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i want to do with you (what spring does with cherry trees)

Chapter Text

Why did the curtains have to be yellow? 

 

Yellow is such a cheerful color, Dean thinks. It promotes happiness, if not outright inviting it in, if not a representation for it already existing. Flowers and birds are yellow, nature's way of smiling. Bananas are sweet, buses for kids a stand-out color like a beacon of innocence, and bees make sure people breathe. The sun is depicted as yellow, a bright thing, warm and alive. 

 

It's such an absurd color to wrap Cas' body in. There's no happiness to be found here. No one is smiling. This isn't sweet, or innocent, and Dean can barely manage a breath that doesn't scrape and claw its way out, poisoned from the inside from where he aches. And Cas… Cas is cold. Cas is dead. 

 

Dean doesn't want to burn him. It's—he knows that he has to. Anything would jump at the chance to commandeer an angel's body, to take control of it, especially one so associated with Sam and Dean. It would be used against them in some way, and Dean knows that. He just… Something. Dean wants something to cling to, if only it's a small bit of hope. 

 

But he doesn't get that. No, of course he doesn't, not in this life. He has to set flames to that, too. 

 

And it has to be him. Sam can't do it. Dean's not going to let Sam do it, or even help. It's good that Sam doesn't try. When he finally does come in, he's silent and standing back, out of the way, on the sidelines like this isn't his. It reminds Dean of when Sam visited Jessica's grave—how he watched from afar, how he wanted to do something, how he knew there was nothing he could do. 

 

There's a certain kind of weight to a silence that exists because words won't mean anything. It's heavy. Dean feels like he's choking on it. 

 

For a long time, he smooths out wrinkles on the curtain. He knows—he knows it's pointless because it's going to burn anyway, but he keeps doing it. Meticulous about it, obsessive with shaking hands. He'd claim reverence if not for the devastation crushing down on him at the moment. He can feel it, this heavy grief that bears down on him until buckling seems more like a relief than surrender. 

 

When Dean gathers the strength to take Cas outside, he comes to the quick conclusion that there's only one way to get him there. Blinking hard, his jaw clenched, he slides his hand underneath Cas' knees, fitting his other arm around his shoulders. He takes a deep breath, hoping he has the strength, because he feels so weak right now. Physically so, like he might crumble under any additional weight. But he has to do this. He has to.

 

There's the sound of Sam hesitantly shuffling closer, quietly murmuring, "Dean, I can—" 

 

"I've got him," Dean snaps, his words coming out harsh and cutting, steady despite how unbalanced he feels currently. 

 

Sam steps back and doesn't say anything else, and that's just as well. Dean inhales sharply, then hauls Cas up with a grunt, the strain of it making him sway for a second. He feels stiff weight against his shoulder—Cas' head resting there. Dean blinks rapidly and turns, heading outside, carrying Cas over the threshold to where he'll turn to dust. 

 

The kid is already out there, staring at the form of his mother, looking lost. Dean can't bring himself to feel pity. Or feel anything, really. 

 

Cas burns like he lived. A long, slow process right up until the last stretch, flames catching out of control where they're not supposed to spread yet, going out then sparking up again and again until there's nothing for the embers to cling to. The heat of it doesn't feel real. Dean feels cold all the way through, a cold that comes with being numb, a cold that shapes itself to his bones and won't come loose. 

 

Sam doesn't say anything when Dean turns and walks into the house. Dean waits until the door is shut behind him before he stumbles, catching himself against the wall with one hand. For a second, just one second, Dean can't do anything but breathe. And he can barely do that. 

 

He forces himself to drag his fingers against the wall and pull his hand back. He's not done. It's not done. He has to finish it. 

 

There's a ceramic jar in the pantry, one of the kinds that usually holds herbs or canned fruits. It fits in both of Dean's hands, so Cas will, too. 

 

There's not a lot of ash to gather. What remains of Cas' has already started to be swept away by the wind, traveling far and wide. Cas always did like to fly, Dean thinks. He'd like that he still gets to do it. 

 

There's still much to do, Dean is sure, because there always is. He doesn't really care. The kid and Sam are dropped off at the Bunker, and Dean doesn't get out when they do. Sam turns back, waiting, and Dean puts Baby in reverse and doesn't look back. 

 

He drives for a long time. 

 

In truth, Dean doesn't really know where he's going. He's searching, maybe. He doesn't know what he's looking for, and he's not sure why it feels like he's trying to outrun something. There's nothing to run away from. This—what happened—is not something he can escape; the worst parts of reality never are. 

 

He finds something eventually. A picturesque meadow with a windmill, flowers coming into bloom, yellows and purples and reds. Dean's driving past it, thinking about how calm he would have found it to be just a few days prior. Peaceful, even. He doesn't know if he's ever truly felt that before, outside of the small samples the world has teased him with, places like this flashing past him as he drives to the next tragedy. 

 

Cas would have loved it, Dean thinks as it fades in the rearview mirror. He would have encouraged me to stop if he thought it would bring me a moment of peace, and maybe he'd find some, too. 

 

It's that thought that has Dean slamming on the brakes and doing a u-turn, the engine growling as he heads back. There's a small section of ground that connects over the ditch, just enough to park Baby on. He leaves her there, taking Cas with him as he walks further in, the grass shifting underfoot. 

 

"You'd like it here," Dean murmurs, knowing it down somewhere deep, where he knows the warmth of Cas' grace and the shape of his hand. 

 

Dean wavers for a long moment, turning the jar over in his hands. It's all he's got now, and he doesn't even know what parts of Cas it belonged to. He swallows and opens the jar, lifting his head to look around one more time, to take it in. The field, the windmill, the serenity. Yeah, Cas would like it here. 

 

"Guess it's all about the what ifs, huh?" Dean asks, tipping the jar and spreading Cas' ashes like he's consecrating the ground. He sniffs hard, tipping his head back and looking up at the sky until his eyes stop burning. "We weren't even… We never… I don't know, Cas, it just seemed like we could have been. It seemed like we almost were. Guess I'll never know." 

 

Some of Cas drifts away. Some dusts the blades of grass. Some stays in a thin film on the inside of the glass of the makeshift urn. Dean swallows and sits the jar down on a particularly springy portion of the grass, using his hands to pat down a small area so it will stay in place. It seems so terribly bare, so he goes and plucks flowers to place around the jar, stepping back when it looks like a proper memorial. 

 

As proper as this gets, anyway. 

 

"I'm sorry, Cas," Dean whispers, telling the jar and the spread ashes and the earth itself, like a confession. His whole face feels tight and twisted, his throat clogged. "I couldn't save you, man. I'm so fucking—I'm sorry. For everything, for too much. I'm really sorry, and I—" His voice catches, choking him, and he looks away. His breath shudders out of him as he closes his eyes. "Goodbye, Cas." 

 

He doesn't say anything else. He doesn't cry. He doesn't leave for a very, very long time. He just stands there, eyes closed, feeling the breeze and feeling numb all the way through. 

 

Leaving is harder than he expects it to be. 

 


 

Dean keeps going back. 

 

He doesn't particularly mean to. The day gets long and the drinks aren't helping, so he gets in his car and he goes. The drive there is always quiet, the radio off, a mourning silence. His gaze always flicks to the rearview mirror, looking at the empty seat, wishing there was an impression from who sat there the longest and the most consistent. When he arrives, it's always to blooming flowers and a windmill in the background, not too far from a brook, the sun painting the plains. 

 

He likes it there. He likes to stand in front of the makeshift urn and check that it's still where he put it, switching out the flowers when they wilt. He likes to listen to the sound of birds chirping, insects singing, the faint sound of water trickling in the distance. He likes to turn his face up and feel the sun on his skin, wondering if Cas would do the same if he were here, somehow knowing that he would. 

 

He likes to talk. 

 

Dean is surprised by that. Talking hasn't been his strong suit as of late. He doesn't say much to Sam, unless it's for a case. He can barely speak to the kid without biting his head off or making threats. He hasn't done much talking at all, really. 

 

But it's different like this. It really shouldn't surprise him. He remembers how he didn't talk after his mom died. Selective Mutism, one of his teachers had said. He'll talk when he's ready. They didn't know that he talked to his mom all the time when he was alone, even when she never answered. He would tell her things no one else ever got to hear, that she would never actually know, and he'd make up her answers to represent what he'd want her to say. 

 

When she came back, she never said them. 

 

Dean tells Cas things he never did while he was alive. He kicks himself for it, for never saying them while he had the chance. Even the simplest things. I like the way you wore your tie. I really worked hard on that mixtape, you know; I hope you liked it. I wish I had thought of putting you in sunglasses while I still could, at least once; it would have been funny. I saw a black cat cross in front of me today, and I didn't X my windshield. What's bad luck in a world like this with a life like mine anyway? How do you feel about superstitions? Sam's worried about me, I know he is. I wish I could be more convincing. The kid… Cas, I'm trying. I'm sorry. 

 

It always comes back to that. To I'm sorry. Dean is. He doesn't know how not to be. He tells Cas that, too. He tells Cas that he misses him. He tells Cas that sometimes he doesn't want to leave this spot, that he sort of just wants to lay down and seep into the roots here, too. He tells Cas that he's tired. 

 

There's never a response, but Dean feels the breeze rustle through his hair and watches the flowers bob when bees come to them and stares as the windmill keeps turning, turning, turning. And he imagines that Cas is replying—the windmill is the tilted head, the bobbing flowers are a gentle smile, the breeze is whatever words Dean wants to hear at the time. Sometimes, sometimes, it's almost like he's there. 

 

It's weird to miss the afterimages of someone on top of just missing them, but Dean does. When he leaves, he misses the pieces of Cas that he has left. He starts taking a flower with him when he goes, holding them in his pocket, putting them on his nightstand until they inevitably die, too. Every time one does, it's like watching Cas die all over again. 

 

Once, Sam finds a few petals in the crevice of Baby's seat. He makes a joke, no doubt trying to get Dean to crack a smile or loosen up. It has the opposite effect. Dean clams up, stricken, realizing that he's finding Cas in all the places he looks for him, and that's still not enough. 

 

Dean gets worse, and Sam follows him one day. He's good at it. Dean doesn't even realize it's happening, not until Sam appears in the meadow, hesitation etched into every line of his face. Before he even knows, he's cautious about approaching, almost like he can sense that this place isn't for him. He takes one look at the makeshift urn surrounded by flowers, and he sucks in a sharp breath. He looks at Dean, his throat bobbing, and Dean says nothing. 

 

"This is where you spread his ashes," Sam whispers. 

 

Dean gives one jerky nod and goes back to watching the windmill turn. Sam backs up, turns around, and leaves. He never comes back or mentions it again. 

 

Taking a flower helps when they're on cases. When he meets Missouri again, she reaches in his pocket and pulls it out, and he lets her. Just her. It couldn't be anyone else but her. She holds it gingerly, like it's special, eyes fluttering shut as she cups it in both palms. Her granddaughter needs help, yet she spares the time for this anyway. 

 

"A crimson this dark," Missouri murmurs as she opens her eyes, staring at the flower sadly as she gives it back to him, "it represents a deep sorrow, Dean. Did you know that?" 

 

"I didn't," Dean confesses gruffly. 

 

Missouri reaches out and puts her hand on his chest, right over his heart. "A part of you did. That's all it knows right now. I'm so sorry. Truly, I am." 

 

Dean strokes the petals in his pocket and doesn't say anything, averting his gaze. She sighs, and they get started on helping Patience. When Missouri doesn't make it, he leaves that flower at her grave. 

 

The day after, Dean goes back to the meadow and tells Cas where a piece of him remains now, how much he would have liked Missouri. The breeze is heavy that day, almost like a hug. Dean closes his eyes and pretends that it is. 

 

But, as always, when he opens his eyes…

 

He's alone. 

 


 

Dean feels his heart drop when he notices the tire tracks. It clearly comes from a deep tread, a truck of some kind with mud tires, flattening two wide paths through the grass. He picks up his pace, blood pumping as his heart starts thumping hard and fast. 

 

The source turns out to be a pick-up truck with a ridiculous lift kit. There are three younger people out here, a boy and a girl sitting on the tailgate, making out, and another girl farther in the back of the truck. She's ignoring the other two, absorbed in her phone, earbuds in her ears. 

 

"Hey!" Dean barks, his voice rough and sharp. "What the hell are you doing? You can't just—you wrecked through—" 

 

"Do you mind?" the girl snips as she breaks away from the kiss, swiveling towards him with a scowl. She's eyeing him judgmentally. "This isn't private property; we checked. So, we're not going—" 

 

"Get the fuck outta here!" Dean shouts, losing what cool he didn't have to begin with in a heartbeat. He hears himself, how threatening he sounds. Deranged and dangerous, almost. Irrational, undoubtedly. "Don't make me have to tell you again. Go!"

 

"We know you don't own—" 

 

The boy cuts himself off with a yelp the moment Dean jerks out his gun and shoots it, pointed up to the sky. They scramble off the tailgate and make for the front, the truck cranking up with a pathetic sound. The girl in the back is gaping at Dean with wide eyes, her earbuds missing. She frantically reaches out to hold onto the tool box she's leaning against, planting her feet as the truck jolts. 

 

Dean puts his gun away as the truck turns, and he doesn't watch them leave. He just falls to his knees next to a half-crumpled bush, cursing under his breath as he picks up some flattened flowers. 

 

"I'm sorry, Cas," Dean says, low and gruff, his jaw aching from where he wants to clench it. "Fuck, I'm so sorry. I should've—I'll fix it. I'll—" 

 

He swallows the rest of his words, slumping down and pressing his fist against his lips. For a long moment, he just squeezes his eyes closed and breathes. It hurts. It always fucking hurts. Just this persistent ache in his chest that won't go away, that offers him no reprieve. It's there every morning when he wakes, it drifts off with him when he sleeps, and it curls up with him for his nightmares. 

 

Dean swallows and opens his eyes, exhaling harshly and climbing to his feet. "I'll fix it," he vows once more, blinking hard. 

 

And he does just that. 

 

He has to go into the closest town to pick up some things. Just some tools to shape up the bushes, to even out the ground, and some bags to hold every branch and broken flower. He makes it back quick and starts working in silence, cleaning up. Fixing it, just like he promised he would. 

 

He hears the car before he sees it, an older model, something small and mint green. It pulls to a stop beside Baby, and Dean stands to full height, hands gripping the black trash bag so tight that his knuckles cramp with the tension. He watches, gaze sharp, as a girl climbs out of the car. 

 

It takes him a second to realize that it was the girl from the back of the truck. He recognizes her by the jacket, some kind of college logo on it. She's just a kid, by his standards, and he can't think of one reason why she would come back here. She approaches cautiously, but she meets his gaze. 

 

"I told you and your buddies to get the hell outta here," Dean tells her sharply. 

 

She nods. "I know. I just—well, I want to...help, I guess. You're cleaning up our mess, right?" 

 

"Yeah. And thanks, but no thanks. I've got it," Dean mutters, turning his back to her and dipping down to grab another handful of branches. 

 

"Uh, I—" She snaps her mouth shut when Dean turns towards her, jaw clenched. He'd thought she would leave, but apparently not. After a beat, she takes a deep breath. "Look, I went and got some chains and those posts you can beat into the ground. If you put them out by the road, no one will drive through here again. Even got a lock and key for it."

 

Dean stares at her for a long time, not really understanding what the hell is happening. "Why would you do that?" 

 

"I saw you," she says quietly. "As we were leaving, I saw you just… I mean, this place clearly means something to you. I'm sorry we fucked it up. I really do want to help you clean up, if you'll let me." 

 

"The bags are there," Dean says shortly, jerking his chin towards the bags. 

 

She smiles. "Thanks. I'm Sorine, by the way."

 

"Dean," Dean replies, ducking his head and moving over to get started on evening the ground out, erasing the treadmarks. 

 

"My parents were pretty hardcore into mythology before I was born, I guess. Sorine means Thunder God," Sorine informs him as she gets a bag. She shakes it out and starts in on the closest mess next to her, eyeing him through her bangs. "It's Danish, I think. It's not even really, like, a roots kind of thing. I'm pretty sure my mom read it in a book back in the eighties when she was on acid, or something." 

 

Dean grunts in acknowledgement. 

 

"My friend wanted to call the cops on you," Sorine continues. "Told him not to because, well, we did make a mess. Again, sorry about that." 

 

"Ya know," Dean grits out as he evens out the next portion of the ground, "it's really stupid to come back alone to a man with a gun. You could get killed, you know that? Something even worse, maybe." 

 

"You could have shot us when we were here, but you shot at the sky," Sorine points out. "Besides, I have pepper spray. And a taser. So, watch yourself, Dean." 

 

Dean grunts again. "Yeah, I'll do that." 

 

Things are silent between them for a while. Dean does his best to ignore her. It's nice that she wants to help, he guesses, but he doesn't particularly want her to be here. This place—it feels private. Claimed already. It's not hers. It's not even Dean's. 

 

He lets her help anyway because it'd be nice to get it done as quickly as he can, maybe even before the sun sets. Alone, he'd be working until after dark. He could do it—he would do it—but this is better. 

 

They work in silence before he hears a very soft, very regretful, "Oh…" 

 

Dean turns, then freezes in place. Sorine has worked herself back towards the main part of the meadow that Dean usually goes to, where most of the wreckage didn't reach, thankfully. She's staring down at the empty container—the makeshift urn that still has a small film of ashes clinging to the inside of the glass—and the flowers Dean always leaves next to it seems to tell her all she needs to know. Sorine glances over at him, her throat bobbing as she meets his gaze. He expects pity based on assumptions, but there isn't any. 

 

"Don't," Dean says, cutting her off before she can even say anything. 

 

"I wasn't going to," Sorine tells him quietly. 

 

Dean's lips twist. "Good." 

 

They go back to it, and true to her word, she doesn't say anything. He appreciates that. She's young, but she clearly has some tact. She goes around and cleans up while he erases the proof of a truck coming through here. He finishes, grabs his abandoned bag from earlier, then helps her finish, too. After that, he starts shaping up the bushes, and she follows behind him to hold out a bag, catching all the clippings dutifully. 

 

When that's done, Dean lets Sorine lead him to her car. She pulls out the chain, but he quickly moves in to hold the weight for her. She carries a post, nearly whacking herself in the face with it. He goes back for the second one, and she grabs a brand new mallet, following after him. 

 

She holds the post in place while he beats it into the ground, and there's something relieving about it. A harsh swing down that jams it further into the dirt, a burst of strength that explodes through him, fueled by the anger he can always tap into. It's like breaking apart Baby, everything so pent up that he can't help how hard he swings, or how his eyes sting. 

 

The second post goes in like butter, the ground a little softer on the other side. Sorine nearly slips down into the ditch before she gets her footing, and she still doesn't say anything. She just helps loop the chain around one post, hammering nails through some of the links to keep it from falling, then she helps him do the same with the second. After, she holds out the thick, silver lock and the gleaming key, holding his gaze as he takes it. 

 

"I know someone could still walk in," Sorine murmurs as he shoves the lock in place, "but this will probably keep a lot of people out. Plus, it'll make sure no one can drive through." 

 

"Thanks," Dean says, and he means that sincerely, even if his voice sounds rough. He clears his throat and looks at her with a frown. "Why did you do this? Most people would just...not." 

 

Sorine looks down at her shoes. "I didn't know that you...lost someone when I offered."

 

"I know," Dean tells her. "So, why did you?" 

 

"Eleven months ago, my best friend died." Sorine turns her head, staring towards the meadow, her cheek jumping like she's chewing on the inside of it. Dean feels her words like a gut punch. "Almost twelve now, actually. Monday will be a year." 

 

"I…" Dean trails off, knowing what not to say. I'm sorry doesn't help, because chances are, so is she. That's horrible is true, but it's not like she doesn't already know that. There's nothing to say about death, not really. There never is. So he doesn't say anything at all. 

 

"When we were, like, fifteen, we found this old bridge out in the woods. Concrete, nothing fancy. A little stream ran under it, but the water was brown, always dirty. We used to go out there and get drunk, get a little handsy sometimes, or just hang out. It was kind of...our place, I guess." Sorine clears her throat like there's a lump in it and tilts her head up to look at him. "When I saw you, the way you hit your knees, how angry you were… I don't know. I guess I imagined how it would have felt if I went to the bridge and found that someone had burned it." 

 

"You tried to...make it right," Dean mumbles, his chest panging when he realizes it. She's a good kid. It doesn't help, but he's sorry for her loss anyway. 

 

"Yeah." Sorine's lips curl into a ghost of a smile, flickering. "Her name was Levina. It means lightning bolt. That's how we became best friends, because we thought it only made sense, ya know? Thunder and lightning goes together." 

 

Dean nods. "Makes sense." 

 

"You wanna tell me their name?'' Sorine asks, jerking her chin towards the meadow. 

 

"Cas," Dean croaks out after a long beat of silence. The name sticks in his throat, cracking. 

 

"...sie? Or...sandra? Or, was it just Cas?" Sorine murmurs, watching him steadily. 

 

"Just Cas, mostly," Dean admits. "Short for Castiel."

 

Sorine blinks. "Hey, that's an angel's name." 

 

"How do you know that?" 

 

"Had to do some reports for a theology class. Some kind of angel for the week, right? 

 

"Angel of Thursday," Dean says softly. "His family is, uh, religious. His friends call him Cas, though. I sorta—well, I gave him the nickname, and I guess it just…stuck."

 

"Me and Levina got a lot of shit for our weird names, so we made a pact to own it," Sorine tells him, kicking lightly at the ground. She chuckles and shakes her head. "We met when we were thirteen. Best friends ever since. She got sick when she was nineteen, then declined really bad before she hit twenty. Didn't see twenty-one. I gave that bitch one of my kidneys, too." 

 

Dean's eyebrows jerk up despite himself, and she gives a wry grin. He coughs. "Oh, wow, that's… I mean, that was cool of you." 

 

"I guess." Sorine shrugs, her smile falling. "Pointless in the end. It wasn't just her kidneys that were failing. I asked the doctor if my heart would fit in her chest, but they didn't go for it." 

 

"Jesus," Dean whispers, her words piercing right through him. Fuck, the world is fucked. Sometimes, he forgets how regular people don't need monsters and cosmic forces to suffer. 

 

Sorine nods towards the meadow again. "How long has it been since Cas passed?" 

 

"Not long," Dean murmurs. "Too long." 

 

"Yeah," Sorine says, like she understands. 

 

"Little over a month now," Dean forces himself to say, his fingers twitching and curling into fists. He stuffs them in his pockets and looks away. 

 

"Pretty fresh," Sorine comments idly. "I'd tell you that it gets easier by the year mark, but I'd be lying. So far, it's the same as the very first day, like it just happened. Like it keeps happening over and over." 

 

Dean's chest feels tight. "Reckon it is. Gotta wake up every day and remember it."

 

"Yeah. Exactly," Sorine whispers. She's quiet for a long time, then she blows out a deep breath. "I didn't even want to come out here earlier. Kyle's been—uh, my friend with the truck—well, he sort of just drags me everywhere, I guess. Even when he's making out with his latest flame. We were friends as kids, but we didn't talk that much before Levina died. After, though… I don't know. It's like he tries to look out for me now, or something." 

 

"Bet his girlfriends love that," Dean mutters. 

 

Sorine snorts. "You have no idea. I do it because Levina liked him. They were kind of friends. She cared about him, so I just…" 

 

"I know what you mean," Dean says. "Cas has—had a kid, and now I'm… Guess I'm trying to teach him right from wrong, get him through life like Cas would have wanted, but it's—it's—" 

 

"Hard," Sorine supplies. 

 

"Yeah," Dean breathes out. 

 

There's silence between them for another few moments, then Sorine glances at him and asks, "Do you drink beer, by chance, Dean?" 

 

Only every night, Dean thinks, but his response is a simple, "Sure. Why?" 

 

"Kyle still lives with his parents, and they won't have it in their house, so I get to have the extra. They're in a cooler," Sorine informs him, backing up towards her car with a crooked smile. "Bottle or can?" 

 

"What kinda question is that?" Dean asks with a scoff. "Bottle." 

 

A few minutes later, Sorine is walking back over to offer him a beer. She drinks out of a can, because she apparently has no decency or taste. She makes a comment about his car, and he spends the next twenty minutes leading her around Baby, rambling on about her. Sorine doesn't seem to have much knowledge or opinion on cars, but she claims that Baby looks nice and—when Dean cranks her up to show off her growl—sounds nice, too. 

 

In the end, Sorine asks about trunk size, because she complains that her trunk is too small. Dean thinks about showing her, but he's pretty sure he's got a duffle of guns and knives on top of the false truck instead of in it. He distracts her by climbing up on the trunk with his beer, motioning her to join him, and she does with a quiet sigh. 

 

The sun is starting to go down, almost like a reverse sunrise. There's orange and pink and purple bleeding across the sky, a line that shrinks as more time passes, being swallowed by dusk. Dean watches and thinks about the passage of time, about how he'll have eleven months of this, of no Cas, just like Sorine has already of no Levina. 

 

"I like to talk about her sometimes," Sorine announces at one point, her feet dangling near the exhaust pipe. She swallows harshly enough for it to be audible, and her nails click against the aluminum can between her knees. "Other times, I can't even really—I can barely think about her. I never know what it's going to be. I don't get a choice in the matter, and I don't think a lot of people get that." 

 

"Not a lot of people do," Dean says bitterly, despising with everything in him that they get it. 

 

Sorine hums. "People act like talking about her will help, or something. It...doesn't, really. Sometimes it's nice, sometimes it's impossible. People who didn't know about her suddenly want to, and they'll ask me. Half the time, it's like they're asking me to throw up right at their feet." 

 

Dean grunts in understanding. He knows what that's like. Sam even mentioning Cas' name makes Dean's stomach churn, rolling and clenching, like he can be sick just from the thought that he'll be asked to talk. Or worse, that someone else will talk for him. Dean knows Sam must tell the kid about Cas, but he's glad that Sam doesn't do it when he's around, because he has no idea how he'd handle hearing it. 

 

Wouldn't be good, probably. 

 

In truth, Dean does a lot of not talking about the dead. Talking to the dead is a whole other story, it seems. It's simultaneously the most painful and most relieving thing just to come to the meadow and speak to the flowers, pretending that Cas can hear him. He always found beauty in this sad, agonized world, an appreciation for humans, even the shitty ones trying their best. Dean likes to think he'd do that after death, too. Maybe his ashes found some way into the roots here, maybe he exists in the breeze that turns the windmill. 

 

"No one ever asks if I want to talk," Sorine says. 

 

"Do you want to talk?" Dean asks, instinctively. 

 

"She used to—before she'd laugh, she always used to wiggle her nose, kinda like Tinkerbell," Sorine tells him. "She hated feet. Couldn't touch her with 'em, not even with socks, and she practically went catonic if you touched hers. She wanted a motorcycle, but she never—well. Anyway. Do you want to talk, Dean?" 

 

Dean huffs out a derisive noise. "Never." 

 

"Fair enough," Sorine says. "Levina and I used to get high, and she was—well, she was a flirty stoner. She'd put her hand up my shirt, like she had a right to it. She'd get all over me, and I'd let her because… Anyway, the next morning, I'd catch her looking at me, ya know? Really, really looking at me, kinda like she couldn't figure out how to stop. But then, she'd just laugh and roll away, like it never happened." 

 

"Kind of a dick move on her part," Dean mutters before he can think better of it. 

 

Sorine chuckles weakly. "Yeah. She knew, though. Her mom died a little after she was born with the same thing, and she told me at the end that she knew she'd go the same way. Somehow, she knew." 

 

"So she didn't want to get attached," Dean says. 

 

"Worse," Sorine mumbles. "She didn't want me to have to lose her. That's worse, isn't it? Worse than being scared to lose someone, just being scared they'll lose you. I think so." 

 

Dean tries not to think about Cas, but as always, he fails. He closes his eyes and takes a swig of beer to give him some time to get his shit together. His fingers tremble around the neck of the bottle, and if Sorine notices, she kindly pretends not to. 

 

"You lost her in the end anyway, though," Dean points out in a rasp. 

 

"Yep," Sorine agrees, then takes a swig of her beer. 

 

Dean exhales and opens his eyes. "Cas was weird. I used to—well, I got a thing for cowboys, so I used to make him watch things with me. Tombstone. Wyatt Earp. Young Guns. Plenty of Clint Eastwood, too. Oh, he'd bitch about it the whole time, but he'd watch it with me anyway. He was way too attached to his coat, and he sucked at staying put anywhere. He liked goddamn emojis. He used to replace words with 'em all in his texts, so it was like trying to work out fucking hieroglyphics sometimes. He'd send one outta that blue for no reason. So stupid." 

 

"Sounds like he was down with the kids, and you're just old," Sorine notes, amused. 

 

"Cas wasn't down with anybody. He was awkward. Just this weird, dorky guy. Kinda short. But he was also—he was…" Dean swallows thickly and looks down at the bottle cradled between both hands. He blinks a little furiously. "He was earnest about a lot. Always tried to do the right thing, and if he did the wrong thing, it was for the right reasons. Too much heart. That's what someone said to describe him once. He was such a fucking rebel." 

 

"Brought up in a religious family, right?" Sorine tips her head with a snort. "The black sheeps always are. Rebelling against God… I mean, giving the almighty the finger when it's all you've ever known is kind of as defiant as you can get, right? Most people need an excuse. Love, or their own sense of self, or struggling to have faith." 

 

"I think, for him, it was all three," Dean murmurs, staring off into the distance with furrowed eyebrows. 

 

"Levina's dad kept trying to get her to get saved before she passed. You know, accept Jesus into her heart and stuff like that," Sorine says. "She said her heart was still gonna give out whether he was in there or not. Her dad wanted her to get baptized, too, but she said she didn't want to meet God with all her sins washed away. She wanted to be able to look him in the eye and tell him she didn't get to commit nearly enough." 

 

"Levina sounds like she's fun in church," Dean replies, lips twitching when Sorine grins. "Cas would probably—I don't know—punch God if he actually got to sit down and talk to him. Whenever Cas needed him, he never came through for him. God doesn't hear us, and if he does, he doesn't care."

 

"You got me there." Sorine lifts her can and takes another swig, then sighs. "Tell me more about him."

 

"Well…" Dean chews on the inside of his lip for a long moment, a low sense of dread starting to curl in his chest. He doesn't know if he can keep talking about him. He tries anyway. "I made him a mixtape once. He had shitty taste in music, to be clear. Liked pop music. So, I...uh, I educated him properly. Traditionally, I mean. Dunno if he ever listened to it, though. He never got a gift before, so he tried to give it back. Like I said, he was a dork." 

 

"Sounds to me like he was pretty sheltered." Sorine pauses, then clicks her tongue. "Hey, what's wrong with pop music? No one hates a whole genre of music. Even if you don't listen to that genre usually, there's always a few songs you end up liking. Or, if you don't like it, you at least connect to it." 

 

"Nope," Dean denies. "Never once connected to a pop song in my life. Never will." 

 

Sorine's eyebrows jump. "Bullshit. No one? Ever? Bruno Mars? Maroon 5? Taylor Swift?" She pauses when he shifts, then she leans in. "Ah, yeah, Taylor Swift has that effect. This is her world, Dean; we're just living in it." 

 

"No, Sorine, Jesus Christ." 

 

"She makes me cry. She's got this song that I literally only just stopped sobbing along to, like, three months ago. Just you wait, you'll hear a song that reminds you of Cas, and then you'll never be able to listen to it without crying. Automatic tear trigger, I guarantee you."

 

"Okay, now I'm calling bullshit," Dean mutters. 

 

"Don't say I didn't warn you, Carl Fredricksen," Sorine says, shrugging. 

 

Dean stares at her. "Who the fuck is Carl Fredricksen?" 

 

"You know, the old guy from Up. The pixar movie," Sorine tells him distractedly. "You're kinda grumpy like him. Sad, too. He lost his wife and was kinda just fucked up after that. Guess that makes me your Russell. It's my comfort movie, especially after losing Levina. They really made Ellie's death realistically sad, ya know? Fucks me up every time."

 

"A sad death scene comforts you?" Dean asks incredulously. 

 

"Shockingly, it does. Don't ask me. I don't know why my brain is the way it is." Sorine takes another swallow of her beer, sighing after. "Like, okay, Levina and I had plans, right? Before she got sick, I mean. She was gonna be a hotshot actor, and me? Well, I guess I was gonna be the next Taylor Swift. She used to tell me with a voice like mine, I'm hurting the world by not letting people hear it. We had it all planned out. I've got songs written stacked back from years ago. Shit, we even saved money from when we were sixteen, and she wouldn't take a damn dime of it for hospital bills. It was our big dream, and now… Now, the thought of leaving the town she died in is… I don't know. I can't." 

 

"You don't want to do it?" Dean asks. 

 

"I don't know if I can," Sorine says. "Without her, it seems… I don't know how to believe in it anymore." 

 

"Well," Dean mumbles, "you only live—" 

 

"Don't YOLO me," Sorine cuts in. "For one, I believe in reincarnation, so that has no hold on me. Second, I don't think it works like that, no matter what anyone believes. It's not how many lives you've got, or don't. I think it's about the life we're living and how little time we have to live it." 

 

Dean looks down at his beer, rubbing the pad of his thumb around the rim, swallowing. "Not everyone gets enough time." 

 

"No," Sorine agrees, "they don't." 

 

"Think Levina would want you to do it?" 

 

"Don't think she has much of an opinion these days, if I'm being honest with you." 

 

"Right," Dean murmurs. 

 

Sorine glances over at him. "You know, I go back to our bridge all the time, and I think the water looks a little cleaner. I put my hand on the spot next to me where she used to sit, and it feels warm like she's right there beside me." 

 

Despite knowing better, Dean says, "Maybe she—" 

 

"The truth is," Sorine interrupts, "they clean the pipes annually and the spot she used to be will turn cold when winter comes." 

 

Dean looks away, fighting the ridiculous urge to gasp for air like he's being strangled. It feels like he is. He thinks about coming here to this meadow, touching the flowers, watching the windmill turn. What happens when those flowers die, and what happens when that windmill breaks down? He's been looking for Cas in all the places he'll never get to go, and he's never going to find him. 

 

"I'm sorry," Sorine whispers, her eyes drifting shut when Dean focuses on her. "That was—I just get really… It's hard. I'm sorry." 

 

"It's okay," Dean tells her, because it is. He gets it.

 

Sorine clears her throat and opens her eyes. "I really did try to give her my heart, you know. As soon as I found out that she'd probably never make it to see the top of the transplant list, I asked if they'd take mine. They wouldn't go for it, and Levina said I was crazy. But I just thought—I figured it'd be good, you know? Every time she'd see her reflection, her heart would race. Every time she'd smile, it would skip a beat. And—and that would be me. She'd always have me. That would be enough, that's what I said, because the way it happened… I don't get to always have her. I didn't get to have her at all, not really." 

 

"Sacrifice your life for hers, huh?" Dean says. 

 

"You wouldn't give your heart to Cas?" Sorine asks. 

 

Dean ducks his head, staring at the beer, the heart in question lurching in his chest. He exhales shakily, his voice escaping heavy and rough. "Yeah, I would. Might as well, right? If they've already got it." 

 

"Yeah," Sorine breaths out. "Yeah. Exactly that. 'Cause when they go, they still got it. They take it with them, and we have to learn to go on without it. But how the fuck do you go on without your heart?" 

 

"Haven't worked that out yet," Dean admits. He tilts his head up, staring up at the sky, keeping his eyes open so they'll dry out. "Probably never will." 

 

"I went to the hospital a few weeks after she died. I checked myself in with chest pains, and I thought—I mean, I knew what she had wasn't contagious. I still thought I caught it somehow. I thought I was dying," Sorine tells him. "Turns out I'm just heartbroken. Isn't that crazy? Turns out heartbreak is just a disease that doesn't kill you." 

 

"It can, though," Dean replies. 

 

"It's slow," Sorine says. "No medicine in the world can cure it. You either see the other side of it, or you don't. And that's—that's all there is." 

 

"They say time heals all wounds." 

 

"Tell that to the dead." 

 

"Jeez, kid, you sure are morbid, huh?" Dean mutters, but he gets it. That bitterness. That feeling of bereft. How unfair it is, and how angry it makes you. 

 

Sorine snorts. "Sometimes. I guess I'm just on the cycle again. Give me some time, I'll be at acceptance soon enough. Looks like I'm at anger right now." 

 

Dean blinks at her. "What?" 

 

"Five stages of grief?" Sorine raises her eyebrows at him. "Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then acceptance. The kicker that they don't tell you is that you go through it over and over. Just because you reach acceptance once doesn't mean you get to stay there. Ain't that some bullshit?" 

 

"Actually, yeah, that is," Dean admits. 

 

"Where are you at right now, you think?" 

 

"I don't think I grieve like normal people do." 

 

"No one grieves normally. We all do it differently, I think," Sorine muses. "Did it help to talk about him? You can tell me more if you want." 

 

Dean fiddles with the bottle, lips ticking down. He doesn't talk about Cas, not usually. He doesn't know if he wants to, or if it helps. "I guess, um… Well, Cas saw good in the world, even in the shittiest parts of it. I mean, he would find beauty in the ash imprint of a flower, just the same way he would before it burned. I try to see the world through his eyes sometimes, ya know, but I don't think I manage." 

 

"Sometimes, on days like this at sun down, I'll go out to squint at the horizon," Sorine says, pointing out at the sky. "Right there, that thin line between earth and sky, I swear I can see her dancing. Levina loved to dance, but I never did, and I'll never know how. Not like her." 

 

"That's...deep. Damn," Dean mutters. 

 

Sorine snorts. "Yeah, well, what's death if not a lesson in perspective, right?" 

 

"Hey, you said it," Dean tells her. 

 

"She likes the sky like this. When someone asked her what her favorite color was, she'd say sunset. Dramatic bitch," Sorine says fondly, shaking her head. She glances over at him curiously. "What was Cas' favorite color?" 

 

And Dean… 

 

Dean doesn't know why this particular question, above all that they have talked about so far, is what gets to him. He scours his brain for an answer, then finds none. It's such a simple thing. Something you know about someone as an offhand thing, maybe even one of the first straightforward things you learn about someone. 

 

"I don't—I don't know," Dean chokes out, the force of that hitting him hard. 

 

So hard, in fact, that he curls in on himself a little, fumbling with the beer until it slips from his grasp and sluggishly starts pouring out on the ground. He stares down at it, eyes burning, searching for some kind of answer. It's such a juvenile question, something that doesn't even really matter, something he'd roll his eyes at and scoff about, because they're not kids. And yet. And yet. What's Cas' favorite color? He should know that, but he doesn't, and now he'll never get to ask.

 

With no warning and with urgency, Dean is suddenly crying very, very hard. He keeps asking himself that question over and over, and it rips at him when he has no solidified answer. It could be anything, and nothing he guesses will ever be confirmed, because Cas isn't here to confirm it. 

 

Dean can hear himself making these god-awful noises, like something going off to a corner to die in misery. He's whimpering, fully unable to stop it. He tries muffling it instead, pressing the back of his hand to his mouth and folding over his own lap, squeezing his eyes closed. His shoulders are jerking like the question is actually wrenching at him physically, yanking him around, demanding the answer. But he doesn't have one. He doesn't know. 

 

"Dean," Sorine says urgently, putting her hand on his shoulder, squeezing it. "Dean, it's okay. Hey, it's okay. It's okay, Dean, it's—" 

 

And she keeps saying it until he can gasp out, "It's not. It's—I'll never know. I'll never get to—" 

 

"I know. Dean, I know," Sorine whispers, hesitating only a moment longer before she scoots closer and wraps both arms around him. She doesn't say anything else, doesn't try to lie and say it's okay again, doesn't do anything but let him cry it out.

 

Dean has never—done this. He doesn't know why he is now, why it's with her. Maybe because she has opened up about Levina. But probably not. He doesn't exactly get a choice in the matter. It all just comes pouring out of him, and there's nothing he can do to halt it, to lessen the impact. 

 

He just has to endure it. 

 

And he does. He cries long and fretfully, cries until he's angry enough to burn everything down, then cries until he's so exhausted that he can't cry anymore. He hates crying. That shit hurts. The clogged throat, his body fighting the necessity to breathe like it doesn't stand a chance against the need for Cas, who isn't here. The puffy, itchy eyes, and the ache that settles more firmly into his very foundation, like he'll never be rid of it. The horrible sounds of it, and what a sight it must be, and the complete and utter vulnerability in it. 

 

It hurts worse to acknowledge that he's hurting, like it gets stronger because he's aware of it. The pain is like a tulpa that he gives power to, and there's no way to stop believing that it's going to win every time. He thinks about how he burned that house on their first tulpa case, and how he can't burn himself alive just to escape this. It's oh so tempting, though, and that's a dangerous road to go down. 

 

When it's over, Sorine lets him draw away from her without complaint. In fact, she scoots back to her spot and then lays flat on her back, propped against Baby's back windshield. Dean appreciates the privacy, the chance to scrub his hands over his face like he's destroying evidence. 

 

After a few moments of heavy silence, Dean explodes out a deep breath and leans back, too. He blinks up at the sky, his vision kind of blurry and grainy. He almost apologizes, or says thank you, and then he does neither. 

 

"Will you be my new best friend, Dean?" Sorine asks him with a sigh. 

 

Dean chokes out an unexpected laugh, turning his head to stare at her. "What?" 

 

"I'm in need of a new one, you see." 

 

"Kid, I got at least twenty years on you. That's never going to work. Besides, I'm not...a good best friend."

 

"Well, my last one died on me, so as long as you don't do that, I think you're fine." 

 

"I'm a flake. You'll probably never hear from me again, Sorine." 

 

"That's okay." Sorine shrugs. "Just don't die." 

 

"I'll do my best," Dean mutters. 

 

Sorine hums and holds up her fist. "Alright. Put it there, and it's a sealed deal. Besties for life." 

 

"Sure, kid." Dean gives her a fist-bump, lips twitching against his will. "But if I'm doing that, then you gotta promise me something." 

 

"What?" Sorine asks. 

 

"Write me a song when you go off to become the next Taylor Swift," Dean says. 

 

"I'll think about it," Sorine replies. 

 

Dean huffs a weak laugh. "Good enough for me." 

 

It's quiet for a long time after that, but not the whole time. They talk. The conversation doesn't come anywhere close to Cas and Levina for a while, and instead, they talk a little bit about themselves. Their family. Favorite movies. Books, songs, food. Best friend things, Sorine insists. 

 

And one secret. Just one. That's required, apparently. Something that they've never told anyone else, no matter how big or small. 

 

"There's this guy at the library who likes me a lot. He's really sweet, and I like him, too. But it's more serious for him than me. I don't—I can't really… Not for a while, I think. But I use him sometimes. Let him come over just to remember what a warm body feels like, and when I close my eyes, I picture Levina instead," Sorine confesses. "He's in love with me, and I let him be, knowing I don't love him back." 

 

Dean lets that roll right off his back, refusing to judge her for it. "Cas was the first person that treated me like I was—like I was special, or something. It was always about my brother, even for me, and it always has been. I'm okay with that, ya know? S'what I want. But Cas… Cas was—he was biased, I guess. Don't get me wrong, he cared about Sam, but it always seemed—it always felt like I was his...favorite, in a way. Dunno what he saw in me, 'cause it shouldn't have been like that. It wasn't what he was supposed to do, caring about me that much that he'd—he'd, uh, leave his family and want to stay with me. But he did." 

 

"He fell for you," Sorine murmurs. 

 

"Yeah," Dean says, his voice hoarse. He knows she means it differently, not the way he does, not how Cas rebelled against Heaven for him. She means that he fell in love, and Dean means something different, but a part of him is struggling to not think of those things as the same. "Yeah, he did." 

 

Sorine hums and asks him what his favorite cartoon was when he was growing up as a kid. They have that in common, it turns out. Scooby-Doo. 

 

And so it goes. They stay out there until all the bleeding colors in the sky are staunched, until dusk has rolled in and threatens to turn to night, until Sorine has finally finished her first and only beer. She's a slow drinker, but Dean chalks that up to her terrible taste in drinking out of cans. 

 

He makes sure she's good to drive when she finally slides off Baby, despite the fact that she only had one beer over a couple of hours. She rolls her eyes and walks in a straight line, touching her nose with one finger of each hand and chanting the only nursery rhyme she remembers—the itsy bitsy spider. He declares her sober and watches her move to her car, leaning against her open door, paused there as she looks at him for a long moment. 

 

"Levina would have liked you," Sorine tells him, her voice soft and sad, but she's sincere. 

 

Dean quirks a small smile and says, "Cas would have liked you, too." 

 

Sorine smiles back, and then she slips into her car, and she's gone in fading headlights as she takes a curve. Dean turns around and walks back into the meadow, ducking under the chain, heading further in while he can still see. 

 

He replaces the flowers by the makeshift urn, unwilling to watch anything die here. He doesn't say anything, and the bushes rustle with the breeze, the grass swaying and sneaking up under his jeans to tickle his ankles. It's like a touch, and he closes his eyes and pretends that it is. 

 

On his way back out, he catches a flower that he and Sorine must have missed. It's a crushed, little thing. Smudged with dirt. Wrinkled petals and snapped branches. He crouches down and picks it up, his heart lodging in his throat. Cas would still find it beautiful. Hell, he'd probably relate to it, draw a metaphor between him and it. Broken, and still trying to do its best. Dean sniffs hard, blinking, and he cradles it in his hand as he stands and starts walking back to Baby. 

 

"What do ya think, Cas? You would have liked Sorine, wouldn't you?" Dean asks, twirling the crumpled flower in his fingers. Cas, as always, doesn't respond, but a petal comes loose and drifts down to the ground, so Dean gives a harsh laugh and nods. "Yeah, figured you would." 

 

The drive back to the Bunker is silent, just as it usually is, and Dean keeps the broken flower safely in his pocket. Just because it's likely to die quicker than the rest, he thinks, doesn't mean it shouldn't be appreciated while it's still here.  

 


 

Dean's trying with the kid, but it sometimes feels impossible. Jack's too much like Cas' most innocent parts for it to be anything other than excruciating. 

 

It baffles him how Jack can be so goddamn much like Cas without ever having actually met him. Every time his eyebrows furrow and his head tilts, Dean feels like he can't breathe. He looks like Cas sometimes, but mostly, he acts like him.  In his mannerisms, in the way he speaks, in how earnest he is. It's what Dean imagines Cas would have been like if he were ever a child. 

 

Jack is different, too. He's confused by so much. He has a sunnier disposition, always ready with a smile, even if the situation doesn't call for it. He's blunt like Cas is, but not unkindly—born from not knowing that complete honesty is not the route to go, whereas Cas just didn't care. And he wants so, so desperately to be good. It practically spills out of him all the time just how badly he wants to be a good person, to do the right thing, to make the right decisions, even when has no idea what those are. 

 

Dean looks at him sometimes, and it's like all he sees is Cas, and it's not a comforting thing. It doesn't do anything but remind him of why and how Cas died, whose fault that is. Yours, his mind whispers, an insidious thought that ensnares his brain. The kid's, too, he insists, because Cas would have never died if not for trying to protect the kid, if there was no rift to begin with, which the kid created. It's irrational, Sam would say, but Dean doesn't think so. And, of course, the blame goes to Lucifer as well, but Dean can't get to him. 

 

If he could… Oh, if only he could.  

 

Jack—like any other kid—clings to all he knows, and right now, all he knows is Sam and Dean. He wants to be around them all the time. He wants to learn from them, wants to be like them, but it's worse because it's mostly Dean. 

 

No matter what shitty thing Dean has said, Jack always drifts back towards him. He mimics him. He asks questions constantly. Can I hold your gun? Why is kale bad? Does Baby love back? Would she love me? He trails after Dean like Sam used to, like Dean used to trail after his dad. So eager to please, wanting more than anything to get approval, trying to be like them and liked by them. And it's so fucking hard. 

 

Dean shuts himself up in his room a lot and closes his eyes, a flower cradled between his hands, and he talks to Cas. He says, "You'd be good at this. Usually, I am. But he's so much like you. Why'd you saddle me with this shit, huh? I can barely look at the kid without wanting to send him up the river." 

 

He says, "Almost told the kid to fuck off today. He saw that I had a pocket knife. Asked me why, and I tried, Cas. I told him how they come in handy. He decided he wanted one because, get this, I have one. Kid can create alternate universes, and he wants a goddamn pocket knife." 

 

He says, "Caught the kid lingering by your door this afternoon, almost like he was gonna go in. No one's been in there since… Anyway, I ran him off. I think it hurt his feelings. Sorry, Cas." 

 

He says, "Some fucking dad you are, huh? Couldn't even stick around long enough to be one."

 

He says, "I raised Sammy, you know. But he's my responsibility. He's my brother. I had to, 'cause Dad sure as shit wasn't gonna stick around to do it. Jack? I didn't sign up for this. You can't just dump fucking kids on me and then leave, Cas. I can't even look at him. All I see is you and the imprint of your wings." 

 

He says, "I don't want to do it, Cas. Not without you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm—" 

 

Most of the time, Dean says nothing. Most of the time, he just stays out of the way and watches the flowers wilt more and more each morning. 

 

Jack doesn't talk about Cas—or Kelly—to Dean, and Dean has to wonder if Sam warned him not to. He can't imagine how that conversation went. Jack, Cas was Dean's best friend. He was family. It hurts Dean to talk about it, so do us all a favor and don't. Whatever was said, Jack doesn't mention Cas to Dean, but it sometimes looks like he wants to. In the end, he never does. Maybe he saves those questions for Sam. 

 

One day, though, he slips up, and it becomes vibrantly clear why Jack's not supposed to. It starts out innocently enough, to be fair. 

 

"I would like to learn to drive," Jack announces when he sees Dean fiddling with Baby's keys. 

 

Dean grunts and mutters, "You're not even six months old, kid. Anyway, there's no way in hell I'm teaching you to drive in Baby." 

 

"What about the truck?" Jack asks, his words just slightly hesitant. Not hesitant enough. "Castiel's truck." 

 

"No," Dean snaps, a cold, harsh refusal that cuts through the room like a knife. 

 

"Dean," Sam reprimands quietly, looking up from his laptop, a frown at the corners of his lips. 

 

"I said no, and that's final," Dean grinds out, the cadence to his voice reminding him so viscerally of his own dad that it only serves to piss him off even more. He shoves his chair back and stands up, turning to march away. 

 

There's the scrape of another chair and the sound of someone coming around the table, following after him, then Jack is saying, "Castiel was my father."

 

Dean whirls around so fast that Jack actually falters back a step. Whatever shows on his face makes Jack blink and Sam hastily stand to his feet, inching closer. Suddenly, the room seems suffocating, the tension so thick that Dean can't even think. 

 

"That doesn't mean his truck is yours, or that you need to learn how to drive in it," Dean says sharply. 

 

"Dean, man, I'll teach him. You don't have to, it's fine," Sam mutters. 

 

Dean shakes his head. "Not in the truck." 

 

"I don't understand," Jack says, his eyebrows crumbling inwards. "If I can't learn in your car, why shouldn't I learn in his truck? Castiel was my—" 

 

"Father?" Dean cuts in, his voice pitched higher, almost at hysterical levels. He feels like he's exploding in slow motion, just falling to pieces right in front of them, no matter how much he hates it. 

 

"Dean," Sam says softly, an undercurrent of warning in his tone, telling him to back off, ease up, he's just a kid. He's just a kid. 

 

Jack nods at Dean. "Yes, Castiel was my father." 

 

"He was your father? He was your father, huh?! Dean shouts, because suddenly he's shouting, and he has no idea why, or what's causing him to shake all over, not until it explodes out of him. "Maybe Cas was your father, but he was my everything!" 

 

Sam and Jack flinch back in twin responses of horror, and Dean knows exactly why. The admission had ripped out of him raw and aching, a hoarse shout that bounces off the surrounding silence like a scream for help. Dean's breath hitches in his throat, his vision blurry, and then he palms at his mouth and wrenches around to march away. 

 

Dean makes it to his room, bursting in like he's bursting for air. He gasps as he stumbles through the door, then immediately starts finding shit to do. It's automatic. He goes straight for the bed, messing up the sheets just to remake it, his hands shaking as he resituates the pillows. He's grinding his teeth, barely able to see shit with the stupid film of tears in his eyes spilling over and running down his nose. 

 

"Dean," Sam says from the doorway. 

 

"Don't. Don't. Go away, Sam," Dean chokes out, practically gagging on the words and how wounded they sound when they fall out. 

 

There's a beat of silence, and then the door clicks shut, and then Sam hasn't left because he delicately murmurs, "Come on, man, you've got to talk about this. It's eating you up inside, Dean." 

 

"Stop. Just stop," Dean whispers furiously. His fingers clench around a pillow, digging in. "It's not—I'll smooth it over with the kid later, alright? Just leave me alone right now. Please just…" 

 

"You can barely keep it together," Sam says gently, treading carefully but determined to continue on nonetheless. "Look, I know what this feels like, okay? I know exactly what you're going through." 

 

"No, the fuck you don't," Dean spits, ripping his hands away from the pillow to slice one through the air, jabbing a finger at Sam. "You don't know shit about this, Sam!" 

 

Sam takes a deep breath, then slowly lets it out. "You're not the only one who lost people, Dean. I lost them, too. Jack lost them, too. He didn't even get them. And I—I know now that it's different for you when it comes to Cas, but I've been there, okay? It's been years, but losing Jessica was—" 

 

"Oh, fucking spare me," Dean bites out, his anger radiating out for any target near him, nuclear. He can't help it. He just lashes out. "I don't wanna hear about how losing your little girlfriend from college is anything like this. That's bullshit. She didn't know you, Sam. She didn't know everything about you. She was just some girl you thought you could have a normal life with, and that didn't work out so well, did it? Try losing someone you've known for a fucking decade. Try losing someone who knows you, who really knows you, your worst and best. Try losing someone you didn't even get to have! Try that, then come back and talk to me."

 

"I loved her, regardless of those things, and that's what this is about, right?" Sam holds his gaze, not backing down. "That's—that's what you meant when you said he was…" 

 

"We were nothing," Dean says with a bitter laugh, nothing funny about it. "Me and him? We were nothing, Sam, and he still turned out to be everything." 

 

"You loved him," Sam whispers. 

 

"No," Dean replies sharply. Because he never got the chance. I wanted to, he can't say. He turns away from Sam, his fingers trembling so bad that he can't get a good hold on the sheets. "Get out, Sammy, I fucking mean it. You either leave, or I do. So, go." 

 

This time, eventually, Sam does. 

 

The moment the door shuts behind him, Dean sinks down onto his bed and puts his face in his hands, hating and hating and hating how he sounds when he weeps. It sounds like he's dying. 

 

At this point, that would be a relief. 

Chapter Text

You wanna die, Billie had said. 

 

That plays on in Dean's mind as Baby eats up backroads, turning over and over in a continuous loop. God, Cas would hate that. It makes Dean feel like he's failing even more than he already has been, and failing Cas in particular. He can't help it. 

 

It's like Billie said. He's changed. It has happened somewhere between everyone dying in one fell swoop and now. Dean can't quite pinpoint what the exact moment was, the precise time that it settled in just how genuinely exhausted he is, how he thinks it wouldn't hurt to breathe if he didn't have to. 

 

Sam snoozes on over in the seat next to him, and Dean thinks guilt-filled apologies at him that he'll never be able to say. Sorry I almost left you, sorry I wanted to, sorry that I still do. Sorry, sorry, sorry. He's just so fucking sorry about every goddamn thing. He doesn't know how to stop being sorry. He nearly has to apologize to the kid every day when he gets too harsh with him. He apologizes to the wind and flowers for not being able to save Cas. He apologizes to mothers on the street like maybe his own will hear him. He apologizes to the whole goddamn world, because he doesn't know how to care about saving it anymore. 

 

And he never actually apologizes at all. His mouth stays shut, and he stays sorry. 

 

His phone ringing pierces through the quiet of the car, making Sam wake up with a muffled groan. Dean barely spares the phone a glance as he answers it and holds it to his ear. The first thing he hears is the breeze in the background, like a sudden gust of wind has kicked up close to the caller, as if telling Dean hello. That makes Dean's chest ache, and a second later, it feels like his chest splits open. 

 

Because, "Hello, Dean." 

 

The way that those words hit Dean can't be described. It leaves him speechless, face going slack as Cas begins to talk, to explain. Dean finds himself looking over at his brother to make sure that he actually did come back to life after all. Yeah, Sam's alive, and so is Dean, and so, apparently, is Cas. 

 

Dean's heading right for him the moment he finds out where he is, and Sam looks confused about the new direction. He's still quietly asking what's going on, because something clearly is, and then Cas is complaining that he doesn't have any more quarters and someone else needs to use the payphone, so he has to go, but I just thought you'd like to know. 

 

And then, all too soon, Cas is hanging up. 

 

Dean knows—he knows that he's crying. He knows that, and he knows Sam is concerned, but he doesn't really care, either. There's nothing else in this world he'd like to know more, and Cas treats it like it's just some offhand fact that Dean might find vaguely intriguing. Yes, yes, alive again, moving along.

 

Sam approaches this with a heavy dose of skepticism. Dean really wishes he'd stop raining on the parade. But, for Sam, he clearly feels like he has to treat this with suspicion, because Dean obviously won't. What if it's a shifter? It's not Sam, it's Cas. If it is him, how did he come back? Does it matter, Sam? He's back. He's back. He's—

 

Dean didn't know he was capable of hope like this. He didn't know he could believe in something like this so wholeheartedly. He thought he lost that ability, like maybe it died with Cas. But here he is, his heart thundering with it, with how deeply he's clinging to this. He needs this. He needs it. 

 

There's a lit-up cross hanging off to the side, and Dean nearly bursts into a ridiculous fit of giggles as they pass it. He doesn't, though. He swallows them down because men don't fucking giggle, and also, Dean hasn't outright laughed in a long time now. Besides, he's above religious jokes at this point. 

 

It takes Dean some time to realize that he's nervous. It all hinges on hope, and it can all go crumbling down if this turns out to be something other than what he desperately needs it to be. He sips in a little breath, trying to steady himself, his hand on the door handle. He flicks his gaze to Sam, who watches him warily, like he knows how bad this can go. 

 

Don't be a Shapeshifter, don't be a cosmic consequence, don't be anything other than Cas, just Cas, Dean thinks as he pushes the door open and slides out of the car. He thinks it at the wind and the earth itself, like a prayer, like maybe Cas will hear him. 

 

Maybe he will. 

 

Seeing him draws Dean up short. There he is, just like that, turning away from the payphone like he never left at all. There he is, in that dumb coat and that backwards tie, hands hanging limply at his sides. There he is, fixing his gaze on Dean immediately and first thing, the intensity behind his eyes as arresting as it always has been. There he is, there he is, Dean's whole body and mind seems to scream. It's him. It's him. There he is. 

 

And still—he has to ask. "Cas, is that really you?" 

 

"No," Sam says, like he's trying to remind Dean not to believe it so easily, like he's struggling not to hope for the same damn thing. "You're dead." 

 

Cas sighs and swings away from the payphone, approaching them. "Well, I was, but then I annoyed an ancient cosmic being so much that it sent me back," he says, completely serious. 

 

Any other time, Dean would laugh. He almost does, regardless of the swarm of emotion that assaults him now. Of course Cas did that, of course. What a fucking rebel, Jesus Christ. 

 

"I don't even know what to say," Sam admits. 

 

Dean does. He knows exactly what the proper response to this is. He's been feeling Cas through the breeze and the bloom of flowers for too long now, and his palms itch to make sure he's real. He once held ashes, and now he wants to hold him, that's all. That's all it is. 

 

"I do," Dean announces, moving forward and nearly losing his breath all over again when Cas' gaze latches onto him once more. He thinks of endless things to say, but it's all too much, too soon, too eclipsed by other things that have to be done first. So, nowhere near home, Dean says, "Welcome home, pal," and moves in with the hope that his arms will provide a proper enough substitute for now. 

 

Cas softens against him, solid as he is, and he hugs back. Dean doesn't want to let go. This is immediately dangerous as fuck, because he doesn't want to let go. Cas is real, tangible, something he can grasp onto once again, and Dean would stand right here forever to do just that. He's gone so long without getting to do just that, even before Cas died. 

 

Dean has to stop, to step back and get his shit together, because he's losing it before there are any fucking answers. It's so hard to care about that, though. Everything seems so inconsequential compared to this, compared to Cas being back, being here under Dean's hands. 

 

He allows himself one slightly incredulous smile, then he rips himself back and away, thankful when Sam moves in. It gives Dean the time to stomp out all the ridiculous urges he has, things that he needs to put on a back burner right now, things that can't be more important at the moment. 

 

A conversation about how inevitably leads to the theory of who, and then it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to find themselves at the possible conclusion. 

 

Jack. 

 

If the kid is responsible for this, Dean's going to throw him Baby's keys and tell him to have the time of his goddamn life. He's going to let Jack have any-fucking-thing he wants. He knows how hypocritical that makes him, but he can't help it. 

 

The ride back to the Bunker is quiet, to start. Dean keeps flicking his gaze to the rearview mirror, meeting Cas' eyes through the reflection. It's hard to force himself to keep looking at the road. He thinks about all the drives he took to the meadow, all the times he looked at the empty backseat. 

 

They drive past it, and Dean watches it go by, the chain glinting in the headlights as they roar on. Will he ever even go to the meadow again? He won't find Cas in the flowers or the wind any longer, and no part of him feels bad about it. This is better. 

 

"That's where I woke up," Cas informs them quietly. 

 

"Really?" Sam asks. "That's where Dean spread your ashes after we burned you." 

 

"You like the windmill?" Dean murmurs, his chest a mess of tremulous emotion. He swallows and meets Cas' gaze in the mirror again. "Thought it was a real calm, zen sort of place." 

 

Cas holds his gaze. "I did, it was a nice touch." 

 

Dean has to clench his jaw and not blink for a few minutes to dry his eyes out, his fingers tightening around Baby's wheel. He doesn't look back at Cas after that, needing to breathe. He thought it would get easier, but that's the thing. It's so easy that it's like he's drowning in air, too much, lightheaded where it doesn't hurt anymore. 

 

Jack is clicking away at his laptop when they come in, and Dean has to fight yet again to keep his shit together when watching the kid and Cas reunite. Dean wants to tell Cas that he did his best, and it wasn't even close to good enough, but he thinks he'll do better from now on. Like with his apologies, his promises remain unsaid. 

 

Turns out, the kid might have found a case. Well, it sounds like some bullshit grave-robbery, but Dean is in rallying support because of the location. Besides, the kid's clearly excited to be helping, and Dean isn't about to pop his balloon. He's got a lot to make up for, so he might as well start here. 

 

He ducks out quickly, though. Leaves Cas to spend time with Jack, and Sam to no doubt catch Cas up on everything he's missed. He won't tell how bad things got, Dean knows, which is a good thing. 

 

Dean marvels at the fact that just some odd hours ago, he wasn't aching to break back into life after dying, but now he's already looking forward to tomorrow. To be fair, tomorrow has the promise of cowboy-related things, so who can blame him?

 

But mostly, it's because Cas is back. He knows that. 

 

Shuddering out a deep breath, Dean picks up the latest flower on his nightstand as he sinks down on his bed, twirling it between his fingers. He's past the point of needing to talk to it, or he thought he was, but he learns quickly that there's still some things he doesn't know how to say. 

 

Dean strokes the soft petals of the flower, noting the ring of brown starting to creep up around the edges of the red-tipped yellow petals, making it begin to shrivel and wilt. Do you know? Do you know that I love you? Dean thinks, blinking hard. It's a question he could have answered now, if only he'd ask. 

 

For a long time, Dean sits right there with the flower in his hands, swinging wildly between relief and confusion. The impression of loss and grief still clings to his bones, and it exhausts him. He sprawls out on his bed, shutting his eyes, the flower soft under his fingertips. 

 

Some time later, he jolts awake when he feels the flower tugging from his grip. He automatically surges up, chasing after it and frantically trying to grab it back. He halts and blinks blearily when he sees Cas blinking down at him, eyebrows furrowed. He doesn't say anything. Instead, he just runs his fingers over the edge of one petal, and Dean watches as the brown of death vanishes. The flower seems even brighter and fuller than it was originally. 

 

Cas examines the flower for a moment longer, then holds it out to Dean, offering it to him. 

 

"Thanks," Dean croaks, hoping his face doesn't look as hot as it feels. He plucks the flower from Cas' fingers and studies it for a moment, stuck somewhere between feeling impressed and shy, which is so stupid that he hates himself for it. Jesus, Cas just gave him a goddamn flower. The implications, his mind screeches at him, and he firmly tells it to shut up. Cas was just giving it back. Giving it back better than it was, even. 

 

"It's beautiful," Cas states calmly, his gaze fixed on the flower. 

 

Dean quirks a small smile, because he knew Cas would think that. "Yeah, s'alright or whatever." 

 

"When I woke up, I saw flowers just like that one. It's from there, isn't it?" Cas murmurs, finally dragging his gaze from the flower to look at Dean directly. "You brought it from there." 

 

Dean mumbles something under his breath, something so unintelligible that he doesn't even know what he said. He ducks his head and shifts to sit the flower on the nightstand, vowing to pack it away in his closet later. Maybe he can press it in a book. A reminder. It can die if it has to, because Cas is here, and that's better than some flower anyway. 

 

"It's good that you're back," Dean says, clearing his throat and pushing to his feet, rubbing his hands against his thighs as he stands. He flicks his gaze over Cas again, helplessly. "The kid's happy, too. He, uh… He really missed you." 

 

"Yes, he told me," Cas replies, watching him curiously. "How long was I gone, Dean? Truly." 

 

"Awhile," is all Dean can bring himself to say, all that he manages, and then he can't choke anything else out, far too busy choking on emotion. 

 

Cas' face softens. "Are you okay?" 

 

"Yeah, much better now," Dean breathes out, balling his hand into a fist so he won't do something stupid. He so desperately wants to do something stupid. 

 

"I told Jack that I was sorry that I wasn't here for him," Cas says. "I think I owe you my regret, too." 

 

"It's—it's—" Dean opens his mouth and closes it, searching for some kind of response that will let Cas off the hook. But it's okay won't work, because it's not and hasn't been. And it's fine, I was handling it won't work, because it wasn't and he couldn't. 

 

"I'm sorry, Dean," Cas tells him sincerely, his eyes wide and sad and full of regret. 

 

"What's your favorite color?" Dean chokes out. 

 

"Green," Cas replies immediately. 

 

Dean makes a small sound, gasping, "Why?" 

 

"It's a color that represents vitality. Life itself. Earth, and all those on it." Cas pauses, his lips parting as he takes a small breath. "You. Your eyes." 

 

It's like a rubber band snaps, something in Dean shattering, and he loses control on the tight grip he has on his restraint in a heartbeat. He gives into it, sort of helpless to do anything else. His hands are flying up to Cas' face before he's even made the decision to, his body yanking him along as it moves closer, and Cas looks startled for that split second before Dean finds himself leaning in. He has the time to shove him away, but he doesn't. He doesn't. 

 

Dean thinks about his own favorite color, about how it was always red growing up. Such a violent, passionate color, and not truly his favorite for any other reason than because it was his dad's. He thinks about how he hasn't thought of his favorite color in years, and how it's not red anymore. Blue. Of course it's blue. A calm color, tranquil. The color of the sky on a clear day when the sun drenches the world in warmth. The shades of water, and the reminder of a trickling stream or the peaceful sounds of ocean waves crashing into each other. And, cliche as it may be, the color of Cas' eyes. 

 

He doesn't even know when blue became his favorite, when he traded the color of blood in for the feeling of peace. He can't recall. 

 

He doesn't think he'll ever know, and now certainly isn't the time to find it out. He doesn't really have the thoughts to spare to it anyway, his mind wiped clean of anything the moment their lips touch. It's such a small thing, an infinitesimal contact. He barely feels anything outside the brush of chapped lips against his own, some scruff under his fingers, the pressure of Cas' nose right next to his. 

 

Cas is very still, like he's in some kind of trap, and Dean jerks backwards instantly, blurting out, "Shit, I'm sorry, I didn't—I shouldn't have—" 

 

"No, no, I'm very glad that you did," Cas whispers, his voice coming out in a breathy rasp, like he's mystified. He rocks forward to close the space Dean created by rocking back, and he kisses him. 

 

As if it's the easiest thing in the world, as if he wants nothing more than to do it, Cas kisses him. 

 

Dean's eyes flutter shut, and he sags like all of his strings have been cut. He doesn't try to back off anymore, choosing instead to shuffle in closer, his dropped hands raising to cling to the lapels of his coat and drag them closer together. Cas makes a small sound of approval, a hum right against Dean's mouth, and then his fingers are pressing against Dean's jaw, urging him to part his lips. 

 

Seems like a good idea at the moment, as far as he's concerned, so Dean does. He moves his mouth, completely blindsided when Cas immediately deepens the kiss. There's a genuine motion to it, almost hungry, and there's tongue. Dean's head spins, because he didn't really think this far ahead, and he doesn't—he doesn't know what to do with this. He's not prepared. He is not— 

 

Dean hears the way he groans before he even realizes that he's doing it, the sound escaping him unbidden, muffled into the mouth currently against his own. Jesus Christ, this is… Cas is—okay, Cas is good at this. 

 

It is suddenly very, very urgent that Dean gets his hands in the coat instead of just holding onto it. He fumbles until he can slide his hands inside, grunting in annoyance when he finds the suit jacket and, beneath that, the shirt tucked into pants. Dammit. Getting to Cas' skin is like trying to unearth treasure. That shit takes effort. 

 

Dean makes another unhappy noise as he hastily slides his hands up and knocks Cas' arms aside to push the coats off his shoulders. Cas bites his lip like a reprimand, and Dean jolts, curling into it with a startled moan. Cas doesn't do anything halfway. When he bites, he bites, and it hurts, but it feels good, and Dean can't think straight for shit. Literally as well as figuratively. 

 

It's almost an even more frantic rush to get those coats off. Cas allows it, soothing the bitten lip with his tongue, making Dean's toes curl. The coats come off and pool to the floor, conquered, forgotten immediately. Next, Dean gives up any sense of dignity and fully just yanks Cas' shirt from where it's tucked in. The moment it comes free, he's sliding his hands underneath to feel the hot skin of Cas' back and sides with his palms, dizzy with the delight of it. Warm, alive. 

 

It would be so much better if the shirt was off entirely, Dean thinks, so he drags his hands away and goes for the tie. Tugging at it and yanking it free is a bitch and a half. He's so distracted by being kissed that he fucks up multiple times, but Cas ends up reaching up to help him. The shirt goes next, and Dean's working on the buttons in motion, because they're suddenly moving. 

 

Well, Cas is moving them. Dean manages to get the shirt off of Cas' shoulders, only for them to get stuck at his wrists, and that's precisely when they both stumble into the bed and go down. The kiss breaks, the both of them panting. Dean gets a knee to his thigh, and he's pretty sure Cas takes an elbow to the gut. Nonetheless, they're fucking focused, because Cas wrenches backwards with a muted growl and yanks at the shirt trapped around his wrists until the cufflinks pop free and he can toss the shirt aside. 

 

"Yes," Dean blurts out stupidly, his hands coming up to land on the top of Cas' arms before dragging down. "C'mere. Cas, get down here, Jesus Christ." 

 

Cas obliges, falling back into him to kiss him again, and they've got it all figured out now. They're really fucking good at this, as it turns out. 

 

It's easy after that. Urgent, but easy. Dean feels the intensity of it like it's flooding his veins. And this wasn't the plan. There wasn't really a plan at all, just that constant clawing on the inside of his chest, like a hook buried deep reeling him in. He didn't stand a fucking chance, in retrospect. Cas was back, and Dean wanted. Plain and simple. That's all there is to it, and if Cas is agreeable, then that's perfect. 

 

They should probably talk. They should probably slow down. They do neither. Instead, they get far too caught up far too fast, throwing their entire beings into it. It's impossible not to get swept up in Cas' storm, because the bastard is like a whirlwind. He's so fast and efficient about everything he does, getting Dean out of his shirt with ease, licking into Dean's mouth like he's trained for it. 

 

It's insane how good at this they are. Dean's slightly in awe, waiting for any part of it to be awkward or hard, and none of it is. It's a little mind-boggling, actually, because Dean's never given a lot of serious thought to what this would be like. That was dangerous. He knew better. 

 

Now, he's never going to be able to stop thinking about it. About how broad Cas' hands are, and how he doesn't hesitate when doing anything with them. About the way the heat and tension peaks higher and higher until he's sure that it's going to shatter, and then even higher. About the way Cas' mouth feels against his own and his skin, about how fucking essential it feels to get naked and on each other, about the drag of teeth and the pressure of hands and the motion of bodies. 

 

It's sincerely something that Dean doesn't hold a hope of not losing himself to. It escalates, and he just fucking lets it, sensation smothering any sense of rationality and good sense. 

 

As crazy as it is, they roll around in the bed together, peeling off clothes until they just have stretches of skin to map out. They kiss until they have no choice but to pant into each other's mouths, and eventually, against different parts of skin. Dean puts his lips over Cas' heart, tasting the steady beat of it on his tongue. He rolls the skin over it between his teeth, and Cas releases a muffled groan into his hair. It is, hands down, the best thing Dean has ever heard. 

 

They mark each other like the bodies beneath them are just canvases that they have to leave their signatures on. Dean is sure they'll look like they've fought when all is said is done, and he gives not one fuck about it. Every bruise sucked and bitten into his skin feels so good that he can't complain. 

 

This is what happens when two people want to fuck really, really badly, Dean thinks. This is what happens when holding back is no longer an option. 

 

And then—and then, inevitably, the release. Dean's pretty sure he dies. Cas' eyes fucking flare with his grace, and that's probably the hottest thing Dean has ever seen in his life. It's such an absurd thing to think at that moment, but it crosses his mind that Cas isn't human. Dean's fucking someone, yes, but also something, and where that might freak most people out, it sends him right over the edge. 

 

It's blasphemous, no doubt, but damn if it isn't hot. 

 

Dean's pretty wiped out afterwards, admittedly. He's getting old. He needs a shower, but for a while, he just wants to stay pressed up against Cas without a single thought in his head. He tells Cas as much, or he tries to, at least. 

 

"M'gonna shower," Dean mumbles, then proceeds to wrap around Cas like a vine, clingy and dazed. He's so out of it that it's insane. 

 

At some point, Dean feels fingers comb through his hair, and Cas is saying, "Are you falling asleep?" 

 

No, Dean thinks, then can't say it, because he's too busy falling asleep. 

 

It's the first dreamless night he has since Cas died. 

 


 

When he wakes, he does so alone. He's naked, but tucked under the covers. The very first thing he does is stretch so hard and so well that his body quivers, a pleased groan escaping his mouth. 

 

Shit, he feels good. 

 

With a lazy yawn, he gets up and gets dressed. He puts the pristine flower in his closet, then heads to the bathroom for a shower. Dean examines himself in the mirror in the bathroom, turning his head this way and that, startled by how relaxed he looks. He'd barely been able to look at his reflection before, flinching away from the grief that caused his face to sag. He looks better. Happier. 

 

It's early, and the Bunker is quiet. When he leaves the bathroom, he heads for the kitchen, needing his coffee before he can even attempt to be good company for anyone else. They're heading out to Dodge City today, and Dean's pretty sure he's never been so excited for something in his life, not counting whatever the hell happened last night. 

 

Sex, Dean's brain supplies as he turns into the kitchen. It was sex. You had sex with—

 

Cas. 

 

Dean's brain shuts down, and he falters in the middle of his stride, because Cas is already in the kitchen. He glances up when Dean comes in, then almost immediately turns around and starts rearranging the coffee mugs on the counter. Dean takes a deep, inaudible breath, then slowly and silently lets it out. 

 

Okay. Okay, he can—this is fine. Is he kicking himself because they didn't do any sort of talking last night when it was prudent and likely less of a challenge? Yes, yes he is. Is he going to let that stop him from getting his goddamn coffee? No, no he isn't. He squares his shoulders and presses forward. 

 

The moment Dean stops in front of the coffee machine, Cas startles and fumbles with the mug in his hands. It clatters against the counter, and he clears his throat loudly as he jerks his hands out to forcefully sit it down to silence it. He glances at Dean, finds Dean staring at him, then quickly looks away again. As if he can't be still, he reaches out to fiddle with the mug again, his head ducked. 

 

Dean listens to the coffee gurgle into the pot and realizes like a slap to the face that Cas is nervous. 

 

Oh. Oh, that's… Okay, that's kind of cute. 

 

Brave soul that Cas is, he must eventually muster up some courage, because he mutters, "Good morning." 

 

"Mornin'," Dean replies in a grunt, his voice rough with sleep, even still. He watches in fascination as Cas' eyes flutter shut, his fingers tightening around the mug like he's trying to strangle it. Dean clears his throat. "Can I borrow that?" 

 

"What?" Cas jolts when Dean reaches out to point at the coffee cup, and then he slides it across the counter. "Oh, yes. Of course." 

 

Dean doesn't say anything for a while, because he needs his coffee. To get through this, he needs his coffee. So, there's silence between them until then. Cas spends it not moving from his spot, his fingers dancing restlessly over a different mug—nervous, still so nervous, visibly so. Dean keeps glancing at him, unable to help it. 

 

He's never seen Cas look like this. The closest was years and years ago, his first visit to a brothel. He hadn't just looked nervous; he'd looked outright scared, too. At least he doesn't look like he'd run away at the first opportunity, but there's no denying that he doesn't seem to know what to do or say. 

 

"So," Dean says when he's made a dent in his coffee, and he feels a small thrill of amusement shoot through him when Cas jumps again at the sound of his voice. "Heading to Dodge City today." 

 

"Yes," Cas agrees shortly, quiet about it. 

 

"Feeling good?" Dean asks. His eyebrows fly up his forehead when Cas' head snaps up and around, staring at Dean with wide eyes. "About going to Dodge City, I mean. Excited about it, ya know? That's—that's what I meant, Cas." 

 

Cas looks away again, the shell of his ear a furious red. He mumbles, "Oh. Ah, not—well, you've always liked cowboys more than I." 

 

"Right." Dean puts his coffee down and turns, leaning up against the counter and focusing on Cas' side profile. "I am. Feeling good, I mean." 

 

"About...Dodge City?" Cas asks weakly, his gaze darting towards him, then away. Bouncing back and forth, unable to hold still for long. 

 

"Sure," Dean allows. 

 

"You sound it," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean hums, leaning to the side and tipping his head so that Cas can't really look away from him without turning around completely. He raises his eyebrows meaningfully. "Well, I had a good night, so the day looks promising." 

 

"Did you?" Cas croaks, finally just looking at him, and his pupils expand so fast and wide that Dean's stuck between laughing and groaning. 

 

"Yeah, it was—it was good," Dean mumbles, his gaze flicking down to Cas' mouth. It looks so inviting now. Fuck. "I, uh, slept really well." 

 

"That's—" Cas blinks, his breath escaping him in one long, drawn-out gust of air. "That's nice." 

 

"Really fucking nice," Dean agrees, and the cup in Cas' hands abruptly shatters, glass breaking apart and sliding across the counter. 

 

Cas jerks his hands back, blinking rapidly as they jolt apart. "Oh," he says softly, "I liked that cup." 

 

"You bleeding?" Dean waits for Cas to shake his head and lift his hands, showing that they're fine, and then he chuckles low and warm. "It's fine. It's just a cup. Hold tight." 

 

"My apologies," Cas offers just a touch sheepishly once Dean has shuffled away and come back with the trashcan. He helps Dean sweep the glass off the counter, looking bashful, for fuck's sake. Dean's got hickies all around his collar that are a bitch to hide, and Cas is breaking shit and being shy. It's so endearing, Dean can barely stand it. 

 

Dean sits the trashcan aside and waves Cas off lazily, lips curling up. "Don't worry about it. I don't mind. I mean, just, the cup was—we got more, so." 

 

"Right, of course," Cas says, and a small smile plays at the corner of his lips like he can't hide it. 

 

"What're you grinning about?" Dean mutters, internally pleased when Cas' smile grows just a bit. 

 

"Nothing in particular," Cas replies, holding his gaze. "I just...had a good night." 

 

"Is that right?" Dean asks, drawing closer like he's being dragged in. "But you don't sleep, Cas." 

 

"No," Cas agrees, eyes bright, "I don't." 

 

"Read a good book?" 

 

"Mm, no." 

 

"Watch TV?" 

 

"My entertainment came in a different form." 

 

"Oh?" Dean asks, his tone lilting on a half-laugh, some of the breath going thin in his lungs. Fixated. Excited. He's fucking breathless, sort of stuck in the rush of getting closer, his hand sliding along the counter. He's almost at Cas' hip. "Entertainment, huh? Tell me about it, and if you plan on doing it again, because if you enjoyed it so much, you probably should do it again. Just a thought." 

 

"A very wise thought," Cas murmurs, swaying closer, his hand landing on Dean's arm and dragging up, pressing into his skin. It's exhilarating. 

 

"Hello," says Jack, rather cheerfully, announcing his presence from the doorway just as Dean's fingers connect with Cas' hip, about to tug him in. 

 

Instead, they wrench apart instantaneously. Dean dives for his coffee, coughing into it as he steadily averts his gaze from both the Cas and the kid. Cas nearly trips over the goddamn trashcan Dean left right in the middle of the floor, and Dean winces in sympathy before chugging his coffee, willing his heart rate to go back to regular. Also willing other parts of himself to calm the fuck down. 

 

"Jack," Cas greets roughly, then clears his throat, which is like dragging metal against metal. He doesn't look at Dean, but he blinks rapidly for a few seconds, apparently needing to get his shit together, too. "Yes. Hello, good morning, Jack." 

 

"Sam says we're good to head to Dodge City now. He's packing the car at the moment. You'll see to the lodging, right, Dean?" Jack says, smiling at them. 

 

"Uh, yeah, sure. So—so, we're leaving now?" Dean darts his gaze to Cas helplessly. "We aren't going to, uh, wait around for a few hours, maybe?" 

 

"Nope!" Jack declares, clearly delighted. 

 

Dean sighs mournfully and mutters a weak, "'Course not. Why would we? Awesome. Alright, we'll… We'll be out there in a minute, kid." 

 

Jack nods, beaming, and then he leaves the way he came. Dean watches him go, chewing the inside of his lip, wracking his brain for any excuse to come up with that will give him the few extra hours with Cas he so desperately wants. He comes up with nothing, and he glances over at Cas, hesitant. 

 

"Off to Dodge City we go," Cas murmurs, lips quirking as he watches Dean. 

 

"Right," Dean agrees. 

 

Cas arches an eyebrow. "I thought you were excited, Dean. Especially about the cowboys." 

 

"I am. I definitely, one hundred percent am. I'm really excited, you know, about leaving here right now instead of...hanging around here for a bit. I can't think of one thing I'd rather be doing than going to Dodge City," Dean mutters. He is, admittedly, being a little petulant about this. His sarcasm is as subtle as a brick. 

 

"Well, I can think of one thing more enticing," Cas tells him, his eyes bright with humor, pleased. All his shyness has fled. 

 

Dean licks his lips. "Yeah? What's that?" 

 

"I'd tell you, but we have to get to Dodge City," Cas says, flashing him a smile so heart-stoppingly attractive that Dean's lips part. He tilts his head a little, then starts backing out of the room, huffing a quiet laugh as he goes. "I'll tell you later. Or show you, perhaps." 

 

"You fucking better," Dean mumbles as Cas slips out of the room, disappearing into the hall. He exhales shakily and stares down at what's left of his coffee like it has the answers to the universe. "Oh, fuck, I'm so screwed." 

 

The coffee doesn't reply, but it doesn't have to. Dean already knows it's true. 

 


 

"Alright, change of plans. Jack and I will hit up the graveyard; you and Cas hit up the crime scene," Sam says, snapping the laptop shut and getting up. 

 

Despite how Dean's only just woken up, he feels a thrill shoot through him anyway. "Works for me," he admits gruffly, then signals for Cas to stay put, because there's no way in hell Dean is moving before he's had his goddamn coffee. 

 

Cas sighs and settles back into his chair. 

 

Dean's finished his coffee and perked up by the time Jack and Sam have been gone for at least twenty minutes. He stands up with a groan, stretching his hands above his head, going up on his tip-toes and releasing a sigh when he settles. He feels the weight of Cas' gaze on him, a poignant sensation, making his skin prickle. Helpless, Dean looks at him, and he feels his breath hitch at how Cas is looking back. 

 

It's like he wants to get Dean down to not one stitch of clothing and maybe, just maybe, devour him a little. Maybe even devour him a lot, which is… 

 

"The thing about crime scenes, Cas," Dean murmurs, inching closer to the table, "is that they're busy, but they linger, ya know? Nine times outta ten, the person in charge shows up late anyway. And uh, this crime scene is close, isn't it?" 

 

"Less than fifteen minutes away," Cas confirms, standing up from his chair. "I don't mind waiting."

 

Dean purses his lips and draws closer. "No, yeah, I'm sure you don't. Me neither. Just...does it matter if we hang out here for a little while, or at the crime scene? We've got an hour and a half to kill, at least."

 

"Did you have something in mind?" Cas asks casually, as if he's not actively eating Dean alive with his eyes right this second. 

 

"Nah, not really," Dean lies, coming to a stop to lean against the table, tapping his fingers on it. "You?" 

 

Cas' lips twitch. "Not particularly." 

 

Dean resists the urge to narrow his eyes. Oh, okay, so this is what they're doing? Fine. "Well, there's no point in sticking around if we don't have a reason to. Might as well head out now." 

 

"That's fine with me," Cas says, sweeping out a hand, completely unruffled. 

 

"Great. Awesome," Dean chirps, grinning as brightly as he can manage. "Hey, we even have time to stop by and get you a hat from somewhere if we go now. A cowboy hat, specifically. Doesn't that sound nice? That sounds nice to me." 

 

"Does it?" Cas asks archly. 

 

"Oh, yeah, dude. You in a cowboy hat? Doesn't get much better than that, I don't think," Dean says idly, turning around to head for the door. 

 

Cas hums, following him just a little too close, so close that Dean can almost feel the vibration of that hum in his chest up against his back. His eyes flutter shut, and Cas muses, "Have you thought of me in a cowboy hat often, Dean?" 

 

Dean has not, actually, because he's a sane person who knows how to avoid mental breakdowns, thank you very much. But dear god, he's thinking about it now. Does it get better than that? Naked Cas is a strong contender, to be fair. But oh, oh, naked Cas in a cowboy hat? 

 

He comes to a screeching halt so suddenly at the mere thought that Cas actually bumps into his back because he's following so closely. Dean whirls around pretty much immediately, and he knows he must look as hot and bothered as anyone can get, his breath too short and everything about him sending I'm very fucking turned on right now, please do something about it signals that Cas can clearly see. He responds to it, eyes fixing on him with intent, shifting closer like it's an instinct. 

 

"I just had a thought," Dean admits. 

 

"It looks like it was a good one," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean chokes out a laugh. "You have no idea." 

 

"I have the idea that it somehow involves those absurd hats," Cas tells him. 

 

"They're not absurd," Dean shoots back instantly, then continues, "but yeah, it does. That, and a whole lot less of everything else." 

 

Cas tilts his head a little. "And me?" 

 

"No, some other person who's not here right now, who isn't five seconds out from pinning me up against something and having their way with—" 

 

Make that two seconds, actually. 

 

Dean has never been more glad for a rude interruption in his life. The moment Cas steps in and kisses him, walking him backwards, Dean forgets what the hell he was talking about in the first place. Cas has his hands in Dean's hair, cupping the back of his neck, keeping them connected as they go stumbling backwards. Dean's already trying to work that fucking trenchcoat off. 

 

It's urgent again, a little frantic. Dean wonders if that's ever going to stop, if how much they want to touch will ever soften. The sappiest parts of himself are looking forward to having so much of it that they learn to take it with leisure, even take it for granted, a sure thing that they don't have to worry about not having. He shies away from those sappy parts for now, though. It's too soon. They still have to talk. 

 

Dean grunts when he finally collides into something. There's a rattle behind Dean's shoulder, making them both break apart for a second, blinking at each other. Dean cranes his head, then finds himself laughing a little ridiculously. 

 

"Ah," Cas says, his voice rough, eyes trained on the photo of Dave Mather. 

 

"Sorry, Dave," Dean says, hands finally working that stupid trenchcoat off. He'd burn it if he didn't remember what it was like watching it burn. 

 

Cas glances down at his coat on the floor, frowning like he has no idea how it got there. "I don't think Dave has much of an opinion. Dean, how did you—"

 

"You were distracted, and I'm good with my hands," Dean cuts in, tugging at Cas' tie to get him to sway closer. "If I'm remembering it right, so are you. Remind me, why don't you?" 

 

"Not here." 

 

"I thought we didn't care about Dave's opinion."

 

"That's not what I said." Cas huffs a quiet laugh, an awed thing, when Dean wrenches the tie off and tosses it aside, going for his suit coat right after. He doesn't provide assistance, just swaying and moving under Dean's guiding hands. *The frame is digging into your back. You'll be sore later." 

 

"Kinda the goal here, Cas," Dean breathes out, watching the last coat fall. There is something intensely satisfying about getting Cas out of his clothes. "But fine. Where to?" 

 

"I'm not sure," Cas admits with genuine thoughtfulness behind it. He runs his gaze over Dean steadily, the look so sharp that Dean feels a little like a voyeur as he hastily goes about getting Cas' buttons free on his shirt. Halfway down, Cas leans in and makes it more difficult, but Dean is determined, alright? "Let's find out." 

 

Dean hums in approval, the sound muffled by Cas' mouth, because he has apparently decided that movement indicates kissing. Dean's not going to argue. He can barely spare the brain power to figure out how to kiss Cas, stumble along to wherever they're going next, and get the shirt off—arguing is the least of his concerns. Not that he would if he could. He's protesting to exactly zero of this. 

 

The next stopping point turns out to be the table, Dean's hip knocking into it until Cas turns him so it presses into his back. By the time they get there, Cas' chest is mercifully bare and Dean has already been freed of his jacket and flannel. His t-shirt remains, but Cas is making quick work of that, too. He breaks away to slip it off and toss it aside carelessly before diving back into the kiss. Dean is currently fighting with Cas' belt and so distracted by everything else that he's sort of losing. 

 

"Wait, wait, wait," Dean chants breathlessly, tipping his head back and choking a little as Cas automatically lets the motion guide his lips to Dean's throat. However, at his words, Cas does back off, blinking rapidly. He starts to pull away entirely, the cloudy fugue in his eyes fading to clarity. "No, you don't have to—just wait a second. I have an idea that's probably gonna solve all our problems." 

 

"We have problems? Currently?" Cas asks skeptically, leaning back when Dean waves him away a step. 

 

Dean snorts and braces his hands on the table, shaking his head. "No, we're good. We're, uh, really good right now, but I'm old and lazy, so." He leverages himself up, settling on the table, his legs swinging as he grins. "See? An improvement. Now I don't gotta worry about standing while I fight with your fucking belt. Come here." 

 

"And when it comes to your pants?" Cas challenges, an eyebrow arching as Dean drags him back in by his belt loops. 

 

"Figure it out," Dean teases, back to working on the belt and rocking forward so their noses will brush together, whispering into Cas' mouth. "Come on, sweetheart. Weren't you some kinda strategist once? I'm sure you'll think of something." 

 

Cas' breath leaves him in a shudder that Dean can feel run through his whole body. It's fucking invigorating to know that he has that kind of effect on Cas, that he can make him react like that. He's grinning when Cas' hands settle just above his knees, and then he's suddenly not grinning when Cas' fingers dig in and wrench his legs apart, yanking him forward so that they press close together. Dean's hands are trapped between them, and he has absolutely no control over the strangled sound that leaves his mouth, which Cas proceeds to swallow. Dean groans and starts fighting with the belt again, now at a disadvantage. 

 

Like this, Cas is the first to win the battle against the complicated pants. A strategist, indeed. He's patient, surprisingly enough, all while somehow being impatient about it. Peeling Dean out of his jeans—and subsequently his underwear—while he's sitting down turns out not to be impossible. It's not exactly comfortable, but Cas is pretty damn good at distracting Dean with his mouth, so. 

 

Dean has only just got the belt off and tossed aside when Cas breaks the kiss and steps back, taking the jeans with him when he goes. Dean's head spins, dazed, and he doesn't quite know how Cas managed it. He's sure he must have sat up and wriggled around to help Cas at some point, but he has absolutely no recollection of doing so. 

 

Cas not only wins the battle, but he wins the war while he's at it. He finishes what Dean started, getting out of his own pants, which is great because Dean was struggling. 

 

And then, with the same urgency as before, they come right back together and get back to it. This time, Cas is digging his fingers into skin when he wrenches Dean's legs apart to fit himself between them again. Dean is—well, Dean is so gone that it's a little pathetic. Truly, he is having the best day. 

 

"Lean back," Cas tells him, kissing a path down his throat from just below his ear. His voice is low, almost with a growl to it, and it makes Dean's whole body tingle just hearing it. 

 

"Think of something?" Dean asks, his tone a little thready with want and tension. His head falls back of its own accord, giving Cas more space to explore.

 

"I did," Cas confirms, then nips at the side of Dean's neck, sucking hard enough for it to almost hurt. He squeezes the side of Dean's thighs. "Now lean back."

 

Dean makes an embarrassing, high noise that he'll forgive himself for, considering the circumstances, and then he leans back. He braces himself on his hands first, but Cas keeps pushing into him until his arms buckle, so he has to prop up on his elbows in the end. Cas bends over with him, then straightens up minutely and starts kissing and nipping down his chest, his destination clear. 

 

"You thought of something. You thought of the best thing, fucking fuck," Dean gasps out, eyes fluttering shut as Cas continues on his merry way. 

 

Cas hums in what sounds like agreement, and then his mouth is preoccupied, and Dean—

 

Well, Dean is going to have to mark this day down in his calendar to remember it, to celebrate it for years to come. The day Cas sucked him off in the Wild Bill Suite where various gun-slinging cowboys watched from their photos—and sucked him off really fucking well, to boot. This day should be a holiday. 

 

Anyway, Dean has a great time, needless to say. Cas clearly hasn't done this before, but once he gets the hang of it, he gets the hang of it. 

 

There's a lot of cursing involved, as well as Dean's arms giving out about halfway through because he's shaking from head-to-toe. He ends up flat on his back, spread out on the table like Cas' own, personal meal. Devouring. Yeah, Cas is making good on the promise of his heated looks from earlier. 

 

Dean's pretty much a cooked noodle by the end, feeling like fucking syrup when it's over. He wants to return the favor, he truly does, but twitching a finger seems like effort of the grandiose variety. Cas either senses this or just already has plans in mind, because he stands up and reaches down to grab Dean by his wrists, tugging him into a sitting position. His lips are wet. 

 

"Do you fall asleep every time?" Cas asks, sounding absurdly fond for the moment they're in currently. 

 

"Pfft, no. Shut up," Dean mumbles, rocking forward lazily to drop his head to Cas' shoulder. 

 

"You're clingy like this," Cas notes, reaching up to run his fingers through Dean's short hair, nails scratching lightly over his scalp. 

 

"No, I'm not," says Dean, who is sliding his hands around Cas to hold onto him at this precise moment, clinging like he claims not to be. 

 

Cas hums, amused. "No, not at all." 

 

"Shut up," Dean mutters again. He starts sliding his hand around Cas' hip, because he figures he should at least try to return the favor. "What about you?" 

 

"I've already…" Cas trails off, clearing his throat. 

 

Dean lifts his head, blinking slowly. He stares at Cas from up close, stunned. "Are you serious? Just from… You did?" 

 

"Yes," Cas admits. He lifts his hand and drags his thumb over Dean's bottom lip, fixated on the progress it makes across. "The sounds you make are very...ah, stimulating." 

 

"Huh." Dean blinks at him some more, then his face splits into a grin, slow and wide. It's smug, but who can blame him? Cas got off to giving a blowjob and the sounds Dean made because of it. That's a nice compliment, actually. "Good to know." 

 

"For future reference?" Cas asks, arching an eyebrow, cocking his head to the side. 

 

Dean feels his stomach swoop stupidly, a burst of nerves shooting through him. This is the closest they've gotten to talking about any of this so far, just a hint of a question. For future reference? Is this going to be a normal occurrence? It's kind of daunting to meet it head on, because Dean has too much to say and none of the words to explain it. 

 

He doesn't think right now is a good time to admit that he has no chance of ever feeling about anyone the way he does Cas. Not here, not after sex. It's not the right time. It should be… Dean's not sure when would be the best time to really, really talk about what they need to, but he knows this isn't it. 

 

"Can't hurt to be prepared," Dean says instead of I want to do this with you every day, a placeholder for I want you so badly that it drives me insane, a stand-in for do you know; do you know that I love you? 

 

Cas considers him for a long moment, then his lips twitch. "No, I suppose it can't." He ducks in unexpectedly and presses a warm, sweet kiss to Dean's lips, a chaste one. When he pulls back, he drops his hand and sighs. "We should be going." 

 

"Right." Dean offers him a crooked grin and stops clinging. "We still have time to get you a hat." 

 

Cas rolls his eyes as he starts moving around the room to find various articles of his clothing. Dean watches him for a long time, a steady affection pulsing in his chest. He's so glad Cas is back. So fucking glad. And he's going to tell him all of it, everything Cas should get to hear, maybe when the case is over and they go home. 

 

Dean just needs the right moment. 

Chapter Text

Dean doesn't get the right moment. 

 

He's not surprised when he finds Cas packing a small bag in his room. The zipper is open, revealing some extra weapons and a few books. Cas glances up when Dean lightly knocks on the door and steps in, and his face goes tight with strain. 

 

"I have to—" 

 

"I know," Dean cuts in, nodding. 

 

"I'm sorry," Cas murmurs, heaving a sigh as he drops one handle of the bag. "I know I only just got back, but…" 

 

"It's Jack," Dean says, already knowing. He does know. He gets it. "The kid takes off, of course you're gonna go look for him. We'll be doing what we can, too. I'd go with you, but—" 

 

"Sam," Cas supplies. "You have other cases." 

 

Dean nods. "Yeah. So, uh, I guess I'm sorry, too." 

 

"You have nothing to apologize for," Cas murmurs. 

 

"I kinda do, though." Dean grimaces and looks down at the floor. "Part of the reason Jack thinks that way about himself is because of me. I wasn't—I said some things to him and around him that…" He clenches his jaw and looks up, forcing himself to meet Cas' eyes. "I was wrong about him. I tried, but I didn't treat him right, not like I should've." 

 

"He's powerful. It's dangerous. I can understand why you would be wary," Cas murmurs. "You understand now, though." 

 

"He's just a kid," Dean says softly. 

 

Cas nods. "Yes, he is. I'll do my best to find him." 

 

"Stay in touch?" Dean checks, moving further into the room, clearing his throat and stuffing his hands in his back pockets. 

 

"Of course. Or, I will try. You?" 

 

"Yeah. Uh, yeah, definitely." 

 

"Good," Cas says quietly, watching him get closer with curiosity sparking in his eyes. It's like he can't quite work Dean out, waiting to see what he'll do next, unwilling to look away and miss anything. 

 

Dean nods and comes to a halt in front of him, trying to figure out what he wants and how to do it all at once. His throat feels dry, leaving him to swallow compulsively. He darts his gaze away, back again, then away once more. The sight of something in the bag snags his attention, making him go still and tilt his head to better examine it. 

 

"Oh, hey, that's—" Dean blinks, a rush of delight pouring through him so abruptly that he laughs a little. "You've still got it. I didn't know you kept it."

 

"Ah, yes," Cas says, joining him in looking at the mixtape, lips curling up. "Well, you told me to keep it, so I did. I thought it would be good to listen to on the road." 

 

Dean keeps his head ducked but glances over at Cas through his eyelashes, his heart thumping unevenly when he finds Cas already looking back. "Well, it's the best you're ever gonna hear, so you made the right call." 

 

"I would like to argue because there's not one Beyonce song on there, but I am, admittedly, very fond of it," Cas tells him. 

 

"You and your fucking pop music," Dean mutters, shaking his head, grinning without meaning to. 

 

"Beyonce is an inspiration," Cas says unironically. 

 

"I can't stand you," Dean informs him. 

 

Cas hums. "Tolerating you oftentimes feels impossible, so I understand." 

 

"Fuck you." 

 

"I have to leave, Dean." 

 

Dean exhales heavily and mutters, "Can I just—" as he shuffles closer, and Cas whispers, "I really hoped you would," and then they're kissing, just like that. 

 

It's a tempered kiss, more slow and deep than fast and urgent. It makes Dean sigh into it, his hand crawling up into Cas' hair, thumb cradling the small mound of his skull behind his ear. Cas slips his hands into Dean's jacket and flannel, sliding around to cup his back and tug them closer together. They lean into each other and kiss, and that's all they do, and it stretches on and on until Dean's lightheaded. 

 

When they pull away, they linger close for a long moment, and then Dean clears his throat and backs off. As he gives into the urge to drag his knuckles down Cas' cheek before dropping his hand, he quietly says, "We'll find Jack, Cas. It's going to be okay." 

 

He doesn't usually say hopeful things like that, knowing it will come back to bite him in the ass later, but he's got the urge to reassure Cas anyway.

 

"Thank you," Cas murmurs. 

 

"Be safe," Dean says, starting to back out of the room, swallowing thickly. 

 

Cas nods at him. "You too." 

 

Dean hangs off the doorway for a moment, wavering there. He considers saying it right then, but once again, it doesn't feel right. Cas is about to go off looking for Jack. This isn't the time. 

 

So, he says nothing, and Cas is gone before the clock strikes twelve. 

 


 

The moments are stolen from that point on. It's a quiet thing, unspoken and not often engaged in. There's too much going on for it to be anything else. They're all too stressed. 

 

There's Jack to consider, missing and then really missing in a whole other reality, because life never slows down. Mary, as well, who he's trying to save. Lucifer is back, because it's not like he hasn't more than overstayed his welcome. There's Asmodeus, and tablets, and ingredients to gather. Rowena comes back, there's a case in Scooby-Doo, and Gabriel turns out not to be dead. 

 

In between the rush and grind, Dean and Cas find moments to end up in by complete accident. The first time they argue, they end up in Dean's bed, apologizing sweet and tender. When Cas gets free from Asmodeus, they end up in Cas' room, celebrating his freedom for hours. 

 

It's more than that, too. Sometimes, when Cas finds Dean in his room, rubbing his temples through a headache, Cas will come in and sit next to him without a word. Dean will sigh and drop his head on Cas' shoulder, letting Cas run his fingers through his hair in silence, never talking about it. Other times, Dean will wake up late at night and find Cas pouring over research, looking frustrated. He'll sit beside him and reach out to put his palm to the back of Cas' neck, squeezing it, trying to work out the tension without a word. They never give it a label, this thing that sits between them, a feeling with no name. It feels so real, and yet, Dean doesn't even know what it is. 

 

It's not nearly enough. It's not what Dean wants, at least. They're stuck in this in-between where it feels like more than they've sat down and decided it is. The thing is, they haven't sat down and decided anything. There's always something else to do, and it's never the right time. 

 

When Cas is gone, Dean takes out the flower from the closet. The first time he does, he's surprised to find it still in full bloom, bright yellow with red tips. Whatever Cas did to it has preserved it just like that, and Dean finds himself pulling it out over and over. 

 

He spins it around in his fingers and asks the same thing every single time. Do you know? Do you know that I love you? 

 

Cas doesn't know, because Dean hasn't told him. As terrifying as it is, he wants to. He sort of has the idea that Cas would be pleased to hear it. For all that they don't talk about things, there's no denying what their bodies have to say. They keep coming back to each other, a promise of more to come in looks exchanged and lingering touches. 

 

It's just never the right moment. Dean keeps waiting for things to get better, even just one second of relief. But things don't ease up, and it gets easier not to say it each time that he swallows it down. 

 

It doesn't help that Dean has this constant nagging feeling that something bad might happen to Cas. After spending time believing Asmodeus was Cas, Dean kicks himself for a long time afterwards, feeling that he should have known it wasn't Cas. When Cas wants to try big, angelic things that may or may not be a solution, Dean wants so wholeheartedly to support him, but it can't come at the price of his life. 

 

Dean even tells him that once, tells him to do what he must, but, "Don't get dead again." 

 

The way Cas looks at him after makes his heart clench, because he knows how obvious he's being. He knows that. He can't help it. Having lost Cas before already, it's hard to face the idea that things could go wrong again, as well as the likelihood of it when the stakes are this high this consistently. 

 

Later that night, Dean isn't surprised when Cas knocks on his door and slips into the room. He doesn't say anything at first, just stares at Dean with furrowed eyebrows and exceptionally sad eyes. 

 

"Dean," he says finally, his voice soft. 

 

"I can't do it again," Dean croaks, staring at him a little helplessly. "Cas, I—I just can't." 

 

Cas exhales shakily and walks over, peeling his coats off as he approaches. Dean's too torn up to react to that as he usually would, and he swallows thickly from emotion and not arousal when Cas puts his knee on the bed and swings his other leg across Dean's lap. He dips down, hands framing Dean's face, and he lets a kiss unfurl slowly between them. 

 

Sex that night is less about need and more about comfort, a surge of emotion that swells and goes unspoken. It's tender, tragically so, all because Dean can't stand the thought of Cas dying again. He holds on tight and gets as close as he can, as if Cas will just disappear if he's not trying to keep him there. 

 

They don't have moments that often over the spanning months that rush by. In truth, they only have sex a few different times, including the emotional one. They barely find the chances to do it, and it's equally hard to find moments where they can lean on each other more obviously than they already do. It's so, so close to what Dean wants it to be, but they don't get to have that, not yet. 

 

Soon, Dean thinks. They'll get all of this shit figured out, and it will be fine. They'll get Jack and Mary back, they'll kill Lucifer, and then they'll all have time. Dean thinks that's where he'll find the moment, and from there… 

 

Well, he's almost one hundred percent positive that it'll go over well with Cas. Just the way they look at each other, the way they touch, the way they bicker and shuffle off together to the side and make sure that the other is okay. It feels like a yes, me and you both, we're in this together. Dean won't know for certain if that's the case until he actually gets the chance to bring it up, but he'd be willing to bet a lot of money on the way he believes it will go. 

 

But things don't slow down, and there are no chances, and the only thing Dean says is yes.

 

It's just to the wrong person. 

 


 

"You okay?" 

 

Dean sighs and flicks his gaze over to Sam. "Wanna ask me that again? I already told you, I'm fine." 

 

"No, yeah, I know. It's just…" Sam clears his throat and takes his eyes off the road for a split second, then focuses back on driving. "I don't know, man. You've been...pretty quiet." 

 

"Not much to say," Dean mumbles, going back to watching the passing scenery out the window. 

 

Sam is silent for a long moment, then he says, "You know, everyone will be glad to hear that you're back. It's—it's good, Dean. Good news like this, even if we don't know how it happened…" He gives a rueful chuckle and shakes his head. "Well, it's still good. Jack could do with some cheering up, especially." 

 

"How is he holding up?" Dean asks. 

 

"He's...had better days," Sam replies quietly. 

 

Dean presses his lips into a thin line, then exhales slowly. "I'm sure, um, Cas is doing all that he can."

 

"Yeah, yeah, he is." Sam glances towards him again, then quickly away. Dean can see it in the reflection of the window. "He's good with Jack." 

 

"I know," Dean says. 

 

Another pause. A long one. Sam sighs again. "Cas has been looking for you." 

 

"I thought everyone was." Dean stares resolutely out the window, trying not to shift with the increasing tempo of his heart. He's not going to be stupid about this. He's not. 

 

"Well, yeah, but…" Sam trails off, taking a deep breath, then he picks it right back up. "This kind of hit him hard. I mean, it hit all of us hard, but he's usually, uh, less...frazzled by everything." 

 

"Frazzled?" Dean blurts out, his head snapping around, fully fucking invested despite trying his hardest to treat this casually. "What does that even mean, Sam? Frazzled?" 

 

Sam glances at him for a little bit longer, his eyebrows raised. "You know, frazzled. Out of sorts. Kind of frantic. He cares about you, Dean. A lot." 

 

"Kinda comes with the territory of being best friends," Dean mutters, looking away again. 

 

"Right," Sam says, skeptical. 

 

Dean licks his lips. "Don't tell me he went and grew a beard while I was gone, too." 

 

"No, he didn't," Sam snips, no doubt rolling his eyes. He's still annoyed that the second thing Dean said to him upon their reunion was what the fuck is on your face, Sammy? 

 

"Oh. Damn," Dean says, frowning. 

 

Sam scoffs. "Oh, so it's okay for him to grow out a beard, but not me?" 

 

Dean waves a hand lazily. "He already has scruff. What's one extra step? Anyway, you look ridiculous with a beard. Cas, on the other hand…" 

 

"Have you ever even seen him with a beard?" Sam challenges, the attitude coming out with an ease that suggests he's so very thankful that he gets to argue with Dean and fuss at him again. 

 

"Yeah, dude. Purgatory. You've seen it, too, remember? When he came back, before he...uh, before getting cleaned up," Dean reminds him, clearing his throat. He definitely hasn't forgotten that transition. He'd popped a goddamn boner right there at the table. 

 

Sam pauses, then snorts. "Dude, I don't remember that. It was years ago. How do you still remember?" 

 

"Got a mind like a steel trap," Dean lies, because he absolutely does not, and that memory—as with most memories involving Cas—is only so clear in his mind because of how he felt during them.  

 

"Speaking of," Sam says tentatively, "how—how is your head? Just...ya know. Because of—" 

 

"Sammy, I said I'm okay," Dean cuts in quickly, swallowing. "I'm all good, I promise." 

 

"I just—" Sam cuts himself off with a harsh inhale. It seems to take him a moment to say what he clearly needs to say. "I'm really glad you're back." 

 

"Yeah," Dean whispers, closing his eyes so he doesn't have to see the rush of the world outside flying by. 

 

There's not much talking after that. 

 

Dean doesn't really know what to make of the scattered people throughout the Bunker. He's glad to be home, but to see home so changed is sort of like a slap to the face. He's going to need time to adjust, that's for sure. And Sam being in charge? That's… Well, good for him.

 

Sam generally does have a good head on his shoulders, so Dean can't exactly blame people for automatically wanting to follow him. It's slightly weird because, to Dean, Sam is sometimes still that little kid following Dean around everywhere. Not all the time, but sometimes. But hey, to each their own. No offense to the rest, but Dean's looking forward to other familiar faces. 

 

One of the first is Jack, and Dean feels his chest tighten when seeing how the kid's eyes light up with hope first, then delight upon confirmation that yes, he really is Dean, and he really is back. Jack does look more solemn, less of a ray of sunshine about everything, but Dean supposes that's fair after everything that's happened to him. When Jack hugs him, he hugs tight, and Dean lets him. It seems like he needs it, so Dean allows it. 

 

As for Cas… 

 

Well, Dean takes one look at him and can no longer be normal from this point forward. Cas doesn't look any different since the last time Dean saw him, but his eyes are bright and he's smiling and the way he says Dean's name is filled with so much elation that it trembles. Dean can't figure out how to look away from him, but he also knows that he needs to. 

 

He doesn't know where, exactly, they stand. He's been gone. Getting possessed by an archangel is a pretty big life change, all things considered, so who the fuck knows what's been warped and altered because of it. Are they still…?

 

Fuck, they weren't even anything to start with. 

 

Dean doesn't know. Everything's still too new and shaken up. Things haven't eased up at all, because Dean isn't going to rest until Michael is handled. He'll do everything in his power to get rid of him, and that's not going to offer up any chances for him to focus on other things. Cas, and whatever the two of them have or don't have going on, to be specific. 

 

That doesn't mean that Dean isn't looking at Cas while his whole body tingles. He can barely hold still, or breathe for that matter. Being around him right now is a hazard, because all he wants… Jesus, he just wants them to crash together again, urgent and needy, too far gone to even discuss anything. And hell, there's too much of that as it is. 

 

So, Dean begs off for a shower. He actually does need one. He leaves reassuring Sam that he's okay, yet again, and then he goes to his room to fight his way out of Michael's stupid clothes. 

 

That's when he finds the scar. 

 

Well. Yeah. It's like he thought, right? There's always something else that takes focus. 

 

Before getting a shower, Dean goes to his closet. He doesn't know why he's so nervous about it, trepidation filling him as he approaches it. The flower should still be there. He left it there way before Michael possessed him, so it should be waiting. He wonders if it has wilted in his absence. 

 

It has not, as it turns out. It's still as vibrant and alive as the day Cas touched it. Dean strokes one of the petals, his lip turning up at the corner just a little bit. He swivels it between his fingers, thinking and always thinking the same thing. Do you know? Do you know that I love you? 

 

"Dean?" 

 

Jolting, Dean sits the flower back where he keeps it, then steps back and closes the closet door, whirling around with his heart in his throat. Cas hovers in the doorway, hesitant, eyebrows furrowed. 

 

"Hey, Cas," Dean croaks. 

 

"Can I—" Cas doesn't finish, just gestures towards the door a little awkwardly. 

 

Dean swallows. "Yeah, man. You can—you can come in. I've got something to show you anyway. Come look at this." 

 

"What is it?" Cas asks, shutting the door and moving over. As soon as he sees the scar, he narrows his eyes at it. 

 

"Uh," Dean says, alarmed. 

 

"What," Cas growls out, "is that?" 

 

"I don't—uh, actually, I don't know. I was kinda hoping you'd have some kinda idea," Dean admits cautiously, a little taken aback by how furious Cas seems to be by the blemish. 

 

Cas' nostrils flare. "No, I don't know what caused this. It must have happened while you were possessed by Michael." 

 

"Okay, yeah, that's what I was thinking. Is there any way we could find out?" 

 

"Do you not remember?" 

 

"No," Dean murmurs, averting his gaze just as Cas glances up at him. "But you could get into my head, right? Mind-whammy me somehow, I mean." 

 

"That's…" Cas steps closer, clearing his throat. "I would have access to all memories, even those not connected to Michael. You would have to trust me."

 

Dean looks at him, holding his gaze. "I do." 

 

"I am...hesitant to do so." Cas' eyebrows fold together. "It could hurt you." 

 

"No pain, no gain, right?" Dean doesn't realize he's stepping closer until he's already there, and then he's licking his lips because his self-control is blown all to shit. "If it wasn't you, I'd never do it. But it's you, so it's—it's okay." 

 

"Okay," Cas rasps, his eyes slipping down, then back up. The column of his throat bobs. 

 

"How've you been, Cas?" Dean asks softly. 

 

"Not very...well," Cas admits. He opens his mouth, closes it, then releases a shaky breath. He holds Dean's gaze. "I missed you, Dean." 

 

Dean's stomach positively turns over. His mouth goes dry, and it takes two tries to manage to unstick his tongue from the roof of it. "You did?" 

 

"Very much," Cas whispers. 

 

"What's there to miss?" Dean attempts to joke, only it falls a little flat, lost somewhere in the breathless quality to his voice. 

 

"Many things," Cas tells him, his tone low and intimate like he's telling secrets. He reaches out and touches the pads of his fingers against Dean's arm, a barely-there touch. "You, most of all. Just you." 

 

That hits Dean right at his center. That he's what Cas missed, not what he can do, not the things they've done together. Just him. And Dean finds himself thinking that he missed Cas, too. You can't really miss what you're not even aware of, but he does anyway. He misses the time they can't get back. 

 

"We should—" Dean swallows down the rest of that sentence, knowing that the start-off could lead somewhere he doesn't need it to go right now. He averts his eyes. "This thing with Michael… We need to find out if there's a way to hurt him, and—and it's better to do that sooner rather than later. So, we should—we should—" 

 

"Of course," Cas murmurs, his fingers dropping away in an instant. 

 

Dean smothers the disappointed sound he wants to give, because it was him that suggested they breeze past this. That's the thing about the pesky, persistent turmoil of emotions. They're all over the goddamn place, and despite just telling Cas that they need to get to business, he still reaches out to grab onto whatever his fingers find first—which just so happens to be Cas' tie. His heart is racing as he drags Cas back in, his breathing erratic. 

 

"We could just—" Dean lets that sentence hang there, the implications clear enough. A quick kiss, maybe. That's all. That's not too much to ask for. 

 

Cas' eyes flutter shut. "No, we can't." 

 

"I know. Fuck, Cas, I know," Dean says, because he does know. They can't just. They don't fucking know how. One thing always leads to another with them. 

 

Dean is fully aware that a quick kiss is going to lead to some very impulsive, frantic reunion sex that's going to slow down the progress towards handling Michael. He kisses Cas anyway. 

 

Cas shudders against him the moment the kiss connects, and then his hands snap out to grab Dean and shove him up against the small sink in the corner. Dean moans helplessly and nearly gives himself a concussion when he tosses his head back and knocks it into the mirror behind him. Cas' hand cups the back of his head, fitting against the curve like he's blocking it from further injury, his fingers pushing through Dean's hair. He uses it to wrench Dean's head back even further, his mouth hot and wet against Dean's throat. 

 

Dean gasps out a deep breath, eyes rolling around underneath his eyelids. His hands scramble at Cas' belt, no finesse to it. They're not going to make it to getting fully undressed. Cas seems to share this sentiment because he's yanking at Dean's belt—one Michael put on him, the fucker—and doing a much better job at getting it open than Dean is with his. 

 

Cas seems to be everywhere all at once, his mouth on Dean's and all over his neck and jaw, his hands through Dean's hair and under his shirt and cupping his side to pin him in place. Dean doesn't think he's doing anything else, either. He's fluttering his hands over the shape of Cas like he can memorize it through touch. He kisses Cas, then sucks a harsh mark into his throat, then is right back to muffling moans into his mouth. It's exactly as urgent and frantic as Dean assumed it would be, hot and heavy, fast and desperate. Damn, what a reunion. 

 

All things considered, it takes under an hour before their hands have finally found where they wanted to go and managed to do exactly what they needed them to. Dean's left gasping by the end of it, bracing his hand against the wall as he arches into Cas and keens pathetically in the back of his throat. And there it is, that peak that's always so, so fucking good with Cas, especially when they've been barreling right for it at full steam. 

 

Dean holds onto Cas afterwards, arms around his shoulders, hands tangled in his hair. He closes his eyes and pants, feeling like the aftermath of an explosion—shaky and dazed, the world coming back into focus after shifting underfoot. He lets his temple rest against Cas', slowly calming, feeling sated for one blissful moment. 

 

"I missed that, too," Cas rasps, his voice wrecked, but not to the point that the teasing amusement threaded through isn't audible. 

 

Dean chokes out a weak laugh and turns to rest his forehead against Cas' temple, then brushes his lips against his cheek because he's a goddamn idiot and his common sense has been drained through his dick. When he pulls back a little, he mumbles, "I bet you did. God, I need a shower. Especially now." 

 

"Go," Cas murmurs, leaning away to survey him with a much more relaxed expression than he had before. "When you're finished, we'll…" 

 

"Get started," Dean says softly. "We'll get started on handling that son of a bitch, and then—and then everything will be… It'll work out, and we can—we won't have to, um." 

 

Cas' lips twitch. "I understand the general idea of prioritizing, Dean. I know what you mean." 

 

Dean scrunches up his face and huffs as he gives Cas a light shove. "Go away. Get outta here. You didn't miss me. You missed being a pain in my ass."

 

He can make that joke because Cas has not, as of now, been a legitimate pain in his ass. They haven't quite made it there yet, but Dean suspects they eventually will when they have more time. And vise versa, probably. They have not had nearly as much sex as Dean wishes they could. If the world would chill for just five minutes, that would be awesome. 

 

"Welcome home, Dean," Cas says, the words gentle and the kiss that follows it equally so. He holds it for a moment, lingering there as Dean's eyes sink shut, and then he pulls away with a tiny smile. "I'm glad you're here." 

 

Dean swallows past the lump in his throat, watching Cas slip back out of the room. He's not sure why I'm glad you're here is so different from I'm glad you're back, but it is. It goes farther than just finding someone lost; it's being thankful that they're staying. Dean thunks his head back against the mirror and breathes for a little while, then he forces himself to get moving. Right. Priorities. 

 

He doesn't know. He doesn't know that this was the last time before everything changed for them. Perhaps if he did, he might've slowed down, might've made it his priority. 

 

But he doesn't know. 

 



Dean remembers arguing with Jack and saying he wouldn't teach him to drive in Baby. What's the saying? Well, well, well, how the turntables… 

 

Jack is sick, though. 

 

He's not just sick. He's dying. 

 

It's Sorine he thinks about when he decides to take Jack out to enjoy life a little. He remembers how she talked about the things Levina planned to do and couldn't. He thinks about them agreeing how some people don't get enough time to live the life they've got. He thinks about how Jack has barely had any time at all. 

 

And so, he teaches Jack to drive. He takes Jack fishing. He does everything he can think that Jack may want to do, and he'd be willing to do anything else. He'd get in his car and take Jack wherever he wants to go, doesn't matter where. The Grand Canyon? Vegas? From one end of the map to the other? Dean would do it all. 

 

But Jack—well, the kid hits him with some wisdom that nearly strangles him. He'll miss the people, the time together. He'll miss Dean. 

 

Dean has lost a lot of different people, all across the many categories. Parents, friends, his brother. He's lost loves, he's lost Cas. He's never lost a son. He's experienced grief in many different forms, but this? It's like nothing else. It's indescribable. 

 

"Ya know," Dean tells him while they're still at the creek, "they're out there trying to find a way to heal you up right now, Jack." 

 

"I know," Jack says. 

 

"You can't give up," Dean declares, looking at the spinning reel and nothing else. There's a lump in his throat that makes speaking painful. "Kid, you can't give up, because we—because if there's even a chance, you gotta know we'll take it." 

 

Jack tosses out his line again and hums. "I'm not giving up. I'm just...accepting it. If there isn't a chance for me, I hope that you, Cas, and Sam can accept it, too. I don't want any of you to be sad." 

 

"Come on, of course we're gonna be sad," Dean says, glancing over at him.

 

"It's almost...funny," Jack muses, his lips spreading into a cute, little-kid grin that he somehow has despite looking older. He turns to Dean, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "You told me once that you'd be the one to kill me, and now you're going to be sad when I'm gone. Life is so silly sometimes." 

 

Dean's surprised by the choked-out laugh that escapes him unexpectedly. "Damn right. Silly as fuck. But uh, Jack, I—I should have never—" 

 

"It's okay," Jack interrupts. "I know you were just really upset about Mary and Cas. I know you were just trying to be cautious because of what I was and who my father was. If I ever… Well, it was a big question for all of us, wasn't it? Am I good, am I bad, what will I do? There's something kind of nice about not getting the answer, I think." 

 

"Yeah, we did. We got the answer." Dean takes a deep breath and lets it out. "You're good, Jack, and what you did was give us another person to call family, to care about." 

 

Jack is quiet for a long moment, and then he softly says, "Oh. I'm glad." 

 

"Me too, kid," Dean whispers. "Me too." 

 

The day passes sluggishly, and Dean's thankful for that. He wants to feel every second of the time spent together. He wants to not waste a moment, because Jack deserves so many more than he's gotten. 

 

If nothing comes through, Dean already knows that he's going to think about Jack on long stretches of roads where there aren't any other cars. He knows he'll think about Jack every time someone says I'm a driver! He knows he'll go fishing and perch on rocks, imagining another line in the water along with his own. His happiest memory with his dad, fishing, and now it's improved and softened and replaced. Dean will look for Jack in the flowing water of creeks, and he'll hang a fishing hook off his mirror so he can reach out and touch it every day. He'll tell his kid stories long after he's around to hear them. 

 

And it's hard to think about, to come to terms with. It's the unfathomable, losing a kid. He doesn't know how they're going to do it. All he does know is that it's only going to get worse the closer it gets. 

 

To make matters worse, Dean keeps having these weird, out-of-it moments where his vision goes funny and the world seems to fade in and out. It happens with no warning, a bizarre thing that he can't make any sense of. He worries, but he doesn't want to be worried. He's so tired of being worried. 

 

Then, like a beacon of hope, they get the call that there's something that may heal Jack. And so, they go. Dean feels it pulse within him, this desperate hope that maybe they'll get lucky, maybe things will work out this time. 

 

Instead, it makes Jack worse. 

 

"How are we supposed to do this?" Dean asks Cas, leaning up against the hallway wall while Sam helps Rowena set up for a spell that's basically a check-up. 

 

Cas stares straight ahead, his eyes distant like he's not really seeing anything. "We aren't." 

 

That's the thing, isn't it? No one's supposed to do this. It's not right and it's never fair. There's no answer for this. There's no right way to do it, because it's not meant to happen at all. 

 

Dean watches Cas, a part of him aching even worse when met with the blatant fucking proof of how much this is hurting Cas. He and Jack have a bond. Cas was the first father Jack ever knew, and Cas took on the responsibility to raise him and care for him long before Dean and Sam had it thrust upon them. He did it willingly. He wanted to, every step of the way. He signed up for this journey, and for it to end far too soon… 

 

Dean knows that this has to be even worse for Cas, and he has no idea how to help. He can't help. He wants to reach out and touch him, only to offer some kind of comfort or solace. Maybe that would make it worse. Maybe it wouldn't matter at all. 

 

Either way, Cas doesn't look at him or seek out any contact, far too gone in this, and Dean doesn't offer. He doubts Cas wants to be comforted any more than Dean does at the moment. That is to say, Dean's pretty sure he would fucking break if Cas thought to wrap him in his arms right now, and he doesn't want that. He's not ready for there to be a reason to break. He thinks Cas feels the same way. 

 

All that's left to do, as Rowena said, is to watch over Jack and be by his side as he dies. As expected, it has gotten worse the closer it gets. It's so hard. Dean's so angry that he can barely stand himself, suffocating in it. He can feel himself chipping away, splintering in preparation for the full shatter, and he knows that comes when Jack takes his last breath. Every additional crack in him only serves to piss him off more, dragging him closer to the inevitable. 

 

Jack keeps coughing, clearly struggling to breathe. Dean flinches at the sound of it, at the rattle in his chest that suggests something will give out soon. Nothing about this is meant to be. 

 

No, he thinks furiously, and he remembers Sorine talking about the five stages of grief. He wonders if it starts before the one you're losing is dead. 

 

No, he thinks again, desperately, his eyes burning and burning and burning. And he can't do it. He can't. He has to get out. He has to get the fuck away, because he doesn't know how to handle this. 

 

He goes. He marches down the hall and then comes to a stop, leaning against it. He jabs at it with his fist, his whole body fraught with tension. It's not right. It's not fair. It's not supposed to be. 

 

And then Cas is there, saying, "Dean."

 

Dean turns away, his chest tight. "I can't. It's not right, Cas. Ya know, it's just—it's not…" 

 

"What? It's not fair?" Cas challenges, coming closer to him. "I know that, but he needs you." 

 

It's that, in truth, that gets to him. Because Cas is right. This isn't about Dean right now. If all he can do is be there by Jack when he goes, then he should damn well do it. He takes another moment to breathe, blinking hard, and then he turns around. 

 

Cas is close, and he scans Dean's face. What he finds makes his own expression crumble, and Dean can't handle that. He can't witness it and do nothing. He's moving before he even makes the decision to, reaching out on some unearthed instinct he wasn't aware of—wanting to help, to fix it, and knowing that there's not a goddamn thing he can do. 

 

He has Cas in his arms in a second, holding onto him far too tight, squeezing his eyes shut and turning to press his nose against Cas' hair. Cas makes a noise Dean's never heard from him before, a defeated groan that cracks and shatters apart in his throat, the most pained he's ever sounded despite all the things he's suffered. 

 

"I'm so sorry, Cas," Dean whispers, even though he knows saying it doesn't change anything. Jack is still dying. It's still going to hurt. But he says it anyway, because he's so goddamn sorry. 

 

"We have to—Dean, we have to—" Cas rattles against him for a moment, clinging even tighter, and Dean has to be the one to peel them apart. 

 

He doesn't want to, but they have to go. It's like Cas said. Jack needs him. He needs them. So, they step away from each other, and it's a miracle that neither of them are crying. It's a pain that goes beyond pain, so destructive that crying isn't even possible. They look at each other, and then they look away all at once, and then they go. 

 

And, when they get there, Jack is already gone. 

 


 

Sometimes, Dean marvels at how drastically things can change. Life is so silly sometimes, Jack had said, and yeah, the kid had it right. 

 

Dean used to hold a flower at his most distraught, mourning and grieving, choking on his sorrow. Now, he holds one flower in particular and spins the stem between his fingers, his lips curled up. He's pleased. He's relieved. 

 

Jack is back. While Dean's not exactly excited about the whole soul thing, he's more than delighted to have the kid up walking around and talking again. For that time that he was gone, Dean was… Hell, they all were pretty fucked up. Getting him back is more than just some nudge in the right direction. It's a win. It's really big fucking win, and it dances like hope in Dean's chest. 

 

Dean twirls the flower in his hand and thinks at it, as he always does. Do you know? Do you know that I love you? It's like a revelation in his head, sparks lighting up and going off. Fireworks. 

 

No, Cas doesn't. But he's about to. 

 

Sure, things haven't exactly slowed down any, and there's still so much to do, but Dean can't think of a better time than now. This has got to be the perfect time for this. Things are looking up. He's not currently possessed by Michael. Jack is back. 

 

If not now, when? Dean can't just sit around and wait for sunshine and rainbows. He'll be waiting forever. His life—their lives—is never sunshine and rainbows. They get brief moments of reprieve that they have to reach out and hold onto, and goddammit, Dean's about to milk this one for all it's worth. 

 

He doesn't really know how he's going to say it, admittedly. It's likely to be a disaster. He doesn't tell people that he loves them. Usually it's sort of just known, or implied through gestures, but Dean doesn't think he can just talk around this one and maybe make Cas a sandwich he won't even eat. Also, fucking isn't the answer, because they've already done that, which has clarified exactly nothing between them. In fact, Dean thinks the sex might have muddled things even more. 

 

It's weird to wish Cas was a flower for, like, two seconds, right? Because Dean's one hundred percent sure that he could say it if Cas was a flower. Jesus, he's going to royally fuck this up. 

 

Nonetheless, he is determined to fuck it up if he has to, just to get it done. He's got his shot, so he may as well take it. And, really, a part of him is a little giddy about it. Even if he messes it up, he thinks Cas won't mind so much. There's a ninety-nine percent chance that this ends in very good sex for them, no matter what stupid shit Dean says. Cas always seems to know what he means anyway. 

 

So, Dean puts the flower up in the closet and shakes out his hands, taking a deep breath and slowly exhaling. He jumps on the balls of his feet, bouncing in place, then he wriggles and rolls his shoulders. Okay. Yeah, he's got this. Well, he doesn't, but he's doing it anyway, so fuck it. 

 

Finding Cas turns out to be something of an issue. Dean expects him to be with Jack, but only Sam is. 

 

"Anybody see Cas?" Dean asks. 

 

"He said he needed some air," Sam tells him. 

 

Dean curses, grimacing. "Did he leave?" 

 

"I don't think so," Jack says quietly, his lips tipped down as he turns his gaze towards the door. "I think he just...wanted to go outside and be alone for a little bit. I'm sure he's still here." 

 

"Okay, great," Dean chirps, perking right back up and heading for the door. 

 

"Uh, Dean," Jack calls after him, wary about it. 

 

"What's up, kid?" 

 

"I...really do think Castiel wants to be alone." 

 

"He can tell me to kick rocks if he wants to, but I need to talk to him," Dean replies, shrugging and heading up the stairs. No one else tries to halt his progress, which is for the best. 

 

Outside, Cas is not in the immediate vicinity, and Dean heaves a sigh as he starts walking. Trust Cas to make this even more difficult for him than it already is. Though, it is pretty nice outside. The sun is shining, but the air is crisp and cool. The leaves crunch satisfyingly under his boots. It's not cloudy, or raining, and therefore it's a good day for declarations of love, Dean is sure. 

 

There is something to ponder about doing this outside, though. Are they going to fuck against a tree? In a bush? Now, there's an idea. The savagery of it is compelling, admittedly. Ignoring the leaves in awkward places and scratches from tree bark, Dean's actually pretty sure that he'd be into it. 

 

Dean continues to think about sex outside in nature because it is somehow soothing him, and then he stops thinking altogether when he finally spots Cas. 

 

Okay, so Cas is just… The thing is, he's probably one of the best things—if not the best thing—to come crashing into Dean's life to shake it up. He wasn't the first, nor the last, but he is the most impactful. And, in this particular moment, Dean's brain has decided that Cas is the most beautiful thing it has ever had the pleasure of perceiving. 

 

Dean allows his brain to do whatever it's going to do, because he's a few minutes out from vomiting words at Cas that probably won't make any sense, so he may as well go into it completely dazed while he's at it. Now, he's known that Cas is easy on the eyes from literally the moment he laid eyes on him. He's more than easy on the eyes, in fact. He's handsome. He's pretty, in some instances. He's fucking hot, in others. He's cute, too. Adorable. All that and more, which isn't really fair, but so be it. 

 

But right now—right now, specifically—he is breathtaking. 

 

He's standing in a patch of sun, in a direct ray of light that casts warmth through his dark hair, drawing out the lighter undertones. His hand is ever so gently cupped around a flower, not plucking it from where it grows, just examining it with a strangely solemn expression. His head is tipped back to stare up at it, because it's placed just a little higher than his head, and the sharpness of his jaw is somehow emphasized by the softness of the flower. 

 

He looks like he belongs out here, among nature, a byproduct of earth's most magnificent beauty. It's like he's become roots on his own, breaking soil and planting his feet, blooming before humans and letting a specific few be his sun. 

 

Dean wonders what he thinks when looking at the flower. He's pretty sure Cas doesn't talk to it like it's a real thing, like it represents someone, but maybe he genuinely thinks of it as the flower it is. Dean can almost imagine his internal monologue. Without you, the world would be a duller place. You serve a purpose to enable plants to reproduce, to influence seed distribution, but it is perhaps the effect you have on people that makes you the most beautiful. You make them happy. 

 

Just the thought that Cas thinks at flowers like that has Dean's lips curling up. His nerves are pretty shot to shit, but there is something so calming and mesmerizing about seeing Cas handle a flower this gently. He cares so, so much, and Dean—

 

Fuck. Dean loves him. 

 

The gravity of it hits him at full force, right here on the precipice of admitting it. Just the weight of it. The changes it will bring. Love is… It's bigger than a lot of things. Dean can't just sidestep a love confession. Once he's said it, there's no coming back from it. This isn't sex that's not talked about; this goes beyond that. 

 

And Dean's going to do it anyway for a multitude of reasons, but it all boils down to the main one. Dean knows deep down in the squeeze-and-release of his heart, where the blood flows out and circulates through every part of him, that Cas is it for him. He's never going to fall in love with anyone else. He's never going to fall out of love with Cas. There's nowhere to go from here but forward, because Dean can't go back, and he can't turn away, and if this is the one thing his sad, shitty life will grant him, he'll be glad to have suffered to get it. 

 

So, Dean bucks up and presses forward. He ignores the way his heart thumps, as well as the way his stomach flutters, and he resolutely doesn't think about how fucking nervous he is right now. Excited, too, despite himself. He just has to get his shit together, get in there, and get it done. That's all. 

 

"Hey, Cas," Dean says as he draws closer, clearing his throat when the words come out raspy. 

 

Cas drops his hand away from the flower and turns towards him slowly, his chest expanding on a quick inhale. He meets Dean's gaze for a split second, then drops it. He exhales. "Hello, Dean." 

 

"So, uh, listen…" Dean chews on his bottom lip for a moment, then reaches around to scratch at the back of his head, looking down and kicking at loose leaves. "I, um… I need to talk to you, Cas." 

 

"And I you," Cas whispers, lifting his head and still not looking directly at Dean. "I should—I should… It's prudent that I go first." 

 

Dean coughs, peeking at him with his head still ducked. "I dunno, man. What I gotta say is kind of important." 

 

"Maybe so," Cas allows quietly, "but what I need to say is necessary. Please." 

 

"I mean…" Dean's eyebrows crumble together, and now he lifts his head fully, taking Cas in. He looks… Well, he looks like he's being very serious right now. "Yeah, man, that's—you can go ahead. What's up?" 

 

Cas doesn't say anything for a long moment, his lips pressed into a thin line. And then, all at once, his entire face goes blank. He looks to the left of Dean's shoulder and says, "We have to stop." 

 

"Care to elaborate, Mr. Cryptic?" Dean asks, his hands sliding into the safety of his jacket pockets. He frowns. "I'm gonna need specifics here, dude." 

 

"Dean, you and I… What we—do." Cas doesn't seem to know how to explain it, and he's visibly struggling to the point that it's almost painful to watch. He clenches his jaw, then swallows, and then his face smooths out again. "We can't—we have to stop what we have been doing." 

 

Dean lets that sit there for a moment, suddenly realizing what that solid weight bearing down on his chest is. There's a sensation like a fist made of ice grabbing hold of his intestines and twisting them. Dread freezes through his veins, making him go cold and prickle all over, as if this moment is going to haunt him forever. He wavers, uncertain, because maybe… Maybe he's just...making assumptions. 

 

"Sex," Dean says slowly. "You mean the sex." 

 

Cas is stiff from head-to-toe, so his nod is a little jerky. "Yes. I mean the sex. We have to stop." 

 

"Because…you're no longer into sex? Which is a-okay, by the way. Totally cool with me," Dean mutters, still going back and forth on if this is what he thinks it is or not, if it's what it seems like. 

 

If Cas has just decided that, fuck it, sex isn't for him, then cool. Will Dean miss it? Undoubtedly. Yes, of course. Is it the reason Dean's out here risking life and limb to come clean about feelings of all things? No. No, it's not. Sex and love are two very different things, and though they often go together for some people, they rarely do for him. He doesn't need one for the other to exist. Dean's still going to be head over heels, regardless if Cas ever touches his dick again. So, if that's all it is, then cool. Awesome, even, because the alternative isn't looking so great. 

 

"Sex itself is not the issue." Cas doesn't so much as twitch, all except for the tiniest movement in his cheek, like he still wants to clench his jaw. "Sex, with you, is." 

 

Dean blinks rapidly, his eyebrows flying up his forehead. He's offended in an instant. "Well gee, Cas, you sure as shit wasn't complaining at the time. Excuse me for finding it a little hard to believe that our sex was an issue for you." 

 

"That's not—" Cas snaps his mouth shut so hard that his teeth clack. He still won't look at Dean, but his nostrils do flare just a little. "I am not complaining about the...quality. I just—we should be friends, Dean. Just friends." 

 

And Dean thinks there it is. Just like that. The unspoken thing given acknowledgement, and therefore power. Because what they were, that wasn't just friends. That was more. 

 

Except Cas doesn't want it. 

 

Dean stands there for a long moment, genuinely thrown off balance. Out of all this, the last thing he expected was for Cas to not want him. He'd been so fucking sure that it wasn't even really a possibility, because it had seemed like—well, it felt like Cas wanted him, wanted that more they were toeing the line of. It honestly never crossed his mind that Cas might outright reject him. He didn't think this would turn out to be that one percent situation. 

 

Try losing someone you didn't even have, Dean had said once. And here he is, doing it yet again. It's almost worse this way, because he'd believed that he nearly had him. It wasn't just a could have been; it was we were so close that it felt like we were already there. It wasn't just reaching out for someone; it was holding them, then watching them slip from your fingers. It's only better because Cas is still alive and breathing, and Dean would get his heart broken a hundred times if he had to just to ensure that. 

 

Dean is suddenly so, so fucking glad that he didn't go first. It's his only saving grace at the moment. Well, that, and the fact that Cas isn't looking at him. He has no idea what his face is doing right now, but he knows it can't be pretty. It likely spells out everything he feels, which can be reduced to a few, simple words. Devastated, resigned, and angry. 

 

The last one hits hard and quick, and all he can think about is every touch and look they shared, so many unsaid things between them. He knows that was real. He knows he didn't make that shit up. 

 

But—but he must have, if Cas is doing this. And Cas is clearly doing this. He's not changing his mind, or taking it back, or swaying from his decision. It's clear in every line of his body, his entire frame solid like an immovable object that can and will withstand an unstoppable force. He means it. Every word he's said, he genuinely means it. 

 

"Just friends," Dean repeats woodenly. "Were we ever anything else?" 

 

"Technically, no," Cas says. 

 

"Well, what does it matter? It was just sex. You can do that with anyone," Dean tells him, his words coming out calm and even despite the storm of emotion knotting in his chest. 

 

Cas blinks just once, eyelids staying closed for a little too long, then he nods again. "Yes, exactly." 

 

"Right. Of course." Dean's lips twist bitterly, and he gives a sharp, loud laugh that lacks any humor. "A word to the wise, Cas, maybe don't go searching for it so close to home next time." 

 

"Dean," Cas starts, his voice softening. 

 

"No, shut up," Dean snaps. "Next time you get the urge to fuck, don't come to me, you got that?" 

 

"Dean," Cas says more urgently, a thread of alarm slipping into his tone. He steps forward, finally looking at him, and he's immediately reaching out. 

 

Dean jerks back, barking out a harsh laugh again. He shakes his head. "Oh, no you fucking don't. None of that shit. I'm fine. I just think you could use a little lesson in how friendship works. There's not this extra fun subsection where fucking gets thrown into the mix, and I know you know that, because we went years without doing it. You don't get to play innocent with me, Cas, not about this. Friends don't fuck friends!" 

 

Cas swallows, staring at him with wide eyes. "I'm quite sure we're not the first, and if we are, then we'll just have to be." 

 

"Oh, awesome. Real nice." Dean tosses up a hand and lets it flop back down to his side, stuffing it back in his pocket when he realizes that his fingers are trembling. "Do I get a say in this at all?" 

 

"No," Cas croaks. "I'm—Dean, I'm sorry." 

 

"I bet you are." Dean tucks his lips in and looks down at his shoes, a hot spike of anger shivering up his spine. He snaps his head up and steps forward, clenching his jaw when Cas immediately steps back, avoiding him. Dean nods. "Yeah, good, you're already starting to get it. Don't touch me ever again. Don't stand close to me. Don't fucking look at me the way that you do. You wanna be just friends? That's fine. That's perfect. I don't care either way, but the next time you're looking for a warm mouth, you better not look in my fucking direction." 

 

Ironically enough, Cas' pupils dilate fast, his lips parting as he sways forward. Naked want flashes across his face and then gets stuck there. Dean feels like he's experiencing whiplash. He knows intimately what it looks like when Cas wants him, and for a guy who just said they're only friends, he sure seems to want him really fucking badly. 

 

And, for a guy who just said he'd never be Cas' warm mouth again, Dean's pretty much instantly ready to do exactly that. He's moving forward before he even realizes it, helpless to the draw, the tug that makes him fucking yearn. His anger evaporates like it was never there, and all his focus sharpens on the way Cas leans in like he can't help it. The anticipation skitters underneath his skin. He's already so fucking hot from anger that he's restless, itching to get Cas against something so they have the space to kiss harsh enough to leave their lips swollen and throbbing. He's so turned out right now, and so quickly as well, which makes no damn sense. 

 

Emotions are confusing as fuck. Actually, scratch that. This entire conversation has been confusing. Dean genuinely can't wrap his head around it. But fuck if he doesn't want to have sex with the person claiming it means absolutely nothing. 

 

The moment he gets close enough to touch, Cas chokes out a weak noise and takes a few hasty steps back. He shuts down immediately, face back to being slack and empty, eyes nearly cold. He looks so far removed from the moment that Dean's angry all over again. The arousal doesn't go away either, which is traitorous and unfair on so many levels. 

 

"I don't—I don't want you," Cas says, and Dean knows immediately that it's a lie. 

 

"Yes, you do," Dean retorts bitingly. "You at least want my body, if nothing else. That, I know for damn sure. So, try again, buddy." 

 

Cas' eyes harden, his jaw going firm. "All that we're ever going to be is friends, nothing more. I can't be anything else, not with you." 

 

And that. Well, that's the truth. 

 

Dean holds his breath until the ache in his chest is overtaken by the burn bred from lack of oxygen. Right now, passing out seems like a better alternative than facing this. He stares at Cas' face, into his eyes, and he knows that—once again—Cas means what he says. He just...knows. 

 

Regardless of if he wants Dean's body or not, he's serious that it can't be anything more. It's like he knew that Dean was coming to tell him, to finally have the talk. How the fuck did he know? 

 

Did he know? 

 

It doesn't matter, not really. Dean's suddenly a lot more hurt than angry, and that's an emotion that he's better at concealing. He locks it up and away, folding it to some cavernous corner full of all the other things that he can't handle, things that have the power to break him the fuck down. 

 

So, fine. That's all there is. Just this. Just friends. Dean's not exactly sure how he's going to pull it off, but he doesn't really have any other choice. Cas has said what he needed to, and that's all there is to it. 

 

"Okay," Dean says, finally. He hears himself, how completely unaffected he sounds. Good. Great. He's got a lid on it for now. 

 

"Okay?" Cas echoes cautiously. 

 

Dean shrugs. "Yeah. Okay. It's like I said. I don't actually care either way. I mean, I don't really like that you used me like a two-dollar whore, but hey, glad you got your rocks off. I won't say I didn't have my fun, 'cause I did, but it's not like I'm gonna fight you on it. This will probably be a funny story to tell later down the line, ya know." 

 

"Funny," Cas repeats softly, something flaring in his eyes then smothered in the same second. 

 

"Also, if you were gonna use me for sex, dude, you coulda paid me. That's usually how it goes. Or that's how I'm used to it happening anyway." Dean flashes him a grin. "You got me for free. Most don't." 

 

Cas looks mutinous. "I wasn't—" And then he looks blank again, not finishing his protest. 

 

"But hey, I don't got room to judge. I wasn't paying you either," Dean declares. He clicks his tongue and shakes his head. "You want compensation?" 

 

"No, Dean, that won't be necessary," Cas grits out. 

 

"Don't get snippy with me," Dean mutters, wrinkling his nose. "Lighten up a little. This is what friends do, remember? They joke with each other. I know you're a little iffy on what friends do these days, but joking is a staple, man." 

 

"I think…" Cas takes a deep breath, then slowly lets it out. "Perhaps it's best if I go and—" 

 

A frantic, "No," rips free from Dean's mouth before he even knows it's crawling up his throat. All bitterness seeps out of him in a second, replaced with dread and just a touch of fear. 

 

"Dean?" Cas asks hesitantly. 

 

Dean swallows. "No. Don't—don't do that. You don't have to take off. It's—Cas, it's fine. We're fine. I'm just being an asshole. I don't wanna run you off, okay? The kid only just got back, and all this stuff with Michael is—we could really use your help, right? So just…I'm sorry. I'll stop messing with you."

 

"I want—" Cas cuts himself off yet again, then sighs. It's a world-weary sigh, tinged with exhaustion. "I want us to be okay, Dean." 

 

"We're okay." Dean braces himself, then reaches out to clap Cas on the shoulder, counting to three in his head, giving a careful squeeze, then dropping his hand like it's no big deal. "Seriously, we're fine. All the shit we've been through, and you think some sex is what does us in? Come on, man, I'd like to think our friendship is a little stronger than that." 

 

"It is," Cas whispers. 

 

"So, there you go." Dean tries for a smile, unsure if it's fitting on his face right. "Come back in. We still have shit we need to do." 

 

Cas looks away. "In a minute." 

 

"But you are coming back in, right?" Dean checks. 

 

"Yes," Cas murmurs. 

 

"Okay," Dean says, jerking a quick nod and hooking his thumb over his shoulder. "Well, I'm gonna head on in. If you're out here for longer than an hour, I'm dragging your ass kicking and screaming back inside, you hear me?" 

 

"I hear you, Dean." 

 

"Good." 

 

Cas says nothing in response, and Dean doesn't wait around to see if he eventually will. As casually as he can manage, he swivels around and heads back inside. His eyes burn the whole goddamn way. 

 

And really, once they've gotten the spear and go to face Michael and there's that moment where he feels something star-bright and agonizing sliding into his mind with insidious intentions, Dean feels only one second of guilt for the thought that getting possessed again might just be something of a relief. 

 

Heartbreak, huh? It makes people think the craziest things. A disease you can't cure, indeed.  

Chapter Text

Pamela tells him that he wants what he can't have, and Dean is confused by it. She says it with a tiny, sharp smile, something sly flashing in her eyes, like a reminder from another life. Her words make him stumble, an inexplicable ache settling into the hollow of his chest, a sadness he can't explain. 

 

He doesn't get it. How does he want what he can't have? He already has everything he wants, doesn't he? He's got his bar, his family, and a pretty steady life with some chaos dropped in every now and again to keep it interesting. Sure, Sam and Cas are off on a case, and Dean's ready for them to get on home, but that's about the only thing that chafes. 

 

He never understands why Pamela says that. 

 

Well, he doesn't until he realizes that Pamela is just some projection that Michael has planted in his mind, not missing out on the chance to get a few barbs in, even when keeping Dean comfortable. Michael's a pretty shitty guy, as it turns out. 

 

Locking him in, containing him… It's hard. Yet, Dean almost welcomes it in a weird way. It's distracting, and it keeps him from being too focused on other things. Like the things he wants but can't have, as Michael so eloquently put it. 

 

Cas, in particular. 

 

It's simultaneously harder and easier being just friends with Cas after the fiasco with Michael. They're all pretty busy, and Dean can almost look at him without thinking about all the things they almost were. With so much going on, it doesn't even feel underhanded that they don't spend time with each other—they don't have the time. 

 

Jack's soul might be burned too much, and there's this whole thing with Michael, all while cases still go on in the background. So, in some ways, it's like nothing ever went wrong between him and Cas. Sometimes, he and Cas act exactly as they did before they ever had sex at all. Sometimes, Dean can shove his thoughts and feelings and desires away until he's nearly convinced they're not even there. 

 

Other times, Dean's so in love that he's gagging on it, unable to look at Cas without feeling like his chest is cracking open, barely able to focus or breathe when Cas thoughtlessly comes too close. He's just there, and Dean still loves him like Cas hasn't thrown out all the stops to make sure they'd never become what Dean had hoped they would. 

 

There are moments when it becomes too much. 

 

Dean goes and visits his mom to get away for a little bit, and it's nice. He doesn't tell her that he's going through it right now, but she seems to sense it anyway. She's no better at providing advice or comfort than any other Winchester, but it's clear that she wishes she could, and that's more of a comfort than she'll ever know. Out of everyone, she's the first person that makes Dean feel a little more settled in his skin, because it's like she's someone he has expectations for, and even if she doesn't meet them, he can still love her and be okay in the end. In a strange way, it gives him hope. 

 

Of course, Dean's not thinking about what agony awaits him at the bottom of the ocean. He has the bitter thought that maybe a different sort of pain would be a nice change of pace. A little dramatic? Yes, but Dean feels stung in a way he can't really shake. It burrows under his skin, makes it hard to eat and sleep and be anything other than angry. 

 

So, fuck it. Why not launch himself into the goddamn ocean? It's the only way to keep Michael contained, and it's not like Dean's gonna have any other life anyway. This is what he was made for, right? The perfect body to hold Michael. He may as fucking well do his shitty job. 

 

This, as expected, doesn't go over well with anyone. Sam completely loses his shit. Something in Dean pinches and softens at seeing that, seeing Sam spiral because he doesn't want to do life without Dean around. Jeez, look how far they've come now. 

 

As for Cas, well...his response is unexpected. 

 

First of all, Dean didn't want Cas to know. Sam, the traitorous asshole, thought informing him would be a good idea, apparently. Dick move of epic proportions. So, Dean's forced to partake in a phone conversation that makes him want to chew his own wrist off just to escape it. Cas saying things like it's so good to hear from you and sounding so genuinely happy at the thought of Dean not going through with this plan...well, it's fucking excruciating. To make matters worse, Dean tells him that it's good to hear his voice, like that's not one of the most obvious and sappiest things he could have ever said. 

 

Second of all, Cas has no goddamn right dressing up like a fucking doctor and further ruining any chances Dean might've ever had of ignoring just how gone on him he is. Not that he had much going for him in that department anyway, but come on, this shit is just cruel at this point. 

 

He can't help it. He can't help the way he looks at Cas, the way he says doctor, the way he can barely focus. His mouth is so terribly dry, and his eyes follow Cas wherever the fuck he goes. He wants to peel Cas outta that doctor coat so badly that his hands legitimately shake. He knows he can't, he knows that, but every part of him outside of his mind hasn't seemed to figure that out yet. Everything else wants to trail after Cas like a goddamn puppy begging for some fucking attention. 

 

He hates himself for it. 

 

What he hates more, as it turns out, is the emotionally charged conversation out in the hall. Dean doesn't know why he's surprised Cas is so upset. They're just friends, yeah, but friends would get upset in this situation, right? The only thing is, friends don't get upset like that. 

 

Dean remembers talking to Donna. She's a friend, a really good one. He already knows she'd be upset about this, like a friend is supposed to, and Cas is doing it all wrong. He's acting like he's losing something more, like maybe he's losing everything. 

 

It's confusing, and Dean doesn't know how to handle it. He doesn't know what he's supposed to do. He wants to grab Cas and kiss him stupid, just go back to not talking and letting their bodies converse, but that's no longer an option. He wants to take the flower to the bottom of the ocean to forever ask do you know; do you know that I love you? He doesn't fucking dare. He wants so many things, but mostly, he doesn't want this to be goodbye, and that's precisely where Cas hits him below the belt. 

 

Dean tries to get him with the whole if you're any friend of mine thing, because he's still bitter, just a little, but Cas goes right for the jugular with, "So, this is goodbye?" 

 

He's such an asshole, because Dean knows his face does something obvious in response. He can feel his expression going slack with hurt, with preemptive loss, and some heartbreak for what they almost were mixed in as well. He realizes that Cas sees it, and he can't think of one goddamn thing to say to fix it. 

 

Sam can be forgiven, because he swoops in like the overgrown hero that he is, interrupting and letting Dean off the hook. And that's that on that, as far as he's concerned. No goodbyes to be had after all. 

 

Sam's whole speech about Dean throwing in the towel gives him a good kick in the ass, so to speak. Sure, everything kind of sucks all the time, but giving up? At a time like this, when family is still alive and around, when Sam and Jack and even Cas, no matter what they are, need him? 

 

Fuck Michael, and fuck the idea that there's only one option, and fuck this heartbreak. It's not a heartbreak he can't survive, because he's already suffered through that once when Cas died. This? He can fucking handle this, and it's not the end of the world. He knows what that looks like, and this isn't it. Dean will keep looking until he has no choice. 

 

Things get harder and more fast-paced after that. His dad comes back at one point, and the whole world falls out of whack. Dean finds himself thankful that Cas isn't around—or, not his Cas, anyway. If he were, Dean suspects the happy, little family reunion would have gone a lot different than it did, and really, Dean's too damn tired to try and unearth all the crap John put them through. Besides, true to form, his dad doesn't stick around for long anyway, and life goes on. 

 

Things get more complicated with Cas. There are moments where things seem—charged. There are moments where things seem normal. And then, there are moments where Dean is sitting down in a booth and confiding in Cas about things he can't talk about to anyone else. Dean spends most of his time with Cas in his mind as just one big question mark, because he doesn't know, and he's so confused. The way Cas talks to him sometimes, the way he looks at him… 

 

But things keep going, and going, and going. After some seriously close calls, Michael finally gets killed by Jack, and Dean… Well, it's a relief, no doubt. It is. But what about his soul? Is Jack okay? Dean doesn't know for sure that he is, and the worry and uncertainty eats at him. 

 

Things get weird with Cas again, somehow. It becomes so blatant that Sam and Cas leave to go handle a case on their own, and Dean's stomach squirms with an uncomfortable sense of envy. Dear god, he does not want to be jealous of his goddamn brother, but here the fuck he is. Christ. 

 

And, back to Jack, things aren't...looking great. 

 

All that foreboding comes to a head, and Dean feels like his whole world shifts when his mother dies. After everything, this is the final straw that breaks the camel's back. He's lost so goddamn much. Cas, Cas again, his kid, and now his kid again, by the looks of it. Adding his mom to the list yet again...

 

Things get really, really still within him. His mind is quiet. His feelings are muted, numb. There's just a low thrum of anger and determination that exists in his every inhale and every exhale. Their options are limited, and something's got to give. 

 

Trying to stuff Jack in the box is… Well. Dean's not thinking about it. It is what it is, and that's that. He has the brief thought that Cas—oh, Cas is going to be furious. He's out looking for news in a Heaven that has never really wanted him, and Dean's trying to put their kid in a cage. 

 

Sometimes, life is more than just silly. It's fucked up, plain and simple. Just when he thinks it can't get any worse, it always fights to prove him wrong. 

 

Cas is, as expected, very furious when he returns. It's a fight between them, and Dean isn't budging. Sam's there in the background, but the fight itself is mostly Cas and Dean. It's starting to escalate to the point that Dean's getting angry at Cas and not just at this whole fucked up situation. He's a few more shouts out from making it personal when the whole Bunker shakes and the alarm goes up. 

 

The box, as it turns out, may as well have been put together with Elmer's glue and kiddie stickers for all that it holds Jack. Son of a bitch, Dean thinks, and that about sums it up, really. 

 

From there, things only get increasingly worse. When Dean realizes that he can't lie, he's so fucking grateful that Cas isn't around. Besides, with the way things are going right now, he doesn't think his feelings for Cas will come into question anyway. So long as no one brings it up, things are fine. 

 

But then he hears Cas yelling his and Sam's name, and his heart skyrockets. Because, no matter how fucked up things are, Dean still has this mess of complicated feelings he can't escape. It's easier to bury with all this going on with Jack, but it doesn't erase anything. It's all still there, just simmering under the surface. So, Cas is here, and Dean is terrified for a split second until it turns out that Chuck is also here, the perfect distraction. 

 

No truth is spoken, and that's for the best. 

 

Jack's been killing people, he has no soul, and Mary is dead because of him. That's not even Jack anymore, as far as Dean is concerned. He's just another person Dean—or anyone else—couldn't save, another thing that has to be handled. His kid? Well, his kid has been gone for a while now, and that only fuels his anger and his determination to do it. 

 

And what do you know? Chuck has the solution in the form of a gun. A gun that kills the target and the shooter all in one whack, and Dean knows instantly that it's going to be him. For one, he's not letting Sam do it, just flat out. For another, there's no way Cas could or would. It's on Dean, and that's just fine. He's almost at peace with the idea. 

 

Cas, however, is not. Dean tells him to get on board or walk away, and it is both a surprise and not when Cas walks away. Dean watches him go and feels precisely nothing. 

 

All that's left to do after that is drink, which he does. He chuckles ruefully to himself as he goes about making up a flask, because there's no way he can do this sober. "Here we are again, last moments on earth. Cas, if you can hear me, I'd sure like to go out with a bang, man." 

 

It's not a surprise at all when Cas doesn't come. 

 

He knows it's stupid. They're fighting, two sharp edges cutting into each other when they can't and won't agree on this. Cas is in too far with the kid, and Dean doesn't like it any more than he does, but it has to be done. It's what they do. It's all they know. This is how their lives work. One fucked up thing right after another. 

 

So, he closes his eyes and he hopes, like an idiot, that Cas will come. He wants him to burst in and wreck Dean from the inside out, kick his ass and fuck him stupid while he's at it. Dean wants to die with bruises, both from Cas hitting him and from Cas marking him with his teeth. Go out with a bang, bloody and with the memory of Cas' hands on him. 

 

He hopes, and he keeps hoping, and it's a hopeless endeavor. Cas doesn't come, and Dean remains intact and pulled taught, and that's all there is. 

 

Sam is reasonably upset about it all. Dean gets why. There's no other choice, though. No matter what Sam thinks, no matter how hard he clings to hope, there's nothing else. Dean is so fucking tired. He doesn't even argue. He just watches Sam leave with tears of frustration in his eyes, and he doesn't say goodbye when Chuck gives him Jack's location. 

 

Dean wishes Cas weren't here for this, but he is. There's a small stand-off, the two of them lingering across from each other in the graveyard, looking at each other. Dean thinks about the flower in his closet, thinks about how it will remain long after he's gone, possibly preserved forever. He tells Cas to stand aside, robotic and unmoved. 

 

Cas doesn't stand aside, of course, but Jack doesn't give him much of a choice otherwise. He dashes Cas clear across the graveyard and moves towards Dean. His face is blank, eyes lifeless. He was once sunshine. He's like a starless sky now, empty and vast, nothing to see and nothing to wish upon. Dean thinks about fishing with him. You told me once that you'd be the one to kill me, and now you're going to be sad when I'm gone. Life is so silly sometimes. 

 

Dean's morbidly grateful that he's not going to be around to be sad about this, because if he was, he knows it would ruin him. His eyes burn when Jack kneels before him. 

 

"I'm a monster," Jack tells him, like it's a fact. 

 

We got the answer. You're good, Jack, and what you did was give us another person to call family, to care about.

 

He's just a goddamn kid. Dean's heart clenches in his chest, his whole body stiff, aware of the audience, torn into too many directions. He thinks about his mom. God, she wouldn't want this. She would fucking hate this. He thinks about Cas losing his son and his—friend. He thinks about Sam losing his brother, about having to go on without half of his family. He thinks about how deeply he doesn't want to do this, a selfish pulse that usually goes smothered under his anger. But, right here on the edge of it all, Dean's not angry. He's just...tired. 

 

In the end, when it's all said and done, Dean lowers the gun. He can't do it. 

 

In the end, Jack dies anyway. And the world? Well, how does that saying go? It's all okay in the end; if it's not okay, it's not the end. John Lennon had it all wrong, because this? This isn't okay. 

 

But it's certainly the end. 

 


 

"It's just… It's really tense, man," Sam says. 

 

"Drop it, Sam," Dean mutters, not looking up from his laptop, not engaging at all. 

 

Sam sighs. "Look, Dean, I know things have been… It's been really hard for all of us, okay? I know that. But you can't just...block everything out." 

 

Oh, really? I can't? Funny, I'm doing a bang up job of it right now, Dean thinks bitterly, lips twisting. He has been, in fact. Nothing about their lives is real, and nothing matters, and so what's the point of giving any of it agency over him? 

 

Blocking everything out has been going pretty smoothly, actually. There's just the anger. He's so fucking angry about all of it, every goddamn thing. And none of it is even real. The irony. 

 

Dean, you asked what about all of this is real? We are. 

 

Dean closes his eyes, his fingers stilling on the keys of his laptop. He holds his breath for a long moment and appreciates the burn of it. We are, we are, we are. Are they, though? So much implied in that we. They were never a we. They were almost that, but that turned out to not be real, too. 

 

"Like that," Sam says. "You're just—I don't know. It's like you're wound so tight that you can barely breathe, Dean. I'm—I'm seriously worried." 

 

Exhaling, Dean opens his eyes and goes back to scrolling through headlines. He clenches his jaw and mutters, "I'm fine." 

 

"I'm not so sure that you are," Sam insists, rapping his knuckles against the table. "And—and I've tried calling Cas, you know, but it's…there's nothing." 

 

Jack is dead. Chuck is gone. You and Sam have each other. I think it's time for me to move on. 

 

Of course there's nothing. Cas left. He's really fucking good at that, isn't he? The going gets tough, and then he's out the door, especially when he has no reason to stick around. Some friend he is. 

 

And Dean knows. He knows, okay? He knows he's not blameless in all this, and he knows he's been making it harder, and he knows that he watched Cas go without saying a goddamn word. Before, he had despised the thought of Cas leaving, even if they couldn't be anything else but friends. This time, though, he'd felt a deep well of resentment towards everything—himself, Cas, the whole goddamn world. So leave, he'd thought. What do I care? 

 

As it turns out, he cares quite a bit. It's a bitch, truth be told. He finds himself standing at his closet door more often than he would like, not having the courage to bring out the flower and ask it the same question that he always does. Is this love? Is it? 

 

Because he didn't know love could feel like this. Like it's rotting, and he's just watching it deteriorate with no way to stop it or breathe life back into it. Like it's broken in some irreparable way, warped way past what it once was to the point that he's not so sure it's the same anymore. Like there's just bitterness and pain, as if there's nothing else they can find with each other. 

 

It's almost funny how much hope Dean had for them. He remembers that he was going to confess his love once. That feels like something from an entirely different lifetime. 

 

And yet—and yet, Dean still sees Cas in his dreams. He thinks about him too much, what he's doing, where he's at, if he's okay. He wants Cas to be here, and he wants Cas to never come back, and he wants them to have sex so rough that Dean is sore for days afterwards. Helplessly, he still wants Cas in all the ways he shouldn't, and he hates everything. He fucking hates Cas, too, and he loves him so goddamn much that hating him feels impossible. 

 

So yeah, Dean's wound so tight he can barely breathe. But he's fine. It's fine. 

 

"I'm fine," Dean says again, his voice curt. 

 

"Dean," Sam murmurs, "what's going on?" 

 

"Nothing. Not a goddamn thing, Sam. That's all it has ever been, and that's all it will ever be." Dean jams at the keyboard with more force than necessary, gritting his teeth. "Nothing." 

 

"You mean… Uh, is this about Cas again?" Sam asks. 

 

"No, Sam. Not everything is about Cas, okay? Fuck him. Fuck every fucking mistake he's made. I don't need him. We don't need him," Dean snaps, his voice rising higher and higher against his will, sharp and gruff and furious. "What we fucking need is a case. Me and you, back out there again, not slowing the fuck down for anything. Saving people, hunting things; that's our goddamn hamster wheel, ain't it? So let's fucking run it." 

 

Sam stares at him with wide eyes, and Dean snaps his laptop shut, pushing to his feet to march away. He regrets it pretty much immediately, because Sam has only just started to come around after killing Rowena. Dean almost had him convinced for a while that things were okay—eating a lot, cracking jokes, steering away from any talk involving Cas. He's been doing good. He's been fine. 

 

If Sam had just left it alone... 

 

Dean takes a deep breath, lets it out, then keeps pressing on. That constant pressure of anger weighs heavy against his chest, and he welcomes it, relishing in it. At least if he's angry, he's not hurt. 

 

But, as always, life goes on. There's always another thing, and this time, the next thing turns out to be God. Looks like Chuck is back on the board. 

 

Dean tells Cas as much in a phone call. It's stilted on both of their ends. Cas' answers are short, and Dean's words are accusatory. He can feel how pissed they are at each other right now, which burns through him and makes him ache all at one time. Still, he can't stop himself from telling Cas to watch himself, needing to warn him, no matter how angry they are. The only thing that would make any of this worse is if something happened to Cas. Angry as Dean is, that would… He'd never survive that. 

 

On a bright note, Eileen comes back. Dean's in hog heaven on that one, because it cheers Sam up considerably. Dean has got the inkling that they have a thing for each other, actually, and something about it pleases him. Hell, at least one of them gets to have something good for once, and it may as well be Sam. He deserves it. Maybe that's why it looks like he'll be the one to get it, and not Dean, because Dean never actually did. 

 

The case with Lee puts about four different things into perspective. At least three of them have to do with Cas, ironically enough. 

 

The thing is, Dean and Lee? Well, they had a thing back in the day. Not a thing worth giving a name to, honestly, but Dean finds it a little funny to think about how much his dad actually approved of Lee. Oh, if only he knew the shit he and Lee would get up to in the sheets together, especially when there were girls involved. Funnily enough, Lee always liked and respected John as well—still does, by the sounds of it—unaware that John would have filled him with lead if he knew what Lee did with his son. 

 

So, seeing Lee is something of an experience, to start with. For one, no one else is here, so Dean can let loose and be whoever the fuck he wants to. For another, Lee's smiles in his direction are not subtle in the least, and Dean knows exactly what they mean. He's working a case, yes, but getting to catch up with an old friend… Well, that's just a bonus. 

 

The flirting is harmless enough. Dean enjoys it. He likes how good it feels to be hit on by the bartender and the bar-owner. He likes the way Lee's gaze feels like a tangible touch, proof of the undoubtedly many ways he'd like to get reacquainted. He likes not thinking too hard about the things he doesn't want to, and it's only better with someone he's at ease with. Someone he doesn't have to explain himself to. Someone who actually wants him. 

 

After karaoke, Dean slips off to the bathroom in high spirits. Probably one of his best numbers, he feels. He doesn't think he's sang that damn good since...well, he doesn't think he's ever sang that good. Something about Lee brings it out in him, he guesses. A good partner and all. 

 

Speaking of Lee, he comes into the bathroom behind Dean a few minutes later. Dean glances up in the mirror, in the middle of washing his hands, and he raises his eyebrows in question because Lee isn't heading for one of the stalls. No, Lee is just leaning back against the door, his hand wrapped around the handle, a lazy grin on his lips. 

 

"If you think you're dragging me back on that stage, you got another thing coming, bub. Once was enough," Dean tells him, flicking his fingers and going for a paper towel as he swivels around. He is lying, obviously. He will get back on that stage the moment someone insists he does. 

 

"Oh no, you definitely are getting back up there," Lee says with a laugh, "but maybe not right now."

 

"Got something else in mind?" Dean asks, not even thinking of the implications, not until Lee's fingers latch around the lock on the door handle to turn it. Dean hears the click in his head like an echo, his fingers stilling from where he's drying his hands. Slowly, he arches an eyebrow. "Someone might need to take a piss, you know. Not very respectable bar-owner of you to lock 'em out." 

 

"It's my place, I can do what I want," Lee teases, pushing away from the door and heading right for him with an easy, unhurried gait. 

 

Dean tosses his paper towel and holds a hand up to halt him, laughing quietly. "Come on, man, I know you're not about to start something." 

 

"For old time's sake?" Lee asks, inching closer with his lips curling up. "For purely nostalgia purposes, ya see. You blew in here like a long-forgotten dream, Winchester, just as pretty as the last time I saw ya." 

 

"And you're still as charming as ever," Dean says flatly, rolling his eyes. 

 

God, he used to hate being called pretty. That's what he was. Soft, pretty features that made people look at him like he was the opposite of what he was trying so hard to be back then. He didn't want to be pretty. He didn't have a choice. People thought of him a certain way because of it, and he did everything he could to act the opposite of that, less for them and more for who he wanted to be to make his dad proud. 

 

These days, Dean doesn't get called pretty as much, not in this time and now that he's older. It doesn't grate on him as much anyway. But Lee knew him back then. Lee used to say Dean was a pair of lips to make any man look twice, made for kissing, made for something else, too. Lee had a way about him, a charm, and Dean liked it far more than he should have, considering he didn't want to be pretty at all. But oh, when Lee said it, he felt like he really was, and he found he didn't mind. 

 

"A couple of things have changed about me. Aren't you curious to see what hasn't?" Lee asks, suggestive and pointed, drawing closer. 

 

"You seem awfully curious about me," Dean counters, leaning back against the sink, watching Lee come closer thoughtfully. 

 

Lee flashes him a grin. "Maybe I just want you to show me all the new scars you got since the last time I mapped 'em all out." 

 

"Could take a while." 

 

"We've got all night." 

 

Dean crosses his arms and leans back when Lee is close enough to touch, automatically drawing away before he even realizes he's doing it. He internally grimaces at himself, because goddammit. Fuck. He's so fucking stupid, Jesus Christ. 

 

The thing is, Lee isn't just some pretty face from a random bar. He's not just some person Dean picked up to drop off and forget the very next day. He's a friend. He's someone Dean once had feelings for. It wasn't love, not even close, but there was fondness there. Comradery. An unspoken understanding. Back then, it was hard to be who he was and who he wasn't all at once and still feel seen. Lee didn't see him in his entirety, but he made Dean feel less alone in some of the things he couldn't run from. In short, fucking around with Lee would have even just a hint of meaning in it, and Dean can't. 

 

It is stupid. Dean's pissed off about it in a heartbeat. A part of him wants to do it any-fucking-way, because what does it matter, right? This shit with Cas… It's a goddamn mess. It's always going to be a mess, even if they ever do find middle ground again. Why the fuck should he stop himself from doing it? Why the fuck is he so goddamn hopelessly in love with the person he's most furious with, unable to have a quick fuck with an old friend just because it might mean something, and all he wants anything to mean something with is Cas? Why? Fucking why? 

 

"Look…" Dean sighs and ducks his head, jaw clenched. "Lee, I just can't, man. There's…" 

 

"Ah, shit," Lee blurts out in awe, and he looks amazed when Dean's head snaps up. "Well, I'll be damned. Dean Winchester has gone and fallen in love with somebody. And it's real, real love you can't get away from, ain't it? Color me surprised. Never thought I'd see the day."

 

Dean rubs the side of his jaw, shaking his head and giving a rueful laugh. "Yeah, me neither." 

 

"Well, now I'm extra curious." Lee keeps moving in, but he props up next to Dean against the other sink, eyebrows raised. "Tell me about her." 

 

"Well, uh…" Dean scrunches up his face and tips his head at Lee, willing him to get it. 

 

Lee blinks, then his eyes bulge. "It's a guy?" 

 

"He's…" Dean pretty much gives up instantly, shrugging and tipping his head back. He can feel Lee staring at him, no doubt adjusting to the news. He's the first person alive who knows about this, and the realization is daunting. 

 

"He make you happy?" Lee asks, finally. His voice has softened considerably. 

 

"No," Dean replies bluntly, dropping his head forward and giving Lee a humorless smile. "He makes me angry. He makes me miserable. He makes me fucking crazy." 

 

"Well, love will do that to a person, I hear." Lee's smile is sympathetic. "But I reckon it's good too, if you ever get there. You get there yet?" 

 

"Came close, but no. He doesn't…" Dean has to swallow past the abrupt lump in his throat, shaking his head. "It's not the same for him." 

 

"You're bullshitting me," Lee blurts out. 

 

Dean heaves a sigh. "Nah, I'm not. We were friends, then we were almost more, then we tried to go back to being friends. And now...now we're nothing." 

 

"You two fucked?" Lee asks. 

 

"Not nearly enough, but yeah," Dean admits. 

 

Lee's eyebrows fly up. "You mean to tell me that he got you in his bed and didn't fall a little bit in love with you? Now, that just don't add up. I'm speaking from experience here, ya know." 

 

"Oh, shut up," Dean mutters, leaning over to elbow Lee in the side. 

 

"He's a goddamn fool," Lee states firmly. 

 

"Yeah, well, so am I," Dean says, taking a deep breath and letting it out. "Takes two to tango, I guess. I have my part in all this, too. I just—I can't fucking keep it together. So much shit has happened, and like I said, he makes me crazy. Not always in the good way, either. He left, and I…" 

 

"Like I said, he's a goddamn fool," Lee repeats softly, pushing away from the sink to press right up against Dean, his broad hand fitting into the curve of his neck. It doesn't fit the way Cas' does. 

 

"Lee," Dean murmurs, a warning in his tone. Despite this, he's swaying closer, his eyes drifting shut. It would be nice, he thinks. It would be nice to feel good, to feel wanted. 

 

"I can help you forget about him, at least for a little while," Lee whispers, thumb pushing against his pulse point, the words exhaling over Dean's neck to leave a trail of goosebumps. "Just like we used to do. Ain't no need to talk. You remember how it was?" 

 

Dean swallows and squeezes his eyes shut tighter, willing himself to do it, to let it happen. It's possibly one of the most humiliating things he's ever experienced to stand here in this moment with tears prickling behind his eyelids, letting a man touch him and aching because it's the wrong one. All he fucking wants is Cas right now. Likely forever. 

 

"I can't," Dean croaks. 

 

"I'm not trying to be him, darlin'," Lee murmurs, nearly speaking against his jaw. "I'm just trying to offer you a little relief away from him for a while." 

 

But that's the thing, when it all boils down to it. At the heart of him, Dean knows that he'd rather it be like this. He doesn't want relief. He'd choose to be miserable with Cas than happy without, and he'd choose it every time. He wouldn't give Cas up for nothing in the goddamn world, even if he's gotta suffer through holding on, even if he never shows that he hasn't already let go. 

 

Dean shudders out a deep breath and puts his hand against Lee's shoulder, pushing him back and shaking his head. Yet again, he says, "I can't." 

 

"Huh." Lee drops his hands from Dean and examines him for a long moment, curious. "Damn, he's got his hooks in you deep, doesn't he? He must be heaven in bed." 

 

"I—" Dean chokes on a laugh, reaching up to palm at his mouth, eyes bulging. "Dude, you have no fucking idea." 

 

"Well, I'm sorry he ain't treating you right," Lee tells him, sincere about it. 

 

"That's the thing," Dean mutters, "I'm not treating him any better." 

 

Lee tsks and reaches out to give him a friendly clap on the shoulder, squeezing it. "Well, you're at a bar. You ain't here to mope about some guy. You're gonna get drunk and get your ass back up there on that stage. Come on." 

 

"Yeah, yeah," Dean mumbles, letting Lee pull him along to the door, lips curling up. 

 

Later, when Lee's dead by his hands, he's really thankful that he didn't fuck him. Also, looks like no one alive knows about his love for Cas after all. 

 

When he finds the missed calls and the voicemails from Cas on his phone, his heart leaps to his throat before he even finds out what they are. When he hears them, he curses up a storm the whole way home. Jesus Christ, who the fuck left Sam and Cas alone to their own devices? That's a recipe for disaster. He's going to have to give Eileen a rundown on the dos and don'ts of Cas and Sam's friendship. Rule number one: don't fucking let them make up any goddamn plans, because they're always stupid, and someone always nearly dies. 

 

When he gets home, he's worked himself up into a pretty big panic. He comes barreling in and tosses his bag on the table, just as Cas is coming into the room. "Hey!" he calls out. 

 

Cas slows to a halt and says, "Dean." 

 

"I got your message," Dean blurts out, trying to be calm about this. "Sam, is he, uh…" 

 

"He's fine," Cas tells him, his gaze dropping, then slowly crawling back up. 

 

Dean exhales in relief, and then he just stands there for a long moment, staring at Cas. Before, Cas had claimed that Dean couldn't even look him in the eye, and now Dean can't look anywhere else. He's just… He can't help it. He feels sucked in, despite everything. His anger seems so flimsy right this second, and the table between them feels like a chasm they can't cross. It makes him ache. 

 

"Good," Dean manages, finally. "That's good." 

 

Cas looks away and says, "Yeah," before he keeps right on going, leaving the room without looking back, his steps fading as he goes. 

 

Dean hates how much that infuriates him, hates even more how much it hurts. He think I refused a good lay for you, you fucking asshole, and then he braces his hands against the table and heaves a sigh. Once again, he asks himself what the hell he's doing besides being the biggest goddamn idiot alive? 

 

He still has no answer. 

 

Things remain rough from there, but they get confusing as well. Michael's back and so is Adam, and Dean...doesn't really know what to do with that. Despite Cas clearly wanting to be anywhere else than around him, he sticks around because he doesn't have much of a choice. It's cheap, a mockery of what Dean wants out of him and won't dare ask for. 

 

There are moments where things are so fraught with tension between them that Dean can barely stand it. He's already painfully aware of the fact that Cas has not touched him in a long fucking time, but he didn't give much thought to the idea that Cas is doing it on purpose. But he is. Dean knows he is, because Cas has always touched him to heal him. Now, he won't even touch him to do that, clearly a decision he's made consciously. 

 

Things are so rough between them that even Rowena sees it. She tells them to fix it, like it's that simple. It's never that goddamn simple. A part of Dean thinks it can't be fixed. 

 

The whole thing with Michael and Adam nags at him. They have some kind of bond that Dean doesn't know what to feel about. A part of him is bitter that his encounter with the Michael he got saddled with went the way it did. Another part of him is thankful that Adam has it a little better, at least. Most of all, Dean just wants to say sorry. So, he does. 

 

When Michael pulls through for them, Dean asks to speak to Adam. It's so easy to forget that he's Dean's half-brother, and it shouldn't be. He deserved so much better than what he got, and Dean makes sure to tell Adam that, too. 

 

"Since when do we get what we deserve?" Adam asks, his gaze flicking from Dean to Cas, lingering on him, then back to Dean. He nods. "Good luck."

 

There's something about the way Adam had looked at Cas that niggles at Dean. He turns and stares at Cas, eyebrows furrowed. Cas looks at him for a beat, and then he looks away, focusing on the portal. Ah, right. Always with the priorities. The story of their goddamn lives. Looks like they're due for another vacation to Purgatory. Should be great. 

 

Dean sighs. 

 

There's a snag in their plan pretty early on, as it turns out. Chuck has Sam, so obviously Dean needs to get there immediately. For this, Cas calls him stupid. That is both rude and unnecessary and also, perhaps, just a little bit true. 

 

So, they go to Purgatory instead. Or, well, Cas gets snippy and tells him that's what they're going to do, and Dean can't really argue that. Well, he can, and he wants to, but he knows it'll do him little good. Cas is a stubborn bastard, even more so when he's in a mood like this, pissed off and done with the world. 

 

Being back in Purgatory makes him think of Benny. He misses that crazy son of a bitch even more when they get where they're going. After a brief spat about whether they should split up or not—Cas wins yet again—they head off. When they're followed, they exchange a look, communicating without even speaking. No matter what they're angry about, Dean appreciates that they can still do that. 

 

The Leviathan eventually makes his move and gets promptly embarrassed when Cas flicks him aside like he's swatting a fly. Dean doesn't want to be impressed. He is anyway. 

 

When Dean asks about Benny, he gets an answer he wishes he didn't have to hear. His heart drops when he's informed that Benny has been dead for years. It was more than just the things they got up to while they were in Purgatory together; it was about the fact that they were genuinely friends. Again with the whole theme of friends not fucking friends, but in fact, they do. And Dean has. Benny, included. 

 

What they had couldn't sustain outside of this place, though. Benny was still important to him, and he knows he was important to Benny. More than just the necking near the creeks while Dean doggedly hunted down an angel, they had a thing. Yet another unlabeled thing, and once again, it wasn't love. Not for either of them. But it was something. 

 

So, yeah, it fucking sucks. Dean's quiet as they follow after Mr. Teeth to go hunting down a goddamn flower, as if that whole thing isn't coming back to haunt him. As of now, flowers are the fucking worst and Dean hates all of them. Yes, he's still bitter. Sue him. 

 

Even when fighting, Cas knows him too well. He apologizes about Benny, despite the fact that Dean knows he never liked him. He talks about guilt, and Dean doesn't want to fucking hear it. He knows Cas is sorry. Cas has already said it. Doesn't change a goddamn thing, not really. Dean's still angry, and he's still hurt, and he's still heartbroken. 

 

But then, Cas releases a small scoff and says, "I was talking about Jack. I already apologized to you. You just refused to hear it." 

 

"Sorry I brought it up," Dean mutters, looking straight ahead, a surge of annoyance hitting him. The anger spikes, and he's bitter all over again, words escaping him accusatory and harsh. "Maybe if you didn't just up and leave us…" 

 

"You didn't give me a choice," Cas snaps. "You couldn't forgive me, and you couldn't move on. You were too angry. I left, but you didn't stop me." 

 

Dean's jaw works, and he says nothing, pressing forward without a word. He feels like he's exploding in slow motion, everything harsh and brittle crumbling down within him. No, he didn't stop Cas. He wanted to. God, he really wanted to. And he didn't, not at all. It's so fucking hard. 

 

There's not a word exchanged between them for the rest of the journey. The Leviathan leading them along keeps throwing awkward looks over his shoulder, far too interested for his own good. Dean wants to shoot him in his stupid fucking face. 

 

Things go from bad to worse, but not before the pretense that things have gotten better. They have located the blossom—that's definitely not a goddamn flower—and it's within reach, but oh, surprise! Turns out Eve's got some bones to pick with Cas, probably his in particular. Just rip 'em right out of him, given half the chance, but Dean isn't going to give anyone that. He fights, because of course he does. He gets knocked out, because of course he does. 

 

When Dean comes to, his very first thought is a weary one. Just a whiny complaint he'll never actually voice out loud. Why couldn't my life be a little more normal? He doesn't want that, not really, but it'd be real fucking nice to catch a goddamn break every now and again. Dean has faced many things, but he doesn't think he's hated anything the way he hates Chuck and his stupid story. 

 

It settles in very quickly that Cas is missing and serious time has passed. The worry sets in almost immediately. He gets his gun, and he yells Cas' name, and then he starts looking. The search for the angel, take two. Dean's life is just a big joke, isn't it?

 

The truth is, Dean doesn't know where Cas is, or how to find him. The time is ticking away, and he can feel his dread start to thicken, breeding a panic that threatens to choke him. He's starting to think about that age-old feeling that something bad would happen to Cas, starting to think maybe something already has. He can barely breathe. 

 

Suddenly, every single thing they've been fighting about seems so goddamn stupid, in retrospect. All this anger, this bitterness, this hurt? For what? How does it help him? What has it solved? 

 

He's tired of being angry, and he doesn't know how to stop, but he just doesn't want to do it anymore. He doesn't want to keep watching Cas walk away. He doesn't want to keep fighting and placing blame where it shouldn't even be. He doesn't want to be wrong, but he was. He is. He fucked up, just like he always does, and at least half of his anger is at himself. And, if he keeps going on like this, he's never going to be able to make it right. 

 

He's scared that he's too late to make it right. The mere chance that he's let his anger and his general inclination to being a terrible person stop him from ever getting the opportunity to be okay with Cas again...it scares the shit out of him. 

 

Dean loves him. He does, and does, and does. That's never going to go away. But Cas? He's more than just what Dean feels for him, no matter if that's love or hate. He's a person. He's important. And he can go away and never come back. That, Dean has already suffered through. The Dean who went and visited a meadow as much as he could would be disgusted with the Dean he's come to be as of late. 

 

Shuddering out a short exhale, Dean checks his phone again. Just under thirty minutes. His heart turns over in his chest, stomach rolling, a weak sensation trembling in the muscles of his legs like he's not going to be able to stand for much longer. 

 

"No, no, no," he chants in a near-silent whisper, turning his head, desperate. 

 

There's nothing. There's no one. Dean swallows and thinks, his mind racing, eyes flicking back and forth like the foliage will open up and spit out answers. Or, better yet, spit out Cas. Neither happens, but Dean does get an idea. It's mostly selfish, just a needy little desire to tell Cas what he should get to hear before it's too late. If it's not already. 

 

Dean has done this before. Praying in Purgatory. Telling Cas things that he's no good at saying directly to his face. He swallows and walks forward, bracing his hand against a tree. 

 

"Cas," Dean starts, his heart racing. "Cas, I hope you can hear me, that wherever you are...it's not too late. I should have stopped you. You're my best friend, but I just let you go, 'cause that was easier than admitting I was wrong." 

 

He taps his fingers against the bark, his head shaking minutely. He's glad that he didn't falter, that he can say best friend and mean it, because Cas was always that, no matter what else he wasn't. There's no sound around him, an eerie silence that only Purgatory can provide, making him feel even more alone than he already does. 

 

The clock is ticking, and every second scares the absolute shit out of him. He presses his hand more firmly against the tree, his breathing thin, his chest feeling too tight. His eyes are burning and he can't stop the tears when they start flowing, his head ducked to hide it even when no one is around to see. That weak sensation from before gets worse, so he lifts his head and sniffs hard, blinking as he sinks down to one knee beside the tree. 

 

"I—I...whew. I don't know why I get so angry. I just know that it's always been there, and when things go bad, it just comes out. And I—I can't stop it, no matter how bad I want to. I just can't stop it." Dean swallows thickly, fighting valiantly to stop crying, to get his shit together, then letting it happen anyway. Cas deserves to know. Cas should get to hear this, all of it. "And I—I forgive you. Of course I forgive you. I'm sorry it took me so long to—" He squeezes his eyes shut briefly, a pulse of pain flaring in his chest. He sniffs again. "I'm sorry it took me until now to say it. Cas, I'm so sorry. Man, I hope you can hear me. I hope you can hear me." 

 

For a long moment, all he can fucking do is sit there and cry, useless to do anything else. Because this isn't about being in love with him; this is about them, regardless of feelings. At the end of the day, Dean still wants there to be a them, and he's terrified that he's put that in jeopardy. He's scared he's lost it already. He can't lose Cas again. He can't. 

 

Eventually, his resolve solidifies, and he forces himself to wipe his face and get to his goddamn feet. It's not over until the clock runs out, and then possibly beyond that, if it comes down to it. 

 

He spends the next twenty-five minutes looking for Cas and alternatively checking the phone. The more time that ticks down, the worse Dean feels. His stomach is cramping by the five minute mark. He's almost positive that he's not leaving, that he's going to miss the window to get out. He'll let it shut, and he knows it. He never could leave Cas here, not the first time, and not now. 

 

When he checks his phone at just under three minutes, he decides not to check it again. He swallows and puts it in his pocket, trying not to think about how epically he fucked this up. He might have just failed literally everyone, including Sam. He doesn't know how to cope with that, so he simply doesn't. He goes back to walking. 

 

From his left, there's a gruff, "Dean," that has him whirling around with his gun at the ready before he's even fully thought the motion through. 

 

But it's Cas. It's Cas, who is just sitting hunched against a tree, staring at him with slightly wide eyes. Dean's breath punches out of him as he lowers the gun, everything relaxing in him all at once. He nearly cries again. 

 

Instead, he chokes out, "Cas." 

 

"You made it," Cas announces wearily as he pushes to his feet, moving towards him. 

 

"I made it?" Dean blurts out incredulously, laughing a little, surging forward to yank Cas into a hug before he's really given it much thought. 

 

This is immediately a mistake. 

 

They haven't—fuck, they haven't touched like this in so long. Dean's body remembers. A thrill shoots through him, making him cling harder for a bit too long, hauling Cas closer. His eyes flutter shut, and he's turning his face against Cas' cheek, nose trailing under his eye, lips so close to—

 

Cas wrenches back with a gasp, stumbling and looking dazed, his hand coming up to press against some of the blood on his temple. Dean feels guilty immediately for doing something as stupid as that when 1) Cas is clearly fucking injured, and b) he told Dean that he didn't want to do that kind of shit anymore. Jesus Christ, Dean needs to calm down. 

 

"Are you okay?" Dean croaks. 

 

"I'm fine," Cas says quickly, blinking. He drops his hand and focuses on Dean again, not shying away from his gaze at all. Maybe he didn't even realize what Dean just attempted to do. 

 

"What happened?" Dean asks. 

 

Cas clears his throat. "They were after me, not you. I figured it would be...safest to give myself up." 

 

"Did they take you to Eve?" Dean grits out, working very hard not to get angry again. Cas and his stupid, stupid need to be self-sacrificial. He's going to give Dean a goddamn heart attack. 

 

"Yeah, we were en route. I waited until I saw this…" Cas reaches into his coat and pulls out a Leviathan blossom that's a little wonky. He waves it around a little wearily, a wry smile playing at the corners of his lips. "It got a little smooshed. Once I had the blossom, I fought. Caught them off guard, and they fought back. I managed to get away." 

 

"You did it." Dean stares at Cas with what he knows is helpless adoration. Fuck, now is not the time to be both hopelessly head over heels and also turned on by Cas being a badass. "You did it, Cas." 

 

"Well, they're still after me." Cas jerks his head to the side. "We should hurry." 

 

Dean swallows, considering. He knows the time is ticking down, and he knows that saying this won't change anything, but he feels like he has to. He needs Cas to know, if he doesn't already. The feelings, the love...it's not going to go away. Cas deserves to know that he's loved, that Dean loves him, that at least half the reason Dean is such a dumbass to him half the time is because of that love. No matter what Cas wants or doesn't, he should know. 

 

"Okay, Cas," Dean rasps, "I need to say something…"

 

"You don't have to say it," Cas says softly, letting out a deep breath. "I heard your prayer." 

 

Dean sucks in a quick breath and steps closer, his heart racing. "Okay, that's—I'm glad that you did, but there's more, Cas. Something you should hear from me directly, face-to-face." 

 

"We need to go," Cas whispers, his shoulders going tight as Dean gets even closer. His throat bobs, and the next thing Dean knows, he's swaying forward like he's about to fall right into Dean's arms. 

 

"You gonna pass out on me?" Dean mumbles, hands snapping out to catch him and steady him, making them slot together with ease. Their chests bump, and Dean gets to watch in slow detail as Cas' lips part and his eyelids flutter shut. "Cas?" 

 

"I'm okay," Cas says hoarsely. 

 

"I actually do wanna tell you something really important, something I—I should have said a long time ago," Dean murmurs. 

 

Cas' hands slide up Dean's arms, hesitant at first, then in a sudden burst of motion like he can't help it. His hands fit into the curve of Dean's neck and shoulder on both sides, tugging, and Dean goes without a second thought. They come to a halt in a not-quite embrace, their cheeks and temples resting against each other, Dean's hands digging into Cas' arms and Cas' hands sliding back and around like he's seconds away from pushing his fingers through Dean's hair. Friends absolutely do not do this, for the record. Dean's not even mad. He feels like a live wire, like he's been lit up from the inside out. 

 

"I can't imagine what you wish to say," Cas murmurs, leaning into him, "but we don't have the time to discuss it. We have to go." 

 

"You gotta let me go, if we're gonna go," Dean points out breathlessly, turning his head, seeking and seeking, so close. 

 

In this moment, Dean thinks he would stay in Purgatory forever if it meant staying just like this. Every cell in his goddamn body is screaming out for this right now, like not getting it would be the end of him. He's so confused about all of it, what this means for them, but he doesn't really care, either. Because his lips brush the corner of Cas', and he's right there. He's so fucking close. 

 

And then, Cas is wrenching away again. "No," rips its way out of his mouth in a harsh snarl that makes Dean flinch back like he's been slapped. Cas blinks hard and staggers a little, reaching up to touch his head again. "I'm sorry, Dean. I—I shouldn't have—"

 

"Are you—Cas, you're not okay, are you?" Dean asks, genuinely concerned now. Cas looks dazed and frustrated, and he's being seriously wishy-washy, which is unlike him. The love confession 2.0 will have to take a backseat if Cas is injured. 

 

Cas fixes him with a blank stare, then he blinks rapidly. "Ah, yes, I am...unwell. The fight—it took a lot out of me," he says, and then he darts his gaze around. "Forgive me. I'm very...out of it." 

 

"Okay," Dean says slowly. "You good to walk?" 

 

"I—ah, actually, no," Cas announces, abruptly sounding...satisfied? He straightens up, then proceeds to stumble again in a very exaggerated motion, blinking at Dean. He isn't arching his eyebrow, but Dean gets the feeling that he wants to. 

 

Dean stares at him, then ventures, "Do you...need my help?" 

 

"Yes," Cas says immediately. "Please." 

 

"Uh...sure?" Dean is so fucking confused, Jesus Christ. Cas never accepts help outright like that. Still, if he needs it, Dean will give it. He moves over and ducks underneath Cas' arm, sliding his arm around Cas' waist. "Alright, lean on me. Come on, we need to get home." 

 

"Mm," Cas agrees, sounding absurdly pleased. 

 

The whole way home, Cas leans into him like there's no place he'd rather be, and the love confession gets left behind yet again. Dean's confused even more now, but at this point, he's learning to take his wins. 

 

Being okay with Cas again? 

 

That's a big goddamn win. 

Chapter Text

"Mornin', Cas." 

 

"Good morning, Dean," Cas says as he steps into the kitchen, and then he comes to a screeching halt and does a double-take. He squints. "It's only just five in the morning. Why are you awake, and why are you not upset about it?" 

 

Dean chuckles, sitting his coffee down on the counter and spreading his arms wide. "Well, I got some extra sleep, had a really good dream, then woke up with the sun. Nothing to be upset about." 

 

"Mm, I see." Cas looks faintly amused, shaking his head as he moves further into the kitchen. "I thought I heard someone up. I honestly didn't expect it to be you and certainly not in such high spirits." 

 

"Hey, I've been in a pretty good mood lately," Dean mutters, raising his eyebrows in challenge as Cas comes to a stop next to him. 

 

Cas inclines his head. "You have. Truly, if I knew that it would improve your disposition this much, I would have found a way into Purgatory sooner." 

 

"Shut up," Dean mumbles, his face flashing with heat. He clears his throat and looks down at his hands, genuinely feeling sorry for himself. God, he's so obvious, isn't he? 

 

"What are the plans for today?" Cas asks, leaning up against the counter next to him, far too close and not even seeming to notice. He never does. 

 

"Well, for me, not much. Sam, however, has got a date with the lovely Eileen," Dean says, waggling his eyebrows with a small grin. 

 

"Oh, does he?" Cas arches an eyebrow, his lips twitching. "That's nice." 

 

Dean laughs. "Right? Through all this, Sam's got plans to wine and dine her. I think it's good for him, you know? There's nothing like falling in love while the world's falling apart." 

 

"Not quite," Cas agrees, sighing. He tilts his head back, lightly clicking his tongue. "The stress of it, though. There are better times, surely." 

 

"I guess. Wouldn't know anything about all that. The world's always falling apart for us," Dean says. 

 

"That is true," Cas murmurs. 

 

"If you could do it in a world that's not falling apart, how would you want it to go?" Dean glances over at him, scanning his side profile, the cut of his jaw, the curve of his cheek. He's so nice to look at. 

 

Cas hums, lips curling up. "Whatever he would want, that's how I would want it to be." 

 

"He, huh? You know you'll fall in love with some dude? So, you're just, like, fully gay?" Dean blurts out. "Like, you've committed?" 

 

"Dean," Cas says, opening his eyes and tipping his head down to look at him with an arched eyebrow, "I thought that was rather obvious." 

 

Dean clears his throat. Twice. "I mean, okay, I hear ya. Just… I'm not gay." 

 

"I wouldn't want to presume, but it's both for you, yes?" Cas ventures, still just staring at him. 

 

"Yeah. I mean, dudes aren't exactly my preference. S'usually women. They got it in the internet now that bisexuals aren't just half and half. We, uh, can split it in different ways, I guess." Dean tips his head back and forth, pursing his lips. "Eighty-twenty. No, seventy-thirty. Well… Sixty-forty. Yeah, definitely sixty-forty." He pauses, considering. "Fifty-eight, forty-two. That's it. That's what feels right." 

 

"Fifty-eight, forty-two," Cas echoes, amused. 

 

"You can round up, it's fine. Sixty-forty. Anyway, women are always hot. I'm one hundred percent into them always. Men? Eh...forty percent of the time." Dean wrinkles his nose and shakes his hand back and forth, like so-so. 

 

"Is that a ratio gathered from data points of your sexual relations with various partners of either gender? A comparison, perhaps," Cas muses, sounding genuinely curious. 

 

"Oh, nah, dude. If it was that… I mean, I've fucked around with a lot of women and not a whole lotta men. A few here and there. Lee. Had that thing with Ash that one time, kind of a fluke. That baseball team, which was… Heh." Dean's eyes bulge and he tips his head, lost in memories. "Benny, of course. Crowley too, the no good bastard. And uh…" He clears his throat, flicking his gaze to Cas. "You." 

 

Cas has his eyes narrowed. "So, you and the vampire…" 

 

"Yeah," Dean admits, shrugging one shoulder. 

 

"Crowley?" Cas grinds out with no small amount of judgement and derision, his eyes practically slits now. 

 

"In my defense, I was a demon. I didn't even like him; he was just there and not human, which—fun fact—it turns out I'm into," Dean says, raising his eyebrows when Cas' jaw ticks to the side. "What? Come on, you can't seriously be judging me. You and Crowley had your own little summer of love, and don't think I've forgotten it. More like winter of horror, but whatever." 

 

"I never had sex with him," Cas snaps. 

 

Dean rolls his eyes. "You ain't missing much. We had a thing with triplets—also dudes, by the way. He sold his soul for a bigger dick and it wasn't even that big." 

 

"I am not interested in hearing about your summer of love with Crowley," Cas says sharply. He turns and leans back against the counter, crossing his arms, glaring out at nothing. "Though, frankly, I'm sure he would be oh so pleased to have me informed. A day does not go by in which I am not thankful that he's dead." 

 

"Cas, come on, he turned out mostly alright in the end," Dean says lightly, then immediately clears his throat and starts shaking his head when Cas cuts him a severe look. "I mean, he was a pain in my ass, so good riddance, really." 

 

Bad wordage, bad wordage. Cas looks even more agitated, somehow. "A pain in your—" 

 

"Hey, you either want details or you don't, pal," Dean cuts in quickly, holding up his hands in some semblance of surrender. 

 

"Don't," Cas grumbles, nearly just pouting now. He scoffs. "Who's Lee?" 

 

"An old hunting buddy of mine. Well, he was. He turned out to go Darth Vader on me, so I kinda had to—" Dean drags a finger across his throat and bears his teeth in a grimace. "It sucked. That's what I was doing when I was off on my own hunt and you were killing my brother."

 

"I wasn't killing Sam." Cas rolls his eyes up and over, then looks briefly stricken, his gaze fixing on Dean with intensity. "You...visited this Lee?" 

 

"Uh...yes," Dean ventures cautiously. 

 

"And you killed him," Cas says. 

 

Dean sighs. "Yeah, he went full dark side. It was pretty shitty. We had fun until he turned out to be the thing I had to gank." 

 

"You had fun," Cas repeats woodenly. 

 

"Yeah, we—" Dean stops. He stares at Cas, then he blinks. Oh. Oh. Cas is… Holy shit, he's fucking jealous. He's not out here judging Dean's vast and various escapades, including the ones with questionable characters. No, he's just...jealous. Well, would ya look at that? Dean clears his throat and cocks his head. "Yeah, we had fun, Cas. Me and Lee, we always got along like a house on fire. He was a pretty charming fella." 

 

"Yes, I'm sure someone deserving of the end you only usually bestow monsters was very charming," Cas says sarcastically. 

 

Dean coughs so he won't laugh. "Well, I'm not sure you get to judge, Cas. Remember when you became God? I do." 

 

"I was better than Chuck," Cas snips. 

 

"Who isn't?" Dean allows. "Still, you did swallow, like, a bajillion souls in your quest for power. That's pretty dark side if you ask me." 

 

"I tried to seek penance for my actions by staying in Purgatory, but you and the will of Heaven made that very difficult," Cas mutters. 

 

"Well, I wasn't gonna leave you hanging. Sorry it took so long, by the way. I mean, I was running around trying to find you most of the time, but I'm only human. Had to take a few breaks every now and again, let Benny distract me a little…" Dean smiles sweetly when Cas' nostrils flare. "He was good at that. Distracting me, I mean. Other things, too." 

 

"Was he?" Cas growls out, his jaw starting to go splotchy underneath his scruff, which has no business looking as inviting as it does. 

 

"Oh, yeah, for sure," Dean continues, dragging his gaze down the line of Cas' neck. "He had this thing about biting, funnily enough. It's ironic, 'cause he was a vampire. Anyway, he really liked my neck—" 

 

Cas' head whips around, eyes blazing, and Dean's heart speeds up even more than it already is, breath hitching in his throat. Cas hisses, "Shut up." 

 

"What ya gonna do if I don't?" Dean asks, not even ashamed by how completely and utterly breathless he sounds right now. His chest is rising and falling at a broken pace, his whole body singing at what's clearly about to be something. Not the best way to go about it, admittedly, but Dean's an asshole in love and desperate to be touched. Just friends wouldn't get jealous anyway, so. 

 

"Are you enjoying this?" Cas asks harshly. 

 

"So much," Dean tells him, his fingers wrapped tight around the counter, whole body on tenterhooks and waiting for Cas to spring at him. 

 

"I don't care," Cas declares. 

 

"Liar," Dean whispers. 

 

Cas swallows and looks away, his eyes drifting shut. "Nothing you say will—" 

 

"Every guy I've ever been with got more of me than you ever did," Dean announces, and that's exactly the right button to push. 

 

Cas comes off the counter fast, springing forward and around so quickly that his coat flaps violently with the motion. Dean's already reaching for him from the moment he moves, but Cas snags each of his wrists in his hands and shoves them back. He pushes Dean up against the counter, boxing him in and holding his arms behind his back, keeping him from reaching out or leaning forward. 

 

They're basically but not quite gasping into each other's mouths, so close that their chests bump on every harsh inhale and exhale. Dean tries straining towards Cas anyway, his shoulders pulling taught, aching a little and then a little more. They hang there in the balance for a long moment, staring at each other, a hair's breadth from crashing together and doing what they'd agreed not to do. 

 

Dean can feel it. The suspense makes all the tiny hairs on his arms raise up, goosebumps breaking out practically all over him. The anticipation only makes him more hot and bothered, his head fuzzy and his heart racing and his whole body begging. 

 

"I said shut up," Cas orders roughly. 

 

"You're jealous, Cas. Do you know why you're jealous? If you don't, lemme tell you why," Dean says with a soft laugh. "It usually comes from not wanting to think about someone being with anyone else. You don't want me to be with anyone else. Anyone else but you." 

 

"You can be with—of course you—" Cas shudders out a deep breath, eyes flashing. "And Lee? When you went?" 

 

Dean glances down at Cas' mouth, then focuses back on his eyes. They're so bright. "He wanted to. Followed me into the bathroom, locked the door, told me I was pretty. He said we should for old time's sake. Asked if he could see all my new scars."

 

Cas' hands tighten around Dean's wrists, then he wrenches Dean's arms back further, tighter. Dean chokes out a groan, half-frustration and half-desire. His head falls forward, and all he gets—all that he gets is their noses brushing. That's it. It's not even close to what he wants right now. 

 

"Did you show him?" Cas asks, his voice low and rough, sin-like. He sounds like sex. 

 

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Dean grins when Cas yanks on him again, pinning him more forcefully against the counter. It's not even six in the morning. He couldn't care less. "Why's it matter so much, huh? Didn't take you for a possessive bastard." 

 

"Your mistake," Cas snarls. 

 

"Clearly," Dean says, delighted, a thrill shooting through him. Shit, they're so fucked up. He's so fucked up for being so into this. "Don't get all worked up about it, sweetheart. I was working a case. Didn't have time for distractions. Now, if he hadn't been dead by the end, who knows what would have happened with him?" 

 

See, that's how you lie. Weave in the truth. Work towards your goal. Dean's got this shit down to a science, and it works in his favor now. Cas shoves his leg in between both of Dean's, knocking his feet further apart. Dean's head falls back at the first drag of friction precisely where he wants it, his mouth opening around an obscene moan. 

 

What happens next is essentially Dean humping Cas' thigh like a damn dog in heat and completely losing his cool. He has exactly zero control over his own hips, because the moment he figures out that he's got the room to rock them, they do it of their own accord and he's left to reap the benefits. His head spins, mouth falling slack and eyes falling shut. His whole body feels hot, and he's wound so tight from wanting Cas specifically that every single thing about this feels like the best thing. 

 

He drops his head forward, wanting so badly to muffle the sounds he makes into Cas' mouth, but Cas jerks back minutely and stays out of reach. It almost feels like a goddamn punishment. Dean groans, a keening thing that can only be taken for what it is. A plea. One that goes unanswered. 

 

Cas watches him intently, fixated. His pupils are blown so wide that the ring of blue left behind is nearly nonexistent. Every time Dean opens his eyes, Cas is watching him like he wants to eat him alive, and Dean has to slam his eyes shut again so he won't outright beg for just that. What he would not give to have Cas do more, to kiss him, to touch him and allow Dean to touch him in return. 

 

And then, of course, there's the peak. The satisfaction that's always so goddamn satisfying with Cas, even if this one is so frustrating, too. Dean ends up making a mess in his pants, which is so insane for the sole reason that he's not a teenager and he didn't know he still could. The things you discover sometimes. Truly, you can't make some of this shit up. Dean's a little mystified, admittedly. 

 

After, Dean slumps back with a moan, panting and trying to reorient himself. He feels like he, himself has been fundamentally changed. Rearranged. Shaken up. Jesus Christ, that was good. He knew he wasn't imagining how good it was with Cas. Why the fuck did they stop? 

 

"Did any of them make you do that?" Cas asks with a pointed look down at Dean's pants. 

 

"No, no, they—no, definitely not," Dean chokes out, blinking rapidly and staring at Cas with what he knows can only be reverence. "But that's—Cas, you were the best I ever had. Even before this." 

 

"Mm, good," Cas rumbles, a hint of smugness seeping into his expression. He flicks his gaze over Dean, slow about it, like he's savoring it. "That's good to know."

 

Dean snorts weakly. "I bet it is. Do you want me to, um…?" 

 

"No," Cas says, clearing his throat. He drops Dean's arms entirely and backs off, leaning out of reach before Dean can figure out how to work his arms again and grab onto him. "You need a shower. I need to… I have this—other matter to attend to. I'll be back, and I'll contact you to stay in touch." 

 

"Wait, you're leaving? Just like that?" Dean blurts out incredulously. 

 

Cas swallows and averts his eyes. "I'm sorry. I have to… I need to go, but I will return." 

 

"You don't look particularly happy about leaving, Cas. Actually, you don't look particularly happy at all," Dean bites out. "If you want to stay, you—" 

 

"I'll call you," Cas cuts in, then turns around and walks out without another fucking word. 

 

Dean stares after him, stunned and just a little stung, left behind in the aftermath of the best goddamn orgasm he's ever had before breakfast. I'll call you. Like Dean's gonna get a pity call after the sex. Oh, fuck that noise. Cas is such a fucking asshole. 

 

And okay, Dean knows he has no room to judge on that particular aspect, considering what he just did to rile Cas up. A dick move on his part, yeah. Maybe this is his instant karma. Shit. 

 

Sighing, Dean pushes away from the counter to go get a shower, grimacing every step of the way. 

 


 

"What do you see on the other side of this?" 

 

Dean releases an explosive breath and tears his gaze away from Jack across the room to look at Sam. It's quiet in the Bunker, but things seem oddly quiet now that Jack's back. There's a lot of mixed emotions involved for Dean. Guilt, grief, gratitude. Worry, wariness, wonder. Anger, amazement, apprehension. He feels all of it and more. 

 

"The other side of what?" Dean asks quietly. 

 

"You know, all of it." Sam gestures in a wide arc with his beer. "Let's say we beat Chuck. Let's say we get our freedom. What do you want to do with it?" 

 

"Sleep," Dean admits. "Like, for a week. Just straight sleep, Sammy. I wanna go into a small coma." 

 

Sam ducks his head, laughing under his breath. "I get that. Yeah, okay, how about after we recover? When things get normal, I mean. Is it—I mean, is it still hunting for you?" 

 

"Probably." Dean purses his lips, pondering it for a moment. "I dunno. Maybe I'd… Hell, it couldn't hurt to slow down and smell the roses a little, can it? I mean, the only reason we don't is because we can't. If we can, we probably should. Just enjoy life a little more once it's ours for good." 

 

"That'd be nice," Sam murmurs wistfully. 

 

Dean hums. "A vacation couldn't hurt. We could all go. You, me, Cas, the kid. Eileen, too. Shit, even Jody and the girls if they wanna tag along. Have a beach weekend or something, ya know? Toes in the sand, listen to waves crash together, eat lobster. Sounds pretty damn good, doesn't it?" 

 

"It sounds...amazingly normal," Sam says, releasing a quiet laugh, his gaze warm. "It's been years since I've thought about things like that seriously. It's insane that people can just—do that, like it's no big deal. But, for us, it's like the silver lining to all this. All that we've been through, but hey, at least we might get to go to a beach as a family someday." 

 

"Put it on the calendar, 'cause we're going to do whatever it takes to get there." Dean raises his beer like he's making a promise. "Freedom is ours, even if we gotta kick and claw our way to it." 

 

"Guess it's all about what we'd do to get there." 

 

"And all that we'd give on the way." 

 

"What would you give?" Sam asks curiously. 

 

"To live to see freedom?" Dean exhales deeply and shakes his head. "Everything. I'd give everything." 

 

"It'll be nice. We'll be—we can be happy," Sam murmurs decisively, nodding firmly like it's set in stone as long as he believes in it hard enough. 

 

Dean sighs softly. "Yeah." 

 

"And after?" Sam glances over at him. "Eileen's a Legacy. She has a right to the Bunker just like we do. She could—I mean, if she chose to—" 

 

"Dude, if you're tryna practice your move in with me speech, I gotta tell you that it needs improvement. Face it with confidence, Sammy. Go to her place and pack her bags for her. Just toss her over your shoulder and bring her here," Dean advises, nodding seriously, struggling not to grin. 

 

Sam snorts. "Oh, Eileen would take out my kneecaps if I tried something like that." 

 

"That's because that's all she can reach." 

 

"Call her tiny, or short. I dare you, Dean." 

 

"Hey, I ain't got no death wish," Dean mutters, taking a swig of his beer, letting out a hiss of pleasure after he swallows. 

 

"She's great," Sam declares just a touch dreamily, the lovesick fool. He's pathetic. It's adorable. "But uh, maybe I might ask her to stick around. You think she'd go for it?" 

 

"Probably. Don't know what she sees in you, but she seems to like you well enough." Dean shrugs and raises his eyebrows. "You never know until you try."

 

"Uh huh." Sam eyes him from the side, lips pursing slightly. "Have you ever heard of the term projecting? Sometimes it's not just pinning your own unknown values on another person. Something it's like something inside you that you don't know yet  is trying desperately to get out. So, when you give advice, maybe it's something you need to hear." 

 

Dean stares at him. "Sam, I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about." 

 

"You never know until you try. That's what I'm talking about," Sam says, heaving a sigh. "Look, I'm not—I don't really...get involved in this kind of thing, but I'm just saying, okay? If you've got the freedom to do what you want and have what you want, maybe you should try, ya know? And, maybe, if that what is actually a who… Well, that's okay, too." 

 

"Is this you going around the ass-end of your elbow to get to your thumb in telling me to shoot my shot with Cas?" Dean asks flatly. 

 

Sam's eyes bulge. "I—Dean, I didn't mean—" 

 

"Yes, you did," Dean says knowingly, turning his gaze back to Jack, who's clicking away innocently on his computer, oblivious to the adult conversations. That's for the best. "Sam, all we are—me and Cas, I mean… We're just—we're friends. That's all." 

 

"No, me and Cas are just friends," Sam argues, his eyebrows raised. "I don't know what the hell you two have been doing these last...oh, eleven years? Twelve, now? Almost? Yeah, I don't know what to call it, but friends isn't what comes to mind first." 

 

Dean shrugs and heaves a sigh. "Well, that's all I got for you." 

 

"This is coming from the guy who could barely eat, sleep, or function when Cas was dead. Sorry, Dean, I just find it a little hard to believe," Sam mutters with a grimace. "You said he was your everything, dude." 

 

"First of all, that was—I was...delicate, at the time, so shut up," Dean mumbles defensively, hiding behind a swallow of his beer as chest twinges. "And second, I'm not the one who—well, I ain't really arguing with you, Sam. I'm just telling you what I know, what's been made abundantly clear to me." 

 

Sam stares at him, his eyes going wide. "Wait, you mean… Dude, did—did Cas, like, reject you?" 

 

"Salt in the wound, Sammy, putting it like that. Thanks," Dean says grimly, lips twisting. He snorts and points the neck of his beer at Sam. "But yeah, you got it in one. That's what he did, basically." 

 

"That doesn't make any sense," Sam blurts out, looking genuinely thrown, as if this is the last thing he expected to find out. 

 

Dean raises his eyebrows, surprised. He doesn't know why Sam is so startled to hear it; it's not like Sam knows about the sex part of it, so he's going purely off the friendship that he's gotten to see over the years. How does it not make sense? Cas rejecting him isn't that surprising to Dean, especially if you take the sex out of the equation. 

 

"I'm not sure I follow," Dean admits. 

 

"Dean, Cas is—" Sam's eyebrows furrow, and he frowns behind a swallow of his beer, no doubt gathering his thoughts and figuring out how to say what he wants to. He smacks his lips after, looking dissatisfied. "Just the way he acts about you and around you and to you. I don't know. It doesn't make any sense to me. I figured he'd be the one who's all gung-ho for it, and you'd be the resistant one." 

 

Dean shrugs. "Well, that's not how it went. Or how it's going. Cas is very firmly in the corner of us being just friends, so that's all there is to it." 

 

"I know you said you didn't love him, but…" Sam tips him a look, eyebrows crinkling together. When Dean looks down at his beer, swallowing, Sam heaves a sigh. "Okay, well, you could—I mean, have you considered...fighting for him, I guess?" 

 

"Fighting for him?" Dean looks up at Sam a little incredulously. "Fighting who, Sam? Fighting him? There's nothing or no one to fight on this. Cas made his decision, and I have to—I gotta respect it." 

 

Admittedly, Dean hasn't been doing his best when it comes to that, so it's easier said than done. There's the bitterness, being an asshole, not knowing how to treat Cas normally. There was the whole break up that wasn't, even if that's what it felt like. The whole jealousy thing, which wasn't his best moment but also absolutely was at the same time—it features in many of his best dreams, in any case. So, respecting Cas' choice hasn't exactly gone over well, regrettably enough. To be fair, it's not like Cas hasn't been confusing the shit out of him pretty regularly. He doesn't even know what the hell is going on, or what they're even doing, half the time. 

 

"Okay, no, I get that, and I'm—I'm very glad you see it that way," Sam says quickly, holding up a hand and taking a deep breath. "I'm not saying you, um, throw yourself at him, or anything. Just, have you tried telling him what you feel?" 

 

"Oh, dude…" Dean barks a laugh and shakes his head, raising his beer to his mouth. He swallows more of it down, hating that it seems to go sour in his throat. After, he tosses the empty bottle from hand-to-hand restlessly. "Look, things between me and him… They are what they are, and what they are is nothing, pretty much. At least to hear him tell it, and I can't keep tryna argue with him on it. That's the way life goes, right? We can't all get everything we want all the time. I'm used to it. It's fine." 

 

Sam makes a small, frustrated noise. "That's not—it isn't right. It just...isn't. That doesn't make any sense, Dean. I don't—you should get to—" 

 

"Leave it alone, Sam," Dean insists, fixing him with a serious look. "I mean it. Just leave it alone. I'm good with what I've got, and you don't hear me complaining. You know, if you ignore all the bullshit we go through and just narrow it down to the little things, the very tiny things, then life ain't so bad. We got Jack back, and that's a win, right? We're on our way to complete freedom. Cas is alive. You've got yourself a girlfriend who eats razorblades for breakfast. It's—it's not all so bad, so I don't wanna hear that you're getting involved in this, okay? I'm serious. Hey, promise me you'll leave it alone." 

 

"I—" Sam's face scrunches, his nose wrinkling and his eyes narrowing. He snorts out an angry breath like a bull and rolls his shoulders. "Fine. Sure. Just, whatever. You can do better anyway." 

 

Dean chuckles. "No, I can't." 

 

"No, I'm serious. If he's—if Cas has a case of the stupid, then you deserve someone smart," Sam snips, scowling at his beer. "Screw him." 

 

"Sam, I'm enjoying the brother solidarity here, I really am, but Cas ain't the bad guy in this scenario. He's not stupid for not wanting anything with me. Hell, you could say that's him having some goddamn sense for once," Dean muses, snorting. 

 

Sam remains irritated. "Shut up. You're a good man. Cas knows that, so I don't get—I can't get my head around it. But, fine, if this is the dumbass hill he wants to die on, we will abandon him there." He cuts a quick look at Dean, coughing. "Uh, metaphorically, I mean. Obviously." 

 

"Obviously," Dean says, lips twitching. He grins when Sam harrumphs. "You're not going to be a dick to him, are you? C'mon, Sammy, don't be like that. You're his friend, too." 

 

"Apparently not. If he thinks what you two do is friendship, then I must just be some guy he happens to speak to sometimes," Sam mutters. 

 

Dean cackles, tossing his head back with genuine mirth. He reaches out and shoves at Sam's shoulder, making him loosen up, earning a huff of laughter. Jack looks up from his computer, curious. 

 

"What's so funny?" Jack asks, blinking. 

 

"Sam is Cas' co-worker," Dean wheezes, his shoulders jerking up around his ears. "His little buddy from work. Ha!" 

 

Jack's eyebrows furrow. "No, I'm quite sure that Sam is Cas' family. He said so." 

 

That sobers them right on up. 

 

"Ah," Sam says weakly, his shoulders slumping a little bit. "Right. Yeah, I am. We are. Yeah." 

 

"Well, way to kill the mood, kid," Dean mutters under his breath as Jack happily goes back to clicking away on his laptop. He sighs and glances over at Sam. "At the end of the day, no matter what else, we are his family. He's ours. I know you wanna be in my corner about this, but who's in his corner?" 

 

"I know." Sam sighs and stares down into his beer like it'll give him answers. "I'll leave it alone. It's not really my business anyway." 

 

"It's really not," Dean agrees, shrugging when Sam purses his lips. "I mean, thanks, I guess. It's very heartwarming. Really, we should sit down and start scrapbooking together and—" 

 

Sam makes a face and shoves him in the shoulder, rolling his eyes. "Oh, shut up. You're so annoying." 

 

"What, you don't wanna scrapbook with me?" Dean smacks his teeth. "But what about the glitter glue, dude? I was really excited about the glitter glue." 

 

"Annnnd we're done," Sam mutters, shaking his head and turning to walk away. 

 

"What about the stickers?!" Dean calls after him, grinning. "I love stickers, Sammy!" 

 

"Idiot!" Sam calls back, disappearing around the corner with a heavy sigh. 

 

"I love stickers, too," Jack announces very seriously, turning in his chair to stare at Dean with wide, excited eyes. "Do you have some?" 

 

Dean blinks. "Uh…" 

 


 

It takes Dean some time to realize that Cas is back to giving him emotional whiplash. He's so hot and cold about everything, one way one second and another way the next. 

 

In truth, Dean's been giving Cas the hard side-eye since the thing that happened in the kitchen. He had claimed that it wouldn't happen again, and that they had to stop, and that they were just friends. But he was also jealous? He also pinned Dean to a counter and got him off? If he felt like he wanted to be just friends, then he wouldn't have been goaded so easily. Hm. Dean's officially fucking suspicious, and he's also...waiting for something. 

 

He doesn't actually know what, precisely, he's waiting for, but wait he does.

 

It's just that there are moments where it seems like Cas is going to do it again. Nearly any moment they have alone, it's charged. Dean can barely breathe through it. He's older, but his dick still works just fine, proof provided whenever he and Cas look at each other for more than five seconds, both of them too still, breath held, fingers twitching. 

 

Desire is such a complex thing. This isn't like wanting a burger or a beer or a quick fuck. This is more than just skin deep. Dean feels rattled to his fucking core every single time, shaken and left jittery with adrenaline. Because he's always left. The moment things get intense, Cas beats a hasty retreat and spends some time after making sure that they're never alone, letting things cool off between them. 

 

It's just—it's the tension. Dean feels like he's going to scream if nothing gives. It's driving him up the goddamn wall, and all he wants is the one thing Cas seems dead-set on not giving him. Of all the places to plant his feet and never waver on, why did it have to be this? Why can't Cas give in just a little, huh? Is it really so bad to just—just—

 

And look, Dean wants more than just sex. That's a given. He wants stupid things. He wants to take Cas and hide them both away so they can be clingy if they want to. He wants to flirt like idiots and smile into each other's mouths and touch without having to wonder if it's okay, if it's allowed. He wants them to be a them, a solidified thing that he doesn't have to question, a known thing that doesn't have to be talked about. Just Dean and Cas, however that would look, however they would do it. But happy. Together. 

 

That being said, if Dean can't have that, if Cas won't go for it, then he'd make do with sex. It would probably hurt overall, but he'd suffer gladly. He'd go back to what they had before he ever thought to confess his love for the first time in a heartbeat. There are so many times that Dean wishes he could just turn back time and exist in that morning in Dodge City. That? God, that was a good day. 

 

And they hadn't talked about anything. They hadn't figured anything out. It was just a tentative thing between them, sex and maybe the hints at more. Dean didn't think that could last forever, but he never considered it would end like this. He'd go back and take that over this any day of the week, and he wouldn't even complain. If that's all he can have, then he's pathetic enough to take it. 

 

But it seems he doesn't even get that. Cas is notorious for looking at Dean like he wants to do very naughty things, which is always thrilling. He's also notorious for not doing them, which is the opposite of thrilling. It's disappointing every single time, like this huge build up to something big that never goes anywhere, anticlimactic and frustrating. It feels like he's being jerked around, honestly, being led in circles by mixed signals. 

 

Frankly, it pisses him off more often than it doesn't. It makes him grumpy. It makes him ache even more for a life of freedom, because as soon as Chuck is handled, Dean's going to lose his shit. He's going to bubble over and give Cas the harshest dressing down of his life, and it's going to be satisfying and terrifying in equal measure. 

 

Dean doesn't have a plan, exactly, but he has a general idea. It mostly boils down to what the fuck are we doing? It mostly hinges on the question he hasn't asked the flower in his closet since Cas said they had to stop. Do you know? Do you know that I love you? And, no matter what answer he gets, he'll just be glad to have answers at all. 

 

Like this, right now—Cas coming into the shooting range just as Dean puts his gun down, the both of them freezing in place for a moment, eyes meeting and getting locked there. Cas looks away first, but it's only to drag his gaze slowly down Dean's body before oh so slowly crawling back up. Dean's heart starts thumping heavily almost instantly, his mouth going dry, tingles starting up under his skin. 

 

Cas clears his throat. "Hello, Dean." 

 

"Hey," Dean rasps. He flexes his fingers and crosses his arms, taking a deep breath. "You need something, man?" 

 

"Yes, I…" Cas' gaze seems to get lost along Dean's arms, trailing over them with a kind of helpless expression, his own want so clear on his face that it's like a punch to the gut. He swallows and blinks, looking back up at Dean again. "Sam wanted me to—he, ah, asked if I would tell you that he…" 

 

Dean drops his arms with a sigh as Cas gets lost again. He clenches his jaw when Cas' gaze snaps back up to his guiltily. "If you're done eyeing me up like I'm a goddamn steak, maybe you could actually pass along Sam's message. Just a thought." 

 

"I wasn't—that shirt is...very distracting," Cas says, looking away with a frown. "Sam wanted me to inform you that he's going out to get takeout for dinner. He took Baby." 

 

"Okay, cool." Dean nods and leans back against the ledge in the stall where one shoots the targets. He crosses his arms again, then crosses one boot over the other, leaning back a little. On display. He knows what he looks like. He knows. "Thanks for letting me know, Cas." 

 

"Of course," Cas croaks, and he's lost yet again, gaze travelling down the length of Dean's body like he can't help it. In his defense, it looks like he's trying so hard not to, or to stop. 

 

"Ya know," Dean says idly, lazily, "I'm not fine china. There's not anything saying you can look but not touch. You can—Cas, you can come over here." 

 

Cas is shaking his head before Dean has even finished talking. "No, I can't. I'm not doing this with you again, Dean. All we can ever be is friends." 

 

"So look at me like a goddamn friend would, Cas. My eyes are up here, buddy," Dean mutters, raising his eyebrows at Cas when he snatches his gaze up. 

 

"I'm sorry," Cas says, and at least he has the decency to be a little sheepish. "You look—you're very…" 

 

Dean huffs out a quiet laugh. "Tempting?" 

 

"Yes," Cas breathes out. "Truly, you are. I am trying to—I…" He sucks in a sharp breath and squeezes his eyes shut. "I'm beginning to think that being with you as I have was the worst thing that happened to me. It has made my life, as of late, very difficult." 

 

"Oh, wow, you really say the nicest things," Dean says flatly, running his tongue under his top lip. "I'm sorry that I'm such a tempting distraction for you. Really, I apologize for being so hot that I've made your life so goddamn difficult." 

 

"That's not at all what I meant," Cas mutters, his eyes opening again, sad now. 

 

"It must suck for you, I bet. I mean, here I am, being attractive and making your life so very hard. How rude of me, huh?" Dean tosses up a hand and releases a sharp laugh. "Is that what this is about? Are you fucking kidding me?" 

 

Cas blinks. "What?" 

 

"So—so, what, I'm like the person sent to test your faith? I'm the guy who comes in on his motorcycle and shows you the time of your life, but it can't last because you're a good girl who goes to church and reads her bible?" Dean makes a face of disbelief, swinging his hand out wide. "That's what this is? Coming from the rebellious angel himself?" 

 

"I understand that you're trying to insinuate something here through obscure metaphors, but frankly, I have no idea what you're talking about, Dean," Cas tells him, still blinking. 

 

"It's like—like you gotta be good, and wanting to fuck me five ways to Sunday is bad, so you don't let yourself do it," Dean grits out. "Do we—Cas, do we gotta have the it's okay to be gay talk, dude? Because it isn't my specialty, I won't lie, but it is okay. Like, even as an angel. It's perfectly okay." 

 

"Sexual orientation matters very little to me, and I have no opinions based on the ridiculous structure of society that reflects on the subject, oftentimes negatively. I am very aware that it is okay to be gay, Dean," Cas says, his eyebrows furrowed. 

 

Suddenly, Dean has a thought, and it makes his heart sink right to his cramped stomach. Oh. It's him, isn't it? It's not about Cas; it's about Dean, specifically. Cas even said it himself. All that we're ever going to be is friends, nothing more. I can't be anything else, not with you. 

 

Not with you. 

 

Well, damn. That...hurts. Yeah, that one hurts, truth be told. Dean hasn't really thought well of himself since...ever, admittedly, but it's one thing to know you're a piece of shit and another thing entirely to realize that the person you love knows it, too. Of course Cas knows that. Cas knows him. 

 

And really, can Dean blame Cas for wanting to stay away from him? For wanting to be just friends, which is already enough of a struggle and a general bad time? Sure, Dean is a looker, and he's good in bed, but anything more? He's not someone anyone would want to saddle themselves with, not if they actually knew him, really knew him. And Cas does. 

 

It stings, but it's not a surprise. He thinks he's known that for a while and just didn't want it to be true. Jesus, what kind of sick fuck he must be to even want to drag Cas into his mess in the first place. Confessing his love? That's not a goddamn gift; that's a fucking curse, coming from Dean. 

 

So, Cas can want him until the cows come home, but he doesn't really want him. Well, that clears things right on up, doesn't it? There's really no need to be suspicious or confused, not anymore. 

 

"Yeah, well, there are other people in the world, Cas," Dean whispers. "Why don't you stop wasting your time looking at me and look at them instead?" 

 

Cas looks like he's been slapped, complete with him rearing back just a little, hurt flashing across his face. It lingers there for a second, then wipes clean from his expression. For a long moment, they just stare at each other, the tension so thick in the room that moving is damn near impossible, like it's squeezing all around them. 

 

"I can't see anyone else," Cas finally says, his voice deep and still cracking. 

 

Dean sucks in a sharp breath, his fingers tightening around their grip on the little ledge. His stomach swoops stupidly. "I don't get it, Cas. I don't know what's going on with you, man. You can't just…" 

 

"I'm sorry," Cas murmurs. "I'll—I am so thankful to know you, Dean. Being your friend all these years… I will never be able to properly express what your friendship means to me. All of you—Sam and Jack, too. This family that we have, I am grateful to be a part of it. I want to keep it. I want you to get to have it for a very long time."

 

"Are you scared we won't?" Dean asks. 

 

"Yes," Cas says softly. 

 

"Because of Chuck?" Dean murmurs, his eyebrows drawing together. 

 

Cas smiles slightly, a sad thing that flickers for just a moment before it's gone. "Because of him, and because of so many things." 

 

"Okay." Dean swallows and nods. "So, we fight to keep it, all of us. That's what we do, and we'll do it again. I swear we will." 

 

"I know," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean takes a deep breath, then slowly lets it out, drumming his fingers against the ledge. "When it's done, when things have calmed down, it'll be better. I'll be better. We'll all be better. And maybe…" 

 

He can't finish. He can't put that thought out there, the one that suggests hope for them. Just the thought that maybe Dean can clean his mess up a little, and Cas doesn't have to worry about them losing their family, and maybe they can find enough peace to give it a shot. It's a wild thing, wanting it desperately enough to hope that maybe he can become someone Cas would be willing to stay with. It's like he's backed into a corner, trying to find some way out, some solution, clinging to the hope that there might be one someday. 

 

He doesn't know how to give up on Cas. He can't figure it out. Every time he tries, he just circles back to wanting him and being willing to do what it takes to have him, to be worthy of having him, if he ever can be. He just...loves him, and he doesn't want it to hurt anymore. Not for either of them. 

 

"I don't know how this ends, Dean," Cas says slowly, holding his gaze. "I only hope that it ends well for you, and for Jack, and for Sam. That would be enough. That would make all of this worth it." 

 

"And you," Dean adds, because Cas has left a glaring absence on that list. It doesn't sit right with Dean. This has got to end well for him, too.

 

Cas sighs and says, "Maybe…" 

 

"Not maybe, Cas," Dean declares forcefully, slicing his hand through the air. "We're all gonna get there. We'll kick this shit in the face, and then we'll—fuck, we'll finally be happy. Fully happy, because we'll be free. All of us, and that includes you." 

 

It has to include you, Dean thinks, because it does. It just has to. Cas deserves that. Hell, they all do, but Cas has given just as much as the rest of 'em. He's lost and lost and lost, too. He needs this win. He's earned this win, just like they all have. 

 

"Well, we shall see, one way or another," Cas whispers, his gaze drifting to the side. 

 

"Yeah," Dean agrees firmly, "we will." 

 


 

As it turns out, they will not. 

 

Dean groans as Cas drags him down the hall, outrunning death—quite literally. He thinks about how fucked up things have gotten lately, how off the rails he's been. Pulling a gun on Sam? Saying that Jack isn't family? He's been losing his shit over this, everything about who he is as a person railing against not having any control over his life yet again. Fuck Chuck. Fuck him. Why does it always gotta be like this? They can never catch a goddamn break. 

 

Cas huffs as they stumble into a room, slamming the door shut behind them. They're cornered with nowhere to go, and they both know it. All this, all they've been through and fought for, it's all about to be snatched from them by the vengeful cosmic being with a bone to pick with them. Jesus, is there any way to speed up Billie dying? 

 

Dean leans against the shelf and gasps, feeling Cas dig into his pocket for his knife. His vision blurs, chest feeling on fire. He turns to watch Cas draw out a symbol in blood, his whole body aching, hoping like hell that it works and knowing it won't even matter if it does. He's so stupid. He's so fucking—

 

"Did it work?" Cas asks, turning towards him. Dean nods, sucking in a breath of relief. "It blocked her grip on you." They both look at the door when something—Billie—pounds against it. "Dean, she said that wound is killing her. Maybe we can wait her out." 

 

"Yeah, and if we can't?" Dean asks gruffly, turning away and walking past the shelves into the open area where a lone chair waits. He almost wants to pick it up and launch it across the room, so angry and hating it. His anger is what got them in this shit in the first place. It's always his anger, it's always him and his stupid, stupid goddamn need to lash out. 

 

"Then we fight," Cas says firmly from behind him. 

 

"We'll lose," Dean replies, knowing it. He swivels around behind the chair, releasing a bleak laugh and shaking his head. "I just led us into another trap… All because I—I couldn't hurt Chuck, because I was angry, and because I just needed something to kill, and because that's all I know how to do." 

 

He bows his head, clenching the back of the chair, more furious with himself than even Chuck. It's always him. He's always fucking up. He's nothing more than his anger and his need to hurt, and kill, and destroy. This is who he is, and everyone is going to die because of it. It's his fault. 

 

"Dean," Cas declares fiercely, moving further into the room. 

 

"It was Chuck, all along. We should have never left Sam and Jack. We should be with them now. Everybody's gonna die, Cas. Everybody. I can't stop it." Dean stares listlessly forward, the whole gravity of it settling on him in its entirety. The banging on the door only grows in volume, and Dean walks around the chair, swallowing as he gets closer to Cas. "She's going to get through that door." 

 

"I know," Cas tells him hoarsely. 

 

"And then she's gonna kill you, then she's gonna kill me," Dean says, his eyes stinging, because he knows that's how it'll go. For maximum suffering, to twist the knife deeper, she'll make Dean lose Cas before dying. Cas looks at him, his face softening with something tragic, and he nods. Dean whispers, "I'm sorry." 

 

Cas stares at him for a long, long moment. There's something about his expression, something about his eyes. Dean can't really put his finger on it, like it's some kind of unfathomable knowledge that he'll never understand, that Cas knows intricately. It's enough to yank him right out of his own self-hatred, stealing his focus entirely. 

 

A tiny smile flickers over Cas' lips, and then he's deliberately turning and moving towards him. He's not slow about it, or fast, just approaching while never looking away from Dean. He's clearly got something in mind, and despite how now is literally not the time, Dean feels his breath go short in response. His heart seems to skip a few beats for the time it takes for Cas to reach up and cradle his cheeks, thumbs sweeping under his eyes as if there are tears to wipe away, even if there aren't. 

 

For another long moment, amidst the banging on the door, like the drum to the end of the world, Cas just stares at Dean like he never wants to look away, like he'd be happy to do it for the rest of his life. If that's five minutes or fifty more years doesn't seem to matter, and Dean's heart is thundering in his chest, because Cas hasn't looked at him like this before. So openly, shamelessly, absolutely no nerves or uncertainty or restraint to be found. 

 

He looks like he's in love. 

 

"You are so beautiful," Cas whispers, shaking his head like he can barely believe it. He goes up on his tiptoes just a little and sways forward to kiss him. 

 

Dean's sort of reeling from being called beautiful, of all things, when he's quite sure he's definitely not that. But the way Cas had said it, like it's inarguable, like it's a simple fact… Well, Dean's not too far from death and still capable of getting a little swept off his feet, apparently. He caves in like a house of cards, melting against Cas the moment their lips meet. A part of him surges up in relief, in finally, in I've been waiting for this, in why did we stop doing this? 

 

He can't think of one goddamn reason why they stopped, why they have to be just friends. He knows, okay? He knows he's not really a catch, or that great of a man, but goddammit, he would try so hard to be good enough if only Cas would let him. And when it feels like this, when it feels this good, this right? He doesn't understand why they can't have this. 

 

He wonders how different things would have gone if they had tried it, if the day he'd gone to confess his love had actually worked out. Would they still have fought? Would it have helped things, or made them worse? Would Dean have been less angry? What would it have been like to have him, to be with him; what would they have been like? He'll never get to find out, because here they are, about to die. 

 

Cas kisses him like they have all the time in the world, like he's savoring every second of it, like he's memorizing the taste and shape of Dean's mouth. He has to, seeing as he'll never get to feel it again, and Dean does the same because he won't either. So, they kiss unhurried and deep, coming closer together and holding on. It's so good, even on the precipice of death. Dean thinks it's not such a bad way to go, all-in-all. 

 

When Cas pulls away, only enough for them to open their eyes and look at each other, he says, "There's something I need to tell you, Dean." 

 

"You don't get to go first this time," Dean croaks, putting his metaphorical foot down. 

 

This is his last chance. He will likely die confused about what Cas felt for him, but he won't have Cas doing the same thing. He'll never know what they had going on, truth be told, but Cas? Well, he's going to know if it's the last thing Dean does, goddammit. Dean's going to tell him, one way or another, because he has to. 

 

"Truly, this is very important," Cas insists, his eyebrows pinching together. 

 

"It's always important with you. Prudent. Or necessary. And—and you never let me say this. I dunno why, or if you already know, but we're about to die, so…" Dean swallows and brushes his thumb along Cas' jaw. "Cas, I—I think you already…" 

 

Cas stares at him, uncertain and confused. "If I've kept you from saying something, I apologize. You can tell me anything, though I can't imagine what this is now. But Dean, I really need to—" 

 

"Shut up and listen to me, okay?" Dean cuts in, holding his gaze. "Just, for once in your fucking life, Cas, listen to me." 

 

"I—"  Cas grimaces when Billie bangs on the warded door again. He sighs and searches Dean's face, then nods. "Alright. I'm listening." 

 

Dean takes a small sip of air, his heart hammering away. It's now or never. He scans Cas' face, his eyes, trying to see if Cas has any idea. "Do you…?" 

 

"What?" Cas asks, still oh so confused, clearly not having any idea at all. 

 

"Do you know?" Dean says softly, something in him settling into the freefall, the terror of it, as well as the release. "Do you know that I love you?" 

 

Cas' face falls slack with genuine surprise, stunned, his eyes fluttering on a startled blink. His lips part, and he leans back a little to look at more of Dean, as if he's trying to take in the whole picture of him. His gaze latches onto Dean's as his breath punches out of him, and then quite abruptly, he's got tears in his eyes and a smile weaving across his face. 

 

He surges forward with the quietest laugh Dean has ever heard, a mere breath, yet still full of so much joy and delight that Dean's heart quivers in his chest in response. Cas kisses him again, hands coming to frame his face, the kiss a little forceful like he's just that damn ecstatic. Dean isn't sure what reaction he was expecting, but he's not about to complain. 

 

There's the sound of something slick and oily from behind him, making him pull back, his breath freezing in his lungs. He turns, craning his head, unsure what's happening now. Black ooze bleeds from the wall, insidious in its presence, clearly a bad sign. Dean turns back to Cas with a question on his lips, but Cas is still smiling, though it's sadder now. 

 

"What I was going to tell you…" Cas releases a shaky breath and swallows. "When Jack was dying, I—I made a deal to save his life." 

 

Dean's heart plummets. "You what?" 

 

"The Empty had invaded Heaven and wanted Jack, so I offered it myself in exchange. The—the price was my life, but there was a catch." Cas drags his hands down the sides of Dean's neck, resting on top of his shoulders. "When I experienced a moment of true happiness, the Empty would be summoned, and it would take me forever."

 

Dean feels like all of the air has been sucked out of the room. Something in him fractures, gaping wide as so many things click into place. He stares at Cas, frozen in place, stuck on the edge of admitting something he's not ready to face yet. His eyes are starting to burn, stomach knotting up, chest so tight that breathing feels impossible. 

 

"No," he breathes out. 

 

"I'm sorry. Dean, I'm so sorry," Cas whispers fervently, squeezing his shoulders and feeling his way down to his arms. "I wanted so many things with you, but most of all, I did not wish to leave you. But now, now, I have to." 

 

"No," Dean repeats more forcefully, starting to lean back, the presence behind him seeming to shift and squirm and grow, getting louder somehow. 

 

"I knew. Ever since I took that burden, that curse, I knew what it was—what my true happiness looked like." Cas smiles at him again, a full smile, like there's nothing horrible about this at all. "You. It looked like you, Dean." 

 

"Don't," Dean chokes out, stepping back instinctively like he can outrun this, too. "You son of a bitch, don't do this." 

 

"It was us, mostly," Cas continues, the sheen over his eyes making them glitter. "When I came back and you—you did what you did, I was...so happy, Dean. Terrified, too, as we hadn't really discussed anything. I thought, maybe we would, maybe I'd get the chance to know if it meant to you what it meant to me. But we never got the time. We never had the chance, and then I made that deal, and I knew we never would. You told me you couldn't lose me again, and I didn't want to leave you, so I—I found a way to stay and not have what I wanted." 

 

"Stop it, Cas. Stop talking. Shut up," Dean declares sharply, the tears forming in his eyes undercutting the command he puts in his tone. "You don't say another goddamn word, do you hear me?" 

 

"The happiest I've ever been was with you," Cas confesses softly. He steps forward again, releasing a gentle, amazed laugh. "It's not enough to tell you what you mean to me, but I want to. I want you to know that you are the most loving, most selfless man I have ever known. I want you to know that you changed me, Dean. You cared, and because of that, so did I. But you—I cared most of all for you." 

 

"Please, please stop. Don't do this to me, Cas," Dean chokes out, because he knows. Deep down, he knows what comes next. He has never been more terrified for anything in his life. He was less afraid when being dragged to Hell. 

 

This is worse than anything Dean has ever felt. He knows what Cas is doing, and what he's going to say, and he's spent literal years wanting to hear it. Now? He'd go his whole life never finding out. He'd spend his every remaining second confused and not having anything confirmed. Because, if confirmation comes at the cost of Cas, Dean would spend forever in the dark so long as he would get to stay beside him. If he has to lose Cas to turn on the lights, he'd rather close his eyes and see nothing else forever. 

 

Dean's mind races, trying to think of some way out of this, but there are suddenly warm hands on his cheeks, guiding him into a kiss. The whimper that falls from his lips is pathetic, and he's fucking crying, but so is Cas. It's their last kiss far too soon, and Dean knows it. 

 

Dean clings to him automatically, somehow convinced that he'll just keep Cas with him if he holds on tight enough. The Empty can't have him. No one can have him. He's staying. He's—

 

Cas breaks away with a soft exhale, resting their foreheads together, and then he pulls back with a small smile. He swipes his thumbs under Dean's eyes, tender. "I cherished our almost. It's the best thing I've ever had, because it was with you. Thank you, Dean." 

 

"Please, Cas," Dean gasps out. "Please don't—" 

 

"I love you," Cas says softly, dragging his hands down Dean's neck, to his shoulders, finally gripping his arms. The door bursts open with a bang, and Cas smiles. "Goodbye, Dean." 

 

"No!" Dean shouts as he gets firmly tossed aside, careening into the wall. He scrambles up immediately, gasping, only to halt in place as the Empty sweeps out and collects Cas and Billie both, leaving the room empty and silent afterwards. 

 

Dean's legs give out, making him stumble back against the wall and slowly sink down it. He stares around with wide eyes, searching for what's no longer there. Cas is gone. He's gone. 

 

It sounds like he's dying when the reality fully sets in, just those horrible sounds that rip out of him, brought out only when he's lost Cas. He never wanted to hear them again. It's a low, desolate whine that cracks in the silence, a groan that scrapes on its way out. He presses his palms to his thighs, rubbing back and forth, pressing in hard. He digs his nails in until it hurts, but it's not nearly enough to distract him from how hard and how completely he breaks. 

 

Dean almost says I love you, too, but he doesn't think he'll ever be able to say those words out loud again. It didn't go so well when he finally did say them. Confessing it really was a curse. They got their answers, alright, but they never got each other. 

 

After that, he doesn't put himself back together.  

Chapter Text

The kid doesn't stick around because he has things he has to do, apparently. Well, he's God now, right? Trying to be a better one than Chuck was. Dean doesn't know if anyone with that kind of power can be good, but after everything, Jack has definitely earned the benefit of the doubt. 

 

It's not until they get back to the Bunker, where it's oh so quiet, that it really hits Dean. Well, shit. He lost the kid, too. Has he even earned the right to be upset about that, after every goddamn mistake he made with Jack? He doesn't know, but that doesn't stop him from aching anyway. 

 

Later, he'll find a fish hook and hang it from his mirror, his heart in his throat, thinking about what could have been in some other life. 

 

The Bunker feels cavernous. He and Sam sit down at the map table, staring down at it like they're taking in the world they just helped save. It feels like that's all they've been doing for so long now. What a life, huh? What a world to save, gaping without certain people in it, duller. Dean blinks hard. 

 

"I might—" Sam clears his throat, his face twitching with sympathy when Dean looks at him blankly. "I might hold off on calling Eileen for now, just—" 

 

"No," Dean cuts in viciously, gritting his teeth when Sam rears back a little. "Don't fucking wait, Sam. You call her. Call her right the fuck now. Tell her if you love her, tell her you want her to stay. You tell her, do you hear me?" 

 

Sam stares at him with wide eyes. "Dean, I—" 

 

"Tell her," Dean chokes out. "Don't waste a goddamn second. The moment you know, make sure she does. Because you can have her, so you don't get to take that for granted. I mean it, Sammy. Say it before—before—" 

 

"Okay. Okay, hey," Sam says, his words coming out a little shaky, clearly bowled over by the ferocity of Dean's emotion at the moment. "I'll—I'll tell her. Dean, I'll tell her." 

 

Dean scrubs his hand over his mouth, then under his eyes, hating the moisture there. "Right now. Don't wait for the right moment. There's not a right one, there's just the only one, and that goes away when you least expect it. So, so, go. Go tell her." 

 

"Yeah, sure, but are you—" Sam falters, knowing better to ask. 

 

"I'm fine," Dean bites out. He gives a humorless smile and holds out his arms. "Hell, I'm free." 

 

"Dean," Sam says softly. 

 

"Go, Sam," Dean whispers. 

 

Sam does.

 


 

Baby rumbles down the road, tires eating up pavement, her hood gleaming in the sun. It always seems to shine brighter these days. 

 

Dean clenches his jaw and reaches forward to jab at the radio, turning it on. He's tired of the silence, and he's already so close now. He presses down harder on the gas, relishing in the growl as Baby jerks forward, almost as if she's as furious as him. Some stupid goddamn country song plays, so Dean jabs at the radio again, turning it over and over until he suddenly stops. He blinks. 

 

"—just like I said," a familiar voice says. "I was really surprised when the song blew up the way it did, but I'm very proud of it. Honestly, it's really special to me." 

 

"There is, as expected, some speculation for what the lyrics mean, as well as your intro when singing live," someone replies with a distinct radio host type of speaking. "Would you be willing to talk a little more about that?" 

 

"Yeah, sure. I mean, the song comes from a place of loss, you know? But it's...sort of intimate, which is kind of weird. It's weird that millions of people have heard something that only me and one other person will really understand, but I guess we all go through things that make us connect with different songs, so I'm glad that a lot of people have." 

 

"And the other person? Do you think they've heard the song?" 

 

"There's no way to know, not really." 

 

"Really? That's odd, considering your intro when doing a live show." 

 

"I know, but it's kind of like an inside joke. You'd had to have been there." 

 

"Would you do it for us now, before I play the song?" 

 

"My intro?" 

 

"Yeah." 

 

"Um, sure." Sorine laughs through the speakers and clears her throat. "Shout out to my best friend, Dean. I kept my promise, so you better have, too." 

 

The radio host chuckles. "The mystery is half the fun, folks. Thanks for joining us today, but it's time to say goodbye for now. Alright, everyone, this is Up and up we go by Sorine Levina." 

 

Dean slows down, fingers clenched tight around the wheel, his heart thumping heavy and bruised in his chest. The first notes open up, rolling soft and easy through the speakers, and Dean's eyes get hot and itchy from the very first word that Sorine sings. 

 

The song plays, and he listens. 

 

Build a house and fill it with balloons 

Ask for adventures, and I'll go with you 

Nowhere to go and miles apart

Two heartbroken people without a heart

 

I look for her in the sunset, dancing away

I close my eyes, and she's in my arms as I sway

We ask ourselves how to breathe another day

But oh, oh, up and up we go

We already know 

That we do

 

Drive that road and see where it goes

Tell me to dream, or I'll never know

This life that we live, it's only ours for so long

They'd want us to live it way before it's gone

 

You meet him in a meadow, where he won't be

You take him in flowers when you leave

The wind shifts, and we don't know how to be

But oh, oh, up and up we go

We already know 

That we do

 

When winter rolls in, the concrete grows cold

The windmill stops turning when the wind won't blow

We fall to our knees, wishing to go 

But oh, oh, up and up we go

We already know

That we do

 

But oh, oh, up and up we go

We already know

That we do

 

Oh, oh, up and up we go

We already know

That we do

 

As the last words fade out, Dean has to pull over to the side of the road. He slaps the radio off and leans forward to press his face against Baby's wheel, breathing. It comes out wet, stuffy, crying and always goddamn crying. Dean feels like that's his constant state, even when no tears flow. 

 

He's suddenly not even that angry anymore. Not today. He can't be angry today. Some days, he can't even feel anything at all, and then there are days when he feels so much of everything that it's like he's suffocating under it. 

 

It's only been a goddamn month. 

 

It feels like it has been seconds and years since everything happened, far too long and no time at all. He's trying. Or, he's pretending. This is what he wanted, right? Freedom. He said he'd give everything, but he didn't really think about what that meant. He didn't think he'd have to. 

 

Dean can't do this today. He can't go out there to the meadow and find Cas where he won't be, not right now. He doesn't want Cas to be gone. He's so fucking tired of Cas' being gone, exhausted with not having him. He'll never get to. But, for another day, he can put off going where he always went last time. He can pretend Cas is on his way home. 

 

Looks like he's circled back around to denial. Sometimes, he does that. He regresses from anger back to the start, always falling prey to bargaining, losing days to depression. Acceptance will forever remain out of reach, he's sure. He's always going to be stuck in this cycle. Is this what freedom has offered him? He doesn't even want it. 

 

If he knew that Cas could only exist while it was the way it was, Dean would hop back on the hamster wheel and run it for the rest of his life. But it's destroyed now, and Cas didn't survive to see the ruin. Cas didn't survive to see his freedom. 

 

What gets Dean, possibly the most, is how unfair it was for them. They only had an almost, for what that was worth. Neither of them could take what they wanted, not without losing each other. All those times Dean ached because he was so in love, and Cas was suffering in the same way. Dean was so angry with him, hurt, and Cas was just—

 

He just wanted to stay. 

 

Dean releases a shuddering breath and sniffs hard, opening his eyes and leaning back. He flicks his gaze to the rearview mirror, then forces himself to look away as soon as his chin trembles. He cranks Baby back up, and he goes home. 

 

Cas will call when he's on his way. 

 


 

It takes a while before Dean goes back to the meadow. A part of him is worried he'll get there and not know how to leave. Another part of him is sure he'll get there and trash the place, tear the bushes down, burn the plains, shoot at the windmill. 

 

But, when he gets there, he sits down in the grass and closes his eyes, breathing in the smell of the earth, listening to the chirps and buzzes of insects, feeling the breeze through his hair like fingers. He thinks ah, hello, there you are, I've missed you. 

 

He doesn't know what it means that he can feel Cas throughout the world, like he's a part of the reason it turns, like the low awareness within him recognizes Cas in the hum of life when he isn't even here anymore. It's like this meadow is his epicenter, where it all originates from, left over from his ashes. Perhaps they really did make this place holy. 

 

He opens his eyes and watches the windmill turn. He wonders what this place felt like before it became Cas'. He can't imagine that it felt like this. But he remembers that it was nice; he remembers thinking that Cas would like it. Cas did like it. Enough to return in essence, maybe. 

 

"I've been trying, you know," Dean murmurs, turning his gaze to the urn that still sits exactly where he left it. There's dust on the outside of it now, blotting out the lining of ashes on the inside. The flowers beside it have all died. They'll need replacing. "I, uh, went and had pie with Sammy the other day. Eileen stayed back at the Bunker because she wasn't feeling too hot. She gets grumpy when she's sick, it turns out. Tried to stab me with a damn fork because I offered her a cough drop. Excuse the hell outta me, right? But she's great. Her and Sam are great, Cas. You'd be happy for them. I am." 

 

The grass shifts in the breeze, tickling his fingers from where they hang over his knees. He sighs and runs his fingers through a clump, fisting it gently, giving a light tug. He never held Cas' hand. 

 

"Anyway," Dean continues, clearing his throat, "I've been trying, like I said. I went to this, uh, tune-up place in town to see if they could order a part for one of the cars in the garage. It's old, so a scrapyard ain't gonna have what I need. I'll have to go through stupid ass corporations, sadly enough. As if they need any more money. But uh, I got to talking to a guy in there about cars and what I know about 'em, and it turned out to be a guy really high up the chain. He wanted to hire me. I walked outta there with a goddamn application, Cas, but fuck if I know what to put on the damn thing." 

 

The windmill creaks a little, turning and turning. Dean follows it with his head, smiling slightly as he tilts along with it. It's a Cas thing, cocking your head like that to the side. That far. He can picture it perfectly in his memory. 

 

"I never told you about Sorine, did I? She was a good kid. Went off to be famous now, I reckon. The next goddamn Taylor Swift. But she wrote a song. It's about her and her best friend, but also us. She told me one day I'd hear a song that reminded me of you, and I'd cry every time, but I didn't believe her." Dean snorts and shakes his head. "Turns out she was right. It's all over the radio now, so I gotta stick to cassettes. Sam was listening to it the other day, and I don't think I've ever seen him as alarmed as he was when I just immediately started pouring tears. Ain't that some bullshit? It's embarrassing as hell, and I can't stop it either. I just fucking start bawling every goddamn time." 

 

A bee bobs into a flower, bumping against it a little stupidly. How it flies, Dean will never know, and yet it does. The damn thing doesn't seem to know what it's doing, but it still gets it done, somehow. Insane how that works. Cas liked bees. Maybe he related to them, or maybe he just liked honey. 

 

For a long moment, Dean ponders what the hell Cas would have wanted to do if he got the freedom he deserved. Maybe still be a hunter, maybe stick around in the Bunker, but what else? Dean's picturing little plants and haphazard stacks of books. Boardgames with Jack. Texting Claire, using too many emojis. Netflix; so much Netflix. And Dean. Soft smiles at Dean, stealing his coffee when he doesn't even drink it, the warm pressure of their arms pressing together, fighting and fucking and whispering I love you into each other's skin. 

 

"Would you have told me if you could have? I thought I could, and I still never did. Turned out to be a good thing in the end, but…" Dean shakes his head, swallowing. "No, it didn't. Not really. You're still gone. I'm sorry I told you, Cas, I really am. If I could take it back to save you, I would. That has to count for something, right?" 

 

The brook in the distance continues to trickle, and the flowers are in full bloom, and Dean thinks about how he's right here yet again. It's almost like nothing has changed, like where it started in this meadow was all that he was ever going to get. Everything else? That was just a flash of what could have been. 

 

Dean's tired of feeling sorry for himself. He knows he's just stuck in this cycle of hating the world, hating himself, and hating everything. And then he circles back around to anger. It's always fucking anger, and that always gets him nowhere good. He's ruined so many things on that anger. He lost Cas because of that anger. 

 

Cas would have never sacrificed himself and activated that deal if not for Dean. If they hadn't been there, if Dean hadn't put them in that position to be chased down by a vengeful death, then Cas would still be alive. That's on Dean. That will forever be on Dean, and there's no escaping it. 

 

And he's the reason. It's the fact that Dean loved him, that he said it, that summoned the Empty. It would have never worked if Dean didn't love Cas, but how could he not? He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn't. They were both damned, really. 

 

"This is why it was dangerous to love you. I knew the risk, and I still—I couldn't help it, Cas. I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry," Dean whispers, his eyes fluttering shut as he hangs his head, battle-worn and exhausted, feeling scraped from the inside out. 

 

The sun is warm on his skin, like a touch. 

 

It remains that way for a while, before it starts to sink in the sky, slipping away slowly. Dean doesn't say anything else, not to the world, not to Cas. There's nothing else to really say. 

 

He gets up at some point and cleans off the makeshift urn, replacing the flowers around it carefully, making it fresh and new. A memorial brought to life yet again, all because Cas is dead once more. Dean hates that he has to do this. Dean doesn't know what else to do. 

 

When he leaves, he stops by a dark red, nearly purple flower, considering. But no. No, he's got one at home, if only he'll convince himself to bring it out again. Maybe one day. 

 

Until then, Dean will choose to keep believing that Cas may come back again. He always has before. He only needs to do it one more time. Just one more time, and that would be enough. 

 

"I'll wait for your call," Dean whispers, looking around the meadow, and there's no true answer. 

 

He turns around and goes home. 

 


 

It's been months, and Cas hasn't called. That's because he's dead, which Dean already knows. And still, every morning that he wakes, it hits him like a surprise when he has to remember that. 

 

Dean doesn't really know which stage of the grief cycle he's on at this point. He stays in his room a lot. He knows Sam and Eileen are worried about him, and he's glad that they care, but it's hard to keep up a facade that will reassure them. It's easier to just stay out of the way, to lay in his bed and drink whatever is in reach, and sleep as much as he can. He wonders sometimes if Cas is sleeping, or if he's awake in the vast land of nothing that is the Empty. 

 

If he is, he must think about Dean a lot. It's like a morbid version of lovers that never were wishing on the star from across the world. Dean thinks about Cas and thinks are you thinking of me, too? 

 

It's selfish of him to hope that Cas is. If Cas can't get the happy life that he should have had, that he more than earned when earning it shouldn't even be a goddamn requirement, then he should at least get to rest. He deserves rest. Dean just wishes it was in his bed, with him, beside him. 

 

Currently, Dean's sitting on the edge of the aforementioned bed, gripping the sides and staring at his closet. He's not ready to start feeling Cas in nature again, to start talking to Cas in flowers again. He was so happy when he didn't have to anymore, when Cas came back. He doesn't know if he can do it again. And what would he even ask the flower now? Do you know? Do you know that I miss you? 

 

Dean feels like he's just swallowed acid, recalling what he always used to ask it before. He can't ask that again. Cas does know; he died knowing. He died because he knew, and Dean has to live with that. He has to live with being the disease that finally took Cas away. 

 

Jaw clenched, Dean launches himself off the bed and marches towards the closet, gripping the handle. He pauses there, closing his eyes and breathing. It's the piece of Cas he has left, and he hasn't seen it since he put it up before trying to confess, before Cas kept them apart to keep them together. He's not going to lose it over this. He's not. 

 

Exhaling, he opens his eyes and drags the door open. He starts sifting through to find where he always keeps it, sort of up and out of the way like a secret. It takes him a second to realize that he's found it once he finally has, his gaze latching onto it and getting stuck there. His lips tremble and his eyes burn. 

 

It's dead. The flower is dead. 

 

Dean can't hold onto the weak noise that slips free from his lips, as if he's been gutted. He reaches up with shaking fingers to carefully pluck the flower down, cradling it gently between both palms. He can barely look at it through the film of tears in his eyes. 

 

The petals are brown and stiff, practically crumbling under his fingertips. If he weren't so careful, he's sure that it would break off and drift away. The stem is split and curling, the structural integrity of it the same consistency as paper, flimsy and easy to tear. The red-tipped yellow has been overtaken with a dull brown and various rotted black spots. 

 

"No, no, no," Dean groans, shuffling back over to his bed, blinking, simply crying. "I'm so sorry. I'm so—"

 

Dean ends up on the floor by his nightstand, propped up against the wall with the flower cradled in one palm, his other hand bringing a bottle back to his mouth over and over. At some point, he gets so loaded that he can barely hold his eyes open. 

 

He stares down at the flower with half-lidded eyes, careful not to disturb it, even in his inebriated state. There's been some wild swinging between crying and just staring blankly, and fortunately for him, he's in the middle of doing the latter when Sam pokes his head into the room. 

 

Sam takes one look at him and winces. He inhales deeply, then slips into the room, gently shutting the door behind him. Dean watches him approach, not saying anything when Sam crouches down in front of him. He studies Dean for a long time, looking so very sad. Looking only a fraction of what Dean feels. 

 

"You're pretty out of it, huh?" Sam asks quietly. 

 

"Yup," Dean croaks, self-aware enough to know that he's wasted right now. So much so, in fact, that he's probably not going to remember this tomorrow, so what does it matter if he admits it? 

 

Sam sighs and shifts to sit in front of Dean, crossing his legs like a first-grader, planting his elbows on his knees and his hands together to rest over his mouth. He nods to the flower. "What's that?"

 

"This?" Dean sniffs and holds up the flower a little bit. "This is Cas." 

 

"Dean," Sam says softly, the skin around his eyes tight with strain as he examines the flower, dead and dull, lifeless and being held onto long after it should. 

 

"I know it's not really him, Sammy," Dean slurs, chuckling weakly and tipping his head back. "He gave it to me, ya know. He did something to preserve it, keep it all nice and pretty, but when he was taken… Well, I guess it ain't preserved no more."

 

"I'm sorry," Sam murmurs, sincere. "He was—he was important to you, I know that." 

 

"He was everything, and we didn't get to be anything, but I loved him." Dean lifts his head and stares blearily at Sam. "I loved him. He was more than just important to me. He was—he was the one, ya know? The big one. The love of my life. And I was his. And we were—we didn't get to—" 

 

Sam blinks, then he nods. "Okay, Dean. Okay, I—"

 

"You don't believe me," Dean says mutinously, the words fitting wrong in his mouth, a slurred whine that makes his head tip to the side. Oh yeah, he's fucking trashed. "You don't, but it's true. He told me. He told me he loved me, Sam." 

 

"I thought he…" Sam looks confused now, but also wary like he has to tread carefully. 

 

Dean bobs his head, humming. "Yup. Yupperino. S'what I thought, too. Turns out, he made a deal to save the kid the first time he died. His life for Jack's, but the Empty would only take him when he was at his happiest. S'why he broke up with me."

 

"He—wait." Sam blinks rapidly, looking like he's been overloaded with information. "Okay, so wait, you two were actually...together at one point?" 

 

"Almost," Dean rasps. "When he came back, the moment I got him alone, I got him outta his clothes. It was nice. So good. We didn't—there wasn't much talking, 'cause we had to go to Dodge City, then everything was just...fucking crazy. I kept waiting for the right time, but it never seemed to come. And then—and then, Jack came back, and I thought… Well, I figured that was a great time, but I didn't know 'bout the deal, ya see, so when he said he wanted to stop…" 

 

"It felt like a break up," Sam mumbles, eyebrows furrowing, lips tipping down. 

 

"My achy breaky, man," Dean says, his head rolling back and forth, tapping his free hand to his chest, over his heart. "Felt like a goddamn divorce." 

 

"He never wanted to be just friends," Sam murmurs sadly, his shoulders slumping. 

 

Dean shakes his head. "Nope. We were that, but we also weren't ever really just that. He loved me, Sammy. He loved me a lot. I loved him, too. And it got him killed." 

 

Sam sucks in a sharp breath. "No, Dean, that's not your fault. You can't blame yourself for—" 

 

"I told him, Sammy. I told him, and that's why the Empty came. All 'cause I told him," Dean mumbles miserably, feeling his itchy eyes start to prickle yet again. "He died for me, for this whole goddamn world, and I didn't want him to. I wasn't gonna let him. But he did, Sam. He did. He's gone. He's—" 

 

And whew buddy, there goes the next round of tears. They always blindside him. He nearly folds in half, and Sam has to swoop in hastily to save the flower from being crushed, which Dean doesn't have the energy to be thankful for right now. He reaches up and gingerly lays it on Dean's nightstand, then he sighs and scoots closer to Dean, leaning forward to squeeze his shoulder. 

 

"You've got to stop doing this to yourself, Dean," Sam whispers urgently. "The drinking isn't helping. You're freaking torturing yourself, you know that? I know you're hurting, and I am so, so sorry. I really am, and if I could bring him back for you, I would in a heartbeat. And I'm sorry if what I'm about to say hurts too, but you—you've gotta let go. You gotta keep going and move on, because if you don't… Man, this is killing you." 

 

"I know. I know, I'm sorry," Dean gasps out, tossing his head back and scrubbing his hands over his messy face. He lets out a weak groan, screwing his eyes shut. "I'm trying. I'm trying so hard. I just—I don't wanna do this without him." 

 

"But you have to," Sam says, leaning back as he drops his hand, an apology written in every line of his face when Dean opens his eyes to look. "Loss like this… It'll make you waste away if you're not careful, and I can't—Dean, I can't let that happen. I know you don't want to, but you have to, okay?" 

 

"I don't know if I can," Dean admits, staring at Sam helplessly. "I'll try, but when it's my time… Sam, when I'm gone, put me with him. Will you do that?" 

 

Sam looks stricken, his eyes watering. "Dean, don't talk about shit like that, man. I—" 

 

"Sammy, please," Dean croaks. "Promise me you'll put me with him. I wanna be with him." 

 

"Okay," Sam says softly, his throat bobbing as he looks to the side and blinks hard. He nods jerkily at Dean. "I'll spread your ashes where you spread his."

 

"Thank you," Dean breathes out, slumping back against the wall and closing his eyes. "Thank you." 

 

"That's not permission to check out on me, Dean. Do you hear me? Tell me you hear me," Sam rasps. 

 

Dean hums. "I hear you. Wouldn't do that. Cas would hate it, and you're my brother. I can't leave you just yet. I'm just...so tired." 

 

"It'll get better," Sam says. 

 

"No, it won't," Dean whispers, and that's the last thing he remembers before finally, blissfully passing out. 

 

When Dean wakes up in the morning, he does so with a dry mouth and a pounding head. He has no recollection of what really happened after he found the flower, but he has the sneaking suspicion that it wasn't pretty. He remembers being on the floor, so waking up in his bed is a surprise. He must have managed to stumble into it. 

 

He groans and lifts his hands, clutching his aching head. Oh, Jesus, he's going to be feeling this one for a while. A quick solution would be to just get drunk again, but he's pretty sure he heard Sam talking about a case yesterday. Something to do with kidnapped kids and mask-wearers. He wonders vaguely if he can talk Eileen into coming, because he thinks he remembers saying she had something to handle in the opposite direction. Cases are always more fun with Eileen tagging along, but one with just him and Sam wouldn't be so bad either. 

 

He'll have to get up and get the details eventually, but he's dreading it. His head is very pissed off at him right now. Grimacing, he flops over on his bed and squints at his clock, only to blink open his eyes when he catches sight of the flower. 

 

It's just sitting there, still dead, a small piece broken off like it couldn't hold on through the night. He swallows as he rocks forward to stare at it a little closer, his heart clenching violently in his chest. He tries for a smile, and it's a little sad and watery, not quite there. Just a ghost of what once was. 

 

Dean releases a shaky breath and reaches out to gingerly stroke one of the petals, murmuring, "Mornin', Cas." 

 


 

Tim is getting on Dean's nerves. 

 

"Look," Tim bites out, "I don't know what you think Shonda can tell you, but talking to her right now isn't such a good idea, okay? Come back...never." 

 

"Tim, it really is important that we talk to her," Sam insists, his soothing voice turned up to full blast. 

 

Dean's not nearly as patient these days, nor does he give a shit about beating around the bush or being nice. "I'm coming in there to talk to Shonda whether you like it or not." 

 

"Listen, buddy, if you've got some idea that you're going to charm her or something, you're wrong. Shonda's not interested in men," Tim grits out. 

 

"Well, I am, and I'm taken," Dean informs him flatly, arching an eyebrow. "So, if you'd kindly move…" 

 

"Oh, uh, I—I—" Tim blinks, looking chagrined in a second. His gaze trails to Sam. "Sorry, I didn't know. Is this your husband?" 

 

"That's my brother," Dean says with a sigh. "My husband is dead. Now, move." 

 

Tim looks supremely flustered, and it's so much easier to brush past him after that. Needless to say, they get to talk to Shonda. 

 

As it turns out, Shonda has exactly the information they need. She didn't know she did because she doesn't know ghosts are real, or that the painting that's been moved through family members is technically haunted. In the end, the painting burns, and everything works out. Suck on that, Tim. 

 

On the ride home, Sam clears his throat. He's been looking at Dean a little oddly ever since that little moment with Tim. Dean hasn't said anything about it. If Sam wants commentary, he's going to have to buck up and bring it up first. Dean's almost curious to see if he will. 

 

Of course he does. It's Sam. "So," he starts, ever so originally, "you told Tim that you're taken, and that your husband is dead." 

 

"Sure did," Dean agrees shortly. "I was there. I remember. Don't need a reminder." 

 

"You meant...Cas," Sam ventures cautiously. 

 

Talking about Cas is either a hit or miss with Dean. Sometimes it's okay, and Dean will talk about him with no problems. Other times, Dean shuts down entirely, or cries, or flies off into a rage, or just goes and hides in his room for a few days. Fortunately for Sam, it's the former right now. 

 

Dean sighs. "No, I meant Indiana Jones. Duh, Sam, obviously I meant Cas." 

 

"Did—there wasn't a wedding I missed, right?" Sam asks, as if he won't count it out, because who the fuck knows with them? In his defense, their lives are always a little crazy. Or, they used to be. 

 

"No, there was no wedding." 

 

"So, you're just...saying that now?" 

 

"Yeah," Dean mumbles. He swallows and stares out at the shape of light from Baby's headlights, bathing the dark road. "He would have—I think he would have liked it. I think it would have made him happy. So, I just—yeah, I'm saying that now." 

 

"Okay," Sam says. "Okay, sure, but—but what if you, um, meet someone?" 

 

Dean's fingers tighten around the wheel, leather creaking ominously under his palms. "I can't see anyone else." 

 

"Like—like you think that would smear his memory, or…?"

 

"Like there's literally no one else. It's him. It can't be anyone else but him." 

 

"So, what, you're just going to be alone forever?" Sam murmurs. "You're not even going to—" 

 

"No, Sam, I'm not," Dean snaps. "I'm not going to go looking. I'm not going to keep an eye out. I don't want anyone else, and I'm never going to, and that ain't fair to anyone I'd try with. So, yeah, I guess I'll be alone forever. Woopty-fucking-doo." 

 

Let it not be said that Dean's not fiercely loyal. No matter his mistakes, once he's devoted, he's un-fucking-shakeable. It's like with family. With Sam, and Bobby, and Charlie, and his mom, and even his dad—arguably someone he shouldn't have been so dedicated to. Cas has been in that category for a long time, and that's where he will remain, even if it's in a different way now. In a way that it never got to be, though they both wanted it. 

 

He thinks Cas would have liked it. Possessive bastard that he is—that he was, Dean's convinced it would have pleased him. Dean spent so much time not getting to make Cas happy, not knowing how much he would one day ache to. It's too late now, but Dean doesn't care. He'll do it anyway. 

 

"You know we don't all have just one love in our lives," Sam tells him gently. "You won't stop loving him if there's someone else. You think I stopped loving Jess because I love Eileen? Hell, even my love for Rowena, whatever that was...it's still there. It doesn't mean I love Eileen less, or that I love them less. We can have more than just one love, Dean." 

 

"You might've forgotten, but I already have." Dean heaves a deep sigh. "Cas wasn't my first love, Sam, but he was my greatest. And I'll be damned if he's not my last." 

 

"It just seems...really lonely," Sam whispers. 

 

Dean shrugs. "It is." 

 

"You were supposed to have something better once we were free," Sam spits out, like the fact that he hasn't genuinely infuriates him.  

 

"Well, he died, so," Dean mutters tonelessly. 

 

"I know it's not the same, but you've got a friend in Eileen. You know that, right?" 

 

"I do." 

 

"She really cares about you, Dean." 

 

"I know, Sam." 

 

"And, obviously, I'm not going anywhere." 

 

"Would you if—" 

 

Sam straightens up in the seat, clearly paying attention. "What?" 

 

"Just, if things were—if I was in a better spot, would you go?" Dean mumbles. "If you weren't so worried about me, would you and Eileen...you know?" 

 

"What, get out of the life and have a perfect, nuclear little family with approximately two and a half children? The apple pie route, really?" Sam snorts derisively. "You need to spend more time with Eileen. She'd never. I mean, okay, maybe she'd want to retire one day, but she's firmly in the corner of normalcy being overrated." 

 

Dean's lips curl up. "Yeah? She's got the right idea, then. Who the fuck wants to be normal anyway?" 

 

"Right," Sam says with a fond laugh. "You know, she's actually, um…encouraged me to do something. Something...not normal." 

 

"Don't need to hear about what you two do between the sheets, Sammy. She's obviously the best out of all your girlfriends, but I'm kinda digging the mystique when it comes to those particulars of your—" 

 

"What? Dude, no, shut up. That's not what I was talking about." 

 

"Oh, good. I don't need to know. I feel like she would know that I know things, and then she would either use it to drive me crazy or just flat out cut me. She's a wild card, man," Dean tells him with a theatrical shudder, chuckling when Sam rolls his eyes—he doesn't see him do it, but Dean knows that he is. 

 

"Yeah, she's great," Sam says—again with the being besotted. There's no hope for him. Eileen's got him wrapped all around her finger. 

 

"Anyway," Dean mutters, "what'd she give you a pep talk on?" 

 

Sam sighs. "Don't jump to conclusions, but Rowena was teaching me things before she died, and I don't think it's a bad idea for me to...keep that going. The witch thing." 

 

"The witch thing," Dean echoes dubiously. "You wanna be a witch?" 

 

"Magic doesn't have to be evil, Dean." Sam huffs. "In case you forgot, there's a couple of times where it saved our asses. And, well, there are a lot of times when it would have helped out." 

 

"And there were a lot of times it nearly ended with us dead," Dean points out, eyebrows raised. 

 

"Don't be a dick about this, Dean." 

 

"Gonna turn me into a frog if I piss you off?" 

 

"Oh, shut up," Sam says, releasing a small breath of a laugh. "I'm just interested, okay? Eileen thinks it's pretty cool. Cas would just tell me not to, like, explode anything. So, if you're gonna be—" 

 

Dean holds up one hand off the wheel in silent surrender. "I'm not, I promise. You do you, Sabrina. No judgement here. Pretty sure your little stumble into Hogwarts doesn't have to end in a big ol' battle now that Dumbledore has been taken out of the picture." 

 

"I think you meant Voldemort," Sam corrects. 

 

"No, I didn't," Dean declares firmly. 

 

"That's—Dean, Voldemort was literally the villain. Hello? Chuck, bad. Voldemort, bad." 

 

"Oh, and Dumblefuck was so innocent? Please. That old geezer was pulling the strings behind everything. He had all the knowledge and all the cards, and he sent these kids off on this stupid ass quest with barely any knowledge. He's definitely Chuck. Fuck Dumbledore. Voldemort was… Oh, Voldemort was Lucifer. Acting out 'cause nobody hugged him as a child, always around and coming back when everyone hated him. Both of 'em were ugly, too." 

 

"Okay, I'm not going to argue with you about this."

 

"Because I'm right." 

 

"Anyway," Sam presses on, "yes to the witch thing. It's something I'm interested in. So, yes." 

 

"Do you think—" Dean cuts himself off, wavering, his stomach cramping. He swallows, trying to figure out how to word this without being...something. Pathetic. Hypocritical. Desperate. Worse off than he seems like. "I don't mean—just...if there was a way, if magic could—" 

 

Sam sighs quietly. "Dean, you know magic doesn't work like that. It either comes in exchange, or there has to be some kind of—of tether, and half the time...it goes badly either way." 

 

"It didn't for Eileen," Dean points out. 

 

"She's a success story. One out of a lot of stories that didn't end so well." Sam is shaking his head when Dean takes a quick peek. "We've talked about this before. We have no way to summon the Empty, or even get there. If we could summon it, we'd have to reason with it, or start something we may not be able to finish to get it to even consider breaking that deal. A deal that is binding, by the way. Because it's a cosmic being, and you don't just...get out of those. We don't have the kind of power to get him out." 

 

Dean clenches his jaw. "I know that, Sam. I know. Don't you think I fucking know?" 

 

He does know. He tried. Hell, Sam and Eileen helped. Dean even got the ladies in on it, keeping their eyes peeled, giving him whatever information they could. Claire and him talked consistently for months, trying to come to some kind of solution. Kaia actually took a funny drink—potion?—to try and dream her way into the Empty, to no luck. 

 

He probably read every book in the goddamn bunker on everything from cosmic beings to deities to interdimensional travel. He thinks he might know more about some of these subjects than even Sam at this point, and all of it was for nothing. The Empty went so long without being known for a reason. It's not accessible, no matter where Dean looked. 

 

And oh, he tried the Jack route. He caved pretty quickly on that one. Seeing as Jack got Cas out the first time, Dean sort of just hoped he'd do it again, no matter if he's leaving everyone to their freedom or not. He had prayed and prayed, and he received no answer from Jack at all. Little twerp. If he ever shows his face again, Dean's going to hug him, and then he's going to lecture the shit out of him. 

 

So, yeah, Dean knows. He just—he wishes it was different. He wishes there was some kind of magic available that could do it. All their lives, they've made deals and dabbled in things they shouldn't, doing everything—absolutely everything that they could think of—to keep their family together. But sometimes, no matter what they're willing to do, there are no options. Having that pointed out to him doesn't really feel so good, admittedly. 

 

"Dean," Sam murmurs, "if I could—"

 

"I know that, too," Dean cuts in. He shakes his head stiffly. "Don't worry about it. Good luck on the witch stuff. Don't do anything stupid. I mean it." 

 

"I'll be extra careful, and it's not—a lot of it is just reading, you know. Studying. It's kind of like a subject of its own. I honestly think there should or could be classes for this kind of stuff. I mean, dude, there's a whole history that goes into it and—" 

 

"Wait, wait, hold on. I got a really important question about this."

 

"Okay… Shoot," Sam says, sounding suspicious, because he is a younger sibling with younger sibling instincts, and also he knows Dean pretty well. 

 

Dean throws him a lazy grin. "You gonna start wearing hats? You know, the pointy ones?" 

 

"Oh, Jesus. I don't even know why I—" 

 

"Gonna start riding around on broomsticks, Sammy? You can't have the one at the Bunker. I already broke that one in. Buy a new one." 

 

"You're such a—" 

 

"I draw the line at cats. We ain't getting a goddamn cat. Well, Eileen's kinda like a—" 

 

"I'm telling her you said that," Sam interrupts. 

 

"Don't you fucking dare," Dean blurts out. 

 

Sam snorts. "Heh. You're scared of my girlfriend."

 

"Shut up. You were scared of Cas." 

 

"Never once in my life have I ever been scared of Cas. Not even for a second." 

 

"Bullshit. That's bullshit. Especially when he first started hanging around. Dude was terrifying. I mean, for me, it was terrifying and hot, but it was only one of those for you, so you were definitely scared. Even after we softened him up with our bad friendship and poor examples of humanity, you knew somewhere deep down that he could break you like a twig if his mood shifted like the wind. You oughta be thanking me, Sam." 

 

"Thanking you? For what?!" 

 

"When he first got here, he thought you were just an abomination, remember? Demon blood boy. It's because I was hot and he got a crush that he sort of just, uh, rolled his eyes and decided to look after you too, 'cause he wanted to impress me and get me to like him back. Without me, he would have probably left you like smear on the wall when he got annoyed. Liking you came later, and only 'cause he liked me first," Dean explains, lips curling up fondly. He was Cas' favorite. It's a nice feeling. 

 

"That's—that's—" Sam makes a small, frustrated noise that only comes from him when he wants to argue and doesn't have anything to say. "Well, whatever. Cas and I grew into our friendship really well, so shut up." 

 

Dean's lips twitch. "You miss him, too, huh?" 

 

"Yeah, I—I really do," Sam murmurs. 

 

"Me and you both, Sammy, me and you both," Dean breathes out, heaving a sigh and bracing his arm on the door to rest his head against his fist. He watches the road continue to blur in the headlights, and he forces himself to keep his eyes open, though he thinks it'd be nice to close his eyes and get lost in memories for a while. 

 

He keeps driving. 

Chapter Text

The store has flowers by the counter, and Dean gets stuck standing in front of a small bouquet of yellow flowers with red tips. Roses, his mind supplies. Cas, his heart argues. 

 

They're all vibrant, not drooping, clearly fresh or just really cared for. It's a gas station halfway to the meadow, so Dean's willing to bet on the first. He stares at them for a long time. None of the yellow flowers in bloom this year have any red tips, not in the meadow. He's not sure why, exactly, but he hasn't seen any. He thinks Cas would miss them. 

 

He reaches out to gently rub his thumb over one of the petals. He uses the term red tips very lightly. Some of these kinds of flowers have a lot of red on them, sometimes even more than the yellow, he's discovered. The one back at the bunker that's dead now had more yellow than red, but some of these seem to have the opposite. There's one to the right of the bouquet that could be a dead ringer for the flower Cas sort of gave to him, except it's not. 

 

"They're pretty, right?" 

 

Dean jolts and swivels his head to stare at the guy behind the counter. He's chewing a little obnoxiously on gum, and he looks like he can't even be out of high school yet. There's one airpod in his ear, and when he rang Dean up, he looked him dead in his eye and blew a bubble with his gum until it popped. The kid seems very unenthused with life in general, and ya know what? Dean gets that. 

 

"Yeah, they're nice," Dean mumbles, dropping his hand away from the flowers. 

 

"You know flowers have meanings, both in type and color." The guy tips his head at the flowers they're talking about. "That one in particular means falling in love, or friendship turning into love, or those two things being mixed up. Because yellow means friendship and red means love. It's good to give someone you want to be with, who's also a friend." 

 

Dean blinks rapidly, his eyes stinging. "Really?" 

 

"Yeah, man." The kid blows another bubble, surveying him curiously. When it pops, he works it back into his mouth and raises his eyebrows. "You good? You got a lady to give those to?" 

 

"No. No, uh, my—" Dean swallows and fixes his gaze on the flowers, a lump in his throat. It takes him a second to say what he needs to. "My husband gave me a flower like this once." 

 

The kid is silent for a beat, and then he says, "Well, you wanna give some to him?" 

 

"He's dead," Dean says flatly. 

 

"People leave flowers at gravestones, right?" 

 

"Yeah, I guess. That's where I'm headed anyway, but I'm not—I'll just go. Thanks." 

 

Dean turns away with a jerky motion and ducks out the door before he can start doing something as ridiculous as crying in a goddamn Circle K. Jesus, it's like he's held together by wet duct tape, always in danger of falling apart when the seam starts peeling. He huffs out a harsh breath and opens the door to Baby, tossing in the bag of snacks and sliding into his seat. His head snaps up when the door to the store opens and the kid comes strolling out, one flower in hand. 

 

"It's just one," he says as he stops by Dean's car, holding it out. "This shit will weigh on my mind all day if I don't do something, and I don't need that kinda bad juju, man. I value my sleep. So, take it." 

 

"You don't have to do that," Dean mumbles, but he reaches out to take the lone flower when the kid holds it out more forcefully. 

 

"My boss won't even notice, so it's fine." The kid shrugs and pops his gum again. "Sorry about your husband. I'd say have a good day, but…" 

 

Dean cracks a small smile, despite himself. "Yeah. Uh, thanks. S'real kind of you." 

 

"Yeah, whatever." The kid gives a little shrug and bobs his head before turning back around and going into the store, popping his gum as he goes. 

 

Sighing, Dean shuts the door and looks down at the flower in his hands, twirling the stem between his fingers so the petals will spin in a blur of yellow and red. It's one of the flowers that has a little more red than yellow, and ain't that ironic as hell? 

 

He gingerly lays it over on the seat, cranks Baby up, and starts heading for the meadow again. 

 

It's not a particularly sunny day, like when there's a glow casted over everything. There's some seriously bubbly clouds drifting through the sky, fluffy and white against the backdrop of blue. No storm brewing, just a calm day. Not hot, not cold. It's the kind of day meant for cookouts and parties, and there are no doubt a great number of people engaging in exactly that today. Being normal. 

 

Dean sometimes thinks that Sam wants to do normal things simply because they have the freedom to do them now. He'll drop hints every now and again. Remember when we wanted to go to the beach? When's the last time we've been to the movies? There's a fair about an hour south, could be worth the drive. Just anything that they never really got to do for the sake of enjoying them. And Dean knows that Sam brings it up to try and get him out, get him cheered up, get him to start living again, at least a little. 

 

It's just that Dean always pictured those things with Cas in the background. If not there, waiting at home, or likely to meet up with them later. It feels sort of hollow now, and Dean's not really interested. He tries to be. He doesn't know how to be. He's moping, of course, but this is what he does. When does it stop? When does life start again? He doesn't know. He knows that it needs to. He knows that he can't be miserable like this forever, even if it feels like he's always going to be. 

 

He's not really sure what the answers are. Lost is a good word to describe him as of late. He lost people, and now he's lost in life. It's such bullshit. Dean is a grown man who has suffered many things, and he knows by now that all there's left to do is to keep pressing forward, because sometimes that's the only goddamn option left. 

 

The problem is, Dean feels planted like a tree, stuck and going nowhere. Everything just...sucks, and he's forced to deal with that. 

 

The meadow, as always, provides a little bit of comfort. Maybe some perspective. He truly does like it here, likely because he knows Cas did, and it feels like something that belongs specifically to Cas. He stands in front of the makeshift urn, twirling the flower in between his fingers. He looks at it and thinks you know; you know that I love you. 

 

If it was a question of love, Dean knows Cas would have come back the second he left. If it came down to how much Dean wanted him back, and that was enough to get him back, Cas would have been swallowed up and immediately spat back out. Sometimes, Dean thinks he's wanted Cas back so fiercely that the universe didn't stand a chance of keeping Cas from making it home. 

 

Maybe they're like those stupid couples from those ridiculous, romantically saturated movies who are too stubborn to leave each other alone, fighting their way towards each other no matter how many times they get wrenched apart. It's stupid, so goddamn stupid, but Dean doesn't want to stop fighting for this. If he has to be miserable and keep internally begging Cas to come back forever for it to work, then he'll just do that. Because if he gave up and allowed himself to have some kind of relief, and it cost him that slim chance… Well. He'll never know, because he's never doing that, so. 

 

"You could come back and put me outta my misery anytime, ya know," Dean mutters, staring down at the flower, wrinkling his nose. "I mean, I'm gonna be mad at you, that's a given. I'll probably punch you. Actually, why don't you come on back so we can have a fight? I'm gonna kick your ass as soon as—" 

 

The windmill stops turning. 

 

Dean's head snaps up to stare at it from where he caught its sudden stillness. It hadn't come to a gradual stop; it was instantaneous. Even when the breeze isn't strong, the windmill has always gently moved. To be fair, Dean has rarely come on days when the wind isn't blowing, hoping to avoid exactly this. Seeing it still makes his heart clench. 

 

He stares at it helplessly, not understanding what the hell is happening. It's an older-style windmill, sure, but all the panels are still there. It shouldn't have just broken down, or it would have in a more visible way, and it still should react to the wind. Dean can feel the wind blowing right now. 

 

He rips his gaze away from the windmill to check that things are still in working order, running his gaze over the swaying grass in the distance. It's all pushed to the left under the weight of the breeze, so why did the windmill just—

 

Dean's eyes snag on the figure in the distance. Right in the middle of the goddamn meadow, farther out, facing and peering up at the windmill. The trenchcoat moves with the wind, too. 

 

For a split second, Dean thinks he's hallucinating. He blinks once, twice, three times. Cas is still there, just staring up at the windmill. The one that has stopped spinning. Why? Why did it stop spinning? Dean doesn't know, but if that's Cas…

 

It's probably stupid of him, but Dean doesn't start off with the doubts or questions. He didn't last time, not really. He'd just immediately chose to believe that it was Cas, hoping for it so hard, and he does the same thing right now. His heart rabbiting away in the hollow of his throat, he starts walking, getting closer to make sure it's not some kind of mirage. It's not. The closer Dean gets, the more details he can make out. 

 

The movement of Cas' hair blowing in the wind. The belt on his coat, just a little looser and longer than it used to be. The color of his coat, too, a shade slightly different than before. The grass brushing the very ends of the coat, like fingertips only just catching against each other, unable to hold on. That's him. Even from the back, Dean knows it. 

 

"Cas," Dean whispers, and the word seems to get lost along the breeze, not reaching its intended target. He picks up his pace, trying again. "Cas!" 

 

That reaches him, because Cas turns around immediately, blinking rapidly the moment he looks at Dean, as if surprised to see him there. He turns and starts walking forward, eyebrows furrowed, opening his mouth to speak. 

 

"Hello, Dean," is all he manages to get out, and he's clearly about to say something else, but whatever it is escapes him in a low oomph when Dean collides into him at full force. 

 

It's likely one of the most ridiculous and sappiest things Dean has ever done in his life, like one of those scenes out of a stupid movie where some girl hikes up her dress and runs across a field to launch herself at her husband finally returning from the war, which is… Well. The thing is, Dean doesn't give one fuck about that at the moment. 

 

He does fully just launch himself at Cas, nearly bowling him over, complete with a gasping breath and his arms flying around Cas' shoulders as he gets some air from the jump. If Cas had a romantic bone in his body, he would spin them right now, but he does not. He just plants his feet and catches him, making sure they don't go down, which is good enough. It's more than enough. 

 

"It's you. Is it you? Tell me it's you," Dean blurts out, jerking back just enough to pat his hands to Cas' face, neck, shoulders. The flower is still in one hand, and the petals—at one point—nearly go into Cas' mouth. "Cas, is it—are you—' 

 

"Yes, that's what I'm trying to tell you," Cas murmurs, blinking at him, looking vaguely startled by the onslaught. "I was rescued, but you should know how and that it is me, because of—" 

 

"Don't care," Dean declares breathlessly, and Cas looks sort of offended at being cut off and told that whatever he wants to say doesn't matter to Dean at all, but it...really doesn't. 

 

Cas opens his mouth to start saying more shit that Dean's not going to pay attention to right now, and to prove that, Dean shuts him up. Cas barely gets to say much of anything else before Dean is diving in to kiss him, which seems to get his point across really well, actually. Cas shuts up. 

 

This is not punching Cas, though that's what Dean claimed he would do not even five minutes ago, but he's not going to hold it against himself. Dean doesn't think he's been less angry about anything in his goddamn life, like what has always existed in him has all but evaporated on the spot. It's a glaring absence that feels like it will remain, like he'll never have reason to get angry ever again. 

 

Kissing Cas is… Well, Dean didn't forget, exactly, but the real thing is so much better than memories. Especially the memory of their last. This one, though…oh, this one is good. So very good, in fact, that it shivers through him and makes him groan in unhindered relief, something springing loose in his chest that feels so fucking good that he barely even knows what the hell to do with it. 

 

Cas squeezes him closer, which is so, so fucking nice. They're as wrapped around each other as they're going to get while standing on their own two feet, and still trying to get closer. Dean pushes his flowerless-hand to the back of Cas' neck, pressing his fingers up into Cas' hair, keeping the kiss from breaking, no matter how lightheaded he gets. 

 

The kiss is deep. A little desperate, even, but not rushed. Just really, really felt. Dean can feel it all the way through, every catch of teeth and every slow slide of tongue and the soft sensation of their lips moving together. Union hinging on reunion. Dean doesn't want it to end, and if it has to, he wants to immediately do it again. He wants to keep doing it over and over for however long he can. 

 

Cas, however, seems to be the sensible one at the moment. He appreciates the necessity humans have for breathing, at least, even if Dean doesn't and would be willing to just pass the fuck out. He knows how to get around Dean's tendency to be stubborn, using the compromise of turning his head and tipping it back ever so slightly to let Dean kiss his cheek and jaw and neck. Modern problems, modern solutions—all that nonsense. Dean's okay with it, giving in and doing exactly that before just burying his face into Cas' throat, sagging against him with a sigh, and breathing as his eyes squeeze shut. 

 

It's a pretty heavy moment, all things considered. Despite wanting to talk before, Cas doesn't say anything else. He just sweeps his hands up and down Dean's back, a comforting thing, soothing. Dean's going to cry. It's so stupid. Cas is back, and he's going to fucking cry. 

 

He's not really sure if there's such a thing as tears of joy and tears of sorrow all at once, but that seems to be what he's going through at the moment. Really, at the end of the day, he's just a man who feels too much and, sometimes, can't feel any of it. 

 

So, he cries it out. It's the silent kind of crying, the kind where he squeezes his eyes shut too tight against the prickling of them and something spills out. Just a few tears he can swipe away before pulling back, almost like they were never there. Cas will probably know, because Cas always knows. 

 

Dean doesn't go very far. He stares at Cas from way too close, all up in his personal space, still holding on. He takes Cas in, studying every feature, basking in the intensity of his gaze and the expressions that are his alone. He's missed him. 

 

"How long has it been?" Cas murmurs. 

 

"Too damn long," Dean croaks. "One second was too long, but it's been—it's been months, Cas." 

 

Cas' face softens. "I'm sorry." 

 

"I'm—I'm not even mad," Dean chokes out, laughing a little. "I was, and I thought I would be if you—when you came back, but I'm not. I don't know if I'm ever gonna be pissed off at you ever again." 

 

"It's a nice thought, but I find that very hard to believe," Cas says a touch dryly, his lips twitching. He looks very pleased at the moment. He flicks his gaze over Dean's face, humming. "If you're willing to listen now, the way I returned is—" 

 

"Wait. Wait, sorry, just—" Dean clears his throat and blinks rapidly, leaning back a little so he can take more of Cas in. He slides his hands down, patting and shaping Cas' shoulders, the flower still being dragged along for the ride. Cas tilts his head a little, curious yet patient, and Dean swallows as he forces himself to hold his gaze. "I have to say this now and—and get to keep you, or I'll never be able to say it, and you should get to hear it if it makes you happy. So...I'm just going to—to say it again, and this time, you don't get to leave me when I do. Cas, do you know? Do you know that I love you?" 

 

"I know," Cas says softly. "You told me. And I love you, Dean." 

 

Dean releases a harsh breath. "Okay, that's—I really wish that's not how you found out, though. I tried to tell you before then, Cas. A few times." 

 

"What were they?" Cas asks. 

 

"Um. When—well, I almost told you after Dodge City, right before you left to go find Jack. And then, I had planned to tell you right after Jack came back to life. You know, when I found you outside and you said we were only ever going to be friends," Dean admits, raising his eyebrows. 

 

"Ah," Cas says delicately, a tad awkward, wincing in genuine sympathy. "That was...bad timing." 

 

"Tell me about it," Dean mutters. 

 

Cas squints at him. "You said you didn't care either way. You brushed it off as if it didn't matter." 

 

"Yeah, because I'm known for reacting calmly and maturely to things that don't work out for me," Dean deadpans, sweeping his thumb along Cas' jaw, just eager to keep touching him. 

 

"You have a point," Cas concedes, eyes opening back up to show the fondness in his gaze, like Dean being an explosive asshole sometimes is something he finds cute. He has terrible taste in men, but looking at Dean's past record, he has no room to judge Cas on that one. "Were those the only times?"

 

Dean shakes his head. "Nah, I almost did in Purgatory, too, but then you—" He blinks, rearing back a little bit. "Dude, did you pretend to be hurt to get close to me?" 

 

"We had reconciled. I missed you," Cas murmurs. 

 

"And the—the thing in the kitchen," Dean says, narrowing his eyes. "That didn't make you happy?" 

 

"I could only give, not have, and I had to go when I wanted to stay. So, no, it didn't make me happy, though I did enjoy it." Cas tips his head a little, lips ticking down. "Considering what led to it…" 

 

"Oh, yeah. Uh, sorry about that," Dean tells him a little sheepishly. "I was being a dick." 

 

Cas hums in agreement. "Yes, but I understand that things were very confusing for you. I could not truly act as if I didn't want you, and you could tell in some way. It was very difficult." 

 

"I thought maybe you just…" Dean shrugs a little, clearing his throat. "I dunno. Maybe I was good in bed, but more than that wasn't—I mean, I'm not exactly someone anyone should want to be with." 

 

"You are, as always, severely undervaluing yourself. Dean, if we never had sex again, I would still want to be with you. If all I could do is stand next to you for the rest of my life, I would choose that." Cas swallows. "I did choose that." 

 

"So, all it really took to make you happy was to finally know if I love you or not, huh?" Dean mumbles, clicking his tongue softly. "What would have happened if I didn't?" 

 

"Then I would have found joy in getting to tell you that you're loved regardless if you returned the sentiments or not," Cas says firmly. "Dean, there was no way you could have stopped it. I meant I was not going to let you die. I'm grateful to have gone knowing that you felt the same." 

 

"Stubborn bastard," Dean whispers, fitting his palm to Cas' cheek, feeling the scruff brush his skin, cradling the warmth. "Why was that enough? Why don't you let yourself want more?" 

 

"I'm not sure if there's anything better," Cas says, lips curling up. "To be loved by you is—is… It makes me very happy." 

 

Dean huffs out a quiet laugh. "Okay. Then I love you. I love you, Cas. I'm just stuck loving you all the time, and I'd really appreciate it if you could stick around and let me do that in peace." 

 

"Well, as I've been trying to tell you," Cas declares, arching an eyebrow, "I have all intentions of doing that at some point. Will you listen?" 

 

"Yeah. Yeah, go ahead. Floor's yours," Dean mumbles, grinning without meaning to. 

 

Cas smiles, and it's sweet. It's so sweet. Dean is kissing him again without even really deciding to, and Cas huffs a soft laugh against his mouth. He hums, allowing it, pleased with it. Dean can feel the shape of his smile against his own, and he likes it. They've never kissed like this before, unhurried and barely moving, just basking in the delight of it. Yeah, he likes it a lot. He backs off, though, because he can't interrupt Cas forever. 

 

"It was Jack," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean blinks. "He heard my prayers?" 

 

"You prayed?" Cas asks, surprised. 

 

"'Course I prayed, dude. I figured if anyone could bring you back, it was the kid." 

 

"Well, I'm quite sure he didn't hear your prayers in the Empty. He was—actually, we were busy dealing with something of a war. Jack started by simply trying to negotiate. As you know, God has no power over the Empty, but Jack did before. He was both limited and had specific types of access. The Empty, as you can imagine, was none too pleased with this. It refused Jack in the beginning." 

 

"Did Jack annoy it until it gave in? Like father, like son kind of thing?" 

 

"Ah, not quite. I believe Jack had his first temper tantrum. He, as you would say, threw a fit." 

 

"Did he?" Dean blurts out, laughing a little at the ridiculousness of it. "Like, he just sat down and started crying? Please tell me he screamed until the Empty gave in. That would—Cas, I think that would genuinely make my day." 

 

Cas' lips twitch. "Nothing such as that, not in those terms. He did, however, wake up every demon, reaper, and angel in the Empty at once." 

 

"Wait, what?" Dean barks, eyes bulging. "You're fucking kidding me. Everyone?" 

 

"It was, to put a very fine point on it, very chaotic," Cas admits, heaving a sigh. "The Empty was, in many ways, outnumbered and without much control. Jack meant he wasn't leaving without me, and if he couldn't, he would stay with everyone awake. He said he had numerous aunts and uncles to get to know and eternity to do so, if the Empty wouldn't comply. It was...a riot. Genuinely. The only thing standing between the Empty being overtaken by its occupants was Jack, and the deal to release me." 

 

Dean blows out a soft laugh, stunned. "That kid. Jesus, what a fuckin' rebel. That's—" 

 

"The Winchester Way, as many put it. You would think that the various enemies you accumulated over the years would have no interest in seeing anyone affiliated with you and Sam win anything, but a surprising amount seemed amused that you two not only continued in the same vein of stupid as they knew you, but also passed down the tradition to a younger generation," Cas tells him. 

 

"You mean, like, some of the ones we killed were rooting for Jack?" Dean asks, baffled. 

 

Cas hums. "For him, as well as for you and Sam, and me, by extension. A surprising number of my siblings seemed, ah, in my corner. As Gabriel put it, I had killed and died and suffered so much that I earned the right to—and I quote—finally be tall enough to get on the Winchester ride at least once." 

 

"Oh my god," Dean chokes out, leaning back to press his fingers to his mouth, trying not to laugh like a goddamn idiot. "Are you—Cas, are you fucking with me right now?" 

 

"I'm not," Cas says seriously. "Crowley asked that I tell you hello, by the way. He was, once again, a reluctant ally who helped. There were others who joined in with overwhelming the Empty, perhaps for something to do. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, Dean, but we have made many enemies over the years, and a surprising amount have come to be...ever so slightly fond of us. Or, at the very least, entertained by our lives. I suppose being as dead one can get will put things in perspective."

 

Dean stares at him. "So—so, the kid woke up everybody and their mother in the Empty to basically start a war if it wouldn't let you out, and everyone was just...cool with that? They were like, sure, why not? Really?" 

 

"Well, many of them were unhappy with the Empty itself. It's a terrifying existence. If there was a chance they could overwhelm it and perhaps get out, I assume they would take it. That would have posed many problems for us in the future if it was blown wide open, but the Empty at that time was the one under threat," Cas explains, shrugging slightly. 

 

"You saying we narrowly missed every demon, reaper, and angel we ever killed coming back to life to be a pain in our asses again?" Dean mutters. 

 

Cas clears his throat. "Jack was very determined. As I said, he was...throwing a fit." 

 

"It woulda been worth it for you," Dean mumbles, heaving a sigh and shaking his head, lips curling up when Cas looks down and away—a bashful gesture. It's cute. "But it didn't happen like that?" 

 

"No, it didn't." Cas takes a deep breath and looks up to meet his eyes. "In the end, the Empty seemed to realize that the only solution was to let me out. It agreed so long as Jack put everyone back to eternal rest, including itself." 

 

"Sounds like Jack's a damn good negotiator to me," Dean says, grinning. 

 

"You understand, for us, time did not pass normally. It didn't feel like months to us. I was sent back first, and I'm assuming Jack put everyone to sleep and came home by now," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean nods slowly. "Okay. Well, that's—I mean, it all worked out for the best, right? Everyone's good. You're back. Jack's back. It's good, right?" 

 

"Jack needs my help with something," Cas says softly, searching his face. "He needs my assistance in reconstructing Heaven." 

 

"You're leaving again," Dean whispers, knowing it instantly, his heart dropping. 

 

Cas swallows. "Just for a little while and then I will return to you. I always return to you." 

 

"How long will you be gone?" Dean asks stiffly. 

 

"Time passes differently in Heaven as well, as you know. I can't give you an exact estimate, but it shouldn't be too long. It's important to do this, Dean, for more than just the current occupants in Heaven. It's for the ones who will go in the future, including you and Sam. I want to help make it better for everyone, but for you most of all." 

 

"When are you leaving?" 

 

"As soon as Jack takes me," Cas tells him, his voice hushed, apologetic. "He mentioned that he hoped to visit with you and Sam before we went and at least tell you both of what he'd achieved. He knew I would come here, but neither of us expected that you would be waiting when I did." 

 

Dean releases a shaky breath. "I'm always waiting on you, Cas. It's all I know how to do."

 

"I'm sorry," Cas rasps. 

 

"S'okay," Dean mumbles, reaching out to brush his fingers over the side of Cas' neck, lightly tugging on the strands of hair behind his ear. "Guess that comes with the territory of lovin' an angel, right? It's like being Lois Lane if she was scared of flying, and you're off being Superman. One of these days, you'll stick around for good. Hang up your cape, ya know?"

 

"Is that what you want? To retire and settle?" Cas asks, searching his face, curious. 

 

"I dunno yet. Come back to me, and we'll find out."

 

"I will, Dean." 

 

"Here," Dean croaks, sliding the flower over Cas' shoulder and waving it under his nose. "I'm supposed to be giving you this." 

 

"Oh?" Cas takes it, cocking his head at it, squinting slightly. "This isn't the one I gave you." 

 

"No," Dean agrees. "That one died when you did." 

 

Cas' head snaps up, the flower stilling in his hands, his eyes wide. "Oh, Dean, I'm sorry. I didn't think that it would do that if I—" 

 

"Well, it did," Dean cuts in a little briskly. "I still got it in my room. This one, though. This one can be yours, I guess. Got it at the gas station a few miles back when the kid behind the counter felt bad for me 'cause I told him my husband was dead." 

 

"Your—" Cas blinks, then his eyes brighten. "Ah, I'm the husband in this scenario." 

 

Dean snorts weakly. "Figured you would like that." 

 

"I do," Cas admits, smiling slightly. 

 

"You gotta come back soon, Cas." Dean leans in until their noses are almost brushing. He can see Cas' eyes cross a little, trying to keep looking at him. It's awkward and endearing, and Dean's heart clenches in his chest. "Don't stay gone too long." 

 

"I'll try my best," Cas breathes out, the flower going to the side in his slack fingers as he sways closer, eyes fluttering shut. "I love you very, very much. More than any words in any language can properly express. More than I'll ever be able to say it. I should have said it from the moment I met you and every moment since, but even then, that would not be enough." 

 

"You're about to go, aren't you?" Dean rasps. 

 

"Yes," Cas says softly. 

 

Dean closes his eyes tight and ducks in to kiss him again, inhaling sharply and trying to get closer, making a small noise of approval and then one of weak protest when Cas pulls back. They stare at each other for a moment, then Cas smiles slightly and lifts the flower to—well, he sort of just boops Dean's nose with the petals. Dean blinks rapidly, startled and a little flustered, and Cas steps back with his smile growing. 

 

In the next second, he's gone, and the windmill starts to turn again. 

 


 

Dean wrenches the door open and starts his regular trek to the kitchen for his coffee because, as of late, that's the only thing that will take some of the bite out of his words. Fortunately for him, he doesn't have to curb his attitude. Sam and Eileen took off last night for something over in Maryland. They asked him if he wanted to go, but the question was posed like they already knew the answer. The flat expression he gave them was answer enough as it was, and they just rolled their eyes at each other. 

 

Dean's about to start climbing the walls. This whole waiting for Cas thing is only worse because he has taken it a little too much to heart. He hasn't left the Bunker for longer than a couple of hours in forty-eight fucking days, and this really doesn't coincide with who he is as a person. He won't take any cases or go on long drives, just in case he misses anything. Heaven better be made outta gold by the time Cas gets back, or Dean's going to kill him. 

 

So, sure, he's reached the grumpy stages. There's a cycle to this, too, and it's sort of never-ending. It starts off with being stupidly giddy knowing that Cas is back, even if he's not here. That gives way to resignation, just sort of kicking at the ground, waiting with a sigh. Eventually, that turns into doubts, little worries that maybe he made it up somehow, or Cas will get stuck in Heaven, or something will keep him from coming back. It circles back around to getting frustrated and grumpy, because each second that Cas isn't here is a second that he could be. What follows is usually just simply missing him, a deep well of longing that seems to have no bottom, which always leads right back into that giddiness that Cas is back overall. 

 

Rinse and repeat, and so it goes. 

 

Dean has his coffee, leaning up against the counter, his phone in his free hand. He texts Sam to check in and make sure they're still good. They should reach Maryland by tomorrow, so it's just travel for the moment, but Dean prefers to know they're alright when they're away. It's a vise versa kind of thing, and Eileen's particularly bad about it with him. Or, she was when he was when he was moping—an understatement, admittedly—about Cas. She always checked in when he was gone for longer than an hour, and it's something they've all started to do. 

 

It's sort of easy, actually. Even if it's not an immediate answer, or just a short reply, there is relief in getting to know that family is okay. Dean does it with the ladies, too, especially when he knows they've got cases. For those months that he talked to Claire nearly every day, they got used to texting. He still does it, just shoots off a quick message to check in, and Claire has a bad habit of communicating purely through memes. Kaia is his favorite to text, because she shows proof of life. Sneaky photos of Claire taken from odd angles, sometimes blurred, catching her off guard. It's hilarious, and Claire is always glaring or rolling her eyes in the photos if she catches Kaia doing it. 

 

Dean stands there for a while, frowning down at his phone and sipping his coffee. Sam is stringing together a long rant about how Eileen got into a race with a minivan and did some crazy maneuvers to switch lanes. It's funny, admittedly, but he's now sure that he can never let her behind Baby's wheel. 

 

Eventually, Sam's rapid fire messages come to a slow halt, so Dean sends back a thumbs-up and tells him that his girlfriend is awesome, to which Sam responds by reading the message and not replying in a way that feels very pointed. He can hear Sam now, saying something along the same lines he always does when Dean approves of Eileen being wild. Can't leave you two alone for anything. You'd get into some kind of trouble. Dean's fault, of course. You never do anything wrong, Eileen. Blah, blah, blah. All that sappy shit. What's love if not bias? 

 

Snorting, Dean shakes his head and takes his last sip of his coffee, sliding his phone away. When he swallows, he looks up. And then he promptly drops his coffee cup when his fingers go slack, because Cas is standing in the doorway. Actually, he's leaning up against it with his arms crossed and his head cocked to the side, watching Dean fondly. 

 

The mug doesn't break when it hits the ground. It sort of just...bounces a little and goes really still, empty. Dean feels all the breath in his lungs escape him in one big gust, and he's shoved so forcefully into the giddy part of the never-ending cycle that he forgets what it feels like to be grumpy at all. 

 

"Hello, Dean," Cas rumbles—that familiar drag of his voice, a growl threaded through every word, even when he speaks gently. 

 

"Hey, Cas," Dean croaks, staring at him and staring at him and staring at him. He can't stop staring at him. "I'm not running at you like a goddamn damsel this time. That was a one time deal." 

 

Cas' lips twitch as he pushes away from the doorway and eases into the room, his eyes unnecessarily bright and shamelessly pleased. "I'm sorry I didn't appreciate it more while I had the chance, then."

 

"Yeah, probably shouldn't, uh, take things for granted," Dean mumbles, tensing up against the counter the moment Cas gets within reach. "That's a thing we tend to do, you know, that we—we definitely shouldn't. We definitely…" 

 

"I'm listening," Cas assures him, coming to a halt right in front of him, looking like the most patient man on Earth. For him, waiting comes easy. He's lived so long and gone without so much. 

 

Dean has absolutely no idea what the fuck he was saying in the first place. He blinks slow and stupid, fingers twitching. "You're back?" he asks, like an idiot. "For good, I mean. You'll stay?" 

 

"Yes," Cas murmurs. 

 

"Okay." Dean flicks his gaze down to Cas' mouth, then gets stuck there. "So, come here." 

 

Cas abruptly kicks the mug with the side of his shoe, sending it skittering out of the way so he can continue forward, and Dean sucks in a sharp breath in response. It's the sudden burst of sound and motion, like physical proof of the strain finally snapping. He surges forward to meet Cas halfway, their hands reaching out and their mouths meeting in the middle. 

 

They spent so much time not doing this that it shouldn't be so easy to remember what it was like when they were doing this, but Dean doubts he'll ever forget. His whole body seems to wake up, abruptly alive in a way it wasn't before—suddenly alert and thrumming with energy. He's an old man, but he's not that old, not yet, and he's reacting accordingly to Cas kissing him like a drowning man coming up for air and shoving him back against the counter with no hesitation whatsoever. 

 

"I want—I want—" Cas' shoulders hitch around a shuddering breath as he kisses a path down Dean's neck, seeming to get lost in his skin. 

 

Dean tilts his head back obligingly, lips parting around a hiss as his fingers slide up into Cas' hair, tangling the strands and tugging on them. Just a little distractedly, he mumbles, "Anything. You can have anything you want, Cas. I'll give you any goddamn thing you want." 

 

"I want you to want things," Cas rasps, peeling away to look at him, blinking pupil-blown blue eyes, his mouth red and wet. 

 

"I want so many things," Dean assures him, his chest heaving. "Jesus fuckin' Christ, sweetheart, you have no idea how many things I want right now." 

 

Cas sways closer, his breath punching out of him as hands slide down Dean's arms. "I want you. And I want you to want things. And I want you to have the things you want. I want you to have—" He looks up, meeting Dean's gaze. "Dean, I want you to have everything." 

 

And, stupidly, Dean blurts out the very first thing that crosses his mind, which is, "Well, you're here, aren't you? So I already do." 

 

"Oh," Cas says very, very softly. He stares at Dean for a long moment, then straightens up and starts backing up, keeping a hold on Dean's wrists. He leads them right out of the kitchen, his hands slipping down Dean's wrists to tangle with his fingers, pulling him along. 

 

For a split second, they both slow to a halt, staring at each other when their fingers interlock, far more intimate and—and gentle than Dean's ever been with a man outside of a high stakes sort of situation. All those times he cradled Cas' face were pretty obvious, even for him, he's got to admit. But this is different, somehow. This is something they've never done before, and they both look at each other like they need a second to feel it out, to see if they're okay with it, to see if the other likes it as well. It's almost like two teenagers fumbling through a crush, which is ridiculous as two middle-aged men who have had various forms of sex, but there's also something kind of...sweet about it. 

 

Cas squeezes his hands, and it's like he's asking a question. Dean doesn't know how to answer it, so he just swallows and starts moving forward again. He ends up pressing Cas up against the wall, kissing him for a long time until they end up stumbling on their way once more. Their hands break and come back together at different intervals, trying to touch each other, tangling back together when they're both moving too much to manage much touching at all. 

 

When they finally reach a room—Dean's room, by the looks of it—Dean can barely walk straight. He feels a little kiss-drunk, stumbling along, cursing under his breath every time he nearly trips over his own boots. He presses a laugh into Cas' jaw as he fumbles with the door knob, his free hand already getting a headstart on yanking off his coats. 

 

They fall into the room together, Dean still chuckling because he can't really stop, Cas humming in approval and amusement as he works Dean out of his shirt. He's so much better at getting Dean undressed than Dean is at getting him out of his ridiculous amount of clothes. Jesus, why the fuck does he have so many? 

 

"You need a—" Dean yelps and nearly knocks over the little table by the door, seeing as he completely fucking forgot it was there. Cas tucks his fingers into his belt loops and gently tugs him away, tugs him closer, warm lips pressing soft and wet across Dean's naked shoulder. Dean huffs, then sighs, then goes back to fighting with Cas' coat. "New clothes. My clothes. Any clothes but all these clothes. You don't have to wear so many layers, Cas. Actually, it would be better for me, personally, if you didn't." 

 

"Would it?" Cas rumbles, clearly amused. He shifts to lean back and let Dean yank the first coat, lips twitching when Dean scowls at the second. 

 

"Just on the list of things I want that I never got before," Dean grumbles. "You in less clothes when I'm trying to get them off of you." 

 

"And when you're not?" 

 

"Whatever you want. I know you're an angel, and you don't really care, and you're attached to this whole getup...but it would be a whole lot more convenient if I didn't have to fight with fucking buttons and layers and coats, don't ya think?" 

 

"I like my buttons and layers and coats," Cas says. 

 

"Yeah, okay, that's—I'm really happy for you, definitely," Dean mutters. He grunts in triumph when the suit coat pools to the floor, then he immediately goes for the tie next. "Just, ya know, I'm a practical man, Cas. And it'd be real practical if you didn't wear this fucking—this goddamn—" He gives a harsh yank on the tie, then stills when he sees Cas' head duck, his shoulders jerking a little. "Are you laughing at me, you fucking asshole?" 

 

Cas releases a cough and looks up with a somber expression, the bright humor to his eyes betraying him instantly. "No, Dean, I would never find amusement in watching you—struggle." 

 

"You're a dick," Dean declares, curling the tie around his fist and tugging on it, jerking Cas closer. He yanks some more until their noses brush, raising his eyebrows. "Well, maybe the tie can stay." 

 

"Have you noticed that you have an appreciation of accessories, particularly when paired with me?" Cas muses, reaching up to squeeze Dean's wrist, gradually applying pressure until Dean's fingers spasm and let go of his tie. He arches an eyebrow and gingerly tugs on his tie until it slides loose, coming off easily. "Hats, ties, things such as that." 

 

Dean's mouth is very dry. He flexes his fingers and clears his throat. "Glasses, too. I wanna see what you look like in glasses. Any kind. All kinds. And maybe different jackets. Leather would be—ah, that would be very…" 

 

"Good?" Cas prompts, watching him curiously, his fingers casually making their way down his own shirt. The buttons come loose without much fanfare, no strain or struggle at all. 

 

"Good," Dean echoes, having already forgotten what they were talking about, eyes fixated on the steady reveal of more skin. All this time, he's been fighting with Cas' clothes when he could have let Cas handle it, because he clearly knows what the fuck he's doing. "Yeah, good." 

 

"On the subject of what you want," Cas continues, slipping out of his shirt with ease, "I'd like to know what it is you want the most. I want to give it to you, if it's something that I can give to you." 

 

"I—" Dean swallows, his throat sticking. He sucks in a harsh breath and surges forward, hands on Cas' shoulders as he starts guiding him back. Cas allows it, watching Dean with a fixed sort of focus, not saying a goddamn word when they reach the bed and Dean pushes at him to get him to sit down on it.

 

Finally, Dean exhales and puts one knee beside Cas' waist and swings the other over, hands sliding along his bare shoulders to rest against the sides of his neck. Cas' hands move around his sides, settling against his back, keeping him steady. Dean's getting a little too old to be throwing himself into people's laps, but gingerly finding his way there doesn't seem to be an issue. They're so close like this, warm skin overlapping, faces hovering across from each other. 

 

"Dean?" Cas prompts softly. 

 

"I want—" Dean fixes his gaze on the curve of Cas' neck into his shoulder, unable to look at him directly as he says this. He doesn't even really know what he's going to say, but he's somehow aware that it's not going to match the intensity from before. No, it'll be vulnerable, too raw and too real. But Cas asked, so Dean forces himself to tell him. "What I really, really want is to not have to want it anymore. I wanna be able to go slow, no matter what we're doing, 'cause we got all the time in the world. I want to be able to have this, both of us, and not fucking worry that it's—that we'll lose it. I want—Cas, I want to keep you. I just want you to stay." 

 

Cas is quiet for a long moment, then he calmly murmurs, "Come with me?" 

 

"Yeah," Dean breathes out, not even knowing where the hell they're going. 

 

They don't go very far, as it turns out. Cas just pulls him in a little closer and slowly leans back, turning over to lay Dean out on the bed beneath him. It's not completely graceful, and it involves a lot of limbs knocking awkwardly together before they finally get situated, but when they finally do, Cas leans over him and kisses him so, so tenderly. It's a genuinely soft kiss, so slow and no bite to it, drawn-out and adoring. Dean sighs into it without even meaning to. 

 

When Cas pulls away, he kisses down the length of jaw, circling back up to his cheek. Soft flutters of kisses that go gently bestowed upon Dean's face, as fragile and sweet as flower petals. He kisses his nose, his eyelids, his forehead. Dean can feel his face burning, and his brain scrambles for anything to say that can get him out of this whole mortifying ordeal, except it's really—nice. He likes it, as stupid as that is, and so he shuts up and blushes his way through it and doesn't say a goddamn word to stop it. 

 

"I think we've gone far too long without having the chance to promise each other the future," Cas tells him gently. "I don't know if we ever truly can, but I think it's safe to say that when I look to it, I always find you there." 

 

"I didn't get that," Dean whispers, keeping his eyes closed. "You never—you didn't get to see what it was like. What I was like. Even that first serious time you died, when you walked into the lake. We were at a different spot in our lives, but I used to look for you in the ripples of every lake I came across. I kept your coat because I couldn't—Cas, I just couldn't. And I wasn't… You think I was okay? I wasn't fucking okay." 

 

"I'm sorry," Cas says, his hands sliding down the length of Dean's arms, resting over his hands. 

 

Dean hooks a pinky over Cas', not opening his eyes, refusing to look so he can just—so it's easier. If he's careful, he can pretend he's talking to a flower, telling it all the things he wants Cas to know. Or, not even what he wants him to know, what he deserves to know, to understand. 

 

"It wasn't just that, ya know. When—when I got outta Purgatory but you didn't, I wasn't okay then, either. I was—Cas, I was angry. I was seeing you even before you came back. I dreamed about you every goddamn night," Dean admits, a lump in his throat. "I dreamed about you even when I wasn't asleep." 

 

"You knew why I felt the need to stay behind." 

 

"I know, Cas. It wasn't just that. I mean, when you were possessed by Lucifer... Dude, I was—there were those who wanted to respect your decision, and I just wasn't having it. I couldn't just—just let you go. You were so mad at yourself for letting him out, but Cas, I was so fucking glad to have you back, man. It was stupid and all that, yeah, but I thought—I was worried I wouldn't get to...to… I don't know. See you again, I guess. Talk to you again." 

 

Cas hums quietly, his fingers wrapping around Dean's wrist to lift his hand to his mouth, bringing his lips across scars on knuckles, soothing. "I had a very different perspective of that time, admittedly." 

 

"Like I said, you never got to see it." Dean takes in a deep breath and opens his eyes, his heart lurching when he sees Cas already studying his face. "It was really bad when you—when I saw you die in front of me. The wings burned in the ground, the eyes burned out, all of that. I—I—" 

 

"Dean," Cas says softly, fingers curling around Dean's, squeezing them, his eyebrows furrowing. 

 

Dean blinks hard and turns his head away. "I lost so much so quickly, but losing you? That was—I couldn't handle it, man. I didn't know how to. I didn't want to. I had Death—the leading expert on the subject—tell me I wanted to die, like killing myself wasn't clear enough." 

 

"What?" Cas breathes out, stiffening so quickly that his weight presses down into Dean more than before. When Dean glances at him, his eyes are wide and he looks—devastated. 

 

"It was for a case," Dean mumbles hoarsely, "but I was just so...tired, Cas. I would've left it all behind, Sam included, and I—I wanted to. If Billie would have let it happen, I would've never been alive to answer your call. So, so when I say I wasn't okay, I mean it. I really, really wasn't." 

 

Cas stares at him for a long time, his fingers unfurling slowly to press against Dean's jaw, as if making sure he's real. He swallows. "Your life is so very precious, Dean. Yours and countless others. It's the one thing you own that everyone else has to miss when it's gone. It's so important. We all are to so many people, in ways we can't even imagine. I never want to leave you, but that does not mean I ever wished for a second that you would follow me." 

 

"I know," Dean rasps. "I'm just not—I don't know how to explain it. I know it ain't right, feeling like that, but I couldn't help it. You talk about a future with me in it, and I don't want a future without you there. That's all it is, Cas. That's all it is." 

 

"You didn't—" Cas falters, his face softening with genuine concern. "After the Empty took me, you didn't… Dean, did you—" 

 

Dean shakes his head minutely and casts his gaze away, exhaling shakily. "I wasn't really doing much living if I'm honest, but nothing like that. We were free, right? And—and you would have hated it if I just tossed everything you gave aside. I didn't want it, but what could I do? I would've, though. The first chance I got to—to stop, I guess, I would've." 

 

"Did you feel that way, even when I was here?" Cas asks, just the slightest tremble in his voice. 

 

"Sometimes." Dean closes his eyes and breathes out, slow and steady. "Not a lot of people make it this far in my line of work, and I never expected to see the other side of thirty, let alone forty. I used to want that, to go out loud and swinging. But then, life got so—it was how it was, and now we know why. And it was just so hard sometimes to—to want to keep on living the same goddamn torture over and over again. I thought handling Chuck would change that, would make it easier, and that's why it was so important. I wanted to be free to have a life I wanted to live. But never, never at the cost of you, Cas." 

 

Cas sighs quietly, and his head comes down to rest on Dean's chest, maybe over his heart to listen to it. His hair tickles Dean's nose. "And I take it that this life you want to have feels impossible." 

 

"Well, it does when you're gone." Dean hesitantly pushes his fingers through Cas' hair, carding through it slowly. He's never done it like this, without being in the middle of sex, with such reverence. "You gotta be here for it to work. I need you here for it to make any kinda sense." 

 

"I'm not leaving," Cas murmurs. 

 

Dean drops his hand to the back of Cas' neck, his chest aching, feeling so very exhausted and not even understanding why. "What I want doesn't seem so bad in my head. It seems so...so simple. I'm not a simple man, but I think I want a simple life." 

 

"Tell me," Cas says softly, lifting his head to look at him, paying attention. "I want to know." 

 

"I want to wash my car on the weekends," Dean whispers, holding his gaze. "I want to get a job at that car place in town, then get fired when I call out one too many times to spend the day with you. I want to take cases when I want 'em and pass 'em along when I don't. I want to sleep with you when I'm tired, and fuck when we're in the mood, and tell you I love you without watching you leave after. I want to get old, Cas, like I never thought I would. I want to make you happy to make up for all the times I didn't, or couldn't, and I want to make you happy beyond that, just for the sake of it. I want to live, and I want you to stay and live with me." 

 

"Simple," Cas agrees, lips turning up at the corners. He stretches up and forward, pressing a simple kiss right to Dean's lips, like he's sealing a deal. When he pulls back, he nods. "Okay. Let's do that." 

 

"What about you? What do you want?" Dean asks. 

 

"I want to fall slow and quiet, until I find myself falling asleep, and I want to wake up the next morning beside you and know that I had good dreams, even if I can't remember them." Cas' eyes scan his face, taking him in like he's happy to look at him forever. "I want to preserve flowers for you. I want it to be the truth when you tell people that I'm your husband. I want to expose you to poetry that resonates with you so deeply that you ask me to read it to you over and over again. I want to let the sun shine on my face and bask in it without being afraid of it. I want to be free to love you and tell you that I do every day. I want you to know it and never be confused about it. I want to stay and live an altogether simple life with you, because I cannot think of one thing that would make me happier." 

 

"Okay," Dean croaks, blinking hard and fast, his heart clenching violently in his chest. "Let's do that." 

 

Cas' lips twitch up into a growing smile, and he ducks in to kiss him again, almost like he can't help it. Dean's happy to go along with it, his eyes fluttering shut, palm squeezing the back of Cas' neck. It's a kiss made of leisure, as if they have a long stretch of time before them, no rush and no urgency. When Cas' smile grows too much, the kiss breaks off easy as you please. 

 

With a small, pleased sound, Cas slips to the side and settles down, his head on the pillow next to Dean's. One of his hands comes to a halt on Dean's chest, a finger smoothing slow circles on his sternum, the touch light. Dean turns his head, staring at him from up close, frowning a little. 

 

"What are we doing?" Dean mumbles, suddenly unsure. They both tumbled into bed, shirtless, definitely heading in a different direction from where they've apparently ended up. 

 

Cas just smiles at him again, wide enough that the skin next to his eyes crinkle. "You're tired. You said you wanted to sleep with me when you're tired, so go to sleep. I'll be here." 

 

"What, you're saying I should take a nap?" Dean blurts out, slightly incredulous. 

 

"Frankly, Dean, I think you've earned one. Perhaps even I have, but I am still more angel than man, so it will be some time before I get to do that. I could try to force myself, but I think I'd rather just watch over you," Cas tells him shamelessly. 

 

Dean blinks at him, then huffs a soft laugh. "A nap, huh? And we were trying to get each other out of our clothes a few minutes ago. Jesus, I'm so—" 

 

"Dean, we have time," Cas interrupts, fixing him with a serious look. "We don't have to do anything for fear that we'll never get the chance. There's tomorrow. For once, we can have tomorrow. And, for now, there's this. I quite like this." 

 

"So, it's not just my body," Dean teases, shifting a little so he can reach up and fit his hand over Cas' forearm, rubbing back and forth lightly. He can feel the warmth of it, the soft hairs under his palm. He flicks his gaze over Cas' face, pleased to see him looking so relaxed. 

 

Cas chuckles, low and warm. "No, it's not." 

 

"Good to know." Dean takes a deep breath that filters into a yawn that makes his chest expand and stutter, his jaw cracking wide. Jesus, he is fucking tired. He figures it makes sense for him to be. Waiting around is shockingly exhausting as hell, as it turns out. "Yeah, maybe I could do with a nap." 

 

"Mm," Cas agrees absentmindedly. 

 

Dean's eyes flutter shut. "What about you? A nap is somethin' I wanna do, but you wanted—you wanted other things. What was it? Oh. Tell me a poem. You gotta know one right off the top of your head, right? One you think I'll like." 

 

"It's not necessarily that you'll like it, just that it will resonate with you." 

 

"Pretty sure poetry isn't gonna move my inner mountains, sweetheart, but give it your best shot." 

 

Cas hums. "We shall see. Listen." 

 

"Have at it," Dean says with a snort, feeling lazy and warm and, ridiculously enough, very safe. 

 

"How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me, my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running. So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes, and over our heads the gray light unwinds in turning fans." Cas pauses, his voice low and melodic, words from someone else rolling around in his mouth like he's tasting them. He picks it right back up, and Dean listens, sort of helpless to do anything else. "My words rained over you, stroking you. A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body. Until I even believe that you own the universe. I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells, dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses. I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

 

And it does resonate, it really does. Dean thinks about keeping flowers with him like he wanted to keep Cas, syncing the breath he no longer had to give with each faithful turn of the windmill's wings. He thinks about the afterimages of people, the impressions of where they once were in your life still gaping without them in it any longer. He thinks about learning what you lost through losing, and can you really know until it's too late to be thankful? Dean tightens his fingers on Cas and thinks of those last lines in the poem, of loving someone so much that you believe they own the universe, a fixed part of it, existing in the wind and whispering along the breeze. He thinks about bringing those flowers wherever he went, keeping them, still keeping them. He holds onto Cas and thinks I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees. 

 

"Fuck. Jesus. Fuck," he chokes out, turning his face and body, scooting in and pressing close. He squeezes his eyes shut and clings. Shamefully, helplessly, he clings to Cas and just breathes. 

 

"Yes, I thought that one would, as you say, move your inner mountains," Cas tells him, amused and gentle and fond, all at once. He sweeps his hand up and down Dean's arm. "Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, or better known as Pablo Neruda. Published in 1924 to Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada, or translated to Twenty love poems and a song of despair. What I recited to you wasn't the full poem, admittedly. It's beautiful, though. All of it." 

 

Dean breathes in, breathes out, his racing heart slowly settling. "You know it in Spanish?" 

 

"Yes," Cas confirms. "Do you want to hear it?" 

 

"Yeah, sure, why not?" Dean rasps, face slowly relaxing, eyes fluttering before settling shut for good. 

 

Cas hums and begins talking, just the same as before, reciting words from a language Dean doesn't know this time. He's not expecting it to resonate once again, but it somehow sounds just as meaningful, even prettier in its original language. Cas whispers it, quiet, his hand dragging up and down along Dean's skin as if just feeling him is all he wants to do. It's peaceful. 

 

When his words slow to a stop, Dean's somewhere between asleep and awake, and he mumbles again, say it again, unsure if he actually makes his request at all or not. He must, or either Cas knows him well, because Cas starts reciting the poem again, his voice low and lilting, lulling Dean right on to sleep. 

 

Dean stays up long enough to hear Cas recite the end. He murmurs, "Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos," and Dean thinks, once again and likely forever, I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees. He falls asleep thinking it. He falls asleep knowing it. 

 

He falls asleep, thankful to have the chance.

Chapter Text

The thing is, they're kind of awful. 

 

Dean is very aware of this. It's not awful for him and Cas, just everyone else. They're what Eileen has taken to calling schmoopy, whatever the fuck that means. Sweet, but gross, Sam would clarify. Whatever, they've earned the right. 

 

It's a very simple life, all things considered, but they're not very simple people, so that leaves them in this weird conundrum where they can't be normal about seemingly normal things. 

 

As always with them, one thing always leads to another. They can't just. It's always more. It's always intense and diving straight into the deep end without knowing where the goddamn bottom is. But, given all that they've been through, Dean thinks that's fair. 

 

It takes exactly one day before Cas becomes a permanent fixture in Dean's room. He just—doesn't leave, and Dean won't ask him to, because he doesn't want him to. As such, it takes little to no time at all for Cas to just...be wherever the hell Dean is. Usually right up in his space. Touching him in some way or another. Dean's not really any better in that regard, admittedly. Cas is close, and Dean can touch him, so he does. Simple enough. 

 

But, because they're not simple people, they're very excessive about it. They've spent a great deal of time either not acting on the things they wanted for various reasons, or not being able to, so now… 

 

Well, Dean drags Cas around wherever he goes. Most times, he just hooks his fingers in Cas' pocket and pulls him along, and Cas seems pleased as punch to go. Cas' restraint through the years was him standing far too close, so him indulging his desires means that he leans right up against Dean, or holds his hand, or wraps around him, or even slips his hand in Dean's back pocket. He's so touchy, which is inconvenient when Dean's trying to do things, yet undeniably delightful regardless of what's going on. Dean's not much better—always touching Cas in some way or another, even absentmindedly. Cas seems to mind about as much as Dean does, which is to say not at all. 

 

A week after Cas' return, Jack shows back up at the Bunker. The very first thing he does is knock on the bedroom door and ask to speak to Dean alone. 

 

It is extremely nerve-wracking. 

 

"Something on your mind, kid?" Dean asks cautiously, somehow convinced that he's fucked up with Jack so royally to the point of no return. He's gone and given literal God his own set of daddy issues, and how the hell do you fix that? 

 

Jack regards him with equal caution. When he speaks, he starts slowly. "I know that Castiel will be staying here. With me being God, I can go anywhere I choose. If—if I get a choice, I would like to stay here. But, if you want, I'll go away." 

 

"If I—what?" Dean's breath punches out of him. It feels like his stomach drops out from under him. "Jack, why would I want you to—to—" 

 

"I know you don't...consider me…" Jack swallows, his gaze dropping. His eyebrows furrow, and then he looks up with resolve. "But Cas is my father. He is, Dean. He always has been. He's my family." 

 

There are so many things wrong with this, and Dean's at the center of all of them. Jesus, Cas is going to fucking murder him. On top of that, Dean doesn't think he's ever going to be able to forgive himself, or forget this moment. This is, like with most things, all Dean's fault. 

 

"Okay, so this is—I was—" Dean falters, his throat tight. Shit. Shit. "Jack, I know I fucked up when it came to you. Repeatedly. All the shit I did, all the shit I said, you didn't—I shouldn't have. And you can—you don't have to forgive me, ever. You don't, and I'll never ask you to, but I am sorry." 

 

"You're sorry," Jack echoes, his voice soft. 

 

Dean takes a deep breath, then slowly lets it out. He nods. "It isn't good enough, I know that. The only way I could make it better is go back and never do it at all, and I would if I could, but I can't. So, I'm sorry. And you can stay. Of course you can stay. I would—I'd be fucking glad if you did." 

 

"You're not just saying that because Cas would be upset if you didn't?" Jack asks, clearly uncertain, and Dean did that. Dean put that doubt there. 

 

"No, I'm not. I mean, he would. He'd—I'm pretty sure he'd rip me a new one, but he has in the past over you before, and that didn't stop me from—" Dean clenches his jaw and shakes his head, exhaling sharply. "It didn't stop me from being wrong, Jack. I still did the fucked up, stupid shit to you that I never should have. I'm saying I want you around because I want you around, and that's all there is to it. And if you—if you want me to stay the hell outta your way, I will. I'll never—I won't ever—" 

 

"Did you ever believe in me at all?" Jack cuts in, then looks away, his lips ticking down at the corners. "I'm sorry. That's not—I shouldn't have—"

 

"Yes," Dean answers, clearing his throat. "Yeah, kid, I did believe in you. And then—and then I didn't believe in much of anything, and you didn't deserve half the shit I put on you. You deserved—" He pauses, then chuckles weakly. "You deserved Cas. That's who you deserved, and you're right. He's your family. He loves you. That's what you deserve." 

 

"Is that for me?" Jack murmurs, nodding his head across the room, over Dean's shoulder. 

 

"What?" Dean swivels, then blinks. The fishhook is still hanging off his mirror, the same one Jack used when he was dying. Swallowing, he turns back and nods at Jack. "Yeah, that's for you." 

 

Jack cocks his head, just a little. Cas. So like Cas. "That's...sentimental." 

 

"I'm known to be, on occasion," Dean mutters with a rueful laugh. 

 

"Castiel said you prayed to me," Jack tells him. 

 

"Yeah, I did." 

 

"I'm sorry I didn't hear your prayers." 

 

"It's okay, Jack. You were—well, you were doing something more important than listening to me bitch and moan anyway." Dean takes a deep breath and meets Jack's gaze. "If it matters at all, I don't usually pray to people I don't believe in. And I ain't never believed in God, but I believe in you." 

 

"It matters," Jack whispers, blinking hard and fast, his eyes shiny and bright. 

 

Dean's heart feels like it fractures. "Oh, jeez, kid. I'm sorry. I'm—fuck, I'm so sorry. Come here." 

 

The moment he lifts his arm, his intentions clear, Jack ducks his head and shuffles forward him with a not-at-all-quiet sniffle that makes him sound more like a toddler than the divine. He clings to Dean, shuddering a little, not outright crying but close. 

 

"Just be nice. All you have to do is be nice," Jack croaks, like he can't understand what's so hard to grasp about that, and well. He's right. 

 

"I know, I'm sorry," Dean whispers, the lump in his throat threatening to strangle him. 

 

Jack makes a small noise and mumbles, "I don't know why I cared so much about what you thought. I just wanted—all I wanted—" 

 

Dean thinks about his relationship with his own dad, and he feels something in him deflate a little at knowing that Jack feels similarly for him. All Dean ever wanted from his dad was his approval, his pride, to be enough. And it comes around to Dean's bitterness at not understanding why he cared so much when his dad never did, when his dad didn't deserve that much from him, not really. Dean doesn't deserve it, either. 

 

"The worst part is that I know how this feels," Dean admits, his eyes sinking shut. "Fuck. Fuck. I made you feel the way I've felt and hated to feel, and I'm sorry. God, I'm so sorry, kid." 

 

"I think about fishing with you sometimes," Jack admits, his words muffled into Dean's shoulder. "Can we go again?" 

 

"Yeah," Dean rasps. "We can go again, Jack." 

 

Jack nods against him, releases a deep breath, then pulls back. He blinks rapidly and reaches up to scrub at his face with the heels of his hands. "Okay." 

 

"Just me and you, kid. We'll get burgers on the way, and you can drive us there," Dean tells him. 

 

"Not now, though. I want to see Sam," Jack states. He studies Dean for a long moment, then nods a little to himself. "This is good. We'll be okay." 

 

Dean crooks a small smile. "Glad to hear it." 

 

"You'll be nice to Cas too, right?" Jack checks, suddenly very serious. He holds Dean's gaze. "It won't be complicated, will it? Like you said love can be. But it shouldn't be. Not for him." 

 

"You're right, it shouldn't be. It has been for a long time, for both of us, but I think—" Dean has to take a second to force the grin off his face, then decides fuck it and lets it settle in, nice and easy. "I think we've got it all figured out now. Me and him? We're happy, and I'm pretty sure we're gonna stay that way. I'm not really a nice person, but—" 

 

"You are," Jack counters. "In your own way, you are. I'm happy that things worked out." 

 

"Didn't know if it ever would, especially with how my life works," Dean admits, shaking his head, still grinning. He raises his eyebrows. "But uh, life can be so silly sometimes, ya know." 

 

Jack's eyes light up with a shared joke, perking up in delight, and he grins right along with Dean. "Yes, it can. It often is." 

 

Later that night, Dean spends a truly ridiculous amount of time kissing Cas, touching him, drawing out every noise of pleasure that he can. Cas doesn't seem to be complaining, but he is baffled when Dean insists on doing all the work, taking it slow, ignoring his own arousal to indulge Cas' as sweetly as he can. I'm only being nice, Cas, he says, and Cas arches into him with a tortured groan that makes Dean grin and drag it out just a little more. 

 

Jack's presence in the Bunker opens a whole other level to Dean and Cas' relationship. They were already sort of co-parenting before in some ways, but as a definitive couple? It gets so much worse.

 

In no time at all, Dean becomes the parent that lets the child get away with absolutely anything. In short, he spoils the kid rotten. Jack says he wants to go fishing? Dean takes the kid fishing, no matter what plans he had for the day. Jack joins him on grocery runs, and when he asks for something—a toy, a snack, literally anything—Dean gets it for him, no questions. When Jack wanders into the Dean Cave while Dean's in there, no matter who he's with, Dean passes over the remote without a word and cuts anyone a sharp glare if they complain about the same reruns of your every day cartoons. This includes Cas, who is very tired of watching the same episodes of The Fairly OddParents. 

 

What Jack wants, Jack gets. This is met with general amusement and some disapproval from Sam, who thinks it doesn't actually benefit Jack to just...get whatever he wants. Dean always shrugs and brings up all the times he fucked up with the kid, and then Sam doesn't have much to say after that. 

 

Cas, however… Well. 

 

"He'll have behavioral issues if you keep this up," Cas informs him as Dean comes sweeping in from yet another fishing trip—the third in the two weeks since Jack has been back. 

 

"Well, it's not just for him," Dean mutters, stuffing his hands up Cas' t-shirt right there in the kitchen, just because he can. "I actually like fishing with Jack, you know. It's a good time." 

 

"There will come a time when you'll have to tell him no about something, Dean," Cas rumbles, sounding both exasperated and fond. 

 

Dean grunts and drops his head on Cas' shoulder, leaning into him. "M'gonna make you do it. You can be the bad guy for once. I'm tired of being the bad guy. Can't I just be nice?" 

 

"Is that what you want? You wish to treat him to anything he likes and leave the structure up to me?" Cas asks, sounding genuinely curious. 

 

"Well…" Dean ponders that for a long moment, because he's learned by now that Cas always asks him about his wants in a serious way. It's a serious subject. He picks his head up and frowns at Cas, then nods. "Actually, yeah. I don't want to be… Cas, I don't want to be the disciplinarian. I don't want to be the way I was before." 

 

"Dean, you don't have to be harsh with him," Cas murmurs. "You never have to be harsh with him. You wouldn't if he looked his age." 

 

That draws Dean up short. He blinks at Cas, letting those words swirl around in his head, not something that should feel so insightful but still manages to hit Dean like a sack of bricks anyway. He thinks about it from that perspective, and...yeah. Dean's good with kids, usually, so if Jack actually looked like one… 

 

"He's only four," Dean says. 

 

Cas hums. "He's only four." 

 

"I'm still gonna leave it mostly to you," Dean informs him after a long, thoughtful moment. "I'll be like one of those housewives. Ask your father, dear, you know he makes the rules around here." 

 

"Well, that's just inaccurate," Cas tells him, amused. 

 

Dean grins and sweeps his hands further up Cas' shirt, sliding his hands around his back to yank them closer together. "I dunno, Cas, I think there's something there. I do cook a lot, and I clean, and I'd be willing to let you hold my wallet and pay for everything. Go out, buy some bacon, put it on the table. You can be the man of this family." 

 

"There are a lot of men in this family already," Cas points out, lips twitching. 

 

"Shh, let me form elaborate fantasies of you coming through the door and saying honey, I'm home before slapping me around a little because I didn't clean the way you wanted me to," Dean teases. 

 

Cas arches an eyebrow at him. 

 

"That—that wasn't meant to come off sexual," Dean admits weakly. "It was—just, you know, because the housewife era I was talking about kinda, uh, sucked for the housewife most of the time. I was just—it wasn't a joke. I was trying to explain what it—I mean, still tasteless, but—" He coughs and leans back. "Don't tell Eileen." 

 

"I won't tell Eileen," Cas assures him, most definitely smiling now. He still looks intrigued, though. "To clarify, I didn't assume it was sexual. You did. That's…" 

 

"You've never once slapped me in a sexual setting. That's a damn shame, Cas," Dean says, waggling his eyebrows, only half-joking. 

 

"Is it?" Cas asks, sincerely curious. 

 

"Well, sometimes. Not all the time. Ya know, I used to have a thing—a fantasy, maybe—of getting slapped in the face during sex by someone wearing a Zorro mask. But, I mean, we already have great sex. You wore that hat last week."

 

"I did wear that hat." 

 

"See? You already indulge me a little too much. I mean, if you wanted to shove me around a little during sex, I'm not gonna complain, but what about you? What about what you want?" Dean mumbles, a sudden spike of genuine worry hitting him. 

 

"I assure you, Dean, I get precisely what I want every single time," Cas says, giving him a significant look, both eyebrows raised now. 

 

"Yeah, but nothing in particular?" Dean flashes him a grin and slips his hands down to squeeze Cas' hips. "What can I do for you, sweetheart?" 

 

Cas looks him dead in the eye and says, "You can fuck me in your car." 

 

Dean chokes, his grin slipping right off his face as his eyes bulge. "Shit. Shit, Cas, you serious?" 

 

"Very," Cas murmurs.

 

"Yes. Yes, okay, yeah," Dean blurts out stupidly, fumbling a little to get his hands more settled around Cas' again for the sole purpose of drawing him into a kiss. 

 

Because they're awful, they're still going at it (and quite vigorously, too) when Sam comes bustling into the kitchen. He groans. "Seriously, again? Can't you two just...not for five seconds? Jesus Christ." 

 

"Shut up, Sammy. Shut the fuck up," Dean chokes out, jerking back and tugging Cas' insistently towards the door, his head a mess and his heart a'racing. "The—no one come in the garage for—" 

 

"What? Dean, no," Sam bursts out, looking horrified as Dean trips past him. 

 

"Do you remember when I was dead?" Cas asks with a heavy dose of solemnity in his tone, laying it on thick, which usually works a treat. 

 

Sam's expression flickers like he wants to give in, but he shakes his head. "I'm sorry, but that doesn't make fucking in the car okay!" 

 

"Shut up," Dean says again. "It's my car, I can do what I want. Besides, it's basically a staple. Come in the garage at your own risk." 

 

Cas smiles winningly as Dean yanks him out of the room, and Sam frantically calls out, "At least sanitize the—" 

 

They don't stick around to hear the rest. 

 

So, maybe they're awful, but they're having a great time while they're at it, so that's all that matters. 

 


 

In the evenings in between that space of rest and genuine sleep, Cas likes to lay down with Dean and talk about the future. Dean likes to lay down with him and have a future to talk about. 

 

It's mostly small things. Dinner plans for tomorrow. A planned trip to visit Claire and the rest of the ladies for next week. Toying with the idea of seeing Sorine Levina in concert next month. Nothing too far out past the horizon, just quiet discussions while they play with each other's hands and skin, a soft bubble of conversation around them. 

 

It happens whether or not sex comes before it, and it always, always signals to Dean that it's almost time for him to rest. He gets to fall asleep thinking about tomorrow, knowing he'll wake up to it with Cas there beside him. It's possibly one of the most calming routines they have. Dean loves it. 

 

Tonight, for the very first time, the topic grows a little heavy unexpectedly. Not heavy in a bad way, just something a little more serious than he was anticipating. This is, of course, his own fault. 

 

Cas has been asking Dean if he can use what grace he has to bring the once-preserved flower back to life. Dean always tells him no, tells him to leave the flower where it sits on his nightstand, Cas' much more vibrant flower right next to it. Cas seems to find it a little unnecessary, because he can make the flower look as it did before he died, and he wants to so Dean doesn't have to face the reminder every day. 

 

The thing is, Dean's never going to forget. He still cries when he hears Sorine's song, no matter if Cas is standing right in front of him or not. He still refuses to go into the room where Cas was stolen from him, and he can't be coaxed inside for anything. He still wakes up with a nightmare clinging to him harder than Cas can some nights, so sure—so sure that this has all been a dream. 

 

The flower? Dean looks at it and thinks I loved you then, I love you now, I'll love you until I'm not alive to do so anymore. So, Dean loves the flower as it was and as it is, and he doesn't want to forget how fucking lucky he turned out to be. 

 

Somehow, somehow, this turns into something of a miniature argument, which derails with one comment that slips out without much fanfare. Dean opens his mouth and says, unthinkingly, "You're acting like I'm gonna pin it to my suit for our wedding, man. It's fine how it is." 

 

"Our wedding," Cas says promptly, getting sidetracked. He's surprisingly bad about doing that, losing the thread of the conversation when something metaphorically shinier slips past him. 

 

"Uh," Dean mutters, abruptly remembering that Cas had blatantly stated that he wanted to be Dean's husband irrefutably. "I mean, yeah, I guess. I figured we'd get around to that one of these days. You said you wanted to get married." 

 

Cas fixes him with a curious look. "Do you?" 

 

"I—I mean—" Dean blinks rapidly, and he has to take a moment to consider it seriously. Cas always means these kinds of things seriously. He pictures it for just a second, the two of them standing across from each other, slipping rings on. It flashes in his mind like a streak of color, like paint splatter hitting a blank canvas. It's gone just as quickly, but a smile remains behind, tugging at his lips. He looks at Cas and lets it grow. "Yeah, Cas, I do." 

 

"I don't know how it would work," Cas admits, eyebrows tugging together. 

 

Dean chews on the inside of his lip, pondering it for a long moment, then he huffs a laugh. "It'd be small, I think. Not really traditional. The flowers would have to be like the ones we gave each other, wouldn't they? Ya know, I could use the flower, and you could make it all pretty on our wedding day. That'd be kind of symbolic, huh?" 

 

Cas raises his eyebrows at him. "You have ideas." 

 

"Maybe a few." Dean's face goes hot, but Cas looks interested, so he clears his throat and carries on. "I think outside would be good, right? Maybe the—we could get married in the...where you, um…"

 

"Where I returned to you?" Cas asks. 

 

"Symbolism," Dean croaks. 

 

"You like it there," Cas says softly. 

 

Dean swallows. "That's where you always were when I didn't know where else to find you." 

 

"Symbolically speaking," Cas muses, "you'd like to have me there." 

 

"To have and to hold," Dean teases, lips curling up, but he knows his face is soft and his tone is laden with a longing that betrays him. 

 

Cas hums and reaches out to cup his cheek, thumb brushing his cheek bone. He leans in, pressing a warm kiss to Dean's lips, gentle as a breeze. When he pulls back, he whispers, "I would very much like to marry you there." 

 

"Another future plan?" Dean rasps, his heart fluttering stupidly in his chest. 

 

"Spring would be the best time, wouldn't it?" Cas asks. "It's beautiful during the spring." 

 

Dean laughs and nods, ducking in to kiss Cas again, his eyes closing slow and steady. When they break apart, their foreheads rest together, and Dean mumbles a deliriously happy, "Let's have a spring wedding." 

 

"Okay," Cas agrees, as simple as that. 

 

"Tell me a poem," Dean says, settling in with a sigh, humming in simple enjoyment at the feeling of Cas' fingers ever so gently tracing his features. 

 

"Tell me goodnight first," Cas replies, like a reminder, like Dean could forget how they do this every single night. 

 

This is something of a routine in its own right. Dean scoots forward with a hum, his lips quirking up as he drags his nose along Cas', just to feel it, just pleased that it's there. That he's there. That he has stayed, and that he always will. He kisses him, chaste and warm, and then he pulls back. 

 

"Do you know?" Dean says softly. "Do you know that I love you?" 

 

"I do," Cas replies, just as always, "and I love you." 

 

Later, much later after Dean has fallen asleep to cadence of Cas' voice and woken up the next morning, later even than the days that pass and the seasons that change, Dean will ask that same question with a blooming flower pinned to his suit, and while a ring slips over his knuckle, he'll get the very same answer.