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Sing and I Will Hear You

Chapter Text

Loneliness will always take its toll.
Please have exact change.

~*~

Dean felt the rush of the cool wind through the windows of the Impala like it was the first breath of fresh air he’d breathed in years. There was a weight that still lingered around the vicinity of his upper shoulders, and probably always would, but just for a moment it didn’t feel as heavy as usual. And he was more than happy to bask in that moment for as long as it lasted.

It had been a year since The Blowout; that horrible fight that still kinda rang in his ears between his steel enforced father and his stubborn rooted little brother. Words hadn’t seemed to matter so much as how they were being spat through the air, like a deadly game of catch the sharper blade, before it all ended in silence. Silence and separation.

A part of Dean had withered that day, but as always, his resolve to his family would never waver, regardless. On the other hand, nothing had really prepared him for what it was like on his own. Certainly not a single bit of his childhood, if it could still be called that. Everything in the Winchester family was about the dependency of one limb to another. A branch to a trunk, a cog to a motor, a constant, ever present person being there at your side and your back at all times. At least two always together, if not sometimes three.

But only sometimes.

Yet now? Not so symbiotic anymore. Dean missed the days, although he didn’t miss the fighting, truth be told. Funny the sort of things you could excuse for the sake of love over tolerance. His father had stuck around long enough to make sure Dean knew how wrong Sam was before even he picked another road. Dean’s going south? Good man, John’s heading north.

It was just as well.

On the other hand, what John Winchester probably didn’t know was that Dean knew Sam was doing just fine where he was. Happy, healthy, smart like a geek-boy should be, and well on his way to what he wanted. Dean had seen it with his own eyes and knew, and that was all he should ask for. He had no doubt that, if he ever really needed to call on him, Sam would be there. Bitchiness and girly complaining in tow, but he’d be there. And that was comforting enough that Dean was satisfied.

On the other hand, it still left him with an empty passenger seat, an empty back seat, and a single bed motel room with single serving shampoo and cheap coffee for no one else but him.

Bummer.

The freedom was pretty awesome though, and Dean liked being able to go wherever he wanted (as long as his dad’s coordinates were at the end of that destination of course) and be around whomever he wanted without a whining back seat driver. Them’s the perks, and Dean Winchester was not one to look a gifthorse in the mouth.

That is, until that lack of complaining was heavy, unending silence.

So what else could be done then, but to keep himself company the only way he knew how. Zeppelin, Metallica, Boston, Rush…all simmering with the accompanied vocals of Dean Winchester himself. Now that was some rad sound. Dean sang, and the night wasn’t so black nor was the emptiness of that seat so vacant anymore. Every road led somewhere, after all, and Dean had been to far too many corners of the country to be intimidated by its size. Hunting would never be the same again without family, but he still had his baby and his music.

Yet even then, deep in the back of his heart; that ever present loneliness was there too.

~*~

It was the middle of November that Dean was enjoying his drive away from the third trip that month, past Palo Alto, California. Not too warm, but not that cool either until Dean started making his way towards the higher elevated states around the Rockies. He was in fairly decent spirits, considering. Had bagged himself a banshee in Green River, Utah and left feeling pretty damn loved with a hefty plate of homemade raspberry bars for the road.

Home cooking was the most amazing thing in the history of ever, hands down, no contest.

He didn’t even have to share the little pie-tasting bastards, either.

So it was when his face wasn’t full of preserves, and he was happily singing along to every elongated syllable and punctuation of ‘Ramble On’, that the first drops of rain started to slap against the windshield. Dean made a face, never once missing a word before he cranked up the window and eyeballed the heavily dark clouds he was catching up to. The storm wasn’t just coming, it seemed, Dean was chasing it. An odd sort of defiance built up low in his gut at the thought and Dean felt his foot press down just a bit harder with his baby flying headlong into the storm.

There was no one in that seat beside him to say otherwise. And no storm in existence would ever beat down a Winchester. The music blared on.

After a few hours, however, and with road signs to Denver still reading at about fifty or so miles to go (whenever he could actually see them) Dean finally made the decision to stop for the night. It was pelting at him; loud and completely obstinate to his previous challenge as the rain became so intolerably thick that even the road was hard to see. It almost seemed like pure luck (though he’d claim skill if anyone had been there to ask) that he’d even been able to see the sign for the hotel, let alone stop there.

Half the neon lights in the ‘Knights Inn Denver’ were out or flickering out enough that it read as ‘Nigh In Dever’ and really, wasn’t that annoyingly ominous to a good night’s rest. But Dean would not be hampered to what he had coming to him, mother nature be damned. Nothing short of flooding the place was gonna stop him from chilling out and watching cartoons til he passed out that evening. And fuck it, even if it did flood he’d do that anyway (and holy shit was it raining) but hell be damned if she tried to take his car.

It was clockwork by now, like riding a bike or playing a song that he’d had choreographed since he was ten. Driver checks in, passenger takes the shit in. No passenger; but Dean made up for the rest himself. No big deal, Sam was happy, Sam was safe. Then into the room, out of the obnoxiously pouring rain with two duffels and a day’s worth of wear that just needed to be soaked off before all was well.

He knew it by heart and it was the same every. Single. Time. Not even thinking anymore about what was said nor to what ends so long as it ended there. And it did, just like the night before in some other state, and any other night as Dean hummed absently to himself through the bitter downpour. But the only difference this time, it seemed, was that sound.

The rain was so loud and heavy, Dean could feel it hammering his teeth as it hit his head and shoulders with everything the heavens had to give. It was far colder here than it had been in good ol Cali thanks to the Rockies, and Dean could see his breath smoke out before it was cut off by the millionth drop after drop from the sky. Despite all this, however, and that horrible sound as it pounded the streets, the gravel, the roof and the cars, still he heard it. Hunter skills alert enough that his adeptness at hearing things that were out of the ordinary were stronger than most others.

Dean squinted through the dark. The red of the barely functioning neon giving him just enough light to find the door to his room, thank god, but not much more than that. He forced himself back into motion, grabbing the duffels with his clothes, essentials, and the guns that needed a good scrubbing before marching his sopping ass right where it needed to be…

Until he heard it again.

Dean clenched his teeth, trying hard to wrack his brain as to exactly what it sounded like. Something familiar, obviously, but strangely foreign as well. Maybe something he knew from a long time ago, or had heard on television, or from Sam. In fact, probably from Sam, because Dean’s brain was telling him it was some kind of animal. Irritated with himself for even considering indulging his curiosity, Dean made a bee-line straight to his room, unlocked and unloaded what he had before turning right back around. It wasn’t like he could possibly get any wetter, and no one was there anymore to tell him he might get sick, or that he was just being an idiot, so out he went.

It didn’t take long, with Dean it never really did, before he found what he was looking for. The sound hadn’t really stopped, after all, and it was such a sad and desolate noise that it was no wonder some bigger creature hadn’t heard it first. Soaked completely down to his skin, Dean stood, still as a pillar at the edge of a crack between a dumpster and a wall, staring down at the most pathetic creature imaginable as it cried out wearily into the drenched night.

At first, Dean thought it was a rat, considering how small, thin and oily looking it was all huddled into itself like the world would come crashing down at any moment. But then it made that sound again and memories flooded back to Dean from both sight and sound of over ten years ago. Sam standing in the doorway, his shirt bunched up like a hammock as he dripped onto the already stained carpet, with the most earnest look on his chubby little face and a desperate plea for warmth from the bundle in his arms. The bundle that their father had allowed for that night and only that night after a decent scolding for ‘bein’ out in the rain and bringin’ in strays’. Sam had never been happier, and Dean had liked to see his brother smile.

This kitten was no different, aside from the fact that there was no stumpy little eight year old waiting to scoop it up to safety, nor was there a mama cat anywhere he could see to care for it. Just the elements for company…and Dean.

The decision was made before he’d even thought about it, Dean’s hands reaching in to snag the small, raggedy little hissing thing with the speed of a cat himself and tuck it harmlessly into the inside of his coat. The sound changed after that, but it made Dean smile as he felt the tiny creature put up the fight of its life against something that was obviously stronger than it was. He could respect that, he really could.

The door closed and locked behind him to room 34, and the storm raged on, leaving very little left for the contemplation of driving elsewhere.

~*~

Dean had apparently found himself a monster. A small, angry, wet and furry monster who was hell bent on massacring every inch of Dean it could get its claws on. Which, really, wasn’t much. The little beast was furious and terrified as Dean pulled it from his coat and set it down as gently as was possible on the bed. Which didn’t exactly last since the kitten was immediately to-arms, spitting a damn novel at him before it unceremoniously flopped to the floor.

Dean found he was more surprised and amused than concerned. Things had been so stupid boring lately, to the point that he couldn’t even remember the last person he’d had a decent conversation with. Something about that made him a bit sad, but after the kitten tried to hide itself behind a very thin table leg, it was as good a distraction as any.

At least it was holding still by then, despite the shivering Dean noted, but enough so for him to get a good look at it. Tiny thing; one of them mixed mutt cats with a mostly white body but random bits of black on the head and hindquarters and one black paw. Course, it was kinda hard to even see the white at all considering how dirty the poor little monster was. And what a monster, standing its ground admirably with a bright, blue eyed glare that might even scare away a werewolf. Dean was impressed.

“I dunno what you’re so pissed about, you were the one mewlin at me, y’know.” Dean mused, pulling his duffels from beside the door and situating himself. More clockwork, more repetition. Everything the same.

The bit of growling from the corner of the room made him grin though and it felt like something he hadn’t done in awhile. Funny, that.

“I aint gonna fight you, squirt. I’m not gonna eat ya, skin ya, strangle ya or anything of the sort. You just looked as wet as I was and this room’s big enough for the both of us. Alright?”

The cat spat at him again, fur rising through the murk on its back with that piercing glare that could cut through glass. Smart little shit, this feline.

“Ok, so maybe not big enough for the two of us? Should I have gotten you your own bed?” He laughed. “Geez, you’re as prissy as…” Dean trailed off, continuing the motions without even thinking about it anymore. Clothes for the night, what was clean at the top, dirty at the bottom…he cleared his throat.

“Anyway, whatever. You can stay over there for all I care. Just don’t claw my eyeballs or chew on my toes in the night and I won’t use your tail or paws for a keychain.”

The kitten didn’t answer, and Dean coulda sworn that it was contemplating the much larger, heavily armed sap of a hunter that had pulled it unwillingly into the room. Watch it be some kind of freaky shapeshifting kitten monster. That’d just be his luck, wouldn’t it?

Dean started humming without thinking about it, pulling the curtains to the outside world shut before yanking open the bag of firearms and pulling out what he knew needed some work. The sawed off was starting to gum up no matter how many times he cleaned it, might be time for a new one…the glock on the other hand…

But that kitten suddenly meowed at him, derailing his thoughts enough to make him jump as he realized it was right next to his feet. Silence filled the room, the two creatures staring down and up at the other cautiously for a breath of a moment before Dean huffed out a small laugh.

“Well that didn’t take long.” He smirked again, missing that feeling before crouching down and leaving the guns where they lay. The little beast was still glaring with those innocent little eyes and dirty little fuzz face, but Dean took a shot and reached a hand out toward it gently. Which of course earned him a hiss in return.

“You are one angry little snot, you know that? And I think you’re an angry little boy kitten too…but I’m not really sure we’re friendly enough to know for certain yet. I’m just gonna assume, if that’s ok with you.” Dean just smiled as he got nothing more than a headtilt in reply. “I’ll take that as an ok. Now, if you don’t mind, I got work to do so you go do what you need with that tongue of yours and I’ll make use of the indoor plumbing.”

He mock saluted the creature with two fingers before standing back up and glancing around the room. The guns could wait a little, they were a bit damp anyway. He needed a shower and he needed food, not particularly in that order, so it didn’t take him long to make a decision and pull the phonebook out of the desk drawer. Some poor sap was gonna hate him for coming out in that storm, but whatever. Dude’s gotta eat.

A few feet behind him, the little kitten seemed to want nothing more than to sit cautiously and watch everything Dean did. But always from a distance.

~*~

The shower was fantastic, and beat the hell outta getting pelted with freezing rain, that was for sure. Dean enjoyed every damn bit of it since there was no one he had to worry about saving hot water for or keep awake with his singing. All his, damnit, and he was gonna enjoy that.

Which was difficult, because these weren’t things he’d minded before…so he just sang instead and tried not to think about it.

Loud, boisterous, and completely on key, the words to ‘Highway to Hell’ echoed in the small, cramped space with its warped mirror and cracking tiles. Dean didn’t care, these were the kind of places he knew as home.

It was the accompaniment he wasn’t expecting though, and startled suddenly as he realized there was a yowling coming from somewhere to his left. Dean pulled at the curtain enough for him to glance down (cause there was really no where else to find anything living there) and find that raggedy little bag of fluff once again stalking him. Had he left the door open? Maybe…closed doors were a luxury to Winchesters.

“Well hey there little dude.” Dean laughed, glancing down at that eerily cautious face. “So much for the independence, huh? Kinda lonely out there, I know.” He leaned down, feeling the water drip down the front of him as it started to make a small puddle on the tiles just outside of the shower. He’d never had a stalker before, let alone a furry one.

The kitten didn’t move, standing his ground as if he was daring Dean to even attempt to reach for him at that distance.

“If you’re gonna bite me, you may as well just get it over with, cause I’m probably just about as stubborn as you are.”

The cat blinked slowly, almost casually, still guarded but somehow far less menacing than he’d seemed before. Dean could have sworn it was contemplating him at every glance, no matter what he seemed to do. Figured he’d end up snagging himself the smartest quadruped that side of the Rockies. Tiniest and dirtiest too.

With a sudden surge of motion, Dean reached forward and snatched the little furrball by the scruff, earning him an instant backlash of hissing and spitting that would have even made his father take pause. Ignoring the angry little spitfire, Dean pulled the kitten into the shower and did a quick scrub, or as quickly as he could while taking a few nicks and scrapes across his fingers for his troubles. There was nothing getting him out of Dean’s fingers by the way he was holding him at the back of the neck, but the little guy wasn’t gonna give up, hell or high water. And man was he making that fact plenty clear.

It wasn’t until Dean started singing again, somehow without even thinking about what he was doing, that the kitten started to relax. Even in the water, in the hands of what was clearly the enemy and in a great big world that was most certainly out to get him, that little angry cat went from head spinning, pea soup spitting possessed to a meek and dripping creature with nothing else it could do but take it.

Dean paused for a breath, just a bit longer than he needed to as he stood in surprise at the sopping thing, before continuing with the slow hum to the rhythm of ‘Shambala’. A kitten with an affinity for classic rock? How ironic and, dare he say it, kind of adorable was that? But at the same time, Dean couldn’t help but notice that once the fight was out of the little guy, he was a sad sight to see.

Both hands went into working out the dried blood down his back, gingerly getting the gunk and dirt off the face and get him as clean as the kitten was willing to allow. Didn’t look like the thing had ever had a bath in its life, and generally Dean knew that cats weren’t the kind to really even like water, but his little monster didn’t seem to be arguing anymore with the warmth and especially the tunes. One of the his ears was knicked and there was a cut across the baby’s left eye, but nothing looked infected and it didn’t look like his ears were filled with gunk or anything.

Dean didn’t know much when it came to the health of furry things, but Sam had annoyingly watched enough animal shows for him to catch the basics. The kitten had been angry, but not frothing crazy angry, so Dean could take his chances. That, and this poor little thing didn’t look like he’d been wearing ribbons and sleeping on cushions anytime in his life.

He turned off the water finally, dripping onto the floor as he pulled the curtain and snagged one of the rough, but dry towels that were folded over the toilet. The kitten remained in his hand, limp as a noodle aside from the shivering, and continued to watch Dean every chance he got. When Dean stopped humming, the cat meowed. Loudly. And really, who was he to argue with a kitten with some taste?

By the time he’d finished drying the little furrball off as much as he could, there was a knock suddenly on the motel door that was loud enough to send the kitten scampering behind the toilet for cover. Dean cursed, shaking himself off quickly before running out to his duffel and yanking on a pair of oversized sweats in order to at least answer it decently.

The poor delivery dude looked like he would never be paid enough to come out in that storm, and Dean was more than happy to overtip the guy for just that, but their conversation was short and that was all any human interaction was anymore. Yet Dean now had food, and that was what mattered. Some decent smelling Chinese at that, and he was eager to quickly close the door on the hellacious storm that was just itching to reach in.

Dean found himself so distracted at that point by the illustrious smell of food, he’d nearly forgotten about his wet little visitor until the creature made it very clear he wasn’t the only one who was hungry. The exceptionally loud and long meow at his feet alerted his attention as Dean glanced down with his mouth full of noodles to that smart and eager little face. Bright blue eyes followed the path of the food in his hands and Dean chuckled, setting it down to reach into the bag and pull out another, smaller box.

“You’re lucky I’m used to ordering for healthy-eating pretty princesses, little dude.” Dean snickered, opening the carton of steamed chicken and pouring about a third of it onto a napkin before heading to the floor. Licking its lips and trying desperately not to continue cleaning the crap out of its still-damp coat, the cat went to town almost immediately, practically inhaling whatever Dean had to give.

“Whoah there, easy, tiger. There’s more, don’t you go swallowing so much that you end up yacking in my shoes, cause that’ll end in a cold bath in the sink if you do.” But the kitten didn’t really seem to have much to say after that.

Dean watched for a moment, marveling at just how easily this little thing had wrapped him around its paw, before pulling out a chair and getting back to his noodles. And really, now he was talking to cats? And little, dirty, angry street ones at that? Sammy woulda had a field day with this.

“Hope that’s actually chicken I just gave you…” He mumbled, forking through his noodles to find some meat. “Cause that’d be kinda awkward if I was feeding you your uncle or something…”

~*~

Once it was actually dry, the monster was sorta cute. Still tiny, but now that he was a bit fluffier and clean he didn’t look so unhealthy anymore. Obviously scarred, some wounds still a bit fresh, but otherwise just as innocent as something you’d find in a pet store waiting for a home. Not that Dean planned on keeping the kid, but he wasn’t cruel enough to ignore it either. That storm would have drowned this little guy fairly quickly, so Dean was just doing his part and then it was someone else’s turn after.

Surprisingly, he hadn’t even touched the television that evening, but considering the look of the thing and the bent rabbit ears sticking out the back, he wasn’t sure whether or not it would have the power to reach through mother nature anyway. So whatever, the tv was a poor substitute for what sounds used to be there. At least the kitten kinda answered him back. Kinda.

Exhaustion was quickly creeping up on him anyway, so tv was a moot point. A hot shower and warm food in a full belly were swiftly giving him the food coma he needed for a good night’s sleep. Even with the storm still pelting the outside world, Dean had a roof over his head and heat and blankets to keep him dry. Couldn’t ask for much else…except for maybe…but he didn’t like to think about that kind of thing before bed.

The blankets were scratchy and reeked of bleach, but Dean wasn’t sure he even knew what the fancy stuff smelled like anyway. He wondered sometimes if he could even sleep on anything expensive, he was so used to cheap.

He absently hummed some Foreigner as he pulled off his socks, eyeballing the guns he hadn’t gotten around to cleaning and swearing it would be the first thing he did in the morning. His dad hadn’t gotten in touch with him in awhile and Dean didn’t really have much of a destination aside from perhaps checking around the local papers if he wanted. So there was no rush at least. He was getting pretty close to Denver, and was sure something would pop up if he knew how to look for it. And after a lifetime of that sorta thing, Dean most certainly did.

Thoughts derailed once again as a distressed little sound drifted up from the edge of the bed and Dean felt the slight pull of the blankets before a determined little monster clawed his way up the side. Dean huffed out a laugh, reaching a hand forward almost automatically towards the fuzzy devil where it was promptly sniffed, then nuzzled right alongside the entire right side of the thing. Which wasn’t much, actually, but the trust was clear.

“So we’ve come to this have we? Well don’t get too attached, fuzzy. I can’t take anything as fragile as you where I’m going. You’ve got a hell of a fight in you, I’ll give ya that, but attack cat you ain’t.” He wiggled his fingers and the kitten responded, nuzzling into each one and arching its little back as he pushed into Dean’s fingers for some kind of resistance. It was oddly calming, and amazingly distracting, this simple little thing. They’d never really had any pets before, despite how much he would have loved the fuck out of any kinda mutt that he’d been allowed. But their life just wasn’t made for it, and his dad was right, it wouldn’t have been fair to either party. Sam just never really understood that.

Dean shook his head as his eyes refocused before he realized he could hear the little creature purring. Loudly. The little stomach moving up and down quickly like it was hyperventilating or something, but vibrating at the same time. Weird friggen mutant thing.

“Ok butthead, I’m goin to sleep. That means that you go to sleep too. No yacking anywhere, no crapping anywhere except for that little carton over there I set up for you, and no sleeping on my face. Capiche?” Dean finished, giving the fluffy white neck a few extra scritches, which earned him a bat to the fingers for his effort, before twisting and flicking off the light.

All Dean could hear after that was the storm, the wind changing directions this way and that every few seconds and making everything smell like damp ozone in the cheaply kept motel. But then it became more than obvious that there was something foreign near him as that purring sound returned, and finally settled as a small warm lump next to his leg.

Dean wanted to laugh, but he smiled instead. It kept him from screaming, possibly even crying, and wondering what the hell he could possibly have done to earn the trust of this tiny, defenseless thing that had been kicked around by the universe itself just to find solace in a jerk like him. A son who’d disappointed his father, an older brother who’d driven away his younger. Just two lonely creatures taking comfort and warmth from the rain.

He fell asleep almost immediately after.

~*~

When light breached itself through the curtains, peeking into the room with a rare bit of sunshine that just hadn’t seemed possible the night before, Dean sat up to find the spot by his leg cold, and the kitten long gone.

~*~

Dean leafed through the newspaper on the lemon smelling diner table with the ease of someone who’d been doing it for years and knew exactly what they were looking for. He sipped his black coffee without really looking at it, tapping the knuckle of his pointer finger across the thin newsprint to an even, drumming beat. Eyes skimmed through the small print, checking for keywords and barely registering much else he was reading otherwise with clear intent. Yet somehow he was distracted at the same time.

He wasn’t sure exactly how the little guy had gotten out, seeing as the door had been locked and none of the windows were open in that room, but a thorough search had produced nothing. Somehow, the kitten had Houdini’d himself to freedom, so he guessed it was just as well. Dean just hoped he was right about how smart the fuzzball was and he’d waited til the rain had stopped.

Even if it had just been for a couple hours, and his fingers were still a bit sore from the scratches, the company had been nice.

The diner was small, cheap, and filled with the smell of overcooked bacon and coffee strong enough to knock a man sideways. Dean would take these places over the fancy shit any day. Who needs froo froo crap? This was the heart of America; its mom and pop, backwater pancake houses with tattooed ex-con cooks and plates of meat drowned in so much gravy the EMT’s were on speed dial.

The place wasn’t as empty as some others he’d been to. It had the benefit of being close to a major highway leading to a major city, so the business was obviously good. There were a couple of families just passing through, one or two couples, a single scattered here and there, and then him. One place setting, one cup of coffee, one side of a booth.

Dean sighed, letting the music play in his head as he went back to reading the thin paper right before his food came and gave him something else to distract himself. The waitress was cute, though a bit older than his usual game, but that didn’t stop him from turning up the charm. Her rosy cheeks went even rosier and she flashed him a rewarding smile that was well worth the effort as he thanked her for the meal. Another small conversation, but human interaction nevertheless. He’d take what he could get.

Dean let his eyes pass through the interior of the diner for a moment as he unwrapped the thin napkin around his silverware. Always judging a room, always measuring and counting and scoping out all the little things that normal people just didn’t think about. Such was a hunter’s life. Dean had his father to thank for all that. What caught his eye, however, was a man sitting on the complete opposite side of the room, thirty feet or so from where he himself sat, whose eyes kept drifting over in Dean’s direction.

Now that wasn’t such an odd thing. Dean attracted eyes quite often, especially in small towns where there were regulars, or from curious eyes who could tell just how much he wasn’t like the rest of them. Then there were batting eyelashes, and meaningful looks that were something else entirely, mostly from chicks, but there was the occasional nice looking guy that meandered his way. And who was he to argue with awesome taste? Regardless, eyes found him unless he didn’t want them to, but this place was public and Dean didn’t mind so much.

This guy though, seemed to be trying really hard not to look at him and was doing miserably. He was average looking, dressed in a button up blue shirt that looked like it had just been bought from the salvation army and didn’t fit all that well. Messy black hair spiked in random directions and he was pretty pale for a dude that looked like he lived on the street.

There was a bit of distance between them, so there was only so much Dean could really tell, but the guy seemed harmless. A bit meek, even. If he wanted to talk to Dean, that was up to him, otherwise, it wasn’t his problem. Good looking dude, though, he’d admit that, but sometimes distance made a difference.

Squaring himself back to a meal that was just itching to be ghost killing fuel, Dean dug in and promptly forgot all about the rest of the diner as he continued to hunt for anything even resembling a decent job nearby.

Biscuits and gravy were the most amazing thing in the history of ever, hands down, no contest.

~*~

“Hey Dad…naw, I’m alright, I just wanted to-…yeah, yeah I know Dad.”

Dean leaned his head back against the headrest of the Impala, licking his lips as his fingers gripped tightly to the phone.

“Yeah, that’s cool…no, no I took care of it. Yeah, the lady had some awesome-…what? Oh, yeah, course I did. Listen, I-…”

He reached his free hand up and gently ran a finger over a small hole appearing in the fabric of the roof above him. Gonna have to get that fixed soon.

“Salted and burned, Dad, c’mon, I know the drill. Well yeah, but-…well there’s something I found actually, so I wanted to ask…yeah, well sure, I just wanted to see if…yeah, no problem Dad, just let me know if you need me, ok? Yup…ok…yes, sir…bye.”

Dean hit the ‘end’ button on the phone and slipped it back into his pocket, hands moving to the wheel like that was the natural position they were meant to be. He sighed, staring straight ahead at the nearly empty parking lot and letting the world run through his head as he organized what he could in what was to come.

He’d found a decent hunt, though it really didn’t look to be anything more than a haunting, possibly even a poltergeist. Could be quick, could suck and take the week. Either way, it was something to do, and another notch on his ‘look what I can do on my own’ belt. His dad didn’t seem all that eager to get his help, wherever the hell he’d ended up, so the hunt was all Dean’s. Oh boy.

Whatever sunlight had been around that morning had been short-lived, and the world was now hazing back into the muck-like grey that seemed synonymous with the winter months… and rain. After the storm he’d witnessed the night before, Dean had been hoping whatever was there had blown over, but according to the locals this was all just the start of their shitty weather season. Which came right before the seriously shitty weather season that added the benefit of ice, hail and snow. Dean would make sure he was long gone by then, but it sucked out loud even now.

It was four in the afternoon, but it looked like it was around seven or eight. Not a single shadow being cast anywhere and the air around him hazed into that same grey that matched the churning black sky. Dean really liked mountains, always had despite his fonder memories lingering mainly around the flat state of Kansas. There was something about them that loomed mysteriously there like the earth itself had stuck up a barrier between him and whatever lay beyond. Like it was daring him to go past it, to check it out and see what kind of secrets it held.

There were too few mysteries left in the world to Hunters, so after awhile, he assumed they all just made up their own. Or maybe it was just him.

But whatever, he was distracting himself and it was time to get to work. Dean leaned over to the glove compartment and fished through his ID’s to find something suitable enough to get him into that haunted house. They were all his; any of his dad’s and Sam’s fake badges had been boxed up and shoved under the flares in the trunk. Wasn’t gonna use them anyway, so why worry about the clutter?

He was aiming for the possibility to even gain some trust in order to check out the surrounding area and cemeteries, especially if he was gonna have to go grave digging. (Ugh, in the rain too, what a charmed life)

It was funny, though, how none of his ID’s really seemed all that appropriate for this kinda thing.

~*~

By the time Dean got back to the door to room #34 that night, he was exhausted, wet, cold and way too hungry for words.

The day could have gone better, but it could have gone worse, too. It hadn’t been easy, but he’d finally managed to get himself some decent background information on the nearby spook. Enough to know what he needed anyway. It didn’t seem to be anything more than that, which was both agreeable and disappointing at the same time, but Dean would take what he could get.

Distractions were indeed the key, though that seemed to be all he sought out recently. He was sure there had to be some local bars or pubs or something nearby, but considering how off and on the downpour had been recently, Dean just didn’t want to deal with it. Everything you’ve seen about people having sex in the rain or just outta the rain with it being all hot and steamy was a crock of bullshit when that rain was practically freezing. And muddy, and just all around gross. It was like the myth of sex on a beach, which ended in little more than complications and sand. Sand friggen everywhere.

Fuck the weather, Dean needed food.

So it looked like it was take out again, but whatever, such was his life. He hummed absently to himself as Credence thrummed through his head and filtered all else to the wayside. He’d have loved to just sit in the car and crank it as high as it would go, but there was no way he was sleeping in the car when it was this wet and cold. Not if he didn’t have to anyway, no offense to his baby.

And with that thought, it was a locked door, stripped to the suit his mama gave him, and straight to the shower. The rain could go screw itself.

~*~

It wasn’t until Dean had dried himself off that he realized that someone was banging on his door.

He opened the door to the bathroom, glancing out apprehensively as a list went through his head quickly of where everything was located, just how bolted shut the door was, and whether or not he’d pissed anyone off that day. Nothing seemed to come to mind, and everything was exactly where he’d placed it, along with the door chain, so there were no warning bells going off or anything. But still…someone had obviously come a knockin.

“Who is it?” Dean called out, pulling a black t-shirt on over freshly damp skin.

“Your goddamn neighbor! That’s who!” Came the slow, muffled reply. And Dean paused as he suddenly got this odd Twilight Zone image of actually being somewhere where he could even possibly have a neighbor. What the hell?

“What?!” He called out, approaching the door and checking the peep hole. It looked like any other dude, but Dean was in a profession where that same kind of person could be detrimental to his healthcare benefits. The man looked pissed, but he wasn’t exactly trying to bang the door down, nor did he look armed. Dean weighed his options.

”I’m in room 33 man, and I’m telling ya, you need to get this little piece of shit off the sidewalk out here and out of my fucking life. Seriously, its louder than a goddamned siren and I’m tryin to get some fuckin sleep!”

Now Dean was more confused.

“Wait, take my what, where?”

”Your damned cat, asshole!” Was screamed back at him, and that whole Twilight Zone feeling returned full force.

Dean took a breath and held it, using those few seconds to seriously think about what he was going to do before the decision suddenly seemed to make itself and his hand reached for the lock. Traitorous heart, that kinda shit will get you killed.

The moment the door opened, something small came speeding in over his ankles and into the room, disappearing almost immediately around the corner of the bed. Dean blinked for a moment before turning back to the angry, loitering man. Who, really, didn’t look like he could actually do much more, considering the bloodshot eyes and the hollowed out expression. He reeked of unsafe chemicals.

“Do the world a goddamned favor and keep your fuckin pets in your fuckin place, man. Or car, or closet, I don’t even care. Just not in front of my door and window, yowlin like the world’s gonna burn, a’ight?” The man swayed, and Dean tried hard not to breathe in that smell as he did nothing more than raise an eyebrow at him.

“Sure dude, whatever you say.” There was no fight to be had here, so indulging was the easiest way out, even if it was patronizing indulgence.

“I’m fuckin serious! I hear that furrbag again and its gonna get skinned. Or I’m gonna call the SPCA and they’ll shoot the little fucknut and cut off its tail, so quit sharing your damn pests!”

Dean rolled his eyes. “You do realize the PCA part of that stands for the ‘prevention’ of cruelty, right?”

“What the shit ever man, get bent.” And with those stoic words the stoner shuffled back to his room and slammed the door.

Dean shuddered, shaking himself out of the moment before he closed the door and locked it again like that would somehow keep out the absurd. What a weird day. Which, not to mention…he turned around as a small, fluffy face peeked out halfway around the side of the covers and stared unblinkingly up at him. Eyes locking with his as if the little beast was waiting for the signal to get the hell outta dodge.

“Hey squirt…what the hell are you doing here again?” But it was jesting at best. Dean hadn’t expected the kitten to still be around considering how angry he’d been about being indoors the night before. Course, Dean had fed him, so it might just be a cry out for food, but whatever. Wasn’t like he was leaving until the job was done so may as well make the most of company.

Though he still had every right to be picky. Stoner #33 wasn’t getting anywhere near his door again.

But the kitten didn’t move, which was interesting since he was the one that shot in there this time instead of the other way around. Dean took a few steps forward and crouched down, wondering why he was trying so hard when he was the one providing the roof here.

“You gonna give me the cold shoulder after I saved you from Frat-dude? Gotta give me a bit more credit than that, y’know.” He smirked, folding his legs under him as he felt the wear of the day creak through his back and make him just want to curl up right where he was. God knew he could sleep anywhere

But the kitten seemed to come to some sort of decision at that point as it took some uneasy steps from around the bed, glared at Dean for a few seconds than inched slowly closer to him. Not once did he lose eye contact with him and it was almost eerie how smart the little fuzzball seemed to be.

Dean reached his hand out, which the kitten sniffed before nudging into it with his cheek, and that was all the permission needed. That strange little cat had found him again somehow, annoyed the hell out of his ‘neighbors’ in order to get in, and once again had Dean’s complete attention. It was actually a good thing at that point that his father was too far away to see this. What a sap of a son he’d become.

“I don’t wanna know your name and I ain’t giving you one, cause I’m not keeping ya, ok? Couple more days and I’m outta here, so don’t get attached. You’re just gonna have to get fed elsewhere after this, but for now you got me on loan. You’re lucky you’re clean, cause then it woulda been a no-deal.” Dean grinned as the little monster bat at his fingers, his little tail curling around him as he sat in front of Dean and seemed to want nothing more than to stare at him. Weird.

~*~

Dean fed the kitten once again, let it play with his fingers and hang out in his hotel room as the rain started up once again and made itself known by smell and sound. There was thunder this time, and lightning that made the lights flicker, but none of it seemed to bother his little friend.

Dean still couldn’t pick him up though, seeing as every time he tried, the kitten went ballistic and tried to take down the whole building with its hisses and claws. Dean was glad to see how much fight the little guy still had in him though, so he just didn’t push him.

All the while, he talked to the thing about random shit, namely about the hunt, and it was so much better than talking to nothing that Dean didn’t realize how much he was doing it. It was weird how often those big eyes just stared at him, and the kitten stayed pretty quiet most of the time unless Dean started humming or singing. Then it was at full attention, at one point earning the both of them a few bangs on the wall from the next room for the noise. Whatever, it was no worse than the rhythmic squeaking and moaning Dean had to listen to from his other wall, so the asshole could get over it.

By the time he was settled in bed, lights out except for the flashing illumination from outside, Dean was past exhausted and on his way to bone-friggen-tired. He closed his eyes and would have drifted off immediately if not for hunter instincts kicking in and alerting him that there was something pattering softly across the bed, before it curled up at his side and snuggled against his hip.

Dean had never really pegged himself as a cat-man. Dogs were obviously much manlier than ferocious little blue eyed kittens.

~*~

Once again, the little monster had disappeared in the morning, leaving nothing but a kitten shaped circle in the sheets at Dean’s side. There were no holes in the hotel room, no windows were open or even unlocked, and the door was still safely chained from the inside. He’d simply vanished.

~*~

By the third day in that rain soaked, ill begotten town just barely outside of Denver, Dean knew a lot about what he was getting into. The job was set, the opportunity was open and he’d been given permission to do whatever it took to get rid of his quarry by the reasonable people who were living with it. Not too many had stayed before, considering how few lasted in the house for very long, but the couple Dean had spoken to really did like the house and their neighbors and kinda wanted to stay there.

However, the ghost wasn’t too keen on that fact, and had proceeded to beat the tar outta the man of the house in a random series of supernatural drawing and quartering that would have sent anyone running for the hills. Dean had to hand it to the guy, he could certainly take a lickin, and it showed.

So they cleared out for him, and all Dean needed to do at that point was make sure that he was definitely dealing with who he thought he was. History had claimed rumors of the death of a young, teenage girl who’d been abused by her father since childhood before being murdered in her own house by an abusive boyfriend. Adding insult to injury, neither one of the bastards had ever been held accountable for a damn thing after her death, after claiming that she’d run away from home and never saw her again.

Both men had met their untimely demise about a year apart from one another, each after visits to the old house. Dean didn’t think much of either of them, but just in case, he’d make an extra special trip out to salt and burn the two of them if he had to as well. Just a little extra research to see if they’d been cremated or not would solve that. If so? May they burn in hell. If not? Dean would be happy to light the first match.

On the other hand, Dean wasn’t entirely sure where the son of a bitch had buried the body of the girl and he needed to scope out the house for that very reason. He had a decent idea that she was in the basement (how original), but didn’t want the homeowners around when he was poking his nose in. As much as he’d love to have two targets going in instead of one…well, that wasn’t really an option now, was it?

This was all the information that Dean knew. Which was a fair bit, and enough to get done with what he needed in order to finish a decent salt and burn. These people could get on with their lives, he could continue on to something else, whatever that may be, and everyone was happy. Even dead girl could move on, congrats, but Dean knew from experience that it was always the violent ones that didn’t really know they wanted to.

So what Dean didn’t know was what ended up screwing him. If his father had been there, someone would have had his back, even for the easy jobs which simply made them easier. If Sammy had been there, he’d have found the little bit of seemingly unimportant information from the history records that Dean hadn’t seen. If someone else had known he would be in the house, in danger despite it being broad daylight (or as daylight as you could call it, considering the black of the stormy sky), perhaps then the both of them would have found out the truth and gotten the hell out in time.

But neither dad, nor Sammy, or anyone else was there. Except for the second ghost, because that boyfriend really had been a sick bastard and killed not only his girlfriend, but her twin sister he’d been cheating with.

Two opposing ghosts in the same house who hated both each other and any man they came across. Teenagers were fuckin crazy when they were alive, let alone dead, powerful and angry. Dean barely had time to think about how fucked he was before he was suddenly launched through the air from the sudden and surprise visitor. He then proceeded to smash backwards into something that gave way almost immediately before there was white-hot pain, and then nothing.

~*~

Dean opened his eyes slowly, the world coming back to him in pieces before he was finally able to focus on a single spot above him that he could recognize. Then the realization of just how much everything hurt and how exactly he’d gotten to the point of hurting in the first place started to sink in.

Stupid friggen sisters, what the hell. None of those damn papers had mentioned the girl having a twin (or that he’d noticed), let alone that she had gone missing too. That was damn irresponsible reporting if you asked him.

What the hell had they done to him and where the hell was he?

Dean blinked warily, letting his head settle for a second before the panic suddenly started to rise. He was indoors, but not where he’d just been, and his heart practically stopped before he realized suddenly that he was in his own hotel room.

“What the…whoa!” Dean jumped, his head turning just as someone else's hand had reached towards him and he snatched it out of the air fully prepared to kick the crap out of whatever had followed him. Or kidnapped him…or, something. But then he froze, eyes locking with a wide and suddenly terrified looking pair of deep blues that confused him for all of five seconds before he finally blinked.

The man stilled instantly, his hand trembling in Dean’s grip as he realized that he was holding nothing more than a wet washcloth.

Dean wasn’t sure what to say, or do at that point, but moving as quickly as he had had certainly made things hurt a bit more than they had when he’d woken up. Which was seriously something he didn’t need. The man was sitting in the hotel chair that had been pulled up beside him, his messy, short black hair strewn in random directions in a mop over a pale face that looked far more tired than Dean felt. He was dressed in a simple blue button down and jeans that looked like they’d seen the underside of a tractor trailer, but that was pretty much all there was to him.

“How the…wait…you, I’ve seen you before, haven’t I.” It wasn’t a question, Dean’s memory was something he relied on a great deal in his profession. It was just placing the body with the face with the location. “Who the hell are you? And how the hell did I get back here?” He still hadn’t released the man’s hand, and the warm water from the cloth he was gripping was gently dripping down the side of his wrist.

But the man didn’t answer him, in fact, he seemed incapable of doing nothing more than stare at him with those wide, scared looking eyes as if he was expecting Dean to start punching him in the face at any moment. Dean swallowed, trying to ignore how uncomfortable he was in his own skin at the moment as he realized just how many cuts there were all over him.

If this dude had wanted to kill him, he probably would have done it by then, so that was a start at least. Not that Dean really trusted anybody (nobody but family…), but if he was going to get any idea as to what happened, diplomacy would apparently be necessary.

Slowly, Dean released his hold on the man’s wrist, who dropped the cloth as he pulled his arm away, and it landed with a dull splat on the bed. Dean took a slow breath, taking a look around.

“How’d you know this was my hotel?” He asked, keeping his voice steady, although there were warning signs in the making when someone knew where your base of operations was.

The man’s eyes finally moved, and he picked up Dean’s key card from the bedside table with the name of the hotel printed plainly across the top. He held it up as if that alone would be proof enough.

“How’d you know this was my room then?” Dean challenged, watching cautiously as he took into account the still open bag of weapons on the other side of the room. Not cool.

“I asked.” The man answered finally. His voice was thick and low, despite how skittish he looked, like it could be pretty commanding if it had any kind of meat behind it.

“Asked who?”

“The man who works here. I told him you were drunk so that he would tell me which room.”

“How sweet of him. How’d you get me here?”

“I carried you.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed skeptically. A little lightweight like him? No fuckin way, but he let that go for now.

“How’d you find me?”

“I…” Another hesitation. “I followed you.” He said, before his eyes drifted to the ugly flower pattern of the bedspread.

“Why?”

“Because of where you were going. That house is dangerous.”

Dean felt himself go still as he contemplated exactly what kind of situation he’d gotten himself into. As honest as the guy was (he hoped), there was something odd about him, almost new in a way, that was sending prickles down the back of his neck. Not to mention the weird déjà vu-ish familiarity that his instincts kept cycling through that told him this guy was familiar.

“How do you know about that? Are you a local?”

The man shook his head, still not looking at him as his dirty black hair shifted across his pale forehead. Dean took in the sight of a few scars around his ears and nose, and one obvious one that streaked across the left eye. It looked a bit more recent than the others.

“Someone told me, and I believed them. Going there alone was dangerous.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” Dean grumbled, wincing as he felt the glass cuts down his back make themselves known. “You gonna tell me your name, or do I hafta make something up?”

That caught his attention, and those eyes locked with his again in a way that made Dean slightly uncomfortable at the scrutiny. Like he was being contemplated from the inside out without even knowing it.

“It’s not important, I’ll just go…” And he was on his feet, quick reflexes stunning Dean for a moment before he caught up to the conversation.

“Whoa! Hang on a sec there!” The man paused, staring down at him with that look again, and Dean couldn’t help but feel the slight pang of irritation that he kept getting looked at like he was some kind of a serial killer. He didn’t have to help him, but at the same time, he hadn’t had to follow him either. Something wasn’t adding up.

“No one goes to that much trouble for someone else unless there’s something in it for them.” Dean blurted out, and wasn’t that just the god’s honest truth. He eyeballed the cuts across his own arms and grimaced, irritated at himself for being as unprepared as he’d been. He looked up at the guy again before motioning to the chair, where he took a second before sitting quietly back down. There was nerve there, Dean could tell, but it really felt like this guy was looking for something more.

“I can tell when people lie to me…and I really feel like you aren’t, but it also feels like there’s a whole lot you aren’t sayin.” Dean stated plainly. “Not that I need to know the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but seriously man, what the hell were you doing following me to a haunted house?”

“You didn’t know there were two.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed again. A hunter, maybe? No way. “And you did?”

“Yes.”

“So…you waited til after they kicked my ass to let me know?”

“It was too early, and I couldn’t find you.”

“Too early for what? How the hell did you even know me in the first place?!”

Dean felt his frustration boil into anger and he clenched the fabric of the bedspread that was still half covering his legs. The man fell silent, but the meekness that had been there had steeled into something that resembled more of a fight.

“You are safe, are you not?” He said carefully, eyes trained on Dean like he was waiting to see the moment of shared realization. Which seriously, wasn’t coming.

“Safe enough, but that doesn’t…”

“It’s all that matters.” He spat out suddenly, before standing to his feet again and walking quickly to the door. “A favor returned, Dean. Just a little bit of kindness, that was all I wanted to give back to you.”

Before Dean could say anything else, whether it be arguing for, against, or simply asking what the hell was going on again, the door had opened and shut, and the man was gone.

Sam really had been the better one with diplomacy.

All he seemed to be able to do at that point was blink at the space there, as if the last ten minutes had somehow not even just happened, and marvel at what a bizarre time he was having in this little Podunk of a place. Between stray cats, creepy druggies, twin bitch ghosts with a vengeance and now psychotic good Samaritans? Dean had officially stepped off the reservation into Crazytown.

It wasn’t until an hour or so later, as Dean was standing under a lukewarm shower trying desperately not to cry out as the water hit the fresh wounds down his back, that he realized he’d never actually introduced himself. Not once could he recall telling that man his name, and not a single one of the IDs he’d been carrying had his real first name on them either.

~*~

Dean sat uncomfortably in the booth at the diner, a mass of papers laid out in front of him and a pen sticking out of his mouth as he stared down at them without really seeing. There were little bandages all over his hands, which had taken the worst of the glass, but otherwise he wasn’t doing as bad as he’d thought.

Probably would have been worse off if he’d lay in that glass until he’d woken up on his own, which of course he knew who to thank for that small favor. But even then, he hadn’t even scrounged himself out a thank you to the guy for his efforts. Cause what was a Winchester if not a stubborn, selfish, paranoid bastard who didn’t know a good deed when it was slapping him in the face. Not like Dean had deserved it anyway.

It hadn’t been until later that Dean had finally realized that he’d seen the guy the day before in that very same diner. The one that had been trying really hard not to look in his direction. Of course, that didn’t automatically make him dangerous, or all that good at it if he was…only that the dude had good taste, that’s all. Dean sighed, letting his head droop down til his forehead hit the newsprint and he could take in the smell of the recycled, musty paper. Everything in the place was damp by then and had some kind of wet-smelling aroma that was even starting to soak into him no matter how many showers he took.

“Lot on your mind, sweetheart?”

Dean tilted his head back up to find the sweet, smiling face of that same rosy-cheeked waitress he’d seen the day before. She looked tired, like she’d been there for a twelve hour shift rather than an eight, but still, she was smiling like he meant something. Dean knew that sorta smile, knew how to give it too.

“Nothing I can’t handle, darlin. I’ll take some of that awesome coffee you guys have if the givin’s still good.”

The woman grinned; Alice, her name tag said. “Givin’s always good here, hon. So long’s you steer clear the meatloaf.”

Dean chuckled, quickly checking what was in front of him to make sure all the important things were covered. “I’ll keep that in mind. How’s the pie?”

“Best in four counties. Apple, cherry, raspberry, pumpkin, sweet potato and rhubarb.”

“I don’t think I wanna know what a rhubarb is, so apple, please.” He grinned, offering her a charming wink as she nodded, scribbled it down then spun back to continue her rounds. It was a bit past the dinner rush, so there weren’t many people there anymore, but enough passerby that no one really cared about another drifter.

Such was nearly every diner, really. It was why his dad had relied on them so much instead of fast food. Easier to watch two boys, feed them all, catch up on his research, and no one would give two shits to the wind about them.

But even there, where nothing should have distracted him from the goal of salting and burning the remains of a pair of angry twins, Dean was having a hard time focusing.

It looked like there was an actual grave site for one of them, the twin who had died about a month before her sister had gone missing. Which was kind of why no one had been all that surprised when they couldn’t find her, let alone kept up the search. There was probably some crazy love triangle/murder thing that went on in that house, but Dean was damned if he cared at that point. He just wanted to get it done and over with. Possibly even find out where his father was and meet up with him. Stop and visit Jim, or maybe even Caleb on his way east. Something familiar.

Cause at that point, Dean was feeling like nothing more than a confused, beat up and drowned rat. Not even the pie made him feel better. And all the while, with everything he tried to focus on, all he could picture were those damn striking, steely eyes.

It made him wonder how his little monster was doing out the in the rain too. And whether or not Dean would see him again.

Now there was an odd jump in thought process.

Chapter Text

Dean decided to take care of the buried twin that night. Shoveling with all of his might at the thick, muddy earth that clung to every inch of him and more. It was hard work for a single man, especially with all of the lumps and cuts he was having to work with after being unceremoniously shoved through a window. Might have to get himself another tetanus shot after this shit was through.

By the time he reached about four feet down, it was already way past three in the morning, and raining hard enough to make it difficult to even see what the hell he was doing. He’d have to start moving faster though if he wanted to get any kind of fire lit in that slowly filling pit of death and make it out without getting stuck in the mud. Dean had worked in worse conditions, but never…

Never on his own.

But what the hell ever, he could do this, course he could. The lyrics to ‘Enter the Sandman’ filtered through his head and he just let them out, humming at first as he pushed out shovel after shovel-full before he outright just started belting it to the wind. There was no one out there anyway that would hear him.

Not a damn soul.

And with that thought, Dean was suddenly slammed backwards into the wall of the freshly dug grave, a cascade of mud raining down on him just as that same force pushed him forward into the ground.

Dean cried out, forcing his arms forward enough that he was able to stop his face from going into the mud, but that was pretty much the only thing keeping him above it. There was nothing to grip below his hands, nothing to fight against from unseen rage that wanted him nowhere near that body with his intent. And he could have kept that up easy enough, just locked his elbows and avoided getting the forced drowning she was trying to punish him with for whatever reason. Could have, if not for the fact that the force of it was pushing him deeper down.

The mud gurgled around his elbows as Dean blinked and shook the rain out of his face. It was like trying to do a pushup with a three hundred pound dude standing on his back. And not just that, but the ground was like quicksand beneath him. His heartbeat was pounding in his ears along with the thunder screeching across the sky. It was like someone pushed a button and the downpour suddenly began again, filling the air with enough rain to make a guy wanna build an ark, and just making Dean’s evening all the better.

”CHEATER!” A voice screamed from above him, whispers of angry curses circulating around him like the air itself was poisoned with her hate.

“I’m not your damn boyfriend, bitch!” Dean screamed, his arms shaking as he tried desperately to keep them locked. Still he was sinking, inch by fucking inch towards the mud.

“LIAR! DECEIVER! YOU KNEW SHE WASN’T ME!”

“Augh, seriously! I don’t friggen care!” Dean tried to shove himself upward, but that small effort unlocked his arms long enough that he was suddenly forced forward and plunged headfirst into the brown water.

All sound disappeared except for the seething rage echoing in his head and from his lungs. He flailed his arms angrily, searching for some kind of purchase, hell, anything to grab onto if just to get his head above the water again. But for some reason, there didn’t seem to be anything, even as close to the coffin as he thought he’d been. The mud was slowing him down too much and trapping his arms like vices, hellbent on keeping him right where he’d found himself. He was so amazingly fucked.

Dean fought with everything he had in him, both to free himself from what was quickly becoming his muddy grave, and to keep from opening his mouth and lungs to the inevitable. Would his dad even know where to look for him afterwards? Would anyone? Who even knew he was there?

A sudden pain in his abdomen made him cry out, however, which was seriously counter productive when you were under a foot of mud water. It all rushed in where it didn’t belong, along with the increasing pain through his stomach before he realized that it was someone pulling him upwards from the midsection.

Barely a few seconds after the water had invaded his lungs, Dean was suddenly yanked fiercely upwards, breaking the surface of the water and pulling him backwards like a limp pile of wet rags. He heaved automatically, the hands wrapped around him thrusting upwards enough to assist as the water came pouring out of where it should never have been in the first place and Dean was finally able to take in a deep and gasping plea for breath.

He hacked and coughed his way to breathing freedom, choking as his hands clung to those around him like a lifeline with his vision swimming in and out of the dark world around him. Dean caught glimpses of it, small bits that seemed to jump from place to place as he was being held in the grave with water up to his knees before then suddenly ending up outside of it. The rain was still pouring mercilessly, but there was grass and trees around him instead of walls of mud. Open space instead of the confines of where he was nearly buried alive.

He’d been rolled onto his side and was being held there, those same hands making sure that he was breathing more air than water and Dean couldn’t get his brain to wrap around who it could be. His dad wasn’t there…Sammy wasn’t there…no one else did this for him anymore. Not after the fighting…not after they got so angry at each other and walked away for good.

Dean felt so stupidly fuzzy, either that or just plain stupid for trying to dig a grave in such horrible weather, and it was hard to focus. But he was distracted by the sound of the nearby church that was chiming drearily of the hour. A place like this having cathedral bells? No shit. Dean tried hard to listen to them, to focus on something as he counted, wondering how long he’d been out there and whether or not he should get his ass back to the hotel already.

Sure, just as soon as he could stand, no problem. Four chimes. It was four in the morning.

The hands suddenly disappeared from his side. Dean twisted himself slightly, remembering that someone had been there and wondering who he was supposed to be thanking for saving his life, but there was nothing there. No one he could see, like they’d up and vanished into thin air.

He sat up slowly, still heaving slightly and coughing up the occasional bit of murk that tasted like no amount of mouthwash would ever remove. Behind him, laying in a heap like he’d just landed beside them by accident, was a pair of pants and buttoned shirt, covered in grave mud. It was about four feet or so from the actual grave, and Dean was damn certain they hadn’t been there before considering that one of the empty shirt sleeves was half on top of him.

~*~

By the time Dean got himself back to his hotel room, the rain had lightened up, but only a little. He’d tried to cover up the damage he’d done, but there wasn’t a lot of strength left in him at that point. Fuck it. So he’d packed himself up and just gotten the hell out of there. Mother nature hated him, that angry ghost chick hated him, and now the cemetery keepers could hate him too. Whatever. There was no one there any more to tell him he was a dumbass, so he’d just have to do it himself.

Everything got dumped just as soon as he closed the door, including the strange muddy clothing he’d found at his side. Dean wasn’t sure why, but his gut told him to take it. Which was weird, but he was well past caring. He barely stayed awake long enough to uncake himself of his muddy clothes and stand in the shower for a few minutes before he finally reached his limit. It was either be horizontal on that bed, or gravity was just gonna do it for him right there.

Dean flopped onto the bed and buried himself in the blankets, trying desperately to shake that bone-deep cold and the still quivering shakes of shock from nearly drowning. As he settled, as his heartbeat slowed, and as the room started to finally open up to more than just the thrumming of his own heart, Dean felt the subtle dips in the bed of something else moving upon it.

He didn’t move, nor did he open his eyes, his breathing staggering only slightly as he felt something warm approach him cautiously, hesitantly sniffing around an exposed shoulder before nuzzling there. Dean felt that pang in his chest again, that ache that he could never release but never seem to hide whenever days like this reminded him of how far he was from everything he knew. However the little furrball had gotten in, it didn’t really matter, cause Dean fell asleep barely a minute after it rolled into a warm ball at his neck and gently purred until the world went away.

Dreamless sleep was the most awesome thing in the history of ever. Hands down, no contest.

~*~

Dean spent the next day indoors. Which, incidentally, was once again kitten free.

As in, if he could avoid going anywhere that meant he had to be out in the rain again? He did.

So therefore the day was spent doing as much as he could to regroup himself and figure out why the hell he was acting like a damn amateur and had nearly gotten himself killed. Fucking rookie mistakes, it was embarrassing.

The tv was on -fuzzy but on- broadcasting the weather channel for him so that he could work out when the worst of the rain would be hitting and when it was gonna actually let up. That was the first part of the plan. The second, of course, was reworking and rechecking facts, cross checking what he did know with what he’d missed and generally making up for the lack of thinking for the past three days. Guns that didn’t need to stay dry, rock salt, water proof matches, the works. No more mister nice hunter.

The break in the storm around the afternoon also gave him a chance to get his muddy clothes cleaned up in town so he could walk around without feeling like a part of the earth itself. Somehow, he’d also ended up throwing in the set of clothes he’d found the night before, which looked strangely close to what that black haired dude had been wearing. Dean had a problem believing in coincidences, but he was willing to wait this one out at least. He hadn’t seen the guy, or any naked dude for that matter, but he washed them anyway.

That night was supposed to be another big storm, just like the last two, but after that it was going to finally start tapering a bit. Which was what he should have waited for in the first place but had gotten too impatient for his own good. And really, what was the hurry anyway. The rush to go from one place to the next, and for what? No one was meeting up with him, no one was pushing him on. Dad was one direction, Sam was the other, and neither one needed him. Neither one.

Dean sighed, shaking himself from the damn funk he’d settled into from both the weather and his stupid luck before stopping by a liquor store and a pizza place right before sundown. Which was good since, somehow, right about eight or so, there was this scritching sound at his door that indicated that he wasn’t the only one who was hungry.

He opened the door and the little, slightly damp kitten glanced up at him with those huge eyes, sitting back on his haunches as it looked back and forth between Dean and the warm room past him. Dean blinked for a second, raising his eyebrows down at the little beast in bewilderment. It was like he was waiting to be told he could come in.

“Well? This is your one chance, squirt. In or out.” And that was all the cat needed before he bolted past Dean’s ankles into the room. Dean laughed, locking the door up again and making sure the windows were all shut tight while he was at it. One of these days he’d figure out how the little fuzz was making it in and out on his own.

“So we’re being polite now, is that it? We’re past the stage of biting and hissing and onto please and thank you?” The kitten circled around his legs before bolting over to the table where the pizza lay open and ready for the taking, meowing loudly with a longing that Dean understood perfectly well.

“My thoughts exactly, small fry. You’re lucky I like my pizzas meaty.”

~*~

Dean rambled on for the rest of the evening, the tv on mute but ignored, still locked on the weather channel, as well as the still unopened bottle of whiskey sitting idly on the table. He filled the cat in on what had happened the previous night, how fucking stupid he’d been, the last minute save, and pretty much everything he was planning for tomorrow. That take down would be the highlight of his week, and he was making it pointedly clear that no teenage dead bitch could take him out no matter how unprepared he was.

Which, ok, wasn’t all that true, he guessed, but luck had been on his side so far. Luck he hadn’t been expecting…hadn’t been prepared for. Those wide, little eyes continued to watch him expectantly, trained on his every motion like he was watching a dance. It was like the cats that watched fish tanks, Dean thought, waving a hand in the air and watching the kitten crane its neck back to follow. It made him laugh, at least, and Dean didn’t really give a shit about what he was saying cause, seriously, cat.

Who knew Dean could be such an awesome conversationalist?

Y’know, aside from the opinions of one night stands. And himself.

The only strange part of the whole thing was when Dean came out of the bathroom to find the kitten trying to drag the clean blue button down shirt towards the door. The one that wasn’t Dean’s. It was an odd sight to see, especially since the little monster wasn’t all that big compared to the lump of fabric. Dean started to walk towards him to get the cloth away just as the kitten went ballistic again and hissed and spat til he stopped.

“Seriously? You’re gonna have a tantrum over that? You are a moody little shit.” Dean joked, moving to separate the two with an angry little ball of fluff on one side cursing at him in felinese. He stuck the pants and shirt above the television after that, and not even the wildest jumps the cat could think of got him up that far. He glared at Dean with daggers, but it didn’t last all that long. Dean pulled the pizza back out and the kitten warmed almost immediately to the prospect of more food.

“Yeah, cat after my own heart. Suck up.” Dean mumbled, fluffing the kitten in the wrong direction that made all his fur stand on end. The cat gave him a look of disapproval before going to work fixing it, but Dean just messed it back up again.

~*~

It was around midnight when the kitten disappeared again.

Dean had just gotten out of the shower, which was thankfully a far less muddy one than the night before, only to find the room completely devoid of anything even kitten-like. Which still confused the hell out of him since everything was still locked, bolted and closed the way it should be. Outside, the storm was picking back up speed and Dean could hear the rumblings of thunder that reminded him exactly why it was he wasn’t out there in it. He wondered what the appeal could possibly be for such a small creature.

Of course, Dean hadn’t actually seen the cat go to the bathroom anywhere, even in that little carton he’d set up again, so maybe the kitten was shy? Yeah, that wasn’t a weird thought at all. Cat can’t take a crap indoors, so it phased itself through the walls with its crazy powers to take a shit outside.

And that would be Dean’s week, wouldn’t it? The piece de resistance, as it were.

He’d stuck his head out the front door at one point, even though he wasn’t really sure what the hell he was doing. (Whoever heard of a cat domesticating a man?) But didn’t see anything more than a couple of teenagers near the corner of the walkway who were drinking and smoking and laughing at the rain.

So Dean had shrugged it off, gone back inside, locked and salted the door and found a better use for himself than playing with a damn kitten. Seriously, what the hell was he on?

He tried calling his dad that night, but it went straight to voicemail. Oh well, wasn’t like he couldn’t properly yell at himself for being an idiot anyway. His fingers had hovered for a minute or so over Sam’s name, that call button just itching to be pressed if he only had the balls to do it…but the call was never made. He liked to think his little brother was out with all of the friends he’d found in Normalville USA, all the homework those schmucks were piling on him each night and how much Sammy was loving every bit of it.

Dean tossed the phone onto the night stand and ignored its existence for the rest of the night. He went to bed with the full intention of being up early so he could take advantage of when the rain was supposed to slow.

It almost bothered him when he realized just how much he missed having that little warm thing sleeping at his side. The damn cat had been sneaking in and out for only three days, what the hell was Dean’s problem?

The lightning flashed through the room silently, and Dean wished he’d stayed that extra day in California.

~*~

When next he opened his eyes, Dean wasn’t entirely sure why he’d even woken in the first place. Fingers gripped around the handle of the knife beneath his pillow, a tenseness going from shoulders to thighs that was ready to spring into action at the slightest sound of ill-intent.

He blinked a few times when nothing happened, his eyes adjusting to glance at the clock beside him that told him it was 3:45 in the morning and that he’d only been asleep for a couple of hours. Not that it mattered if he needed to be useful, Dean had functioned perfectly well with less, but something had set him off to begin with. He trusted his instincts, and that meant not startling easy.

Then he heard it again, and didn’t question it a second time. That sound, the familiar one that had stopped him in his tracks a few short days ago and practically melted his outer exterior. A cry for help.

Dean got to his feet and pulled his boots on in two single shrugs, snatching a gun from the table and holding it at the ready behind his back before yanking open the door. Couldn’t be too careful or unarmed, but didn’t want to scare the locals either if he could help it.

The rain was thick, making the air mottled grey and hazy with very little visibility beyond the parking lot. There was another small cry, but it was followed by laughter this time. Laughter and smashing glass with whoops and cries that gave Dean the image of the handful of teenagers he’d seen earlier that evening. But he didn’t see anyone now, so they’d obviously moved.

Dean kept his hand tucked behind him, the weapon out of sight but within use, fairly sure that he was dealing with moronic civilians but not wanting to take any chances after the week he’d had. He took careful and quiet steps, almost silent even in the heavy boots and the puddling walkway before making it to the edge of the building. The laughter was louder, and Dean inched himself around carefully to take in the sight of those same three guys, huddled in their soaked hoodies and circled around the edge of a dumpster kicking a few empty bottles of beer.

He could smell the weed, even with the heavy smell of rain-damp air and molding trash. Not even the burnt oil of the old clunkers nearby could cover it, and even though Dean had his own vices, he’d never really been a fan. Pot made you stupid, made you clumsy and got people killed. He didn’t even dare drink when he was working a job, he’d seen enough of that with his dad.

As harmless as the three thugs looked, though, there was something that still kept him there. Something that his gut told him he was missing as one of the boys leaned down suddenly and picked up a half shattered glass bottle before throwing it behind the dumpster with a loud crash.

The yowl in reply was unmistakable, and it made the boys cheer. Dean just saw red.

“Hey!” He cried out, marching out of the shadows like he’d been sprung from them and out into the pouring rain as all three teens startled in his direction. The first one was off like a shot almost immediately, barely giving the other two a warning before they too seemed to finally catch on.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Dean cried out, and they ran faster, which was well enough for them because Dean was fairly sure that he’d have beaten the tar out of one of em if they’d stuck around. Lousy, good for nothing bullies.

He jogged forward, reaching the dumpster just in time to see something small retreat into the shadows, little red footprints bleeding out into the mud where it had once been. Dean grimaced, taking a few steps forward and stepping on a whole hell of a lot of broken glass and metal before there was a warning growl that told him to stay back.

“Hey…” He crouched down and swallowed, eyes trying to retrace those steps and see into the darkness that was hiding the wounded creature. Dean fought back his anger, knowing those stupid kids were just kids and there was really nothing to fight. How many times had he seen beat up dogs on the street before? Mangy cats with half their tails missing? It wasn’t like it was all that uncommon, nor would doing anything about it now save the world or anything.

But there was something he could do, at least.

“Hey little guy…its Dean…remember me? I ain’t gonna hurt ya, remember? Those little shits are gone.” He was well and truly soaked by then, the water dripping from his hair down his face, but he was still just as sharp as when he’d left the room. He could just faintly see the outline of the shuddering figure before it mewed quietly, a forlorn and hurt sound of loss.

He cursed, however, when he realized he didn’t have anything with which to pick up the kitten. There was no telling what kind of injuries it had, not to mention the fight or flight once Dean got his hands on him, and that was blood that didn’t need to be shared. He liked the little guy, but he hated hospitals more.

“Gimme….damnit, gimme just a sec, ok? I will be right back.” Dean wasn’t really sure why he was reassuring a damn cat. Not to mention why he was even bothering to begin with…but he’d learned a long time ago that he had very little to rely on but instincts. There was something…something he needed to pay attention to with this small, little life.

A bit of kindness maybe, that was all.

Dean stumbled back into the room, glancing around quickly before he snatched a towel from the nearby chair and bolted back out the door, hoping the little guy hadn’t tried to run. He tripped slightly on a puddle that was deeper than he thought, cursing as the rain continued to downpour just as thick as it had been all fucking week.

And seriously, who ever heard of rain that lasted this long? He was surprised there hadn’t been more flooding really, or landslides or crazy mud floods and shit like that. Or maybe it was all just coming and had been waiting for him to get there.

Dean forced his focus back to where he was, swiftly making the corner before he rushed back over to the dumpster and started to wrap the towel over his hands so that he could get that poor thing out of the rain. Had he even seen a vet’s place nearby? Would he know the first thing about helping it? How would…

And Dean’s train of thought suddenly flat lined. His heart beating in his throat as he took in breath after smoky breath though the pouring rain, yet stood frozen to the spot beside that wet, horrible smelling dumpster.

Curled in a ball, with arms wrapped tightly around his bleeding knees and huddled there shivering naked as the day he was born, was the man that Dean had woken to just yesterday. The one that he was sure had saved his life when the ghost had very nearly succeeded in drowning him, and whose clothes were above Dean’s television. No kitten, no animal of any kind, just a very cold and wounded man.

His black hair was plastered down his forehead, blood oozing from wounds on his side that were bruised and numerous, staining the rain around him in a red circle. He was shaking so hard that Dean could practically hear his teeth clacking, but all he could do was stand there and stare down at him in confusion. The man turned his head towards him, fingers curling out from his palms and gripping into the naked skin of his shins as eyes met eyes.

“I…” He started shakily, glancing down at himself as if he couldn’t believe what he was looking at anymore than Dean could. He swallowed, blinking through the rain with that dejected face before looking back to Dean. “I’m sorry.” He practically whispered, before Dean watched those eyes roll back, and his entire body uncurl gracelessly to the ground.

He was definitely going to need a bigger towel.

~*~

By the time the man had jerked awake, his eyes flying open and darting around widely from beneath the covers of the bed, there was the faintest hint of light creeping over the horizon from outside. A small break in the rain at least, which had settled to a light drizzle.

Dean sat as still as a statue; his chair pulled about ten or so feet from the bed, strategically placed between the stranger and the door. He was leaning back in a deceptively casually ease with his arms crossed, an unlocked gun in one hand but otherwise nothing else. There was a single lamp lit in the corner, casting strange shadows through the room but still leaving more than enough light for Dean to aim if he needed to.

The man sat up slowly, wincing and letting out small grunts of air as he pulled himself upwards and supported his chest with one hand. He was dry, a towel wrapped around his waist but still otherwise as naked as when Dean had found him (that was just somewhere he wasn’t willing to go on a freaky stranger) and had bandages wrapped around his abdomen and arms. The man gazed at all of this, taking it in along with the cleansed wounds that hadn’t been wrapped. Small cuts from the glass and dark bruises from the kicks, Dean could see the guy assessing how much of a mess he was.

Then he stopped, taking in a slow breath, and Dean caught the small bit of eye contact despite the fact that once again he was trying not to look at him.

“Just tell me one thing first.” Dean said, and it made the man jump, his head ducking slightly at his shoulders and it was so weirdly cat-like that Dean didn’t know what the hell to think anymore.

“Tell me that there isn’t some poor little runt still out there cause I dragged your ass in here instead. Tell me I’m right, and that I didn’t leave him out there to bleed to death.”

There was silence for a moment, and Dean waited, a hunter’s patience letting this man know that he had his full attention and there was all the time in the world to figure out what the fuck was going on.

Finally, he shook his head, those dark black spikes shifting in randomly wild directions but even then he didn’t look up. Fingers clenched into the bandages around his chest as he took in another slow breath and Dean could hear the hesitation in it.

“It hurts when you do that cause those kids bruised a few of your ribs.” He stated plainly, still keeping his voice carefully level. As glad as he was that he was right about the little monster, there was also a frustration there that only being tricked would leave. “You’ve also got some deep cuts on your arms from the glass, which I’m guessing is because you’re so much bigger now and there’s some kind of crazy expanding ratio or something. Whatever. Your hands and feet were pretty bad too from walking around on it all.”

He paused for a moment, letting it sink in for himself more than anything now that he was saying it aloud. Not that it sounded any less strange, but that was kind of his career wasn’t it. “You’re lucky nothing was broken, or cracked. But you’ll live. Unless you decide to keep lying to me and try to go kitten again to escape, cause we’re gonna have a problem if you do.”

“It’s not my choice.”

The voice was as soft as Dean remembered, but still deep and rumbling with that hint of despair in everything he said. Course it made a bit more sense now, considering.

“What isn’t? Seeking me out and gaining my trust as I do my fucking job, or transforming into a four legged baby cat? Cause really? I’m at the weirded out point where I’m just gonna assume both.”

“I didn’t seek you out to harm you.”

He lifted his head finally, locking eyes with that steely gaze that reminded Dean so much of his little friend that for a moment he held his breath. But it was lost a second later, and somehow Dean felt a bit colder for it.

“Then why did you? What the hell is going on here and what the hell are you?” His hands clenched, and the gun shifted against his bicep, drawing the man’s eyes for a moment as he swallowed before looking back to the comforter still half across him.

“I am cursed.”

“By who? What?”

“My intent was not to trick you, Dean.”

Dean bristled, finally moving to sit forward in the chair and let his hands fell to his knees with the gun still lingering as an extension of his arm.

“Then what the hell was your intent then?”

“I don’t know.”

“How the hell don’t you know? What did this to you, are you a shapeshifter? Silver didn’t do a damn thing, nor did most of the other shit I tried, but I’m willing to bet a bullet to the back of the skull would-“

“I didn’t ask for this!” The man blurted out, louder, staring back at him intently with a look that begged for understanding, and Dean was having a hard time trying to pick out the man’s lies. “You took me in from the rain, you pulled me indoors when I can clearly recall my own protests. I did not beg you for assistance!”

“But you came back.”

“Of course I did! Wouldn’t you? If you were that small and frail in this place, on this world, and had been witness to the cruelty of both nature and the creatures living on it, would you not seek out the smallest bit of mercy as well?”

Dean stared, unsure what to say as the man clutched at his ribs again in a vain attempt to get them to stop hurting. He wisely forced his breathing to slow. There was silence for a moment, the sound of the dripping roof the only noise from outside along with a few random passing cars through the flooded streets.

Dean regrouped his thoughts. He wasn’t going to let himself be fooled again if he could help it, but at the same time, this guy had had way more opportunities to off him before he’d discovered the big secret. There was still too much Dean didn’t know.

“What’s your name?” He asked finally.

“You told me before that you didn’t wish to know.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “It’s a bit different now that I know you aren’t just a furrball with a tail. What’s your name?” He repeated, more insistent.

“Castiel.”

“Ok, Castiel. Good.” Weird, Dean hadn’t heard that one before. “What are you?”

Castiel huffed out a sardonic laugh, fingers clenching the bandages again as he wiped his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I’m not supposed to be feline, if that helps. It’s my punishment. My curse.”

“Who cursed you?”

“What are you going to do with me?” He asked suddenly, catching eyes again as he leaned forward and laid one hand overtop the other. It was oddly feline, and bothered Dean how much of that he was picking up on now.

“I’m not really sure yet. If you were me, would you trust you?”

Castiel shook his head. “Probably not. However, I was sincere when I informed you that I meant no harm.”

Dean nodded, calculating quietly as he tapped the gun gently against his knee. Not as any warning so much as the need to move as thoughts ran through his head in way too many directions to keep track. This was such a weird circumstance, definitely a new one, although it wasn’t like he was new to the idea of curses and how they worked.

“You saved my life, didn’t you?” He asked, licking his lips and taking in a quick breath that sounded a bit like resignation. Castiel watched him for a moment before nodding slowly.

“It was dangerous to go alone.” He responded, and it looked so incredibly sincere that Dean couldn’t help but feel like maybe he was looking for more danger than was actually there.

Dean stared for a moment longer before finally moving to pull himself to his feet. “Yeah, well, everybody fucks up, no matter what they do for a living.” He clicked the safety back on his gun, walking to the opposite side of the room where he deposited it carefully with his things. He turned back to see Castiel watching him apprehensively, but there was a hopefulness there too.

“But yeah….I’d probably still be in that damn grave if it wasn’t for you, so just, thanks.”

Castiel nodded, the smallest hint of a smile whispering around the corner of his mouth but otherwise keeping most of his expression around those big eyes of his.

“You are welcome, Dean.”

“Don’t expect me to trust you. The whole cat thing still weirds me out, and I still haven’t a damn clue who you are…”

“And you would be correct not to. I am not seeking your trust.”

“Then what are you seeking Castiel?” Dean asked, and the man opened his mouth to speak just as another loud, gurgling sound filled in the silence for him. Dean raised his eyebrows as Castiel’s cheeks flushed slightly, his hands moving to his stomach as if that would somehow muffle it.

Dean smirked. “Easy an answer as any other, I guess.”

~*~

They sat with an awkward silence between them at the booth of the diner, both trying to focus more on the menus before them than each other. It was like some weird, uncomfortable first date or something. Except that it wasn’t a date at all, more like waiting to see who was going to crack first.

Dean could tell that Castiel was still intimidated by him, but not in the way he was used to. There were so many scars and fresh hits all over the poor guy, some looking like they were a few years old, that told him he was no stranger to cruelty. Most of them were probably when he was in kitten-form, but that was more assumption than anything. The kind of fear that Castiel seemed to be radiating with at the moment was more of an awkward one. Like he was just waiting for Dean to get up and walk away at any moment.

And really, why hadn’t he? What had stopped Dean from washing his hands of the entire thing and moving on with what he needed to? There was a job to do, he’d do it, and then get his ass back on the road to whatever suited his fancy. There was no tie or connection here that this job was demanding of him…so what the hell was it of his business to take any sort of care of…well, Catman?

Sure, the whole transforming thing was high up there on the supernatural list, especially since Castiel was claiming to have been cursed, and that narrowed it down just a bit, but still. Not his problem. So the dude became a kitten every so often, Dean had seen much much worse.

Yet there he sat, Castiel no longer naked once Dean re-supplied him with his recently washed clothing. He’d looked at Dean like he’d never wore a clean shirt in his life, and thanked him that way too. The guy’s honesty was unheard of, which continued to make it hard for Dean to distrust the guy.

“So…” Dean said finally, catching the slight jump in Castiel’s shoulders at the sound. They were both sitting so silently in front of their mugs of coffee, someone had to break it. “How long have you…well…” And really, how does one politely phrase something like that?

“Been a cat?” Castiel finished for him, and Dean made an obvious face. The man nodded, his eyes drifting back to his untouched cup. “Long enough. I’ve…lost track.”

And that was the first time Dean could tell that Castiel had lied to him. Which wasn’t even something he’d needed to lie about, but that was good if he could pick up that the man was a bad liar.

“How’d it happen?”

Castiel caught his gaze again, raising an eyebrow. “It doesn’t really make a difference. It happened, and I am trapped.”

“Well, it kinda does, cause if you know why and how the curse was cast, it makes it a bit easier to break it.”

“I already know the why and how, and what must be done to break it. But it isn’t that simple.”

Dean took a slow sip of his coffee, eyeing the half filled diner during the early morning rush. No one was paying attention to two street born vagabonds. “So then what is it? What do you have to do? There’s usually some kind of sacrifice involved from my experience…”

Castiel shook his head, huffing out another small laugh that had nothing to do with being amused. “If it were that simple, don’t you think I’d have done it by now? I pray my thanks everyday that I was at least spared the transformation to a cockroach.”

Dean snorted, placing the mug back on the stained ring it made on the tabletop before cracking the aching knuckles in his hands. He was still a bit sore from that stupid night in the graveyard.

“Amen to that. I don’t think I’d have warmed up to you all that quickly if you had.” He smirked, but the smile slowly faded as Castiel gave him an odd, calculating look with his head tilted slightly to the side.

“What?” Dean asked, wondering what the hell it was he said, but Castiel blinked and shook his head, looking back to his coffee but not really seeing it. Dean kept on.

“Anyway, curses are something I’ve actually got a bit of experience with, to be honest. I’ve seen some nasty shit, not even kidding. I’m still pretty miffed at you for all the deceptive crap, but I don’t think I’d out myself if I was turning into an animal every night either. And you did save my life, so if you want my help, there it is, on the table.” He slapped at the laminated fake wood lightly, as if that would emphasize his offer to make it more clear.

Castiel stared at him again before swallowing, looking as though he was trying to choose his words carefully. “I…”

“Here ya go, boys!” Alice’s cheerful voice chimed as she set heaping plates of food down right in front of Castiel’s nose, making him jump and lean back before anything else was said. Which pretty much ended the conversation anyway since the poor guy dug into his food as if he hadn’t had a proper meal in weeks.

Course, considering the size of his stomach when he was a cat, maybe he hadn’t. Dean let it go.

“Didn’t I feed you, like, half a pizza last night?” He joked, piling up his own fork with French toast that was dripping with confectioner’s sugar and syrup. Castiel paused for a second, that small smirk almost appearing again before he focused back on his food.

The awkwardness started to melt away after that, and Dean didn’t even notice. He found that it was more interesting trying to make the guy smile than it was trying to pick him apart.

~*~

The rain was off and on that afternoon, but hardly as bad as it had been for whatever small mercies Dean was allowed. Castiel was fairly quiet, but seemed to silently insist that he remain around Dean unless told otherwise, like some kind of bodyguard or guardian or something.

It worried him at first, but after a bit of contemplation, Dean was fairly sure without even knowing that Castiel probably didn’t have anywhere to go.

“What did you do during the day when you were human? Why didn’t you just hitch a ride out of this place and keep going?” Dean asked him as they walked through the slow drizzle towards the old side of town.

Castiel shook his head. “It isn’t that simple, especially when I look the way I do and am very easily distrusted or taken advantage of. I’ve been robbed more times than I can count, among other things…” He trailed off, and Dean didn’t need to finish that thought for him. “Its easier when I’m smaller and more innocent in appearance, but even then its more likely to find injury than salvation. I dislike hitchhiking a great deal.”

Castiel tilted his head back into the misting rain, his eyes closed for a long moment even as he continued to walk forward at Dean’s side.

“But to answer your question, I was mostly hidden during the day. I found you in the cemetery the other night because I was already there, sleeping in a mausoleum.”

Dean grimaced. “You don’t have anyone you can get a hold of? Someone that could help you out? I mean, the cat thing is bizarre, yeah, but its not like you turn into a monster or anything…”

“No. I have no one I can contact.” Castiel kicked idly at the ground, his cheap looking shoes barely staying on his feet.

“Family?” And Dean wasn’t even sure why he was being so nosy about it. He’d like to think he was simply just trying to fork over responsibility of the guy onto someone else, but not even he could lie that well to himself.

Castiel huffed, shaking his head. “Not really.”

There was more behind that somewhere, but Dean let it go. He wasn’t really one to pry when it came to family anyway, considering his own problems. He cleared his throat.

“Ok, so, hypothetically here, if you say, had a friend who had the very same problem, as in this friend also turned into a cat by night and a man by day Werecat thing…and you just happened to know offhand what he had to do in order to break that curse…then could you tell me what it is?”

Castiel gave him a confused look, and Dean wasn’t even sure he knew what the hell he’d just said. “I have no such friend, Dean.”

“You’re missing the hypothetical part. I’m saying, if it wasn’t you, then could you tell me?”

“The curse isn’t denying me the ability to speak of it.”

“Oh.” He knew that. “Well then why don’t you? Then maybe I could…”

Castiel sighed, cringing as he flexed the muscles of his abdomen and moving a hand automatically to support himself. “I appreciate your earnestness, I truly do. But knowing makes no difference. Otherwise, I would not be here nor would I have suffered for it.”

Dean nodded. Fair nuff. “Or met me.” He added.

Castiel paused, gazing at him with that weird look again that Dean couldn’t quite read.

“What?”

“If you weren’t under this curse, I’d probably have never met you. I dunno about you, but I don’t go picking up men by the scruff of their necks and pull them into a shower with me. Not on the first date anyway.” Dean smirked. Jesus, was he flirting with him now? Seriously? Catman?

“Well it’s true.” He continued lamely, scratching the back of his neck and suddenly feeling awkward under the scrutiny. Wasn’t he supposed to be mad at this guy?

But Castiel smiled at that, and nodded. He well and truly smiled for the first time and it took Dean aback for a second. It lit up his entire face, which had up until that point somehow borne the weight of the entire world upon it. Dean wondered just how much of that same look had started to creep into his own expression too. The world had been piling its crap on his shoulders since he was four.

They continued to walk, their feet squishing into the soft ground after the gargantuan amount of rain that had been pouring recently and running in from the surrounding mountains. But it was actually pretty nice when he could see what was around him. Still murky and gross, but visible, and the Rockies were easy to see above the horizon line of the trees.

Dean remembered those mountains with his dad, but he didn’t want to really think about it. So he sang instead, just under his breath without even realizing he was doing it.

“Why do you do that?”

Dean startled, glancing at Castiel who was staring at him curiously like he’d just grown a sixth finger or something.

“Huh what?”

“When no one is speaking, you fill the silence and you sing. Why?”

Dean huffed, forgetting that this guy had been hanging out with him for the past three days in cat form more than human.

“I dunno, I just do. It’s easier than thinking anyway. If there’s a beat in my head, a rhythm, I can set everything else to it, y’know? My footsteps, my breathing, my actions…keeps ya sharp.” He started to sing again, the lyrics to ‘Don’t Look Back’ synonymously counting with his steps and making their walk just a little bit quicker as Dean set the pace according to the beat. Castiel watched him like it was the most fascinating thing in the world and it made Dean laugh.

“Its not that big a deal, dude, a lot of hunters I know do something like it. Some count by a metronome, those, uh…those things that click side to side for a piano? And some to the sound of their own heartbeats.”

Castiel nodded, and Dean slowed as he saw the man wince again as he took too long of a step and stumbled slightly on the lumpy ground.

“Can you teach me?”

“What, how to count?” He snorted, but Castiel shook his head.

“No, the words. Can you teach me your songs?”

Dean laughed, long and low as he grinned like a cheshire cat. It was amazing how quickly he’d gotten used to the idea of Catman following him around and wasn’t really sure what had changed.

“Dude, you just woke yourself a sleeping giant.”

~*~

By the time Dean was satisfied, he’d taken Castiel all the way through Metallica’s best album ever, ‘Master of Puppets’, and half of Led Zeppelin’s second album. (cause really, he wasn’t going to let the guy go without learning ‘Ramble On’. That’d just be cruel.) And Castiel was a fast learner. He didn’t really sing so much as hum along, although he knew the words, the man seemed like he wanted to hear Dean sing them more than himself.

They had found a small park smack in the middle of old town, and were being incredibly lazy sitting beneath the leaky roof of a pavilion on wilted, old picnic tables as the rain picked up again. A few people were walking around every so often, but there was basically no one there.

Which was fine by him, because he couldn’t really come to terms with exactly what he was doing, making friends with a cursed stranger. But it made the both of them smile, almost laugh sometimes when Dean couldn’t believe he had to explain the meanings of some of the lyrics to him. What kinda rock did you live under to never hear of The Lord of the Rings? Dean had never read it himself, despite Sammy’s insistence, but had learned all he ever needed to know about it from his favorite song.

Sam had never really let him sit down and explain what these songs meant to him, preferring instead to listen to whatever emo-tastic pop crap he could get his chubby hands on. And Dad had been awesome about music to begin with, but they never really talked about it much anymore. Most of the things Dean had an opinion about ended up in an argument anyway, so he just stopped bringing it up.

Dean wondered sometimes if his Dad ever really tried to have any fun anymore. Course, it wasn’t like Dean was all that far off from his beaten trail.

“Dean?”

Dean shook himself from his head, cursing silently as he fought his attention back to the present.

“Yup. You got it? Good. I bet you’d like AC/DC too, but I’m not gonna make your head explode. You might not have enough space when you go all furry this evening and I won’t be responsible for exploding cat heads.”

Castiel gave him a disapproving look, but it just made Dean laugh. And man did it feel good to do that. Or have a conversation with someone that lasted longer than fifteen minutes. He couldn’t even remember how long it had been.

Dean checked his watch and cursed, the world suddenly rushing back to him as he glanced around the small park, but there really was no one around.

“I gotta check out that gravesite and the house. See if I can get all of this shit done once night falls so those girls aren’t beating the crap out of every guy they see anymore.” He said, mostly to himself. Although it was weird actually speaking aloud and knowing that Castiel understood exactly what he was talking about.

“I can help.” Castiel said softly, but considering how awful he looked with his arms clinging to his bruised ribs for some sort of relief, Dean just shook his head.

“No damn way. You aren’t a hunter, for one thing. And you’re still pretty damn beat to hell. Naw, I’m gonna pull recon tonight just to see how much damage I can make up for. I’m not going back in alone unless I know I can, no more rookie shit.”

His words seemed to help, and although Dean wasn’t sure why he was working with the reassurance or why Castiel cared that much, he felt better for it. It was nice to know someone was paying attention. Even if he was going to be really short and furry in a few hours.

“Listen, I uh…” He started, but didn’t know where to go from there. He couldn’t really offer a place for Castiel to stay with all of his belongings still in the room, but he didn’t wanna leave the guy outside to suffer either. Why did everything have to be so damn complicated?

“I need to do some recon as well.” Castiel filled in the rest for him, although Dean had a feeling he didn’t really know what that word meant. “But I can find you again tonight…if that’s alright, now that you know…” He looked apprehensive, but Dean nodded, pursing his lips.

“That works, sure. Hell, I am more than prepared to deal with a sissy, moody little cat if you recall. At least then you’ll eat less.”

Castiel gave him a small, grateful smile and Dean could see the relief in it, which annoyingly seemed to make his own heart beat just a little bit louder in his ears.

“Are you sure you can’t tell me about the curse? Cause I’ve got people I can ask-“

“Stay safe, Dean.” Castiel interrupted as he stood to his feet, nodding to him and then slowly walking towards the nearby trees. Dean wondered how much of the area he knew at that point after having been both two and four legged in the back country of the town. Not to mention homeless.

It wasn’t until Castiel was out of sight that Dean realized he hadn’t asked how the hell he’d been getting in and out of the hotel room when he was fluffy.

~*~

As if by some strange form of poetic justice, it ended up that the three hooligans that had kicked the crap out of Castiel had decided to try and sneak into the haunted house while their owners were away, and rob the place. What they weren’t expecting, obviously, were the two angry twins still dwelling in the walls and still mad as hell at any man who crossed their paths.

So that was amusing to Dean, especially since the majority of the guys’ injuries were more from their failed escape attempts than the ghosts themselves. Not a single one was badly hurt, so Dean felt there was the slightest bit of righteousness in it somehow.

On the other hand, because of the fact that they were basically committing a crime, crazy screams of ghosts or not, the place was being police watched for twenty four hours. Damnit. So once again his plan was borked for the evening and he’d have to contend with staying another night. As awesome as it was that a couple of thugs got their faces hamburgered, the next one to get it could be an innocent.

That, and it was raining again, annoyingly enough, like he’d missed it or something, and Dean had no huge desire to go swimming in grave stew anymore than he already had. So that pretty much made the few ‘up in the air’ decisions for him right there and that was that.

But instead of doing what he usually did when he got a night off to do whatever; instead of doing what he was practically legend for when it came to barhopping and woman shopping, Dean made the decision to get some take out from the diner and head back to the hotel room completely on his own.

His father probably would have thought he was sick, same with Sam, Dean was willing to bet. But they weren’t there, neither one of them, and what the hell did they know anyway?

Dean thought of that smile, and he realized he couldn’t really think of much else.

Of course, it would be a kitten face by the time he saw him again, which ok, was way up there on the weird list once more…but he’d had worse.

Oh man he’d had worse.

His phone rang by the time he got back to the hotel room as he was fumbling with his key, the food and the cell all at the same time and the sound took him by surprise.

“Yo!” He squeezed the phone between his shoulder and his ear as he kicked the door forward, dumping everything on the nearby table before kicking it closed again in one fluid motion. ‘Clumsy’ was not a word to describe Dean Winchester.

But then all motion halted, Dean’s back straightening as if on impulse at the sound of his father’s voice.

“Hey dad, yeah, I’m good….naw, busy week that’s all. Was I supposed to…oh yeah, sure. No sir, actually I got a little caught up with…what? Oh, well yeah. I know that, but there was…”

Dean brushed a hand through his hair, leading it down over his forehead as he took in a slow breath. He felt the rhythm of a beat in his legs and tried to silently count it in time as his father scolded him from who knows what distance he was away.

“No sir, no excuses. Just finishing up what I need to befor-…yeah. I got it, I don’t need to…what? Seriously? Hell yeah I can. I’m near Denver, so I can make it to you in about…what? Of course I’m gonna do this first, but I’m just sayin…yes sir. I’ll make my way north when I’m done here and then give you a call. Yup. Will do. Bye.”

Dean ended the call, then stared down at the phone without really seeing it. It wouldn’t have been much use trying to explain to his father about the second ghost, considering how the great John Winchester probably would have gotten that bit of information before leaping in for the kill. Dean sighed, but at least they were meeting back up again, or so he hoped. His dad hadn’t really told him where he was, let alone where they’d set up for the next job. It bothered him sometimes that the trust was still lacking between his father and everyone else in existence, even his own blood.

Dean jumped as something bumped into his leg, the train of his thoughts derailing spectacularly as he leapt back only to find a small, furry white and black kitten standing there looking like he’d been waiting for hours. Dean rolled his eyes before leaning down and picking the little hairball up with one hand.

“Seriously dude, you have got to tell me how you keep getting in and out of here all the time.” He grumbled, scratching the cat’s ears. Castiel, however, seemed to have nothing to say on the matter.

~*~

Castiel ate heartily from the meatloaf that Dean had procured from the diner while Dean flipped through the channels looking for cartoons. There wasn’t much, and the signal was horrific, but it wasn’t like he was paying much attention anyway.

The little cat watched him with his wide blue eyes as Dean informed him of his discovery that day. How the idiot triplets had gotten what was coming to them after trying to get into the house. Which pretty much settled the matter as to whether or not Dean had tried to vanquish any spirits that night, and Castiel seemed to settle a bit more afterwards.

Dean had wrapped the poor little guy’s chest again, noticing the visible bruising even through all that fur, and sympathizing with his much smaller body. Castiel had let him, although spat and clawed at his fingers on occasion, the little shit.

“Oh sure, that’s fine, take it out on me, the hands that are feeding you.”

It was one sided conversation, but even though Dean knew in the back of his head that this wasn’t actually a cat in front of him, but a living, breathing, depressing dude, not much had changed.

They spent the evening that way, and Dean couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so relaxed with such an odd situation.

~*~

When Dean finally went to bed, Castiel was on his pillow, curled up like a cinnamon bun with his nose tucked between his back legs, or as far as he could go with the bandage. Dean loosened the thing so that it wouldn’t hurt him when he, well, changed back, but the cat didn’t move from that spot.

“Hey, squirt, pillow’s mine, no negotiation.”

Castiel flicked his ear, but otherwise ignored him. Dean glared down at him for a second before he cursed, shifting the kitten over a few inches before laying on the other half of it and turning off the light. He yanked the covers up to his head, bristling with annoyance despite the fact that he didn’t really feel all that annoyed.

“There will be no words about this when you can say them, you hear me? Nothing. Or I swear I will put a collar on you with a great big bell.”

Castiel purred, and Dean fell asleep.

~*~

Dean woke up on his own again, the indent of the pillow beside his head reminding him of how much of a sap he was.

It didn’t take long before Dean made his way to the diner, however, and slid into the booth across from Castiel as if they’d planned it. Which, amazingly, they hadn’t.

“Ok, so today. I still have a job I have to finish before I leave here. My hotel room is paid through one more night because that’s more than the time I should have needed to waste those bitches and be outta here. More people are gonna get hurt if I don’t do it, so-“

“Let me help you.”

Dean sighed, knowing it was coming. “Castiel, I don’t think-“

“Please, let me assist. I am useful with a weapon and have knowledge of what you do and what you vanquish. I have a great deal of strength when I’m human and I can help, so long as its before eight.”

“What happens after eight? You pumpkin?”

“Kitten, actually. I’m useless and small for another night.”

Dean nodded, realization finally filling him in on a few things he hadn’t figured out yet. “So you’re on an actual timer then? That’s how it works? You didn’t tell me that.”

Castiel nodded, curtly. “Eight in the evening until four in the morning precisely. The curse is thorough and cannot be countered so long as it hasn’t been broken.” He sounded like he was rehearsing exactly what had been told to him, but anything else Dean tried to read from his expression fell flat before he had the chance.

“I can’t. Sorry, I don’t risk civilians. Though I appreciate-“

“I’m not a civilian, I assure you. Please. I’ve assisted you twice already without your consent and can do so a third if I must. But I’m asking first.”

Dean made a face, knowing a trap when he heard one. “I’m not gonna be responsible for this, you realize. I’ve got my own damn neck to watch out for without having to worry about Catman getting his fur fried.”

Castiel’s eyebrows raised as he took in the sarcasm. Dean almost laughed.

“Ok, cheap shot, but seriously…”

“Take care of what you need to, and I will meet you at the house.” Castiel stated before he stood from the booth, those eyes steeling again with the stubborn fire that refused to be swayed. Dean figured he may as well be hissing and spitting at him for how much of an argument the man was going to listen to any longer.

“Wait, wait, geesuz, at least eat something now that you’re, y’know, man-sized.” Dean argued, pointing at the recently vacated seat with gesticulating hands.

Castiel stared at him for a moment before quietly agreeing, sliding himself back into the seat and folding his hands in that same, weird cat-like manner.

It was quiet again between them after they ordered their food, kinda like the day before, but it was more of a comfortable silence this time. Castiel wasn’t acting like he thought Dean was going to shoot him, and Dean wasn’t acting like he was going to shoot him, so with all of that missing tension it was just…peaceful. Which was weird on so many levels, Dean was starting to lose count.

And then the jukebox kicked in, and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ started drifting across through the air like a cacophony of angry metal guitars. Dean glanced up when he heard it, around the same time Castiel did, and they both smiled. Not a single word shared between them.

Castiel tapped his fingers in time with the song until the very last beat.

~*~

It was a good thing that John Winchester was no where near that state later that evening, because if he’d seen his son go back to back with someone he’d just met, barely trusted and had a curse already on him? John Winchester would have one less son.

But at the same time, and as much as Dean didn’t want to admit it, the only reason he got through that job was because of a second man. It was all that had really been necessary with a distracter and a seeker in order to find the grave that was in the house. A second man that Dean should have had, damnit, but couldn’t even admit to himself that he needed.

Or wanted. Because asking for something like that was just too selfish.

It ended up that Castiel was actually a pretty decent shot when he wasn’t trying to use his hands first. Dean had to yell and snap at him a few times, but he had a decent learning curve, and was knocking the ghost off her high horse every half a minute or so to give Dean the time he needed. He found the grave in the basement, layered beneath a shitload of boxes and old furniture. No wonder he hadn’t found it the first time.

Took two damn people to clear it too.

Dean knew he was going to pay for these realizations later, or at least punish himself for a couple of hours with a full bottle and a bar or something…but now wasn’t the time. For now, that second man was there, and with some quick digging and a quick flint, the first twin was gone in a puff of angry, vanquished teenage heartache.

Dean huffed out a breath, his hands steadying on his knees after marathoning through stone laid floor and four feet of dead earth.

“May she rest in peace.” Castiel whispered into the silence, and despite the fact that Dean had nearly gotten killed by this crazy ass job, these kids really had gotten the short end of the stick. By their family, no less, then by someone they’d loved and trusted. He couldn’t help but agree with Castiel, even if he didn’t say it.

Chapter Text

The second grave wasn’t as easy, but that’s because Dean had forgotten one very large, important fact about the kind of events that had transpired recently.

Castiel was still hurt.

It was later into the evening when they got there, and although Dean had argued at first, he’d finally conceded to Castiel’s assistance so long as he understood that this wasn’t babysitting. It was work. If the man got hit, he got hit. But up until then, Castiel hadn’t argued, nor showed signs of being in any kind of pain, and Dean had forgotten about it.

Which was stupid, and cruel. Something he berated himself for a good while afterward. It was something he would have done, damn it. Hidden his own handicap just to be there with his family, doing his job, being part of a team.

Dean had gotten halfway into the ground when she showed up, knocking Castiel sideways like a ragdoll from the lip of the open grave. He’d cried out in anguish, knocking enough sense into Dean to recall those injuries he himself had bandaged, to curse his own stupidity.

“Cas!” Dean called out, slamming the shovel into the damp earth before hefting himself out of the hole in time to see the bitch pin him to a tree. She was choking him, pressing against his already wounded body with the kind of supernatural power that didn’t need touch to break bones.

He grabbed for the shotgun that Castiel had dropped, ignoring the stupid little singsong reminder in his head that recalled telling the man that he wasn’t going to do anything if he got hit. Fuck that, what was the point of his job if he wasn’t helping people? Especially people who’d already been screwed over and just wanted to do what they could. To help? To atone maybe? Every man should have that choice.

Along with another man at his back…just in case. Cause Dean had needed that too.

“Hey! Back off bitch!” Dean took aim, but there was no way he was taking the shot when every step he took she would place herself between the gun and Castiel. If he fired, she’d disappear and he’d shoot him. There was no doubt in Dean’s mind that that was her plan.

He cursed, taking down his aim and sprinting towards them with her nauseating laughter ringing in his ears. Dean flipped the gun around, opening the chamber and yanking out one of the rocksalt bullets as a last ditch effort to do something just so that Castiel had a chance to breath. The guy was very quickly going pale and didn’t have much more time to spare.

Dean cracked it, poured the salt into his hand and flung with all his might the moment he was close enough. The girl screamed, flinching and grabbing at her decaying face as she flickered in and out of visibility, but it was just enough for Castiel to fall to the ground and get his ass out of the way. Dean recocked the gun in one smooth motion, waited a breath of a second and then fired the moment she reappeared, whittling her visage to nothing more than an angry smoke screen.

It wouldn’t get rid of her, but it’d buy them time at least. Castiel gasped helplessly into the grass, his arms wrapped tightly around his ribs as he struggled to breath. Dean was on his knees faster than a shot, pulling the man backwards in order to force his lungs to open. He fought him at first, swinging wildly and trying to fight his way to freedom as if Dean would hurt him, but it was weak at best. Dean held on; back to stomach, arms to arms.

“C’mon, easy, take it easy, just breathe.” It was something his dad had done, he recalled, and it was filtering through him in exactly the same way with his arms supporting Castiel’s ribs and removing the weight that was suffocating him. The same thing had happened to him once, and just like Dean was doing now, his father had pulled him back into that steel enforced chest and calmed him, gave him a beat with which to find a rhythm so that he would eventually breathe on his own.

Castiel’s head fell back against his shoulder, his breath rasping and his arms twitching frantically as he tried to reach for his chest in that vain, instinctual thought that it might help somehow.

“Damnit Cas, c’mon…seriously, you need to calm down…I’m sorry man, I forgot about your ribs, you should have reminded me, shit…I need you to just calm down, ok? You’re gonna be alright, but you need to breathe with me so that I can yell at ya later. C’mon, feel my breath, in and out.”

Dean took deliberately large breaths, making sure that Castiel could feel it behind him, and it was strange how at ease he was in doing this. Not just with helping the poor man breathe again, but the feel of holding him to him. The same safe feeling he’d had when Castiel had pulled him from the mud and saved his life. It wasn’t just the kitten thing, it couldn’t be. As cute as the bastard was when he was half a foot tall, it was still the same dude, and Dean was comfortable with this guy.

As a human, he had the same resolve, the same plea.

Dean started to hum, for no reason he could think of aside from the fact that it was the only thing that had gotten that kitten to calm down the first time he’d found him. The words to ‘Every Rose has its Thorn’ filtered from lungs to throat and Dean sung them softly, making sure to deliberately move his chest to the rhythm of the song so that Castiel could feel it; could follow him and work his way through the panic enough to get in more oxygen.

The rain was picking up again, and Dean could feel the cold unforgiving drops as they hit his head and shoulders and occasionally down the back of his neck. The ghost hadn’t shown back up yet, out of some kind of insane mercy, and although Dean still had to finish off that grave there was no way he was headed back until he was sure Castiel could breathe on his own. Why he cared this much, he wasn’t really sure, but the words to the song kept coming and he could feel the man’s muscles finally start to relax.

No other words were spoken; nothing needed to be, but Dean’s hands supported where he needed to as Castiel slowly went limp against him. He took deeper and even breaths, and although Dean could still tell that it was painful for him, after a few minutes or so he was over the worst of it.

But then Dean had waited long enough, and there was still a job to do before he could leave. He finally stopped singing.

“Ok…Cas, I’m gonna leave you here a sec and finish this bitch off. I’ll be right back, gimme just a few. You did great dude, I couldn’t have done it without you, alright? Don’t move, seriously.” Dean shifted, angling Castiel so that he could lean against the nearby tree and continue to take in those deep breaths even as he stared at Dean with huge, disbelieving eyes. Unspoken words traveling through them like a damn billboard, but Dean couldn’t understand what it said.

“S’ok man. I got this.” Dean grinned, patting Castiel on the leg before he’d jumped back up and gotten himself quickly over to the nearly finished mud hole.

The sun had already set, so it was a bit more difficult to see, but Dean’s propped flashlight was still exactly where he’d left it, along with the shotgun just waiting to be used. Which he did, twice more before he finally reached the girls body and lit her up like the fourth of July.

“Rest in pieces.” Dean grumbled, hefting himself out of the grave as the rest of the incendiary caught flame and burned bright and true even through the power of the strengthening rain. It was incredibly satisfying, considering the week he’d had and the weird shit he’d waded through just to get to that point.

He made sure that everything caught fire, spraying a bit more fuel to the flames just in case, before finally covering the hole back up and letting the weather do the rest of the work for him. There were so many bare spots at that point from the rain just washing the grass away, that no one was going to even notice. Thank the universe for small favors.

By the time Dean finished, he collected all he could and made his way back towards the tree where he’d left Castiel. It was hard to see again, thanks to rain that was now thundering around him noisily and reminding him why it was that he’d spent the previous day indoors.

“Castiel?” Dean called out, but didn’t hear anything, squinting through the rain as he held his arm over his forehead for some kind of lenience of the water running over his face. Nothing. Not a good sign. Dean hefted the bag on his shoulder for a better grip, quickening his pace before he finally got close enough that he could see the tree. But there was no one sitting in front of it, or standing anywhere near it.

“Cas!” Dean spun around, but visibility was absolute shit. He couldn’t even see the grave where he’d just come from, let alone whether or not someone was still around. Damnit to hell, he’d told the guy to stay where he was. Where the hell had he…

And then Dean saw it, barely visible on the opposite side of the tree and half covered by the tracks of mud that were running in snake-like tendrils over the ground. A soaked, blue button down and a pair of pants lying empty and discarded like no one had just been wearing them.

Dean heard the clock chimes of the nearby chapel and cursed as he realized how long it had taken him to finish off the ghost and refill the grave. It was nine ‘o clock, and now stuck in kitten form, Castiel was gone.

~*~

There was very little sleep to be had. And although Dean was both mentally and physically exhausted, he couldn’t help but sit there on the edge of his bed with the television on mute and listen for that sound again. The one he’d heard the first night, the cry to open the door and help. Dean had even tried singing, the words to an Asia song flowing freely from memory in the hopes that they’d be heard and lead that mangy little monster in his direction like it had before.

But there was nothing, and after a few hours Dean found himself nodding off, even as he sat upright staring through the crack in his curtains out at the passing thunderstorm. He wasn’t sure why, of all times, Castiel had decided to make himself scarce. Not only was he a fragile little ball of fluff again, but he was also really fuckin hurt and out in the rain where he really shouldn’t have to be.

Dean didn’t want to admit it, but the bastard had grown on him. Both in man and kitten form since there was this connection between the two that Dean had a hard time disassociating. Which really, was weird. He’d seemed so desperate to help, and Dean being the dumbass he was, had let the guy risk his neck when it was a goddamned golden rule not to involve civilians. Fuck.

Dean scrubbed a hand over his face, eyeing the man’s clothes that were hanging to dry over the back of a chair near the door. It was gonna be a long night.

~*~

Dean sat bolt upright in bed, flipping the knife out from under his pillow and ready to kill just about anything. Lightning flashed through his room and a deep, ground shaking thunder slapped the air hard enough to make the windows rattle in their frames.

 

He blinked, staring around in bewilderment as he tried to recall exactly when it was he’d fallen asleep. But all of the lights were off and despite not being under the covers he’d still gotten himself up to the pillow at least. When had that happened?

Dean twisted around towards the bedside, but there was no light from the clock. Damnit, power was out.

He stood to his feet, uncoiling the tension that he’d woken with before his eyes suddenly fell to the ugly chair that was still standing idly by the door. Exactly where he’d left it.

Except the clothes were gone.

Dean cursed, checking his watch to see that it was already after four am and grabbing his coat and gun before bolting out of the room.

“Castiel!” Dean called out, but there wasn’t a living soul in the parking lot. The rain had stopped, although the storm was still nearby enough that the sky was alight with dancing flames of electricity. Thunder crashed above him with a threat of more rain, but it was at least clear enough for the moment that Dean could see. He calculated what he could before setting his sights to the road and doing that age old trick again of following his instincts.

The highway was dead, despite the fact that it was one of the major ones that traveled into Denver, it was also a nasty night and after four in the morning. Dean followed the white line, thinking all the while how damned crazy this was and not even really being sure what he was doing out here when it was clear that Castiel wasn’t trying to be found.

Dean wasn’t sure why that hurt as much as it did. What the fuck did he know about it all? It was just some poor sap with a curse on him. Someone who’d been left behind from everything he knew only to cling to one small bit of acceptance from a complete stranger. After getting the shit kicked out of him by everyone else, there was just this one thing…and Dean felt somehow that he knew what that was like. He didn’t turn into a fucking cat, but he may as well for all anyone who mattered gave a damn about it.

It was too quiet, and Dean’s addled head could think of nothing more space filling than the words to a Blue Oyster Cult song. It was what he did when he thought too much, he knew, what he needed to hear aside from the barrage of all those stupid thoughts that led to nowhere but being abandoned. Still he walked, sometimes even half jogged down that road, moving off anytime a car came by (which wasn’t often) until he was an hour down the road and trying hard to argue with himself about turning back.

So he stopped, finally. The sounds of the rain soaked woods and loudly chirping crickets mingling with his stupid humming and screaming thoughts. Dean was a dumbass, he was just making sure he was five for five for the week.

“Dean?”

He spun on his heel, going quiet as his hand went for the gun immediately only to catch sight of a figure leaning against a tree just off the side of the road. Dean squinted, despite having been out for as long as he had, it was still difficult to see into the shadows, but the voice had been pretty unmistakable. “Castiel?”

The figure pushed forward, walking up onto the road carefully with his arms wrapped around his chest protectively. He’d tried to rewrap the bandages himself, but it was shoddily done, and had to have been hurting him. Castiel stared at him dumbfoundedly, a slew of questions written plainly in his eyes but all fighting to come out at once.

“What…what are you doing here?” He finally asked, staying about four or so feet away from him.

Dean huffed out a breath, raising his eyebrows as he opened his palms towards him. “I was about to ask you the same question? What the hell happened man?”

Castiel licked his lips, glancing in both directions down the street, but there were no sounds of cars for miles in either direction.
“I…I screwed up, and I’m sorry. It was about time I got going anyway but once I transformed I couldn’t really do anything…”

“Whoah, whoah, hang on a sec.” Dean interrupted, irritated suddenly that he was listening to the obscene amount of unnecessary guilt flowing freely through the air. “First off, you didn’t screw up. If that bitch hadn’t gone for you, she’d have gone for me. You were just the unlucky one, that’s all. Second…what the fuck? Stick around until the last minute and then ‘poof’? Time to move on?”

“Dean, I…”

“Should you even be walking very far at this point with those injuries?”

“I don’t think-“

“Not to mention sneaking into the room again to just take and run.”

“I wasn’t trying to-“

“And the curse is just gonna keep happening over and over, despite the fact that I offered to help you? After you saved my life and now I can’t return the favor?”

“You did return the-“

“Have you even tried to break it yourself?”

Yes!” Castiel practically screamed at him, losing his patience and finally cracking down the middle as he clutched at the loose bandages. “Of course I have! In vain, every single time because you know what it takes? What they did to me to make me this way?! Kindness, Dean! They called it kindness and mercy, because they said I had none!” He choked, his shoulders shaking as Dean realized a bit too late exactly what it was he’d instigated from the poor man.

“It was supposed to help me understand…to better myself. But the curse is my punishment, because my brother, my family decided I needed to learn this way. They said that I found too little in this world to admire so I needed to be taught, to find something I did…and you know what I found? Do you know what I’ve seen for the past three and a half years in this place? Cruelty!

Inhumane treatment both as a man and as an animal from everywhere I went! All because the family that I had trusted told me they loved me enough to make it so. They argued over it, they cursed me, and then they left.” He practically sobbed, his large eyes luminescent in the pale, flashes of lightning. Dean felt his throat go dry, his head thundering in time with the storm as he felt he could do nothing but let it rage on.

“They left me here, and I thought I could do it. I thought it was just something else that I could learn and be better for, just as my brother said…but I can’t, and I’m not. I hate it here alone, every scar this world gives me is a scar on my compassion and it makes me want to leave this place to rot… but what power do I possibly have anymore? They stripped me of it by abandoning me! Fallen like others before me, despite the fact that I have committed no crime!”

Dean wasn’t sure just how much he was taking in anymore, or of what he understood, but it was like staring into an angry mirror that was screaming everything he’d been trying to ignore for over a year.

“Do you know how I got here, Dean? How I ended up where you found me on that horrible night when I was sure my fate was to drown? I’d been thrown. Tossed out of the back of a car in a paper bag like I was garbage, discarded on the side of the highway.”

Dean cringed, knowing that that was something that happened in the world, even if he didn’t want to admit it. He wanted to tell the man that he was lucky he hadn’t gotten thrown into a river, but there was just nowhere for a joke, not even a sarcastic one.

Silence wavered between them for a moment as Dean listened to Castiel’s wheezing throat, stared at his desperate face and wished with all his might that there was something more he could do. He wasn’t sure why, or why it even occurred to him to care, but the world that Castiel was describing was exactly the reason why Dean did what he did. That despite how similarly they’d been left to the wayside, Dean still knew what was worth fighting for. But yeah, the world had a tendency to be far more cruel than just.

“And then I heard you…” Castiel continued and Dean froze, gazing at him with that unblinking stare, and Dean suddenly felt like he was open and bleeding in front of him.

“I heard you sing, and it sounded like my voice and my song. I thought they’d come back to find me, finally after so long…but it wasn’t my brother. It was you. I wanted nothing more than to run as far away from people as I could, but you wouldn’t let me go. I thought I was done for, I really did, and was even a little thankful for it.

But you didn’t hurt. You didn’t hate, or curse or strike me in any way. You sang, even when you weren’t speaking, and I saw light. A dry spot in all of this deluded saturation. I wanted so much to hate you, but I could not.”

Castiel took in a slow breath, and Dean was suddenly grateful for it. He’d listened to anger before, heard it spoken both logically and illogically with the use of fuel like alcohol and bitterness. But he’d never heard any so sad as what was before him, fueled by a disappointment that Dean didn’t deserve to be the solution to.

“Why’d you leave?” He asked finally, willing his voice to work and fill the silence left in the wake of Castiel’s confession.

“Because at first I thought I was simply returning a favor. I thought… that since you helped me, I owed you in return and then it would be finished…but it wasn’t. You cared, even when you didn’t have to, and so did I. I liked you, worried about what would become of you, without even trying… these feelings were there…and it felt good. But even after all of that, and after I realized that I’d finally found something to admire here…the clock turned, it was eight ‘o clock, and the curse was still upon me.” Castiel sneered, his bitterness building as he looked down at his loosely bandaged hands.

“Everything my brother said to me was a lie, in the end. He wasn’t teaching me until I learned my lesson, he was punishing me until he was satisfied. Until I’d know what it was like to hurt as he so often did. I loved by accident, but it gave me nothing but more emptiness. I’m sorry, Dean Winchester, but my curse should never have been your burden.”

Castiel turned away from him and suddenly started walking, continuing down the winding stretch of highway just as he had before, away from that small middle of nowhere town, and away from Dean.

“It wasn’t really your decision, you know.” Dean called out without meaning to, the frustration in his voice more than apparent as what was building in his own throat needed to be said.

Castiel stopped, but didn’t turn around.

“That burden? What you keep trying to walk away with? It’s not your decision whether or not I share it. Or even take it.” Dean could feel his voice rising as he spoke, his argumentative nature bleeding to the surface as he finally snapped himself out of the shock of hearing poor, quiet Castiel’s profession.

“It’s my fucking decision. You didn’t make me offer to help you, I made my own damn choice. Cause that’s the point. I may not approve of what your brother did to you, however the hell that happened, but he didn’t tell you that the curse would be lifted by running the fuck away from it, did he?”

Castiel finally turned, staring back at Dean over one shoulder, but otherwise saying nothing. Dean cursed, fed up, with himself and the goddamned universe.

“You know what, fine. Do whatever the hell you want. If all you’re trying to prove is that the world is full of nothing but cruelty, then go and do something cruel and walk the fuck away. Cause you know what sucks? Not finding something you like and abandoning it, it’s finding something you like and then being abandoned. That sucks out loud, lemme fucking tell you.” Dean threw his hands in the air and spun on his heel before starting to walk briskly back the way he came. The road was dark, and his chest felt like someone had punched it.

“I hope your family’s proud, Cas! I don’t know em, but it sounds to me like you’re a damn spitting image.”

And Dean loved his own family, he really did. With all of his heart and soul and everything he had to give. But being abandoned hurt in a way that wasn’t adding to your burden so much as taking away a piece of you. And it made you not trust people, or want to get close to them, or maybe even fucking like them enough to not even care if they were cursed.

It made him not want to do it at all; but he’d done it anyway.

The thunder drifted further into the distance, taking the storms with it.

~*~

At nearly seven ‘o clock that morning, Dean opened his hotel room door to a bright, warm filter of sunshine…and Castiel.

He stood, swaying on his feet with the loops of his bandages lumped haphazardly around his waist, exposing the ugly blue and yellow bruises down his chest. He looked miserable, half soaked and really cold, but Dean said nothing.

Instead, he took a step backward, making eye contact with Castiel and raising his eyebrows expectantly as the man didn’t move.

“Well?” He said. “This is your one chance, squirt. In or out.” And Dean could see his face practically crumple with the relief as he shuffled in over the threshold so that Dean could close the door.

But even then, Castiel didn’t get very far. Dean turned and Castiel was suddenly just there, all up in his personal space just as he’d done as a cat, and Dean being just as stubborn as he always was, refused to back away. Which was just as well, since Castiel slowly lowered his head until his forehead rested on Dean’s shoulder. Weary didn’t even begin to describe the vibes Dean was soaking in from him.

“S’ok. I gotcha.” Dean said softly, an arm moving to Castiel’s shoulder as he led him slowly over to the bed and sat him there like he was shifting around a doll. The guy looked way past exhausted. So much so that Dean was surprised that he’d even made it that far. “C’mon, let’s get you warm and fixed up, ok?”

He knelt in front of him, slowly unbuttoning the rest of his shirt before he cursed at the still ugly looking wounds all over Castiel’s torso. Dean stood to his feet and went for the fresh bandages, returning to re-wrap what must have been incredibly painful for Castiel, but the man didn’t say a word the entire time. He simple stared, watching Dean with a mute sort of respect that didn’t feel so uncomfortable anymore.

So Dean starting humming as he worked before finally singing softly the long since memorized lyrics to ‘Crazy Circles’. All the while Castiel watched him with that gentle calm, like a resignation had settled over him that he’d needed to find for himself.

Dean finished tightening the bandages with practiced ease, still softly singing as he taped the soft fabric to itself and started to move away. But Castiel caught his wrist, and Dean stopped moving and stopped singing.

Castiel moved Dean’s hand, with force but gently enough that Dean could pull away if he wanted, and he turned his head to settle his cheek into the palm of the man’s hand.

It was another one of those cat-like motions. Something that, as a kitten, Dean wouldn’t have even hesitated to do himself but found he was surprised how little he minded doing it now. On a man; a cursed man.

So Dean leaned forward and tilted his head as well, his eyes sliding closed as lips met Castiel’s and he kissed him. There was no resistance, no tension or hesitation. Dean kissed him chastely, sweetly, in a way that had no underlying subtext or implications aside from what it was. A kiss.

Dean was fairly sure that if he had been the cat, he would have been purring.

“I’m glad you came back.” He said gently, resting his forehead against Castiel’s, seeing as neither of them were in all that big of a hurry to move.

“I’m not like them.” Castiel breathed out strongly. “My brother…my family…I’m not like them…”

Dean nodded. “I didn’t mean it, Cas.” And it was the most honest unspoken apology he could remember saying.

“Thank you.” Castiel said, and Dean smiled, tracing his fingers lightly on the side of Castiel’s face.

“Let me help you. Let me save you.” He whispered, and their noses brushed against one another as Dean felt the shiver in Castiel’s skin. He swallowed hard and took in a breath, still not pulling back or moving anywhere that would take him further from Dean’s space.

“Ok.” He said finally, the word barely audible, but still Dean heard it.

That is, heard it right before Dean’s vision suddenly bleached out completely, and the world fell away from him in a haze of high pitched light and sound.

~*~

Dean’s hands were empty, his eyes stung and it felt like his ears were bleeding as they rang painfully on the sides of his aching head.

He opened his eyes, but suddenly wished he hadn’t as all around him the only thing that was visible in every direction, was white. Dean cursed, his hands clamping overtop of his sockets before he realized he had no voice, and there wasn’t even the slightest bit of sound coming from anywhere. It was like he’d just opened his eyes in limbo, where nothing existed and nothing ever would. Dead space of nothing but white.

Coming very close to freaking the fuck out, Dean finally took in a slow breath, hearing that at least (thankgawd) even if he didn’t seem to have any sort of voice. He blinked rapidly, adjusting his eyes and feeling the scald of endless light in a way that only painfully shrinking pupils could create.

“Well isn’t this just the most ironic thing I have ever seen.”

Dean whirled around towards the voice, still blinking furiously but far too aware that there was suddenly a man standing behind him that hadn’t been there before. He opened his mouth to speak, but once again, no sound.

“Oh don’t even bother, I took care of that for you.” The man said with a smirk, and Dean wanted very much to knock the asshole’s fucking block off as hard as he possibly could.

“You won’t be able to do that either, so you may as well suck it up, tough guy. This place is my little piece of the universe, so you don’t really get a vote.”

Dean stared, his hands clenching at his sides in muted fury. The man was short, dressed in an extremely white suit that matched everything around him aside from the bright yellow rose that stuck out of his left breast pocket. He had slicked back, brown hair, an overly large forehead, and the cockiest fucking expression Dean had ever seen.

The man moved a hand to his forehead as he looked up, swiping his middle finger over the skin and effectively flicking Dean off precisely where he’d been looking. Dean glowered, so the asshole could read minds, good for him.

“Oh Dean, I always liked you. Probably always will. But, seriously buddy, you really are in a damn hurry to speed things up aren’t you? I mean, what are you even doing here?”

Dean squinted at him, not really knowing or caring what the fuck he was on about. Only that Dean couldn’t see the ground, or what he was standing on, and that he’d really like to be back to Earth please. Right the fuck now.

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, man. I’ll take you back, don’t worry. I just thought this whole thing was funny enough that you ended up here in the first place, I mean, of all people!”

Dean shook his head, once again opening his mouth in an attempt to tell the guy off, or at least find out what the fuck was going on. The man just shook his head.

“I’m Castiel’s brother, by the way.” He introduced haughtily. “I’m sure he’s just been gushing about me on his vacation, right?” Which made Dean bristle as he sized the guy up for a second time, judging just how many times he could cave the jerk’s face in with one fist.

“Like I said, you ain’t gonna get far. As far as good ol Cas though? Throwing him down to Earth and sticking him with that curse was the best thing I ever coulda done for the poor kid. Trust me, he needed it, you’re gonna thank me years from now bucko.” The man garbled on, making very little sense aside from how aloof he was treating the entire thing. Cas’s brother for pete’s sake!

“And don’t I know it. And I know you’d never believe me, but I did it for his own good too. That kid’s got potential, not even kidding, but if he’s going to be worth much of anything later on, there were just a few things I needed him to learn first. We needed him to learn.” And the man’s face went serious for a moment as he said it. Dean couldn’t tell at that point if ‘we’ meant the rest of his family, or if he was referring to Dean somehow.

“But like I said, you really jumped the gun here. I never thought he’d find you, or you’d find him, actually. Almost a decade early too, its fascinating, isn’t it? Man…even I didn’t see that coming.”

He locked eyes with Dean, suddenly going serious again and Dean felt a lead weight settle into the back of his throat as he realized just how unearthly and supernatural those eyes were looking back at him. Deep and cavernous with way too many secrets ending in fire and chaos. Who the hell was this guy?

“Gabriel.” The man said carefully. “My name is Gabriel, Dean. Congratulations, you beat the system and found us out early. Your Castiel, your little kitten…” He chuckled, obviously amused with himself. “Isn’t even human.”

Dean wanted to protest, wanted to argue, but he was standing in the loading zone of the Matrix and there was no arguing with that.

“Too true, my friend. Castiel’s lesson was never meant to involve you, so, well, my apologies, truly.” And didn’t that just sound insincere. “You aren’t supposed to meet him until waaaay after your dad dies, your brother dies, and you sell your soul and go to Hell! But hey, looks like Christmas came early, huh?”

Dean stared at him in horror, the words echoing through his skull and lingering at the back of his heart like a dead weight. His dad? Sammy? No way, he was lying, demons lied, monsters lied, everything fucking lied.

“You think whatever you want, not my problem. In the meantime, I just wanted to pop in and say hi while we gave Castiel back everything we took away. He’s an angel again, just like me. Although, and this is kind of unfortunate with all the work I put into it, because it was you and we’re gonna have to take your very existence from his head. Damn waste, really, but oh well. We’re doing the same thing to you anyway, so don’t worry.” Gabriel chuckled, and Dean opened his mouth again to protest, trying to take a step forward before realizing he couldn’t. Angels? What?!

“No worries, you ain’t gonna feel a thing. You’ll go see your dad like nothing happened, you’ll save Sammy when his apartment burns down, and everything will be right back on track. Easy cheesy, smooth sailin.” He whistled as he stroked his hand across the air like he was gliding it across water.

Dean didn’t think he’d have anything to say even if he could at that point.

“Anyway, I just wanted to let you know, for some random piece of mind that you won’t really understand until later…maybe later…that you broke Castiel’s curse.” Gabriel smirked again, winking at him before turning to the side. “You won’t remember how it happened, but he sorta did the same for you too, so buck up. To be honest, I’m just glad that there was someone out there that could help him anyway, even if it had to be you.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed in scathing disbelief. After all of the horrible things he’d put him through? His brother?

And that made Gabriel bristle. “Don’t even think about it. I love my brother, Dean. I love my family, more than you could even possibly understand. Doing this for him will make all the difference in existence. You’re the last creature who gets to judge me or him on the way the universe works.”

Dean glared, but his eyes widened again as Gabriel suddenly turned to start walking away. Dean stomped his foot down impatiently, not even daring to look at what he’d hit, if anything, but it caught the man (angel’s?) attention.

Dean wanted to say goodbye.

“I dunno, that’s a pretty damn big favor, and I’m really not supposed to since angels aren’t even technically on the Earth yet. Aside from me, that is.”

Dean glared at him, taking a deep and stubborn breath. Gabriel smirked again.

“Ok, ok, but just this once. Don’t say I never did anything for ya, shortbus. I’ll see you later.” And he raised his hand up and snapped his fingers.

~*~

Dean opened his eyes, and it was like he’d never moved.

He blinked leaning his head back as his hand slid from Castiel’s cheek in front of him. But he couldn’t look away, not even if he’d tried. Castiel’s eyes were now the most unearthly beautiful blue he’d ever seen in his life. The color of faraway oceans, or perfect days with no clouds and a warm breeze, deep and endless and inhuman.

His face was perfect, unblemished and clear of the numerous scars he’d been sporting, especially the one Dean had gotten used to over the man’s eye. It was all gone, and so perfect that his very presence there was screaming out just how unearthly he was.

Suddenly, Dean was afraid.

He pulled back, but didn’t get very far as Castiel caught his wrists and held him there, a power that he hadn’t had before keeping Dean in place. He swallowed, unsure what to make of everything that was happening, that had already happened, that was going to…

“Dean…”

God, even his voice was beautiful, and Dean couldn’t understand how that sound had ever even been compared with his own singing. He opened his mouth, but hesitated, wondering if the presence of another angel would do the same thing Gabriel had.

“I’m not holding you prisoner, Dean.” That voice said to him; that was Castiel, yet not at the same time. “You have your free will, I would never take that from you. But we don’t have much time.”

Dean took a breath. “You…he said…”

Castiel smiled, and as much as Dean wanted to find that same, sheepish grin that was as meek in his human form as it was as a kitten, Dean couldn’t see it. It was the same body, the same man sitting in front of him, but everything about him was wrong. Those eyes were suddenly sad, and Dean had a feeling he knew why.

“What he told you was true. I am an angel of Lord. And I am also in your debt.” The creature told him, looking far more sincere with what he was saying than Dean should ever have been allowed. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, or just how far he wanted to deny it all so that he could walk away and keep on believing that angels didn’t exist.

Castiel leaned forward, but Dean withdrew, even if he couldn’t go anywhere, because the creature was still holding his shaking wrists. But Castiel didn’t force him, so he stopped.

“Angels don’t exist…” He almost whispered, remembering how angry his father had been when he’d asked him years ago. Castiel shook his head.

“I never wanted to frighten you, or deceive you. When I was cursed here, I had never understood why humans are the way you are. Why you fight and why you love. And now I know. I will remember it always, even if I do not remember you.”

Dean licked his suddenly dry lips, feeling far more unworthy than he’d ever felt in his life. And it was painful, knowing that he wasn’t just losing his friend, he was being erased.

“What did it then?” He asked, finally. Wanting so much to pull his hands back, but also lean into that strange warmth that seemed to be emanating from the creature in front of him. “What broke the curse? You…you said Gabriel had lied to you…”

Castiel shook his head, still staring with that unblinking, blue gaze. “He did not lie. He knew me too well, with as much and as long as we’ve known one another. Gabriel knew that, even in the lowliest of forms, I would never open my heart long enough to ask for help. He knew I’d walk from one end of the Earth to the other completely on my own, without ever seeking assistance.”

And Dean remembered that that was exactly what he’d asked Castiel to do. Not by threats, or by owed favors, but by kindness. Kindness would break the curse, that’s what Castiel had told him. It really had been that simple. All he’d had to do was say yes. Say yes to Dean.

Castiel smiled, and once again Dean was drawn to the beauty of it. He was terrified, and intimidated beyond belief knowing that he was kneeling at the knees of a creature his father had swore up and down did not exist. But somehow, Dean was having a really hard fucking time denying it.

“What happens now?” He asked softly, and Castiel’s smile faded, his eyes saddened once again, and Dean didn’t have to read minds to know what was coming.

“They’re going to make you do it, aren’t they?”

Castiel nodded and Dean licked his lips.

“Better you than him, I guess. I don’t think I’d want that asshole anywhere near my head or my memories, thank you very much.” He joked, but it fell flat. “I’m really not going to remember you, am I?” and Dean felt the first pang of his own sadness, the reality finally starting to hit home. Being comfortable, meeting that awkward, cursed man and falling for him without even meaning to. It wasn’t even going to be a memory he’d miss. It just wouldn’t be there.

Dean wasn’t really sure which was worse.

“If it helps, Dean, I know I will meet you again.” Castiel told him, and in a way, it sort of did. Although the foreboding in Gabriel’s words of the future was hard to ignore. Jerk.

“You think you’ll find me, eh? Should I be on the lookout around my ankles?” He smirked, masking his unease with a charm that was all Winchester, and it made the angel smile. Castiel could read his mind and he knew it, but he’d just been human, and he understood what saying goodbye meant.

Castiel leaned forward again, and Dean let him this time, their lips meeting in a way that was similar, but completely different to before. This wasn’t a man anymore; it was something far greater, far more important than the lowly creature who kissed him. Dean’s shame radiated around him, but it didn’t seem to halt Castiel in the slightest as he deepened the kiss. Dean let him explore, as only a human would want, but good things never lasted in his experience. Castiel eventually pulled away with small moan and Dean felt that loss more than heard it.

“I’ll find you. I promise. I may not remember why, but I would know your song anywhere.”

Dean laughed quietly, shaking his head in disbelief of the entire situation which had gone waaaay past the weird shit ‘o meter on to just fucking unbelievable.

Castiel released one of his wrists, moving two fingers to the side of Dean’s face and tracing his cheek.

“Is that really how this whole mess started? Because of my stupid singing? You were a cat, Cas. Stuck out in the rain and looking for anyone to help you. How the hell did hearing my singing help any of this?”

And Castiel smiled, his fingers moving from Dean’s cheek up to his forehead, all the while staring straight into him with an intensity that took Dean’s breath away.

“It isn’t because I heard you, Dean. It’s because I called back to you. I sang for your help, and you heard me.

He pressed his fingers to Dean’s forehead. “Thank you.” Castiel said, just as Dean forgot why it was so important he remember why.

~*~

Dean geared up his car the next morning, stretching his arms across the steering wheel with a low groan as he worked out his aches and pains of the previous day. He was really gonna have to start stretching before going one on one with ghost twins, what the hell.

He rolled down the window of his baby, listening to the sweet rumble of the engine and the whir of the tape deck as his favorite song clicked into place. If he was going to get anywhere past those mountains before the next set of storms started hitting, it was now or never. And John Winchester was not going to take rain as an excuse so long as his son was still living and breathing.

Dean smirked, leaning over and snatching up a piece of the pie he’d taken to go from Alice’s Diner, the music permeating through him like he was a part of the beat itself just as much as the car was.

It was amazing, and incredibly free. Riding in his baby with good tunes, a destination in mind and pie, what more could he possibly ask for? Dean hadn’t a damn clue why he was in such a good mood, but he’d be damned if he was gonna argue what he didn’t know. It was like someone had handed him a bright, shiny new gun…or a gorgeous, buxom woman with big blue eyes and a dirty smile…or even a small fluffy cat with big eyes and one black paw.

Dean snorted, yeah, there was definitely something in the water here.

Besides, more than anything else, apple pie with cool whip was the most amazing thing in the history of ever. Hands down, no contest.

~*Fin*~