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Retreat into Silence

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Retreat into Silence
By Anne Higgins

Then

Dean Winchester never gave up hunting. Not really. He honestly did his best to honor the spirit of his promise to his brother, but he never looked away when reality intruded into the 'apple pie life' Sam had wanted for him. Once his grief-stricken soul had recovered enough for some measure of sanity to return, Dean had indeed stayed with Lisa and Ben, gotten a construction job and tried to live 'normally' – whatever the hell that was.

But he also kept his eyes and ears open. An impressive number of evil things crossed everyone's path day-to-day. Dean was simply aware of this and dealt with it in his spare time. During lulls, he kept himself in shape, training for the inevitable next time. And he always knew one day something too big happening somewhere else would send him back into hunting full time. He didn't look forward to it. Not because he didn't know, hadn't always known he was a hunter, but because he would have to leave Ben.

It wasn't that he didn't care about Lisa. He did. She was a good person. Hell, she'd taken in a grief-crazed man prone to screaming nightmares and had never complained, but they weren't in love. It took fewer than the fingers on two hands to count the number of times they'd even had sex. He slept in her bed – he never really thought of it as theirs – because the warmth of another human being kept his nightmares from waking the whole neighborhood. Should have led to things more often, but Dean had never managed to quite regain the interest in sex he'd had before the looming Apocalypse became the ultimate cold shower.

She deserved better. And over the year he'd heard enough snatches of gossip to understand he had cost her that someone better. Turned out she'd gone on a couple of dates with Ben's middle school principal before Dean had intruded into their lives. Being the over-protective and curious sort, Dean had checked the guy out with a subtly that would have amazed Sam and had discovered Lisa had made a huge mistake when she'd let Dean through her front door. On so many levels.

Dean knew if he left the relationship would start up again, especially with Ben headed for high school next year and away from any awkwardness of a mom-principal relationship. So tempting to use that current potential weirdness as an excuse to stay, but the longer he stuck around, especially now that he looked less like a charity case and more like a potential husband, the less likely Lisa and Principal Dude would hook up. But God, Dean loved Ben. He could still feel the echo of disappointment he'd had when Lisa had first told him Ben wasn't his flesh and blood. Selfish. He knew it and had started letting go as much as he could. All he needed was a little more time, but, of course, life never quite went the way he hoped.

Now

Castiel ended a most annoying phone call with the simple push of a button. It lacked the satisfaction of slamming a phone receiver back onto its cradle, but otherwise he could not argue with the convenience of a cell phone. It had even warned him who had been calling before he'd answered. Despite this, he had reminded himself that he genuinely liked Dean's younger brother and had opted to take the call. A distinct error in judgment on his part. One he might allow several weeks to lapse before repeating. As Dean repeatedly pointed out, text messaging existed for a reason and not even Sam Winchester could manage the trick of being a complete annoyance through that medium. Not that he hadn't tried.

Pocketing his cell, he entered the diner Dean had disappeared into several frustrating minutes ago. Castiel had paid equal attention to Dean's 'don't be a sucker' head shake when the call had interrupted their quest to break the morning fast. More fool he.

A bemused smile twitched onto his lips despite yet another round of dealing with Sam as he watched a pretty waitress flirting with Dean. As always Dean liked the attention and smiled broadly at her, pointing out what he wanted on the menu. Castiel knew the appropriate human response should center around jealousy – and he was much, much better at human things these days – but he found the sight remarkably … adorable.

He walked over to the booth Dean had claimed and couldn't stop himself from giving Dean a brief kiss before settling into the other side. Not a huge risk. They were not currently in what Dean colorfully referred to as 'Bumfuck, USA' and likely to encounter overt displays of homophobia, but even if they were, while no longer what he once was, Castiel retained more than enough of his angel 'mojo' to deal with a handful of 'rednecks.'

The waitress looked mildly surprised, but, as expected, covered it quickly. Generally Cas had discovered tips tended to rank higher than the need to express moral outrage. She gave him a polite smile, "What can I get you?"

He ordered the breakfast repast he had come to favor – coffee, orange juice, two scrambled eggs, bacon extra-crispy and slice of wheat toast. Dean varied between a similar meal and sweeter options and he was wearing a somewhat guilty smile. "Pancakes morning?" Cas asked when they were alone.

Dean nodded. He looked somewhat braced for a negative comment – a remnant of days when Sam had often criticized his food choices.

"You'll have to give me a bite," Cas said. "I may want to try them tomorrow."

A beaming smile lit up Dean's face and he nodded. So often it was the little things that made Dean smile. And if Castiel lived for all of eternity – and he probably would – he knew he would never understand why others seemed so reluctant to seek such smiles.

Then

Dean felt punch-drunk. One minute he'd thought Azazel had returned to kill him, then the next he found himself in the middle of a reunion with the brother he'd thought lost to him. A brother who had apparently been back for more than the few hours it had taken Dean to track Sam down after his own escape from Hell. "How long you been back, Sam?"

"About a year."

No. Sam had said something about weeks. He couldn't possibly have been back that long and left Dean to believe he was trapped in eternal torment. "About a year?"

"Dean –"

"You've been back practically this whole time?" Dean did not fucking believe this. "What, did you lose the ability to send a friggin' text message?"

"You finally had what you wanted."

He stared at him. "I wanted my brother, alive."

"You wanted a family!" Oh, for fuck's sake! Dean listened in disbelief as Sam insisted Dean had been living the life he'd always wanted. How only the way they were raised had kept him from it and who the hell couldn't say the same thing? How was it College Boy never got the whole nature-nurture thing? Fuck, he got so damned sick and tired of Sam always whining about how horrible their lives had been. Maybe John Winchester hadn't been the best father in history, but he'd fucking loved them and done his best to keep them safe in a world that sometimes literally ate people alive. And even Dean knew enough psych bullshit to recognize transference when he heard it – Yellow Eye's plans for Sam had screwed his shot at a 'normal' life, so he was damned well going to make certain Dean suffered through one for him. Fuck that.

Finally Dean couldn't listen to it anymore and demanded, "What have you been doing?"

"Hunting." Yeah, because role reversal must be the new in thing.

He swallowed down as much of his rage as he could, then very carefully asked, "You left me alone, and you were flying solo?"

"Not solo."

"What?"

"I hooked up with someone."

"What? You working with a stranger?" None of this computed. Sam hated working with other hunters. Bobby and Rufus being the only two exceptions still alive, and Sam often didn't handle Rufus well, but if it were one of them, Sam would have said their names not 'someone.'

"No, family," Sam glanced toward the doorway. A moment later Adam Milligan stepped into view.

Their half-brother gave Dean an uncertain smile and he felt a flash of embarrassment. Adam had ended up Michael's meatsuit and got pulled into the hole with Sam – both fates Dean should have suffered – but Dean hadn't even thought to ask about him. "Good to see you," Dean muttered, then glared at Sam. Was he nuts taking the kid out with him? "Adam's not a hunter." Hell, given the lengths their mutual father had gone to in keeping him out of the life, Adam was practically an anti-hunter or something.

"Except he sort of is now."

Dean let his expression do the talking, but Adam decided to answer him. "Something about Michael riding me and ending up in the Pit with Sam and Lucifer kind of gave me a crash course in things."

"Super."

Now

Once back in their hotel room, Dean pounced on Castiel and rewarded his 'kindness' in allowing Dean to eat what he wanted in peace with a kiss. Not the loving brush of lips they'd shared in the diner, but one full of passion and want. Again Cas saw no reason not to indulge him and swept Dean up off his feet and into Castiel's arms.

Dean laughed silently as he always did when Castiel carried him. The angel knew it defied logic – the smaller of the two so effortlessly lifting the other – but he also knew Dean loved the 'manhandling' and always snuggled in close to Castiel's chest no matter how brief the ride.

Once he had Dean naked and on the bed, Castiel rid himself of his own clothing, then lowered himself down on top of his beautiful human. Still somewhat loose and moist from a dawn coupling, Dean needed little preparation and Castiel slid easily inside him.

Clutching at Castiel's shoulders, Dean arched his body, his head thrown back while his throat tightened with something bigger than a gasp. Perhaps a moan. But no sound passed through his lips. It hadn't for eleven months.

Then

Bobby knew. After Sam and Adam had told him about the suped-up djinn after the three of them, Dean had insisted on getting Lisa and Ben to safety before they did anything else. And safe equaled Singer Salvage. Besides, he found himself looking forward to someone else sharing his outrage over the whole 'been back for a year without letting you know' thing. Except, yeah, it hadn't worked out that way.

Dean would never forget the moment Sam and Adam walked into Bobby Singer's home. It had been a long drive with four adults and one almost-teenager crammed into a car better suited for small-children-only in the backseat, but when they finally pulled up in front of the familiar house, Dean felt the relief that only being truly home could bring.

Not for the first time, he wished he'd left Lisa and Ben to their lives and gone home with Bobby after they'd lost Sam. But, even if his promise hadn't been to a dying man, the moment had held that sort of weight and Dean had felt like he had to go through with it. Even if he had made it while certain he was going to die himself so he'd never expected to keep it. In the end, he'd decided if he couldn't have what he wanted, at least he could give Sam his wish. So he'd said goodbye to Bobby and gone to Lisa. Didn't change the fact that the man was a second father to him, and the only one still living, so they'd kept in touch, but it had been more than a year since he'd stepped through this doorway.

He'd expected a warm welcome, maybe at least a 'good to see you, boy,' and it hurt more than he'd ever admit when Bobby looked at him with utter disappointment. Then Sam had appeared behind him and Dean discovered a whole new level of hurt. Bobby had known. Had known almost the entire time. Through all of Dean's near insanity, through all the screaming nightmares, Bobby had known. All for another chorus of 'you were happy and it was for your own good.'

Dean had kind of gotten used to Sam hurting him over the years, but Bobby? He'd never expected this sort of crap from Bobby. Once again Dean bit back the urge to start shouting. Now wasn't the time. Gank their djinn-stalkers first. Then he could kick some more human ass.

Now

Once Castiel had pried Dean back out of bed, they dressed in their 'monkey suits' for the usual F.B.I. cover. Dean gave him a fond look as Castiel pulled on his trench coat and the angel had to smile. "I knew you liked the coat all along."

Dean shook his head, then gave the nearest lapel a tug before gesturing at Cas.

"Oh, you don't like the coat, but you like how I look in it."

A bright smile – Dean loved how easily Castiel read him – and an enthusiastic nod.

Cas pulled him close, then murmured into his ear, "Would you like to lie on it the next time I take you?"

A shudder, and Dean's arms tightened around him. "Tonight then."

Dean shifted and looked into Castiel's eyes. An equally easy message to understand. "I love you, too."

Then

Dean's impulse to be a good brother always trumped his own pain and he knew how much Sam loved talking about feelings, so when they ended up alone in Lisa's kitchen, Dean asked about the cage and Hell. To his surprise, Sam shut him down. Then went on about being out and why would he want to talk about Hell? For the third time in less than a day angry words nearly choked Dean along with the memory of all of Sam's pleading, fuck, nagging to tell Sam all about Hell colliding with Mr. Don't Want to Talk about it. Whole thing felt like some cornball movie with the scripts switched.

Shaking his head he turned away to stare out the kitchen window. Gave him the perfect view of his neighbor's dining room. Just in time to see Sid and his wife collapse to the floor. Diversionary tactic, probably already dead. His mind put it together even as he grabbed up a couple of syringes filled with antidote. Sam tried to stop him, but Dean shook him off and ran across the lawns and into Sid's house.

No pulse. Either of them. No surprise, but God. Then he looked up and found himself facing the waitress from the bar. Bridgett. Yeah, not much of a surprise there. She'd touched him, ran her fingers along his arm after handing him the receipt with her number on it and apparently that's all this new version of djinn needed to do to spread their toxin

He went for his gun, but she moved too fast – far faster than the djinn who'd captured him a few months after Dad had died. New powers, too much speed, whole new ballgame. Except as she grabbed him and her poison began flooding into his cells, he figured he'd never need to learn the new rules.

Now

Castiel always mentally shook his head at the memory of the first time he and Dean had worked a hunt together. Dean had opted to separate from Sam, but never liked working alone, so Castiel had come up with a plan that had allowed him to keep Dean company. They had gone in search of Raphael's vessel as part of a larger plan to trap the archangel who had killed Castiel a month earlier. Castiel had reasoned Raphael would know where God was. A fool's errand as it had turned out, but it had given Castiel his first experience as posing as someone he was not and trying to question a 'civilian.' Not one of his shining moments, but he learned quickly and these days he was quite good at it. He had to be since Dean could no longer take point in such aspects of an investigation.

Their current hunt indicated a series of strange deaths might lead to a poltergeist, but one not bound to a particular building. Instead this one seemed to have access to an entire small town. Curious, but not unusual in these post-Apocalypse times.

With Dean silent at his side, Castiel had spoken to several victims throughout the afternoon. None had anything to add beyond they'd suddenly gone flying into a very immovable object or something very solid had made the trip to them. Injuries ranged from broken bones to scratches and bruises, but two had died. They felt certain the key to dealing with the poltergeist was to find out where it had originally manifested, but had yet to find any useful information.

Castiel led the way into a hospital room where a mother in an arm cast sat next to the bed of her teenage son. The boy had a broken leg as well as an arm, and the extensive bandages around his head covered trauma severe enough he might well never see again. They really needed to find this evil spirit. "Mrs. Coleman?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered. Her voice sounded rough from a lack of sleep and, not for the first time, Castiel wished they did not have to disturb the victims while seeking to help them.

"I'm Agent Henley," he said holding up his fake badge, then nodded toward Dean, who held up his own forged credentials. "This is Agent Frey. We're sorry to intrude, but we have a few questions."

After four months of handling the questioning, Castiel seldom needed Dean's prompting, but he kept a mental ear tuned to Dean's surface thoughts in case the man thought his angel had missed something. It was part of their understanding. Dean needed to keep his silence, and Cas respected this, but a hunt trumped all and at times they needed a deeper level of communication than body language to coordinate their movements during an attack or in moments like this.

Cas began collecting the well-know details. In this case impacts with a tree and a wheelbarrow had caused the major injuries. They knew as much from reports a baffled sheriff had handed over without much of a fuss. Another common occurrence these days. While people had grown more accustomed to seeing or hearing strange things, their unwillingness to talk about it remained an issue. So frustrated local law enforcement usually welcomed the chance to leave investigating such things to what they saw as a real-life Mulder and Scully (Dean insisted Castiel was Scully since he was shorter.)

The known gathered, Castiel turned his attention to prying out the reluctant details. "Is there anything else you can think of?" he asked. "Something you might have heard once about similar occurrences in the past?"

Dean had yet to start even thinking again in actual words, but concepts and images flashed between them suggesting Cas ask about freaky winds.

Yes, he was getting to that. "Perhaps incidents explained by unusual wind patterns?"

She thought a moment, then an expression Castiel had learned to look for flittered across her face – equal parts embarrassment, disbelief and dismissal.

Cas believed the appropriate Deanism would be 'Yahtzee.'

Then

Death. He thought she'd send him spinning into a nightmare of death and demons. So many people he'd cared for, so many deaths. Except he found himself in tears trying to explain to Dad how Sam had disappeared on Dean's watch. Hurt so much. Sammy. Had he let something kill his baby brother? Why else would Sam be gone? And Dad … Dean had never seen him so furious. White and shaking with it. He lashed out at Dean, striking him backhanded across the jaw. Only time John Winchester ever raised a hand against one of his sons outside of training and it had been Dean who had pushed him over the edge. Dean could tell he wanted to hit him again, almost wished he would despite the near jaw-breaking force of the first blow. But Dad walked out instead, leaving Dean alone in silence and guilt, until he came back two days later and announced Sam had gotten onto a bus. Sam had run away. Had left Dean without a second thought, then never understood why Dean refused to listen to his damned stories about how much fun he'd had living life on his own.

'I hate this life. I want to leave it and everything else.' Over and over he heard Sam whisper, shout, growl the same words. Different ages, but always the same thing. Leave. Everything. Including Dean. No, Sammy didn't mean Dean. He couldn't mean Dean.

Sam left for Stanford. Stormed out into the night and left Dad. And Dean. But Dean ran after him. Got him into the car and drove him to the bus station. Saw him safely onto the bus. Sam barely looked at him, didn't say much more than 'thanks for the lift' and 'goodbye.'

Dean tried to call him once Sam was settled in California. Once a week. He called different days, different times for six weeks. Sam was always too busy to talk. Clingy, needy Dean. Bugging his brother all the time. Must be calling too often and pissing Sam off, so he started calling once a month. 'No, can't talk, got to go, take care of yourself, bye.' Six weeks then. No. Christmas? Didn't even answer. Dean's birthday? 'Test tomorrow, bye.' Sam's birthday? No answer – Dean sang the damned song to his voice mail. No call back. Dean got the message. Didn't call again. Not a word for two years.

Dad missing. Help. Sam came, but not for long, oh, wait, Jess dead, now it's personal, but always fighting, always complaining about Dean. His devotion to Dad and hunting. Always a failure in his brother's eyes.

Asylum. Sam standing over him, gun in his hand. Click. Click. Click. 'You hate me that much?'

Chicago. Sam saying he'll leave, go back to school once Jess is avenged. Doesn't care how much it hurts Dean or about what Dean wants.

First djinn. Can't even create a fantasy world where Sam wants him around.

Images, words come faster. Little rejections, big hurts. No time to recover before the next one.

Siren venom. 'Stop lying to me, Sammy,' countered with, 'Weak, pathetic Dean. Holding me back.'

Fight for Sam's soul and first time Sam ever physically beat Dean. Sam goes to Ruby, leaving Dean lying in shards of broken glass. Demon trumps brother. But hey, the Apocalypse is one hell of a consolation prize.

Dead. In Heaven. Best days of Sam's life times away from Dean. No place for his brother in Sam's idea of eternal bliss. Soulmates? Not a chance.

Sam gone. Fallen into a cage. Trapped for all time with Lucifer. Dean left to mourn for a year while Sam walks around 'breathing fresh air and hunting.'

Stabbing pain, things start swirling and this time Dean recognizes the antidote working. All the words he'd swallowed bubbled upward; every 'how could you?' and 'what did I do to deserve this?' rising; everything Sam ever said or did to show Dean beyond all doubt how little he meant to him ripping through his mind and flowing into a pulsing need to strike back, to claw and rend and maim with words. Words to hurt, hurt, hurt, hurt. Words that must never, ever be spoken.

Dean's vision cleared and he found himself cradled in Sam's arms, his brother looking down at him almost as if he cared. Liar! Like Dean had lied when he'd told his mommy he'd never leave her and she'd held him close, but he'd left her when she'd needed him. Left her to die. Like Daddy had lied when he said it was his job to fix things, but he'd let Mommy die. Dean had wanted to scream hate-filled, hurtful words then, too. But he hadn't.

The same tightness he'd felt all those years ago gripped his throat and smashed the only words he wanted to say. Wanted to think. Silence. Quiet. Peaceful. Silence. Shhh. No words. No more words.

"You okay, Dean?" Sam asked helping him sit up.

Dean nodded.

Now

The old stories Mrs. Coleman had heard from her grandmother led them to an almost brand new strip mall. Once a row of houses had stood on the site, but they'd fallen into disrepair, then been demolished for the new construction. A little more than sixteen months ago.

The destruction of its home should have banished the poltergeist as well, but Lucifer's time on this plane had changed much and instead the rogue spirit had escaped both its end and its confinement.

So much for the hope the old way of doing things – a few spell bags in the walls of the original structure – might do the trick.

With the end of the questioning, Castiel had withdrawn his small contact with Dean's mind. However, he did not need to restore it to hear the loud 'well, fuck!' radiating from him. Cas echoed the sentiment.

Then

Remodeling and restructuring Heaven had taken every moment of Castiel's time since he had vanished from Dean's Impala. He had no time or thought for Earth beyond making certain no angel would ever threaten the planet or the people upon it again. Which did not mean he had totally withdrawn from the life he'd known when he'd walked among humans. Or at least not from one particular human.

While respecting Dean's privacy and his need to fulfill his promise to his lost brother, Castiel found himself unable to … what was the expression? 'Leave him in peace?' In any case, a small part of Castiel's cosmic awareness always monitored Dean, and more than once they had spoken within Dean's dreams. But not often. Contact with Dean was … painful.

Castiel never knew if Sam had been blind to the feelings stirring between his brother and the angel fate had forced upon them or if he had simply disapproved. But the more human Castiel had become the more Sam had pushed Dean in the direction of a 'normal' life and a woman Dean didn't even really know beyond the physical. And in the end, things had happened in a manner that made Dean going to this Lisa inevitable because to not done so would have been to fail his fallen brother one last time.

In his dreams Dean had come to know this and to understand the nature of his feelings for Castiel. Yet not even within the cloak of those dreams did either move things further than an acknowledgement that one day they would be together. Not the usual elements of an epic love story, but Dean needed time to deal with Sam's loss and an inevitable parting with two people he had come to care for deeply. And Castiel's attention had to remain in Heaven for the time being. Time being the operative word.

As it did in Hell, time in Heaven moved far more swiftly than on Earth. It went far beyond a different location in the universe and a different plane of reality. It had to do with the nature of time itself. For Heaven 102 years had sped by since Lucifer's defeat. Castiel experienced every moment of this time and put it to good use. Yet in those very same moments, the part bound to Dean experienced the passing of minutes and hours in exactly the same manner as his human. It was not a unique skill, but one possessed by any old soul residing in Heaven or Hell.

So Castiel both mourned every second not spent with Dean while lamenting he had no way of making Heaven's time move even faster so he could get more done before … what? He could never answer the question when one of his brothers or sisters asked him why he moved with such frantic speed. He simply had the sense of something looming and knew he was rapidly running out of time.

The deadline arrived during one of his frequent planning sessions with Gabriel and Anna. Along with Castiel, God had resurrected a handful of angels killed during the clash between Heaven and Hell. Upon his return to Heaven, Castiel had been pleased to discover they had been among them. While the result of brainwashing and torture, Anna's attempt to kill John and Mary Winchester had made her uneasy in taking a leadership role, while Gabriel had simply wanted to return to Earth and get away from 'this cosmic ode to boredom.' Yet for some reason both had stayed and helped.

Anna shook her head over Castiel's latest suggestion. "Do you honestly think we're ready for angels to interact with the humans in Heaven? I mean I was all for ending that creepy solitary confinement thing Zac started, but a Heaven with no boundaries at all?"

It was a risk. Angels and humans and never mixed together in such large numbers before. "I understand your concerns, but we were all profoundly changed, I think for the better, due to our time among humans."

Gabriel grinned. "At least it will liven up things around here."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Anna muttered, but she looked more intrigued than truly troubled.

"Oh, lighten up, sis. Bored angels led to the Apocalypse. And maybe this will get the stick out of their collective asses."

Castiel opened his mouth to both agree and point out more than boredom had fueled things, but something brushed against his consciousness. He focused on it and fear flooded through him. Dean.

"Something wrong, little bro?"

"Dean," he said, gathering his energy to go to him, but the moment passed and the horrible soul-rending pain faded from attack to aftermath. Cas paused and took a moment to expand his awareness. His eyes widened at discovering his charge in the arms of … "Sam is with him."

Gabriel's expression went from curious to an equal alarm.

"The cage," Castiel said.

"On it." Gabriel disappeared, then reappeared within moments. "Mike and Lucy still present and accounted for," he said and they shared a relieved sigh, then he added in disgust, "And still squabbling like two toddlers in a sandbox. Not looking good for an early parole."

When Castiel had pleaded with his Father on behalf of Sam and Adam, God had decreed that Michael and Lucifer would remain in Hell until they 'got over themselves.' While the Host had taken a mental pause at His choice of words, He had further announced that Castiel was in charge, and there were to be no more wild parties while He was away. Then He'd vanished again.

Castiel had given Dean a more edited version of the story because he did not think his human was ready to know who God had taken as a vessel. Castiel often wished he did not know. Especially since the information was useless. Apparently the amulet had not worked because even God Himself did not know where or who He was unless He wished to and the logic of it all gave even a newly-minted archangel a headache.

He sighed, having learned quite some time ago to share Dean's frustration with his Father's mysterious ways. "Father must have saved Sam and Adam." Then not seen fit to tell even Castiel. He could almost hear Dean saying, 'So much for the perks of the job.' Or maybe he would opt for a more succinct 'what a fucker.' Fortunately, in the new order of Heaven, Castiel did not need to smite himself for such thoughts. Otherwise he would be self-incinerating hourly.

"Sounds like Dad. Must have gotten my sense of humor from Him."

Castiel glared at him, and very much wanted to tell him to go bother his girlfriend, Kali, but his plans for the next sixty or so years had changed. "I believe I will be returning to Earth soon," he announced. And all Heaven broke loose.

*

Again the different flow of time proved valuable. The hours long drive the Winchester took from Lisa's home to Singer Salvage took a week in Heaven. It gave Castiel a chance to make plans for his departure. Or rather to prepare the Host for his absence. None seemed pleased. God had left Castiel in charge. It was therefore his duty to remain in Heaven and be in charge.

Such circular arguments occupied most of his time for five days. On the sixth, as Dean would say, Castiel lost it. His anger roiled through his brothers and sisters while he berated them for being little more than sheep -- Gabriel interrupted briefly with I'd go with a lemming analogy myself.

In any case, he ranted on, they all had to stop looking blindly for someone to be in charge and start thinking for themselves! Finally he wrapped the whole cosmic-level fit up with an announcement that the borders between parts of Heaven where gone – Nothing like going out with a bang, little bro. -- and Gabriel was in charge -- ???

With that he vanished from Heaven to reform in South Dakota. A moment later Anna appeared at his side. "I don't think I've ever seen Gabriel speechless before."

Castiel smiled slightly. "It was nice to get the last word in for once."

Gabriel popped up on his other side. "Right, like I'd let that happen. You are out of your mind, but I'll cut you the appropriate baby brother slack and let you throw your tantrum. But I expect you to get your feathery ass back home in 62.34 years."

He tilted his head and gave his brother an assessing look. That was a very specific period of time, and while he'd avoided looking into the matter it did not take a genius to guess its significance. He nodded his agreement.

His older brother gave him a long look of his own, then gave Castiel a big hug. "Tell the bitch that if he hurts you I'll exile him to something far worse than a herpes commercial."

"I will."

"Right. Ah, well, off to deal with the prima donnas." He glowered at Castiel. "You owe me so much chocolate for this," he muttered, then disappeared.

Anna snickered and Castiel couldn't help but smile. "Anna, I thought to name you, too, but Heaven and I owe you much for how you were treated. I thought perhaps you might wish more freedom than the 'position' would allow."

She reached out and took his hand. "Cas, you were under the same influences I suffered from when I tried to kill the Winchesters. Once in my right mind again, I never blamed you for that." She grinned. "But it will be a lot easier to torment Gabe when I can come and go at will, so thanks."

"I would ask a favor then."

"Name it."

He eased a thin golden chain out from under his shirt and tie, then held it out to her, the crystal vial dangling from it glowing softly. "Guard my grace until I return." He could not function on Earth for Dean's lifetime with the full grace of an archangel. The vial would slowly fill over the next few months until its glow rivaled the sun, but still he would retain a measure of his grace. Enough to keep his wings for dire emergencies and to match the strength of any supernatural creature encountered.

She took it, then held it up to sparkle in the light of the rising sun. "Will you miss it?"

He knew she would answer no, but he nodded. "Yes, but it is more than a fair trade."

"He love you as much?"

"I don't know, but I will be content with whatever he can give." Again, the truth, though he would never stop hoping for more.

She put the chain around her neck. "I'll fetch the Impala and his things before I head back," she said, then kissed him on the cheek. "Take care of both of you."

"I will." Then he was alone.

A few minutes later a black Ford sedan followed by a pick-up truck pulled into the salvage yard. Not yet ready to manifest his vessel and make his presence known, Castiel watched as Sam got out of the car, then Adam exited the truck. The two half-brothers exchanged a worried look and a few words Castiel did not bother to listen to. His attention was focused on the Ford's passenger seat.

A jagged, soul-deep pain radiated from the beautiful man who slowly got out the car. Once again the strength of his human amazed Castiel. Another would have been too crippled to focus on reality, but Dean moved with his usual grace, his eyes sharp with typical awareness. No, not typical. Heightened. The sort of sharpness he normally displayed when surrounded by an enemy, not friends.

If he were wearing his vessel, Castiel's eyes would have narrowed. Whatever had happened those who should have represented safety had become a threat to be assessed.

The door burst open, then Lisa and Ben ran to Dean, who hugged them and nodded when asked if everything was all right. It seemed it was much easier to lie without words.

"Dean?" Lisa asked. "What's wrong?"

Not a question to answer with a nod, so Dean gave her a tight smile and shrugged. Apparently that was enough for Bobby to figure out what was going on because a loud, "Oh, crap," sounded from the front porch.

His face pinched with worry, Bobby moved into view. "Dean?"

Dean cast an inquiring look in his direction.

"Boy, have you lost your voice again?"

Dean nodded. Not acting concerned. 'Again' implied he had lost it once, so he would find it again. When he was ready. The implication allowed Castiel to relax some of his worry.

"Again?" Sam frowned. "This has happened before?"

"Yeah, back when your momma was killed."

Adam joined them. "I remember Dad telling me about that. Said Dean didn't say a word for close to two years."

Castiel followed as they all went inside and Bobby gave them the details of the first time. Apparently two years had passed between 'I've got you, Sammy' and the 'Sammy, no!' shouted when the toddler had tried to put a piece of broken glass in his mouth and was too far away for Dean to stop him. Ironic – he'd found his voice because of Sam only to lose it again for what Castiel suspected was the same reason.

"That means you'll be coming home with us, right?" Ben asked, gripping Dean's hand and Castiel could see Dean's heart break, could see how badly he wanted to speak in that moment. Instead he knelt down so he could look Ben in the eye. All the words lost shown in Dean's eyes. His love for the boy and his promise to always come if Ben needed him; his certainty life had something, someone much better in store for Lisa and Ben Braeden than him. At the same time the self-loathing he felt rolling off of Dean in waves made Castiel want to start smiting. Except for the boy, and maybe the woman, he had the distinct feeling he would find no better targets than those in this room.

Ben gave Dean a doubtful look, then hugged him tight. Dean hugged him back and looked like he never wanted to let go, but he looked up at Lisa and something settled in his expression, something that spoke of a certainty he was doing the right thing.

"We'll miss you," she said, caressing the side of her face as she often did Ben's.

Wanting to give Dean some privacy, Castiel followed Sam, Bobby and Adam into the kitchen. There he heard the story of what had happened – a djinn with powers no djinn should possess – but the specific hallucination that had stolen Dean's beautiful voice was known only to the man himself.

Castiel could have invaded Dean's mind and found out, but despite questionable people skills, he sensed Dean needed his silence and would see the angel's intrusion as a violation. No, if Dean wished him to know, Dean would find a way to tell him.

Once Sam had established the few known facts, the three men launched into a discussion about Dean's fate. Apparently they felt what happened next was up to them and there was little need to consult Dean.

Furious and needing to escape their presence before he did something rash, yet wanting to leave Dean his privacy as he helped his family of one year pack up to leave, Castiel fled to the roof of Bobby's home. He sat there for close to an hour, carefully keeping his attention off of all things human.

He remained at his perch while Dean walked Lisa and Ben to the truck, tossed their bags into the rear compartment, then kissed them both goodbye. Dean stood and watched them drive away, not moving until long after they'd disappeared from sight. Finally, with a heavy sigh, he turned and took a step toward the house. Then he stopped, frowned and worried his lip as if he were trying to figure something out, his gaze slowly sweeping the grounds. For a moment it seemed to pause on Castiel, but Dean shook his head and went inside.

Castiel gave him a moment and smiled when the Impala appeared beside the Ford. Anna had always possessed an excellent sense of timing.

He popped inside and followed Dean into the kitchen and watched him pull a beer out of the fridge. The others were gathered around the table, four bowls of stew Bobby must have heated up set out and waiting. But instead of eating as soon as Dean sat down, Sam looked a lot like he wanted to take the bottle away from him as if it would hurt him somehow and Dean glared at him with a 'just try it' look.

"Leave him be, Sam," Bobby said, picking up his own spoon.

Dean gave Sam a smug look, then tucked into his stew. He smiled, then nodded a thank you to Bobby. He even started cleaning up after dinner. They all gave him an odd look, like he'd never done anything like that before which was strange since Castiel knew Dean did his share of the cooking and the cleaning when they stayed here.

Dean's thoughts must have gone along a similar line because he sighed heavily again and everyone jumped at the huff of air as if he'd shouted at the top of his lungs.

Dean rolled his eyes and went back to washing things up. Probably because no one wanted to approach him while he had a few handy dishes to throw, they let him alone until he'd put away the last bowl.

As soon as he closed the cupboard, Sam cleared his throat. "So, Dean," he said sounding awkward and guilty, "Adam and I are … heading out in the morning, and we were all sort of thinking maybe you should hang around with Bobby for a few days."

Dean shook his head.

Sam frowned, his lips curling under. "Dean, you can't talk. Makes it too dangerous for you to hunt."

He shook his head again. It went on and on like that for a good hour with the three men all trying to convince him he should stay here where it was safe and besides Bobby could use some help with his research and couldn't Dean see the logic in that? Periodic shakes of his head provided Dean's end of the 'conversation.'

Finally Sam gave an overly dramatic heaving sigh and snapped, "Fine! Come with us then!"

Dean shook his head. This time all three of them shouting various versions of 'no way in Hell was Dean going off on his own and that was final.' Dean looked bored, but not really.

Castiel thought it looked … faked. Dean's eyes stayed sharp, constantly scanning the room and always pausing on where the angel stood. Finally Dean frowned, then stood up. With a determined look on his face, he stalked over to Castiel and stood right in front of him, his body trembling slightly with what looked like anticipation.

Yes, he, too, saw no point in allowing things to continue. He drew his vessel on and popped into view, drawing Dean into his arms before the others completed their startled reactions. When the echo of the last damnit faded away, Sam blurted out, "Castiel, thank God! You can fix him!"

Fix him? His invisible wings joined his arms in holding Dean tight, and he felt the human relax against him. "He is not broken." At least not in a way an angel's power could heal, but Castiel had hope an angel's love might make a difference.

"He can't talk!"

"Yet he has much to say, Sam Winchester, were you to take the time to listen." He felt Dean's lips curl into a smile against his neck. Although he was certain the others could hear, he spoke with gentle affection as he turned his attention to Dean. "The Impala is outside. I will join you in a moment."

Dean nodded, slipped out of his arms, then walked out of the room without a backward glance.

Bobby and Adam held their peace, but predictably, Sam quickly expressed his displeasure. "What the Hell do you think you're doing?"

There were many answers he could give. His personal preference revolved around a lightening bolt and Sam's backside. He settled for something reasonably polite. "Taking him where he can heal."

"And that's with you."

"Yes."

Sam snorted and crossed his arms. "Well, excuse me if I doubt the angel who's been ignoring my calls for the past year."

Year? "You've been free of the cage for a year?" Suddenly Castiel knew exactly where at least some of Dean's pain came from.

Either Sam had no fear of an archangel's fury or didn't notice Castiel's mood. "Like you didn't know? You've been ignoring my prayers!"

His eyes narrowed. "My focus was on Heaven. I heard nothing of this world, but Dean. Had you gone to him as you should have, he could have called me." Seriously worried he would lose his temper while power he had never wielded on Earth before crackled through him, Castiel opted to go.

He rematerialized in the front seat of the Impala. Dean started to turn the key, but Castiel touched his hand. "A moment, Dean." Within a day he would lack the 'juice' to pull it off, but for now it was a simple matter to transport both of them, car and all, to a momentarily deserted rest stop along a highway in the middle of Colorado.

Dean gave him a surprised look.

"Any pursuit might have led to … unfortunate consequences." Castiel sighed. "I am … very angry with your family right now."

A nod answered him, but Castiel clearly 'heard' the emphatic 'me, too.'

It almost made Castiel smile. "We have much to relearn about one another, you and I, but in this moment I feel you must know three things. I did not know Sam had returned. My awareness was focused on Heaven and you. Nothing else."

Dean nodded, but the tension fairly vibrating through his body did not seem to ease.

"Second, I will not intrude on your thoughts or dreams without your permission." He waited for another nod, then said, "Finally, I will not return to Heaven until your time on this world has come to an end."

A sigh and stiff shoulders relaxed as Dean gave him the faintest of smiles. Castiel had no doubts it was all he could manage at the moment. But it was a start.

*

To Castiel's surprise they did not drive for long that first night. His past experiences with Dean had led him to expect hours, if not days of travel with few breaks as his human worked through his pain. Instead Dean pulled off at the first exit they came to and found a hotel at least two steps above the quality of those the Winchesters tended to call home.

The room itself was clean and pleasant with walls that seemed thicker than paper. All in all a nice change even for Castiel who had only had to endure the 'usual' for brief periods. He sent Dean into the bathroom to ready himself for bed, while Castiel took care of warding the room and laying down salt lines. He did not miss the fact that Dean left the door open and would peer out whenever Castiel's task took him out of Dean's line of sight.

This would not do, especially since he knew Dean favored a long, hot shower after a hunt. The human had said it relaxed him and certainly Dean was much in need of such a comfort this evening. When Castiel finished securing the room he turned his full attention to Dean who stood in the doorway worrying his lip and glancing from the angel to the shower and back.

Castiel moved over to him and they looked at each other for a few moments. He had already given Dean his word he would remain with him, but apparently Dean felt too raw to accept it without visual confirmation. "What worries you?" he finally asked at a loss at what to do.

Dean worried his lip a moment longer then reached out, tugged on Castiel's coat, then glanced at the door.

Ah, he was dressed to leave, not to stay. Castiel took off the trench coat and hung it up in the closet. On further thought, he did the same with his suit coat, draping his tie over the same hanger. This done, he took off his shoes and socks, placing them inside as well before closing the closet door. He turned back to Dean and gave him a considering look. Was this sufficient?

Dean still looked worried, but he began to take off his clothes – a process made much swifter by the lack of usual layers. Apparently 'apple-pie-life' Dean did not need to wear half his wardrobe at a time. At another time, the ease with which Dean stripped in front of him might have amused Castiel, but at the moment he recognized it as simply a tactic to reduce the time Dean would have to let the angel out of his sight.

Should he remove all his own clothing and get in the shower with Dean? While he knew their relationship would progress to that point, it did not seem like the right time for it. But perhaps the sound of his voice might suffice? "Shall I come in and tell you of my adventures as 'sheriff of Heaven?'" he asked, nodding toward the toilet with the lid conveniently closed.

An eager nod answered him, so Castiel followed him into the bathroom and took a seat while Dean stepped into the shower. Focusing more on the humorous stories – mostly involving Gabriel – Castiel kept up a steady stream of chatter during the long minutes Dean gave himself over to hot water and steam. The needs of a human. Castiel frowned. They included food and he doubted a freshly traumatized Dean had been able to eat on the journey to Bobby's even if Sam had thought to try to make him do so.

"I think some room service is in order," he announced, standing up. "Soup perhaps?" He kept talking as he got the menu and stood near the door so Dean could still hear him as he ordered a turkey sandwich, a glass of milk and some chicken soup. Once finished, he hung up the phone, then returned to his perch until Dean shut off the water.

Castiel moved to the doorway as the shower curtain opened and Dean stepped out, his skin pink and glowing in a deceptive illusion of health denied by the haunted look in his eyes and the dark circles beneath them. It made Castiel want to touch him, to comfort him somehow, but again he felt it important not to do something that suggested he might desire Dean in such a vulnerable moment. Especially when he did.

Fortunately a knock on the door announced the arrival of the food – it had been a very long shower. He left Dean to deal with the logistics of keeping Castiel in sight while not giving the delivery person a memorable sight or two. He accepted the food, signed for it, then closed the door behind the young woman, restoring them to their solitude.

Dean pulled on a fresh pair of boxers and a t-shirt, then sat down at the table as Castiel indicated. He stared at him until Castiel took a seat, too, even though he would not be eating. Nor would he need to do so with any frequency for months.

Castiel returned the staring favor until Dean began to eat. While obviously reluctant to take that first bite, Dean slowly finished all the food and milk. He looked better for it, too. "You should sleep now," Castiel said.

The lip worrying began again. This time Castiel did not need a long staring session to get the message. "Do you wish for me to lie down with you?"

Dean flushed a little, his gaze dropping to the carpet, but he nodded. The confirmation did not surprise Castiel. Part of keeping an eye on Dean had meant he knew Dean had slept with Lisa more for comfort than attraction.

"Very well."

While Dean brushed his teeth, Cas stripped down to his boxers and got into the nearest bed, careful to take the side which would give Dean the illusion of being between the angel and the outside door. The sheets were soft against his skin and had a fresh, not bleached scent while the mattress seemed firm and comfortable. It seemed such a small reward for all Dean had done, yet it was one seldom indulged in. Castiel would have to take steps to ensure it would continue.

Dean interrupted his thoughts by turning out the light, then easing into the bed. He lay there stiffly in the dark and Castiel had to smile. "You may rest against me if you would like." Dean swiftly wrapped himself around Castiel like a small child clutching a teddy bear. And again Castiel smiled. "Sleep well, Dean. I will watch over you."

Whether assured by the promise or simply too exhausted to go on a moment longer, Dean feel asleep almost instantly. While keeping his word not to enter Dean's dreams, he did make certain those dreams were sweet.

*

They remained in the small town for three days doing nothing more than sleeping, walking around the neighborhood and eating in restaurants with more to offer than bacon cheeseburgers.

On the fourth morning Dean finally powered up his laptop and began looking for a hunt. He found one a day's drive away. A wendigo on the prowl in a wooded area much too small to normally make a home for one. It seemed as if nothing was as it had been. Even a drive with Dean.

He still seemed to take great pleasure in being behind the wheel of his 'baby,' but one hand often sought Castiel's and, beyond the sound of the angel's voice, they drove in silence. Music or at least the cassettes housing it had apparently become something Dean wished to avoid. This saddened Castiel and he added it to the things he must set right.

Given he still had almost 90 percent of his powers the hunt was ridiculously easy even with him doing as little as possible. He found the trail, but let Dean do the tracking. And while he could have zapped the creature into non-existence, he let Dean 'torch' it. In fact he would have done nothing at all, if it weren't for the appearance of second wendigo leaping from cover to eviscerate Dean. With annoyance Castiel dispatched it. Wendigo's did not exist together. They were far too territorial and if one did cross the path of another, it always led to a fight to the death. Yet they had stumbled on two occupying the same hunting ground and showing signs of having worked together as partners.

Offended by this disruption in the order of things, he glared at the two burnt husks. "I believe it would be prudent if we no longer assumed anything we once knew still holds true."

Wearing the same annoyed expression Castiel was certain adorned his own face, Dean nodded.

*

A Shtriga in Wyoming also displayed changes, but at least these revolved around it being far easier to kill. A leprechaun serial killer in northern Texas made up for that happy discovery, and Dean paced around their room waving his arms in a silent rant about 'freaking leprechauns' not staying on their own side of the ocean and since when had they gone all homicidal anyway. Needless to say, Castiel had gotten quite good at reading words into every look or gesture.

It helped them swiftly become extremely effective hunting partners despite Dean's silence. Which made it something between hilarious and tragic when Dean started giving him the silent treatment. All because of Chuck Shirley. It turned out the prophet (he could almost hear Gabriel laughing over this 'uninformed' description, but who was Castiel to argue with his Father about the annoyance of selective amnesia?) had not only continued to write the Winchester Gospels, but since Lucifer's defeat they'd turned into runaway bestsellers. The 'man' had gone from obscurity to riches and it was only a matter of time until people started putting together events and story and came up with the Church of Winchester (although Castiel fervently hoped it would not be for several years. Preferably somewhere around 63 of them.)

When Dean had noticed the new books on the stands – and how he had failed to do so before that unforgettable moment in a Montana Wal-Mart Castiel did not know – he'd gone into a homicidal pantomime. Castiel had promised he would deal with it, and for the first time in five weeks had Dean's permission to leave his side. Unfortunately his mission had resulted in abject failure – at least in Dean's view.

There was no way even for a full-fledged archangel to rid the world of those books (and Castiel was down 70 percent power and dropping – as it would continue to do so until he reached 25 percent) and he certainly could not kill the man for doing the mission God had given him (it was so much easier if he just didn't delve too deeply into the whole concept of other identities.) So Castiel had struck a bargain with him. No sequels -- the books would end with Lucifer's defeat and a vague, but hopeful epilogue. Further Dean, Sam and Bobby would split 30 percent of the profits between them. There would be no further need for credit card scams or games of chance for any purpose other than fun. It pleased Castiel since it meant no return to shabby motels and greasy dives (other than for the occasional nostalgic novelty.) Pleased did not describe Dean's reaction. He stabbed Castiel again. And the angel was not quite certain whether or not Dean knew he could still heal instantly, but that it did hurt. Not that he showed it.

Dean then proceeded to not 'speak' to Castiel for nine days. For a 3,000 year-old being who normally saw centuries flash by in the blink of an eye, it was amazing how slowly nine days could pass. The only respite he got was at night when Dean could not stop himself from curling up with his angel. Even if Dean was clearly not happy about it.

On the ninth day they were driving eastward and Castiel could endure it no longer. He did not look at Dean, but said, "I love you and I am sorry I failed you." He could think of nothing else to say for he had truly done his best. And he knew Dean did not really wish him to kill Chuck (as if he could), but had hoped for a better outcome than a sharing in the profits of the books that hurt him so deeply.

Dean said nothing, of course, but after several minutes his hand slid slowly across the bench seat until their fingers were interlaced once more. It was hours later that Castiel realized it was the first time he'd said what they'd both always known. He loved Dean.

*

At the nine-week mark Castiel came to two conclusions. First, Dean was far too comfortable not speaking. He was almost certain the difficultly in communicating with those around him had been the reason his mind had accepted the need to speak when his little brother had been in danger. Between Castiel's general imperviousness to danger and his ease at understanding a silent Dean, he was giving his human little reason to recover. And while Castiel would admit they almost certainly understood each other better than when Dean's meaning could be lost in evasions and confusing pop culture references, the thought of never hearing his beautiful voice again truly depressed Castiel. He needed to find some way to push at Dean's comfort zone without making him worry Castiel would leave him. A tall order given the man's deep insecurities.

Second, the lack of music during their drives had continued long beyond a point Castiel believed healthy. Music had been so much a part of Dean and his relationships with family, hunts and even the Impala itself that the lack of it seemed almost unnatural. He began to think speech would not, could not return without the heavy metal playing in the background. And as he mulled these two conclusions over in his mind, he began to think of a combined solution.

The first thing he did was risk leaving Dean's bed long enough to take a look at the once beloved cassettes now consigned to the trunk. They were not in the best of shape. Several looked on the verge of breaking within the next few uses, and a few already had. Dean must have played them quite a bit while he had mourned Sam. No wonder he could not bear to listen to them now. A simple enough task to replace or restore, but either would make them different than the treasured mementos of the past. Or at least he hoped one day Dean would recover enough to treasure them again. But for now, in any form, the songs on them would destroy Dean's comfort zone, not push at it. So he needed music, just not this music.

An idea occurred to him and he almost popped off to Heaven, but at the last second he remembered he'd promised Dean he would not return there during Dean's lifetime. Ah, well, there were other ways, including the most obvious – so he prayed. It was a very specific prayer and not one aimed at God, but a few hours later a quiet whisper in his mind urged him to slip once more out of the bed he shared with Dean.

Anna stood next to the Impala. She smiled at him. "All done," she announced. "He even told me how to use the 'angel mojo' to install it."

Castiel glanced inside the car and smiled to find everything looked exactly the same as it had before. The esthetics of Dean's 'baby' remained pure. "Convey my thanks."

She nodded, kissed him on the cheek, then vanished.

It took another day to finish up a haunting that was blessedly normal, even if Dean did make a show of displaying every possible expression to convey boredom as they combed through the town records to find the identity, then final resting place of the spirit in question. A simple salt and burn during the night and they were on their way to the next possible hunt at mid-morning.

Once they reached the highway, Castiel reached over and turned on the radio. Dean glanced at him out of the corner of his mind, then relaxed a little when classical music versus heavy metal filled the car. Then he frowned, a puzzled sort of one. They were too far from any city large enough to have a dedicated classical station. "A gift from Ash," he said, gesturing toward the deceptively familiar radio. "It's actually a satellite radio."

Dean's frown deepened, but there was little he could object to. Castiel had been very specific in his request. He'd wanted an extremely modern stereo – one capable of receiving satellite radio as well as playing iPods – without, and this was why he'd needed Ash instead of a trip to an electronic store, looking at all different from the original car radio. He'd also decided not to trust some nameless mechanic to not damage old wiring while merging it with new technology. He did not want another round of the silent treatment.

Finally Dean nodded and he began to act like he couldn't even hear the music. But he also never complained. Not once during two weeks full of selections of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and host of other composers. Even mute Castiel knew Dean would never 'suffer in silence' and he guessed as long as he stayed away from 'emocrap' so popular these days with 'Sam and other teenaged girls' there would be no real objections. Still, classical music, while something Dean no doubt expected an angel to like, would not push at Dean's mental walls beyond the simple end of the music ban. So as the third week and yet another long haul to another hunt began, Castiel changed the selection from Pops to a station called Bluesville. "I find I favor this type of music," he said, settling back into his seat.

Another frown answered him. It came and went depending on how close a particular song came to the sort of driving beat common to Dean's favored bands. But he slowly began to relax and even smiled when Castiel started mixing in the last names of famous blues players for their aliases. It became their music, the soundtrack to their lives together versus the one that had underscored Dean's life with John and Sam Winchester. So he thought he might be forgiven for a fleeting second's worth of regret when, almost six months after betrayal and a djinn had stolen both Dean's voice and his music, Dean reached over and changed the station to Classic Rock. And Castiel absolutely, positively did not acknowledge he saw the way Dean's hand shook as he did so.

Instead Castiel made the expected sound of protest and hoped.

Dean looked at him, scowled, gestured between himself and the steering wheel, then at Castiel and his lack of steering wheel. A very clear, 'Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole.' "Of course," Castiel said, suppressing a smile. "My apologies."

A different sort of look crossed Dean's face. Something that suggested he knew what Castiel had done, and his hand reached for the angel's. That night when they slid into bed, Dean kissed him for the first time. Castiel responded with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm, but was content when after a few more kisses Dean snuggled up against him and went to sleep.

*

They were fifty miles out of Champagne, Illinois and eight months into Dean's silence, when Castiel felt enough of his grace slip away – now at 45 percent power -- that he could no longer afford the subtle drain of keeping an eye on the playlist for Classic Rock. Ten minutes later AC/DC's Back in Black filled the Impala.

Fortunately he'd planned things so the inevitable happened while he, not Dean, was driving. Something else that was different from days spent with Sam – Dean had taught Castiel how to drive and he did about half of it versus Sam spelling Dean only when he was too tired or too hurt to keep going. And as one of their personal quirks, Castiel always played the rock station while Dean played the blues. Or as a gift to one another. But as Dean tensed up and some of the color drained from his face it didn't feel like much of a gift.

Castiel almost smote the radio. Instead he did nothing and waited. Dean shook a little, and his hand tightened around Castiel's, but he did not attempt to silence or switch the music. He simply sat there and endured it. At least at first, but then some part of him seemed to remember that the music was not all about memories, but something he genuinely loved and the tension began to ease. No one would describe him as relaxed by the time the song ended, but he no longer seemed upset by it either.

That night there was more urgency in the kiss, and Dean coaxed Castiel into lying on top of him while they 'made out.' After a long time, Dean's legs parted and wrapped around Castiel, then he pushed upward, his hardness grinding against the angel's lower abdomen. It was a clear demand, and all of the gentlemanly restraint Castiel had managed for so long vanished into a huge internal shout of 'finally!'

Still he loved Dean so he stopped nuzzling Dean's neck and lifted up enough to look into green eyes. With his own eyes he tried to ask, 'are you sure?'

Dean gave him an annoyed look and tugged at Castiel's t-shirt. Yes, they were wearing far too many clothes, and Castiel quickly took care of the problem. A tube of lube was pressed into his hand – Dean must have slipped into a drugstore during one of the few times they weren't together. It helped a sense of rightness to settle over Castiel, calming him enough for his hands to remain steady as he slowly prepared Dean for his entry.

He didn't bother to ask Dean if he'd ever done this before. Castiel already knew the answer was no. During their trip out of Hell, Dean's mind had been as bare as his soul to the angel who had saved him. While not even Sam had known, Dean had indulged in more than a few sexual encounters with men, but it had never gone beyond hand or blow jobs in back alleys and bathroom stalls. Dean obviously wanted the first time between the two of them to have nothing in common with men he could barely remember.

They gazed into each other's eyes as Castiel slowly breached Dean's body, his every sense attuned to any sign of discomfort in the precious man beneath him, but Dean only tightened his legs, pulling on Castiel to encourage him deeper. A sigh of pure satisfaction escaped Castiel as his balls came to rest against Dean's flesh, and a silent lift and fall of Dean's chest seemed to echo the sentiment. Castiel kissed him, then whispered, "I love you."

Dean's hand cupped the side of Castiel's face and he looked intently into the angel's eyes. 'I love you, too.' The message was so clear he felt like his heart would burst and Castiel couldn't keep from grinning. Despite a near overwhelming need to start thrusting, he drew Dean into several long, loving kisses, coaxing the long dormant fires within his human into full flame.

Only when Dean began to writhe, his hands pulling urgently at Castiel's shoulders did the angel allow his lower body to move. His first thrust made Dean's eyes widened and his back arched in ecstasy. He smiled at the shock he saw. "I rebuilt your body. It has no secrets from me," he whispered into the nearest ear then nipped at the earlobe as he fell into a rhythm guaranteed to torture Dean with the greatest pleasure for as long as possible.

Dean clung to him, his mouth falling open in a series of soundless moans and groans as his body grew slick with sweat, but despite the near maddening pleasure consuming Castiel's own body, he never faltered, never let his attention waver a moment from Dean. Dean. His Dean. His beautiful, beautiful Dean. And at the moment they both hovered on the verge of release, he opened his mind and projected all that he felt for his human because Dean had to know, had to understand he was everything to Castiel and he would never, ever let him go. Unless Dean wanted him to. Love. Not obsession. Pure soul-deep love.

Fingernails cut into his back and if he'd been human, the arms and legs tightening around him would have bruised as Dean shuddered through his release. Castiel held himself in check, enjoying the full brunt of Dean's pleasure. Only when he went still did Castiel give one final thrust, then let his own fluid heat spill deep inside Dean.

He thought Dean had passed out, in fact he knew he had for at least a few moments, but when Castiel tried to shift his weight, Dean's limbs tightened around him, while his face pressed against the join of Castiel's shoulder and neck. Within moments a different fluid heat dampened Castiel's skin as silent sobs began to shudder through Dean's body. Again his mind shouted 'finally' while he held Dean close as he cried through the night.

*

A creature much like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in that movie Dean had insisted they watch went on a rampage through southern Indiana. Fortunately, a smaller version and relatively allergic to cameras so the world was not treated to the sight of them using flame throwers to roast it alive on the evening news. But it was a very close thing. It was becoming quite obvious that the days when the majority of the population could pretend the stuff of nightmares wasn't real would soon pass. Castiel mourned for the lost innocence even as he welcomed the increased help from locals they needed to assist. But that was the nature of this world – the only thing that seemed truly inevitable was change. And somehow humans always managed to adapt. And things began to change on a more personal level as well.

After that first night they'd coupled, Dean seemed almost addicted to Castiel making love to him. More than once he'd had to use a small measure of his grace to ensure Dean could walk without discomfort after a particularly demanding night. Although he supposed that healing the consequences did prevent Dean from learning the benefits of moderation, he could also not bear to either refuse him or see him in pain. He supposed that meant they deserved each other. Dean re-enforced this notion by displaying his love for Castiel with an ease that would have astonished anyone who had even met him before.

Their drives were split between two types of music. But while the blues remained a favored constant, Dean now listened to Liquid Metal with a happy enthusiasm and … there was Bobby. Once a week since Castiel had whisked Dean from his home, Bobby Singer had sent Dean the same text -- I'm sorry. Please let me explain.

At first Dean had ignored Bobby's messages with the same diligence he used with Sam's more intrusive texting and calls. But after a few months of Bobby's subtle persistence, he'd started to look at the message instead of leaving the phone lying around for Castiel to see, then verify it wasn't something important like come help, I'm dying.

And then one Sunday almost a full ten months to the day they'd fled Singer Salvage, Dean held his cell in his hand and stared at Bobby's text for a full five minutes. Then he punched a speed dial combination and handed the phone to Castiel.

"Dean?" Bobby's hopeful voice sounded after only the first ring.

"It is Castiel, Bobby," he said. "Dean is not ready to speak to you, but he is ready to listen."

"Thank God."

"Yes, I believe you should," he said, still more than a little angry with the man, but willing to accept Dean's decision. He tried to hand the phone back, but Dean shook his head and pointed at the speaker button as he pulled Castiel down onto the bed with him.

He took the hint and shifted so Dean could snuggle up against him, then said, "He can hear you."

"Son, I'm sorry," Bobby began. "I was tryin' to do what was best, but I guess I'm the biggest idjit of all." He sighed after a pause, perhaps remembering Dean could not answer him and Castiel wasn't about to. "Thing is, I … damn. When you showed up on my doorstep after Castiel pulled your ass out of Hell, I knew it was you soon as I laid eyes on you. Fought it for a few moments 'cause it seemed too good to be true and stuff don't usually go that way for us."

Dean gave a silent huff of agreement.

"But I knew it was you. So suddenly it's two years later and it's Sam standing on my doorstep. 'cept I didn't get that same 'he's back' feelin' I got with you. Then despite knowin' how it tore him up so bad he turned to comfort from a fuckin' demon when you were … gone and you havin' experience with what he could be facin' downstairs, he stands there tellin' me we can't let you know 'cause you have a shot at a normal life."

Another sigh. "Well, it didn't feel right to me. He didn't feel right. I figured I'd tell you Sam was back soon as I was sure he was. I'm still waitin' on that feelin', but I'm damn sorry you got hurt by it before I could find my peace of mind."

Dean had tensed up in his arms and he could feel dampness on his shirt, and all he could do was offer up the only scrap of information he had. "If it is of any comfort, he is Sam. But his brief time bonded to Lucifer has … enhanced certain unfortunate characteristics." He pressed a gentle kiss to the top of Dean's head. "I believe that is the … bad vibration you are sensing. And in time, we can hope, he will recover himself."

"No clue how he and Adam got back?"

"None," he answered not even trying to keep the frustration out of his voice, then he sighed. "And I'm sure if I were to find out the truth there would be some ridiculous, but vital reason I could not tell you."

Bobby snorted. "I hear you on that, son."

Castiel found himself forgiving Bobby. His reasons for his silence had been valid and not truly centered around keeping Dean in a life everyone had to have quietly known Dean had not truly wanted. And Dean seemed to agree with his assessment as much of the tension had eased from his body. What remained undoubtedly had one name on it – Sam. Castiel would have given much to take the weight of the troubles surrounding Sam from Dean's shoulders, but he could do nothing more than he'd done from the very beginning – support Dean while the brothers found their own way.

Bobby cleared his throat. "So are we square, Dean?"

Dean nodded.

"He says yes."

"So maybe we might exchange a text or two."

Dean looked up at Castiel with sad eyes and shook his head. Then he gestured from the phone to Castiel. "I am afraid Dean is not ready for words yet in any form, Bobby. But he has indicated he would welcome any news from you and wishes for me to keep you informed about our movements."

Dean nodded, as ever, pleased with how easily Castiel interpreted his meanings.

"Good," Bobby said, his voice gruff with emotion. "That's good."

There was a long uncomfortable silence, then Dean glared at him. Oh, of course. "My apologies, perhaps now would be a good time to bring you up-to-date?"

"Yeah, sounds good." It took almost an hour for them to exchange tales of all that had been encountered over since they'd last met. And all of it boiled down to one thing – nothing was the same except when it was.

Although one thing did not change – Dean wanted nothing to do with Sam.

*

It was the beginning of the first week of the eleventh silent month when Castiel began to suspect something. Despite his closure with Bobby, even his grudging permission for Castiel to contact Sam – if for no other reason than to put a stop to his spamming Dean's cell – Dean showed no signs of recovering his voice. Even at times when one would have thought the sound a human made had nothing to do with a voice box, Dean managed to cling to his silence.

In a moment of despair, Castiel began to think he never would hear the rich tones of Dean's voice or suffer one of his teasing taunts again. It had been almost a year, surely if … It had been almost a year. And then he understood. Sam had kept his own version of silence for a year. Nothing would prompt Dean to speak a word until Sam had suffered an equal length of time.

"Well, duh," Gabriel said, rolling his eyes. It was one of his infrequent 'how could you dump those morons on me then run off to sex up your boyfriend' visit-laments, but this time Castiel had managed to 'get a word in edgewise' and present his theory. "I thought you said you were getting better at figuring out this human stuff?"

Leaning back against the Impala, Castiel glared at him and wondered why he'd come to think of Gabriel as his favorite brother. Also, was the parking lot dark enough for him to get away with smiting him? No, he didn't have the power level to do it – 25 percent power and holding -- but he could try. "It is complicated."

Gabriel snorted. "No, little bro of mine, it is as simple as the age-old proverb – payback is a bitch."

"I do not believe that is all that ol-"

"Figure of speech," Gabriel cut him off with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Dean's pissed and Gigantor is doing penance. Easy."

Despite seeing Gabriel's point, he instantly leapt to his human's defense. "Dean is not that petty."

"I agree."

He upped the wattage of his glare, certain Gabriel was 'messing with him.' "You just said --."

His hand clapped Castiel on the shoulder, then stayed there in what he supposed Gabriel meant as a comforting gesture. But if that were his intention he should really pay more attention to his strength. Castiel would still be bruised by morning and Dean would fuss. Irritated, he sent a pulse of his grace through his shoulder, and Gabriel jerked his hand back with a hiss. "Temper, temper, little one," he said, obviously more amused by the shock than hurt. "Let me spell it out for you. Dean was traumatized and lost his voice."

Gabriel paused, then gave Castiel an expectant look. "Oh, yes."

He looked pleased, rather too much like a pet owner with a clever dog and he would have to remember to 'kick his brother's ass' when he finally got back to Heaven and full strength. "But because you have this big schmoopy love for him, he's pretty much recovered."

Schmoopy? "Yes."

"But he's still mad at Sam and he knows if he has contact with him, Sammy'll give him the puppy eyes and get him so turned around he'll end up apologizing to Sam. So his sub-conscious is holding out on the prime means of communication to keep things in payback mode instead of 'forgive me Sammy' mode."

"That's ridiculous."

"Yep." Gabriel nodded and manifested his fifth Snickers bar in an hour, then dug in with great relish. "'s also really human," he said around a mouthful of chewy nougat.

So it was. Castiel sighed. He hated it when someone understood Dean better than he did.

"Don't sweat it, baby bro," Gabriel chuckled. "Love can make a guy blind to his beloved's faults. That's what you've got me for."

Castiel wasn't certain this was a good thing. He knew it wasn't when Gabriel said, "And did I tell you what Raphael is up to? What a douche!"

He sighed and resigned himself to listening – his own penance for his freedom at his brother's expense. But it was almost dawn before Gabriel finally had his fill of complaining and candy.

Dean was awake and pouting by the time Castiel returned to the room, but at least he wasn't panicked. He'd had to expect it when Castiel had murmured 'Gabriel is here' around midnight, then had slipped from their bed. Fortunately, Dean was amiable to Castiel making it up to him, proving some forms of penance were more enjoyable than others.

Now

Castiel sighed and said his goodbyes to Bobby before he turned his full attention to Dean, who once again proved even a mute man could lapse into profound silence. He let that silence reign for several minutes, then offered, "We do not have to call Sam."

Dean looked hopeful for a moment. They'd figured out a solution to the poltergeist problem once they'd gotten past the scale of things, but it would require five participants – one at the center of town and the others posted at the cardinal directions. To make certain it worked the banishing rite would need to be chanted in ancient Sumerian, something the local townspeople would not be able to handle without time and practice. So they needed three other hunters. Bobby was already on his way, bringing the total down to two.

It infuriated Castiel sometimes how fate seemed determined to make Dean its 'little bitch.' Two more weeks and the mental blocks in place would fall away, but time seemed to be up unless they could think of two other hunters who were both reliable and less than a state away. They both knew Rufus was on the East coast and the more time that passed, the more likely another death or crippling injury to innocents. And there wasn't another left alive that it would thrill Dean to work with. His shoulders slumped in defeat.

Castiel hated it, but he had to press the issue. He cupped the side of Dean's face, "I'm sorry, my love. The rite will work if you hold the words in your thoughts, and I will 'run as much interference' as I can, but it seems we must call upon your brother's aid."

Dean looked miserable, but he nodded. Castiel pressed a kiss to his lips, then picked up his cell and dialed.

*

Bobby arrived an hour after dawn the next day. Dean immediately went to him, embraced him and gave every sign of being genuinely pleased to see the man again. It was a different story when Sam and Adam arrived mid-afternoon. Dean looked from the black car pulling up to Castiel with a plea in his lovely eyes.

The angel spent the rest of the day keeping himself between Dean and Sam, favoring the younger Winchester with what Dean used to call his 'smity' glare whenever Sam attempted to turn the 'puppy eyes' on Dean. If he hadn't been certain he would have need of all his remaining power in the hours to come, he would have gladly sent more than a few of the 'grace-shocks' he'd given Gabriel Sam's way. They had talked about this on the phone. About how Dean still needed time and distance and Sam needed to respect that. To his dismay, if not his surprise, Sam ignored his earlier agreement to those restrictions and did his best to launch into yet another round of 'he'd only been trying to give Dean what he knew Dean had truly needed.'

Finally Dean trained his best 'you idiot' glare on Sam, stalked over to Castiel and gave him a kiss, deep enough and hard enough to make the angel wonder if his vessel's tonsils remained whole by the time it ended. Not that he objected. To the contrary, his arms had gone around Dean and held him close while his human ravaged his mouth. It was quite an enjoyable experience and had the benefit of shocking Sam into his own silence and avoidance. Castiel did not take it personally or view it as some sort of homophobic reaction on Sam's part for he could sense the acute embarrassment consuming Sam. It must be quite a disorienting experience to go from such certainty of rightness to the abrupt knowledge that he couldn't have possible gotten things more wrong.

As the sun began to set, the five of them overcame any issues long enough to gather and go over his plan one last time. It wasn't necessary, but he found himself assigning the directions based on the lore surrounding the elements they represented. Bobby – the solid father-figure – would take earth-north. Sam with his fast temper, air-east. Dean, who so carefully hid the depth of his emotions, water-west. Adam, the least known, but still quick to take up the 'family business,' fire-south. Which left the spirit-center for Castiel.

Dean immediately tensed and shook his head. Those stationed at the cardinal directions would be in little if any danger – the circle they would form a few inches outside of the poltergeist's range. But the one at the center? He would suffer the brunt of the rogue spirit's rage. Naturally, Dean wished such a risk to be his.

Before he could say anything, Sam shook his head. "Dean, he's an angel. The thing can't kill him."

"Sam is correct," Castiel assured him, but Dean gave him a knowing look, forcing him to concede, "It can do me no lasting harm."

Dean bit his lower lip, clearly hearing all Castiel was not saying about temporary harm, but in the end, he nodded because not even his unhealthy sense of self-sacrifice could deny the logic of the situation. Castiel rewarded him by seeing the others out of the room, then making love to Dean for the few hours remaining until midnight.

*

Castiel gave Dean one last reassuring kiss, then said, "I love you. I will not leave you."

Dean gave him the gentle, almost shy kiss Castiel had come to label as 'I love you, too.' When he drew back, his hands tightened on the steering wheel as Castiel got out of the Impala, his body trembling with the obvious need to keep the angel at his side. It made Castiel's heart ache, but he had done all he could to help Dean accept that whatever might happen this night, all would be well. "Take care, my love," he said, then watched the car drive away, heading due west.

As it turned out, the exact center of their circle was two feet six inches to the right of the middle of a warehouse. Not an ideal situation given all the crates and sturdy walls for their prey to use against him, but one that had made it beyond obvious Castiel was the only one who could survive this night in one piece. Beyond that, he would cope.

He easily cleared out the area he needed, then used a piece of chalk to draw the necessary sigils. They formed a circle of their own, but one that would cage the poltergeist versus serving as protection for Castiel. Once finished, he stood and waited until exactly midnight. Then he began to chant.

Instantly he felt the threads of power reaching out from the four directions and funneling toward his circle, and within moments an angry roar filled the waves of power as they caught up their prey, hurtling it into the circle with Castiel, entrapping them both while the others chanted the furious creature out of existence. Unfortunately while ensnared, the rite did not strip it of its powers.

*

Dean manned his direction and forced his thoughts to form the needed words. It was the first time in almost a year actual words echoed through his mind. Abstract images and emotions had filled the silence for so long the conciseness of language almost hurt, but he knew if he faltered his angel would suffer for it, and more deaths might follow.

So he thought the words with the precise timing and inflections needed. It took five of the longest minutes of his life, then all the power shimmering in the air around him vanished with something that felt much like a pop, and he knew it had worked. But at what cost? He was running for his car, then halfway to the warehouse with no real memory of setting his baby into motion.

Fortunately, the roads were empty and nothing beyond a few red lights he ignored stood between him and his angel. Within another five minutes he brought the Impala to a screeching halt next to the warehouse door, then bailed out, barely remembering to put the vehicle in park so it wouldn't keep right on going.

He ran inside, his mind screaming for Cas, then froze for a moment when he saw him. Debris littered the floor and his angel lay in a puddle of blood, flowing from, God, so many jagged wounds. He could see bone peaking out in a dozen spots as he fell to his knees beside Cas, the ever growing river of blood soaking through his jeans.

His mind screamed nothing, no one, not even an angel could survive this sort of damage, and he pulled Cas into his arms, cradling him against his chest. Blue eyes fluttered open and gazed up at him. "All … right," Cas gasped, even now, with the contents of his vessel spilling all over the concrete floor, trying to soothe Dean.

A high whine of protest echoed through the huge room, yet Cas' mouth did not move.

"You called?" Gabriel said, appearing a few inches beyond the red pool.

He nodded, gesturing frantically at Cas, begging the archangel to fix his brother, but Gabriel looked puzzled. "Sorry, Deano, I'm not sure I understand."

Cas growled. A weak, pathetic sound, but a growl nonetheless. "Do … not … torment. …" The effort to speak seemed to drain the angel's last reserves and his eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp in Dean's arms.

Glass in chubby fingers. Jagged and sharp headed toward a mouth eager to explore. 'Sammy, no!' Terrified, Dean let the words erupt from their prison. "Please! Help him!"

Gabriel smirked. "All you had to do was ask," he said, tapped his brother on the shoulder, then vanished. Along with all the blood and the slightest sign of injury.

Blue eyes opened again, and muttering about brothers and payback being a bitch, Cas sat up. Or at least tried to, but Dean's arms tightened around him, holding him still. "I love you," he moaned his relief into dark hair. "God, Cas, I love you."

Cas wriggled enough to get his arms free, then around Dean to return the embrace. "I know," he whispered back. "You've told me many times."

*

Dean allowed everyone a happy reunion and a 'hey, Dean's back to normal' celebration, but the next morning he started yelling. The hurt dealt with as much as he ever could when hit with a Sammy-special, he let the anger bubble up and read his brother the riot act about being a self-centered jackass who wouldn't know what was good for someone else if it was shoved up his backside. He got even more creative in his word choice, not to mention louder, as he went along, but twenty minutes later, that pretty much summed it all up. And just in case Sam had missed the point, he finished up with the punch in the jaw Sam so richly deserved, knocking Sam off his feet and onto his miserable backside.

Satisfied, Dean stalked over to his angel, who cuddled him close with a very bemused look on his face. It felt way too chick-flick for Dean's tastes, but fuck it, he'd gotten a raw deal for far too long and if the universe was going to finally cough up some tender loving care, Dean wasn't going to argue. Much.

Refusing to look at his over-grown, pain-in-the-ass brother, he let Cas' touch and scent soothe him. Well, that and a few 'ow' sounds from Sam, who seemed to have forgotten who always kicked whose ass when demon blood wasn't part of the equation. "Bitch," he muttered, and, no, at the moment, it was not a brotherly form of affection.

"Yeah, guess I am," Sam admitted after a few moments.

Huh? Dean turned in Cas' embrace so he could lean back against the angel's chest and look at his brother. "You admitting you got it wrong?"

Sam nodded.

Shit. "Guess Hell just froze over."

Sam shrugged. "Maybe that's how I climbed out."

And damnit, it wasn't that funny, but Dean began to chuckle, then Sam joined in. Soon they were both laughing hard enough for tears to flow. When they finally wound down, Sam looked at him. "We good?"

He guessed they were. But things were different now. He had an angel's arms around him, and it was Adam who moved to Sam and helped him to his feet. The days of SammyandDean were done. "Yeah, but. …" He had a new partner now and no desire to go back.

Sam looked sad in kind of a regretful way. "Me, too," he said glancing at Adam. "But you'll call? When you need help … or to shoot the breeze?"

He nodded. "You, too."

Sam nodded. And just like that it was finally over. A lifetime of Sam taking out his rage at the cards fate had dealt him on Dean, of Dean worrying about his brother's soul on top of trying to stop the end of the world done. Sammy was his own man, and Dean had his own path to walk. But not alone. Because while the time when he was desperate for Sam to fill the void in his life had ended, he knew he would never be alone again. Cas had promised. A smile twitched onto his lips. "Bitch," and, yeah, this time the affection was there.

Sam grinned. "Jerk." So, yeah, they really were good.

They spent a few hours catching up, but after lunch they all decided it was time to head out. Bobby left with a few gruff words about 'all you idjits take care of yourself, you hear.'

Dean gave Adam a clap on the back to say goodbye, but didn't protest when Sam pulled him into a big girly hug. "Stay safe, Dean," he said.

"You, too. And, look out for the little brother."

"I will." Sam drew back and gave him a smile. "I had a really great teacher in how to be an awesome big brother."

Okay, so maybe Dean had to give him one quick hug for that, then he watched as they drove away and felt … content. Sam might not share every minute of his life anymore, but Dean knew one thing would never change – they'd always have each other's backs when it counted.

He smiled, then turned to Cas. "Guess it's just you and me again, handsome."

Cas pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. "So it is."

"So let's blow this town."

The angel gave him the tilted-head-perplexed-look combo. "Why would you want to blow it up after we worked so hard to save it?"

He blinked, out of practice with Cas misunderstanding him, then he noticed the twinkle of amusement in his angel's eye. "Oh, you're freaking hilarious," he grumbled, sliding into the driver's seat.

Cas chuckled and settled into the passenger seat. "Yes, well, I, too, had a great teacher."

Dean couldn't help a bark of laughter, then leaned across the seat to exchange a few lazy kisses. "I tell you today how much I love you?" he asked, because he was always going to get all schmoopy with Cas.

"Every time you look at me."

Yeah, so he had. "You, too." Both of them. From the moment they'd met.

With a smile he turned the ignition key and the Impala roared to life, the last few lines of a Led Zeppelin tune bursting from the radio. Dean put the car in gear and got her on the highway before the song ended. Once it had, he reached over and turned the station to Bluesville.

He drove west, his hand in Cas'. And when his favorite song began, Dean smiled, then sang along.

end