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An hour after he hits the ground, the last of the falling angels flashes bright against the stratosphere, and the sun begins to rise.

The smell of sweet flag iris is thick, almost cloying, and as he makes his way across spongy earth he tries to remember if he's ever seen this place before. It seems wholly unfamiliar.

A fallen twig snaps underfoot, loud enough to startle a fallow doe, half-hidden by rushes. She scrambles from the lakes edge, kicking up water and stones in her haste to get away, and Castiel stares after her in the pink haze. He hadn't even known she was there.

The frogs, until now the source of a constant chirping in the bullweed, fall silent, and quiet descends over the marsh. It's the first true silence he's ever known, and he isn't prepared for the weight of it, the sheer magnitude of what it means to be alone. It presses down on him until he sinks down on his haunches, elbows on his knees, his knees, and covers his face with his palms. They come away wet.

He tries not to think, to just feel the warmth on his back, rising with the sun.

Wings shredded by flame, burning, burning.

The breeze, curling cool over his damp cheeks.

The current of the rushing wind, whipping, dragging, falling through cloud.

The cold tickle of long grass that sneaks up his ankles where he crouches.

The ice-sharp press of an angel blade at his throat, trickling blood, seeping grace, gone all gone.

He focuses on the sensation of his pulse, thrumming fast; on his breath, forcing it to remain steady and slow, all in effort to drown out the emotions that swell and swell and swell in his chest, feelings too big and terrible to put a name to. It's futile in the end, and then it's fear and guilt and uncertainty that overcome him. Rage and shame and a melancholy so overwhelming that he wishes Metatron had taken his life along with his grace, because it's just too much.

He presses his fingers down into the wet earth, digs in with his nails, lets the gritty dirt sink beneath them, breathes in, out, in, out. Tells himself that he needs to get up. Needs to find a road, find a house, a phone. Needs to call Dean. Needs to tell Dean what happened. Just plain needs Dean, here, now, to tell him it's okay, even if it's not. He'd done it before; that night when Castiel had landed on the road in front of the Impala, bleeding from his torn stomach. He'd sat with him, dressed his wound, told Castiel soothing lies until he fell asleep.

Something hopeful tells him that this time maybe it wont be lies; maybe it's going to be okay, he'll be welcomed back, welcomed home, and he'll be able to live out this mortal life with the only people he'd ever want to spend it with. Because yesterday, while he had been sitting with Dean waiting for the cupid, he had felt something hanging in the air between them, and he wants to believe that it was forgiveness, even if he doesn't believe he truly deserves it.

Selfishness, he's fairly certain, is a major part of being human. He feels very human right now.

When he finally starts walking, the sun is high, and his shadow all but disappears beneath his feet.

He comes to a river, and follows it for lack of a better idea. Tiny birds swoop around him when he gets too close, and he steps carefully to avoid crushing their speckled eggs where they lie between round stones on the ground.

He tries not to wonder where his brothers and sisters are; if they are in their vessels, forced unwilling into flesh and bone by the fall, or drifting in the ether, unseen and lost, reaching for a Heaven that can no longer hold them. Neither is right. Neither is just.

Wherever Metatron is, Castiel hopes he feels their anguish. Hopes he feels a regret so exquisite that it will never leave him, not for the eternity he has claimed for himself alone in Heaven. Walking along the river's edge, Castiel stares up into the cloud and damns him. He demands it.

He has never known spite until now. It scares him a little, how easily it comes.

Soon, the river narrows, and on the other side, beyond a copse of silver-leaved trees, he sees a small collection of white-shuttered houses. There is no bridge in sight, so he wades across, and the water is painfully cold against his thighs, his groin, his stomach. At it's deepest point, it reaches all the way to his armpits, and he grits his teeth in discomfort at the crawling chill of it.

The air when he emerges is no longer warm; it blows over the wet fabric of his clothes, setting the fine hairs at the back of his neck on end, goosebumps rising on his skin. Branches and cobwebs catch in his hair, pulling, and he feels every one.

When he steps out from the trees, the first thing he sees is a street sign that reads Rue des Anges. He'd laugh if it weren't so awful.

He hopes he's in Québec—it would certainly be easier to get back to the Winchesters if he were only so far from them as Canada—but on the rear window of a parked car he sees a sticker advertising a Parisian car dealership, and knows he hasn't been quite so lucky.

His coat hangs heavy with water, and he pulls it off, dumps it in a trash can on the road side. He feels a strange pang when he sees it there, something like regret, and thinks it absurd. It's just a coat, after all. For a moment he stands, staring into the trash can, and contemplates taking it back out, keeping it despite its stained, waterlogged state. In the end, he decides against it. It would slow him down, he thinks.

Still, as he makes his way through the tiny town, he keeps thinking of it, glancing back guiltily.

It doesn't leave his mind until he notices the clumps of green stems that have forced their way up through the dirt overnight, cracking impossibly through pavement and asphalt and brick and reaching up toward the sun. In some places, he sees vines spreading outward, lush with glossy leaves and bright buds blooming. In others, seedlings that will fast become saplings, then fully-grown cedars, magnolias, chestnuts; each sprung from the pure creation of an angels grace.

It must be like this everywhere, all over the world.

He imagines the bottom of the ocean as a tangled garden; blind fish weaving between impossible flowers that dance in the current, and smiles at the relief of it, because it's beautiful, and in nine months time, thousands of new eyes will open.

They'll squint against the harsh bright of the world that they used to watch over, and perhaps some will remember, but like Anna, they'll all forget in time.

Eventually, he'll be the only one who knows the truth. The only one who'll remember them as they were. That thought terrifies him, but deep down he thinks that it's better this way. If they remembered, if they'd all fallen as he had, with the full knowledge of what is and what was crowding in their minds, he doubted many would be able to cope. They wouldn't know how to find one another, and without any humans who could help them, they'd truly be lost.

It's not long before he finds a small corner store with a payphone, but there's no place to put coins, and he quickly realizes that the small amount of money he does have in his pockets is the wrong kind anyway. Before he knows it, he's leaning heavily against the wall, breathing hard, eyes pressed closed and leaking warmth, his entire body shaking, because this had been all that was getting him through; he'd known that if he could call Dean, he'd be okay. But he can't, and he's not, and he's alone. Utterly alone.

He sinks down, back to the wall, and is still there forty minutes later, shuddering in his still-damp clothes, when footsteps slow in front of him.

"Avez-vous besoin d'aide?"

Looking up through clouded eyes, he sees a dark-haired man peering down at him. Castiel takes a breath, meaning to nod and tell the man he's fine, but instead he chokes, a sob escaping his lips, and the man's thick brows tilt upward in concern. He glances around, apparently looking for the source of Castiel's upset, then back at him before taking a hesitant step forward.

"Qu'est-ce qui ne va pas?" the man asks, eyes flicking to the sapling pushing from between cracks in the pavement beside him before settling back on Castiel, "Êtes-vous blessé?"

Castiel wipes at his face, embarrassed by his state—and there's another thing that comes too easily. Blinking, he clears his throat.

"J'ai besoin... Je dois appeler mon ami en Amérique."

The man frowns, looking from Castiel to the payphone.

Vous n'avez pas d'argent?"

Castiel shakes his head, and the man seems to study him for a moment befor holding out a hand to help him up.

Quel est votre nom?

Mon nom est Castiel," he says, then shakes his head, because that's not right any more, "Cas.

Je suis Henri.”

He smiles, gesturing toward the other side of the street.

Venez, j'habite de l'autre côté de la route. Vous pouvez utiliser mon téléphone.

It's unsettling, not being able to see the man's soul, to know whether he is pure of heart. But Castiel has no other options, and the man seems friendly enough, so he nods and takes his hand, pulling himself to his feet.

The house over the road is old, and a tangled vine crawls over the cracked white wall. Castiel wonders if the vine had been there a day ago. As Henri unlocks the green door, pushing it open with a noisy creak, Castiel tilts his head in thanks.

Vous êtes très gentil.

Henri just waves his hand, a gesture of good-natured dismissal that Castiel realizes must be common to all humans regardless of where they live. The thought that there are such constants in humanity is a pleasant one, but it reminds him of an important question he has neglected to ask.

Pourriez-vous me dire où nous sommes?

As soon as he's asked, he realizes that it was likely an unsual question, and worries he will have to come up with a fast lie about where he had been and what had happened to him, but for a reason he cannot discern, Henri points toward the lower half of France on a framed world map with a strangely sympathetic smile.

“Tarsacq.”

Castiel nods, a little dazed, and Henri leaves him in the living room. There's a small altar, set into an alcove on the far wall, and Castiel takes a moment to look at it while he waits for him to return. When he does, he's carrying a phone book, and he flips through the pages until he finds the list of international call codes, traces a finger along the page, and taps twice on the listing for the United States before handing Castiel a phone.

Prenez tout le temps dont vous avez besoin.

He leaves, and Castiel finds himself alone in the living room, fingers hovering over the glowing blue buttons of an unfamiliar phone. He takes a steadying breath before he dials, waits for the tinny ring that comes from too far away, the click of the connection.

“Hello?”

The voice is ragged, exhausted, rough, and Castiel's breath catches in his throat at the sound of it, because it's Dean, finally it's Dean, and he suddenly feels so much.

There's a dissonance, a disconnect within him; things he's felt and thought these past few years, things he's heard and touched and tasted; memories somehow changed, shifted, layered with new meaning now that he lacks the filter of grace that at once simplified and complicated everything. Dean's voice, the warmth it emits, even tired as it is, is at the forefront of most of them.

“Who is this?” Dean asks, and Castiel shakes his head, forcing himself back into the moment.

“It's me,” he says, too quiet.

For a few seconds he thinks Dean hasn't heard him. He's about to speak again when Dean does.

“Cas?” Dean breathes, and Castiel's tense shoulders settle. He leans back against the soft cushioned back of Henri's sofa. “I thought you were—” there's a gulp, and Castiel hears the creak of wood, “did you fall?”

“Yes.”

To Castiel's relief, Dean doesn't ask him how or why; he just takes another breath and asks “Are you okay?”

“I'm alive,” Castiel says, and hopes that conveys enough, all the things he can't quite bring himself to say, “is Sam okay?”

“Yeah, he's... he's better. He's good. Where are you?”

“Tarsacq. In France.”

There's silence, and Castiel waits, worries that the line has cut out.

“Dean?”

“Shit.”

“I know.”

Fuck.”

“It's... I don't know why he... Metatron. He just dropped me here. I don't know how to get back. A man is letting me use his phone, but I don't think I can stay here, I think—”

“Hey, hey, hold on—” Castiel hears shuffling as Dean moves his phone away from his ear, and then his voice is muffled, calling out, “Sam? Bring your laptop. It's Cas.”

There's the distant scraping of a chair, and Castiel can just barely make out the sound of Sam's voice, though the words are unintelligible.

“Yeah, he fell. France. No, I'm joking. Of course I'm serious. Here, let me just—”

Something clatters over wood.

“I'm sorting this out, Cas, just give me a minute.”

“Okay.”

There's the sound of clicking, and he catches the occasional word in Sam's speech, and all of Deans. It's confusing, and he wants to tell Dean to turn on the speaker so he can hear what's going on, but he assumes Dean still can't hear him.

“No, that one.”

“...let him....passport.”

“I'll bring him one, then.”

“...sure? I can...know you...like fourteen hours...okay?”

“No, I'll go. You're the one who wanted to bring Chuckles back, I'm not gonna stay here to look after him.”

“...able to swing it...day...anything to go by...”

“Just book one way then. I'll call her and we can sort out the rest before I go.”

“...have to...nearly twenty-five...”

“How much?”

“...hundred...”

“Jesus. Okay. There's enough on this one. Just do it, we can work it out later.”

There's silence for a moment, then Dean speaks into the phone again.

“Cas? You still there?”

“I'm here.”

“Do you think you'll be able to get to the airport in Paris?”

“I can try.”

“Good. You're gonna need a passport to get out of the country, so I'm getting in touch with a friend who'll whip one up, then I'll come get you.”

“How?”

“Sam's booking me a flight now, and—” more shuffling, “alright, done. I'll be landing in Paris in... twenty-six hours.”

“You're flying?”

“How the hell else am I gonna get there?”

“You hate flying.”

Dean clears his throat.

“I guess you owe me, then. This guy lending you his phone, does he speak English?”

“I don't think so.”

“You speak French though, I'm guessing?”

“I speak all languages.”

“Of course you do,” Dean sounds exasperated but there's a hint of something akin to fondness in his voice, and Castiel smiles into the receiver, “find out if he'll let me send some cash to him to give you. Tell him you lost your bank cards or something. I'll pay him.”

“You don't need to—”

“Cas, you've gotta eat between now and when I get there, and getting to Paris ain't gonna be free. Just ask him.”

“Okay.”

Castiel lowers the phone from his ear and walks to the kitchen, where Henri is making coffee. He glances over his shoulder when he hears Castiel in the doorway.

A half hour later, Castiel follows Henri out of the house to a small blue car on the roadside. It starts on the third try, shuddering to life, and something under the hood rattles noisily as they go, headed for the coach terminal in Bordeaux.

As they cross the river he'd waded through earlier, a small white sign announcing it's name as Gave de Pau, Castiel glances over toward Henri in the drivers seat.

"Merci pour votre aide. Je ne sais pas ce que j'aurais fait si vous ne m'aviez pas trouvé"

"Je ne pense pas que ce soit arrivé par accident."

"Que voulez-vous dire?"

Henri looks over at him, chewing thoughtfully on his lip.

“My name wasn't always Henri,” he says after a moment, and Castiel's brows shoot up at the sudden switch to fluent English, “I don't believe we ever met, but not too long ago I was known as Hariel.”

Castiel's eyes grow wide.

“Well, I say not too long ago... it's been thirty-two years.”

“You're—”

“I am. Or, was, I suppose.”

“How do you remember?”

Dean Winchester is saved,” he quotes, with an eye-crinkling smile, “I'm sure I'm not the only one who heard you, Castiel. It was... remembering was overwhelming.”

“I'm sorry, I was—” Castiel starts, but Henri just raises his hand again, waving it away.

“Don't be. It has been wonderful, remembering my purpose.”

“Your purpose?”

Henri—Hariel, Castiel reminds himself—nods, slowing at a roundabout and waiting for a break in passing traffic.

“As an angel, I embodied the spirit of altruism. As a human, that remains my duty.”

“To help.”

“To help,” Henri agrees with a smile, and reaches over to flick on the radio, “so, Castiel. Tell me how else I can help you.”

Chapter Text

Henri's car is small, and it shakes over every bump in the road.

It's nothing like riding with the Winchesters. As Henri considers the story of what happened in Heaven, Castiel finds himself comparing the trembling, metallic sound of the tiny blue car to the smooth, heavy thrum of the Impala rolling over asphalt. He never thought he could miss a car, and yet right now the memory of it's leather and gun oil smell and age-softened seats makes him ache with longing.

“So he's the only one left?” Henri asks after a while, glancing over from the drivers seat, and Castiel nods.

“Just Metatron and the souls of the departed,” he says, turning away to stare at the passing countryside, “he told me I would return there upon my death. He wants to hear my story.”

That already too-familiar bitterness is rising again in Castiel's chest, and he carefully tamps it down.

“Your story?”

“Before he took my Grace,” Castiel explains, “he told me to find a wife, have babies.”

Henri smiles in understanding.

“Well that explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“Why he dropped you here. All these years, reading the stories of humans—France is a popular setting for romance, Castiel. He's trying to make you wander into a love story.”

“Well, he won't succeed,” Castiel all but snaps, surprising himself with how sure he sounds, and Henri looks at him with a raised brow.

Castiel clamps his mouth shut, turning to look back out the window at the grassy fields, the cloudless sky, whipping past and melding into a blue-green blur. While he stares he wonders where such surety had come from. Because he knows, without doubt, that he will not fall in love in Paris. He can't, he thinks. Because there's something big, something warm and humming at his center, and the more he thinks about it the more he comes to understand what it means, to understand why the idea that he could love someone, someone else, is so absurd.

He sucks in a sharp breath.

It's been there a long time. He's felt it for years, a steady current of want, of need, of love. All this time he'd thought it agape; now he sees it is eros.

The realisation, the feeling suddenly given a name—it's overwhelming.

“I love Dean,” he says, eyes wide, turning to look at Henri in amazement, “I'm in love with him.”

Henri adjusts his grip on the steering wheel and smiles over at him.

“I thought it must have been someone,” he says, scratching at his chin, “I take it you didn't realize until now?”

“No, I never—I knew I loved him, but I didn't... everything seems sharper now.”

“Humanity has that affect,” Henri explains, “some things are so much clearer. Your own emotions and physical sensations are more layered than they seemed, but not being able to sense souls is—”

Henri stops, looking over at Castiel guiltily.

“Sorry. I haven't met another since I remembered. I expect it's still a little fresh for you.”

“Yes,” Castiel agrees, “but I think I'm going to be okay.”

“What are you going to do?”

Castiel opens his mouth to respond and finds he has no answer. He shrugs.

“I have no idea.”

“Then you have every option.”

With a smile, Henri reaches down to turn the radio up, and drums his fingers lightly on the steering wheel. The whole drive takes nearly two hours, and once they arrive in Bordeaux, Henri finds an ATM to take out the money Dean sent him.

“Have you used money before?” he asks, handing a stack of ten blue notes over as they walk back toward his parked car.

“Yes,” Castiel tells him, putting the money into Jimmy's long-empty wallet and tucking it back into the pocket of his pants, “I've been going native, as they say, for a while now.”

“Good. I suggest the first thing you do is head over there,” he points toward the coach terminal, “and buy your ticket to Paris. After that you should eat. I'd stay to keep you company, but I have to work this evening. One of the downsides of humanity, I'm afraid.”

At the blue car, Henri holds out a hand for Castiel to shake, and he takes it, squeezing lightly as Sam had once told him was expected. He's sorry to be parting ways so soon, and finds himself nervous at the prospect of being alone again. Soon, though, he'll be with Dean. The thought calms him.

“Thank you,” Castiel says again, “you don't know how much this means to me. If you ever need anything—”

“Your suffering is my suffering and your happiness is my happiness,” Henri smiles, and Castiel dips his head in thanks.

Without another word, Henri climbs back into his car, and Castiel watches as he drives away, lifting one hand to wave. Only when the car disappears around the corner does he make his way into the crowded terminal.

There's an overnight coach leaving for Paris in just over four hours, and he buys a ticket from a pretty woman with an unruly mass of unnaturally red hair. She smiles at him, eyes glittering with interest, and he thanks her before hurrying away. Metatron's reason for sending him here is suddenly all too clear, and he balks at the prospect of having to navigate the uncomfortable landscape of unwanted flirtation.

The remaining money crinkles in his pocket, and when his stomach starts to complain of it's emptiness he walks along the street in search of food. At the first café he finds he orders a coffee and croque tartiflette and eats as he walks, taking in the sights and licking salty crumbs from his greasy fingers. Taste, as it turns out, is another thing heightened by his humanity, and he eats far too quickly. He's still hungry, his body having not quite registered the amount of food he's already ingested, and he stops at a bakery to buy a sticky sweet pastry, filled with dark chocolate. By the time he realises his stomach is full it is aching.

The temperature drops as the sun makes its slow descent, and soon Castiel comes to regret throwing away his coat. His suit jacket and shirt have long since dried, but they are thin, and he feels his arms tingling with cold. A roadside stall, the owner beginning to pack away her wares, is selling handmade sweaters, and he hands over more euros in exchange for a soft, red and blue striped v-neck. He begins to put it on while still in front of the stall.

"N'allez-vous pas enlever votre veste en premier?" she asks, an amused expression on her face, and Castiel flushes, the sweater half pulled over his head.

"Bien sûr. Faute d'attention."

He yanks it back off, slipping out of his suit jacket, before layering them back on in the normal way. Internally he kicks himself for the error, but the woman just laughs it off, returning to her work, and he makes his way back toward the terminal.

He arrives just in time to board, handing his ticket over to the middle aged driver, and shuffles into his seat. A few minutes into the journey, he leans his head against the garish curtain on his window and sleeps.

Late that night he wakes as the bus comes to a halt outside a service station, brakes squealing, engine rumbling. It settles, lowering slightly, and dull overhead lights flicker on as the door opens. A few passengers file out quietly, stretching their limbs, while others duck into the nearby restroom. Castiel considers following, but his eyes are heavy, and he's warm where he is. He goes back to sleep.

When the bus finally arrives in Paris, it's early morning, and the sun has only just begun to rise. He spends almost all of his remaining money on a taxi to the airport, and wonders at how simple it all seems. He's come so far, he thinks.

A brief look at the massive screen in the bustling arrivals lounge tells him that there are still eight hours until Dean's flight is due to land. Eight hours. It's a blink, really, in the grand scheme of things, but now, human, it feels like a lifetime. He stands, waiting, for almost half an hour, checking the clock every few minutes—certain that this time an hour must surely have passed. Each time he is disappointed. With nothing else to do, Castiel sits in an uncomfortable, plastic-backed chair and watches as a multitude of families rush forward to embrace one another and separated couples reunite with wide smiles and kisses that lift whoever is smaller off the ground.

Multiple infants, disturbed by the bright lights and loud voices, and presumably still recovering from the air pressure shifts in flight, cry together, a chorus that he wishes he could tune out. A teenager walks by, noise blaring from his headphones, and it immediately makes him think of Dean's proclivity toward loud music. The woman who briefly sits down next to him and smiles has warm green eyes, and he finds himself staring at them for far too long. She becomes uncomfortable quickly and leaves.

He's known for some time that the way he feels for Dean is entirely different to how he feels about anyone or anything else in existence, and while that knowledge often worried him, he never truly allowed it to overtake his mind. Now, though, with his new insight, it seems to color everything. He can't stop seeing Dean in the brown leather jacket of a passing traveller; the laughter lines of a strangers eyes; the deep voice of an American tourist speaking into his cell phone.

At first, he finds comfort in it, but as the hours drag on, he suddenly becomes anxious that Dean won't turn up. That he has changed his mind, decided the flight wasn't worth it after all, that Castiel doesn't deserve his help or his forgiveness. He thinks of Henri's question, “What are you going to do?” and feels an overwhelming sense of fear that he won't be able to do anything. That he'll be useless and unneeded. That even if Dean does come to get him, he and Sam won't want to keep him around now that he is powerless.

He can't stop the anxious feeling in his stomach, and after a while he decides that he needs something to occupy his mind. So he walks a lap of the lounge, browses the well stocked shelves of the airport convenience store.

There are magazines, though none he recognises from his time with the Winchesters, and paperback novels stacked along one wall, and opposite is a display of empty notebooks. He looks over them, leafs through the money still in his wallet, and spends what money he has left on a bottle of water, a bag of potato chips, a pocket sized journal and a black pen, it's packaging proudly proclaiming—in three languages—that it's grip is superior to that of all other gel-based pens currently on the market.

Taking them back out into the arrivals lounge, he finds a new seat and digs in to the chips as he flips open the book. At the top of the first page, he writes in small, rounded letters;

  • hand to hand combat

The pen hovers over the next line while he chews on a mouthful, thinking, before he jots down a couple more.

  • extensive knowledge of significant historical events

  • fluent in all human languages (also enochian, elvish and pidgin elvish)

  •  

The fourth bullet point remains blank for some time. He writes in companionship and then sharply crosses it out, because though it is indeed something he can offer it is likely not something the Winchesters would consider useful.

He gives up on the list, shoving the book and pen back into the bag with what's left of his bottle of water, and returns to watching the clock.

Forty minutes after Dean was supposed to arrive, Castiel can feel his hands beginning to shake. The plane landed on schedule, according to the screen overhead, and though he'd worried about the possibility of Dean changing his mind he hadn't truly believed it. Still, he can't bring himself to stop staring, and he keeps his increasingly worried eyes on the steady stream of people emerging from the arrivals gate.

Another fifteen minutes pass before a group of three students dragging heavy suitcases make their way through the gate, and Dean steps out from behind them, scanning the crowd with a furrowed brow. Castiel's breath catches in combined relief and exultation, and he rises to his feet.

When Dean's eyes land on him seconds later, the furrow fades immediately, his features softening, and he takes in a deep breath that comes back out on a smile. He starts walking, never taking his eyes off Castiel, as if he's afraid he's going to disappear. Castiel supposes it's not an entirely irrational fear, considering, and feels somewhat guilty about it as he weaves through the crowd to meet him in the middle, his legs wobbly with what he thinks is joy, though it's hard to tell without precedent.

When they're in earshot, he speaks, making an attempt at a joke. The past two days have been exhausting and he thinks if he can make Dean laugh then at least it will have been worth it.

“Bonjour, Dean,” he says, and Dean's mouth ticks up at the side.

Almost, Castiel thinks.

“I don't speak French.”

Castiel isn't sure why Dean never seems to understand his jokes, but he also isn't sure why he keeps making them. If he wasn't so happy to see him he'd roll his eyes.

“Hello, then.”

Absurdly, Dean laughs at that, and it makes absolutely no sense. Still, Castiel relishes the sound, and feels a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth when Dean shakes his head, still grinning as he says an entirely redundant, “Hi, Cas.”

There are almost five feet between them, and more than anything, Castiel itches to cross it, to hold Dean the way he had held Castiel by the riverside in Purgatory. He hadn't understood, then, that there was comfort to be found in touch. Now, it's all he wants and he doesn't know how to ask for it, or if he even should. If it would be appropriate considering the feelings he now knows he harbors.

His eyes sting, and he feels tears spilling even as he smiles.

“Thank you for coming,” he says, and something in Dean's face crumples.

He drops his duffel bag, stepping forward, and his arms are around Castiel in seconds, firm and secure. It's more than Castiel could have hoped for, to be held like this, to feel wanted, and he repeats his gratitude into Dean's shoulder, even as Dean hushes him, hands spread wide against his back.

“Hey, come on, Cas. It's okay,” Dean tells him, soothing, soft, “you're okay.”

They stay that way for a few minutes, but when Dean pulls away it still feels too soon, and it's all Castiel can do to stop himself from dragging him back. He rubs a hand over his damp face, looking down at the plastic bag he still holds in the other, and wonders if he should have left companionship uncrossed after all.

“Where's your coat?”

He looks back up to find Dean looking at him curiously.

“It was ruined. I threw it away.”

Bizarrely, Dean looks disappointed, but he seems to shake it off after a moment and inexplicably reaches out to adjust the collar of Castiel's shirt, peeking out from the neck of the striped sweater.

“Well, this suits you, at least,” he says, and Castiel can't help but grin.

Stepping back, Dean leans down to pick up his dropped bag and slings it over his shoulder.

“Let's get out of here,” Dean tells him, moving past to walk toward the outside door.

“Where are you going?” Castiel asks, looking back toward the sign toward the departures lounge, pointing in the opposite direction.

“We're here three days,” he calls back, glancing over his shoulder and gesturing for him to follow, “couldn't get two seats on a return flight any sooner.”

Castiel raises his brow, hurrying to catch up, and falls in step beside him.

“What are we going to do?”

“No idea,” Dean says with a shrug, stepping out into bright sun and turning on the spot until he sees the taxi stand, “I haven't been on vacation since... well. Ever. But we at least know where we're going.”

“Where?”

Dean pulls a folded sheet of paper from his pocket as he catches the attention of a driver, who nods and waves to them to get in.

“Motel,” he says, pulling open the back door for Castiel to hop in, and when they're both seated he shoves the paper into Castiel's hand.

“You can speak the language,” he explains to Castiel's confused expression, “I'll just butcher the name and we'll end up at the wrong place.”

Castiel reads over the paper and tells the driver where they need to go, and as the streets flash by, he glances over at Dean in the seat beside him, catching him doing the same more than once. It warms something in his chest, and he can't help but smile. Less than two days ago, he thinks, he was crying in the mud.

He wonders if the fickle nature of human emotion will ever cease to amaze him.

Chapter Text

For a while, the drive passes quietly. There's nothing but the soft sound of music dripping from the taxi speakers, Dean's breath beside him, and occasionally, the steady click, click, click of the indicator. It's a comfortable kind of quiet. Unlike the opressing silence of the marsh where he had fallen, he finds this peaceful, soothing--though the more he thinks about it, the more he comes to realize that it has more to do with the company than anything else.


He's not sure he's ever known such relief as felt at the airport. Perhaps no one has. He replays the moment in his mind, remembering the sight of that smile, the feel of those arms, firm and solid and warm around him, and hopes he'll feel it again. Castiel is lost in thought when Dean speaks.

“So, uh... do you think we'll need to be worried? I mean, what're we looking at, fallout-wise, from all this? Did the other angels all...” he trails off, gesturing toward Castiel, and it takes a second for him to understand the question.

When he does, he wishes he still had the ability to move through time. He'd go back, even just a few minutes into the past, and he'd not have to think about this. But he doesn't, and he can't, and Dean needs to know. He shakes his head.

“They wont be a problem. They all fell as Anna did.”

“Why didn't you?”

He knows Dean doesn't mean it how it sounds, but the words still dig in, and he feels regret like a lead weight in his stomach. Breathing deep, he pictures the flowers he'd seen pressing through the pavement in Tarsacq and reminds himself that guilt will get him nowhere. Nine months and they'll all live. It will have to be enough.

“I...” Castiel swallows, looking down at his hands, “my Grace was the last part of Metatron's spell. He cut it out, and... he wanted me to remember everything.”

“Fuck,” Dean breathes, looking over at him, “I'm sorry, Cas. When we get home, I'll... we'll find a way to get it back.”

Castiel shakes his head.

“It's nice of you to offer, but it's not possible. It was destroyed in his spell.”

“And here I thought I'd never want to stab someone in the face more than I did with Zachariah.”

Not trusting himself to speak without his voice wavering again, Castiel just nods, flexing his fingers, and lets out a breath through his nose. Dean doesn't say anything else, and Castiel is relieved that he seems content to drop the subject; it's still too fresh, too soon, and the thought of everything that has happened in the past few days makes him feel weak. He never wants to feel this weak again.

While Dean drums his fingers lightly on the armrest beside him, keeping rhythm with the music, Castiel forces his thoughts away from the past and into the future. It calms him down at first, but then he begins to worry about what's going to happen when they get to Kansas, and he debates asking. He knows it's probably going to earn him an eye roll, but there's an off chance that he's wrong, and if he's going to have to find his own place to stay he'd rather know now than have to deal with it later. It takes the better part of fifteen minutes for him to work up the nerve, and when he finally asks, the words come out in a rush.

“When we get back, can I stay with you and Sam?”

Dean stops drumming his fingers and turns to look at him incredulously.

“Is that even a serious question?”

“It seemed impolite to assume.”

“Since when do you care about what's polite?”

Nettled, Castiel narrows his eyes.

“I've always been polite.”

Dean snorts.

“No, you haven't. But seriously, dude—do you really need to ask? I just flew halfway around the friggin' world to bring you home.”

Castiel pauses, chewing his lip, because he's still worried he wasn't clear enough.

“For how long?” he asks, and Dean just looks at him as if he's crazy.

“What?”

“How long can I stay?”

“Forever,” Dean says, and his face flushes immediately, “if you... I mean—”

“I want to.”

Dean fidgets, looking away, but there's a smile edging at the corners of his eyes. He clears his throat awkwardly, picking at the door handle.

“Yeah, well... after the flight I had, you damn well better.”

Turning to look out the window, Castiel ducks his head and grins, but suddenly Dean seems determined to keep talking. As though he needs to put as many words between the last conversation and now as possible. Castiel doesn't begrudge him for it; he knows all too well how uncomfortable Dean finds conversations of a personal nature, and he's secretly thrilled that Dean even said that much. Even if they have to talk shop for the rest of their time here, it'll still have been worth it.

“So, I was going to get our friend Charlie to, uh—” Dean glances toward the driver, cutting himself off before needlessly dropping his voice low, “make your passport before I came, but she pointed out that it'd bite me in the ass if customs found it in my stuff.”

“How will I get one, then?”

“Bobby knew a few hunters this side of the pond, and Sam tracked one down before I left. She's gonna sort it out for us.”

“What's her name?”

“Louise. She lives just outside Paris, said to swing by Sunday afternoon. Other than that, we're pretty much tourists until we fly out.”

“When?”

“Jesus, you're like a preschooler with all the questions,” Dean says in mock exasperation, “flight's at half past one on Monday.”

The taxi rolls to a stop shortly after, tight up against the curb, and the driver turns to look at them over his seat.

Trente-sept euros,” he says, and Castiel glances at Dean, who's staring out the window with a dubious expression on his face because the motel, as it turns out, is a hotel.

It stands tall on the corner of a busy street and an alleyway, and out front a knotty-trunked tree leans, a bright splash of green casting shade over five stories of sandstone. It's a beautiful building, and a porter in a blue blazer waits by the double doors, one hand resting on the gold frame of his luggage cart.

“We sure this is the right place?” Dean asks with a frown.

Castiel looks up at the maroon sign hanging from a dark curl of cast iron over the doors, then down at the paper still in his hand.

Hôtel Linden,” he reads with a nod, “this is the place. The driver wants thirty-seven euros.”

Dean digs into his pocket and pays, giving the driver a tip much larger than he probably realizes, and climbs out of the taxi. Castiel follows, and as he pushes the door shut, the porter steps forward from his post, pushing his cart toward the rear of the taxi to collect their non-existent luggage. The taxi pulls away before he reaches it. He looks to them in question.

Adjusting the duffel on his shoulder, Dean leans in to Castiel's ear, hand resting briefly on his back.

“Just tell him the airline lost our luggage,” he says quietly, breath warm, tickling in Castiel's hair.

It takes him a couple of seconds to recover.

La compagnie aérienne a perdu nos bagages.

"Désolée de l'entendre!" the porter says with a frown, pushing the door open for them.

Merci.”

Dean just smiles through the exchange.

“I knew that last thing you said,” he says, proud of himself, as he gestures for Castiel to go through the door before him, “merci, bonjour and ciao are the only French I know.”

Ciao is Italian,” Castiel tells him, stepping past, and Dean's smug expression quickly fades.

“That explains the look I got from the flight attendant,” he mutters.

The lobby is as well kept as the facade; all rich dark carpets and warm light, and side by side they approach the front desk. Sitting behind it is a woman with a soft, round face, and she smiles up at them.

Bienvenue à l'Hôtel Linden, mon nom est Margot,” she says, “avez-vous une réservation?

Dean nudges him, pointing toward the paper in his hands, and he places it on the desk.

Oui, nous en avons une.

Margot takes the paper, turning it to check over their details, and once Dean shows his—presumably fake—ID and signs for the room, Castiel answers the few questions she asks.

Her brows rise in the middle when he repeats their story about the luggage, and with no idea what either of them are talking about, Dean wanders away to look at a display of brochures on the wall. From under the desk, Margot pulls a small map of the city, spreading it out.

Pour de nouveaux vêtements, vous devriez aller ici,” she points at a place on the map, a few blocks away from the hotel, “ou il ya un marché demain.

The market she points out is on the other side of the river, though still not far, and Castiel turns his head to look at the map more closely, memorizing the route. He's not entirely sure what he needs as far as clothing goes, but if they're going to be here for three days he expects he'll need something to change into. Until now he hadn't given much thought to it, but suddenly it occurs to him that he's going to have to own things. Shirts and pants and jackets and shoes; a toothbrush; perhaps even, eventually, a car, and he'll need to choose each of them.

He wonders how on earth people decide which things they like, and glances down at his own clothing. The sweater he bought yesterday is pleasant, he thinks. He remembers looking over the selection at the stall in Bordeaux and choosing it over another, thicker sweater because the colors had, on some level, appealed to him. And Dean had said it suited him.

Perhaps it's not going to be difficult after all.

Le marché vend ce genre de chose?” he asks her, indicating the v-neck, “Dean a dit que ça m'allait bien.

Je pense que oui,” she answers, letting her smile travel from Castiel over to Dean and back again, "Etes-vous ici pour une occasion spéciale?"

Castiel glances over at Dean, flipping through a brochure, though why he's bothering when he can't read the information inside is beyond Castiel. It would be easier to tell her no, that they were just passing through, but the fact that Dean came for him, that he's taking him home for good, feels important. Even if it would embarrass Dean to hear him say it, Dean isn't listening, and wouldn't understand him anyway.

He can tell her the truth, he realizes. He's lied enough already.

Oui,” he says, and when he turns back to Margot it's with a fond smile on his face, “Nous allons passer notre vie ensemble et pour toujours.

Ah, magnifique!

She beams up at him, making a note of something on her computer, before pulling a couple of plastic cards from a drawer.

"Ces pass vous permettront d'accéder à votre chambre,” she says, handing over the cards, along with the map, “vous êtes au quatrième étage, numéro 402. Le contrôle est le lundi à 10 heures. Demandez mon aide si vous avez besoin de quoi que ce soit.

Merci,” he says, and she dips her head.

He makes his way to the elevator, stopping by Dean to hand over one of the cards. He pockets the other, and they ride up to level four in silence.

When they reach their room, Dean swipes his card and the door makes a low shush as it drags over the thick carpet. With a flick of a switch, lamplight bounces off the brown and gold stripe of the wallpaper. It's a far cry from the motel rooms he's used to seeing the Winchesters in—those are all cheap, worn blankets and tawdry motifs on the walls—and while it's minimal in its furnishings, he thinks its one of the nicest rooms he's ever set foot in.

Dean lets out a low whistle.

“Wow,” he says, staring around the room as Castiel follows him inside, “we gotta let Charlie do the booking more often. This place is insane.”

When he sits down on the bed nearest the door, Dean lets out an appreciative groan at the quality of the mattress.

“It's almost as good as mine,” he says, flopping backward and closing his eyes. Castiel stands in the doorway, unsure of what they are meant to be doing, and he's about to say something when Dean lets out a breath and sits back up to pull his bag open.

“Here,” he says, rummaging through, “figured you'd need a change of clothes.”

He takes out a pair of boxers, some denim jeans and a black henley and holds them out. Taking them, he feels a swell of gratitude, and runs a thumb over the soft fabric of the shirt. It's a little worn, and he recognises it as one of Dean's own.

“I did swim through a river yesterday,” he admits.

“Wondered what that smell was.”

Dean's laughing, but Castiel can't tell if he's serious or not, and he raises an arm to sniff at himself. It just makes Dean laugh harder.

“Go, take a shower,” he says, pointing at the bathroom behind Castiel and pulling out his cell, “I need to call Sam, anyway.”

The bathroom is spacious and bright, a large mirror covering the wall over the sink, and once he's closed the door, Castiel takes a moment to look himself over. The sweater does look nice, he thinks. As he pulls off the layers, he resolves to look for more like it.

The suit jacket gets dropped carelessly, but the sweater is his, and he folds it in half, placing it with the bundle of clothes Dean had given him. Aside from his blade, now lost somewhere in Heaven, it's the first thing he has ever truly owned.

He sits down on the side of the bath to pull off his shoes, then his socks, and stretches his toes out against the floor as he loosens the tie around his throat, relishing the feeling of it, smooth and cool.

He hadn't noticed how constricting his clothes were, before, but when he steps out of the pants, button clinking against the tile, he sees where the waistband has been pressing into his skin to leave red marks around his hips and stomach. The underarms of his white shirt are stiff and yellowed with sweat, and he dumps it onto the growing pile on the floor.

He can hear Dean out in the main room, talking to Sam. It's morning in Kansas, he thinks, and as he steps into the shower, turning the water on hard, he wonders if Dean is tired.

It's not the first shower he's ever taken, but it's his first as a human, and he feels the gradual shift of cold to hot in a way he never did as an angel, amnesiac or not. Then, though he could tell without even thinking about it the exact temperature of the water on his skin, he couldn't truly feel it. Now, he learns the sharp sting of cold, the pleasant spread of warmth, the deep burn of heat. The pressure is high, and it pounds into the muscles of his back. Leaning forward, he lets it pound against his neck, reaching up to knead his knuckles against the ache in his shoulders, and soon he feels his body relax, skin tingling warm, muscles pliant.

He likes showers, he decides, and thinks he should make a second list in his book. A list of positives. Things he enjoys. Though he expects that it is a little frivolous, it also seems therapeutic, and he thinks it could help him adjust.

When he finally emerges from the bathroom, hair dripping to soak a dark patch into the neck of his shirt, Dean is laying on his back, snoring. A little part of him is content to just sit down in the nearby chair and watch him until he wakes, but he knows that Dean is likely to find it even more uncomfortable than he did when Castiel was still an angel.

The last thing Castiel wants is to get off to a bad start.

So, quietly, he crosses the room to take his pen and notebook from the plastic bag he'd left on his own bed, and makes his way through the glass door out onto the balcony. There's a small wooden table, a chair on each side, and he places his book atop it before leaning over the railings edge to look up and down the narrow alleyway below.

If he leans out far enough, he can just make out the spire of the Eiffel Tower between two rooftops in the distance, and directly below he sees a couple walking, arm in arm. He watches them with a pang in his chest.

He's trying to make you wander into a love story, Henri had told him, and he wonders at the irony of it; that he should end up here with the one person least likely to return his feelings. It's not that he doubts Dean loves him—that much is clear, and has been for some time—but he's certain that it's a different kind of love, a familial love, and as he looks down at the couple, pausing in their step to kiss beside a tiny café near the alleyways end, he wishes things could be different.

Sitting down at the table, he opens his notebook and stares down at the list for a moment before skipping a few lines and beginning a new one.

 

  • showering

  • sweaters

  • coffee

  • chocolate

  • the color blue

  • cheese

 

He thinks a moment before adding;

 

  • making dean laugh

  • helping people

 

He's still there, listening to the sound of people on the street as he tries to think of something else, when he hears footsteps behind him. He glances over his shoulder to see Dean in the doorway, holding the curtain to the side, his hair tousled by sleep.

“How long was I out?”

“Almost three hours.”

“Guess I was tired,” he steps forward, tilting his head toward the book on the table, “what're you writing?”

Castiel closes the cover, putting the pen down on top, and looks back up at Dean with what he hopes is a convincing poker face.

“Nothing.”

To his relief, Dean doesn't press the issue, just yawns, scratching at his stomach, and steps over the the edge of the balcony. The lights of the city are slowly flickering to life, and he stands up to lean against the railing beside him, leaning out to see the spire lit up in gold.

“You hungry?” Dean asks after a few minutes, glancing over at him, and Castiel nods.

“I could eat.”

“We should just get room service tonight,” he says, stretching his arms behind his back, “what do you think?”

“I have no preference.”

Dean looks at him curiously, blinking, before he shakes his head with a quiet laugh.

“'Course you don't," he says, reaching out to clap Castiel on the shoulder, "we'll work on that.”

With that, he turns and heads back inside, and Castiel pauses to pick up his notebook. He decides to add Dean in general to his list of good things.

Chapter Text

 When their dinner arrives, it's accompanied by a bottle of champagne that they didn't order.

“Hey, this isn't ours,” Dean says, trying to give it back.

The attendant just smiles, shaking his head.

C'est offert,” he says, and ducks back into the hallway before they have a chance to respond, “Bon appétit.

There's a folded note card resting on the cart, and Dean picks it up, squinting at the writing as though he expects to unlock some understanding of the French language through will alone. Castiel waits, holding out his hand for the inevitable moment when Dean gives up on his attempted translation. It doesn't take long.

“Yeah, I've got nothing.”

Taking the note, Castiel skims the lines, and feels his face growing hot.

Je vous souhaite tout le bonheur
pour votre “pour toujours”
Avec les compliments,
Hôtel Linden.

He should have known, he thinks, that Margot would make this assumption. He wonders if Metatron can see him now—wonders if he's laughing.

“What does it say?”

Thankfully, Dean is too focused on lifting the cover off his meal and swiping a finger through the sauce to notice Castiel's expression, and Castiel clears his throat, schooling his features.

“It's complimentary,” he says after a moment, looking up, “apparently they took pity on us because of our lost luggage.”

He's a little appalled at how easily the lie comes, but it's not a big one, so he thinks he'll be able to live with it. Dean seems convinced, at any rate.

“Sweet,” Dean says, pushing the cart over to the table by the window and sitting down, “free booze it is.”

The cork flies out with a loud pop, and before Castiel knows it, there's a glass being handed to him. The champagne is sweet and heady, bubbles tingling against the roof of his mouth, in the back of his throat. It's nothing like the alcohol he's had before. He hums in appreciation without realizing he's doing it until Dean looks at him with a lopsided grin and a raised brow.

“You like it?”

“I believe so.”

“Wouldn't exactly order it myself, but it's pretty damn good,” Dean announces before draining half his glass, “here.”

Dean reaches over, refilling Castiel's glass before topping up his own and leaving the bottle in it's ice bucket.

 


 

Good room service, Castiel soon learns, is the Holy Grail of hotel living. Dean groans around another mouthful of steak and repeats the phrase.

“Seriously, Cas. This is the holy friggin' grail. Charlie's booking everything from now on.”

Castiel's own meal, a Gruyere soufflé, is long gone, and he regrets not ordering something more substantial. He eyes the red meat and potatoes on Dean's plate, and though he thought he was being subtle about it, Dean pushes it toward him across the table.

“Told you the cheese thing wouldn't be enough.”

“I like cheese.”

“Who doesn't?” Dean asks, raising his glass to drain the last of the champagne.

“The lactose intolerant.”

Dean just barely manages to stop from spitting his drink everywhere, and Castiel smiles, sticking his fork into one of the potatoes.

“Touché.”

“You know more French than you let on.”

Laughing, Dean reaches for the bottle, and his smile gives way to disappointment.

“It's empty,” Dean frowns, upturning it to illustrate, and taps his fingers on the table a few times before clapping his palm down and standing, “I'm ordering more.”

“I thought you said you wouldn't order it for yourself.”

“It's growing on me.”

While Castiel discovers first hand that the steak could very well have been touched by some Heavenly blessing if the taste is anything to go by, he watches Dean dial for room service. He's leaning against the table, head tilted to hold the phone against his shoulder while he scrutinises the bottle in his hand, and Castiel feels a surge of love for him that is overwhelming in it's intensity. Dean isn't even doing anything, he thinks, and yet this moment, sharing a meal, laughing together, is perfect.

The moment someone answers the phone, Dean seems to remember that he doesn't speak the language, and his mouth opens and closes a few times before he holds out the receiver toward Castiel.

You're ordering more,” he amends.

Still chewing, Castiel gets up and takes the phone from him. Their fingers brush as it changes hands, and there's a warmth there, a static that hums beneath his skin, and he wishes Dean could feel it too.

The second bottle arrives quickly, delivered by the same attendant, who wheels away the cart when he leaves.

It's not long before they are both slouched on their respective beds, glasses in hand, watching a TV show about superheroes that Dean can't understand.

“What did he just say?”

“He asked Mique to help him with his telepathy.”

“And what did he say?”

“That he'd rather die.”

“Harsh. What did—”

“It's very difficult to keep up with the story when I have to repeat everything,” Castiel tells him, glancing away from the screen to look at Dean pointedly, and Dean pulls a face at him.

“It's even harder when you don't speak the language.”

It's comfortable. He's comfortable. Though there's a million things they aren't talking about, problems and mistakes and issues that need facing eventually, in this moment they are comfortable. He's never had that before; he's never realized that he could. In their many moments of shared silence over the years, sitting together, just being, he's known something similar, but it was different as an angel. Then, he would have called it peace. Now he knows it is something much greater.

“We don't have to watch it,” he points out, “if you don't want to.”

“Mm.”

“Are you tired?”

“Always,” Dean says with a laugh, “you?”

“Yes.”

Huffing out a breath through his nose, Dean nods, sitting up straight, and switches off the TV. A little awkwardly, Dean informs Castiel that he shouldn't sleep fully clothed, and Castiel just barely manages to keep from rolling his eyes.

“I know that, Dean.”

“Yeah, okay, just saying.”

Once the lights are out, Castiel lays awake for hours, warm beneath soft sheets in his boxers.

He's tired to his bones, and were he alone he's certain he'd have fallen asleep immediately. But there's Dean, curled on his side on the other bed, one arm wrapped around his pillow, and Castiel can feel his presence as sharply as he could when he was still an angel. In the dim blue-green light of the alarm clock, Castiel can see the line of his shoulder as it rises and falls with his breath.

It's late, well after midnight, when Dean moves, a soft shuffling of sheets, and whispers in the dark.

“Hey Cas, you still awake?”

“Yes.”

For a moment Dean doesn't say anything else, and Castiel wonders if there was any point to the question. When he does speak, the words aren't any he wants to hear.

“I saw the list you wrote,” he says, still whispering, and Castiel tenses, holding his breath and wondering if there is any way to avoid this conversation.

When he doesn't respond, Dean sighs.

“Cas,” he says, and Castiel hears him rolling over to face him, “you gotta talk to me, man.”

It's difficult to look at him, even in the dark, but he knows that Dean isn't going to drop it. And he's right—it's not nothing, it's important, and if Dean really wants to know, now is as good a time as any to discuss it.

“I was taking inventory of what I can do. How I can help,” he says carefully, “I don't want to be a burden on you and Sam.”

Across the room, Dean shifts again, leaning up on his elbow. Castiel can just make out the expression on his face, the clock's light reflected in his eyes. He almost seems hurt.

“You... Cas, you're never gonna be a burden.”

“You say that now.”

“And I'll keep saying it until you listen,” Dean says, raising his voice slightly, “You're not just a tool to us, Cas. How many times do I have to say this? You're family. You're more important to us, to me, than what you can do.”

Dean takes a deep breath, and before Castiel can respond, he adds, quiet again; “So that thing you crossed out? Uncross it.”

“I will.”

They fall quiet, and Dean lays back down. It's not long after that he starts snoring, the sound grating and thunderous in the quiet room, and Castiel hates it while simultaneously realizing that he never wants to fall asleep without it. Still, sleep comes on slow. When he finally sinks into unconsciousness it's with a blossoming sense of comfort in his chest at the knowledge that Dean wants him around, just because.

 


 

 

He wakes to the sound of the door being closed.

It's still mostly dark, just a thin line of daylight leaking from between the gaps of the curtain, but when he sits up he sees that Dean's bed is empty. His duffel is still there, on the floor where he left it, and Castiel stretches, joints popping, before laying back down with a yawn.

Dean comes back ten minutes later, carrying a rustling bag and two cups of what Castiel's nose tells him is strong coffee. He treads carefully, closing the door gently, trying to be quiet, and for reasons he doesn't entirely understand, Castiel lets him think he's still asleep.

As he puts down the coffee on the table by the window, dumping the bag beside them, Dean looks right at him.

Castiel guesses that Dean's eyes have yet to adjust to the dark of the room or he'd see that Castiel's own are cracked open, and for a moment he just stands there, staring down at him with a half smile on his face. Castiel feels a pang in his chest.

When Dean moves again, he comes right up to Castiel's side, knee bumping against the mattress. Castiel squeezes his eyes shut, lest he be discovered.

A warm hand settles lightly on the bare skin of his shoulder, shaking it gently. Dean's voice is quiet.

“Hey, Cas. It's like noon.”

It's too easy to not respond. To let the hand on his shoulder squeeze a little. He relishes the contact more than he should.

“Cas. C'mon, dude. Enough beauty sleep for you.”

He feels a smile pushing its way onto his face without his permission and tries to hide it against his pillow. Dean's hand shoves roughly at Castiel's shoulder before falling away.

“Quit faking,” he says, voice colored with amusement, and Castiel opens one eye to look up at him.

“I'm comfortable,” he mumbles, and Dean laughs, heading back toward the table.

“Wouldn't have pegged you for a late sleeper.”

He tosses the paper bag at Castiel, and it lands somewhere beside his head. Castiel turns to glare at him over his shoulder, but it's half-hearted at best, and Dean grins around a pastry.

“Eat up,” he says through his mouthful, “I wanna take a look around while we have time.”

Twenty minutes after he crawls out of bed, shuffling tiredly into the bathroom to dress, they emerge from Hotel Linden. It's warm outside, the streets busy with Saturday afternoon foot-traffic, and armed with the map given to him by Margot, Castiel leads the way toward the market.

It's a pleasant walk through narrow streets, and after they cross the river, the first stalls they see are weighed down with fresh produce.

Sweet-smelling figs and plums, glossy red pomegranates and small brown pears all piled high beside baskets of artichokes and lemons and tangerines. Fruiterer's shout out prices, holding up bright bunches of bananas and smiling at passersby, and with Dean at his side, Castiel weaves through throngs of people.

The air is sweet with the mingling scents of fruit and vegetables, noisy with talking customers, and Castiel wonders at the fact that he's never been in a place like this before. He smiles, looking around at the bulbs of garlic where they hang from strings overhead, swaying in the light breeze; at the sacks of grain, crowded close together under a dusty green canvas roof; at the wooden crates full to overflowing with chestnuts and walnuts and peanuts.

“I like it here,” he announces, looking over at Dean.

“Wait 'til Sam finds out,” Dean tells him, eyeing a stall near the edge of the produce section selling brightly colored cupcakes, “he'll drag you to the farmer's market every chance he gets.”

Dean is like a bloodhound seeking out snacks, and Castiel watches with amusement as he tries to decide between two equally tempting stalls.

Beneath a gnarled tree a few stalls away is a man selling clothes, and while Dean makes a beeline for the winning stand, Castiel gravitates toward the table without really thinking about it. He trails his fingers over the wool sweaters—some rough and scratchy, others fine and soft—and thin t-shirts, learning the textures and trying to decide which he prefers.

Leaning back in a folding chair and listening to a small radio strung up in the low branches overhead, the proprietor looks up at him, squinting into the sunlight.

Bonjour,” he says with a smile, “vous cherchez quelque chose en particulier?

Castiel shakes his head just as Dean catches up with him, carrying a paper plate. He bumps Castiel's elbow with his own.

“Crepe?”

“We just ate.”

“Like an hour ago,” Dean says, licking lemon juice and sugar off his thumb before looking down at the sweaters Castiel had been inspecting, “You like any of 'em?”

“Hmm. This one is nice,” he says, pointing at one of the thinner knits in a deep burgundy, a darker pattern across the chest, “and the blue shirt.”

Dean wipes his sticky fingers on his jeans, digging his wallet out of his pocket, and gestures toward the clothes in question as the proprietor rises from his chair.

Quarante-cinq euros,” he says, and Dean looks at Castiel in question.

“You don't have to—”

“How much?”

Castiel frowns at him, but Dean just glares until he answers.

“Forty-five.”

He counts out the money, handing it over, and the proprietor smiles, holding out a bag. Dean takes it, handing it immediately to Castiel, who can't help the warmth unfurling in his stomach at the gesture.

“Thank you, Dean.”

“Well, you need clothes, so...” Dean just shrugs, picking up the half crepe still on the plate and holding it out, “you sure you don't want some of this?”

“I'm sure.”

“You're missing out, dude.”

Dean walks on to the next stall, chewing, and Castiel watches him go with a smile he can't seem to rid himself of.

By the time they get back to the hotel, Castiel has three bags of clothes, and Dean has eaten thrice more. The most recent snack, a toasted sandwich, is still in his hands when they push through the door.

“We should go out for dinner,” Dean says, barely thirty seconds after arriving, “I mean, how often are we gonna be in Paris? Might as well enjoy it while we can.”

Castiel glances wistfully toward the bathroom. The market, while he enjoyed it, had been crowded and more than a little dusty, and in the warm sun his skin had grown damp and sticky.

“I want to shower first.”

“Be fast. I'm starving.”

“You're eating right now,” Castiel says, his eyes narrow, and Dean grins around the last mouthful of croque provençal.

“I'm a growing boy.”

“I sincerely doubt it.”

“If you're not done in five minutes I'm dragging you out myself.”

Castiel finds he has no response to that, and as he heads into the bathroom with a collection of new clothes tucked under his arm, he entertains the notion of taking longer than five minutes just to see if Dean is serious. It's an absurd fantasy, one that makes heat rise on the skin of his neck, and he cuts it off before it goes too far.

When he walks back out, dressed in jeans and a navy-blue shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows as he's seen Dean do, he finds Dean sitting at the table with his cell phone in his hands. He looks up when Castiel dumps his old clothes on his bed, and an expression flickers over his face for a split second that Castiel can't place.

“Is it okay?” he asks, gesturing to the shirt, and Dean nods.

“Looks good,” he says, clearing his throat and standing before raising a judgemental brow, “but did you even try to dry your hair?”

“Yes.”

Dean rolls his eyes and ducks into the bathroom, and when he steps back out it's to unceremoniously dump a towel on top of Castiel's head.

“You'll catch a cold,” he explains.

“That's a myth,” Castiel says, but he still rubs roughly at his hair until no more moisture will come out.

When he pulls the towel away, Dean is still right there, watching him, and he reaches out to smooth down a patch of hair just behind Castiel's temple. Castiel tenses involuntarily, and Dean pulls his hand back, wary.

“Sorry.”

Before Castiel can comment, Dean picks up his own change of clothes and heads into the still-steamy bathroom. The door closes with a click.

For almost twenty minutes, Castiel waits, a strange sense of almost pressing in on him from all sides.

Chapter Text

Dean looks good in maroon, is Castiel's first thought when he finally walks out of the bathroom, but as Dean pulls open his duffel, leaning against his bed to shove his old clothes inside, Castiel decides that good isn't quite enough. His cheeks are still a little pink from the heat of the shower, and his hair is swept upward as though he's run his fingers through it.

Castiel's hands itch to smooth it down as Dean had done to his.

“You ready to go?” Dean asks, looking up as he zips the bag closed, and Castiel tries to keep his expression neutral as he rises from his seat.

“What else would I be doing?”

“You know, most people would just say yes.”

Slipping on his jacket, Dean pulls open the door, holding it wide and waiting for Castiel to walk through before shutting it behind them both.

They walk through narrow streets, and it soon becomes evident that while Dean had claimed to be starving, he has very specific ideas about where he wants to eat. They pass restaurant after restaurant, and soon, Castiel regrets turning down the many snacks Dean had offered him during the afternoon.

At the fourth place he points out, Dean just scrunches up his nose.

“It's too frouffy,” he says with a wave of dismissal, continuing past with barely a glance.

Castiel stops walking, eyeing him doubtfully.

“I'm fairly certain that isn't a word,” he says, and Dean stops, turning around to look at him.

“Yeah, it is.”

Castiel frowns further, ready to argue, and Dean rolls his eyes, walking back.

“Like, look,” Dean grabs him by the elbow and pulls him forward as he points through the wide front window of the restaurant, “fancy white tablecloths, gilded mirrors, overdressed rich people eating weird tiny meals from giant plates. A freakin' piano in the corner. That's frouffy.”

Castiel doesn't see how most of that could be an issue—tablecloths and mirrors, as far as he's aware, should make absolutely no difference to the flavor of the food, and surely listening to music would be pleasant—but his empty stomach agrees with Dean's disdain for the tiny portions, and he decides not to bother arguing.

“Fine,” he says, and Dean claps him on the shoulder before continuing down the road, “but if we don't stop somewhere soon I won't be responsible for the consequences.”

“What consequences?”

“With the week I've had I'm not entirely convinced that I'm above cannibalism,” Castiel says, attempting to fix Dean with a serious look despite the fact that he can feel himself smiling.

Dean snorts, shaking his head.

“Yeah okay, Cas.”

It's another few blocks before they come across a more laid back establishment, the warm smell of salt and bread and roasting meat floating out of the open windows that line the facade, and Castiel's stomach growls. A dark green awning hangs over the door, the words Foucault Brasserie in curling cream letters emblazoned on the window glass, and when he peers inside he sees walls of brick and time-worn wooden tables. The plates are full, the people are casually dressed, and it's busy. That's definitely a good sign.

“How about this one?” he asks, looking over at Dean hopefully, “it doesn't look 'frouffy' at all.”

After a quick glance through the window, Dean grins at him. Castiel isn't sure he's ever been more relieved. His stomach growls again on cue, louder this time, and Dean laughs, pushing the door open and holding it until Castiel enters.

“Should have had that crepe,” he says pointedly while Castiel passes.

“I wasn't hungry then.”

A young woman in a dark green apron waves from the rear to let them know she's seen them, and after a moment she hurries across the restaurant through the chattering Saturday night crowd, pushing a loose braid behind her ear.

Bonjour, je m'appelle Inès et serais votre serveuse ce soir. Est-ce pour deux?

Oui.

Très bien. Suivez-moi.

Picking up a couple of folded menus, she leads them through the packed restaurant, weaving between tables and into a courtyard at the rear.

Even outside, most tables are full; a laughing group of twenty-somethings crowds around a long, rectangular table toward the back, a family of nine celebrate a birthday opposite, and the rest are mostly couples. The waitress stops beside one of the last empty tables, pressed up against the side wall beneath a wisteria; pale flowers hanging pendulous from the thick vine that curls up the stone of the neighboring building.

Once they're seated, she hands them the menus and pulls a notepad from her apron pocket.

Puis-je vous offrir quelque chose à boire?

Dean looks at her blankly, and Castiel glances down at the table, where a folded card advertises beer with the same name as the restaurant. He gestures toward the card.

Deux de ceci, s'il vous plaît."

She dips her head and hurries away, and Dean raises his hands to Castiel.

“What was all that?”

“She's bringing us beer,” he says, turning the card around so Dean can see, and Dean raises his brow.

“Oh. Nice.”

Under the constant chatter and clinking of cutlery and glasses, there's music playing, and Castiel watches as Dean frowns, looking up at the speakers.

“I know this song,” he says after a few moments, glancing back at Castiel, “or, the English version, anyway. Didn't even know there was a French version.”

“It doesn't sound like the music you usually listen to.”

Dean shrugs.

“Doesn't mean I can't appreciate it.”

He leans back in his seat, tapping his fingers against the table, and only stops when Inès returns with two bottles.

Merci,” he says to her, his accent terrible, and Castiel smirks.

Dean sees his expression as he's lifting the beer to his lips, and pauses, a look that's almost self-conscious flickering over his face.

“What?” he asks, and Castiel just shakes his head, still smirking though he's trying not to.

“Nothing.”

Inès, still standing by the table, takes her pen from behind her ear and smiles down at them.

Êtes-vous prêt à commander?

Their menus are still sitting untouched on the table, and Castiel picks his up.

Je pense que nous pourrions avoir besoin de quelques minutes de plus.

Prenez votre temps.

Castiel smiles at her, and she walks away. When he turns back to Dean, he's looking at him with an odd smile on his face.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Dean says, and Castiel tilts his head, amused by the familiar conversation.

“I think we've been here before.”

Dean laughs, taking a pull of his beer.

“I just... you actually sound French,” he says with a shrug, “It's weird.”

“Oh.”

“It's a compliment.”

“Thank you, then.”

Dean thinks for a moment before he leans slightly forward, elbows resting on the table, and Castiel is drawn in.

De rien,” Dean says carefully, mouth ticking up at one side as he sits back up, “that's you're welcome, right?”

“It is.”

Dean picks up his phone and waves it in the air.

“Translation app,” he says, “I learned some stuff while you were in the shower.”

“What else?”

“Uh... Comment vas-tu?

Je suis heureux d'être avec toi,” he says, and inexplicably, Dean looks irritated, “what?”

“You're meant to say Je vais bien.

“Oh.”

“What did you say?”

“Basically the same thing. Is there more?”

“Qu... uh... hang on,” he picks up his phone and presses a few buttons, “quoi de neuf?

Castiel thinks for a moment, then answers wryly.

Mon humanité.

Dean's face falls, and Castiel regrets saying it immediately.

“You understood that?”

“Humanity, right? The words are pretty much the same.”

“It was a bad joke.”

“I'm kinda surprised you're even making jokes about it.”

“You make more jokes during disasters than you do on a good day,” Castiel points out, “I thought it must be a good way to deal with things.”

“Hate to break it to you, Cas, but I'm probably not the best example when it comes to healthy coping techniques. Any advice I give you is going to be terrible and you're better off listening to Sam.”

“So your advice is to not follow your advice?”

Dean grins.

“I guess so.”

“That's terrible advice.”

“Exactly,” Dean laughs, scratching at his chin before letting out a breath and looking at him with concern, “but seriously, Cas, are you... I mean, we haven't really talked about it. Are you gonna be okay?”

“Yes. I think so,” Castiel opens a menu and pushes it toward Dean, ending the conversation, “I thought you were starving.”

Thankfully, Dean lets the topic drop, turning his attention to the menu.

“I have no idea what any of this is,” Dean mutters before looking around at the nearby tables and pointing at a mountain of pasta, “that looks good.”

Castiel looks at the plate, then back at his own menu, locating the dish.

“I'll order that for you, then.”

“What are you getting?”

“I have no idea what any of this is,” he says, mimicking Dean's intonation and looking back up from his menu with a smirk, “I believe this is what people mean by the phrase the blind leading the blind.”

In the end, Castiel orders himself a steak, remembering how much he enjoyed the few bites he'd had yesterday, and the pasta for Dean. As Inès turns to leave, pocketing her notepad, Castiel calls her back.

Servez-vous de la tarte?

Oui,” she says, “Nous avons de la tarte aux pêches avec une croûte de cannelle ou miel-figue.

Castiel has tasted neither, and with no knowledge of the flavors he is at a loss for which to choose. Dean is watching him with furrowed brow, and he knows he could just ask, but he's looking forward to the surprise on Dean's face when the waitress brings unexpected pie to the table.

Il prend généralement une tarte à la pomme. Que conseillez-vous?

La tarte aux pêches sans hésiter.

Alors nous prendrons tous les deux la tarte aux pêches,” he says gratefully, “Merci.”

The waitress winks at him before she leaves, and Dean glances between them with an odd expression on his face, raising his brow when Castiel looks at him in question.

“Hitting on the locals?”

“I didn't hit anyone,” Castiel replies, lifting his drink.

“It doesn't mean—” Dean eyes Castiel, seeing the tilt of his mouth as he drinks his beer, “wait. You're... are you messing with me?”

Castiel puts his drink down.

“It seems my delivery is getting better. Apparently being human makes for better comedic timing.”

“Are you trying to tell me you've been making jokes this whole time and I just didn't get them?” Dean asks, clearly dubious, and Castiel lifts one shoulder in a shrug.

“Yes.”

“Bullshit.”

“I don't see how the excrement of male bovine is relevant to the conversation, but if you say so,” Castiel says dryly, and Dean narrows his eyes, trying not to laugh.

“You're an idiot.”

“It's been said.”

Dean laughs aloud, eyes bright and creasing at the corners, and Castiel lets the sound roll through him, warming him. Somehow, despite having been forcibly ejected from Heaven only a few days ago, he thinks he's actually got a chance at being happy in this new life. He's already well on his way.

 


 

After they've finished off their meals and are both halfway through their fourth bottles of Foucault Ale, the waitress returns with two slices of peach pie, and Dean's face lights up so much that Castiel fancies he can almost see his soul again. It makes him ache, but it's a pleasant kind of pain, a slow-burning feeling in the depth of his chest that is only made stronger by the buzz of alcohol in his veins.

Dude,” Dean says, staring down at the plate in front of him, “You bought me pie?”

“It's your money,” Castiel points out, “so technically, you're buying me pie.”

“Still.”

Castiel shrugs.

“I regretted that my last attempt was thwarted.”

“There was a last attempt?”

“Yes.”

He doesn't feel like elaborating—he knows that if he tells Dean about his trip to the store near the bunker, he'll have to mention Metatron, and Dean will find some way to turn the whole thing around and blame himself for what has happened. Castiel won't hear of it.

“Well?” he says, raising his brow, “Are you going to eat it or not?”

Dean just grins, taking his fork and digging in, and Castiel follows suit. After the first mouthful, he considers tracking down Inès and hugging her, because not only is it delicious, but it's making Dean roll his eyes back in his head and moan in appreciation, and Castiel thinks it might be the best thing he's ever witnessed. Then again, that might be the beer talking. He vaguely recognises feeling from the time he had imbibed the contents of an entire liquor store, and is distantly surprised he's starting to feel it already after only four drinks. He wonders if Dean is experiencing anything similar; if he can feel that loose, pleasant warmth in his limbs, that slightly giddy, dizzy sense of happiness that settles somewhere around his cheekbones and along his spine.

Thinking about how Dean feels fills him with a strange, desperate kind of hopefulness, and Castiel watches him finish off his dessert, a soft smile playing at the edges of his mouth.

“What're you grinning at?” Dean asks, leaning comfortably back in his seat with a smile on his own face, and Castiel tilts his head to the side.

“I could ask you the same thing,” he says, and is surprised when Dean actually answers.

“Sam's alive. You're alive,” he ticks off his fingers as he speaks, “nobody's being mind-controlled or hallucinating or crazy or waiting on a visit from a hellhound. The world isn't currently ending. I just ate amazing surprise pie in Paris with my best friend, who is, I repeat, alive. It's a good day.”

Castiel barely has a second to process any of it before Dean speaks again.

“So now it's your turn. What's with the Cheshire Cat impression?”

“The same,” he says simply, “all of it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

There's still half a slice of pie left on Castiel's plate, and he stares down at it for a moment before pushing it across the table.

“Here.”

Dean doesn't need to be told twice, but he savors it, taking his time.

When they're three quarters of their way through tumblers of scotch, Castiel glances around to find that the brasserie is empty but for them, and frowns.

“What time is it?” he wonders aloud, and Dean turns in his seat to look at the empty courtyard.

“Crap, they're probably waiting for us to leave. Let's get out of here.”

They pay their bill, and as soon as they're outside the interior lights flicker off.

“Our bad,” Dean says to the door, before walking in what Castiel is certain is the complete opposite direction they need to go.

“Dean, I think it's this way.”

“No, no, it's definitely this way. I remember, see—” he points at a store front, indistinguishable from any other, “we walked past that before.”

Castiel looks at it with a frown, but his head is a little fuzzy, and he decides it will be easier to just let Dean lead the way than argue with him about it. If they get lost, they get lost. They survived Purgatory, after all. Getting lost in Paris hardly seems like anything to worry about in comparison.

“Alright,” he says, hurrying to catch up.

They walk slowly, side by side in comfortable silence in the late night dark.

“You're okay, right?” Dean asks after a while, his gaze fixed on the pavement as they walk.

“I will be,” Castiel says, then, bolstered by the alcohol thrumming in his veins, he looks over at Dean, “were you angry with me?”

“What? When?”

“When I left.”

“Which time?”

Castiel huffs out a miserable laugh, and shakes his head.

“Good point,” he says, “but I mean the last time. At the church when I left you with Sam. You seemed... I suppose it doesn't really matter now, but I thought you were, and it was almost the last time, and—”

“I wasn't angry with you,” Dean says firmly, stopping to turn to him, “I was angry with the situation. With Metatron. With, you know, everything. You... I was mainly worried about you. And then Sam was almost dying, and after that I didn't really have a chance to think until the angels stopped falling and Sam started breathing properly, and then... well, then I was really fucking worried.”

“Oh.”

“That's not to say it doesn't piss me off when you just bail like that.”

“I know.”

“Don't do it again.”

“I couldn't even if I wanted to. You're stuck with me whether you like it or not.”

“Good thing I like you then,” Dean says, then blinks, “It. It, not you. I mean, obviously you, but... hell, you know what I mean,” he huffs out a laugh, “I may be slightly drunk.”

Castiel laughs properly at that, a loud noise that startles him a little, his mouth stretching wide, baring his gums and crinkling his nose, and Dean beams at him. It's difficult to tell in the yellowish glow of the streetlamps overhead, but Castiel is nearly certain there's a pleasant pinkish tinge to Dean's cheeks. It might be from the alcohol, but he decides to think it's because he's happy.

When they start walking again, he feels an arm tossed loosely over his shoulder.

It reminds him of a night, years ago, outside a brothel in Maine. He'd still been an angel, then. Now, newly human and a little drunk, it's easy to lean into Dean as they walk. His own arm finds its way around Dean's waist, fingers curling against the hem of his open jacket, and if Dean minds, he doesn't say anything.

They fall silent again for a while, making their way through quiet streets, and Castiel relishes the warmth of Dean's arm on his shoulder.

“Say something in French,” Dean says with a strangely amused tinge to his voice, and Castiel looks at him out of the corner of his eye.

Non.”

Dean snorts.

“Wow, being human's made you into a freakin' wiseass.”

Laughing to himself, Castiel leans more heavily against Dean's side as they walk, and thinks about how glad he is that they are okay. Knowing he couldn't possibly say it in English, he clears his throat and speaks in French.

Tu m'as tellement manqué quand nous étions séparés."

Dean grins, though he obviously has no idea what Castiel is saying.

“What other languages do you know?”

“All of them.”

“Say something in Dutch.”

Nooit wilde ik je verlaten.

Dean glances across at him, shaking his head.

“You sound so weird. Italian.”

Castiel pauses, looking down, and decides to throw caution to the wind. It's not like Dean can understand him, anyway.

Volevo baciarti in aeroporto.”

Grinning widely, Dean looks down, thinking, and briefly Castiel allows himself to pretend that Dean knows what he's saying. That he's pleased by it.

“Russian.”

They pass under another streetlamp, the light bouncing off Dean's hair so it almost glows, and Castiel looks at him with a lump forming in his throat.

Я хочу поцеловать тебя сейчас,” he says, quieter than before.

“Latin.”

Si quidem sciebat quid diceret, forte putes pertundam mihi.

Castiel laughs at himself. It's strange, he thinks, that over the past few years he had thought he understood so much of what it meant to feel. He had felt so much. More than most of the other angels. He had been certain that his emotion was equal to that of humanity; but he sees now that he was wrong. Because though he had felt a great many things, he had never felt quite what he feels now. What he has felt since the moment he saw Dean moving toward him through the crowded airport.

Dean frowns, trying to think of another language, and Castiel speaks again in Latin, almost under his breath.

Ego numquam amavit vobis.

“Turkish.”

Ben sanıyordum.

“Swedish.”

Jag visste aldrig vad det var.

Dean scratches at his jaw.

“I can't think of any more.”

"Eoleh oli orsbus. Ilso zirusma. Ilso zirusma--"

“Is that Enochian?”

Castiel flushes deeply, worried that Dean somehow understood, and clears his throat, pulling his arm free.

“Yes.”

Dean looks as through he's about to say something else when he glances further ahead, and abruptly stops walking. They've reached a wide road, beyond which lies the Seine.

The tower, spire lit up bright, rises on the other side of the river, partially obscured by the nearby trees, and it's lights flicker off the rippling water, bright in the dark.

“Looks like you were right about the direction after all,” Dean says, looking back up the street they've been walking down.

“There's nothing urgent to attend to,” Castiel points out, “so it doesn't matter. We don't have to go back yet if you don't want to.”

“I think I've forgotten how to relax.”

“I never knew how.”

“Blind leading the blind again, hey?”

“It's worked out well so far tonight,” Castiel says with a shrug, “I'm not worried.”

Without further discussion, they cross the street to walk along the rivers edge. It's a long time before it occurs to Castiel that he has looped his arm back around Dean's waist, his hand resting gentle at his hip as Dean's settles warm on his shoulder. In a distant way he's aware of Dean's thumb moving against the cotton of his shirt, and he feels lit up, something buzzing electric in his limbs.

It's at the bend in the river where the water reflects the golden glow of the Eiffel Tower in full that he happens to glance sideways at the same moment Dean does, and he feels the same magnet pull that he's always felt, but this time he's too human to resist it. All at once he's turning, pulling Dean closer with his other arm and kissing him hard, one hand sliding up over Dean's neck, and when Dean's hand moves to his cheek, thumb tracing over his jaw, he sighs into the kiss.

It's barely five seconds before Dean pulls back, his eyes wide, and Castiel feels his stomach fall.

“Dean,” Castiel says, his voice wavering, and Dean stares at him, “I didn't... I didn't mean to—”

“Oh God, oh God, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—”

They both start and stop at the same time, and Dean furrows his brow. Castiel can see the pulse at his throat jumping, stuttering fast.

“You didn't mean to what?” they both say.

“Kiss you,” they both say.

“But I kissed you,” they both say.

“Wait,” Dean says, holding up his hands, and they're trembling, “are you saying... did you want to?”

“Yes, but I didn't mean—”

Dean surges forward, hands on either side of Castiel's face, dragging him back in, and Castiel forgets what he didn't mean, what he meant, who he is. The lips on his are firm and insistent and desperate, and for a few minutes in the dark by the river, he remembers what it is to fly.

Chapter Text

There's something sweet on Dean's lips. Castiel savors it, letting his tongue sweep inside to capture it again.

“Peaches,” he murmurs after a while, though he isn't convinced that the word makes it out.

In fact, he's fairly certain that Dean swallowed it before it even fully formed; that he took the word onto his own tongue and tasted the sweetness himself. The thought, absurd as it is, just makes him smile, and he feels Dean's lips turning up at the edges against his own.

It's not something he ever thought he'd know—the shape of Dean pressed to him, the way they fit together, how they taste together.

Slipping his hand through the short hair at Dean's nape, fingertips trailing through, he tilts to one side as he kisses him, desperate to know what's beneath the taste of summer fruit, what part of it is just Dean. He feels the hand on his face sliding down, Dean's thumb pushing soft against the corners of their joined mouths while his fingers curl feather-light along Castiel's jaw. The other moves to his waist, warm through his shirt, and something in the soft touch sparks an unanticipated shiver in him, something electric that skips down his ribs, to his fingers, his toes. At the tiny gasp that pushes past his lips without his permission, Dean makes a sound that he thinks he needs to add to the list of things he likes.

In fact, it possibly deserves a list all of its own.

Determined to hear it again, he drops a hand to Dean's hip, pulling him closer, closer, closer until he feels the gentle press of hands at his shoulders as Dean steps back. For air, Castiel thinks, judging by how hard he's breathing.

He can't decide where to look—Dean's wide, bright eyes or his reddened mouth—and when Dean's tongue flicks out over his lower lip, it takes a lot of control for Castiel to stop himself from moving back in.

It isn't until he hears the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze that he realizes that they are still standing by the river. Why that's surprising to him he isn't sure.

“So,” Dean breaks the silence, glancing away with a nervous expression that has Castiel buzzing all over, “that was... that was, uh...”

“Awesome?” Castiel supplies, unable to keep the smile from his face, and Dean meets his eyes again as he laughs aloud.

“I was gonna go with unexpected, but yeah, awesome works too.”

Leaning back in is easy. It's strange, Castiel thinks, how easy it is.

Dean's lips are warm beneath his, softer this time, but soon it's not enough. Castiel finds himself dragging Dean close again, slotting a foot between Dean's as he presses to him, their bodies flush. He feels every thud of Dean's heart against his chest, every sigh, every sound.

Time loses all meaning. Somehow, they end up in a taxi.

 

Castiel is staring at Dean, at the way the streetlights light up the tips of his hair in an ethereal glow, and he only notices he's being spoken to when Dean prods him and points toward the driver. He looks at the middle-aged man in question.

Quoi?”

 

Où allez-vous?” the driver asks, a little gruff, and Castiel gets the impression he's been asking this question for a while.

Hôtel Linden, c'est sur—

The driver waves him off, checking his rear view before pulling onto the street.

"Je connais l'endroit."

Newly human or not, Castiel understands that moving across the seat to press against Dean right now would be inappropriate, but that doesn't make the desire any easier to ignore. They don't say anything during the drive, but Castiel's eyes keep flicking over to him, and every time he catches Dean doing the same.

It reminds him of the day Dean arrived. Yesterday. It feels like so much longer.

According to the clock on the taxi's radio, the whole trip back to Hotel Linden takes seventeen minutes. With each moment that passes the impulse to reach over and touch grows stronger. He wonders if Dean feels it, too.

When they arrive, Dean practically throws a wad of cash at the driver before pulling Castiel out into the street, and he decides that he probably does. They move over the pavement, up the stairs, through the hotel lobby in a wild blur.

No sooner than the elevator doors have closed, Castiel has his back pressed to the wall of buttons. One by one the light up behind him, bright spots in his periphery as he melts under Dean's touch. The doors slide open at every floor. Dean groans every time, though he never breaks the kiss, and after the third time Castiel takes hold of his hand where it's pressed to his chest, weaving their fingers together. Something in the action makes Dean stutter against his mouth, and he doesn't let go when they reach level five—just heads for their door with their hands still tangled.

He digs the key card from Castiel's jeans pocket instead of his own. Castiel doesn't complain.

“C'mere,” Dean says, as soon as the door is closed behind them, and they meet in the center of the room, hands trailing sides, backs, shoulders as they kiss.

Castiel barely thinks about it when his fingers slip under Dean's jacket. All he knows is that he needs to be closer, and he pulls at it, drags at the collar, the sleeves, until suddenly it's worked so far down Dean's arms that he has no choice but to slip out of it, dropping it to the floor. Dean's bare arms spring up in goosebumps as Castiel runs the tips of his fingers over them, trailing from his palms to the dip of his elbows, and soon he moves back in. His hands have minds of their own, it seems. They work their way up beneath the back of Dean's shirt, down over his hips, feeling flushed skin beneath the pads of his fingers, but Dean pushes at Castiel's shoulders again, separating their lips and ending it far too soon.

“Slow it down, there, sparky,” he says, but his voice is rough and his eyes are alight.

They're still close, Castiel's arms draped low over Dean's hips, hands splayed against his lower back, and he frowns, eyes flickering down to Dean's mouth, wanting.

“You don't want—?”

“Oh, I want,” Dean says, pulling his lip between his teeth, “believe me, I want.”

“Then why?” Castiel asks, edging in a little closer, and Dean looks at him for a long moment, thinking, before he just shakes his head.

“Fuck,” he mutters, before hooking a hand around the back of Castiel's head and dragging him back in, “I don't even know.”

The backs of Dean's knees hit the edge of his bed as he pulls Castiel with him, and he sits as Castiel stands between his knees, leaning down. He doesn't taste like peaches any more. Castiel smiles into the kiss.

Dean,” he breathes, and thinks it's better than peaches, sweeter, as he's pulled down onto soft sheets.

Trading slow kisses in the lamplight with the heat of Dean's hand on his back, Castiel remembers the rising sun, how it had echoed the heat of burning wings. This is different. He marvels in the complexity of touch.

Their movement is less fervent than before, quieter somehow, like something has settled, but he still feels the need in every touch, consuming him. He wants it to. More than that, he wants Dean to feel it, to know, and he pulls back for a moment, braces himself on his elbows to hover over him.

The want in Dean's eyes drags him back down almost immediately, his lips finding lips, cheek, neck, and he hears that same quiet moan he'd heard at the riverside. The collar of Dean's shirt soon gets in the way, and he tugs at it gently, letting the buttons slip free so he can press his lips to the fast pulse at the base of Dean's throat, taste the salt of him beneath his tongue.

When he feels Dean arch up to meet him, feel the solid shape of him pressing hard to his thigh, rolling, he stutters out a gasp against his cheek, eyes slipping briefly closed. There's a slow-building ache, and it rises and falls, an ebb-flow as their hips move against one another, and Castiel's brow furrows as he pushes down more firmly, seeking friction, seeking closeness. Dean touches lightly at his chest, and when Castiel pulls back slightly to look at him, Dean watches his face as he skims fingertips low over his stomach, up under his shirt to play lightly against the sweat-dampened skin below his navel. His fingers are warm, now, but they're too soft, the feeling too focused. There's so much skin, he thinks, and it's absurd to have such a small amount touching. Castiel sits up fully to pull off his shirt, straddling Dean's thighs in the process, and Dean stares up at him, pushing up onto one elbow. The tickling-light touch never ceases, and with their eyes fixed, he drags his fingers down to Castiel's waistband, teasing under the edge.

“Is this okay?” he asks, and Castiel nods, moving his own hand to join them, urging him on, “you sure?”

“Yes,” he murmurs, leaning back down, desperate for Dean's lips on his again, “anything.”

Dean kisses him then. Keeps kissing him as he turns, rolls until he's the one leaning down; kisses him on and on as he slips the button free; kisses him as the denim is pushed down, away. Castiel feels fevered, lost, and somehow he's certain that if he can only get close enough, he'll be able to think again. When he feels the warmth of Dean's palm slide beneath the cotton of his shorts to wrap around him, squeezing gently before tightening, moving slow, slow, he finds himself open mouthed and panting against Dean's shoulder, and it's all he can do to keep his eyes from closing.

It's an exploration, he thinks, a little wildly. Dean is finding him, as he always does. He's searching him out, seeking him, and when he's there, at last, bringing him to a crest he didn't know existed, Castiel breathes out his name like he's found him, too.

In the haze of after, he reaches for Dean, determined to make him rise to that same height, to see him, to hear him fall in a flurry of sighs and stuttered words. His touch is clumsy, he knows, his muscles lax in the afterglow, but Dean's palm joins his, and together they find it.

“How long?” Dean asks, later, his back against Castiel's chest while Castiel smooths his hand over his side, his hip.

“A long time,” he murmurs against Dean's neck, “Years. You?”

“Years.”

Dean huffs out a laugh, turning to face him, and presses a kiss against the corner of his mouth.

“Goddamn,” he says, nose nudging against Castiel's, “Lucky I didn't chicken out of that flight.”

“Hmm,” Castiel agrees, tilting his face to press his lips fully against Dean's before letting out a tired sigh, his eyes slipping closed.

“You want to sleep?”

“Hmm,” he says again, too warm and comfortable to speak.

The hand slips from his waist as Dean stands, and Castiel opens his eyes to frown up at him.

“Where are you going?”

“Just turning out the light.”

A few seconds later, the room is dark, and he feels fingertips pushing through his hair.

“Cas,” Dean whispers, “get up for a sec.”

“Why?”

“Blankets.”

“Just get them from the other bed.”

“Wow, you're lazy,” Dean says, and Castiel opens his eyes just in time to see Dean leaning over him in the dim light of the alarm clock.

“Not lazy,” he mumbles, bringing Dean's face down to his, speaking against his lips, “spent.”

Dean laughs, kissing him back. When he moves away, it's only a few seconds before there's the sound of blankets being shaken loose, the feeling of them settling, a dip in the mattress.

Tonight, with Dean's back pressed against him, their hands woven loosely together against Dean's chest, sleep comes easy.

 


 

It's afternoon before Castiel wakes, and it's to an empty bed.

The sheets are still warm, and he smooths over them with his palm, breathing deeply as memories of the night before flood his mind. Dean's lips on his. Dean's hands, his tongue, his eyes hooded and voice quiet, whispering praise against his skin. Something in his stomach flutters, and it's not like hunger, not like lust. It's closer to happiness.

Bonheur, he thinks, and smiles against the pillow.

The balcony door is open behind curtain, and looking over his shoulder, he catches glimpses of movement through the gaps. Outside, Dean is speaking quietly.

With a stretch, he pushes out of bed, making his way to the door.

When he pulls the curtain to the side, he sees Dean leaning against the railing, his cell phone pressed to his ear. He's slipped on his boxers, and Castiel repeats his thoughts from the night before. Dean definitely looks good in maroon.

In the bright sun, he can see freckles on Dean's shoulders that hadn't been noticeable in the dimly lit room, and he resolves to pay them special attention next time. The thought of there being a next time makes him bite down on his lip, and for a time, Castiel studies him quietly.

When Dean finally looks up, halfway through a sentence, he falters.

“Yeah, we should get—”

Castiel tilts his head, considering the flush running from Dean's cheeks, down over his chest, and wonders if it's warmer to touch. Dean rubs roughly at the back of his neck with his palm, eyes dragging over Castiel.

“—um. Sorry. Yeah,” he says into the phone, “About three?”

Catching Castiel looking at the phone, Dean blinks a few times before he mouths, “Louise,” and Castiel nods, raising his hands over his head to stretch, his joints popping loudly.

His eyes slip closed in the process, and he keeps them that way as he rolls his shoulders, groaning deeply. When he opens them again he finds Dean staring at him again.

There's something of the hunger from last night in his eyes, and when he darts out onto the balcony, briefly kissing him, Castiel catches half a sentence through the phone.

“...do you think? Dean?”

Dean doesn't answer right away, eyes fixed on Castiel's. On instinct, Castiel winks. Dean flushes more deeply, and with an odd feeling of satisfaction, Castiel heads back inside, his sights set on the shower.

Behind him, he hears Dean speak into the phone, asking Louise to repeat herself, and grins. Half way through the room, he stops to pick up his boxers from where they've fallen on the carpet, and—

Oh,” he says, glancing back toward the balcony door before looking down at himself in realization.

How he hadn't noticed he was still naked is a mystery, but having seen what it did to Dean, he thinks it's a mistake he'll gladly make again.

Chapter Text

When he steps out into the room, followed by a wave of steam, Dean is still talking on the phone outside. His words are muffled by the curtain, but Castiel thinks his tone is different than before. More casual, more relaxed.

Towelling his still damp hair, he lifts the bag of clothes onto the bed, searching for clean underwear. He's still rifling through it when the curtain sweeps to the side and Dean steps in from the balcony, phone pressed to his ear.

“Yeah, he's ri—,” Dean cuts himself off halfway through, and Castiel glances up to see him pressing his hand over his eyes before he speaks again, “you know what, forget it. He's doing something.”

Castiel frowns, tilting his head, but says nothing.

“Okay, Sammy. See you then.”

Ending the call, Dean scrubs a hand over his face before looking at Castiel with a smirk.

“Not that I'm complaining,” he says, dumping the phone on the table before walking forward, “but you are planning to put some pants on at some point, right?”

Taking in the flush on Dean's skin, Castiel is tempted to refuse. He's fairly certain that it wouldn't take much to convince Dean to return to the previous nights activities, and a part of him thinks he should just do it. Take himself into his hand and wait for Dean to join him. The thought sets off a pulse of want low in his stomach, but they have things to do, and the day is half gone.

He holds up the boxer shorts.

“I was looking for these.”

Dean laughs, sitting down on the edge of Castiel's bed, but offers no further comment. Just waits, his eyes pointedly avoiding anything below the chest.

Castiel thinks it's ridiculous, considering, but pulls the shorts on anyway before sitting down opposite him. Why Dean is suddenly so quiet is a mystery, and a little flicker of worry makes itself known, a voice in the back of his head wondering if Dean regrets kissing him, regrets touching him.

“So, do you think,” Dean starts, before shaking his head and taking in a deep breath, “should we talk about—”

“It would probably be wise.”

“Yeah.”

“I think the main question is,” Castiel starts, a little uncertain, when Dean doesn't speak, “are you glad it happened?”

“Yeah, I am,” Dean says, his mouth curving upward.

“Well, I am, too. And if this,” he gestures between them, “is something that you want to continue—”

“It is,” Dean says quickly, "definitely."

“Well, I feel the same.”

“So,” Dean nods, knuckle drumming over his knee as he looks up to catch his eye, smiling, “you and me, huh?”

“It would appear so,” Castiel says with an easy smile, “Does that constitute enough discussion?”

Dean huffs out a laugh, standing.

“Yeah,” he says, moving until he's right in Castiel's space, standing between his knees, but there's still a crease in his brow.

“Then why are you frowning?”

“I guess I was just... it seems too easy, y'know?”

“Good things—”

“Do happen, yeah, I remember.”

Dean's fingers are in his hair again, and Castiel tilts his head back against them as he tugs Dean down for a kiss. They break apart, a little breathless, and Dean presses his forehead lightly against Castiel's when he speaks, quiet.

“So, do you want to—”

“Yes.”

“You don't even know what I was going to say.”

“What, then?”

“Do you want—”

“Yes,” he smirks, and Dean presses a hand over his mouth to silence him.

“Do you want to get something to eat before we go?”

Castiel raises his eyebrows, and with a lopsided grin, Dean pulls his hand away.

“My answer remains the same.”

“Then you'd better get dressed,” Dean tells him, standing up straight and stretching.

“I could say the same to you,” Castiel says, pointedly trailing his eyes over Dean's bare chest before looking up to catch his eyes, “though frankly I'd rather you didn't.”

Dean just stares at him for a long moment before he shakes it off.

“New rule. You're not allowed to say crap like that when we have stuff to do.”

“Hmm.”

“What do you mean, hmm?”

“I don't know if I can promise that,” Castiel tells him, enjoying the way his words seem to make Dean's skin grow pinker, “I like seeing you flustered.”

Dean opens his mouth to reply, fails to come up with anything good, and turns to pull his own clothes from his duffel, the flush spreading further down his chest.

“I'm taking a shower,” he says firmly, though his face betrays him, his mouth curving upward at the sides and not fading, splitting into a proper grin as he's closing the bathroom door.

Thankfully, he doesn't take long, and soon after, they end up downstairs in the hotel's small restaurant.

While they eat Dean goes over what Louise told him. There isn't much they have to do—she's essentially the Bobby Singer of France, from what Dean says, and her apartment is set up with everything they need to put together the fake passport.

“She said she'd do your anti-possession tattoo, too.”

“She can do that?”

“Yep,” Dean says around a mouthful of toast, “licensed and everything.”

The thought of demonic possession had been far from his mind, but now, he's overcome with a strange sense of fear, of something almost like shame, because he should have been more careful. All that time before Dean arrived, out on his own, he was a target.

“I mean, you could always wait until we get back,” Dean goes on, draining the last of the coffee from his cup, “but better to be safe, y'know?”

Castiel agrees, rising as Dean does, and follows him out into the street where he flags down a taxi.

When it delivers them to a busy street on the edge of the city, Castiel squints out into the bright sun. They haven't been driving long—only about fifteen minutes—and as Dean hands cash over to the driver he wonders aloud why they didn't just walk if Louise's house was so close.

Dean shakes his head, climbing out and waiting for a gap in traffic.

“She lives like an hours drive away,” he says, pointing across the street toward a crowded parking lot, “we're renting a car.”

There's a break, and Dean half-jogs forward, Castiel not far behind as he follows him onto the lot.

“Legally?”

Looking back over his shoulder, Dean scoffs.

“I'm here on a fake passport, Cas,” he says, as if that explains it, and comes to a stop outside the office. The squat brick building is painted white, scuff marks dark against the base of the wall, and through the service window he can see a middle aged clerk on a corded phone. She holds up a finger to them, silently asking them to wait, and finishes her conversation while Dean taps impatiently on the window sill.

“Are we going to hunt?” Castiel asks him, “when we get back?”

“What else would we do?”

Shrugging, Castiel looks out over the sea of cars. The question is too big, he thinks. They could do anything. He could do anything. Hunting, though, is logical. Helping people. He thinks of Henri, of how he spoke of altruism, and knows that while it was never his true purpose before, it's up to him to find his own now. He can't imagine anything more worthy of his time.

“Do you want to hunt?” Dean asks, pulling him out of his thoughts, and Castiel turns back to face him.

“Yes. I think so.”

The clerk slides the window open, then, and with Castiel acting as translator, Dean goes about renting a car. They get the cheapest one available, a tiny, boxy thing, and after the clerk has shown them to it and left them with the keys, Dean looks at it as though it's an insult.

“This is a toy car,” Dean says with distaste, “it shouldn't even be on the road.”

“It's passed all the safety checks,” Castiel tells him, holding up the slip of paper the clerk had made Dean sign. It doesn't seem to help.

“I could lift the whole thing over my head.”

As Dean pulls open the door to climb inside, Castiel narrows his eyes.

“Doubtful,” he says, slipping into the passenger seat.

Dean drives with a sour expression on his face, nose scrunching whenever he has to use the indicator, and all but growling in disgust when he has to use the horn, a sad little bip that sounds somewhat like the vehicular equivalent of a Pomeranian. When he flips on the radio and it immediately starts playing something soft and classical, he jabs the dial in annoyance. Castiel laughs.

“What?” Dean says, glancing over at him, a confused smile tugging the frown from his face.

“You miss your car.”

Dean huffs, but doesn't disagree.

“It's endearing,” Castiel adds, and the smile shifts from confused to flattered as Dean returns his gaze to the road ahead.

They arrive in Fleurines at a quarter to four, and at Louise's door, are both subjected to the standard iron, silver and holy water tests. Satisfied, she nods, stepping aside to let them in.

She's perhaps a year or two younger than Bobby had been, and something about her reminds Castiel of Ellen Harvelle—a spark in her eyes, a sharpness softened by the blonde hair that falls in wisps around her face.

“We'll ink you up first,” she tells Castiel, gesturing to the door on her left, “through here.”

The whole ground level is taken up by a tattoo studio, and she leads them through the empty waiting room, into the back.

The process of having the tattoo outline transferred to the skin of his chest tickles, and he twitches with the urge to wriggle away as Dean laughs at him from where he leans against the wall.

“So how'd you meet Bobby?” Dean asks, and Castiel listens to them talk.

“I was working in a hotel in Colorado, where I'm from,” she says, pushing down on Castiel's shoulder until he's laying flat in the chair, “and we had a nasty incident with a poltergeist. Nasty few incidents. This is gonna start hurting now.”

That's all the warning Castiel gets before the needle starts it's rapid motion, piercing the skin over his heart. It stings, and he presses his teeth together, focusing on the sound of Louise's voice.

“Anyhow, Bobby and Rufus turned up just in time. It had me and one of our guests by the throat in a broom closet. Any longer and we'd have both been dead.”

“You hid in a broom closet?” Dean asks with a raised brow, and Louise looks over at him with a grin.

“Nope,” she says, twinkle in her eye as she turns back to fill in the lines on the tattoo with practised efficiency, “he was a cute guest. And I always was a sucker for an accent.”

Dean laughs, pushing away from the wall to take a seat beside Castiel as Louise continues. Remembering the way Dean had looked at him when he'd spoken to the waitress last night, Castiel glances up at Louise.

Dean également,” he tells her quietly.

Oh, vraiment?

“What?” Dean looks between them suspiciously, and Castiel ignores him, grinning as he speaks to Louise.

Oui. Je lui ai parlé en français hier soir et il se tourna rouge vif,” he says, a little smug, and Louise's face cracks into a smirk.

Dean's frown only deepens.

“Whatever he just told you," he says to Louise, "it was probably a lie.”

“I don't know, I'm inclined to believe him,” she says, laughing, “Anyway, I'm sure Marc would tell you the whole story himself, but he's out on a hunt.”

As Louise tells them about the creature her husband is tracking, Castiel finds himself immeasurably grateful that there are never more than a few seconds of silence. The set up of the room, the needle in Louise's hand, the sound of it buzzing—it all reminds him a little too much of what Naomi had done to him in Heaven. Their voices and laughter provide a pleasant distraction, and he shut his eyes, focusing on the sound of conversation for the full forty minutes that it takes for Louise to finish the tattoo. Once or twice he opens his eyes and finds Dean looking at him with a furrowed brow, and forces his features to relax, but Dean still looks worried.

When it's finally done, he feels the tension drain from his body like a physical thing, and as they all make their way upstairs into the apartment, Dean slows and taps him on the wrist, letting Louise go ahead.

“You good?” Dean asks, eyes searching, and Castiel nods.

“I'm fine,” he says, “I'm just glad it's done.”

For a moment, Dean studies him, and Castiel smiles as convincingly as possible. There's no sense in dragging back the memories. It's over.

“Really, Dean.”

Dean frowns, unconvinced, but lets it go, leaning in to kiss him quickly. It's soft and chaste, but when he starts to pull away Castiel follows, taking Dean's lower lip between his own. They only break apart when Louise clears her throat loudly from the top of the stairs.

“Now I definitely believe him,” she says pointedly to Dean before disappearing back around the corner.

With a laugh, Castiel ascends the stairs. Dean scrambles to follow, blushing profusely.

“What did you say? Cas, what did you say?”

He could answer, but it's just more fun not to.

Upstairs, in the main room, Louise directs Castiel toward a chair in front of a white screen, and he sits for a photo. The flash is blinding. Making the passport is a tedious affair, and most of their time is spent sitting around while Louise fills in information. When it's finally done the sun has started to set.

Louise stretches her arms out with a yawn.

“Either of you boys hungry?” she asks, looking between them.

“I could eat,” Dean says.

Castiel snorts, and Louise grins at him, pulling a takeout menu from a drawer by the phone.

“Something tells me that's his default setting.”

They order pizza, and when it arrives, the three of them sit around Louise's coffee table to eat. It's strange, Castiel thinks, how natural everything feels. Even a year ago, he's certain he'd have felt like an imposter here. Like an observer, even if he were to partake in the meal. Now, he fits. It's comfortable in a way he couldn't have anticipated.

“Bobby mentioned you,” Louise tells Dean, picking up a second slice, “and your brother.”

“Yeah?” Dean asks, raising his brow, and she nods, smiling.

“You'd think you were his own kids, the way he'd talk.”

Dean smiles at that, his eyes shining, and Castiel is struck by the urge to take his hand under the table. He doesn't—both hands are needed to keep the toppings from sliding off his slice of pizza—but he does lean across to bump Dean's shoulder with his own.

“What did he say about us?” Dean asks.

“That you saved the world.”

“Oh.”

“Thanks for that.”

“Yeah, uh...” Dean looks down, as if embarrassed by the notion, and Castil beams at him, “no problem.”

“You, on the other hand,” she says, pointing at Castiel, “he only mentioned the once.”

His smile fades immediately. Castiel lowers his pizza, nervous. He's surprised to feel Dean's hand settle on his knee.

There are a great many things he has done over the years that he isn't proud of, and he hopes beyond anything that none of what Bobby had told Louise was bad. She hasn't given him any reason to think so, but still a nervous curl of dread unfurls in his stomach.

“We had a bet,” she says with a laugh, and he breathes out in relief, “years ago. I said I believed in angels and he told me I was—and I quote—off my gourd.”

Dean snorts out a laugh, squeezing Castiel's knee.

“Then a couple years ago he called out of the blue and said he owed me a drink.”

“Sounds about right,” Dean says.

“Never did get that drink,” Louise smiles sadly before shaking it off and raising her eyes to look at Castiel, “sure am glad I got to meet you, though.”

“Likewise,” Castiel says, “though I wish it were under better circumstances.”

“You're alive,” she says warmly, holding up her glass, “that's what counts, right?”

With a glance over at Dean beaming beside him, Castiel nods. There's nowhere he'd rather be.

 

***

 

It's late when they leave, and as Dean drives them back to the car lot, Castiel thinks about the past four days. They've vanished, whirled by in a mad rush, and he expects that as soon as they get back to Kansas, they'll find themselves overwhelmed with hunting. They always do.

It's the realization that soon they won't have the time to just be together, just the two of them, that makes him turn to Dean as they pull out onto the main road.

“How long will we have before we have to go to the airport?”

“By the time we get back to the hotel?” Dean asks, flipping on the radio and scanning through the stations, “about eight hours.”

“And you require five hours sleep, correct?”

“Generally, yeah.”

Nodding thoughtfully, Castiel taps his fingers on his knee. That gives them three hours, and after that...

“How long is the flight back?” he asks.

“Thirteen hours, give or take.”

“I presume Sam will be collecting us when we arrive?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, looking over as he adjusts his grip on the wheel, “what's with the third degree?”

“I'm just calculating.”

“Calculating what?”

“How much time we have.”

“For what?”

“I'd have thought that was obvious.”

Dean's ears turn pink, and Castiel leans his head back against the seat to look at him.

“You trying to seduce me, Cas?”

“Is it working?”

Dean doesn't answer, but Castiel can see the glint in his eyes, and the car seems to move a little faster, pushing him back in his seat.

Emboldened, he reaches across the console, pressing his palm against Dean's thigh. When Dean's settles over it, warm, he smiles. The rest of the drive is filled with a building tension, and it only gets heavier after they've arrived at the car lot. For a few fevered moments, Castiel considers pressing Dean up against the office wall and kissing him, taking him apart with his hands, with his lips. Before he can act on the impulse, Dean's dropped the keys into the after-hours return box and pulled him back toward the quiet road. It's probably for the best, he thinks.

Here, it would be hurried. He wants to take his time.

As they walk briskly toward the hotel, silent, anticipatory, Castiel feels each breath fill his lungs. Dean's every shift in the corner of his eye makes him ache to reach out. He restrains himself. He'd be proud if it weren't so frustrating.

They get back a little after midnight, and as soon as their room door is closed, Dean's hands are at his waist, his lips against his cheek, his mouth, his throat. Neither of them speak, but they need no words for this.

Moving backwards through the room, Castiel lets out a low laugh against Dean's mouth.

“Dean,” he says, falling back against the mattress, “it's dark.”

Dean hums, climbing to settle over him, leaning down to press his lips against Castiel's neck.

Dean.”

“It's night time, Cas,” he mumbles, lips slurring over sensitive skin, stubble catching, “'course it's dark.”

Dragging his fingers up Dean's stomach to his shoulders, he lets out a contented sigh, pushing up against him as he speaks.

“I want to see you.”

In the dim light that filters through the open curtains, Castiel can just make out the tilt of Dean's mouth before he pulls away. The lamp bathes the room in gold.

“Better?” Dean asks, pulling his lower lip between his teeth as he looks down at Castiel, sprawled back on the bed. Castiel tilts his head.

He hadn't looked at Dean last night. Not really. There had been so much sensation, so much need, that he hadn't taken the time to just look. Now, he wants to see the freckles scattered on his shoulders. Wants to see the lightly tanned skin of his chest, the pale flesh of his inner thighs, the trail of almost-blond hair leading down to his groin; the curve of him, the swell.

“Take off your clothes.”

Dean's eyes widen. For a moment Castiel worries that he's been too blunt, but before he can say anything else Dean is complying. He pulls his shirt off in a swift movement, ruffling his hair in the process, before toeing off his shoes.

There's a kind of nervousness about him, an eager sort of shyness, and Castiel sits up fully, elbows pressing into the bed as he watches him pop the button on his jeans. The zip of his fly is loud in the room, and Castiel's breath catches. Just laying here, watching Dean undress, makes his body thrum.

When he gets to his boxers, Dean stops, thumbs hooked under the waistband, and raises an eyebrow.

“Starting to feel kinda under-dressed here, Cas. You gonna—”

“I want you to do it,” Castiel tells him, his voice rougher than he'd expected.

He isn't sure where this particular desire comes from, but he knows that last night, when Dean had toyed with the button of his jeans, when he had roughly pulled them down, it had sent a thrill through him that he is eager to relive.

Dean seems to share the sentiment. His mouth ticks up at one side.

“Yeah?”

Dean,” he groans, impatient, and the shorts are gone in an instant..

Castiel trails his eyes over Dean greedily. His skin is flushed, cock heavy and hardening in the gold-tinged glow of the lamplight, and the sight makes his own arousal grow almost to the point of discomfort. With his eyes fixed on Castiel's, Dean strokes himself, once, twice, and moans.

“Please,” Castiel says, pressing the heel of his hand against the front of his jeans, voice tight, “please.”

There's barely a second before Dean moves forward to crawl over him, knocking his hand away and replacing it with his own. Dean's fingers are gentle, too gentle, the pressure too soft against the pulse of his cock. Castiel pushes against them, aching, until Dean finally pulls at his waistband, fumbling the button. He lifts his hips from the bed as Dean pulls the jeans away and collapses back when his hands slide under his shirt, palms flattened to his stomach, over his nipples, teasing the flesh to hardness. Dean strips him slowly, an open-mouthed kiss pressed to his chest after each button. He carefully avoids the tattoo over Castiel's heart, still tender, and laves the dip of his collarbone with his tongue until Castiel is boneless, body loose and pliant. Running fingertips over Dean's back, into the hair at his nape, Castiel lets his head fall back against the pillow.

When Dean finally slips the shorts from his hips, the soft cotton catching, dragging over his erection, he lets out a quiet gasp at the sensation.

Dean's breath is hot against his throat, and as he moves to mouth along Castiel's jaw, he presses down with a languid roll of his hips. The feel of his skin, hot and damp, is intoxicating, and Castiel arches against the slick slide of his cock. It slips by his own, pushing between his legs, smoothed by the wetness that drips from the head. Dean drags back, agonisingly slow, and Castiel lets out a low moan at the sensation of skin sliding against sensitive skin.

“Cas,” Dean mumbles, his forehead creased in concentration as he repeats the motion, “tell me what you want.”

Castiel kisses him in lieu of a reply; grasps the back of his thigh and pulls him closer. He doesn't know what he wants, just that he wants it, wants it desperately, wants it now. His hips shift unsteadily, craving the friction until friction isn't enough, and Dean reaches between them, grasping him in a loose fist and pumping slow until his fingers skip down the shaft. He teases lightly at the skin behind Castiel's cock before moving further to rub slow circles against the tight ring of muscle. He breathes in sharply, startled by the touch, and Dean pulls his hand back.

“Sorry,” he says, wide-eyed, breathless, “did I—”

“It's okay. Just...”

“Too much.”

Castiel breathes out hard through his nose, tongue darting out over his lips as he nods.

A part of him, a part he's sure is being controlled by something other than his brain, wants to tell Dean to do it again anyway. To press harder, let his fingers slip inside, to work them in one by one by one before filling him, sinking deep to find their peak together. He wants it, more than he expected to.

New to this as he is, though, he knows too much about human physiology to move too quickly, to go any further without adequate preparation.

“This is kinda new territory for me, too,” Dean says quietly, as if reading his mind, “with a guy, I mean.”

“I know.”

“Maybe we should—”

“Take it slow,” Castiel suggests shakily, and Dean nods, their foreheads bumping together.

“How about...” Dean closes his eyes, pressing their lips together briefly, “can I try something?”

“Yes.”

Dean kisses him again, teeth pulling lightly at his lip before he shifts back on his knees, moving down to settle in the vee of Castiel's thighs. With thumbs rubbing over the line of his hips, he looks up at Castiel as he dips his head down, kissing his stomach, dipping his tongue into his navel.

Dean watches him right back, eyes wide and intense. It's dizzying, and Castiel doesn't want to drag his eyes away even as they start to slip closed. When he feels Dean's fingers close around the base a moment later, the sudden pressure is almost too much to bear. It's like he's been sent spinning, thrown, and it's not until he feels the whisper of breath that he forces his eyes back open, just in time to see Dean's tongue darting over him, quick little licks before he presses his lips to the head. He's helpless to stop the whimper that escapes his throat when Dean takes him, the wet heat of his mouth sliding down, slow.

The hand on his hip holds him still, pushes him down into the mattress as Dean works his mouth, the fingers of his other hand moving in a smooth motion, squeezing and releasing, gaining momentum and then slowing, almost to a stop. He's making sounds he wasn't aware he could make; high, keening noises and guttural grunts, and with every one Dean seems to become more confident, more sure of what he's doing.

Watching as his head bobs, lips stretched around him, Castiel feels pressure building, enough to make his legs shake, and Dean lets go of his hip to take himself into his hand, each thrust through his fist less measured.

Without thinking, his hands find their way into Dean's hair, tugging, scratching at his scalp, and when his body tenses, hips lifting involuntarily from the mattress, Dean pulls off just in time.

His toes curl into the sheets as he comes, pulsing hot over Dean's hand.

Fuck, Cas,” Dean slurs, voice wrecked as he watches him, still pushing through his own fist until he falls over the edge a moment later with a noise like the wind has been knocked out of him. Castiel hits a new peak at the sound, at the feeling of Dean spilling wet against his thigh, and his eyes roll back, mouth wide as he stutters out a moan.

This is different than last night. More, somehow. For a brief moment, it's almost as if he leaves his body; his world disappears into nothing, just a single point of pleasure bearing down. When he regains control of his thoughts the phrase la petite mort suddenly makes sense to him.

Dean kisses his thigh, the skin below his navel, moving up his body slowly, and as he does Castiel feels himself slip again Dean's chest, leaving a shiny trail over the dark star tattooed there. It's overwhelming, his skin suddenly far too sensitive, and when Dean finally kisses his mouth, a mingling of his own taste on Dean's tongue, he lets out something between a sob or a laugh against his lips. He's happy, sated and warm. When Dean pulls away to look at him, he finds himself smiling wide enough for his cheeks to ache, and it's reflected back to him in freckled cheeks and green eyes.

The balcony door is still open, curtain swaying in a soft breeze. The chill of it tingles on his damp skin, only to be warmed immediately by the drag of Dean's palm, and Castiel slips easily into sleep, lulled by the sound of Dean breathing beside him.

***

In the dark, early in the morning, he wakes in the circle of Dean's arms, one thigh pressed between his own, and he smiles against Dean's chest.

“You awake, Cas?” Dean whispers, and the skin beneath Castiel's lips rumbles. He presses a kiss to it in answer. “We gotta get up.”

Castiel lets out a groan.

“Yeah, I know the feeling,” Dean tells him, and Castiel looks up to catch the laughter in his eyes, “but we have to leave in like half an hour, and unless you wanna spend the next twenty-something hours smelling like sex, we both need to shower.”

The process of waking up, he thinks as Dean pushes him lightly, untangling their limbs and climbing from the bed, is the worst thing he's had to endure as a human. Worse than the cold of soaked clothes or the ache of hunger.

He stretches, arching his back and listening to the pop of his joints while Dean shuffles around the dark room, picking up clothes from where they were scattered the night before. Turning back to look at him, Dean hesitates in the doorway.

“You coming?” he asks, running a hand back through his sleep-tousled hair as he flicks on the bathroom light.

This, Castiel thinks as he pushes out of bed and follows Dean into the small room, makes up for being awake.

***

After spending a little too long in the shower, utterly distracted by the feel of Dean's hands on him, the sweet smell of soap rising as he worked up a lather, they barely make it to the airport in time. By the time they board, all the calm of the morning has faded, replaced with a worry that's mainly due to Dean's panic over being on a plane.

Even so, the flight is worse than he could have anticipated. Turbulence is unpleasant and jarring, and even without Dean's obvious fear, he's certain he wouldn't like it. In the seat beside him, he can see Dean tense with every bump.

His attempt at distracting him with conversation fails horribly.

“Do you think Sam will be surprised about you and I?”

It is apparently the wrong thing to ask, and the more he thinks about it the more obvious that seems. Dean is staring at him, his face pale, and he looks even more panicked than before.

“Shit,” Dean says eventually, “shit, shit. What if he freaks out?”

“I doubt he'll react unfavorably, but we don't have to tell him if you don't want to,” Castiel offers, and Dean frowns at him.

“I don't want to keep us a secret, Cas.”

Something about that warms him, and he ducks his head with a smile. Dean rolls his eyes, but he still sneaks one hand across to grab hold of Castiel's where it lays on the armrest.

“Yeah, yeah, I'm a sap, shut up.”

“I didn't say anything,” Castiel says, flipping his hand to lace his fingers between Deans.

For a while, they're both quiet. There's still almost seven hours in the flight, and Castiel can see Dean thinking out of the corner of his eye. He squeezes his hand in what he hopes is a reassuring manner.

“He's gonna be fine with it, right?” Dean asks, and Castiel looks at him fully.

“I don't see why he wouldn't be.”

“You're right,” Dean swallows, nods, “I know you're right. I'm being an idiot.”

He pauses, and the plane dips, shakes with another patch of turbulence.

“But what if—”

“Dean. It's going to be fine.”

“The flight or telling Sam?” Dean laughs, though his voice is a little uneven as he tries to pass off his fear as nothing.

“Both,” Castiel squeezes his hand again, running his thumb over Dean's until he hears him breathe out slowly.

The past seven hours, like the past seven years, have been rough—but soon they'll land.

With Dean's hand in his, warm and calloused against his palm, Castiel can't wait to find out what comes after.