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He's a (Zoo) Keeper

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Being unemployed for the fourth day in a row, Castiel had expected to have time free to do things. Fun things, like taking a stroll to the park, or visiting a museum.

Except his entire Monday felt like Sunday had, and not in a good way. There was far more laundry than he’d expected, and the fridge was a mess, and there was something sticky on the doorhandles that hadn’t been there before. It came up to five p.m. and he realised he’d only done housework.

At that point he gave in, and changed task: if he was going to achieve anything that truly made him happy today, he was going to make the place welcoming for Dean. He would darken his bedroom, light a dozen candles – some shaped like ghosts from last Halloween, not that it mattered – and he was going to wait for him.

An effortless smile graced Castiel’s lips as he set his fourth lit match to the fifteenth candle, then shook the match until it puffed out. He drew a smoky breath, gazing contentedly at his soft-glowing room, points of gold amidst purples and umber.

Dean would be home soon. When he wasn’t out with someone, he was usually home by six.

The clock ticked in that direction.

Five-fifty-five.

Five-fifty-seven.

Castiel checked himself in the ensuite mirror, unbuttoning the top of his shirt. He tugged the collar open so Dean would see more of his skin. There was a flush on his cheeks, and a shine in his eyes; he was excited and he knew it.

Returning to his bedroom, Castiel took off his socks, then paced by his closed door. He’d hear Dean come home from here. He’d go out to him... and then kiss him hello.

Oh, the rush that idea gave him! Kissing Dean hello. Casually. Like it wasn’t a big deal at all, like they always kissed hello.

And then Castiel would lead him here, and they’d make love by candlelight. Just the thought of having Dean the moment he got home from work made Castiel’s temperature soar. Maybe Dean would smell like hay from the rhino paddock. Maybe he’d smell like summer sweat. They could have beautiful, dirty sex. Maybe on the floor? Castiel quickly rushed to straighten the rug so there wouldn’t be lumps.

He heard the clack of the front door lock.

Castiel went to his bedroom door, ready to welcome his roommate with a kiss—

Just leave your shoes on, it’s fine,” Dean’s low voice bled through the wall. “Uh. Kitchen. Living room. That’s my roommate’s bedroom—” A knuckle rapped twice on the door. “Cas, you in there?

Castiel hesitated, hand touching the handle but not turning it. Chills shot down his spine, because he heard a woman’s voice. “Which way’s your room? Dang, you weren’t kiddin’ about the bee stuff, were yeh?

That’s the main bathroom. Next one along’s mine. Yeah.” Tap-tap on Castiel’s door again. “Cas?” Dean turned and opened the door, and they met in the gap. Dean laughed and backed out, and Castiel hurried after him, closing the door so Dean wouldn’t see the candles.

“Hey.” Dean grinned. He was about to say something, but then his smile faded and he asked, “You all right?”

“Oh. Yes. Fine,” Castiel smiled. “Long day. I hear you brought someone home.”

“Uh-huh—” Dean reached for the woman who approached, and happily slung an arm over her low shoulders. She was a pale, petite little redhead, whose hair flared back past her shoulders, freckles over her nose, a slightly stern look in her eyes. “Lexie’s a kindergarten teacher, met her at the zoo today.”

“Your place is grand,” Lexie said, sticking out a hand to Castiel. “Nice to meet yeh.”

Castiel started to grin, shaking her hand. “Castiel. You’re Irish?”

“Yep. Grew up in a wee luttle place just south’a Dublin. Half Scottush though, on me mam’s side. Don’t let the accent fool yeh; the red locks are all hars.”

Somehow Castiel couldn’t help his smile; Lexie was charming. She wore a Harry Potter merch shirt with green cap sleeves, and she was already chatting about the beekeeping books piled up on the dining table. “Me sister and I always clambered down to the brooks to find wild ones. Got us a few stings—” she laughed with her eyes squeezed tight shut, “but aye, was it worth it! Never had better honey in me life.”

Dean chuckled, clapping Castiel on the shoulder. “Could leave you two to talk all night about bees. Wouldn’t that be fun.” He gave Castiel a dull look, and Castiel squinted before he realised Dean was implying he wanted to escape with Lexie.

“Oh. Yes, I’m sure we could,” Castiel said to Lexie. “But you and Dean have... um, things to do. So. And I also have. Things. Lots of things.”

Dean squeezed and rubbed Castiel’s shoulder, then headed away, following Lexie as she wandered back to Dean’s room, chatting all the way about the decor. “I had a table runner like that! Well, I made it. Craft class, year twelve. What is that, senior year? I had one more year’s schooling after that, though. Oh, look’a that! I have a copy. Have you read that one?”

The door closed behind them, and suddenly the hallway seemed very quiet. The bass of Dean’s voice rolled deep and distant, but after one boom of a laugh, he went silent.

Castiel drew a deep breath, returning to his bedroom. It smelled like candle wax and match-head fumes, but as he bent to start blowing out the candles one by one, the smoke of dead flames filled the room with a bitter grey scent, and a blurry haze.

Leaving the door open for ventilation, Castiel went back to the kitchen, washing his hands for something to do.

He fought against his disappointment, although he knew it was warranted. The harder battle, however, was against something that felt like a crushing sensation in his chest. He was less upset about what he didn’t get than what he did. There was somebody else in Dean’s room, probably kissing him by now. Given the speed at which Dean and Castiel went from kissing to sex, Dean and Lexie might even be coupling at this very moment.

Surely Castiel couldn’t be jealous. He wasn’t supposed to get jealous. He and Dean had agreed— They’d agreed! What they shared was temporary. It could only last until Dean found someone else. And now he’d found someone else.

Dean could’ve given a heads-up, though, couldn’t he? That wasn’t an unreasonable ask. Castiel had been a phone call away all day.

Not jealous, Castiel decided. Lexie was delightful. She and Dean seemed comfortable together. They’d make a lively couple. Given they both had green eyes and freckles, if they ever made it as far as breeding, they’d be an attractive genetic match.

Castiel wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but he thought about it anyway. He started washing and chopping tomatoes while putting potatoes on the boil, since dinner needed to be made, and Dean was too busy to do it. He smiled, because he liked the idea of cuddling Dean’s baby. Maybe Dean would name him as the godfather.

Or... not father. God...parent.

Or just a co-parent. That would be very special.

What if Dean and Lexie broke up and Dean was left with the baby and Castiel raised it with him? People would assume they were a couple when they went anywhere together. Maybe they’d become so entrenched in the domestic routine they shared, and had so much sexual chemistry, that eventually they’d both forget they weren’t a couple, and twenty years would pass, and Dean would wake up beside Castiel one morning and realise he hadn’t had been intimate with anyone but Castiel in all that time. And by then, he didn’t want to be again.

Castiel let out a longing sigh, pushing his casserole deep into the heated oven. He looked up at the clock and saw it was nearly seven. Surprised, he glanced around, realising he’d turned the kitchen upside-down, lost in fantasy this whole time.

Now self-aware, he frowned and scrubbed the chopping board in the sink, despairing at himself that the most exciting part of his fantasy had been the part where Dean forgot he wanted to sleep with other people. Castiel couldn’t believe he was excited by that. He had no right to be. Either he accepted that Dean would always be helplessly drawn to other people, or he and Dean cancelled their arrangement entirely, and Castiel did not want that.

Regardless, Dean understood why Castiel wasn’t at ease with his non-monogamy. And Castiel trusted that once they talked the subject over, Dean would tread gently.

That would be enough.

Castiel smiled when Dean came out of his room, swaggering to the kitchen in his boxers and a loose shirt that hung off one shoulder. He had a few red marks on his neck and below his lips, and he walked a bit unevenly.

“Hey,” he said softly, coming up behind Castiel.

“Hello, Dean,” Castiel said, with equal warmth, as he wiped up surface crumbs with a damp towel.

Dean spanked Castiel’s ass, then pressed snug to his back, kissing the nape of his neck. “How was your day?”

Castiel shut his eyes, smiling, feeling himself melt into Dean’s heat. But he turned and shook his head. “Don’t do this. I know you have the capacity to love so many people at once, but... I really mean it, Dean, I don’t want—” a kiss, accidental – “I-I-I don’t want to be an after-thought. Commit to Lexie. You can have me again when you break up.”

Dean quirked up an eyebrow. “When we break up?”

“If.” Castiel smirked.

Dean grinned, patting Castiel’s cheek. “Okay.”

“And Dean—”

“Yeah.”

“I need you to warn me first. Before bringing someone else home.”

Dean nodded. “Uh. Alright. Can do that. Sorry about today, then. Didn’t think it was gonna—”

“It’s forgotten,” Castiel said. “Really. Let’s move on.”

Dean drew a solemn breath, taking a step back. “Can—?” He inched forward again. “Can I get one more kiss?”

Castiel chuckled, nodding, reaching for Dean as Dean fell against him, hands in Castiel’s hair. Dean sank down, some odd tension fading from his shoulders, from his face. He made the kiss linger, and linger, but then Castiel forced his fingertips between their lips, and the kiss broke with a shared sigh. Dean swallowed, then stepped back, taking Lexie’s caramel scent with him. He wiped his lips, not meeting Castiel’s eyes.

“Thanks,” Dean said. “What, uh. What’s cookin’?”

“Vegetable and beef-mince casserole, mashed potato on top. It’s almost done – look, the top’s turning golden.”

“Ooh.”

“Is Lexie staying for dinner?”

“She’s going in the shower, pretty sure she’d headed home. School night, and all that.”

“Right.” Castiel leaned on the counter, arms folded. “Was it... good? With Lexie.”

Dean met his eyes. “You never used to ask that.”

“Can’t I ask now?”

Dean rolled a shoulder, starting to grin. “Was awesome. I’m tellin’ ya, she talks non-stop, but the moment I got her G-spot, she went quiet. Kinda funny, huh.”

“Hm.” Castiel showed Dean a smile before Dean left for the bathroom. But the smile dropped the moment Dean’s back was turned.

Was he jealous? Was he? He couldn’t tell. But there was discomfort in the pit of his stomach, and he turned for the oven as it beeped, praying it was just hunger.

 

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Dean had been dating Lexie for a few weeks, still ongoing. From Castiel’s perspective, there wasn’t much to say on the subject, as he didn’t attend their dates, he didn’t meet Lexie more than thrice, and Dean came home as he always did, tired and in need of a shower.

Castiel spent those weeks without a steady job, but put in some time and reaped the rewards of publishing a handful of online scientific articles, all on the topic of bee-killing pesticides and how they would legitimately doom all life on Earth to extinction if they weren’t banned by law. Besides that, his time was divided between housework and job-searches, and, of course, the care and keeping of his own bees. They got grumpy when it rained, so by week two of Dean-plus-Lexie, Castiel was mid-way through constructing an additional roof to put up over the hive for when the weather turned. Fall was only a couple of months away, and he intended to be prepared.

Once, at the tail end of a Tuesday, Dean fell with a sigh into the couch beside Castiel, rested for a moment, then tugged his phone out of his jeans. “Look,” he said.

He bent forward over his thighs, scrolling with a single finger until he found what he was looking for, and then handed over his phone.

Castiel saw the photo of a slimy baby giraffe on the screen and squealed, hand slapped over his mouth. “She had the baby! She had the b—” He threw his arms around Dean and sobbed for joy, glad to feel Dean squeeze him back.

“Little guy’s as big as me,” Dean said, pulling back, wearing a huge grin. “Plopped down in the dirt hooves and nose first. Was walking within fifteen minutes.”

“Incredible,” Castiel breathed, holding the phone in both hands, shaking his head in awe at even the blurriest photos. He scrolled through, flashes of smiles and happy grins bursting out every time he saw a new angle or a different hoof.

“Fifteen months,” Dean said proudly. “Fifteen months she carried that baby. We weren’t expecting him for another three days or so. But out he came. Plop.” He chuckled, leaning back on the couch. “Boy, am I exhausted. There were news crews and bloggers and happy schoolkids rushing all over the place with cameras. Baby giraffe’s gonna be tonight’s local front-page headline.”

“What are you going to name him? Has he been named already?”

“I mean,” Dean shrugged, “what do you call a six-foot baby? We’ve already got the sisters Zig and Zag, and then there’s the baby’s mommy, Tol. Like Charlie said to the news people, the obvious thing to call him is Smol – ironic as it is, given he’s a giant from day one.”

Castiel snorted, handing back the phone before snatching it again, wanting another look. “Baby Smol. Oh, that’s wonderful.”

Dean shut his eyes, taking a rest while he smiled.

“Look, friend,” Castiel said. “You have a new cousin.”

Dean peeked to see what Castiel was doing, and grinned when he saw him showing the cellphone photos to his plushie giraffe.

“You give that thing a name yet?”

“Not yet. But I think now I’ll have to call her Tiny.”

“Her? I thought it looked like a dude giraffe.”

Castiel shrugged. “She likes being a girl sometimes.”

Dean pursed his lips, putting a hand on Castiel’s upper thigh. “Did you notice I haven’t said ‘dude’ or ‘man’ in a couple weeks? Even when I’m not talking directly at you?”

Castiel blinked a few times, then gasped, “Oh! Now that you mention it—!”

Dean laughed, rocking his leg over to touch Castiel’s. “Love ya, buddy.”

Castiel lay back with him, gazing at him.

“Hey, uh,” Dean started. “Is it all right if I... tell other people about – you? You not being a dude.”

Castiel pondered. “Depends. Who would you tell?”

“I dunno, just, if it came up in conversation.”

Castiel smiled a little. “Sure.”

“‘Kay. Awesome.” Dean gazed back, smiling. Then he sniffed. “Oh—” He sat up, got up, and ran off.

“Dean?” Castiel waited, listening. He heard Dean rummaging through a bag, then his footsteps as he padded back to the couch. He sat down and handed Castiel a block of chocolate. It had a panda photo on the paper packaging, so Castiel knew it was from the zoo gift shop.

“Lexie’s vegan,” Dean said. “This crap’s dairy free, which I thought covered that whole deal, but, uh. Something about gelatin, I dunno. There’s jelly inside the blocks.”

“Ooh,” Castiel said in delight, as Dean finally took back his phone. Castiel unwrapped the top of the chocolate, breaking off a piece for him and Dean each. As the chocolate melted on his tongue, Castiel mumbled, “Maybe I shoulb be happy you’we dating uvver peopwe. More for me.” He cheerfully popped another jelly block into his mouth, enjoying the squish.

Dean chewed and swallowed, his eyes set thoughtfully on Castiel. Head slightly tilted, he asked, “You make it sound like you’re not happy. About me and Lexie, I mean.”

Castiel sat up straighter, the chill of discomfort settling on his shoulders. He swallowed, then peered down at the chocolate slab, pretending to read the label.

“Is—” Dean pushed up a nervous grin, peering into Castiel’s eyes in concern. “Are you— Cas, are you jealous?”

Castiel frowned, shaking his head. “No. No, it’s not that.”

“Then what?”

Castiel wet his lips, looking up to meet Dean’s eyes. “I’m doing my best to be okay with... you wanting her. That makes sense. It’s strange for me, yes, but I feel it getting easier. I know you’re still attracted to me, I feel it when you look at me, still. I’m not losing you to her. I know that. That’s not the problem. I’m not jealous.”

Dean turned on the couch to face Castiel more, listening.

“It’s just,” Castiel put down the chocolate and eyed the ceiling, letting out a breath. “I feel left out.” He hung his head. “Ugh, that sounds ridiculous. Especially because you live with me and Lexie goes home. You’re bringing me gifts. You eat dinner with me every night. I shouldn—”

“Cas, it’s okay,” Dean said, taking his hand. “That’s envy. You want somethin’ and you’re not getting it, but you know Lexie’s getting it. That’s pretty normal. C’mon. Don’t tell yourself you ‘shouldn’t’ feel something, bud. Even if it sucks, and you think there’s logical reasons why it’s irrational – if you feel something, you feel it.”

Castiel sighed, resting his face in his hands. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For saying I didn’t want you and then still wanting you.”

Dean laughed, placing a hand on Castiel’s back. Castiel looked up at him, and Dean just grinned. “You wanna spend more time with me, is that it?”

Castiel sat up. “What would we do?”

Dean shrugged. “Watch movies. Drink beer. Talk. Argue about bees. Y’know. All the crap we usually do.”

Castiel glanced away. “Right. Mm-hm. That sounds good.”

Dean tilted his head to catch Castiel’s eyes. “No it doesn’t. Quit lying to me, Cas, that’s not gonna get us anywhere.”

Castiel looked away again, apologetic this time.

“You...” Dean thought for a bit, then said, “You wanna do something special? Just you, me... Phones off. No interruptions.”

That seemed infinitely more appealing to Castiel. “Okay.”

Dean smiled. “Okay!” He reached up and knuckle-pushed Castiel’s jaw. “There’s a real smile. Look at that.”

Castiel grinned now, warm in the chest.

“Tomorrow,” Dean said. “Eight o’clock. Right here.”

“Okay.” Castiel was beaming now.

“Okay.” Dean stood up, then leaned down with one foot off the ground to smack a kiss to the top of Castiel’s head. When he stood back, he paused, and said, seriously, “Cas? Don’t lie about how you’re feeling. Not ever. Especially when it comes to relationships. Trust me, pal, it never works out. I think we both know that.”

Castiel held his eyes for a long while, sharing memories and comforting each other with nothing but an extended stare. Eventually Castiel nodded.

“Goodnight, Dean.”

Dean winked. “Night, Cas.”

And he sauntered off. Castiel reached for Tiny, the bean-filled giraffe, and his chocolate, smiling. He let Tiny have a nibble of a chocolate piece first, before tossing the rest into his own mouth.

 

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At eight o’clock that Wednesday, Dean presented Castiel a twelve-by-twelve-inch wrapped gift, with tigers on the paper. It was a slim thing, and light in Castiel’s hands.

“I think I know what this is,” Castiel smiled as Dean sat beside him. He carefully peeled up the wrapping tape so he didn’t damage the tigers, and when the paper folded out, he grinned, finding a brand new vinyl record inside, still shrink-wrapped. “I knew it.”

Dean shrugged. “Lexie doesn’t have a record player.”

Castiel’s eyes met Dean’s. “You bought Phil Collins’ ...But Seriously for Lexie?”

Dean’s lips parted. “Uh. Well.” He cleared his throat. “I mayyyy have bought it knowing full well she doesn’t have a record player and that Phil Collins is in your all-time top three. So.”

“So you bought it for me.”

“I bought it for you,” Dean said, one hand curled loosely by his grin, elbow propped on the couch back. “You wanna put it in now?”

“Can we?”

Castiel used his thumbnail to split the plastic, and it came away, clinging to his forearm with static. He brushed it off, and it clung to his hand, so he wiped it on Dean, who yipped in complaint, then laughed, shaking the plastic onto the floor, where it stuck to his sock.

Cracking open the gatefold of a new record was a heavenly experience for both Dean and Castiel, but for entirely different reasons. Dean liked the rush of getting some long-awaited record and adding it to his collection, the rest of which was framed thickly around the TV on the opposite wall – whereas Castiel liked the sensory experience of opening the cardboard gatefold like a book, touching it, feeling it, sliding out the records from the hollow edges, trying and failing to blow away the six flecks of dust that arrived out of nowhere. Dean insisted there were better ways to banish static dust than blowing spittle onto the record. Even so, Dean and Castiel could agree on the best parts: seeing the artwork, and listening to the music.

Castiel handed the first of two records carefully to Dean, fingers balancing the black disk by its edges. Dean took it the same way, and floated it over to the TV, underneath which was a table that looked like a side table, but was actually a record player.

Disk in, power on, Dean turned up the volume, and set the stylus on the edge of the disc as it spun.

Both Castiel and Dean’s shoulders sank down, blissed by the huge pow-wow first notes of Hang in Long Enough, with that hard-hit beat of the late 80s.

Dean made it halfway back to the couch before he stopped, and beckoned. “C’mere.”

Curious, Castiel went to him. Dean took him by the lower back, hand in hand, and swiftly but gently began to dance with him.

Castiel smiled. “Oh.”

They swayed, and swayed fast, then turned in place, and kept swaying. Somehow. in the darkness of the living room, bright lights appeared, glitter in the walls and flares of lights spinning around the room.

You never thought you'd eeee-ver get a taste

Castiel laughed, head back, as Dean swung him around by his lower back.

You never thought that it – could be – this good

Castiel twisted Dean, spun him, and Dean stumbled but came around, his eyes bright.

Just tell me what you want, and I'll find the key—
Reach out and touch!
It's all yo-o-urs!

“Ow!” Dean whooped, twisting Castiel’s arm over his head. spinning him. Castiel laughed, rocking with Dean, sway turning to a jive, both shimmying back and forth. Dean sparkled, Castiel shone, and they laughed and stepped as one, not caring how clumsy they were, how many times Castiel trod on Dean’s toes or Dean kicked Castiel’s ankles. No apologies needed. They just kept dancing.

The song kept them jumping, hearts pumping, bodies afloat; they grinned wide enough that their gums showed, their eyes stayed locked so they saw each other’s glimmer; they laughed, hands together, sweat on their foreheads, shirts untucked now. Their feet turned and skimmed the rug, Castiel barefoot and on tiptoes, Dean putting down a solid weight, losing both socks to friction halfway through.

They alwaaays saaaaay...
The best things in life are free
But you want to have ehhhverything—
Well you're going-to-have-to beg if you want it aaaaaaaaaall—

Castiel turned Dean around and splayed him out, arms long, then wrenched him close again, wrapping him up in his arms, holding him from behind.

Hang in long enouuugh,” Dean sang, head bobbing. “Yeah! You’ll do it...”

They panted, running out of energy as the end approached, trumpets and a small choir repeating the last lines, over, and over, and over, until—

Dean collapsed on the couch, laughing, hand pushing his hair off his forehead. He was loose-limbed and happy, and smiled wider as Castiel fell atop him, not touching him, resting all his weight on his hands plunged deep into the couch. Dean blinked tiredly, a lazy grin rising on one side of his face.

Rolling to lie down beside Dean, legs stretched over the now-rumpled rug, Castiel rested his cheek on Dean’s shoulder, catching his breath.

Phil Collins was halfway into That’s Just the Way It Is before either Dean or Cas could move again.

They sat up a bit more, but Castiel kept his cheek on Dean’s shoulder. Dean touched the other cheek with his own head, nuzzling.

They both rose to look at each other, still arush with endorphins. Castiel nosed forward a little, and so did Dean – but they both flinched, Dean drawing a breath, while Castiel swung away entirely, hand over his mouth.

Not meant to kiss.

Dean was still dating Lexie.

They’d agreed. No doubling up.

So Castiel slumped back, and let himself be content by Dean’s side, pressing to his heat, feeling that reassuring solidity pressing back. They shared another quick glance, and found it easy to smile.

They listened to the rest of the album in a quiet state of bliss. Dean flipped the disc the first time, and when that was over, Castiel changed to the next one.

Whether or not they could kiss, or make love, it hardly mattered, because Castiel adored every moment of this: being by Dean’s side, enjoying something together. By the look in Dean’s eyes when they finally packed up for bed, he might even have appreciated their night together more than Castiel. There was gratitude in every movement, and relief in his hug when they pressed together at last.

“Thanks,” Dean said, pulling back. He nudged Castiel’s chin. “We gotta do this again sometime. Soon.”

Castiel reached for him before he could step away. “Dean.”

“Yeah.”

“Did this feel like a date to you?” Castiel asked. “Was this a date?”

Dean’s gaze lingered, but he didn’t seem able to come up with an answer.

“You should tell Lexie,” Castiel said, lowering his eyes. “Tell her how we spent this time together. If you’re going to keep seeing her I don’t want her to think this was something that it wasn’t.”

“So it wasn’t a date,” Dean said.

Castiel lifted a shoulder. “If we’d kissed perhaps it would’ve been. But.” He blinked twice. “We just hung out. That’s all.”

Dean nodded. “Yeah.” He nodded again. “We just hung out. No big deal.” He grinned. “I mean, jeez, if I went on a date with you that would be, like... romance. Pff.”

Castiel chuckled. “Wouldn’t that be funny.”

“Hilarious.” Dean reached close and patted Castiel’s bicep twice. “Night, bud.”

“Goodnight, Dean.”

Dean took a step away, hesitated, then rushed forward and gave Castiel a kiss on the cheek. He backed up, colour on his cheeks. “Just— Didn’t feel right not to. I dunno.”

Castiel touched his fingers to his kissed cheek, smiling. “Go away already.”

“Right.” Dean shot a pair of finger guns. “Going. Bye.”

He hastened to his bedroom and shut the door – but not completely. He peered out one more time, meeting Castiel’s eyes. They both beamed. Even once Dean’s door was shut, Castiel grinned, and grinned, and grinned, turning away with his hands in his hair.

 

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