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“Hey, uh… you okay?”

Castiel looked up from studying the time-worn scratches striping the Impala’s dashboard and cocked his head. “Why wouldn’t I be, Dean?”

Dean kept his eyes on the road stretching before them. His expression was more stillness than expression. “You’ve been real quiet.”

Castiel frowned. “I’m always quiet.”

Dean bobbed his head to one side, then the other. “Guess that’s true.” He opened his mouth like there was something else he wanted to say, but bit down on his lower lip instead. His throat moved in a long, slow slide, the skin freshly shaved over the soft throb of his pulse. He kept driving. Purple streaks of blackberry were under his nails.

Even without touching him, Castiel thought that Dean’s soul felt a little strange. Not unpleasant at all, but… different. He couldn’t normally feel him this clearly unless Dean was in a moment of high emotion, and he had seen Dean at war and at play: a drive down a quiet highway did not seem to fit any of the above. Yet, Castiel’s best friend seemed electric and nervy, and, at the same time, so warm and bright that it was like glimpsing his sunlight glow through the shadows of Hell all over again.

Sam leaned over in a long diagonal, from his place behind Dean, and rested a hand on Castiel’s shoulder. He could hear the smile in Sam’s voice; the sincerity of the touch was a thick, warm blanket.

“So how’s it feel to have a last name, huh?” the younger Winchester asked him.

Castiel smiled at Sam, meeting the earnestness of those hazel eyes in the rearview mirror. “Good, I think.”

It shouldn’t have felt any different than having the name that he had possessed since the beginning of his existence. Castiel was an angel; they didn’t have surnames. They didn’t need them, after all: they had no lineage to follow and no property to bestow. Him having ‘Novak’ on his driver’s license had always been just expediency. That name had been Jimmy’s, and Claire’s, but had been no more Castiel’s than ‘Steve.’ Or ‘Agent Beyonce.’

But to be a Winchester? There was reputation in that, and pride. There had been times when he knew he didn’t deserve either of those things, so the fact that these Dean, Sam and Mary were willing to share their name with him was a joy in itself.

Human laws didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, perhaps, mutable as they were. The fact that human law said “Castiel Novak” was now “Castiel Winchester” should not have mattered at all—not to the angels, not to the world, and not to Castiel.

But it did matter. Being called a Winchester by law and in truth was an honor, and Castiel smiled and smiled with the joy of it. Sam grinned back at him in the reflection of the mirror, the lovely sunset through his window finger-painting red down his long hair.

“Welcome to the family, Castiel,” Mary leaned forward and ran a hand through Castiel’s hair in a light, startling stroke.  “We’re all so happy.”

Castiel blinked in surprise.

He’d thought he was already part of the family? At least, the Winchesters had all said as much before—in so many different ways. Life and death and rebirth, freedom and choice. He had called them his family as well, in the throes of the world dimming and drowning around him. They had refused to leave him behind to perish alone, even when he had begged for the last reprieve of not witnessing their deaths at Ramiel’s hands.

So what difference could one little piece of paper and a few signatures possibly make?

Castiel smiled back at Mary in the rearview mirror, pleased by the joy of her expression and the care in the last pat she laid on his head, but nevertheless confused. “I am happy, as well,” he noted, gravely.

*_*_*_*

Sam’s big brother was wearing his cockiest, most insouciant, completely bullshit smile on the day he told Sam, “So, uh. I’m gonna ask Cas to marry me.”

Sam dropped the grimoire he had been browsing—probably priceless, almost certainly one-of-a-kind, and heavy as fuck—on his foot. Pages sprayed out from binding too fragile to tolerate such abuse. He thought he should probably care a whole heck of a lot about that, but his jaw was located too close to his bare, aching toes right now to care about anything.

“What?” he asked, eloquently.

Sam’s first thought was how Dean, just a few weeks ago, had been trying to sell Cas on diner waitresses by telling him that they always smelled like food but that was neither here nor there nor anywhere at all.

“It’s a good idea, right? I mean, this way he knows he’s one of us for real. Ours, not Heaven’s or God’s or—I mean, he can’t still wanna be family with those feathery fuckers—and, Jesus, Sam, he just nearly died, and—”

These were simply the newest examples of the strangeness that was now the daily nature of their lives: first, that Dean was contemplating marriage to an angel; second, that Dean would call God’s angelic host ‘feathery fuckers’ and mean it; and third, that Sam would be in complete agreement with that latter description.

“—if we get injured or hospitalized or anything like that it’s not just Mom who’s next of kin—especially since her paperwork all says she’s like seventy, and—”

The fact that Dean’s intended angelic spouse was in a body that, as far as Sam was aware, was male, and Dean was Dean, well. That was a fourth. (Sam wasn’t sure if it was a close fourth or a distant one, though.)

“—besides, what if he ends up human again? This way—”

“Wait, wait. Hold up. Cas is okay, though, right?” Sam crouched down to start gathering up the pages of the book that had spilled its guts onto the floor at Dean’s announcement. He wiggled his toes while he was there, checking for blood blisters. “This isn’t some… grace battery recharge or metaphysical healing thing you found on the Internet or something?”

Dean stopped halfway through mumbling something about insurance—wow, he must really be nervous; Sam could count the number of times Dean had even said that word on one hand, and all their insurance was fake anyway—and frowned. “What?”

It wasn’t like Dean to do any kind of research of his own volition, but as Dean had so amply proven just a moment or two ago: things were always a little different when it came to Cas.

“I thought… breaking the Lance of Michael healed him, right?” Sam opened up the remainder of the book—the binding was cracked now, but it’d still hold for a bit—and carefully pushed the pages back into it. “I know he’s still not feeling all the way up to speed yet, but I thought that was just… you know. Almost dying.”

Having almost died himself more times than he liked to count, Sam understood the slightly crazed angst of recovery a little bit. But he also wasn’t an immortal being who’d been around since the dawn of existence and whom very little could actually kill. Did that make it better or worse?

Dean’s half-manic smile cracked down the middle, and he swept a hand through his hair. The breath he took was deep enough to move his whole body—that mix of relief and weight that Sam understood a little too well. “Yeah. He’s okay. I mean, I think so? He says he is. But… with all the shit that’s gone on lately, he needs… support, maybe. A win.” Dean scrubbed the hand down the back of his neck, his gaze fixed on the floor. “I dunno. Maybe we all do.”

“So you decided that marrying him would be just the pick-me-up?” Sam couldn’t help the way his voice slanted upwards in a sharp crescendo squeak. He didn’t doubt that Dean and Cas loved each other; no-one doubted that. But it wasn’t like that

Was it?

And, holy shit, Dean blushed.

That was red creeping across his cheeks and tipping his ears, lighting his faint freckles on fire. Sam’s completely shameless, unrepentant man-whore of a brother, who thought nothing of propositioning strippers, who had walked into back rooms with bartender girls and come back with sweat in his hair and a swagger to his step more times than Sam could count, was blushing.

“I mean…” he stammered, then trailed off.

Wow. Okay, wow. Sam wasn’t sure his eyebrows were ever going to leave his hairline now. “And you’re okay with him—I mean, his vessel—being male?”

Dean glanced up from the floor and scoffed, both hands stuffed deep into his pockets, and the look he gave Sam down his nose was superior enough that all of Sam’s little brother instincts should have been joshing to take Dean down a notch. It likely would have been more effective if Dean’s face hadn’t been hot now all the way from ears to collarbones.

“He’s Cas,” Dean muttered, finally.

And, well, that was probably as deep a truth as anyone was ever likely to get out of Dean.

Sam gaped. Finally, one thought floated up from under the tangled muck of amusement and confusion and mild concern and maybe just a little bit of delight.

“Are you under a spell?” he finally asked. “Because, wow, this one’s amazing.”

Dean stared at him and snorted. “Bitch.” Then he laughed.

And, well… so did Sam.

(It occurred to Sam, as they crossed the Kansas border, that at no point had he thought, ‘But what if Cas says no?’)

*_*_*_*

Dean was describing the most amazing strawberry rhubarb pie he’d ever had, with a bigger, softer smile than Sam had seen him wear in years.

They were cruising northwest through Missouri with AC/DC playing on the cassette deck. Sam had let Cas have shotgun, ‘cause they were going to Castiel’s and Dean’s wedding. Holy shit. That maybe hadn’t sunk in all the way yet.

Sam Winchester thought that this, this, might have somehow become the craziest plan that Dean had ever had. And they were all going along with it. Every last one of them. Him, Dean, their mom.

Cas.

Castiel smiled right back at Sam’s brother from the passenger seat, quiet and reserved, but crinkles appeared around his blue eyes when Dean got enthusiastic enough that he started gesturing with both hands and started mimicking taking huge bites, presumably of the aforementioned pie.

“It’s called Hoosier Mama—and yeah, Cas, I know you can only taste molecules, but you gotta at least have a bite—

No-one will be biting pie from anywhere if you get us all into a crash, so please put your hands back on the wheel, Dean!” But Cas was still chuckling when he caught one of Dean’s flailing hands in midair and planted it firmly back on the steering wheel, and Dean was grinning back big and bright. What the heck.

“They’re… cute,” their mom commented in a bewildered whisper from the Impala’s back seat, beside Sam.

“Yeah, sometimes. It weirds me out, too,” Sam agreed with a sigh. He was so glad he hadn’t had to explain any of the details to her. God, that would have been so awkward.

Yes, it was crazy, yes, it was reckless… and yes, maybe Dean was right after all. Maybe this was a good idea.

The process of getting a Cook County marriage license was surprisingly simple. The courthouse wedding the next morning was even simpler. For all that the building was old and grand enough that it probably housed at least a few ghosts, the waiting area was warm and friendly, all old white stone and folding chairs.

“So we just…” Mary Winchester looked around at the room, the chairs stacked up around the circumference, a bemused expression on her face, “…line up? Like getting a driver’s license? This is how it’s done, now?”

“I mean… not for everyone. But for some people,” Sam admitted, sitting down as Cas and Dean went to register. He had to confess, for all that the process was kind of weirdly clinical, the atmosphere was nicer than he’d expected.

Besides, the farcical production of his own Las Vegas wedding had given him PTSD in a way none of his injuries ever had. The less said about that the better. Sam was never telling their mom about that.

“Huh,” she mused.

Dean’s justification for driving them all the way to Illinois had made sense, honestly. It was one of the few states where the waiting period between license and ceremony was just a day, and where they could still get married in the courthouse rather than having to hire a justice and do it separately.

(They also hadn’t committed enough crimes in Chicago that their faces were likely to be recognized by local police; the rubber-stamping of the process meant that no-one would look too closely at their licenses, and the city was big enough that they could easily fade into it after.)

It had nothing whatsoever to do withDean’s favorite pie place in the Midwest being in the Ukranian Village. Eye roll.

It turned out that Dean could definitely do research when he put his mind to it.

Plus they still lived in Kansas. No-one at a big Democratic city courthouse would make faces about Dean and Cas both being (apparently) men… though Sam secretly thought having Cas raise his eyebrow and start lecturing a hapless Kansas county clerk about the triviality of binary gendering might’ve been hilarious.

Sam had never been to a courthouse wedding; he’d really wondered what this was going to be like, if it was going to be too clinical. But the mood in the City Hall waiting room was a little frenetic, maybe even festive—someone laughed, sweet and bright, and it echoed against the high arches and the pale stone walls. The bustle of the two dozen or so people milling around and waiting to be called in was lively without being overwhelming—though only one couple, a little to Sam’s surprise, was actually wearing a traditional white wedding dress and tuxedo combination, and they were old enough to be Mary’s real age.

Beside them, a man young enough to be Sam’s son leaned over and pressed a kiss to the cheek of a girl wearing a floor-length dress the color of peaches that looked like it belonged at a prom; their witnesses—probably their parents—beamed. Two women were wearing matching bright red dresses; another couple was in a style that could only be called ‘rockabilly.’ There were flower bouquets and bright anticipation and nervous laughter livening up the space.

“Should we have gotten corsages or something?” Sam wondered, aloud, looking around. “Boutonnieres?”

Cas wrinkled his nose.

“He doesn’t like dead flowers,” Dean explained, absently patting the small of Cas’s back.

Dammit, they were cute.

Someone spilled rice onto the floor, but everyone just laughed. One of the members of another wedding party produced a tiny dustpan and broom—why they had that, Sam wasn’t sure. Okay, everyone else would’ve probably thought the same about the salt and holy water vials they, as Winchesters, were all carrying in their pockets. Even wearing his best FBI suit, Sam felt just a little naked without a knife or a gun.

Cas looked around at all of it, interested and curious, hands folded and that familiar inquisitiveness in his gaze. Dean… well, Dean looked at Cas.

They’d been looking at each other like that for years. Sam couldn’t even say he’d somehow missed it. Heck, no-one could.

He just hadn’t known.

Their mother fixed both of their ties in the waiting room—Dean’s red, Castiel’s blue—when it was their turn to go in, and Sam thought she might have even been a bit misty-eyed.

The officiant looked exhausted and maybe a little hung over, with bags under his eyes and the collar of his shirt yellowed with old sweat. But he still studied each of their faces with tired brown eyes, one by one, very seriously. There wasn’t a speech, and there sure as heck wasn’t Elvis.

(This was a much better idea than Vegas.)

“Do you bind yourself to each other, and to your future together?” was all the justice of the peace said, with both hands framing the corners of the marriage license.

“Yeah,” Dean said, and he didn’t look away from Cas’s face. “I mean, uh. I do.”

“Of course,” Castiel agreed. “Until there is no light left to the stars, I will carry your name, and I will remember.”

He looked so surprised that someone would even ask.

Sam felt their mother sag against his side, her hand pressing into his elbow, with a soft ‘oh.’ He might have even leaned back against her, a little.

(Dean blushing—again—with his face bright red as everyone put their signatures on the license, got even the tired-eyed justice of the peace to crack a smile. The man didn’t blink at the fact that Cas signed in Enochian.)

“Do you want to stay in the city for a while? Should we get a hotel or something?” Sam wondered, as they stepped out, blinking, into the sunlight. It was just past midmorning. One of the couples who’d gone before them was taking pictures against the City Hall sign. “No-one’s allowed to look for any cases.”

A night out in Chicago would be a strange honeymoon, but since when had anything about Cas and Dean ever been normal? Not even Dean could want to go back to the little motel along I-55 they’d spent the night at, right? It’d been clean, but that had been about the best thing anyone could say about it.

And Sam wasn’t going to lie—the idea of announcing at the front desk of some nice hotel that Cas and Dean were newlyweds and demanding the honeymoon suite? Amazing. Years of little brother revenge, right there.

“Nah… I mean… I was thinkin’ maybe pick up some pie and something real good for the road and start headin’ home.” Dean looked at Cas. “Unless, uh… do you want to?”

(Sam wondered just how long Dean’s cheeks were going to stay stained pink.)

Cas blinked. “If you want to go home, we should go home.” He smiled, just out of the corners of his eyes. “I know you miss your memory foam when you’re on the road.”

(Wow. Yep. Okay. Probably awhile, then.)

For that alone, Sam would have let Cas ride shotgun.

They stopped by a small rest area halfway home, and had cold fried chicken with all the fixings and blackberry pie, sitting around a picnic table, with beers out of the cooler. Dean even fed Cas a bite of pie—off his fingers, but it wasn’t as gross as it could have been, because they were all eating with their fingers. (They’d forgotten utensils.)

Okay, no. It was still gross. But… an almost sweet kind of gross.

“They are still molecules,” Cas told them, after a long, thoughtful second, leaning against Dean’s side and licking a purple smear off his bottom lip. “But I think they are nicer molecules than most.”

It was, Sam thought, honestly, one of the best days they’d ever had.

*_*_*_*

It was pretty late by the time they got home—late enough that everyone human was yawning or dozing as the Impala pulled into the garage. Baby vibrated soothingly, quietly around them as Dean keyed off the ignition. Sam shook himself the rest of the way awake as Cas rumbled something to Dean, softly. Dean chuckled, hauling the plastic bag of trash with him on his way out.

“This old lady’s going to get some sleep. Good night, my boys. Congratulations,” their mom said, and she pulled each of them down to her level to press a kiss into their foreheads, one by one, smiling and smiling and smiling.

“Thank you, Mary,” Cas, the last, said, so sweetly that even Sam felt a smile tug at his lips.

She sniffled, just once, and raised a hand to Cas’s cheek, patting twice. “You can call me ‘mom,’ too, you know. I mean, if you want.”

Mom,” Dean complained.

“You wouldn’t find that strange?” Cas asked, looking bemused and shy about it.

“I find a whole lot of things about all this strange,” she admitted—then tweaked his nose. Cas’s eyes crossed like no-one had ever done that to him before. Sam swallowed a chuckle. “But that doesn’t make it bad.”

They didn’t have days like this. They didn’t get luck like this.

So maybe that was why Sam was just waiting for something to go wrong.

Maybe Dean was, too, because the look on his face was too serious for the little gesture when he reached out for Cas’s hand—his arms tight, expression almost wary. Cas let him take it without a word; Dean’s shoulders, which had been practically bunched up around his ears, relaxed as their fingers interlaced. He started walking, with a careful tug on Cas’s hand. He was smiling again.

But the confusion Cas was suddenly broadcasting at Dean towing him gently back into the bunker, the little sideways glance at the tuck of Dean’s hand around his, practically came with hovering question marks.

Maybe Cas just didn’t know about holding hands. Maybe Sam was making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe they’d earned the chance for something to just go right in their lives.

“Hey, Cas, why don’t you go on ahead for a bit?” Sam called, as he got to the top of the stairs, and the newlyweds both looked back towards him across the Vault—Cas calmly, Dean with a trace of irritation. “Dean and I are gonna have a chat.”

“What the fuck? We are?” Dean asked, but Cas had already let go of his hand.

“Of course, Sam,” Cas told them both, benevolent and serene and not at all like Sam had derailed his plans for a wedding night. Wait, did Cas even know about wedding nights? The memory foam comment really suggested that he did. Oh, God, Sam didn’t actually want to think about any of that. “I’m sure you have much to discuss. I will be in the library.”

He wandered off as casual as could be, and Dean’s eyes followed him down the corridor.

“You’d better not be channeling that Herpexia commercial, Sam, ‘cause I’m pretty sure me an’ Cas can’t get anything from each other.” Dean threw that down like a match on a salt-and-burn, and he wasn’t even making his usual beeline towards the whiskey decanter. “Just remember, I gave you the condom talk.”

“What? Ewww, Dean!” Sam complained, wrinkling his nose. Now he was going to need something to drink to get that visual—all of those visuals—out of his head. He walked over to the sideboard and reached for a tumbler.

Dean snorted and crossed his arms. He didn’t move from his position leaning just slightly against one of the center tables, the line of his body even under his best Fed suit broadcasting impatience. “Well, I dunno why else you’d be keeping me out of bed. I got things to do, Sammy.”

At least he hadn’t said something like ‘angels to do.’ Ugh.

But the memory of Cas’s confused frown as he’d looked down at his and Dean’s joined hands…

It was nothing. It was probably nothing. Maybe Dean’s palms had just been sweaty. Yeah, that was it. Right?

You know…” Sam asked, and he thought the casualness of his tone would’ve set off warning bells in his own head if he’d been hearing it, but Dean had turned away and was looking back down the now-empty corridor, grinning like a fool after the angel that the law—or at least the state of Illinois—said was his to have and to hold now.

Dean looked so happy.

Except no-one had said those words, had they? There’d been no formal vows of having and holding. No rings. No walking down the aisle, no bouquets, no fancy party. No “you may kiss the bride/groom/angelic pillar of light” at the end of the ceremony. No big white wedding cake.

None of the familiar trappings. None of the traditions. Nothing that obviously screamed “Hey! Wedding day!”

“You never did say exactly how you proposed,” he finished, weakly.

“What?” Dean gave Sam a confused glance over his shoulder. “Nothing fancy. No chick-flick shit or anything. I just, y’know. Asked him if he wanted to be a Winchester. You know, for real.”

Sam wasn’t entirely sure why he felt the first frisson of foreboding run like a ghost’s finger down his spine, but instincts were something that, in their line of work, only a dead idiot ignored. He took a sip of his whisky. Then another, deeper one.

“I noticed you guys didn’t exchange rings, either? Not gonna do that?”

“I dunno, maybe later?” Dean shrugged. “I didn’t say anything about ‘em, didn’t wanna embarrass him or make him feel like he had to go find something—and he didn’t mention it either. Who knows if he even knows about rings and things like that?”

Oh, no. Not even they could be that unlucky. Not even they could communicate that badly. Could they?

“Dean,” Sam asked, warily, “Did you ever actually say the words ‘Will you marry me?’”

Dean snorted, and scratched the back of his neck, shrugging. “I mean… I guess not, but it was pretty obvious, right? And he said ‘yes.’”

Oh, no.

*_*_*_*

He and Cas were married, now. Jesus, they were married. Cas had sucked pie filling off his fingers—crap, Dean had been kind of kidding, he hadn’t actually expected Cas to do it. Then Dean hadn’t been able to stand up from the goddamned picnic bench for a good ten minutes, and Sammy’s smirk had made Dean throw fried chicken bones at his face.

They’d never even fucking kissed.

The two of them really couldn’t do anything going in the right direction, Dean thought, but that was just the weird living hell that was their lives.

Why Sammy thought they needed to have a weird brotherly Talk now, though, at oh-dark-o’clock, rather than, y’know, before the wedding, Dean wasn’t sure. Dean considered maybe having some whiskey for courage before going to find his husband—holy fuck, holy fuck—but just the idea of needing a shot for courage made his back teeth hurt.

He sort of wondered what it said that he hadn’t had a single damned frisson of cold feet before his own wedding ceremony, but now? Damn. Was it possible to be so nervous that Dean had to stop himself from shifting back and forth like he had to pee and look forward to something so much it was like his whole body was trying to point towards the library like a damned hunting dog?

Dean tuned Sam out halfway through something earnest as all hell about communication making a real marriage and talking things through and just how important that was even between best friends. (Dean was pretty sure he’d heard it all before and stopped listening then, too.)

“Okay, yeah, Sammy,” he interrupted, looking down the hallway. “Sure. Communication. Talk it out. Uh-huh. You know, I’m a lot better at body language.”

It was true, too.

“Were you even listening?

Dean didn’t have to look back to see the bitchface Sam was giving the back of his head as he pushed off the table and waved two fingers, absently, over his shoulder. “Nope. G’night. Don’t hold breakfast for us.”

Dean—”

This was not a conversation that Dean could tolerate any longer without alcohol, and since he didn’t want to have any in his system right now, he was gonna just boot scoot the fuck out of the Vault.

Dean’s angel was sitting in the library, just like he’d said he would be. He had turned on just one of the little standing lamps and pulled it over next to one of the high-backed armchairs, settling down on it with his back straight, knees together, and a book on his lap.

Warmth twisted in Dean’s chest just to look at him—Cas’s tie was loosened up and dangling, but he was still wearing his suit, his white button-down, his eternal dark slacks with black shoes and black socks. He’d shaved this morning, carefully, but he was back to his normal state of just a little rumpled now. He couldn’t have looked like more of a tax accountant than he did right this second, with his dark head bent over a book that was big enough to occupy his whole lap. He licked his thumb to turn a page with a soft ruffle that sounded like wings.

God, Cas was such a dork.

Dean couldn’t have said just when he’d realized he loved his goddamned nerd angel—when he’d figured out that no matter how often he said ‘you’re my brother’ or ‘you’re my friend’ or ‘I need you,’ it wouldn’t make the bigger truth behind the words any less real. But Cas, good and bad, soft and hard, sweet and really fucking sarcastic, had always seemed so damned invulnerable.

With that in mind, the real, deeper truth hadn’t seemed to matter as much as the fact that he always came when Dean called. That, Dean had told himself with quiet satisfaction, watching in Baby’s side mirrors as Cas’s Ford truck maneuvered delicately around a Kia, or poking the picky angel into ordering a milkshake in a diner and watching the interested face that Cas made at the cold textures of it, was enough.

Until Cas wasn’t invulnerable. Until he was dying.

Yeah, Dean had been so mad at Cas for the decisions he’d made, and it didn’t matter that Dean had made those same decisions more often than he liked to think about; that didn’t make them good decisions. Dean’s life wasn’t worth the consequences that Cas might’ve brought down on everyone when he’d made the decision to stab his angel blade into a reaper’s back. Fucking cosmic consequences. They knew way too goddamned much about those already.

But Dean had also known, watching Cas slowly crumble and die in agony in front of him, that he would have done nearly anything to make that stop—put a blade through a reaper, make a deal with a demon. Put himself bodily between a Prince of Hell and a dying angel.

Dean had known, watching Ishim—someone that Cas called a brother, a fucking old friend—putting Cas down, over and over, Cas’s shoulders hunching in deeper as he just sat there and took it like he thought he deserved it, that what Cas ‘deserved’ was more than the little crumbs Dean had been tossing at him all these years.

Yeah. Dean didn’t care that they’d never touched, that they’d never said ‘I love you’ except when someone was dying. He didn’t care that they’d never kissed. Some things were just a little more important than the fact that Dean had always thought he was straight.

Cas’s bright, toothy, surprised smile when Dean had asked if he wanted to become a Winchester?

Yeah. That was one of them.

Cas looked up from his book at the sound of Dean’s fancy Fed shoes coming towards him—the toes were just starting to pinch; he couldn’t wait to get them off. In the soft lamplight, Cas’s hint of dark scruff was like the promise of electricity, and the little shadowy dimple in his chin looked just perfect for placement of a thumb. Or a mouth.

Yeah, so maybe Dean wasn’t so straight, either.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas said, softly, like they hadn’t seen each other just ten minutes ago. His voice in the big empty space of the library was thunder and rain after a long, long drought.

Dean felt the goosebumps rise on his arms. He didn’t let himself shiver. But he did lick his lips.

“Good book?” he asked, and the rasp of his voice made what should’ve been a casual question sound not casual at all.

Maybe Cas heard it too, because his chin rose slowly, and the last thing to come back up were his eyelashes—long enough that, even in the lamplight, they had a glitter to them. Dean felt the back of his neck prickle with the familiar twist that coursed all the way down his spine when Cas met his eyes and held them.

But Cas, being Cas, actually answered the question Dean had asked. “It’s not very interesting, no.” His slender hands folded the heavy book closed. He set it aside like it weighed nothing, like he could balance it on his fingertips and not notice it was there, without breaking their gazes.

God, his hands.

Dean swallowed, and nodded, once—jerky, awkward. “Do you, uh… do you want to sleep in my room? Tonight?”

Cas’s head tipped to the side. “I don’t sleep.”

“Yeah, I know, I just…” Fuck. This had been so easy, once upon a time. A smile, a quirk of his lips. Dean knew how to do this shit. Just because it’d been awhile didn’t mean that he’d forgotten. He hadn’t been just bragging to Sam—body language was as much a habit as cleaning his gun.

He didn’t know what to do with an angel who’d fucking literally fallen from Heaven for him, and in their case, that was not a pickup line, not a pickup line at all.

(Pickup lines were completely useless with Cas, anyway. He knew exactly how Cas would have responded to that one, too: “Of course it didn’t hurt when I fell from Heaven, Dean. I landed on my feet.”)

Then Castiel’s expression cleared, and the knot in Dean’s throat unwound. “Oh. Oh, I understand. Of course, Dean.” The soft little smile that curved around Cas’s lips as he pushed himself out of the armchair and rose to his feet made Dean’s stomach backflip like he’d just gotten tossed onto a trampoline. “Yes. All you ever had to do was ask.”

Fuck. Fuck, this was happening.

Dean thought about holding out his hand again, but in the end he just nodded, his voice stuck in his throat as he turned and led them through the hallways. The sound of their shoes rang loud down the corridors, almost as loud as Dean’s heartbeat in his ears. He was not going to back Cas against a wall. He was not going to push him into the bathroom, what the fuck.

But the moment Dean’s bedroom door clicked closed behind them, Dean had one hand in Cas’s lapel, the other in that dark hair he’d been dying to put his fingers into for years, and he brought their mouths hungrily together.

Hell, yeah.

It wasn’t the same—it wasn’t what he expected—he didn’t expect the rough rasp of the little patch of fuzz under Cas’s chin to rub against his face as Dean slanted into a good angle; he didn’t realize that Cas’s lips really were dry, but holy shit, they were so soft, pure give under Dean’s. He felt good. He tasted amazing—a little like skin, a little like salt, a little like blackberries and pie crust.

Cas wasn’t moving.

Cas didn’t open up for him when Dean used the tip of his tongue to feel his way over that full bottom lip.

Huh. Well, okay. They could work on that. Cas had kissed people—Dean knew that; hell, he’d seen that—but maybe he hadn’t gotten kissed before…

Dean opened his eyes.

Cas hadn’t closed his—okay, weird—and from this close, the blue of them would’ve been overwhelming if Cas hadn’t been frowning, deep lines visible in his forehead even from this angle.

Why the hell was he frowning?

Dean drew back an inch. “Cas?” he asked.

“Dean… what are you doing?” Cas sounded concerned, and all the warm, eager, nervous excitement that had been building up through the long drive home vanished so fast, it left Dean feeling dizzy and a little sick to his stomach.

“Oh. I, uh… I guess you don’t…” Dean licked his lips. Realized he could still taste Cas on them like a tingle of electricity. Fuck. He staggered a step back. “Too fast?”

Cas’s head tipped to the side. His lips pursed—the bowed top one overlapping the bottom, now, just slightly. They were still wet from the swipe of Dean’s tongue. “Too fast for… what?”

Okay, Cas was a lot of things—weird, dorky, trusting, sometimes kind of oblivious—but he wasn’t stupid. He also didn’t give a shit about premarital sex, which was, in any case, completely moot at this point, because they were, y’know. Married.

Dean stared. “Cas, what do you think I asked you back here for, exactly?”

It wasn’t meant to be an actual question, and it was just Dean’s life that his husband could be a truly literal angelic asshole when it suited him. “I thought you were concerned about having nightmares.” Cas frowned a little more. “You have seemed very on edge recently. Nervous.”

Well, shit. Dean chuckled; his gut settled. Oh, Cas. Alright, maybe Sam had something on the whole ‘need to communicate extra-clearly’ thing when it came to this guy. “Dude, no.” Okay, maybe Dean had been a little nervous, but who wouldn’t be! He felt his lips turning in a smirk, and shook his head. “What’s wrong with you? Nightmares are the last thing I was thinking of. We just got married.

Now that Dean thought about it—now that nothing had gone apocalypse wrong, now that the world hadn’t ended between them getting into Baby in the bunker garage and parking in front of City Hall—he realized that this, the physical part, probably would be kind of awkward? Especially since Cas had a million trashy romance novels in his brain and all the chick flicks ever filmed, and still never seemed to know how to use any of that information right. Dean was fully prepared to laugh out loud if Cas started busting out something about furled rosebuds or throbbing pillars of manhood.

What the hell, so what if Dean had never been with a guy before? Neither had Cas. They had the Internet. And lube. Condoms, too. They could figure out this shit together.

Cas just blinked at him, very slowly. “But, Dean, that was just… it was just a legal matter. An unimportant piece of paper and a signature.” His eyes narrowed in that familiar crooked squint he gave the world when nothing human made sense. “Why would you consider that a wedding?”

Just like that.

Just like that, what had been one of the best days of Dean’s entire fucking miserable life crumbled into ash.

Dean didn’t know if he was dreaming, if he was nightmaring, if this was successfully the most humiliating moment of a life filled with pain and small humiliations and larger embarrassments. It was all of the above, probably.

This would be really funny, someday, wouldn’t it? Someday.

Dean turned away. He turned around, because if he didn’t, he was going to punch something—maybe the wall, or maybe the guy in front of him, and that’d hurt him a lot more than Castiel, Angel of the fucking Lord.

Yeah, there was a fucking metaphor, right there.

He gripped the edge of his dresser. He closed his eyes to the sight of the manila envelope lying across the top of it. Shit, he’d given that to Sammy for safekeeping. Sammy must’ve dropped it off.

The pain of Dean’s nails digging into the wood was grounding. He pressed them in harder and felt his nail beds ache with it. It was less painful than anything else, but it was familiar.

“Get out,” he choked, finally. “Get out of here. Just… just…”

“Dean—”

He didn’t want to see the look on Cas’s open, oblivious face when Cas realized. If he realized.

God, he hoped Cas never did.

Dean’s shoulders hunched further in before he could stop himself. The feel of the uncomfortable suit jacket straining over his shoulders was a painful reminder of exactly why he was wearing it. He was going to strangle on his tie any moment now. He kept himself from doubling over just by virtue of long, long practice. “Get. Out.”

Behind him, Dean heard an exasperated sigh—the ‘humans, why?’ sigh—like nothing of any importance had happened here other than Dean being difficult. The door opened and closed, softly.

He’d been honest with Sam—sort of. He’d said he hadn’t mentioned rings to Cas, and… he hadn’t. He hadn’t mentioned them at all.

Dean opened his eyes and straightened himself out, on autopilot, moving because his body knew how to do it. He undid his tie and hung up his suit jacket, his pants. He tossed his dress shirt into the hamper. He pulled on a shirt to sleep in.

Then he looked down at the thick, shiny new silver band that he’d laid on his bedside table before they’d headed out yesterday. Silver, not gold, ‘cause in their line of work, that was a hell of a lot more practical, and why couldn’t something be both practical and romantic?

He’d had that made for Cas. For the angel Dean had thought was going to be his husband. For the guy that, according to the unimportant bit of paper in its brown envelope on top of Dean’s dresser, was his husband.

The tiny ‘ping’ the ring made when he flung it against the wall wasn’t at all satisfying.

The sting when Dean drew a knife over his palm and smeared an angel warding symbol on his bedroom door wasn’t, really, either.

*_*_*_*

Dean’s nightmares were worse that night than they’d been in years.

Irony of fucking ironies.

When he swam awake out of them in the dark, flailing and sweating and strangling, it was to the sound of pounding on his door, then a rattle of the locked doorknob. “Dean? Dean? Dammit, open the door!”

He didn’t want to talk to his brother. He really didn’t. Even less than usual. He didn’t want to explain to anyone how badly he’d fucked up this time.

And in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter. Because all the reasons he’d mentioned to Sam were real: this way, Cas was next of kin, the law said that he was family, and it’d be good if he could come bail them out of trouble with the right paperwork now and again.

Dean didn’t really have time for this self-pitying crap. None of them did. His fucking love life mattered for shit as long as he could still do the family business—find Rosemary’s Baby before it ate the world, save a few people, have a few bites of pie and a really nice burger along the way. This was just a particularly stupid misunderstanding, and wasn’t it hilarious?

That was the truth. He just had to tell himself that a few more times until he believed it.

So what if Dean had thought for just a couple of days that he might be able to have a real future with someone who actually got it?

Fuck. Mom. He’d have to explain this to their mom.

Dean rolled over, lifted his pillow and plastered it over his face. That probably made it less effective when he snarled, “Go away, Sammy!”

It occurred to him, as the door clicked open—what the fuck, Sammy had picked the lock?! That went against every goddamned bro-code that Dean had ever heard of!—that he’d probably regret it if he shot his little brother. Even if he shot him somewhere nonlethal.

But it wasn’t Sam who spoke up, next. Dean would know that voice anywhere—dark and rough and quiet, whiskey over crushed ice and broken glass.

“Thank you, Sam.”

“Good luck, buddy.”

Fuck it, Dean was definitely shooting his little brother.

Dean’s whole body ricocheted up towards the headboard and he slammed the pillow down to the mattress beside him just in time to see Cas step primly inside, trench coat and suit jacket and scruff and all.

‘Cause yeah—Dean, like the complete goddamned newb that he wasn’t, had put the warding on the door, and not the frame.

“I tried to come back,” Cas said softly, into the silence left behind by Sam pulling the door hastily shut behind him. “But you warded the room against me.”

Cas had the big fucking titanium ones to sound hurt about that.

In the back of Dean’s mind, he knew none of this was actually Cas’s fault. He knew that Sam, goddamn him, goddamn him, had been right after all. Maybe he’d even suspected, maybe that was why he’d tried to have that talk with Dean—to keep Dean from hoping, from thinking that he’d actually gotten something that he wanted out of life, for once.

But Dean was feeling so fucking raw that he wanted to claw his own face off, and he didn’t give two shits whose fault it was.

“Yeah? Well, take a hint, buddy,” he ground out, and jabbed a finger back at the door.

Cas gestured behind himself with a truly sarcastic flick of his hand, then crossed his arms. “By all means.”

Then Dean realized that, with the warding on the door? The only way Cas was leaving was if Dean himself got out of bed, walked past him, and opened it for him.

He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the wall behind him with a ‘thunk.’ Then did it again, harder.

“Dean, stop that.”

Screw you,” he growled. He did it a third time.

Dean.” And there was such fury in that one word—such a flash of it that Cas actually lit up Dean’s still-dark room, the light of it stinging right through Dean’s eyelids.

Dean’s eyes popped open.

Oh. Shit.

It had been a really long time since he’d seen the shadows of Cas’s white-hot grace shining from his pores, wings mantling and spread on the wall and across the door behind him. Holy shit, his wings. He hadn’t—Jesus Christ. Dean hadn’t known they were that fucked up.

But the instant boner he got from the light show hadn’t changed either, what the fuck.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, okay, put away the fireworks. Jesus,” Dean muttered, putting a hand up to shield his eyes. “You can’t keep flashing me every time I piss you off! What’re you gonna do, smite me?!”

“Well, if you claim we are married, you can’t keep putting angel warding on the door!” Cas snarled back, his voice full of angelic echoes, and what the hell, what the hell?

If he claimed? Yeah. Fuck.

just like that, all of Dean’s fight went right back out of him. He slumped back onto the bed with his throat in a tangle.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it like that,” Cas said, softer, and he took a careful step closer. He was right to be careful, ‘cause if Dean had had an angel blade to hand right then, he might’ve done something really stupid. But his was across the room.

The light faded around Cas until he was just a shadow again, little, wrapped up in his trench coat and all that fucking angelic certainty of his. “Dean, I—I’m sorry.”

And Dean was tired of this shit. He was just… he was so tired. He didn’t know what time it was—he didn’t care. He just wanted to turn back over and go back to sleep. Maybe not wake up until he was sure this wasn’t reality. That’d take a while, wouldn’t it?

Enough. When’d he turned so fucking melodramatic, anyway?

“Yeah,” Dean answered, quietly. His voice was steady. “I know, buddy.”

“Dean—”

“It’s okay, Cas. Not your fault.”

It wasn’t. It didn’t matter at all whose fault it was, anyway. Who cared if everyone had seen Dean’s torch burning bright for a few days? It wasn’t like anyone had even looked that surprised.

The sound of Cas shuffling closer to the bed almost sounded like feathers. “I… I have something for you.” He sounded shy and soft, and that was enough of a surprise that the heavy, achy balloon that was Dean’s head turned to look at him. “May I…”

Cas gestured at the edge of the bed, and when Dean nodded, he sat down. With the memory foam, Dean barely felt the sink of it. The warmth of Cas’s hip, right through his trench coat, pressed against Dean’s calf.

Cas held out something small on the palm of his hand. At first glance, Dean would have thought it was made out of some kind of black stone. Except it wasn’t… black, any more than an oil slick was black, or the darkest bits of the ocean, or pictures of the night sky—green and blue and pink and blood-red swam in the dark background. The longer he looked at it, the more colors rose to the surface, then sank away, like they were shy to be stared at.

The reason he could tell there were colors at all in the dark of his bedroom was that the thing was also glowing, just faintly, just around the edges—shedding a teensy, tiny little halo of white light onto Cas’s hand.

Huh. Okay.

It was weird enough that Dean didn’t blame himself for missing that it was a ring for a second there.

Dean recoiled, and almost toppled himself off the opposite edge of his bed.

“It’s made from one of my feathers,” Cas said softly, extending the offering towards Dean. He didn’t seem to have noticed that Dean’s whole body had nearly jumped to get away from it.

“I don’t need that, Cas.” And he sure as hell didn’t need the pity he could almost feel dripping from it. Dean slid himself warily back towards the center of his bed until he was lying flat on the mattress, and pulled his arm back over his eyes.

He sure as hell needed no reminders that yesterday hadn’t been real for Cas. Even though it had been for Dean.

He felt Cas shifting. “I know. I realize. You haven’t needed it for years. But it’s yours anyway—you pulled it out.”

Dean lowered his arm again, frowning. “What?”

“When I was bringing you out of Hell—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, Cas.” Dean sneered, his lip curling. Derision hurt less than almost anything else. “You gripped me tight and raised me from Perdition—”

Cas studied him with a seriousness that punched holes in Dean’s sneer. “And you gripped me back.”

“What?”

“You reached out and you put your fingers into one of my wings. You grabbed onto me hard enough that one of my… pinions, I suppose you’d call it, came off into your hand.” Castiel chuckled softly, rustily—smiling the way he did when he remembered something, with his eyes down and a little to the side. “I almost crashed us into 1925 before I could redirect.”

It was such a Cas thing to say that Dean’s smile poked up like a damned weed right through everything else, through all the bullshit. “Good year?”

“Mediocre,” Cas told him, very seriously.

Dean choked on a hysterical laugh. Goddammit. Goddammit, Dean loved him.

“I had to pry your fingers loose from it before I could remake you. You wouldn’t let go.” He shook his head, maybe a bit rueful. “I didn’t understand, before. What it was like to be touched by a human soul. What it was like to hold one close. I told you I would not let you go, I wouldn’t leave you, and you told me that I was stupid if I thought you were going to let me go, either.”

Just like that, the little pop of laughter was all gone again. Sonofabitch. Even then, even all those years ago, he’d been so fucking needy, what the hell. “Cas, that’s not—”

Cas’s gaze flicked back up to his. He wasn’t glowing anymore, but even in the dark, no-one could miss those eyes. “Please, let me finish.”

Dean didn’t know if he wanted to hear it. “Not like I can stop you,” he muttered. God. This was the last thing that he’d ever needed: to be told in detail why Cas had decided he wasn’t worth it.

“I went and gathered up the feather—yours, now, printed with your hands—and crafted it into a shape that I knew a human would carry with them always. Then… then I discovered you couldn’t understand my voice, singing your name in greeting and praise.” Cas’s sigh was deep and soft, especially for someone who didn’t need to breathe. “You didn’t know me. You looked at me with such suspicion. Like I was an enemy. A monster. You didn’t remember your promises, or mine. You certainly didn’t want me around.” He shook his head, smiling sadly. “I was… well. I didn’t realize that what I was feeling was hurt, then.”

“That why you were such a dick?” Dean blurted. Hell, he really had no filter right now, did he?

“No. Well. Maybe. I think I was always a dick.” Cas chuckled again, softly. Dean almost answered it with one of his own. That snotty little guy in the barn with the pout and the sex hair, eight years ago, wouldn’t have laughed at that. “Knowing you, knowing Sam… you have made me what I am now, and I am grateful. But this…” He held up the ring again. “This was always yours. Then I realized that you… you didn’t want it. Wouldn’t want it. So I put it away. I went to go find it again, last night.”

“What, you askin’ me to marry you, now, Cas?” The more it was a joke to everyone, perhaps the less it would hurt.

Cas shook his head and made a low, sharp noise that was half a snort, but it was all sarcasm. “I have folded you into my being. You have held my wings in your hands. When other angels look at me, they see the echo of your soul reflected in my grace.”

What?” Was that why all the angels they’d ever met had made nasty comments about Cas? ‘Cause they could see Dean’s filthy fingerprints all over him? Jesus Christ, Dean stood by his initial words: fucking winged dicks.

Cas’s eyes slid back up to his, and they were otherworldly—glowing very faintly, like ultraviolet, like the ring he was still holding out in the palm of his hand. “Dean, I have been yours for years and I will be yours for however long I may exist. You are marked on my very being. We are so far beyond ‘married’”—oh, there were those air quotes; huh, Dean had kind of missed those—“that there aren’t words in the human language for it. So please forgive me if I think this whole matter of papers and licenses and signatures is really very stupid!”

Shit. Shit, Cas was definitely still pissed. Confused, indignant, and definitely pissed, with his words sliding from gravel right into full-on growl at the end there.

Dean couldn’t tell if what he was feeling right now, with Cas looking at him like he was either going to smite his stupid human ass or kiss him until Dean forgot how to breathe, was fear or lust or shock or… or… 

“So you're telling me,” he began, slowly, “that we've been goddamned angel married for years… and you were gonna be happy with a name change?

And Cas had been. He'd perked up like a damned sparrow at a birdfeeder when Dean had mentioned it. Dean had thought it was 'cause he wanted to be, y'know, married.

Dean had had his hope crushed too recently for it to come easily, painlessly now. But it bubbled up all the same, pushing through the cracks even when Dean tried to shove it back down. In the dark, the ring in Cas’s hand swirled with brighter and brighter colors.

Cas looked down at it. His expression was very calm, now. A little sad. He smiled, anyway.

“Like I told you, Dean,” he said. “The best part of my existence. Whether you wanted me or not.”

He saw Cas's hand start to draw away, fingers start to close protectively back over the ring.

Dean didn’t know he was going to reach out and take it off Cas’s palm until he already had.

It didn’t feel like stone. It was warm as breath, as blood, as a warm shower after a cold day. In his hand, it felt alive—like a part of him. Like it could just sink into his skin and he’d never notice it was there.

“Awesome,” he breathed, before he could stop himself.

He didn’t realize that Cas was holding himself tense until Cas blew out a breath. Until he relaxed, under his trench coat, both of his shoulders folding down and inwards. One of his elbows swung forward to rest on his knee as he slumped; he peered at Dean in the dark, squinty-eyed and looking not even a little bit angelic anymore.

“I still don’t understand why you couldn’t have just said ‘marry me’ rather than that pretty nonsense about becoming a Winchester,” he muttered, grouchily. “It was a nice sentiment, but incorrect.”

“Yeah, I, uh…” Dean winced a little and pushed himself higher against the headboard, turning the ring—his ring—between his fingers. “I guess I was tryin’ to be fancy about it.”

“You’re not very good at it.”

“Says the guy who never even tried to propose.”

Castiel frowned at him. “Are we arguing already?

“You think we ever stopped?” But Dean laughed at that, the feeling of it rolling up like cotton candy at the county fair. “I, uh… I have a ring for you, too. It’s somewhere on the floor…” He peered over the edge. “It's just silver, though.” Not a piece of angelic grace, holy shit.

Cas nodded, and he stood up. Dean thought for a second that he was going to leave—wait, he couldn’t—but Cas just crouched and picked up something shiny from underneath the edge of the bed. He rose to his feet and studied it, standing, turning it between his fingers for long enough that Dean, well, started to even get a little nervous.

Why. Why the fuck was he nervous now?

Then Cas turned and smiled at him. “It's wonderful, Dean,” he said, quietly. And put it on.

Dean bobbed his chin, once, and slid Cas’s ring onto his finger, too. It felt warm and whole. It fit.

And that was that.

Huh.

Cas wandered back towards him with a little shuffle, like Dean’s room had somehow gotten a lot bigger than it was. “May I kiss you now?” he asked, hopefully. “I think I made a very poor showing of the last one, and I’d like to redeem myself.”

Dean might actually hurt Cas if he laughed at that, but he couldn’t keep just one snicker from slipping out. “It was pretty bad. You got lots of redeeming to do.”

“I would not be averse,” Cas told him, seriously, and his eyes actually lit up as he smiled and leaned over the bed. Even in the dark, his eyes filled Dean’s whole world. “May we do other things as well? I have had intercourse, and it was pleasant, but I have heard that marital relations with the person one loves are supposed to be particularly nice, as well.”

Dean gaped.

Wow. Well. Okay then.

Maybe there was something to this ‘clear communication’ thing.

Their first kiss as a married couple had been kind of shitty. There wasn’t anything Dean could do about that.

Their second kiss was pretty good, though.

(And the third wasn’t on the lips, but it was pretty damned good, too.)

~fin~