They're doing that thing again, where Cas is staring at Dean with the intensity of a dog trying to remind his owner that it's past dinner time. Dean's staring right back like the first one to blink is buying the next round. Sam's aware there's a conversation going on that he isn't privy to — and he's used to it, by this point — but it's still rude.
"So, as I was saying," Sam tries to interrupt the resounding silence, "if we can just figure out a — "
"Sure," Dean says, and Sam stutters to a halt, because sure what? "I mean, yeah. Yes. Dude, you don't even have to ask."
Cas looks like Dean just slapped him in the face, bloodshot eyes comically wide in a how dare you or maybe a are you drunk sort of way. Sam can empathize. "Dean, I appreciate the offer, but I can't — "
"Yeah, you can," Dean insists, pushing off the bed to stand.
"Um," Sam says.
"This isn't something you can be cavalier about — " Cas starts.
"Stop making this into a bigger deal than it is," Dean interrupts. "It's better than you floating around disembodied for a month while this shit runs its course, so." He plants a chair in front of Castiel and sits in it, arms wide. "Mi casa, su casa."
"Um," Sam tries again. "Guys?"
"Actually," Dean goes on, and Sam has to wonder if Rowena hit him with a mute spell or if Dean's just being an asshole on purpose. "Is this gonna be a full-on Matrix thing? 'Cause if I can choose my illusion — "
"No, that isn't necessary." Cas sighs, and Sam isn't sure if it’s in defeat or relief. "I'll... try to be unobtrusive."
"Oh," Dean says, glancing at Sam to shrug. He completely ignores Sam's look that says what the fuck are you doing, Dean? "Okay. Cool. Then toss me that diamond star halo and let's get it on."
Cas eyes start to glow and that's all the warning Sam gets; he throws up an arm to shield his eyes just in time not to get blinded by a flash of holy white light.
Dean's staring at nothing, eyes unfocused on the middle distance, and Sam's getting a little worried. "Uh, Dean?"
Five minutes have passed since the flash of grace, and Sam barely caught his brother before he toppled off the chair and onto the floor. He seated Dean on the bed’s edge, so at least if he tips over there's a fifty-percent chance he'll land on something soft.
Dean blinks, eyes snapping focus on Sam, the rest of him unmoving. "Yeah." His voice is coarse — not like Cas, but took-a-shot-of-Everclear rough. Dean blinks again, several times in quick succession, inhaling sharply through his nose. His pupils are blown so wide Sam can't see the green. "Hi," he says.
Sam resists the urge to hold up some fingers and ask Dean for a number. He claps him on the shoulder instead. "What the hell, Dean?"
"I just, uh." Dean runs a hand through his hair, then shivers, vibrating in Sam's grip. "Little dizzy. He's..." a goofy ass smile spreads over Dean's face, "tingly."
"Tingly," Sam repeats, deadpan.
Dean snorts a laugh that devolves into a giggle. Sam rolls his eyes.
He tries to stand and reels, ass landing heavily on the bed. Sam steadies him when he cants to the side. "Holy shit. It's like," Dean pitches forward, cackling, and Sam readjusts his grip on Dean's shoulder so he doesn't end up on the floor. "You ever done a whippit?"
Brain damage, Sam thinks. Great.
"Hey," Dean stage-whispers, waggling his eyebrows, "can you see my halo?"
Sam checks Dean's forehead with the back of his hand and frowns. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"I'm fine, Sam," Dean grouses, rolling his eyes and swatting Sam's hand away. He at least sounds more like himself, so Sam lets his hand drop. Dean closes his eyes and rubs at them with his palms, blinking hard before sucking down a breath. "Okay. I'm okay, seriously, quit looking at me like I just sold whatever's left of my soul for a sandwich."
Sam purses his lips but lets it go. "Fine," Sam says. "But we need to talk about — "
"No, we don't," Dean interrupts. He pushes to his feet again, albeit more steadily, shoving Sam off when he reflexively goes to assist. "What we need to do is round up some lunch."
"Dean, seriously, will you just — " Sam stops himself when he sees Dean looking past him; Sam glances over his shoulder to Cas — or what was Cas, five minutes ago, and is now just Jimmy's empty vessel, still in the chair and hanging limply in its bonds, black tear-streaks on his cheeks from Rowena's attack-dog spell. "Yeah, and that," Sam adds. "What are we doing with him in the meantime?"
Dean just stares blankly ahead. Sam waves a hand in his face, and Dean punches him in the shoulder. "Knock it off. And don't worry about it. Cas left enough grace in there to keep the engine idling. Or he... okay, whatever. Yeah, it is. Oh my god, shut up, I don't need to draw him a goddamn diagram."
It occurs to Sam that this conversation is no longer directed at him. Dean makes a massive show of rolling his eyes and mimicking a talking mouth with his hand. "Short version is he won't start decomposing all over the place. Can we eat now? Turns out chugging grace burns through calories. I'm starving."
Having an angel riding shotgun is no excuse for people to keep dying, or that's the reasoning Dean lays down on Sam when Sam tries to pawn off a local hunt.
They laid Cas's vessel up in one of the spare rooms, tied down just in case the spell somehow animates it into some sort of rage-zombie while Cas cools his heels inside of Dean. Jimmy's body was heavier than it looked, and the gentle rise-and-fall of his chest is the only hint that anything was left ticking at all. Sam's a little worried about sanitary issues, but apparently Cas isn't worried and therefore Dean isn't worried, and Sam just needs to pull that stick out of his ass or whatever.
"It's not a big deal." Dean pops the car into drive before Sam even hits the passenger seat. "We got a job to do, and we're not going on hiatus just because we're a man down. Cas can just ride along for a little Hunter 101."
Before Sam can remind Dean that Cas has several billion years of being a heavenly squad leader in his resume, Dean rolls his eyes so hard his head rolls with them, dropping back against the seatback.
"Okay, dude, seriously, not the same thing. I don't care how big your sword was." Dean looks up and jabs an accusatory finger at Sam. "Shut up."
Sam closes his mouth, but can't help the shiteating grin.
It's a long drive to Daylight, Indiana, one that nearly ends early after Dean's third attempted side-swipe. There's half an argument about Sam taking over, one Cas must have Sam's back on, because Dean hands over the keys without much of a fight.
Dean's uncharacteristically quiet during the drive. He doesn't reach for the radio and Sam enjoys the silence for a while, stealing the occasional glance at his brother; Dean spends most of the trip with his elbow propped against the windowsill, chin in hand, staring vacantly at the blurry landscape.
Four hours in, Sam gets bored with the quiet and turns on the radio. Tunes it to Top 40 and waits for a reaction that never comes.
An hour later, Sam plays with the dial until he finds some obnoxious rap song. Even dares to turn it up a notch.
He makes a pit stop in St. Louis for gas and coffee. They're still a few hours from their destination, the sun sinking in the rearview. Dean waits in the car while Sam tops off the tank and runs into the shop, and starts when Sam nudges him to hand over a cup.
"Thanks." Dean takes a sip and, blinking, squints at their surroundings. He yawns and rubs at his eyes. "You want me to take over?"
Sam confirms he’s okay to keep going; Dean nods, burrowing into his coffee. He grimaces when Sam turns over the engine and loud techno blares over the speakers.
"What the fuck," Dean snaps. He shoves a cassette into the dash.
Led Zeppelin keeps Sam company all the way to the motel they crash in for the night. Best to go after the vamps in the daylight, and Sam's a few years past being able to roll twenty-six hours straight without it taking a toll on his reflexes. He takes a seat at the little table by the window to dig through his go-bag, grabbing a beer out of the cooler as he sets up his laptop.
Dean collapses into the seat across from him, looking as ragged as he did the day he dragged himself out of Purgatory.
Sam sips at his beer.
"Give me one of those," Dean says. Even his voice sounds tired. Sam hands him a fresh one, and Dean guzzles down half the bottle in one swig, throat working furiously. He sags into his chair, thumping the glass back onto the table and gives Sam a deep look of despair. "He's been going on about cats since we left St Louis. If I have to listen to one more thesis on the higher points of feline sophistication I'm going to eat my gun."
Sam hides a smile around the rim of his bottle. Dean catches it anyway, and scowls. Sam shrugs. "You asked for it."
"Yeah, well, I didn't know he'd transform into a Chatty Cathy without an off button," Dean grouses. "He never talked this much when he," Dean waves his free hand around, and Sam's pretty sure the only reason he interprets that at all is because they spend way too much time together. "He spent the first three hours of the ride over here talking about bees. Bees, Sam."
Sam's saved finding a response for that when Dean makes a face and continues, "I don't care, Cas. I don't even eat broccoli. I'm not a goddamn rabbit, that's why." He plants an elbow on the table and jabs a finger at Sam. "We are not putting beehives in the conservatory."
"Actually," Sam says, thoughtful. "That's not a terrible — "
"Over my dead body." Dean says, then rolls his eyes. "Then I'll come back as a goddamn vengeful spirit and haunt the place."
Sam tunes them out, instead opening his laptop to check the local PD reports. No new bodies have dropped, but the last attack left one dead and two missing; there's a good chance those two are still alive.
He doesn't realize Dean's gotten up until he hears the bathroom door close with a soft snap. He hears Dean's muffled voice, and then, at full volume, "No, I'm not — Jesus, Cas, can you just — yeah, well, I'll stop blaspheming when you quit creeping on me in the bathroom. Some things are private, man."
The vamp nest goes like clockwork for them, meaning everything goes fine until it doesn't, but they somehow avoid getting themselves killed. They rescue the missing duo and take out three of the four bloodthirsty assholes before they even realize they're compromised. The fourth throws Sam across the room and lunges for Dean's neck, and there's a flash of white light that has Sam ducking for cover.
"God-fucking-dammit," Dean snaps. "I had it, you sonofabitch!"
The one-sided bickering continues the entire time they're disposing of the bodies, dropping the civvies off at the ER, and driving back to the motel. Dean tries to rope Sam into it, but Sam is on Cas' side so he keeps his eyes on the road and focuses on driving.
"So not the point," Dean mutters, slamming the door. "No, I'm not. No, listen, you just — "
Sam locks himself in the bathroom to shower and leaves them to it. He comes out ten minutes later only to get hit in the face with a massive black feather.
Dean's standing in the center of the room between the two double beds in nothing but a pair of jeans, bare feet spread shoulder-width on the thin carpet.
Spread out from Dean's back are two enormous wings. The exposed bones are burnt from the Fall, sporadic feathers tattered, torn and uneven, but still breathtaking in their own right. They span the width of the room, black primaries brushing opposite walls as Dean stretches them out, turning them this way and that.
"What the fuck," Sam says.
"Awesome," Dean says.
Sam clutches his towel. "Seriously, Dean?"
Dean looks up and grins at him. "You're just jealous Gadreel never let you play with his wings."
Sam rolls his eyes, grabs his clothes, and storms back into the bathroom.
Dean's gone when Sam comes back out.
Sam goes through his routine; gets their shit packed for the long drive home in the morning, and calls the hospital to check on the victims. He checks his voicemail, and the local scanner to see if anything else is amiss. He browses online for a while, getting lost in wikipedia until he feels his eyes start to drift shut. He yawns and glances at the clock; it's almost midnight, and Dean still hasn't come back.
The Impala is still parked outside and there's a bar across the street. Sam locks the room and makes his way over.
Dean's sitting alone at the bar, slowly rolling a coaster between his hands. A beer sits between his wrists, sweat beading on the glass and reflecting light from the TV bolted to the wall above him. Sam sits beside him, shakes his head when the bartender asks if he wants anything.
The coaster rolls until it hits Sam's hand and flops over. The Hoosier logo lands face-up, faded by bottle rings. "I'm fine, Sam."
"Sure," Sam says. "How's Cas?"
Dean snorts and shrugs, tipping the bottle back against his lips. "He's Cas."
Sam doesn't push it, just waits it out. The game above them goes from halftime to the fourth quarter before Dean sighs, sagging in his seat.
"It's just, fuck, I dunno. It's kinda nice," he says, taking a thoughtful swig of his latest beer. Sam’s a little nervous to see the tab at this point. "I mean, it's weird, sure, but I... I don't have to worry about him this way, y'know? 'Cause he's right here." Dean pats his chest, then snorts at whatever Cas has to say about that. "Yeah, well, it beats you fucking off to wherever you fuck off to all the time."
"How many of those have you had?" Sam asks, not expecting an answer. Dean's got that far-away look he gets whenever Cas is talking, idly swirling the dregs in his bottle. It takes a lot for Cas to get hammered, but maybe the tolerance doesn't carry over when an angel is only sharing a vessel. Maybe Dean had more than beer before Sam bothered to come find him.
"Hey, hey, hey," Dean says, drumming his fingers along the bartop. The bartender shoots them a strange look, but Dean's slurring enough to explain away any questions. "Will you shut up? That's not what I — I know you're — yeah, well. Good." He downs the rest of his beer, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "About goddamn time."
Sam hands over a credit card and drags Dean back to the motel, thankful his brother goes without a fight. Dean shucks his shoes and pulls a pair a headphones over his ears, the gentle tick of the iPod overloud in the solemn quiet of the room. He crawls into bed after messing with it for a minute, collapsing on top of the covers, seemingly conked out before his head hits the pillow.
Sam's nearly asleep when a low voice murmurs to his left.
"You're being too literal," Dean mumbles, and fabric rustles as he shifts along the sheets. "S'open to interpretation. Subjective, yeah. Music's art, man, just auditory. I dunno, some people think it's about the woes of being rich and famous, but honestly?" Dean punches his pillow. "I think it's about a hooker."
The trip back to the bunker is better. Dean does most of the driving, and Sam's almost thankful for the constant stream of classic rock 'n roll. He doesn't know if Cas has taken a backseat or is simply keeping quiet, but it's nice to have his brother back, even if he's an obnoxious prick.
"Dude, no fucking way." Dean's driving with one wrist propped on the windowsill, another balanced at the top of the steering wheel. "True Grit is a classic. How are we even related?"
"Okay but hear me out — " Sam starts.
"Two words, Sammy: John Wayne."
Sam rolls his eyes. "Yeah, like he doesn't play the exact same guy in every movie he — "
"Finish that sentence and you’re hitchhiking back to Kansas."
Sam manages to keep his seat back to Lebanon, even if he does have to listen to a five-hour dissertation on every character John Wayne's ever played.
The following morning, Sam comes back from his run to find Dean already in the kitchen, buried waist-deep in the fridge. Sam pulls out his ear buds, tossing the iPod on the counter. He rarely sees Dean before dawn, much less without a full carafe of coffee in hand. "Hey," he says in greeting. "You're up early."
Dean extracts himself from the fridge, movements a little stiff, cardboard box poised in one hand as he turns to face Sam. He stares, unblinking. When he speaks, his voice sounds like it’s been run through a blender. "I don't require sleep, Sam."
Sam stares. "That is really creepy."
"I apologize," Dean — no, Cas, it's Cas — says, closing the fridge carefully behind him. He holds up the pie in explanation. "In this..." he pauses on the next word, re-evaluating. "I seem to have developed unusual cravings."
"Right," Sam says, because, sure, that... makes sense. There was that time when Jimmy's craving for red meat briefly turned Cas into the Hamburglar. Cas opens the box on the table, not bothering to cut a slice, just digging into the center with a spoon. Sam busies himself with coffee. "So, how's he doing? Dean, I mean, with the whole — "
"Dean is well." Though Sam has his back to Cas, he can hear the thoughtful look on his face. "Better, even. I had no idea his liver had degraded so much. I would have repaired it much sooner had I known."
Sam considers the steady diet of alcohol Dean had consumed while believing Cas was trapped in Purgatory, and when he realized that Sam hadn't looked for them.
"That's good," Sam says to the coffee machine, for lack of anything else. "So is he awake in there? Or are you just, uh, borrowing his body while he sleeps?"
A pause, and then: "He's currently dreaming."
"Dreaming," Sam repeats. He doesn't necessarily want details, but Dean would never give him a straight answer. Sam starts the brewer and turns around to see Cas spooning apple pie into his — Dean's — mouth with precise movements, like he's still learning the distance between Dean’s mouth and hand. "Can you like, see it or is it..."
Sam trails off when Cas slants him a loaded glance, left eyebrow arching in a way that makes Sam squirm. He's looking at Sam in that unrelenting way he usually stares at Dean, and Sam has no idea how Dean stands it. Eventually, he swallows and says, "It's a pleasant dream."
Sam doesn't know how to follow that up without violating some unspoken rule of cohabitation, but tries anyway. "Does he... dream every night?"
"His nightmares don't come as often as they used to," Cas says, and Sam wonders if it should bother him how quickly Cas picked up on that. He turns his attention back to the pie. "And when they do, I can discourage them."
Sam's curious and can't help it, hopes Dean won't remember this conversation. "Because you're in his head?"
Cas chews thoughtfully before answering. "I've done it before," is what he says, loading another spoonful of apple filling. "But like this, I can stop them before they start."
Sam wonders if Dean knows, but doesn't know how to broach that topic, so he starts breakfast instead. By the time he's loaded a bowl full of oatmeal, a mug full of coffee, and takes a seat across from Cas, half the pie is gone; one forearm is laid out along the table, Cas’s other hand tracing long lines across the thin skin of the wrist with his fingertips. His eyes are closed, head bowed, and Sam fidgets because what the hell.
Sam clears his throat. "Pie really isn't breakfast food," he says.
"Pie is anytime food, Sammy," Dean clips back, shifting his hands and shoving another spoonful into his mouth. His eyes shift over Sam's shoulder, locked on nothing. He grins. Sam stares, and Dean swipes the coffee right out from under his nose.
It happens a few more times, though it isn't always Cas Sam runs into in the morning; sometimes Dean's just up early. Sam can tell the difference, now; little quirks in his movements, the way his head tilts to the side in question when Sam offers him coffee. There's an ethereal stillness to Cas that Dean never has, even when he's not moving; Cas holds Dean's body in a way that Sam can effortlessly distinguish, though it's still weird as all hell.
Two weeks have passed since the vamp nest and almost three since this whole thing started. It's about the time Dean would go stir-crazy and start looking for trouble, something to do just so he doesn't get caught up in his own head. It always starts with stress-cleaning; gleaming countertops and the bunker reeking of steamed laundry, followed by Dean clawing at the walls until Sam cracks and digs up a case eighteen hours away just to get Dean out before he burns the place down.
Sam glances at the pile of dishes in the sink. He pokes his head out into the hall to listen for the quiet rumble of the washing machine. Huh.
He finds Dean in what counts as their den, though it's just another cramped closet of a room Dean's furnished with a coffee table, a recycled couch, and a huge flat screen that he scored from Best Buy using stolen credit cards. There's a movie on the screen, some old western that Dean's likely seen a hundred times before, turned down so low that it may as well be muted. A full beer sits forgotten on the table. Dean’s sunk so low on the couch that Sam can barely see the back of his head.
"Hey," Sam says in greeting, coming around the far side of the couch and flopping down. "You drinking that?"
Dean isn't moving, but he freezes anyway, limbs locking like Sam's caught him watching Japanese cartoon porn. He carefully doesn't look at Sam, eyes glued to the screen. "Uh," Dean says, scratching at his jaw, "hi. Um."
At which point Sam realizes he's interrupted... something, and God, he doesn't want to know. He mumbles an excuse about the dishes and trips over himself getting out of the room.
Sam has no idea when that became a thing, but he keeps an eye out after the movie incident; how the grocery cart ends up laden with jars of peanut butter and jelly, Dean with a bouquet of spring flowers because the place needs a little sprucing up, what do you care?; the way Dean blushes whenever Sam catches the slow movement of his hands trailing over each other; random laughter, bright and loud in the bunker; the goofy smile on Dean's face in the morning that tells Sam exactly how good of a night he had; how Dean starts singing in the showers again, full-on belting out the lyrics to whatever rock song-of-the-day he's got in his head, something Sam hasn't heard him do in years.
They wait a full extra week to return Cas to his body, just to be safe, though Dean insists they can wait until the weekend, really, it's no big deal, I don't mind.
"It's not like he's going to pop back into his body and just take off," Sam says, and snaps his mouth shut. He hadn’t meant to voice it, but it's too late to take it back.
Dean glares at him across the table and crosses his arms. "That's not what I — " he stops, face pinching, and Sam watches his expression change as whatever Cas says sinks in. The line of his shoulders relax, and his hands smooth out along his arms as he sighs. "Fine. Whatever. It'll be nice to take a shit again without a running commentary on my fiber intake."
Sam should take the acquiescence while he's got it, but Dean doesn't have a patent on shitty timing. "It's okay to miss him, y'know."
Dean's nostrils flare and Sam catches the pink flush on his cheeks before pushes off the chair and turns away.
"But you don't have to," Sam presses, gently, aware he's playing with fire. One wrong word and the whole thing'll burn down. "I'm not Dad. You're the only one here who thinks there's something wrong with it."
There's a long moment of stillness and Sam waits it out, lets Cas fill in whatever words Sam can't.
Eventually, Dean sucks in a breath, but doesn't turn around. "So we gonna do this thing, or what?"
The hunt after Cas gets his body back, Sam gets them separate rooms. Dean's jaw ticks, but he takes the key, Cas following wordlessly on his heels.
If Cas' fingers linger on Dean's shoulder these days, or Dean rests his weight against Cas while they're camped out in a library piecing together clues, Sam doesn't comment; it's not like they're holding hands or making out in the backseat. Despite being a shameless flirt, Dean's never been big on PDAs. He'll talk to Sam about it when he's ready. Or he'll bottle it up until he explodes and puts Sam in an early grave. Whatever.
Afternoon crawls its way to evening, sunlight casting long shadows along the library tables. It's quiet; libraries in small towns are usually pretty popular, but ever since the bodies started dropping the town’s been keeping home after dark. Cas wandered off a while ago to return the books they'd finished with. Dean's slumped back in his chair, eyes glazed and mouth parted, trading research duty for a cat nap.
Dean shifts and his eyes flutter when Cas reappears by the table and lays down a paper coffee cup. Bleary-eyed, Dean embraces the cup, bringing it under his nose. He gives a deep, guttural purr, reminiscent of a cat that, for the moment, has decided it is content with being pet. His eyes drift closed in anticipation, the words tumbling out around the cup's rim. "Marry me."
Cas sits beside Dean and reopens up his book to a marked page. "Okay."
Dean jerks mid-sip, thankfully spitting most of the coffee back into his cup. Sam sinks a little lower in his chair, letting the open lid of his laptop serve as makeshift privacy screen for whatever the hell's coming next. Dean just stares at Cas like the angel's sprouted another set of wings right here in the public library of Whitefish, Montana.
Cas flips the page in his dusty tome, eyes scanning and absorbing words at a speed that makes Sam a little jealous.
"Um," Dean attempts. He's still staring, a pregnant pause growing before he blurts, "What?"
Cas looks up from his book. He meets Dean's gaze evenly. "I said okay, Dean."
"Okay?" Dean repeats.
"Yes," Cas clarifies, turning back to his book. He pauses when he realizes that Dean hasn't moved. "Would you prefer I declined?"
"I," Dean starts, then swallows. He lowers the cup. "I wasn't — "
Dean's words cut off sharply as Cas meets his gaze. "Do you wish to rescind the offer?"
"No." The word is out of Dean's mouth so fast that Sam's impressed, really, even if it snags on its way out. Dean clears his throat and tries again. "Uh. No, I don't."
"Okay," Cas says. The table’s dim, so Sam might be imagining the slight uptick at the corner of Cas’s mouth. He returns to his book. "Then I accept your proposal."
Dean's mouth works silently for a moment before he gives up. Sam coughs quietly into his fist to remind them they're not, in fact, alone. Dean shoots Sam the kind of look he reserves for tofu. It might be more effective if he weren't the approximate color of a tomato.
"What?" Dean demands.
"Nothing," Sam says. Dean watches him for a moment. Sam keeps his eyes on his laptop until Dean breathes, hackles going down, and he slumps back in his seat.
Sam waits a beat, chewing his lip, and blurts, "So... which one of you is gonna wear the dress?"
It's not the first time they've been kicked out of a public library, but it's definitely the first time they've had the cops called on them for it.