Actions

Work Header

The Haint Blues

Chapter Text

“Hey Dean! I think I have a case.” Sam called conversationally. He tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear and glanced towards where his brother stood at the kitchen counter.

Dean had himself wrapped in one of the robes he’d found hanging in the closet at the Bunker and had a firm clasp on a cup of coffee. He raised his eyebrows at his brother and waited for him to continue.

Sam frowned at him and looked back at his computer screen. “Werewolf in Louisiana.” He said simply. “A psychic in the area contacted me about it a couple days ago and I’ve been looking into it. Seems pretty legit if you’re up for the drive.” He gave Dean a once-over as if doubting Dean’s stamina.

Dean grumbled something unintelligible into his cup before taking a long gulp of the scalding liquid. “Psychic, hmm?” He said once the heat in his mouth had calmed somewhat. “They can’t handle it themselves?”

Sam’s frown deepened. “She’s a psychic, Dean, not a hunter.”

“She, huh?” Dean waggled his eyebrows at his brother. “She a PYT there, little brother? Psychic little thing?” Dean chuckled at his own joke. A quick look at Sam had him laughing harder as his brother had hunched his shoulders over his computer and continued typing angrily on the keyboard.

“Alright, alright. Sack up, Sammy. Lemme see what you got.” Dean padded over to the seat across from Sam’s and took another pull from his cup. He rubbed sleepily at an eye with a fist and yawned loudly while Sam turned the computer towards him.

Dean skimmed over the newspaper excerpts and the corresponding lunar calendar Sam had opened. Sure enough, it looked like a pretty cut and dry werewolf case. “Yeah alright, when do you wanna leave?”

“I was thinking tomorrow morning. The next full moon is in two days. That would give us a chance to get down there and get our bearings before heading out. If we’re lucky, we can catch it on the first night and avoid another body.” Sam turned the computer back towards himself and looked over the calendar once again.

Dean shrugged at his brother. “Sounds good. You see Cas yet?” Dean stretched his arms over his head and heard a satisfying crack near his shoulders. He scratched absently at his chest and blinked sleepily a few times.

“Not yet.” Sam said without looking up from his computer. “I didn’t want to wake him, since ya know… he’s been having trouble sleeping.”

“I thought I heard him wandering around last night, was kinda hopin’ you were just up for a midnight snack.” Dean rubbed the back of his neck in thought.

Sam made a noncommittal sound and continued clacking away on his keyboard. It was no secret that Cas had been having a rough go of it since he’d gotten back to the Bunker, newly human and much worse for wear. It had taken Dean and Sam a while to get him healed up physically, but they’d both been worried about his mental state for some time. He’d been quiet, more quiet than usual anyway, and withdrawn. He’d had trouble sleeping and would often wander the halls of the Bunker at odd hours in the middle of the night. When he sat with them in the evenings for dinner or TV he would rarely engage and Dean caught him more than once staring off into space. He wondered what he was thinking about during those times, but he doubted it was something he’d want to hear. Still, he was worried for his friend. He and Sam sat in silence for another fifteen minutes before Dean decided it was time to get up and shower.

He took his time in the shower since they weren’t rushing off anywhere until tomorrow. Living in the Bunker had made him just a tad high maintenance, he knew that, but he was loathe to care. He reveled in the heat and the water pressure in the shower, wore a robe in the mornings and slippers in the evenings. But, he’d lived a hard life, he deserved a few creature comforts, dammit!

He soaped his hair and let the water wash it from his scalp and down his shoulders. He rubbed the tips of his fingers into the knots at the base of his neck that he never could seem to get rid of. He needed a live-in masseuse. Someone to work on the muscles every night and then kiss him to sleep. Mmmm, ok… so maybe not a masseuse, maybe more like a girlfriend. Fat chance of that happening with this life, but it was nice to dream.

He applied firmer pressure and rolled his neck in a few small circles. They’d been at the Bunker for about a week since their last case. That one had been a little hairy, and not in the furry monster kinda way. Dean had all but pleaded with Cas to stay behind, but he hadn’t been having any of it and had tagged along despite Dean’s grumblings. Cas had only been human for a few months and Dean had wanted him to get used to working with completely human reflexes before he got back into hunting. Cas had persisted though and since the guy was like Stonewall Jackson, he’d won the argument. They’d managed to slaughter the nest of vamps they’d run into in Missouri, but Sam had been knocked unconscious and Cas had taken a pretty severe cut to the arm that had bled so incessantly that Dean had almost taken him to the hospital. Sam had been lucky to avoid a concussion, but Cas had needed a few stitches.

He blew the air out of his lungs in a whush and scrubbed a hand over his hair under the spray. He’d been absolutely terrified when he’d seen Sam go down, and though Cas fought through the gash in his arm, Dean had been out of his mind with worry. He’d berated himself the entire ride back to the motel. He should have been more adamant about Cas not going, he should have been paying more attention, he should have this, he should have that. It was a song and dance he’d done on every case he’d ever been on with either Sam or Cas. The guilt and the shame burned through him like they always did and he’d slept fitfully for the next few days worrying about what MIGHT have happened.

He hung his head and let the water beat against his shoulders. If he closed his eyes and listened to the sound of the water as it came out of the faucet, he could almost forget all of this. Forget his worries about Cas, his concern for Sam, forget his own name if he really tried. The water beat a staccato against his skin, the warmth of it flowing over his body and enveloping him in it’s embrace. He stood there silently for what felt like an eternity trying to let his mind drift, let some sort of peace come over him. He was moderately successful before his hand slipped on the slick tiles of the shower and he stumbled forward. He blinked rapidly as he came back to himself.

Pull it together, Winchester. He scrubbed his hands through his hair again. Time to get the fuck out of here.

He shut the water off and the cold of the Bunker’s walls immediately creeped over the shower stall door. The Bunker was generally pretty comfortable, but sometimes it had some trouble regulating the temperature. He should really figure out where the furnace was and give it a once over. They’d lived here long enough that he should really have made more of an effort to explore it better. Maybe he could ask Cas, he’d spent the last few weeks wandering the halls, he probably had a pretty good layout of the place.

Dean rubbed himself down quickly before wrapping the towel around his waist. He yawned again and shook his head. He needed another cup of coffee apparently. He was getting too comfortable here, it was taking him too long to wake up. He slapped a hand over his cheeks smartly before exiting the bathroom.

He padded silently down the hall towards his room but paused as he passed Cas’s door. Cas’s room was just two down from his own, they’d cleaned it the minute he’d shown up at the Bunker’s door and Cas had moved right in. Though, that may be a generous term. Cas was certainly sleeping in there, but Dean had yet to see anything in there that made the room HIS. He had clothes hanging up in the closet and his angel blade was usually resting on the bedside table. But other than that, the room could belong to anyone. Maybe they should take him shopping? Did knickknacks make a place a home? Dean certainly didn’t know.

Cas’s door was closed and Dean didn’t want to snoop but he stopped and leaned closer to the frame. No sound made its way through the wood and he frowned. Surely Cas wasn’t still sleeping? What time even was it? He wasn’t in much of a position to judge a person’s sleep schedule but… he was getting worried. He hated to admit it, and wouldn’t relay his concerns to Sam unless absolutely necessary but… Cas wasn’t adjusting as quickly as they’d hoped and Dean was starting to feel a pull in his gut whenever he looked at his friend that felt suspiciously like guilt and worry. He just didn’t know what to do to help.

Dean had never been accused of being overly sensitive, or for having emotions beyond Anger, Intense Anger, and Smartass. Though that last one maybe wasn’t so much an emotion as a state of being. Cas was probably fine. Dean was just worrying for lack of anything better to do. Maybe it would be good to get out of the Bunker and go and kill something. He needed a distraction, they all did.

He huffed out an irritated breath and meandered his way down the rest of the hallway and into his bedroom. Now, he just needed an excuse to sideline Cas for this upcoming hunt. Cas’s skills weren’t quite up to par yet and Dean knew it would be a delicate balance between convincing him to stay and not hurting his feelings. He’d have to use some cunning and more than a little tact. He had lost the discussion last time but he could pull it out this time, he knew it. Tact and cunning, he could do that, no problem! Dean Winchester was nothing if not tactful, right?

xxx

“You’re not going.” Dean said quickly. “It isn’t up for discussion.”

He’d managed to throw on an outfit and wander his way back into the kitchen where Sam was still posted and looking through something on his computer. Cas had made his way into the room at some point and was nursing a cup of coffee. With sugar… Dean had almost rolled his eyes when he’d seen it. Dean believed in coffee purity and Cas and Sam always doctored theirs when they could.

“Dean…” Sam started. He already had that kicked puppy look on his face and Dean steeled himself for the coming confrontation. Sam was adamant about treating Cas as normal as possible, and that included taking him on hunts with them. Dean had the opposite opinion, and while he told Sam it was because he was worried that Cas was going to get them killed because he wasn’t used to working with human reflexes, it was really because he was terrified that Cas was going to get hurt because Dean couldn’t keep an eye on him.

“No. It ain’t happenin’.” He said sharply. Maybe if he started strong they would fold early.

“Dean, that isn’t fair!” Sam’s voice raised in anger. “You can’t keep babying him!”

“I ain’t babying him! He isn’t ready!” Dean’s voice matched Sam’s in tone and timber. He took an intimidating step towards the table, though that did little to concern Sam. Dean wasn’t going to be cowed on this subject. Cas and Sam might be pissed at him for benching Cas, but they’d both be safer for it.

Sam stood from his seat and his chair clattered loudly against the floor behind him. “You don’t know that! He still has all of his angel knowledge and yeah, his reflexes might be slower but Cas is a soldier. He can compensate for his slower response times.”

“You don’t know that! He could get himself killed with a slip up!”

“We could all get killed with a slip up!”

“All the more reason to keep him here! He’s a liability like this!”

“You’re being an asshole!”

“I’d rather be an asshole then dead because we threw a newborn into a melee!”

Sam was seething and Dean could see a vein start to work in his temple. This was an old argument, one they’d been having for weeks. Though, Cas was rarely in the room with them when they’d gone over it. They had, in fact, seemed to forget that Cas was in the room with them at the current moment until a loud crack splintered into their ears and startled them both. They looked around wildly for the source of the noise, only for their eyes to land on a very quiet and a VERY angry former angel.

Cas’s shoulders were hunched up around his ears and his head was hung low towards his chest. His breaths were deep and sharp and Dean winced at the obvious fury rolling off of him.

Oh yeah… tact… He thought despairingly. Fuck.

Cas looked up at the brothers and the rage hidden behind his eyes felt like a whip crack against Dean’s nerves. If Dean didn’t KNOW that Cas was human now, he would likely be concerned for his safety. Even still, the look on the man’s face was enough to make him forget for a moment.

He stood slowly and looked each of them in the eye steadily until both lowered their eyes in shame. “I am not a child.” He said quietly, almost on a whisper.

Dean cringed again at the sound of that whisper. It was a knife wrapped in velvet and the sound of it raised goosebumps on his arms.

“I understand that I am not as useful to you anymore.” He stopped here to challenge them to question the statement. Dean didn’t have words at the moment to deny it, though it was obviously untrue. “I have come to terms with that. I’m not, however, completely useless. I don’t need your coddling. I’m older than this entire solar system and I’ve earned a little more respect from the BOTH of you.” Cas paused here and Dean chanced a glance up at him.

His cheeks were flaming red and his eyes looked like chips of ice. The lines of fury on his face could have been carved from marble and Dean gulped against a dry throat. He was terrifying. Even in his oversized sleep shirt that he’d borrowed from Sam, even with his hair sleep mussed, even standing in socks and without his pants, he was absolutely terrifying. Dean felt the goosebumps chase themselves up his arms again.

Holy shit… Dean felt a strange flutter in his stomach at the sight of Cas looking so furious and so powerful again.

Dean frowned at himself. The fuck?

He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Cas… buddy…” He started plaintively.

Cas turned his face towards Dean with an expression that Dean imagined more than one demon had seen before a smiting.

“Look… I’m-” Dean’s apology was cut short however, as Cas grabbed his mug and stormed from the kitchen. “...sorry…” Dean said quietly to his back.

He looked in the direction that Cas had swept towards, most likely his bedroom, for a long time. Sam must have been standing similarly because the kitchen was silent for a long time. Finally, movement behind him drew his attention and Dean turned. Sam was settling himself back in his chair and typing quietly at his keyboard.

“Nice going.” Sam said without looking up from his computer.

Dean made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat. “Don’t fucking start.” He said angrily before making his way towards the garage. He needed to get his hands in the Impala. He was filled with a restless energy now that that little confrontation was over. Giving the Impala an unnecessary tune-up might help. He needed to get out of here for a minute anyway and DO something.

He would have to apologize to Cas eventually, but make it clear that he wasn’t coming. They needed some time cool off first though.

Dean scrubbed a hand over his face angrily. That was NOT how that whole thing was supposed to go down. But, holy shit had Cas looked incredible, all furious and smite-y. Incredible in a “wow my best friend is a total badass” kind of way. In like a completely heterosexual “angels are remarkable creatures, and had a certain beauty when they looked like they were going to smite something” kind of way. Yeah... definitely, those kinds of ways.

Dean growled lowly at himself and pushed open the door to the garage angrily. Not at ALL how that was supposed to go. Fuck.

xxx

The drive to Louisiana was tense. Incredibly and uncomfortably so. Before they’d left, Dean had tried to apologize to Cas, in his own way. Cas wasn’t having any of it however and had simply glared Dean down with his Ice Queen stare until Dean had folded and given in. What was another few months of self loathing added to what he was already carrying after all? He’d just have to make extra careful that he kept Cas within his eyeline at all times. Sam was obviously still angry with him as well, because as soon as they’d gotten in the car and Dean had directions, Sam popped in a set of earbuds and looked out the window like a moody teenager.

Dean sighed heavily. He felt like some kind of Clark Griswold trying to take his family on a road trip only to piss them all off on the way. At least he had Baby, she was never angry with him, she always supported his decisions!

He glanced in the rear view mirror at Cas’s profile. The other man was turned away and looking out of the window to his right, watching as the scenery scrolled past. His heart ached as he looked at him. Dean hadn’t handled himself well, he knew that. His heart had been in the right place though, he just wanted everyone safe! He’d have to find some way to smooth all this over, preferably BEFORE they got in over their heads on this whole werewolf thing. He just needed the right time to bring it up… God, he was absolute shit at all of this. Luckily for him, he had the next 13 hours to obsess over it. Great.

Sam finally decided to man up and pull those damn headphones out of his ears just as they crossed over into Louisiana. Dean frowned around him as the landscape changed outside the windows. The trees grew denser and their limbs more crooked. He couldn’t feel the air yet but he knew that it was sticky outside, balmy and uncomfortable. He hated the South.

Beside him, Sam pulled out his cell phone and scrolled through a couple of screens before landing on one that he perused for a few minutes. He glanced up a couple of times, presumably to check the mile markers before ducking back down. Dean waited with thinly veiled impatience. Sam had the nitty-gritty on how to locate this damn psychic and Dean would just have to wait on him to give the directions. It was getting dark now, they were creeping towards 8pm and Dean didn’t really want to be driving through the damn swamp looking for imaginary landmarks made up by locals without the sun for assistance.

“You’re going to turn right on exit 16A in 6 miles.” Sam said suddenly. His voice broke the silence in the car like a gunshot and Dean wrinkled his nose against the sound. Behind him, he heard the leather of the seat squeak as Cas readjusted his position. It took everything in him not to look in the mirror again. He and Cas were fighting right now, he didn’t need to show his hand too early if he was going to swoop in with an apology. It would likely only piss Cas off more at this point.

Dean followed Sam’s directions as he called them out for another forty five minutes. The psychic, Nnenna apparently, lived outside of Shreveport and he looked at the increasingly LESS populated scenery as they drove on. There were still buildings here and there, but the majority of the landscape was taken up by… swamp, his favorite.

He did his best to keep silent as he followed Sam’s directions, though he was feeling an increasing sense of unease as they continued on. He couldn’t place it but something felt… wrong. Maybe it was just being down here, it always gave him the creeps. Something about the moss, or the above ground cemeteries or maybe it was the Deliverance vibe he got from some of the people. He’d never felt good about being down here, whatever it was.

They pulled up in front of a very old and very… colorful, single story home just as the clock was rolling towards 9pm. Dean gave it a once over with a shrewd eye as he pulled into the driveway. It wasn’t out of the ordinary, truth be told. It was a generational type house, one that a family held onto for years and years. It was raised off of the ground, like most places down here and sprawled outwards to the left and the right like additions had been added over the years without out a lot of planning. The sky above it twinkled in the star light and the trees on either side swayed gently in the night breeze. It had a certain charm to it he supposed, if he could get over the location anyway.

“This the place?” He asked gruffly. That had come out a little more rough than he’d intended and he cleared his throat a little. Apparently, he hadn’t spoken more than a few words the entire drive down here. He hadn’t even noticed.

“Guess so.” Sam said as the porchlight clicked on. He glanced towards Dean and then back towards Cas. He shrugged his broad shoulders and unfolded himself as best he could from his seat as he lifted himself from the car.

Dean watched him as he slowly approached the front steps before grumbling lowly to himself and exiting the car himself. At least if Sam was walking into a trap, Dean wouldn’t be too far behind. At this point they couldn’t ever be too careful.

Sam had apparently snagged a small revolver as he had gotten out of the Impala and was in the process of tucking it in the back of his pants when the front door opened. Warm light spilled towards Sam, who halted his forward movement immediately. A short dark-skinned woman stepped onto the porch with an expectant look on her face. She gave Sam the “elevator-eyes” and crossed her arms over her chest with a smile.

“Da gun might be overkeel. I can keep my hands to myself.” She said with a twist to her lips. Her voice was a charming mix of Southern drawl and Cajun twang and it flowed over them like a warm whiskey. Dean liked it instantly.

Sam straightened his posture and gave her a wide grin. “Oh uh… well, you never know. Can’t be too careful.” He said while running a hand through his hair.

Dean pursed his lips at his brother. Oh, so it’s gonna be like that is it, Sammy? “You must be Nnenna?” Dean said roughly as he stepped forwards and up the porch steps. Behind him he could hear Sam following and somewhere behind that were Cas’s footsteps coming across the rough driveway.

“And you muss be Dean.” She responded while turning sharp eyes onto him. She gave him the same up-down treatment that she’d given Sam and Dean felt a shiver work it’s way down his spine. She had a sweet face and dark almond shaped eyes. She was damn fine looking if Dean said so himself. But, something about those eyes made him uncomfortable. It was the same look Missouri always had in her eye, like she’d seen all of him and he hadn’t quite measured up somehow.

She extended a small hand that he took firmly. “It’s nice to meet da infamous Sam and Dean Winchester in person.” She said after she’d dropped his hand. “And da infamous Castiel, of course.” She nodded behind Dean, presumably to where Cas was standing quietly.

“Likewise.” Sam said quickly. He shuffled on his feet awkwardly and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

Oh brother, tone it down… Dean thought fondly.

Nnenna smiled at them broadly, as if reading their thoughts. Shit, she might have! Dean narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously. She responded by glancing towards him and giving him a quick wink. Son of a bitch. Fucking psychics…

“Why don’ we go inside, it’s more comfortable.” She said politely as she turned back towards her door. She was wearing a loose cotton dress that flowed behind her with a gentle wisp. Dean’s eyes were drawn to the movement and then naturally to her very pert bottom. Not bad… He thought appreciatively. As he made to follow her he caught her giving him a flat look over her shoulder and he grimaced. Shit. Sorry! It’s not bad, it’s definitely good! Or… I mean, not like good in a sexual way, like good in a… well, unless you’re interested, but like… oh fuck it, nevermind. Sorry.

She let out a low chuckle as she led them through the sitting room and towards her dining room. Dean stomped after her grumpily. This was NOT shaping up to be his most successful hunt. He hated dealing with psychics. It wasn’t right getting into a person’s head like that! It was like constantly having a Deanna Troi around, and while she’d been smokin’, it would just be weird to have someone constantly in your head, or you feelings or whatever.

Nnenna paused in her kitchen and ran a hand through her close-cropped hair. “Go ahead and take a seat in da dining room. I’m gonna get drinks for you boys. Castiel is thirsty.”

Dean shot a look over at where Cas had halted guiltily in the living room. His cheeks colored slightly and Dean smirked at him. Well, at least it wasn’t just him that was uncomfortable here.

The three of them crowded around the small round table in the dining room and waited for their host to make her way back in. Dean pulled his chair out and attempted to sit when his boot came into contact with a soft object under the table. He leaned back and found himself looking into the face of a very sleepy and very disgruntled dog.

“Das juss Reg!” Nnenna said as she made her way back into the dining room. She had a few glasses held carefully between her hands and set them down in the center of the table. “Reg Barkley, to be precise. Broccoli when I’m mad at ‘im.” She laughed a little at the surprised looks on the faces around her.

“What, us country folk can’t like Star Trek?” She patted Sam on the shoulder with a smile. “I always had a soft spot for dat poor guy. And Barkley fit perfect for a dog.” She bent under the table and gave the dog a rub on the top of his head.

“How was da drive?” She asked politely as she seated herself next to Sam at the table.

“Not bad!” Sam said quickly. “I love the South, the change in the climate is always so interesting to watch happen in real time.” He ran a nervous hand through his hair and tucked some loose strands behind his ears. “We figured since the full moon’s tomorrow we could go over some case details with you and find somewhere to sleep and get ready ‘til then?”

“O’ course, o’ course. You boys are more dan welcome to stay here tonight. It isn’t much, but it’s safe. I got dis place warded against basically any creep-crawly you can imagine would be roamin’ around out here.” Nnenna said easily. You juss gotta deal with ol’ Reg here and my pops in the mornin’.”

“That would be wonderful!” Sam said quickly. “Thank you!” He grinned goofily at Nnenna and leaned forwards onto the table.

Dean thought he was going to pull a muscle in his head from rolling his eyes so hard. Sam was about as transparent as a person could be when he had a crush and it was PAINFULLY obvious that he was into this girl. Dean wondered briefly how much they’d spoken before Sam had agreed to come down here. In fact, he was actually starting to worry that Sam had fabricated the case to get them down here. Guess they’d find out tomorrow.

He tuned out the rest of the conversation. Cas would give him highlights if he needed them. Speaking of… he glanced sideways at the former angel. He wondered if he was still angry with him. Cas was listening attentively to Nnenna and Sam’s poorly concealed flirting and wasn’t paying Dean any mind. His profile was cast in warm tones from the overhead light above them and Dean took a moment to admire his features. He’d always been fond of Cas’s nose for some reason, the straight line of it always seemed to cut through space and give him an air of authority. Seeing it now, in profile, reminded him of how in awe of Cas he’d always been. In awe of his power and of his compassion. Cas had the best qualities of a Winchester within him, and some of the worst, but that wasn’t always his fault. Cas’s mouth was set in a grim line, as if Sam and Nnenna were discussing something dire. In some of his more private moments, Dean had wondered what Cas’s lips would feel like. Not like… ON HIM, but just like… in the general sense. Would they be chapped and rough? Or soft and plush? A combination of the four? It was a purely academic interest, really, no really! Dean shook his head to clear it. Actually, Sam and Nnenna might have moved on to discussing the case now, he should really be paying attention...

It was true that he’d been worried about Cas’s mental health recently, but he actually looked a lot better now that he was really paying attention. He still had the insomnia obviously, but he must be getting sleep sometime. The bags that had existed under his eyes for the past few months had mostly disappeared and his skin had a much healthier glow to it than before. Maybe Dean HAD been coddling him unnecessarily recently? He should really make more of an effort to just… TALK to him. He always ended up tongue-tied when he tried to have any kind of real conversation with the guy so he’d eventually just given up. Now, all of their talking was done through Sam or in reference to a TV they were watching. He felt guilty about it, but he wasn’t really a feelings guy. Cas knew that. Right?

Cas shifted in his seat and shot Dean a look from the corner of his eye. Oh! He’d been staring. He turned his eyes back towards Nnenna and Sam quickly. He rubbed a hand over his face wearily. He felt tired all of a sudden. He hated fighting with Cas, it always completely drained him. He chanced another look at the man out of the corner of his eye. He should apologize. Maybe once they got out of this house and went to grab their gear from the car? He could find an excuse to get Cas alone surely. He definitely didn’t need Sam laughing at him while he fumbled through an apology. He’d be dealing with the fall back from that for a year, at least.

xxx

“Oh, dats nothin’! Last year we had a necromancer runnin’ ‘round down here tryin’ to raise up a army of dead Hoodoo priests. Lemme juss tell you dat was a nightmare to try and wrangle!” Nnenna laughed prettily and Dean inclined an ear towards it. It had been a long time since he’d heard a pretty woman laugh easily like that and it soothed something in him.

Sam laughed loudly an held a hand over his stomach. “What was he going to do with an army of priests?!”

“Lawd knows. He was a tough son of a bitch too. Took me and 3 hunters to track him down and get rid o’ him. Lucky I grabbed the hunters too because he HAD managed to raise 2 of dem damn Hoodoo bastards by da time we got to ‘im.” Nnenna gave them a half-smile and leaned into the table conspiratorially. “Dat wasn’t even da best part. Dat damn loon decided to practice his necromancin’ on his cat before he moved into da big leagues!”

Sam howled with laughter at this remark. “His cat!? He brought his cat back?”

Nnenna nodded sagely and took a long swallow from the beer in her hand. “Named him Mr. Whiskers if I recall. Sent the thing after us when we had him cornered too. Lemme tell you it wasn’t as funny then to have a madman screaming, “Protect me, Mr. Whiskers! Protect your Master!” as it is now retellin’ it. That nasty damn cat looked like sometin’ out of Pet Semetary tearin’ ass across the swamp at us. I ‘bout shit myself when it jumped at me outta a tree!”

Dean felt himself smile at the image. He always did like rehashing old hunting stories and that one was a doozy. Beside him Sam had tears in his eyes from laughing so hard, and even Cas was chuckling lowly at the story. Something in Dean’s chest eased at the sight of it. Things hadn’t felt this easy in a long time. It was comfortable here in Nnenna’s warm dining room with everyone laughing and smiling. So maybe he could forgive Sam his little crush right now. Nnenna was charming and inviting and very easy company. She got Dean’s seal of approval so far.

Sam jumped in on a story about a shapeshifter they’d hunted a few years back and he smile at the recollection of it. It had been one of their more ridiculous hunts and while they’d ultimately killed the damn thing, they’d had a hell of a time doing it. He glanced over at Cas quickly. The other man was smiling benignly as he listened to Sam’s story and Dean felt the tension in his chest ease a little more. It felt nice to see him smile. Really nice. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed seeing it. Maybe now would be a good time to drag him outside for the gear? If he was in a good mood he might be more willing to hear Dean out… It would give Sam and Nnenna a minute alone, so Sam wouldn’t fault him for that.

“Hey, I’m gonna head out to the Impala and grab our stuff real quick. Cas, you mind giving me a hand?” He added the last as if it was an afterthought and then congratulated himself on how nonchalant he sounded.

Cas looked at him deeply for a moment, as if gauging the request for its legitimacy. “Of course, Dean.” He said finally as he stood slowly.

Dean turned to go and blatantly ignored the knowing looks on both Sam and Nnenna’s faces. They didn’t know what he was doing, they could look all judgy as long as they wanted, he could play this cool. He didn’t wait for Cas to follow before he trooped out of the dining room, through the living room and out the front door. He could hear Cas’s footsteps behind him so he knew that he was coming at the very least. He drew a deep breath and steeled himself for the coming conversation. He was a grown ass man, he could do this!

They were silent as they walked towards the car. Cas drew level with him and they walked shoulder to shoulder the few feet from the porch to the Impala’s trunk. Dean did his level best not to sneak glances over at the other man. He felt nervous and he was furious at himself for it. He and Cas had been friends for over 5 years! And that included their nightmarish stint in Purgatory together. He could sack up, apologize, and they could move on, no problem. Sure.

He lifted the lid to the trunk and reached in to grab his duffel when he felt a warm hand touch his shoulder. The suddenness of it caused him to jump, which naturally caused him to bump his head loudly against the lifted trunk of the Impala. He gave a short yelp of pain and clapped both hands over the top of his head. He hissed out a breath at the pain and shot an angry look over at Cas who was standing guiltily with his hand hanging in the air between them.

“I’m sorry…” Cas said quietly. “I only meant to get your attention.” He lowered his hand and his eyes while Dean straightened up.

“It uh, it’s alright, man.” Dean rubbed a hand roughly against his scalp before dropping it to his side. “Just surprised me, is all.” He scuffed a boot against the dirt underfoot and cleared his throat for lack of something better to do. “Actually… I uh, I wanted to, ya know… apologize.”

Cas turned startled eyes towards him before frowning. “You wanted to apologize?” He asked incredulously.

Dean felt himself blush. “Fuck off, man. I can apologize.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and jut his jaw forwards stubbornly.

Cas arched an eyebrow and thinned his mouth at that. It was his “Dom” eyebrow as Dean had termed it. It was something he’d gotten into the habit of back when he’d first come to Earth and had still been under Heaven’s thumb. It was a “I’m the boss and you’re going to do what I say” look and it always caused a shiver to run down Dean’s back.

“I can!” Dean said hotly. He was blushing now and he cursed himself for it. This was NOT how this was supposed to go. He seemed to be thinking that a lot recently.

“Then let’s hear it.” Cas said while crossing his arms over his chest. That damn eyebrow was still locked firmly in place and Dean had to look away from it. The expression on Cas’s face was boiling his blood and his poor confused brain was sending the blood South instead of North where he needed it. There was a churning in his gut and a twitch in his pants that would be confusing him if he wasn’t so heated right now.

“Ok fine! Look… uh, I-I...” He huffed in irritation and ran a hand over his face. “I fucked up. I shouldn’t have tried to bench you.” He waved a hand towards Cas’s body offhandedly. “You can handle yourself, I just… I-I don’t want you to get hurt.” He finished lamely. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t really what he’d wanted to say, but he hadn’t really had time to prepare, Cas had forced it out of him.

He had hung his head at some point and hunched his shoulders up towards his ears. He glanced at Cas from this position to gauge his reaction and was surprised to see shock on his face. Was the apology THAT bad? Jesus…

“You think I’m angry because you were worried about me?” Cas asked skeptically.

Dean lifted his head quickly. “I didn’t say I was WORRIED about you!”

Cas rolled his eyes at him. “Yes, you just did. Though not in so many words. In fact, that stilted little speech and those odd grunts were reminiscent of a Neanderthal dialect that I heard once during the Pleistocene era.” He smirked at Dean’s gobsmacked expression.

“That- you… I wasn’t…” Dean started.

“See, just like that. Homo neanderthalensis. They had lovely poetry if you can believe that.” Cas’s smirk had grown to a grin at this point.

“You’re a homo whatever.” Dean grumbled and hunched his shoulders again.

Cas continued to smile and rolled his eyes. “I’m not not angry because you were worried, Dean.” He reached into the trunk of the Impala to grab his and Sam’s duffels out. In doing so, he brushed past Dean and Dean felt those damn goosebumps race up his arms again. What was WITH him tonight?

“Then uh, why are you mad?” He asked stupidly. He might as well go all in on this now, he’d already stuffed his foot in his mouth, he could probably fit the other one in there too.

Cas set the duffels on the ground at his feet and looked at them sadly for a moment. He was silent so long that Dean almost repeated himself, thinking that Cas hadn’t heard him. Cas shifted suddenly and looked upwards at the twinkling stars overhead. Dean followed his gaze, but other than seeing a few more stars than he was used too, he wasn’t sure what they were looking at.

“I know that I’ve become a burden to you and Sam recently.” He started quietly, almost quietly enough that Dean couldn’t hear him. “I realize that I’m a liability to your hunts and a drain on your… social lives. Without my powers I’m just a… a baby in a trenchcoat. That assessment had hurt my feelings before, but I realize now that it was accurate. I know that you think the two of you are better off without me here. But…” He shifted his weight and stuffed his hands in his pockets uncomfortably.

Dean’s throat felt tight and he wanted to open his mouth and deny everything that Cas was saying. He WASN’T a drain on them, he WASN’T a baby, they WEREN’T better off without him. How could he even think that! Just as he reached out a hand towards Cas to start in on how completely wrong he was, Cas looked at him sadly.

“You called me family once. I know it was a while ago and you haven’t mentioned it since. But… that had meant something to me. It made me feel… wanted, special. I understand that I’m not as useful anymore, but I suppose I just hoped that you still considered me special, your family. If that isn’t the case, I’d like you to let me know. But, I think I can still make myself useful to you and Sam, if you’d let me. Family or not.” Cas had looked back up at the stars and was standing so still that he looked like a marble statue.

“Cas…” Dean began. Where did he even begin with this? What in the hell could he even say to make Cas feel better? This clearly went MUCH deeper than he’d realized. Cas thought they didn’t want him around anymore because he wasn’t useful. He thought that Dean didn’t want him around because he couldn’t fight. How had he fucked up this badly?

He looked into the trunk of the Impala and his eyes glanced off of the guns, salt, crowbars, holy oil, every weapon a hunter could ever need. It held the answers to any problem you could encounter on a hunt. But this… he didn’t have a good answer for this.

Dean frowned. He had to say something, he had to make this right. He cleared his throat and looked towards Cas’s profile. Just go, Winchester. Just say something! “You were a terrible angel.” Dean blurted out, more loudly than he’d intended. Fuck, what the fuck! I didn’t mean to start with that, Jesus fuck! Cas had turned to him sharply with a scowl. Dean could read the hurt displayed plainly in the other man’s eyes and he hurried to continue. “That came out more blunt than I meant. Look, Cas… you were a terrible angel. You disobeyed Heaven, ignored direct orders, killed those other winged dicks when necessary. By their rules, you were awful.” He paused here to gauge the effect his words were having on the other man.

Cas looked like Dean had just kicked him in the gut and Dean felt a pang of guilt hit him squarely in the chest. “I’m sorry… I just meant… well, I think you were a terrible angel because you weren’t meant to be one.”

The hurt in Cas’s eyes amplified and was now accompanied by a confused scowl. “Dean-”

Dean held up a hand to halt his speech. “Let me finish.” He gently settled his hand on the other man’s shoulder and searched his eyes for a moment. “You weren’t meant to be an angel Cas, because you were meant to be a Winchester.” He squeezed Cas’s shoulder gently and dropped his hand. “You’ll always be family, Cas. No matter what happens, powers or not, useful or not. You’ll always be a Winchester, you’ll always belong with us.” Belong with me... He thought absently. “I’m sorry if I ever made you feel differently.” He finished quietly.

He could hear Cas gulp and resisted the urge to look upwards at the man’s face. He wasn’t sure how the evening had come down to this, but he surprisingly wasn’t upset about it. If this small conversation could help ease Cas’s mind, then Dean’s embarrassment at having to speak so plainly could be forgotten.

He chanced a look at Cas and turned his eyes away quickly when he noticed the moisture pooling at the corners of his eyes. He grabbed his and Sam’s duffels and waited for Cas to grab his own.

Cas cleared his throat briefly before reaching down to grab his own bag. “Thank you, Dean.” He said quietly.

Dean felt a flush creep up his neck at the barely concealed emotion in Cas’s voice. This had delved into chick flick territory faster than he’d realized and he sighed inwardly. At least he and Cas weren’t fighting anymore. And hopefully Cas was feeling better about the whole human situation now. We’ll never give you up, Cas. You’re a Winchester, always will be.

He turned a wry smile towards the dark-haired man next to him. “Come on, buddy. Let’s get inside and made sure that Sam and Nnenna aren’t macking on the couch.”