanted to disappoint Cas, he just couldn’t do everything he asked of him. Cas thought he was capable of much more than he was, and it twisted like a knife inside when he let him down. He breathed, finally settling in, feeling himself slip into the right headspace. “Yes, sir. Thank you.”

He felt his left hand being raised, but instead of the rope he was usually bound with he felt his skin being encased in the solid weight of a leather cuff. For a moment he wondered whether Cas had hidden them in his back pockets on the way in, but soon he forgot all about that as he felt the vast expanse of the leather encircle his other wrist. The cuffs were so much more… just, so much more than the rope. It was a different sensation, a different intensity. He moaned shamelessly, letting himself melt into them. He felt completely grounded, and so much safer than when Cas had walked in and caught him. He remembered there was an outstanding demand, and he cleared his throat as he prepared to answer.

“Sir, I’m sorry. For, before. I got distracted thinking negative thoughts, and they spun out of control. I’m sorry, sir for not being ready when you came in.” The words tumbled out of his mouth as if he had been holding them there, only to cascade forth as soon as his lips parted. He felt good that he had been honest, but still disappointed in himself for letting down Cas. At least he hadn’t broken their most important rule. That was what mattered most. He felt Cas touch him again, felt a finger run down his arm from shoulder to wrist as he heard the words pour over him.

“It’s alright, Dean. Thank you for telling me the truth.” In the split second he had focused on those words and the overwhelming relief they brought he had apparently missed Cas threading a rope through the left cuff because Dean suddenly felt his arm jerked forward, just a few inches, as if testing the knot. “Hmmm,” Cas mused, then moved on to Dean’s right and repeated whatever he had done. At first Dean had hated the idea of a blindfold, but now he clung to it like a lifeline. Not being able to read Cas’ face, not being able to see his hands moving or where they were going next, not being able to see his own body, it was intoxicating. It all came together to help him drift in a black void where he didn’t have to predict what was coming, couldn’t brace for it. He just had to trust Cas to take care of him. He could never articulate it like that but he knew it felt safe, and comfortable, and he loved it. Another sharp jerk, this time to the right wrist, brought Dean roughly back into the moment.

“Please kneel back on your feet. Perfect, thank you.” Dean felt Cas dragging rope across his skin, heard it thump against the floor as he began laying it out. “Now Dean, we have a problem. Earlier today I had planned a particular evening for you tonight, but since I have arrived you have made it abundantly clear that tonight calls for something stronger.” As he spoke his fingers traced over Dean’s skin, dragging the rope and ravelling it around him, holding him in countless knots. “Your mind is wandering. Your mind is telling you negative things. I don’t let anyone speak poorly of those I care about, even if I have to stop them from doing it to themselves.” He worked the whole time he spoke, and now he dragged the rope ends under others already holding Dean close, pulling them tighter against his skin, letting the jute scratch in that perfect way as it dragged over him. Cas tied the last knots, wrenching harder than usual. At first Dean felt like he was really mad at him, but as he felt the ropes start to bite into his flesh, he understood. Cas wanted him to feel something every second so that he couldn’t slip away from him. “And so,” Cas concluded, manipulating the knots with each final word, “we’re going to do something” – tug – “a little,” – tug, tug – “more,” – tug – “intense.”

Dean didn’t have nearly enough time to register the flood of sensations coursing over his body from the ropes before he heard Cas order “Stand.” He did, as quickly as possible. Only his chest was bound so it wasn’t that difficult. “I’m going to back you towards the door, alright?” Dean nodded, carefully backing up under Cas’ guidance until he estimated he was standing about 18” from his door.

“Take a step back with one foot only, and raise your arms.” Dean did as he was told, and realised a second before it happened what Cas had planned. The ropes attached to his wrists were tossed over the door, and then Cas held Dean gently as he closed the door. Dean felt the ropes tugging, and heard Cas say softly, “Dean, can you take a step forward and bring your feet together again? Perfect, just like that.” Dean could already feel the pull of the ropes and it was so wonderful he could barely hear what Cas said next. But a hand cupping his chin brought him back.

“Dean, this is very important, stay with me. Are the ropes too tight anywhere? Do they hurt? How about your fingers, any numbness?” Dean shook his head gently, feeling that addictive buzz starting to spread throughout his brain, overtaking the remnants of the poison in there earlier. He could feel Cas slipping fingers in between his skin and the ropes in various places, checking to make sure everything was safe. “Dean, I need you to promise that if any of that changes you’ll tell me immediately. If you can’t say it then snap. I need to know you’re safe. This isn’t your punishment.” He said the last sentence so softly Dean barely heard it, but he nodded. It had been a struggle, but Cas had driven home what was good, fun pain to endure and what was dangerous, possible long-term damage pain that needed to be addressed immediately. Dean understood the difference now and knew Cas would never touch him again if he screwed that up. He leaned forward tentatively, felt the ropes shift under him. The ropes over the door must have somehow been connected to his chest harness, and as he leaned forward he felt his chest and ribs and stomach bursting against their jute prison, could almost see the ligature marks starting to form in his mind's eye. It was perfect.

“This, however, is.” Cas had barely finished saying it before pain exploded across Dean’s front. It took him a few moments to realise what Cas had meant, and it took him until the second burst of pain blossomed over his pecs to understand the new sensation. Castiel was whipping his nipples with the riding crop. He did it again, and again. Dean hissed and yelped and his breathing became ragged, but he didn’t move an inch under the onslaught. He had earned this, and he was going to take it. He was at least good for that. Something in his face must have shown his thoughts, for Castiel suddenly stopped and mercifully moved onto gentle swats to Dean’s outer thighs.

“Tell me.” Left hip. “Dean, tell me.” Outer right knee. “What were you thinking?”

Dean tried to find the words, but between his utter contempt for expressing emotions and the constant distraction of the crop he was having trouble writing Shakespeare here. Finally he was able to get out a few broken words.

“Weak. Shouldn’t, shouldn’t need. You. Don’t even.” He hissed as he twisted in his bonds, begging the ropes to squeeze out the words he couldn’t find.

Cas stopped. He dragged the tip of the crop down Dean’s left arm, across his stomach, just hinting at dipping lower, then over to slide down his right hip. When he spoke it was as much breath as voice. “Dean.” The word caressed Dean, held him as tightly as the ropes, and he tried not to think why.

He felt, or maybe heard, Cas settle in front of him. Dean always felt nervous when Cas knelt in front of him. He wasn’t sure why, but he was certain it was backwards, that he was here to submit to Cas, and that Cas being on his knees wasn’t Dean doing that. He wasn’t even touching him, but Dean felt guilty for wasting his attention. This wasn’t what Cas had signed up for. He was there to do whatever he wanted to Dean, not put up with his insecurities and his childish need to be taken care of.

“Deannnn…” He felt the word rush over him again, but this time it was joined by another length of rope, this time dragged across his inner thigh. He inhaled sharply, unsure what was happening. Cas began to kiss his legs gently, almost chastely, as he bound even more of Dean in his web. “Dean do you honestly have no idea how I feel?” He could feel the rope sliding over him. “How much I love being here with you?” Feel it slide around his hips. “How honoured I feel to be able to see you fall apart?” Between his legs. “How much I care for you?” The rope came back, sliding over his legs to be fastened with a gentle, playful version of the earlier tug.

“Dean, you are beautiful.” Dean shuddered as Cas ran his hands all over him, trembling under the words as much as the touch. “You are strong. You take on so, so much, and these strong legs support you, hold you up, but you take it on, Dean. You don’t have to carry so much. People can help. People who care, who love you. People like me.” Cas kissed Dean’s hip, right where his Adonis muscles started. Dean was sure his brain was going to short circuit from the sensations while it tried to block out every single word. He couldn’t do this, not now.

“Dean, say it.” Cas was still touching him gently, but his voice was harsh again, and Dean knew what was coming. He remained completely motionless, as if Cas might somehow lose track of him that way and let it go. No such luck.

“Say you’re strong, Dean.” Dean weakly shook his head, surprised by the tears that were shaken loose by the pathetic gesture. He couldn’t.

“Dean.” He shook his head again. Cas instantly stopped touching him, and the sudden lack of physical contact was overwhelming in its absence. He wanted to make Cas proud, he did, but he wasn’t supposed to lie.

“I can’t.” He choked out, terrified of what was next. The riding crop hit his right nipple before he could think, and then his left and right again, whack, whack, in rapid succession. He was sobbing now, tears streaming down his face, unable to make Cas happy, when that’s all he wanted in the world. He didn’t give a damn if he lived the rest of his life a broken husk, as long as Cas was happy it’d be worth it.

The pain hit him again and again and he cried out “Rule #1.” Dean dropped his head in defeat. The crop ceased as suddenly as it had started, and then he felt Cas hold his face, cupped in the long, clever fingers that do so much to him.

“Please, Dean.” He heard himself sob like a broken animal. The physical pain he could withstand, but the pain in that voice was too much. That, more than anything, broke him.

“I need to hear you say it. Trust me, it’s true.”

He was shaking uncontrollably now, and kept leaning more heavily into the bonds, hoping the door would break or the ropes would cut deeper or something would happen to take him away from this thought. Cas had said it. Cas had said it was true, and he had said it during a scene. That meant…Well it at least meant that Cas believed it. Dean clung to that, hoping to use it as a loophole, but whether into believing or out of having to say it he wasn’t sure.

Finally he gave in. He submitted to Cas and whispered it oh so quietly. “I’m strong.”

Before he knew it Cas had swallowed him down completely, and the shock of it startled Dean so fully he forgot to hate himself for a moment. As wave after wave of heat and tingling and relief crashed over him he heard a very tiny voice, far off in the corner of his mind whisper “maybe I am…” He felt the beginnings of joy flow through his veins, a sensation he knew and could recognize, but rarely experienced firsthand. Basically he only felt this safe when… when he was with Cas. When Cas was taking him apart.

He spent his whole life fighting against falling apart, trying so hard to maintain his veneer of indifference and indestructability. But under Cas’ touch, under his words, Dean could fall apart and the ropes held him together. He didn’t have to be the strong soldier who kept going. When he didn’t have to spend every ounce of strength on keeping it together he found himself almost floating, blissfully unplugged under Cas’ attention. Safe. Whole.

He knew he was so close, he had to stop Cas. He tried to slow himself down, tried to hold it back, but Cas redoubled his efforts. A finger slid sneakliy along the length of rope between his legs, finding new areas to tease as he continued to suck on Dean’s length as if it were his favourite thing to do. Dean gasped under the onslaught, trying to hold back what was inevitable any moment now.

“Please.” He gasped, voice raw with anticipation and exhaustion. “Please stop, sir. It… oh god… It should be me.”

Cas did stop at that but Dean could almost see the puzzled face Cas made, eyes pinched together as he tried to unravel the mystery that was Dean Winchester.

““Should”?”

The word hung in the air between them. Dean desperately begged his heart to slow and his dick to calm down, but he felt the danger of the storm coming.

“Did you just say “should” to me?” Dean waited, hoping it was rhetorical. A light but pointed grazing of teeth informed him that it most certainly was not.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir, it’s just.” Dean cut himself off as teeth threatened to slide down his length a second time. Cas pulled off to clear his throat.

“Dean, last time I checked I was the Dom, and you were the sub. Is that not your understanding of the situation?”

Knowing better now, Dean answered instantly. “Yes, sir.”

“That’s what I thought. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we agree that the Dom sets the scene?” Cas’ voice purred in the dark below Dean, taunting him to be complicit in his own destruction. Knowing he had no other choice he complied.

“Yes, sir.”

“And don’t you in particular for some reason believe a Dom can use his sub however he best sees fit, in the way that will give him the most pleasure?”

Dean could feel there was a trap but he couldn’t see it, and knew he had no choice but to meekly answer “Yes, sir.”

“Then shut the fuck up and let me blow you.” And with that Cas plunged Dean into his mouth, taking him so far Dean was worried he’d get hurt. At the same time the finger behind him stopped teasing and slid in completely, curling and hunting until it found its target. Dean started to scream. He wasn’t usually a screamer but with Cas’ mouth completely enveloping him and his finger milking his prostate mercilessly and the ropes biting into his entire body, scratching his shoulders, his hips, his balls, and the relief at having confessed to what Cas wanted to hear all along, he just gave in and let himself feel it all. With everything assaulting his senses at once he didn’t last long, and he came loud and hard deep down his Dom’s throat, shuddering through the force of it.

The tears were falling again now but they were of a content sort, washing away the pain rather than signalling it. He was still shaking as Cas stood against him, supporting his weight with his body while he carefully loosened the ropes from the door and gently lowered his arms. They suddenly ached and felt heavier than made sense, and when Cas helped lower Dean onto the bed he went without a fight, curling up silently as he tried to come back from it all. Cas carefully undid all the ropes and tenderly slid them off of Dean’s chafed skin, softly kissing certain marks as he went. Once he finished he climbed up on the bed behind Dean and wrapped his body around him, mimicking the security of the ropes he had just loosened, and holding him safe yet again.

Dean felt Cas reach for the cuffs but he shook his head, and tried to say “not yet,” though he’s fairly certain his muttering sounded nothing like that. He needed them still, needed to feel contained while he put himself back together. He wasn’t consciously thinking anything while they lay there, but for once he wasn’t fighting the thoughts that tried to float through his mind. Cas ordered me to get a blow job, that was weird. I wonder what that was about. This was exactly what I needed, holy shit. Guess I did need this. Huh. Maybe I do need stuff. God Cas is amazing, how did I get this lucky? Maybe he does actually like this. That’d be neat. Cas is neat.

Just then Dean felt a hand playing with his hair, running through it over and over again. He hummed in pleasure, and felt a chuckle rumble behind him. “How are you? Dean are you ok?” Dean nodded and nestled down deeper into the nest he found himself in. He had no idea how long they lay there. It felt like an eternity but he had learned that time worked funny around now.

He discovered a blanket with his toes and tucked them under it for extra warmth. “Dean, I need you to drink some water and then we can put you to bed, ok? Just sit up for a second, can you do that for me?” Dean nodded again, and tried to sit up. He felt Cas’ hand between his shoulder blades holding him up, and again felt a rush of safe.

He sipped at the cup presented to him, and after Cas’ praise and permission he collapsed back on the bed. At this point Castiel didn’t ask, just leaned over and removed the cuffs, massaging the wrists beneath. He kissed the tender skin on the inside of the wrists and then moved up to kiss Dean’s temple. He whispered “Ready?” before slowly unfastening the blindfold and gently sliding it off. He rested his forehead against Dean’s and for a moment there was nothing else in the universe. Just Cas, and Dean, and this memory, right here. Then Dean pouted and Cas chuckled again and helped him into bed. He stood beside him, seeming to hesitate, and then came to a decision.

“Dean, I know we’ve never discussed this, but I need to bring it up. That was an incredibly intense scene, and I’m worried about leaving you alone after that. Would it be ok if I stayed with you, just 'til the morning, in case you drop? There is zero expectation of anything, I just want to make sure you’re alright.”

Dean nodded sleepily, surprised that was all Cas had to say. “Ithoughyo’were boutasay smthin’bad, Cas. Course.” He heard Cas chuckle again before he felt the bed dip under his weight and felt him press up against him again, arms snaking around him. “Yucan alwaysstay witme, Cas. Always.” He dropped off smiling with the nebulous thought of Cas wants to be here floating somewhere behind his eyes. He was snoring lightly by the time chapped lips kissed his shoulder and whispered “I always want to.”