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Forty-eight hours ago, Dean was standing outside Curtis’ Motor Court with Sam, watching Cas say goodbye to Claire. He was tired and sore, his back still aching from a night spent digging graves for the people they failed to save--for Amelia Novak--and it had been all he could do to try and focus on the fact that Claire, at least, was safe.

Forty-one hours ago, he’d pulled in to the bunker’s garage, one eye on Cas’ Continental in the rearview as Sam had wondered aloud whether or not they’d manage a full night’s sleep between now and the next shitshow.

Thirty-nine hours ago, Dean got an itch somewhere deep in his gut, insistent and infuriating, and knew that the real answer to Sam’s question was no. He had to get out. Had to go find something evil to sink a blade into before the mark made him stop caring how necessary the violence was. So he snuck out. Left the bunker while Sam was putting a load of laundry in the machine and Cas was on the phone, checking in with Claire.

Now, Dean’s in a Wichita parking lot without quite knowing how he came to be there, beating a demon into a bloody pulp. He’s not sure why. Just that this is some nameless underling, most likely sent by Crowley to keep tabs on him, and that something deep in his gut seems to think that making the demon bleed is the only logical course of action.

At some point between lifting his fist and smashing it down, everything goes dark. He can hear the demon snarling, can smell something sharp and sweet, and somewhere far away, he can hear Sam and Cas, begging him to stop.

_______

When he comes to, Sam and Cas don’t tell him exactly how they found him or what they’d done, but through a red-tinged fog he remembers inhuman screeching and the sounds of a struggle. The cold, splintered hardwood floor of an abandoned house. The searing agony of the mark being ripped away. He was too far gone to ask what they were doing when it started; too blinded by his rage at being caught and dragged from his task like a feral dog.

In the time that passes after, as he gulps down water and slumps staring blankly at the Impala’s glove compartment on the slow trek back to Lebanon, he can’t find the will to wonder where it went.

And then all at once he’s home, and the mark is still gone. He’s in the shower, staring at green tile and waiting for the dull, staticky feeling in his head to fade away. Red water swirls down the drain for what feels like hours before it finally clears, but even then Dean stays under the stream, only emerging when Sam starts pounding on the bathroom door. His fingers are pruned and pale, trembling as he slips into his dead-guy robe. It settles over him easily. Doesn’t require the dexterity he lacks.

Sam says something as he steps out into the hallway, his voice tight with concern under a thin veneer of gentle calm, but Dean can’t quite process his words. Everything feels off by a couple of degrees. Fuzzy and disconnected.

“Just gotta sleep,” he manages to say, and it seems to be enough. Sam lets him pass, and Dean slowly makes his way to his room on legs that barely seem willing to carry him.

He drifts. Slips in and out of consciousness, staring at the ceiling.

The skin of his forearm is clear and smooth, but it itches like a healing wound. He checks it, again and again, running his fingers over the unmarked skin just to be sure that it’s really gone.

He can’t stop himself from remembering the things he’d done under the mark’s influence, but that isn’t the difficult part. The difficult part is the memory of how he’d felt when he’d finally let it take over. How whole, how pure, how righteous. He can’t remember ever feeling so right.

The memory burrows deep into his chest. Lingers in his mouth like the taste of spoiled milk.

Once or twice he finds himself in the hallway, or the bathroom, and if he thinks hard about it he remembers getting up. But time doesn’t want to flow properly. It stops and starts.

Still, it isn’t until Charlie corners him that Dean realizes how withdrawn he’s been. He startles, and looks at her in the bathroom mirror as he turns off the faucet. He doesn’t even remember getting out of bed.

“When did you get here?” he asks, voice rough from disuse, and Charlie’s expression is equal parts pity and disbelief. It makes him uneasy. “What?”

“Dean, are you kidding? I’ve been here literally the entire time you have.”

“Bullshit,” he says, but she just widens her eyes at him. “Seriously?”

“Two weeks, Dean.”

Two weeks? Dean thinks, and shakes his head. “That can’t be right.”

He casts back in his mind, trying to fathom how so much time has passed since he climbed into the Impala, but he remembers nothing beyond the sight of his own bedroom ceiling. Charlie is saying something when he shakes his head, and she trails off. Her brow wrinkles with concern.

“What?” he asks.

“Alright, this is happening,” she says instead of answering him, squaring her shoulders and planting her feet shoulder-width apart as she stares him down with a level of ferocity that he hasn’t seen on her since she was split in two and tackling him in biker pants. “You’ve got two options. Either you lose the robe willingly, or it’s coming off by force.”

“Charlie, I’m not--”

“You just spaced out for a solid couple of minutes, Dean,” she says, and raises a sharp finger when he starts to open his mouth. “Don’t try and tell me you’re okay.”

“I am okay,” he lies, and when she only increases the intensity of her unimpressed stare he purses his lips. “But even if I wasn’t, why should I take off the robe? It doesn’t have anything to do with anything.”

“What do you call the robe?” she asks pointedly, and lifts her brow when Dean mutters his reply under his breath. “Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

“My dead-guy robe,” Dean repeats a little louder.

“Your dead-guy robe,” Charlie says emphatically. “You’ve gotta come back to the land of the living, dude.”

I’m not the dead guy, it’s because it was--”

“It’s the principle, Dean,” Charlie cuts him off. “In case you forgot, we all freaking made it. You’re mark free, Sam’s fine, Cas is fine, I’m fine. Crowley and Rowena are too busy torturing each other in Hell to give a crap about what’s going on up here. For the first time in years everything’s basically peachy, but you’ve spent the last two weeks stinking it up in that robe and acting like somebody cancelled Christmas.”

Dean’s shoulders slump.

“The things I did,” he starts, shaking his head, and she brings up one hand to his elbow to give it a comforting pat.

“I know,” she says, eyes softening for a moment. “And it’s probably gonna mess with you for a while. That’s expected. But what you’re doing--the wallowing? It’s only going to make the whole process take twice as long.”

“And you figure losing the robe is going to do what exactly?” he asks.

“On it’s own? Nothing. But we’re going out tonight. All of us. Non-optional family dinner.”

“Really.”

“Yep.”

“And how exactly are you planning to enforce that?”

“Well... I might not be able to strong-arm you into the car, but Sam and Cas definitely can.”

Dean sighs.

“Charlie, look--”

“No, you look,” she prods him in the chest. “You’re barely eating. You reek. And you’re never going to get past any of the crap that’s dragging you down if you keep punishing yourself. So we’re all going to go eat a meal that didn’t come out of a can, and you’re going to let yourself breathe for a few damn hours. Are we clear?”

Dean doesn’t want to agree. He wants to go back to his room and put his headphones on and drown out the guilty voice in his head with the soothing sounds of Metallica. Charlie isn’t budging, though, and he’s not about to force her out of the way.

The memory of throwing her around is still too sharp in his memory for him to even consider gently nudging her aside. She’s probably right, anyway. If he’s missed two weeks without realizing it, maybe it’s time he made an attempt to snap out of it. He sighs, tipping his chin up toward the ceiling.

“Fine.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Just... don’t expect--”

“You to be your usual sunny self?” she guesses, and though he rolls his eyes at her wording, he nods. “Consider my expectations lowered. Now lose the robe.”

Dean tightens it around himself.

“Right now?”

“You heard me, pal,” she says, holding out her hand. “Take. It. Off.”

“This how you treat the ladies, Charlie? It’s a little scary.”

Charlie’s mouth twitches up at that.

“Was that a joke?” she asks.

Dean shrugs, but he can feel the edges of a smile forming on his own face, and Charlie must see it too because she positively beams.

“Well, look at that,” she says, eyes crinkling. “There’s hope for you yet. And I’m not leaving until you hand over the robe, so gimme. I’ll send Sam back with some fresh clothes for you when you’re in the shower. I’m not risking you changing your mind and putting that crusty thing back on.”

She opens and closes her hand impatiently, and Dean pulls a face.

“Fine. But turn around,” he says, and clears his throat. “I’m… uh. Freeballin’ it here.”

Charlie crinkles her nose.

“Ew, Dean, seriously?” she says, but turns around all the same, holding her hand up to accept the robe once he’s taken it off.

“It’s not like anyone could tell,” Dean says defensively, and hands it over, covering his crotch with his other hand despite the fact that she’s not looking.

Charlie does this weird, full-body shudder when the robe touches her hand.

“Ugh, it’s all warm. That better not be the part that was getting cozy with your nads,” she tells him, and slips out the bathroom door before he can assure her that it wasn’t. Probably.

_______

The hot water is like a balm, soothing his tired shoulders and making him feel clean in more than just the physical sense. He feels more awake. More whole.

Maybe Charlie was right about losing the robe.

There are too many bottles sitting on the low tiled shelf under the shower tap, and as Dean picks through them, sniffing at each one before settling on some fancy shampoo that smells of rosemary and mint, he wonders how many varieties Charlie could possibly need. Maybe she uses a different one every day. It seems excessive.

He works it into a lather, breathing in the fresh scent as he does, and for what might actually be the first time in his entire life he actually bothers to repeat after rinsing. It feels good to rub his fingers into his scalp; to tilt his head back under the smooth, steady stream of warm water that runs from the shower head and wash his hair clean.

He can’t remember the last time anything felt this good.

The door opens as he’s rinsing a second time, then closes shortly after, and when he eventually steps out into the steam-filled bathroom there’s a fresh pile of clothes waiting for him on the edge of the sink.

A pair of boxers and his least-stained jeans. A soft gray t-shirt and his dark purple plaid. It’s all been folded neatly, and it feels surprisingly nice to put them on. Soothing, in a way.

As he rolls his sleeves to his elbows, he steps up to the fogged mirror and swipes over it with his hand to give himself a once over, and finds himself flushed from the shower but still looking a little tired.

It makes sense, he guesses. Charlie did say he’d been a checked out for the past two weeks. Two damn weeks, he shakes his head at the thought. He can’t remember enough to argue, but if anyone had asked him he would have guessed he came back three days ago.

The library is full of people when he eventually makes his way there, and Dean has the good sense not to ask when any of them arrived. They’ve probably been here the whole time, too.

Suddenly all the shower supplies make a whole lot more sense.

“Uh, hey,” he says, and six faces turn to look at him.

Sam and Cas both give him the kind of relieved smile that usually comes shortly before being told to never do that again, while Charlie sends him a nod as if to say, my work here is done.

Claire and Alex do little more than nod in his direction. Jody, on the other hand, gets up from her chair and crosses the room to pull him into a tight hug. She smells like the shampoo he’d used.

“How’re you doing, kiddo?” she asks him, and over her shoulder Dean sees Sam’s mouth twist into a very brief, very pronounced expression of discomfort at her words. Jody pats him on the shoulder and pulls back to look at him before Dean has time to wonder what Sam’s problem is. “Nice to see you in actual clothes again.”

With a huff of laughter, Dean shrugs and nods.

“Yeah, it turns out Charlie might have been onto something.”

“Damn right I was,” Charlie says.

From where he’s sitting beside Sam, Cas sends him another, softer smile. He’s dressed down for once--his trench nowhere to be seen, his suit jacket draped over his chair back. He looks comfortable. Like he’s settled, almost, and Dean can’t help but wonder if he’s been a permanent fixture, too, or if he’s just come back during a break from whatever it is he does while he’s away.

He doesn’t think about it for long, though. The fact that Cas is here now is too good to ruin by wondering if he’s going to leave soon. He smiles back.

“You doing alright, Cas?” he asks, and Cas narrows his eyes as if it’s a stupid question.

“It’s you we’ve been worried about,” he says.

“Yeah, well,” Dean clicks his tongue, searching for a change of subject. “Charlie said something about dinner?”

Claire snorts before anyone else can reply.

“Figures you’d want the early bird special, old man.”

“It’s only five o’clock,” Charlie tells him when he pulls a face. “But if you’re hungry now--”

“Nah, I can wait,” Dean cuts her off, waving his hand. He feels like everyone has eyes on him, and his skin prickles in discomfort. “So, uh… since we’ve got time, I’m just gonna grab some coffee.”

It’s mainly an excuse to leave the room.

Cas trails him to the kitchen. In a way, Dean’s grateful for it. Having someone nearby means there’s less chance he’ll veer off track and go back to bed.

“Sit,” Cas tells him, taking the coffee pot right out of his hands. “I’ll make it.”

It’s tempting to allow himself the usual knee-jerk reaction, to tell Cas he’s perfectly capable of doing it himself. But it’s nice, being taken care of. And Dean can admit, if just to himself, that it’s even nicer that it’s Cas doing it.

“Thanks,” he says, and sits at the table, watching as Cas makes his way around the kitchen with the easy air of someone who knows the space well. It makes him wonder. “You been here the whole time, too?”

“More or less,” Cas says, opening a new bag of coffee. He breathes in the smell, and the sight of him doing it makes Dean smile in a quiet kind of way that he’d forgotten he was capable of. “It was two days before I could leave Wichita, but I’ve been here since then.”

Dean’s smile fades, replaced by a confused frown.

“Why couldn’t you leave Wichita when we did?” he asks.

Cas’ mouth pulls down into a frown as he sets the coffee pot to brew, and he turns to lean against the counter, casual and human in a way that makes it easy to imagine getting up from his seat and moving into his space. Close and warm. Dean’s so busy trying to rein in his attraction that he almost misses what Cas is saying. Almost.

“I had to ensure that the mark’s new host was settled before I left.”

Panic rips Dean out of his brief daydream, and he’s on his feet in a split second.

“New host? What the fuck-- Cas, what were you-- after all the crap it brought down, you--”

Cas winces.

“Dean, it’s alright,” he says. “I probably could have worded that more clearly, but the new bearer is in absolutely no risk of becoming a threat to herself or anyone else, it is highly unlikely that she’ll ever be discovered, and even if she is, she’s incapable of transferring the mark to anyone else.”

“But what if she gets the blade?”

“I expect it would be far too heavy for her to wield,” Cas says, and there’s a hint of humor to his tone that makes Dean pause. He narrows his eyes.

“Who is she?”

“Her name is Florence,” Cas tells him, and turns to add water to the pot. “She’s an Aldabra giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo.”

“A tortoise.”

“A giant tortoise,” Cas corrects him. “She’s extremely docile, and nearly ninety years old, which puts her well out of breeding age, so it’s unlikely that any of the three other animals in her enclosure will bother her. The mark takes existing anger and amplifies it; Florence is the most gentle creature I’ve ever encountered.”

“How--”

“It was actually Charlie’s idea,” Cas tells him. “She asked why we didn’t just transfer the mark to a harmless animal that we could keep in captivity.”

“...so you went with a giant tortoise? Why not a rabbit or… hell, just something we could keep here?”

“And what would happen if you had to leave for a hunt? Who would take care of it?”

Dean just gestures vaguely.

“At any rate, rabbits can be very aggressive,” Cas says, as if that’s common knowledge. “To be honest, I think Charlie’s initial suggestion was mostly a last resort idea, but when I looked into it, it seemed as though it would work. I just had to find a suitable animal, and I’d recently seen a video of this particular tortoise in which her handler described her as solitary and cautious. She’s well cared for, has all the food she could ever need. She’s got no reason for anger, no capacity for revenge. And I did ask her if it was alright before we did it.”

Cas lifts one side of his mouth in that way he does when he thinks he’s about to be funny, and leans a little closer as he holds out a mug.

“No animals were harmed in the transferral of the mark.”

Dean accepts the coffee and shakes his head with a laugh.

“I can’t believe, after this whole shitstorm, that an overgrown turtle is the one thing between the world and a demonic massacre.”

“She’s not a turtle,” Cas says, and frowns when Dean rolls his eyes. “But yes, it’s somewhat absurd, I agree.”

Taking a sip of his coffee, Dean closes his eyes.

“Is it any good?” Cas asks him after a moment, and Dean hums to himself before he puts down the mug and smiles.

“Yeah. You’re not having one?”

“Molecules,” Cas replies with a shrug and a sad little smile.

“We’ve really got to find a way to get around that,” Dean tells him. “Now that there’s time.”

______

Filling an hour until it’s deemed late enough for dinner would ordinarily be a cinch, but today, with an attentive and concerned audience of extended family members, the passage of time is just shy of excruciating. Somehow, against all odds, Dean manages.

They all meet in the library when it’s time to go, and Dean looks at Claire and Alex where they’re still lounging across two leather chairs, barefooted.

“Aren’t you guys coming?” he asks them, and Claire slowly lifts her brow at him over the copy of Stardust she’s reading.

“I think we’ll pass,” she says.

“We’re gonna make pizza in that huge-ass oven,” Alex tells him, lifting her foot from where it’s resting in Claire’s lap and poking the side of her nose with her big toe. “Right, Claire?”

“Ugh, get off me, you freak,” Claire says, shoving at her, though she’s giggling and rapidly going bright red in the face. Dean looks between the two of them before glancing over at Jody, who just throws her hands up as if to say, teenagers, right?

“Right,” Dean says, and nods firmly before drumming his knuckles on the table and looking around at the others. “Shall we?”

______

Hannigan’s Grill in Smith Center is unsurprisingly crowded, thanks to the fact that it’s one of only two nightspots in the tiny town. While Charlie and Jody take Cas to scope out a decent place to sit, Sam and Dean head for the bar.

“What are you getting?” Sam asks while they wait for service, and though his question seems innocuous enough, his tone implies pretty heavily that Dean’s answer had better be one he likes.

“A beer,” Dean answers. When Sam purses his lips he rolls his eyes. “Come on, man. It’s not hard liquor.”

Sam lets out a long-suffering sigh just as Cas walks over.

“Just--” Sam starts, and Dean shakes his head.

“I know,” he says, and looks at the bar top before he continues. “I know I’ve been a shut-in. I know I’ve been messed up. I know. But I mean… I’m here, aren’t I? Real clothes and all. I’m not getting blackout drunk. I’m just thirsty.”

Sam still looks like he’s going to argue until Cas rests his hand on his shoulder, and they seem to have a brief, silent conversation that makes Dean feel a pathetic kind of jealousy in the pit of his stomach. He’s not even sure which of them he’s envious of.

Probably both, in vastly different ways.

All he knows is that it used to be him having silent conversations with Sam and Cas, and it’s been so long since he was really himself that he can’t remember the last time it happened with either of them.

“I’ll put a limit on the night, okay?” he offers, more to make them both look at him than out of any real desire to make the promise. “I’ll have… four beers. That’s it.”

“Two,” Sam counters.

“Three, and I’ll let you pour out the bottle of Jack I have in my side table.”

He doesn’t mention the Johnny Walker in his desk drawer. It might not be healthy to need it as a safety net, but he knows his limits.

Sam narrows his eyes, but ultimately nods, and Dean grins despite feeling like he might be sick. It’s not exactly news that he’s little more than a high-functioning alcoholic, but it’s not something he’d usually be addressing out loud, even in terms as oblique as these.

“Fine,” Sam sighs, and the bartender appears as if on cue. “Can we get a hard cider, three Kingdom Ales, and a--” Sam glances at Cas. “What did Charlie want?”

“A ‘fluffy duck’,” Cas replies, tone so flat and serious that Dean has a feeling he’s doing it on purpose. When he meets his eyes and sees the edge of his mouth twitching in an attempt to curb a smile, he can’t help but laugh.

Sam just snorts and looks back at the bartender.

“Please tell me you know what that is.”

The bartender points upward toward a chalkboard cocktail list.

“It’s today’s special,” he says with a wink, and heads off to get their drinks.

Dean clears his throat and looks around the restaurant until he finds Charlie and Jody sitting side-by-side in a booth by the window on the far wall. Jody has slipped on a pair of glasses to read a menu. Glancing out the corner of his eye, he catches Sam looking at her with a goofy expression on his face that he knows there’s gotta be more to. Cas touches his arm before he can ask about it.

“How are you feeling?” he asks, voice low, and Dean half shrugs.

“Not bad,” he says. Cas studies his face for a moment, presumably making sure he’s not lying, before the lines in his forehead soften and he smiles.

“I’m glad,” he says. “But if that changes, we don’t have to stay. I know you weren’t entirely sure if you were ready for this. The others can all fit in Jody’s car if they don’t want to leave.”

Dean doesn’t bother to point out that if he really didn’t want to come, he wouldn’t be here. He’s too busy trying not to show how much it affects him that Cas just assumes that if Dean leaves, he’ll be leaving too.

“Thanks, man,” he says, and squeezes his shoulder.

“Of course, Dean,” Cas says, and turns away when the bartender returns.

______

They’ve been sitting in the booth for a few minutes--Dean and Cas on one side, Charlie, Jody, then Sam on the other--when Sam nudges Jody, murmuring something into her ear that has her laughing ridiculously loud. Dean eyes them with suspicion over his menu. He’s been suspecting something ever since they left the bunker in two cars, and Sam climbed into Jody’s passenger side without so much as a thought. Like it was obvious that he’d ride with her.

Dean’s trying not to jump to conclusions, but it’s difficult when he sees the tips of Sam’s ears go red in response to whatever Jody has just whispered to him. They’re saved from the question on the tip of Dean’s tongue by Charlie whooping loudly as she sees something good on the menu.

“Aw yes,” she says, drawing everyone’s eyes to her corner of the booth. “Who’s down for sharing some potato skins?”

After that, it’s almost easy to forget what they’ve all been dealing with lately. Dean paces himself with his beer, only taking a mouthful when he sees Jody or Sam or Cas do the same, and alternating with large gulps from the tall glass of water that was delivered moments after they sat down.

While Charlie talks to an increasingly horrified Jody about the ease with which she has hacked into various police databases, Dean studies his menu with all the focus of someone who has just realized how hungry they are. Barely eating for two weeks will do that, he figures. He goes through two whole glasses of water before the waiter finally swings by the booth with a pad and pen poised for their orders.

He’s practically bursting by the time the waiter leaves. Tipping back the last mouthful of his beer, Dean nudges Cas out of the booth so he can head to the bathroom.

______

The two restrooms share a single row of four sinks between them, and when Dean emerges from the men’s to wash his hands the main door swings open. Cas steps in with what appears to be Charlie’s entire drink spilled over the front of his shirt.

“Dude, what happened?” Dean laughs, looking at Cas in the mirror as he turns on the tap. “Did you say Janeway was a shitty Starfleet captain or something?”

“The waiter tripped,” Cas explains, shrugging out of his jacket and draping it over the top of an out-of-service hand dryer before taking some paper towel and pressing it to his soaked shirt.

“Why don’t you just…” Dean waves his hand in the air vaguely. “Mojo your shirt clean.”

Cas squints at him and tosses the scrunched up paper into the wastebasket.

“There were multiple witnesses,” he says. “It seemed far less conspicuous to do it the human way.”

“Well the human way includes rinsing it out,” Dean says, drying his hands. “Otherwise that’s gonna stain.”

“Oh,” Cas says.

Looking down, he juts out his lip, nods, and starts unbuttoning. Dean swallows.

“Um,” he says, and Cas stops, looking up at him with his hands at the second last button, his shirt open enough to expose his entire chest. Dean forces himself to stop looking and meet Cas’ eyes, searching for something useful to say. “You should use cold water. Hot will make it set.”

“I see,” Cas says, and continues unbuttoning, his eyes still locked firmly on Dean’s. “Thank you.”

“Yeah,” Dean nods back. “Don’t mention it.”

He can’t seem to break the eye contact as Cas shrugs out of his shirt, and he’s glad he’s back to his regular human self and without the lack of impulse control that the mark had left him with in its deepest throes, because right now all he wants is to brush his hands over Cas’ surprisingly taut stomach and kiss him senseless. Cas is staring at him with the same intensity that he always does, and it’s almost enough to make Dean throw caution to the wind and do it.

Instead, he exhales slowly, and reminds himself that his angelic best friend probably isn’t the right guy to use as his so-maybe-I-like-dudes-too experiment--even if he already knows that it’s not so much a maybe as it is a loud and resounding duh, with a side of hopelessly in love with one. He heads back out toward the table just in time to see Jody pushing Sam out of his seat.

Sam moves to sit back down once she’s up, but she just shakes her head and holds out her hand.

“Let’s dance,” she tells him.

“Um,” Sam says, looking from Dean to Charlie, whose lips are pressed together in a barely-suppressed laugh. High spots of pink form on his cheeks. “Okay, so we’re just gonna--”

With a roll of her eyes, Jody drags Sam away before he can say anything else, and Dean watches them go before eventually sitting back down. He looks across the table at Charlie.

“Okay,” he says, pointing toward Sam and Jody. “Is that what it looks like, or--?”

“Might be,” she grins.

“Way to go, Sammy,” Dean says.

“More like, way to go Jody,” Charlie says with a snort that she fails to hide behind a glass of water.

“Do I even want to know?”

“She’s definitely the instigator there,” Charlie says as Cas returns and takes his seat, his shirt still damp but decidedly less yellow than it had been before. “It’s been a regular love-in at the bunker, let me tell you.” She gestures around the booth. “Us three are the only sad sacks who haven’t been getting any action.”

“Us and Claire and Alex, you mean,” Dean says, and Charlie snorts at him. “What?”

“You telling me you didn’t witness the super embarrassing teenaged flirting before we left?”

“Claire and Alex?” Dean says. “Seriously?”

“Jody caught them kissing in the hallway,” Cas tells Dean.

“I think it’s sweet,” Charlie says.

“They do seem to balance each other out,” Cas adds.

“Well, alright then,” Dean says, and looks back over to where Jody is attempting to coax something resembling rhythm out of Sam’s long legs. “Good for them.”

For a few minutes, he just watches them dance. It’s been a while since he saw Sam look so awkward; even longer since he saw him so unabashedly happy. The fact that it’s Jody who’s managed to put such a goofy smile on his face is just the cherry on top, Dean thinks. He hopes he’s not getting too ahead of himself to think that she’s exactly the kind of woman he’d approve of as a sister in law.

He only looks away when waiter comes by, delivering an enormous plate of potato skins along with new drinks for everyone.

“Hell yes,” Charlie says, digging in immediately, and just as Dean reaches out to take one Cas suddenly stiffens in his seat, staring off into the middle distance.

His mouth falls slightly open.

“You alright there, Cas?” Dean asks through his mouthful, wiping his fingers on a paper napkin before he picks up his fresh beer, and Cas opens and closes his mouth a few more times as though he’s searching for words. When they finally come, they don’t make a lick of sense.

“I’m pregnant.”

He looks completely serious, and Dean swallows his beer so sharply it hurts his throat. Charlie slowly lowers the potato skin she had been about to eat and stares at him across the table.

Sam and Jody, meanwhile, are still on the dance floor, blissfully ignorant of the bizarre turn to the conversation.

“When you say you’re pregnant,” Charlie starts, squinting a little, “you mean, like… with emotion or something, right?”

“No,” Castiel says, frowning. “I mean with child.”

“Alright, I’ll bite,” Dean says, and puts his beer firmly down on the cardboard coaster. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“It’s just happened,” Castiel says, and rests his hand on his lower belly. “It feels... strange. I hope there isn’t a problem.”

“I’ll admit the sex education I got in high school was shoddy at best, Cas, but I’ve seen you naked. I’m pretty freaking sure the main problem here is the fact that you don’t have the equipment to be with child.”

Charlie looks at him with a raised brow.

“You’ve seen him naked?”

“Not on purpose,” Dean says, a little too fast. He sinks into his seat, avoiding her eyes when the comment only makes her brow lift higher. “I barely remember it. Shut up.”

“There was an incident with an ill-informed attempt at facilitating reconciliation,” Castiel explains vaguely, still staring into space, and the absurdity of the notion is enough that Dean forgets to be embarrassed.

“How in the fuck was that meant to facilitate reconciliation?” he asks.

“If you’ll remember, I wasn’t entirely sane at the time.”

“Dude, you turned up naked, covered in bees, and--”

“He was covered in what?” Charlie’s eyes widen. “Did you say beads or bees?”

“Bees,” Cas says as Dean waves her off.

“Never mind. Can we get back to the current weirdness?”

“Yeah, okay. But we’re coming back to the naked-with-bees thing,” Charlie says, pointing at both of them with the lime green straw from her drink before turning back to Cas with a serious look on her face. “Cas, how exactly do you figure you’re pregnant?”

“It’s… not technically me. Well. That’s not entirely true. It’s me, but it’s another me.”

“You’ve already lost me.”

“Parallel to this world, there are countless versions of reality,” he explains. “Each diverging only slightly from the next, but given that there are an infinite number of ways in which they can diverge, there are worlds far removed from this one which are completely different.”

“And in one of those far-removed worlds, you’ve got a bun in the oven?” Dean says flatly.

“No,” Cas shakes his head. “This one is actually quite close. That’s why I’m able to pick up the frequency of my--of the other Castiel’s thoughts and feelings.”

“Can you normally?”

“It’s somewhat rare,” Cas says, still shaking his head. “I’ve only experienced it a handful of times, during moments of... extremely heightened emotion. I’ve been connected to this particular world once before. Not long ago, actually. After Metatron told me that he’d-- well,” he nods toward Dean gravely. “That you were dead.”

“I’m there, too?”

Cas nods.

“This restaurant, being seated in this exact booth with Charlie while Sam and Jody dance--it’s all the same. The only notable differences between that world and this one--as far as I can tell from the other Castiel’s innate knowledge of his vessel’s lineage--are that the common English word for the color purple is poricynth, and nobody ever bothered to invent pop tarts. As an indirect result of those two things Jimmy Novak was never born. The people who would have been his parents conceived a baby a week earlier than Jimmy’s parents conceived him, and they named her Melissa. She became my vessel instead.”

“So the Castiel in that world--”

“Has a uterus,” Cas nods.

“And she--”

“He,” Cas corrects him. “I’m still myself, regardless of the vessel, and Melissa is in Heaven.”

“So he’s pregnant,” Dean repeats. “Alright then.”

Cas just nods.

“The egg was fertilized a few minutes ago,” he says, frowning as he seems to look through space to read his other-self’s thoughts, sifting through detail. “The actual act of intercourse took place around thirty-five min-- oh.”

Cas’ eyes go wide, and his mouth falls open, and as Dean watches, he gets this terrified look on his face like the one he had in that brothel in Maine.

“What?” Dean asks.

Averting his eyes, Cas shifts in his seat and fiddles with the edge of the napkin under his drink.

“I don’t think I should tell you.”

“Why not?”

“You’re not going to like it.”

“How do you know if you don’t tell me? Just spill.”

Cas lets out a long breath.

“In that world, we… you and I. That is to say... We… well. You know.”

“I know what?”

“Oh my god,” Charlie says, and presses her lips together like she’s trying not to laugh.

“What?” Dean asks, bewildered, and Cas looks to the ceiling.

“You and I, to put it in colloquial terms, ‘hooked up’,” he says, and finally meets Dean’s eyes. “Sexually.”

As if he still needed to clarify at this point. Dean feels his neck growing hot, a furious blush climbing to his face and spreading all the way to the tips of his ears.

“What?” he squeaks, and clears his throat before leaning forward over the table. “You’re saying other me knocked up other you?”

Cas looks away again, clearly uncomfortable.

“It appears so, yes.”

Dean covers his face with both hands.

“Jesus Christ.”

“Wait,” Charlie says, holding up her hand. “You said it just happened.”

“Yes,” Cas nods. “A little over thirty-five minutes ago.”

“So, just after you went to clean up the spilled--” she starts, and bursts out laughing as she reaches over to punch Dean in the arm. “I can’t believe you got Cas pregnant in a bathroom.”

“I didn’t get anyone pregnant in the bathroom!” Dean hisses back, just in time for Sam and Jody to return, both flushed from dancing.

“Do I even want to know?” Jody asks, sliding back into her seat, and Dean groans, leaning forward to rest his head in his hands.

Charlie pats his shoulder.

“Chin up, Dean,” she tells him. “At least alternate-you is the one who’ll be dealing with stinky diapers.”

“Okay, someone’s definitely gotta fill us in on this one,” Sam says.

Sitting back up, Dean shakes his head and grabs his beer, taking a deep pull. When he puts it back down he fumbles it, nearly upending the bottle, and he closes his eyes.

“I’m gonna go get some air,” he says, and heads for the door.

_______

The parking lot is quiet, save for a couple in the far corner, laughing with one another as they playfully argue over where to go for dessert. Dean ignores them, heading for the Impala.

He exhales as soon as his hands settle against the cool metal, bracing himself against the roof over the driver’s side door as he stares down at his feet.

Coming out here was a mistake. He knew it as soon as the good-natured tone of Sam and Charlie’s voices had given way to a worried chorus of wait, Dean! that he’d stubbornly ignored. Before he’d left the table, the entire alternate universe pregnancy was just a weird, borderline funny thing they could all share a laugh over. But Dean reacted like it mattered. That’s because it does matter, obviously, but he’d prefer that none of them realize it.

He doesn’t doubt that someone will have followed him out here. It’s just a matter of time before they announce themselves. He’s not even a little surprised that it ends up being Cas.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” he says from somewhere nearby, and Dean closes his eyes as he takes a slow breath. “I knew it would make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s not that,” Dean says, and he’s surprised to find it’s the truth.

“Then what?”

“I dunno,” he says, lifting one shoulder. “Just... what else is different in that world?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you said it was just…” Dean forces himself to stand up straight and turn around. If they’re going to have this conversation, he’s not going to spend it staring at his own shoes or the side of the car. He almost regrets the decision as soon as he meets Cas’ eyes, their corners creased with concern. He lifts a hand and drops it to his side. “Just... the color purple, and pop tarts, and Melanie Novak--”

“Melissa,” Cas says.

“Right, Melissa,” Dean says. “But, what else is different?”

“Well, there’s no Claire, seeing as there was no Jimmy to father her. But that’s basically it,” Cas says, and looks down as he shifts uncomfortably on his feet. “Aside from me being pregnant, obviously.”

Obviously, Dean thinks. He shakes his head.

“And he-- you and I-- they--”

Speaking is growing more and more difficult with every passing moment, and Dean’s not above blaming it entirely on the look of open and earnest interest on Cas’ face.

“What, Dean?”

“You know. Are they, like... Together, or whatever?”

“That remains to be seen,” Cas says, and even in the dim light Dean can see his cheeks grow pink as he looks away. “As far as I can see into the other Castiel’s mind, it appears that they hadn’t been… intimate before tonight.”

That’s surprising. Dean can think of a dozen moments before tonight that he’s sure he would have made a move had Cas been girl-shaped. As it is, only his own--apparently baseless--assumptions about what Cas’ reaction to such attention might be have been holding him back from trying.

Even without that, Dean kind of can’t believe that his counterpart would let his first time with Cas happen in the bathroom of a bar and grill in Smith Center. He blinks at Cas, certain he’s misunderstanding this part.

“At all?”

Cas just shakes his head.

“They kissed when Castiel was preparing to rinse his shirt,” Cas says, tilting his head toward the restaurant. “It was their first.”

“And then I-- he--”

“They became... swept up in the moment,” Cas says carefully. “And then they had sex in the bathroom stall.”

“Jesus,” Dean presses his hand over his eyes. “That’s… I mean, I’m not saying I’ve never had a quickie somewhere skeevy, but it’s never been with someone, y’know. Important.”

“That’s what’s bothering you?” Cas tilts his head. “The fact that it happened in a bathroom?”

“I’m just saying if it’d been me, like, me me. I would have taken you someplace--” Dean cuts himself off. He has to look away again. He wonders how far he’d have to walk before Cas gave up on following him. “You know what, forget it. I don’t know why this is bugging me so much.”

There’s a hand on his arm before he can even start to move away.

“For what it’s worth, it does appear that they…” He swallows, and the click of his throat is loud. “They are both… content. With what happened. Castiel is, anyway. I suppose it’s possible that the other Dean is as perturbed as you are, but if he is he hasn’t said anything about it. Castiel seems to think he looks rather pleased with himself.”

“Still basking in the afterglow, I guess,” Dean says with an embarrassed huff. “It’ll probably hit him when that wears off. And definitely when he finds out Cas is--” Dean shakes his head. “Pregnant. Jesus.”

“Castiel has decided not to tell him yet,” Cas says after a moment. “He’s going to do it tomorrow. But he’s...”

“What?”

“He’s afraid,” Cas admits, and Dean takes a minute to wonder why.

“Because the baby is gonna be a nephilim?” he guesses.

Cas widens his eyes and shakes his head, as if that hadn’t even occurred to him yet. As if the other Cas had gotten as far as having Dean’s baby, and then become too distracted to approach the issue logically. Dean tries to tell himself that isn’t satisfying to know, and fails.

“He’s afraid that by the morning Dean might regret what they did.”

“Oh,” Dean says, and looks at the ground again. “But he’s happy?” he finds himself asking. “The other you, I mean. Or--”

“He’s very happy,” Cas confirms, almost shy in the way he ducks his head. “Overwhelmed, really. And he’s still…”

Cas trails off, glancing away, and Dean can’t help but grin at him as he prods his arm.

“What?”

“He’s still slightly aroused from their earlier activity,” Cas admits. “It’s an interesting combination of emotions.”

Dean snorts.

“Yeah, I bet.”

“Mostly he seems to be basking, as you put it.”

“A good roll in the hay will do that.”

“Mm, his basking seems more related to Dean’s avowal of love than to the sex itself,” Cas says, somewhat distractedly. Like he’s still looking through the layers of reality to read his own mind. “Having his feelings returned appears to have had a profound effect on his mood.”

Dean swallows convulsively. Don’t read into that, he tells himself, even while he’s wondering why the hell he shouldn’t.

“I um… I think I need a minute here, okay?” he says after a long moment. “I’ll meet you back inside?”

Cas glances warily at the car, like he’s concerned that Dean is going to disappear, but he nods once before squeezing Dean’s shoulder and heading back into the building. Dean watches him go.

Nothing else is different, Cas had said. In that other world, he’s still himself, even if the vessel is different, and there he wants Dean.

There, he’s in love with Dean.

Shit,” Dean breathes, and stares at the door that Cas disappeared through, and wonders.

_______

Nobody says a word when Dean returns to the booth, and he suspects that Cas told them not to tease him. A part of him wants to bring it up himself, if only to diminish the size of the elephant in the room, but he refrains, choosing instead to ask how long his burger has been waiting for him.

“They only just brought everything out,” Cas says, picking at the bowl of fries he ordered simply so as not to seem out of place.

“Looks good,” he says.

“If it’s anything like Sam’s rump steak, it’ll taste even better,” Jody tells him with a grin as she spears a bite off Sam’s plate, and Dean scrunches up his nose at her over the table.

“I’m happy for you guys, but seriously Jody,” he says, inordinately glad for the easy set up. “My brother ain’t a piece of meat.”

Sam chokes on a lump of asparagus, and Charlie lets out a snort of laughter loud enough to draw the attention of the booth behind them, and with that all the tension seems to bleed out of the air.

Still, even as he spends the rest of the meal teasing Sam for his new relationship, he can’t stop thinking about the implications of what Cas told him. By the time they’re ready to go, he’s resolved to find out for sure.

_______

The Impala’s headlights illuminate the front of the bunker, and Dean slows down to let Jody drive into the garage first. He can see Sam’s ridiculous hair in silhouette when he leans over to kiss Jody’s cheek, and he shakes his head.

“I still can’t believe that giant nerd convinced Jody to date him.”

“They’re actually kind of fantastic together,” Charlie pipes up from the back seat, and as Dean sees Sam reaching for Jody’s hand after she steps out of her car, he can’t help but agree.

“Yeah, I can see that,” he says, watching them make their way into the bunker.

“She’s certainly been a great comfort to Sam these past couple of weeks,” Cas tells him. “He’s been worried about you. We all have.”

Dean feels something aching in his chest.

“I’m sorry.”

Cas widens his eyes.

“I didn’t mean-- I wasn’t blaming you for--”

“No, no, I know you weren’t,” Dean says, finally shutting off the engine. “I’m sorry anyway. And you... I mean, Sam had Jody, but you--”

“We’ve all been watching out for each other,” Charlie says, and pats him on the shoulder.

“Thanks. Really. I couldn’t ask for a better family.”

Watching her in the rearview mirror, Dean sees Charlie’s face go through a number of strange contortions as she attempts to keep from crumbling, and finally she just nods as she leans over the back of his seat to hug him.

“It’s good to have you back,” she tells him. “So, so good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go mainline some serious fluff. This has been a heavy couple of weeks.”

She plants a noisy kiss on the side of his head and hops out of the car, and as she makes her way to the bunker door Dean doesn’t miss the way she scrubs at her eyes. Following her lead, he climbs out of the car and looks at Cas as he does the same.

“She was pretty worried, huh?” he asks.

“We all were,” Cas repeats, closing the passenger door. “But you’re back now.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, and shoots him a smile that falters almost immediately when Cas just nods and starts toward the garage door. His heart is racing. “Hey, Cas, wait. Can you...”

He trails off, not entirely sure how to ask what he wants to ask. He feels as though he’s approaching something dangerous. Cas turns back to squint at him, tilting his head to the side just a little, and Dean mentally corrects himself. This isn’t some monster; it’s his best friend.

“Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, I just… what you said earlier, I just,” he takes a breath as he crosses the garage floor. “I just wanted to check something.”

Frowning, Cas steps toward him, coming to a stop a few scant feet away.

“What is it?”

“I just wanted to see, uh,” Dean says, wetting his lower lip and pulling it between his teeth before raising one tentative hand and spreading his fingers over Cas’ chest, the pad of his thumb sitting neatly in the center, right where his collar is parted. Cas’ skin is warm.

“What did you want to see?” Cas asks, but there’s a tremulous, breathy edge to his voice that betrays the fact that he probably knows the answer. The sound makes Dean’s stomach flip wildly.

“You said... In that other world, everything else was the same,” he says, and drags his thumb down over smooth skin, just barely. “So I just…”

Cas takes a breath, and Dean feels it. Feels him lean into his touch.

“I just,” he repeats, and slides his hand up and around until he feels the soft hair at the nape of Cas’ neck, his thumb grazing the skin below his ear. “I just wanted to see if--”

The rest of his words are lost when he takes a half step forward, when the slightest pressure has Cas leaning in, and Dean can’t help the quiet moan that replaces them when he finally knows the warmth of Cas’ mouth against his own. He tastes like the salt of the fries he’d been picking at in the restaurant.

“That’s a yes, then,” Dean says when they break away, and Cas just nods, his eyes hooded and fixed on Dean’s lips, before pulling him back in.

He’s hesitant at first. Tentative as he lifts his hands to frame Dean’s face, and Dean gets the distinct impression that he’s holding back. Like he’s afraid a sudden move might scare Dean away.

Dean deepens the kiss in the hope that he’ll understand that’s not going to happen, and all it takes is a few sweeps of his tongue before Cas has lost all sense of restraint. His fingers tighten in Dean’s hair, lips frantic as they press together. If this is how Cas kisses, it’s no wonder their counterparts got carried away in that other world.

It’s barely been thirty seconds and Dean can already feel his entire body thrumming with the need to get closer, to move his lips away from Cas’ only so he might press them to his throat, the insides of his wrists. When he tries, delivering a gentle bite to his lower lip before trailing kisses along his jaw, Cas lets out a low sound and uses his grip on Dean’s hair to pull him back to his mouth.

His stubble rasps against Dean’s in the process, breath harsh and gasping.

“Thank you,” he finally forces out, and Dean pulls away slightly to look at him.

“For what?”

“Being braver than me,” Cas says, and drags him back for more.

Never, in all the times Dean’s let himself imagine this, did he think Cas would be so desperate. But now that he’s gotten started, he’s out of control, shifting his hands to grip Dean by the hips and manhandling him back toward the Impala. Dean goes willingly, falling back and pulling Cas down after him until he’s practically pinned to the hood.

The metal is cold in stark contrast to his heated skin, despite the fact that the engine’s only been off for ten minutes. Maybe ten minutes.

Still, even with the shock of cold, the new angle gives him better access to Cas’ throat, and Dean’s not complaining. He sucks on the skin that peeks out from his collar, scraping his teeth over it and licking at the sweat that’s already making Cas shine as he dips his fingers under the hem of his shirt to touch his stomach. He feels Cas twitch under his hands, ticklish, and files the knowledge away for later.

When Dean pushes at his shirt it’s only seconds before it gets flung off completely. For the second time tonight, Dean lets his gaze travel over Cas’ stomach and chest, his few freckles, his nipples. He reaches out to stroke over one with his thumb, and it pebbles after a couple of passes. Dean can’t help but lean in to flick it with his tongue.

Cas’ hand tightens around his bicep, so Dean does it again before sucking it between his lips, biting gently until the grip on his arm feels hard enough to bruise.

A fleeting mental image of that old handprint scar, healed away years ago, flutters through Dean’s mind, and he recklessly hopes that he might have those same fingers outlined on his skin before the night is over. The thought makes him sigh, and he moves on from Cas’ chest, dragging his mouth over his collarbone and up to his neck.

Raking his teeth over his skin, Dean catches hold of Cas’ hips and pulls him closer. His heels press into the back of Cas’ thighs, and he lets out a gasp when he feels Cas growing hard against him.

“Fu--uh,” he breathes, gripping Cas a little more tightly as he rocks forward against the heated swell of Cas’ cock, letting it drag against his own through their clothes. The way Cas mirrors the motion makes him dizzy with want. It’s not until he snakes a hand between them, fingers skirting the button of Cas’ fly and popping it loose, that he pauses to consider what they’re doing. Where they’re doing it.

Blinking up into the bright lights of the bunker’s garage past Cas’ shoulder, his back starting to ache a little from spending so long pressed against the car, Dean lets out a helpless bark of laughter.

Cas,” he wheezes, barely able to get the word out when Cas shifts his hips forward again, the friction distractingly good. “Cas, stop.”

To his credit, Cas does so immediately, pulling back to look Dean in the eye. His mouth is wet and pink, his cheeks flushed, hair wild. He looks utterly debauched, and Dean feels his stomach flip at the knowledge that it is all his doing.

“What’s wrong?” Cas asks, and Dean reaches up to push his hair back from his forehead, letting out a shaky breath.

“Nothing, I’m just-- Shit,” he laughs again. “I was so convinced I’d be better than him.”

“Better than who?”

“The other Dean,” he says, grinning and sliding his fingers down from the side of Cas’ neck to his shoulder, kneading the muscle lightly with his thumb. “I don’t know if the garage is much better than a bathroom.”

Cas’ expression shifts to one of amused understanding, and he wrinkles his nose as he takes in their surroundings. His shirt, Dean notices, is hanging from the handlebars of Dorothy’s motorcycle, still parked where she left it months ago, and Dean laughs even harder when he sees a dark smear of engine grease on the side of Cas’ neck.

“I forgot where we were,” Cas admits, and Dean lifts his hand to rub the grease away.

“Yeah, me too.”

“We could gather our things,” Cas suggests, eyes half closing at the sensation of Dean’s fingers on his neck. “Go upstairs...”

His hands have moved to rest on Dean’s thighs as he speaks, sliding up and down slowly, squeezing and making Dean rock forward subconsciously. Dean loses track of what he’s saying.

“Hmm?”

“If you think--” he squeezes Dean’s thighs again, chews on his own lip. “If you think that perhaps your bedroom might be a better location?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, but the implication of what they’ll do once they get there is so thrilling that he can’t help but lean back up to fit their mouths together, pulling him closer, pressing forward until he can feel Cas’ cock nudging against his own again. He groans against Cas’ lips. “Yeah, it would probably--”

Cas grinds his hips forward, the friction making Dean gasp into the curve of his throat, and with his mouth already open from the sound it’s impossible not to let himself taste the salt of Cas’ skin. He works it over with his tongue, sucking and biting until he’s dragged away by his hair and redirected back to Cas’ mouth.

He already feels like he’s teetering close to the edge, just from pressing together, and even though he wants to drag this out as long as he can his body picks up the pace, shifting against Cas with purpose. With each heartbeat he feels heat pulsing, closer, closer, and it’s not long before they’re both too wound up to properly kiss.

The building warmth edges nearer, nearer, and then--

“Dean, wait,” Cas forces out, a little breathless as he forces his hips to stop moving, and Dean suppresses a groan at the loss. “I want…”

“Anything, Cas,” Dean says, fingers clenching at Cas’ side. “Tell me.”

“The other Castiel... He kept thinking about how good it felt,” he says, breath heavy and fever hot against Dean’s ear. “How good it felt to have you inside.”

“You want that?”

“If you don’t object,” Cas says.

Dean pushes a little at Cas’ chest and sits up, keeping him close enough that he won’t mistake the movement for a no.

“I definitely don’t object,” he says, ducking his head forward to kiss him again. “But if we’re gonna... we really should go to my room.”

______

Upstairs, the bunker is quiet and dark, all the doors closed as they make their way down the hall. Cas keeps touching Dean’s back as they go, barely-there sweeps of his fingertips, and even though the long walk has taken some of the urgency out of the moment, the sensation has Dean tingling all over in anticipation.

He’s not entirely sure what he’s planning to say if they cross paths with anyone on their way, considering how obviously turned on they both are, but he figures he’ll deal with that if he needs to. Right now, all his focus is on getting Cas into his bed.

He’s never been happier to see his bedroom door.

It creaks when it opens, and clicks quietly closed, and Dean watches, rapt, as Cas moves to sit on his mattress and kicks off his shoes.

Dean lets out a tremulous breath and leans back against the door to take him in. Though he put his shirt back on before they left the garage, the buttons proved to be too much trouble. In the golden lamplight of Dean’s bedroom, resting back on his elbows with his legs parted, his shirt rumpled and half-off, and the top button of his suit pants open, Cas looks like he belongs in a magazine.

“Dean?” Cas tilts his head a little, and the sight of such a typical Cas mannerism in this context makes Dean feel a little weak in the knees. “What are you doing?”

“Thinking,” Dean says after a moment. “Planning.”

“Planning?”

“How I’m gonna touch you.”

The way Cas reacts to that, with pleading eyes and a fractured moan, is more gratifying than Dean could ever have anticipated. He can’t help but reach down to squeeze himself through his jeans. Cas’ eyes only plead harder.

“Please stop thinking and come here,” Cas says, and like hell is Dean going to deny him.

He crosses the room, toeing his shoes off as he goes, and when he reaches the bed Cas sits up to meet him, his wide hands lifting Dean’s shirt so he can press his mouth to Dean’s stomach.

“I’ve been planning, too,” he murmurs, moving his lips over Dean’s skin. “Thinking of ways we could be together. Ways I might show you exactly how much you mean to me. How good you are.”

It’s almost too much to deal with. Dean’s felt worthless, like poison for so long that being given this kind of care is overwhelming. He’s weak, though. Greedy for the praise he’s not sure he deserves. He can’t bring himself to ask Cas to stop saying such things, and instead just lets him keep pressing sweet words into his skin, eventually peeling his shirt off when Cas keeps pushing it higher, and then his jeans when Cas’ attention shifts to his fly.

The evidence of how hard he is is impossible to hide once he’s stripped down to his boxers, so he throws caution to the wind and shucks them too, letting out a helpless sound when Cas traces his cock from root to tip with a single finger. He’s inquisitive as he takes in the sight of Dean’s body, studying him, but the heavy sound of his breath, the flush of his cheeks, is enough to tell Dean that he feels anything but analytic right now. He’s fully present. Judging by the way he’s practically squirming on the mattress, he’s just as turned on as Dean is.

His breath tickles Dean’s stomach when he leans closer, fingers playing over his cock agonizingly light, and suddenly desperate to touch him in return Dean presses against his shoulder until he shifts back. He doesn’t even have to say anything; Cas just pulls his own shirt off and throws it blindly across the room, and Dean’s fingers toy with his waistband for barely a second before Cas lifts his hips off the bed and pulls both layers free.

Naked, Dean takes a moment to look his fill. Cas has one knee bent, foot pressed to the mattress, with the other spread out to the side, and Dean lets his fingertips follow his gaze from ankle to thigh as he crawls up the bed to kiss him again.

“Kinda feel like I’ve been dying of thirst,” he says, tickling his thigh, and Cas hums against his mouth, holding him there so tightly that Dean’s certain he knows exactly what Dean means. He finally wraps his fingers around Cas’ cock, then, pumping slow and relishing the heat of it. The softness of the skin made smoother by the precome running steadily down. Cas’ free hand shoots down to claw at his wrist almost immediately, holding his hand in place.

“Good?” Dean asks, watching his face for any sign of apprehension, and Cas just nods, dragging him into another kiss as Dean works his hand a little tighter, a little harder, just how he likes it. He hopes it feels as good to Cas. Hopes his complete lack of experience here isn’t going to cause any problems.

At the feeling of Cas thickening in his grip, Dean figures he’s doing okay. He loosens his hold until he’s just barely skimming the sensitive skin at the head, teasing the wet tip with his fingers until they’re dripping with precome, then shifts his hand lower to drag his index finger over Cas’ rim.

“Dean,” Cas gasps, twisting his head away and looking down their bodies as though he thinks he’ll be able to see past his own twitching hips to the place where Dean’s touching him. “Dean, please.”

“You still want me to?” Dean asks pressing a little harder, and Cas lets out a desperate sound of assent, shifting his leg to give Dean more room. It takes more effort than he’d like to briefly shift away and dig through the drawer of his bedside table, but once his fingers are slick he moves them back into place immediately, catching Cas’ lips as he does.

He takes his time, just barely dipping the tip of his finger inside until Cas starts to bear down against the feeling, and he presses in to the first knuckle before pulling it almost completely out and driving all the way in, repeating the motion until a second finger slides in without resistance. The effect is electric. Cas arches his back as Dean works his fingers deeper and spreads them apart, fascinated by the slick feeling of him inside. Dean’s breath catches when, through trial and error, he finds what he’s guessing must be Cas’ prostate, and Cas whines loud enough that he has to press his own forearm over his mouth to keep the sound from traveling.

He backs off, just a little, until Cas lowers his arm and meets his eye.

“Sorry,” Cas tells him. “Do you think anyone heard?”

“Don’t ever say you’re sorry for making that noise,” Dean tells him, and ignores the latter question because he just doesn’t want to think about it. If anyone did hear, there’d be no mistaking the sound for anything other than what it was, and there’s no way any of them are going to come investigate. If they have to, they’ll deal with the awkwardness in the morning.

Right now, Dean just wants to make Cas feel good.

“You have no idea how much I wish we didn’t have to worry about making too much noise, because I just want to do this--” he presses a fingertip against the same place again, and Cas bites down on his own lip to muffle his moan, “--until you’re screaming.”

“Do it again and I might not be able to help myself,” Cas tells him, breathless, and Dean stares at him, pulling his lip between his teeth. Slowly, deliberately, he rubs him inside. Cas closes his eyes, turning his face to press against the pillow as he lets out another sound, high and keening. “Dean, please.”

Leaning up to kiss him, Dean keeps moving his fingers in a slow rhythm as he licks into his mouth.

“Roll onto your side,” he says, and when Cas does Dean shifts to lie behind him, wasting no time in nudging his fingers back into place and sinking them deep. He thrusts them a little faster than before, twisting them deep as he slicks himself with his other hand. “You still good?”

“Yeah,” Cas says, and Dean carefully pulls his fingers free, rubbing a thumb over Cas’ twitching rim. “Yes. I’m--unh, I’m good.”

Dean presses his forehead to the hard line of his shoulder, moving one hand to spread wide over Cas’ stomach as he squeezes the base of his cock with the other, holding off the urge to come, desperate to be inside Cas when he does.

He teases at his rim with his cockhead until he can’t take it anymore, then presses, presses, presses until he feels the muscle give, and then Cas’ body is pulling him inside just as much as Dean is pushing. Dean can hardly breathe he’s so overwhelmed by the way Cas squeezes around him.

Cas reaches back, grasping his thigh as though trying to pull him deeper, and Dean gives his hips a slow, experimental roll that leaves them both groaning.

Fuck, Cas,” Dean breathes, pulling back slightly before driving back in, and Cas lets out a low curse that has Dean repeating the motion just to hear it again.

Sliding his hand down over Cas’ stomach, he feels smooth skin give way to wiry hair, wet where Cas has been leaking against it, and finally closes his palm around his cock. It strains under Dean’s hand, twitching, and Dean scrapes over the tip with the nail of his thumb. Cas jerks at the sensation, ass clenching around Dean where he’s still buried deep.

With effort, Dean matches every thrust forward with a stroke to the base, and soon the sound of their slapping skin and frantic breaths and the rattle of the shelf over his bed all fades out. He’s got no idea how loud they’re being, and as Cas tenses against him and comes, spilling over Dean’s hand and his sheets, he really doesn’t care.

He keeps touching him through it, squeezing every last drop from him and loving the feel of his come as it drips down his fingers to his wrist. In a swift motion he pulls out, rolling Cas onto his back and hitching his leg up so his thigh is pressed against Dean’s shoulder.

With the new angle he can watch Cas’ face as he drives back into him, can see his cock twitching with the aftershocks, slapping against his stomach with every thrust, and it’s enough to have him careening toward his own climax within seconds.

“Cas, fuck,” he slurs, moving faster, harder, even as he starts to lose his rhythm. “Unh, Cas, I’m gonna--”

He moves to pull out, but Cas wraps the leg Dean’s not holding around his waist and stops him before he can.

“Do it, Dean,” he says, his voice strained and breathy as he gasps with Dean’s motion. “I want you to. Want to feel it.”

Fuck,” Dean’s hips stutter as he comes in three hard pulses, still pressed deep in the heat of Cas’ body, and at once Cas loosens his grip and drags him down into a kiss that Dean’s barely aware of. He’s still seeing stars, his whole body trembling in the wake of his orgasm.

Cas’ lips move against his with a softness that Dean can hardly process, and he has to pull away, overstimulated and breathless. He slips free with the movement, and lets Cas rearrange them until they’re laying side-by-side. Dean drapes an arm over his waist and presses his lips to his shoulder.

The feeling of Cas’ fingers in his hair makes him think of that shower, of the perfect calm clarity of being truly awake after weeks of drifting. He closes his eyes to savor it as he lets out a shuddering breath against his collarbone, and Cas’ fingers still.

“Are you alright?”

“Feels good,” Dean tells him after a moment. “I just... this just feels really fucking good.”

Cas’ hands start moving again, fingers threading through his hair, dragging against his scalp, and Dean listens to the thud of his heart as it slows back to normal. The steady hush of the breath in his lungs as he slides his hands further down to the back of Dean’s neck and across his shoulders.

“Kiss me again?” Cas asks after a while, and Dean lifts his head to see Cas looking down at him with open affection. He feels like he’s breaking into a million pieces at the sight, so amazed by the knowledge that he can have this. That he has it.

“Yeah,” Dean says, smiling wide as he leans back in. “As much as you want.”

______

It’s been a damn long time since Dean made breakfast for someone the morning after. Lisa was probably the last, and that’s going on six years ago now. Still, it’s second nature to do it. He’s already taken two plates out of the cupboard when he remembers that Cas doesn’t eat.

He puts the second plate away, hoping Cas didn’t notice, and starts the coffee brewing instead. That, he knows, Cas can at least appreciate the smell of. While he waits, he leans against the counter and looks at Cas, sitting at the table. He’s wearing Dean’s robe, fresh from the dryer, and his chin is resting in one hand as turns over the box of Sam’s bran flakes to read the label on the back. His hair is a disaster, and he’s frowning at a cereal box, and damn does Dean love him.

He can’t help but think of their conversation in the parking lot last night, of Cas’ words. The other Castiel, he’d said, hadn’t known that his love was returned until the other Dean told him. He probably knows, Dean reasons with himself, watching as Cas opens the box and pulls a single flake out, sniffing at it before scrunching up his nose. Oddly enough, the idea that it’s not going to be news to the guy is what makes it easier to get the words out.

“I love you,” he says, and Cas lowers the cereal box to stare at him. “I just. You said that the other Cas... that he didn’t know until yesterday that I-- so I just. I wanted you to know, too.”

Dropping the box onto the table, Cas rises and crosses the kitchen, slipping his arms around Dean’s waist and holding him close. He doesn’t kiss him as Dean thought he was going to; just wraps him up tightly and takes a deep, shuddering breath against Dean’s shoulder. Dean threads his fingers through his hair.

“Kinda wounding my ego, here,” Dean jokes, and Cas squeezes him a little tighter. “What’s wrong?”

“How do you think he’s going to react?” he asks, and it only takes half a second for Dean to understand what he’s asking. He’s thinking about that other Dean, who’s likely to find out about his half-angel baby at any moment.

“Honestly?” he says, and Cas pulls back to nod. “I think he’s going to freak the hell out. But once that wears off I think he’s going to be so happy, Cas, and he’s gonna love that kid with everything he’s got. You know why?”

Cas shakes his head.

“Because it’s gonna be a part of both of them,” Dean says.

“You really think so?”

“I know so,” Dean says.

He pauses for a moment.

“You’ll tell me, right?” he asks. “When the other you-- when he has the baby?”

Cas smiles at him, leaning in to kiss the corner of his mouth.

“Of course,” he says, and Dean tilts his chin to kiss him properly.

In another world not so unlike this one, Castiel looks at Dean making coffee in the bunker’s kitchen and smiles.