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Gimme Shelter (Or I'm Gonna Fade Away)

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It's almost noon when Dean rolls into Taylorville, Illinois. Lucky him, one of the first buildings he passes is a small roadside diner. He's been driving since early morning and all he had for breakfast was a cup of black coffee and half an energy bar he found in the glove compartment, so he's about ready for some real food.

There's only three other people in the diner when he enters: an older man hunched at the counter, looking like he's a permanent fixture of the place, a dude in a trenchcoat a couple of seats over who sits ramrod straight, facing the windows as he drinks his coffee, and a waitress who responds to Dean's charming smile with a disinterested stare.

Dean slides into the booth closest to the exit, ordering a cup of coffee and the breakfast special. While he waits for his food he gets out his notes on the case, the ones that Dad gave him over the phone.

There's not a lot to go on but what little there is, is fairly straight-forward. An unexplained death, five years to the day after an identical and as-of-yet unsolved death, which itself happened five years after a man named Leonard Torrance committed suicide in the wake of his divorce. Add to that the electrical disturbances and the whole thing seems cut and dried. Just a standard haunting, nothing a good salt and burn won't take care of.

He tucks his notes back into his pocket just as the waitress arrives with the food. It looks pretty unappetizing, but it's greasy and filled with protein, which is all Dean needs. Besides, the taste won't matter if he just lathers it all in syrup.

As he grabs the syrup, he's reminded - annoyingly - of Sam sitting across from him, giving his food and Dean a judgmental look.

"It's not gonna be some monster that gets you," he said, nose scrunches. "At this rate, the cholesterol's gonna kill you first."

Well, Dean didn't listen then and he's sure as hell not gonna listen now, when Sam isn't even here. Little shit didn't even answer last week when Dean called to wish him a happy birthday.

(Sam hasn't answered his phone in two months now. But then, Dean hasn't called him sober in almost five.)

Spitefully, Dean upends the bottle of syrup right over his food, letting it drip in equal measures over the pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. He puts the bottle down with a thud, licking a stray drop of syrup off his thumb, glancing around himself with an unnerving sense of guilt.

The guy in the trenchcoat is looking at him. Dean flips him off, turns back to his food and starts shoveling it down.

 

 

Dean waits until after dark to track Torrance's grave down. Then he parks the Impala by the cemetery and gets going, lugging with him a shovel, a shotgun, an iron crowbar, and a big bag of salt. 

This is why he hates hunting alone.

He's just a couple of rows away from his destination when he notices someone standing there alone in the dark. Panic grips him and Dean glances around for something to duck behind but the man turns around and spots him before he can.

Then he's walking towards Dean.

"Uh, e-evening," Dean says, trying somehow to hide his supplies behind his back. "Lovely night for a stroll, huh?"

The man draws closer and suddenly Dean recognizes him - it's the dude in the trenchcoat from the diner.

He's staring at Dean with a kind of single-minded purpose and intensity that threatens to knock him straight over. Dean's hold on the shotgun tightens, but he can't spot any weapons in the other man's hands.

He gets close enough to comfortably talk to. Then he gets even closer, right into Dean's personal space. Dean leans back a little on instinct but doesn't step away. He doesn't wanna seem intimidated by this dude.

"You're a hunter?"

Of all the openings, Dean sure as hell wasn't expecting that. "What?"

"A hunter," the man repeats. "You're here to put Leonard Torrance's spirit to rest, correct?"

The panic in Dean's chest deflates. If this guy knows about Torrance, then he's probably another hunter. "Yeah. Why, you wanna help me dig?"

"That would be useless," the guy says. "Leonard Torrance's soul parted from this world a decade ago. He is not the one who killed those people. A demon did."

Dean scoffs. “You’re kidding me, right? You know how rare demons are?”

“I do know, because I hunt them.” The guy fixes him with a piercing look, and Dean suddenly feels like his entire being is on display. It’s not pleasant. “My name is Castiel. I am an angel of the Lord and I need your help.”

 

 

Angels aren’t real. Dean knows that. Whatever lore there’s on them is sparse and no one has actually been able to give reliable account of ever having met one. Angels are up there with bigfoot and unicorns, as in nonexistent.

But still. When a guy tells you he’s an angel and a second later grabs your arm and boom, you’re standing in your motel room instead of the cemetery ten miles away, maybe it’s time to reevaluate some things.

“Holy shit,” Dean breathes. His stomach is twisting, bile rising in his throat, and his arms have gone limp, the supplies he’s been holding go tumbling to the ground.

Castiel lets go of his arm and stalks towards the windows, pulling the blinds down. Then he takes out a long, silver knife. Dean takes an automatic step back, but Castiel turns the knife on himself, making a small cut in his palm. Using the blood, he starts drawing some kind of a sigil on the wall.

Dean watches it all with a sense of unreality. He opens his mouth to speak, and the first thing that comes out is, “Where’s my car?”

“Where you left it,” Castiel says without looking up from his task.

“Dude, that’s ten miles away. You better be planning on taking me back.”

“Later.” Castiel finishes his job. From what Dean can tell, it looks like the cut on his palm is already healed. “Right now, I need your help.”

“Yeah, you already said that. What the hell does an angel need my help for, dealing with a demon? You can’t take care of that yourself?”

“Under normal circumstances, yes,” Castiel says. He looks frustrated. “But this demon is clever, it somehow knows how to ward itself against angels. I know where it’s located but I can’t access it. That’s where you come in. I need you to enter the demon’s lair and remove the wards.”

 “Look man, I’ve never dealt with demons before. This is all way above my paygrade, you gotta find someone else.”

Castiel steps closer to him. Into his personal space again and Dean is about to complain, but then Castiel flips the knife around in his hand and holds it out to Dean, handle first.

“This can kill them,” he says. This close, Dean can almost feel the low rumble of his voice and it sends chills dancing down his spine. He can’t believe he didn’t pick up on it right away that this guy isn’t human. “Do you know how to handle a blade?”

“Of course,” Dean says, a little insulted. He takes the knife from Castiel’s hand. It’s oddly warm to the touch; it doesn’t feel like borrowed warmth but like it’s radiating from within. “You trust me with it?”

“Of course,” Castiel echoes. “You have a good soul, Dean Winchester.”

Dean flushes. “You can see my soul? And wait, how do you know my name?”

Castiel just responds by raising his eyebrow, like Dean is some kind of idiot for even asking. “Don’t engage with the demon directly unless you need to. Locate the wards and disrupt them, a single broken line should be enough.”

“Wait-” Dean starts to say but Castiel grabs his arm again, and off they go.

They land on the corner of an empty street. Dean leans forward on his knees, fighting off a sudden wave of nausea. As he straightens, he can see that they’re in some sort of warehouse district and there’s only one building with lights on in the windows.

“Let me guess,” he says, nodding in its direction. “It’s over there?”

Castiel nods. “Be careful. You have my blade but the demon is still stronger and faster than you are. Don’t try to take it on.”

“Don’t need to tell me that,” Dean mutters. Why did he agree to this again?

Oh right, because people are dying.

“How many people has this thing killed?” he asks.

“Impossible to say,” Castiel says. “It’s been mimicking the behavioral patterns of other supernatural beings to disguise itself and keep me off its tail. But I don’t think it’s a small number.”

Yeah, this dick needs to be taken down. Just sucks that Dean has to be the one to do it but, hey, he’s used to it.

“Get your wings ready,” Dean tells Castiel. He pauses. “Or do you even have wings?”

Castiel huffs in amusement. “Go, Dean.”

“Right.”

There’s a small entrance on the side of the building. It’s locked, of course, but Dean makes quick work of it and the door opens with a soft click. Holding his breath, Dean steps inside, entering a dimly lit corridor.

No signs of anyone around. Dean walks quietly, peering into every room he passes. Offices, bathroom, supply closets, all empty. No demons or wards anywhere in sight.

His heart is beating wildly in his chest by the time he reaches the end of the corridor. He pushes the door open, wincing when it creaks. The room beyond is large and mostly empty, aside from a stack of boxes in one corner. Dean’s eyes widen as he spots the opposite wall. There are sigils painted on it, giving off a soft, blue glow.

Fucking bingo.

Dean glances around but he can’t see anyone else in the room. He draws a deep breath, gripping the blade tight, and makes a run for it.

He gets about half-way across the room before some unseen force knocks him over him, sending him flying off his feet and tumbling painfully onto the concrete floor. Dean winces, scrambling to get to his feet, but he’s only managed to sit up when something settles on top of him, keeping him pinned down.

“What have we here?”

A woman has entered the room from some other entrance. She’s holding out her hand, walking towards Dean, and aside from her inky black eyes she looks like any other soccer mom.

“A hunter?” the demon guesses.

Dean tries to move again but she flicks her wrist and he’s flying across the room again, smacking into the nearest wall. His head knocks against it on the rebound and pain explodes behind his eyelids, making his vision blur.

The demon laughs. “A stupid hunter. Just what was your plan, sweetheart?”

“Oh, you know,” Dean manages to grit out. “Getting flung around like a rag-doll sounded like my idea of Friday night fun.”

“Cute.”

The demon walks up to him. She crouches down, grabbing him by the chin and forcing him to face her. She doesn’t seem to have noticed the blade in Dean’s hand or if she has, she’s at least not worried about it.

“No protective charm.” the demon looks positively delighted. “And so pretty, too. I think I’ll take you.”

Alarms start blaring in Dean’s head. How could he have been so stupid? He doesn’t know much about demons but the fact that they can possess people is one. This is not how he wanted to die, being taken out on a joyride by some black-eyed son of a bitch.

The demon opens her mouth. Without stopping to think, and with monumental physical effort, Dean raises his hand and sinks the blade into her chest. The demon’s eyes widen in panic and her body lights up from the inside, flickering like a dying lightbulb.

Then she slumps on top of Dean. The force that was holding him down before is gone, replaced by the weight of the dead body. Dean stares at her numbly. Blood is seeping from the wound, past the blade and dripping down his hand.

He just killed a human being.

In a daze, Dean pushes the body off of himself and stumbles to his feet. He crosses the room, raising his hand and wiping at the nearest sigil. The blue glow dims then goes out.

Behind him, Dean hears what sounds like the flapping of wings.

So Castiel really does have them.

“You killed it,” Castiel says after a brief silence.

“Her,” Dean corrects. He can’t keep his voice from cracking. “I killed her.”

He hears Castiel walking closer but he doesn’t turn around until a heavy hand lands on his shoulder. Castiel’s eyes dart across his face and body, probably taking in the injuries Dean sustained in that brief scuttle with the demon.

“The demon had been wearing that vessel for months,” Castiel finally says. “The woman that body belonged to was already long dead. There was nothing you could have done to save her.”

The shame in Dean’s gut doesn’t let up. “But I didn’t know that. When she came at me, I didn’t even hesitate. I didn’t think to save her.”

“If you had hesitated, the demon would have killed you and taken you as a vessel. You did the right thing, Dean.”

Dean shakes his head once but doesn’t bother trying to argue any more. He’s suddenly exhausted and he’s hurting everywhere. “Whatever, man. Just bring me back to the motel, I need to patch myself up.”

Castiel moves his hand from his shoulder (was it there this entire time? Dean didn’t even notice), raising it to cup Dean’s face. Warmth pours from his palm and Dean sucks in a gasp as it spreads through his entire body, taking away the pain. By the time the warmth has reached his toes, Dean feels absurdly good. No linger aches or stiffness or anything.

“Get some rest, Dean,” Castiel says. “And please don’t feel guilty about what you had to do.”

And suddenly, Dean is in his motel room again.

Alone.

 

 

He doesn’t see Castiel for another two months after that.

A part of him just wants to dismiss the whole thing as some strange dream. There’s no injuries left on him to prove it happened, not even any blood on his clothes. Maybe he really did dig up Torrance’s bones and his ghost threw him around so he hit his head and up sprang this elaborate fantasy.

He knows this isn’t the case, though. Castiel was real, and possibly really an angel – jury is still out on that question, though Dean has to admit he’s leaning pretty conclusively towards yes. The demon was real. The woman that Dean… the woman was real.

Still, it’s not like Dean couldn’t just move on with his life and pretend none of this ever happened. Only he doesn’t want to. He wants to see Castiel again, if only so he can punch him in the face for making Dean walk ten miles the day after the demon hunt to pick up the Impala.

Thing is, he’s got no way of tracking Castiel down. Angel lore is, as Dean already knew, pretty damn sparse and none of it mentions anyone called ‘Castiel’.

That trail gone cold, Dean follows his next lead.

He contacts Bobby Singer.

“Yeah?”

The old bastard sounds just as gruff as Dean remembers. “Bobby Singer? This is Dean Winchester.”

There’s a brief silence. For a moment, Dean is worried Bobby’s gonna hang up – he did chase Dad off his property with a shotgun the last time they met – but he eventually says, “Everything okay?”

“’Course,” Dean says. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Bobby snorts. “Just figured something big had to be going down since you’re calling.”

“Maybe I just wanted to hear your voice,” Dean teases, ignoring the guilt twinging in his gut. “Look, I need your help with something. You’ve got a lot of lore on demons, right?”

“…What’s your damn fool of a father gotten himself into now?”

“This isn’t for him, it’s for me.” Dean clears his throat. This is the part he was kind of dreading. “And I… I’d appreciate it if he didn’t hear about this.”

“What did you get yourself into?”

Dean pinches the bridge of his nose. “Nothing, Bobby, I swear. I just need a way to track demons down. Like a- a list of signs to look out for or something. Oh, and an exorcism. And some sigils or wards, y’know, shit to keep safe.”

“That all?” Bobby gripes. “I don’t know what kinda trouble you’re looking for but trust me, you don’t want it.”

“Are you gonna help me or not?” Dean says. “Because I could always get my info somewhere else, only it won’t be as reliable.”

It’s a cheap shot and he knows it. On the other end of the line he can hear Bobby sighing deeply.

“Fine,” he says. “But you want info? You gotta come here and get it.”

Dean can’t quite hold back a smile. “I’ll be there tomorrow.”

 

 

Bobby greets him with a brief hug and it shocks Dean to realize that this is the first time he’s actually hugged someone since…

Well, shit. He can’t remember.

“Now, you mind telling me what the hell you’re up to?” Bobby asks when they pull apart.

“Oh, you know,” Dean shrugs, “saving people, hunting things. The usual.”

Bobby raises an eyebrow at him, gesturing for Dean to follow him inside. “But demons? Seems above your paygrade, kid.”

“That’s what I said,” Dean mutters.

Bobby’s house is pretty much as Dean remembered it. Maybe a little bit shabbier in the intervening few years since he was here last, but essentially the same.

“I need to track someone down,” Dean finally admits, because if Bobby’s gonna be helping him he should know the truth. Just not all of it. “Another hunter, one who specializes in demons. I helped him out a couple of months ago but he bailed before I could ask for any way to contact him. This is the only way I’ve got of finding him.”

“What’s his name?”

Dean says the first thing that comes to mind. “Cas.”

“Just Cas?”

“I didn’t get his full name.”

“And you wanna track this guy down because…?”

Dean shrugs again. His face feels uncomfortably warm. “That’s my business, ain’t it?”

“Have it your way.” Bobby reaches his desk and sits down. There’s a stack of book resting on the desk already. “I dug up some lore for you. And this.” He reaches into a drawer, pulling out a small charm which he hands to Dean. “To ward off possession. Might come in handy.”

Dean accepts the charm, feeling a stab of guilt. If he’d had this a couple of months earlier… but no, Cas was right. He couldn’t have saved that woman, no matter what.

“Thanks,” he mutters, looping it around his neck.

It rests comfortably against the amulet Sam gave him.

 

 

Bobby has plenty of useful lore and Dean ends up spending the better part of the day reading and taking notes. It’s nearing midnight when Bobby gripes at him to go to sleep, the books ain’t going anywhere and he can keep going in the morning.

Dean also can’t remember the last time he slept in someone’s home instead of a motel room. Or the last time he woke up and someone had coffee and breakfast ready for him.

He almost doesn’t want to leave a couple of days later but he’s got what he came for. Bobby sees him off with a worried expression and a gruff order to keep in contact from now on, which Dean has no problem agreeing on.

Dad calls later that day and Dean ends up having to delay his plans to join him for a hunt. He’s antsy the entire time, eager to get back to his search for Cas, now that he’s finally got the tools to look properly. If Dad notices him acting different, he doesn’t say anything.

Who is he kidding. Of course Dad doesn’t notice.

 

 

A month later, Dean finally finds something concrete: an electric storm and a couple of mysterious murders in Glenpool, Oklahoma.

It’s early morning when he gets there and a vague plan is already forming in his head. This isn’t really that different from his normal hunts. Demons are just another ugly, only scarier, and if he manages to find Cas then hopefully he won’t have to deal with them by himself.

And if he doesn’t… well, he’s got those exorcisms memorized for a reason.

The cops don’t seem entirely convinced when Dean introduces himself as an FBI agent, here to help with the murder cases. Lucky for him, he’s got Bobby waiting on the other end of the line when they call to check on his credentials.

After a round of interviews with the witnesses, Dean has a few solid details: they all smelled sulfur, they all noticed electrical disturbances, they’re all freaked out, and having a twenty-five year old FBI agent on their loved ones’ cases doesn’t seem to comfort them any.

Of course, none of this means that Cas is around. He might be working a case halfway across the country for all that Dean knows.

So Dean’s not exactly expecting it when he gets back to his motel room and Cas is standing there, waiting for him.

And he looks pissed.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Dean swallows, closing the door behind him. “Working a case?”

“You don’t hunt demons.” Cas stalks closer to him, ever as oblivious to personal space. Dean’s almost used to it by now. “They are ‘above your paygrade’.”

Christ, he actually does the finger quotes.

“I was looking for you,” Dean admits.

This seems to actually surprise Cas. He blinks, then squints at Dean, head tilted in confusion. “Why?”

Ain’t that the million-dollar question.

“Uh.” Dean flushes. “I don’t know. To thank you?”

“I see,” Cas says, in a way that clearly shows that no, he doesn’t. “And now that you have, will you be leaving?”

“Way to make a guy feel welcome, Cas.”

“I’m trying to keep you safe,” Cas says. “If these demons realize there’s a hunter after them… you need to leave.”

“I could help you! I did it before.” Dean sets his jaw. “Either we hunt these demons together or we do it separately. I’m not leaving.”

Cas glares at him and it suddenly occurs to Dean that maybe he shouldn’t be making demands of the pissed off angel who could probably give him a one-way trip to Antarctica if he felt like it. But then, the fight seems to go out of Cas.

“You’re infuriatingly stubborn,” he says.

Dean, for his part, just tries not to look too pleased with himself.

 

 

Unlike the asshole last time, these demons aren’t holed up in some empty warehouse. No, they’ve taken over a suburban home and an entire family: mother, father, and teenaged son.

Fucking demons.

“Are the people they’re wearing at least still alive?” Dean mutters.

They’re hiding behind a tree across the street. Dean just hopes to God that no well-meaning neighbor has spotted them and called the cops.

“There’s a good chance of it,” Cas says. “They haven’t had these vessels for long.”

“So what’s the plan? We can’t just go in guns a-blazing.”

“I don’t have a gun.”

“Figure of speech, Cas.” Dean eyes the house thoughtfully. The family – the demons – are all home, and occasionally they can be glimpsed in the windows as they move around. “What do you say? Do we go in through the back or-”

There’s a sudden shift next to him, followed by the sound of wings flapping. Cas is gone.

“Son of a bitch,” Dean mutters, jumping to his feet and running across the street.

He wastes no time on subtlety, crashing through the front door shoulder-first. The demonic teenager is standing in the hallway and Dean starts rattling off the exorcism Bobby taught him.

“Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus…”

Black smoke starts pouring out of the kid’s mouth. Down the hall, Dean can hear someone – a woman – screaming. He keeps his focus on the demon in front of him, not pausing for breath until the exorcism is finished.

“…te rogamus, audi nos!”

The smoke disappears through the floor and the kid collapses, Dean running forward to catch him just in time to keep his head from smacking against the floor. He frantically checks for a pulse, sighing in relief when he realizes that it’s there, strong and steady, and that the kid’s breathing is normal as well.

Cas appears in the doorway. “The parents are well. They will wake up in ten minutes, remembering nothing of the past week.”

He crouches down, hovering his hand over the kid’s head as he heals him as well. Dean lays him gently down once Cas is done and stands. Cas grabs his arm and even though he’s prepared this time, he still can’t hold back the wave of nausea as they fly back to Dean’s motel room.

“The hell did I say about not going in guns a-blazing?” Dean demands as soon as it’s passed. “You completely ignored me!”

“I factored the risks and benefits and acted accordingly.” Cas doesn’t even have the decency to look the least bit sorry. “The family all lived and the demons are back in hell where they belong. I don’t understand why you’re angry with me.”

“I’m not-” Dean huffs. “I’m not angry. Just warn me next time.”

“Next time?” Cas squints at him. “You intend to go on hunting demons?”

Dean wasn’t. He’s not sure just what his next step is. Now that he’s found Cas, he’s realizing that he has no idea why he was looking. Aside from just having something to do in between the solo missions Dad sends him on and the increasingly rare hunts they go on together.

“Maybe.” He shrugs. “You gonna try and stop me?”

“It’s an unnecessary risk for you to take.”

“That’s kinda been my whole life up until now.” Dean gives Cas a half-hearted smile. This is not an argument he’s up for right now, especially considering he’s not even sure he wants to go on hunting demons. “I could go for a drink. You coming?”

Cas looks puzzled at the sudden shift in the conversation. “A… drink?”

“C’mon.” Dean swings an arm over his shoulders and Cas allows him to guide him outside. “We just saved an entire family and booted three demons back to hell. I wanna celebrate.”

 

 

Twenty minutes later, they’re sitting in the corner booth of a dingy little bar, the waitress putting two beers down on the table in front of them. Cas eyes his glass with suspicion so Dean raises his with a grin.

“Cheers,” he says and takes a long swig.

Slowly, Cas does the same. He sniffs the beer as he brings it up to his lips, then takes a tiny sip.

Dean snorts. “You can do better than that.”

With a glare in Dean’s direction, Cas takes another sip. And keeps going. Dean watches in fascinated shock as Cas downs the entire glass like it’s fucking water, putting it delicately back down on the table once he’s finished.

“Was that satisfactory?”

Dean clears his throat. The room suddenly feels warmer for reasons he can’t explain. “Uh, yeah. Hang on, I’ll order you another, and maybe go slower on that one.”

The waitress looks utterly unimpressed when Dean waves her over right away again, giving Dean a look that plainly states ‘if he passes out, he’s your problem’.

Cas takes Dean’s words to heart, nursing his next beer. He still frowns every time he takes a sip, like he can’t quite decide whether he likes it or not. It’s oddly adorable.

And Dean did not just think that about a grown ass man. Or angel.

“So,” Dean says, “is there just a bunch of you guys floating around, smiting demons?”

Cas lowers his glass. “No. Angels don’t usually leave heaven unless they are ordered to. I am the exception.”

Well, that’s interesting. “Why?”

“I…” Cas shifts his glance down. “I wasn’t good at following orders. I would constantly question them and eventually my superiors had enough.”

“And they kicked you out?” Dean asks. “That’s pretty harsh.”

Cas shakes his head. “I left. It seemed… better down here.”

“Heaven must suck pretty hard if coming to earth seemed like a good alternative.”

“It’s different for humans,” Cas assures him. “They have their paradise separate from our home.”

“So heaven is real.” Dean’s not even sure he’s processing this information, it’s just too much. “Guess I should stop the sinning before it’s too late.”

Cas gives him an odd look. “You have nothing to worry about, Dean. Your soul is pure.”

Warmth blossoms in Dean’s cheeks. He covers the sudden fluttering in his stomach with a cough. “I think you might need glasses, angel. There’s no way you’re seeing that right.”

“I noticed it the first time I saw you,” Cas continues, completely unashamed. “That’s why I trusted you enough to approach you in the cemetery. I could tell you were a good man, willing to help.”

“You sure know how to flatter a guy,” Dean jokes weakly.

Screw the heaven bombshell, this is too much. Dean’s not sure when he stopped thinking of himself as a good person – maybe around the time his family fell apart while he stood helplessly by and watched. Hearing someone else describing him as such, and a freaking angel to boot, is just disconcerting.

So instead of dwelling on it, Dean flags down the waitress again and orders shots. Cas seemed completely unaffected by that beer he chugged so Dean wants to see how far that goes.

 

 

Two hours and twenty shots later, Cas isn’t even the least bit drunk and Dean admits defeat. He’s got a nice buzz going himself and Cas is at least looser, even smiling at Dean’s jokes though he doesn’t quite seem to get them.

Eventually, though, Dean has to call it quits. He’s been getting less than his four hours a night lately and after the excitement of the hunt and finding Castiel again has worn off, the inevitable exhaustion starts to settle in.

Cas helps him cover the bill, even though Dean was the one who shoved all those drinks in his direction and kept insisting he drink them. He lets Dean lean into him as they leave the bar, the warmth of him against Dean’s side feeling nice in the cool night air.

Something occurs to Dean. “Where are you staying?”

“I’m not staying anywhere,” Cas answers. “I don’t need to sleep nor eat.”

“So, what, you just hunt demons all the time?”

Cas glances sideways at him, lips quirking in a small smile. “And occasionally go out for drinks with insufferable hunters.”

“Shut your mouth, you know I’m awesome.”

Cas doesn’t answer but his smile widens and the sight of it makes Dean smile, too.

“You off for the next hunt then?”

“Soon,” Cas says. He stops and Dean stumbles over his feet at the sudden change. Cas grabs his elbow, steadying him. “Dean, please don’t chase demons just to find me again.”

Dean turns to face Cas completely, hyperaware of Cas’ hand still holding onto him. “Then don’t go flying off with no way of contacting you again.”

“If you need to find me again,” Cas says, “then pray. I will hear any prayer directed at me.”

“What, like ‘now I lay me down to sleep’?”

“Something like that.” Cas lets go of him, fingers trailing lightly down Dean’s arm. “Just use my name.”

And he’s gone. Dean stands alone in the street for longer than he cares to admit, staring at the spot where Cas was just standing.

 

 

For the record, Dean did not go out looking for the demons this time. He was just on the road and wanted a decent lunch, so he pulled over by the first diner he spotted.

The place looks kind of run down but clean enough, and it’s the only place around for miles so it’s not like Dean can afford to be picky. The smell of sulfur hits him the moment he walks inside. It isn’t too noticeable, disguised by the usual diner scent of fries and coffee, but it’s there underneath, sharp and foul.

It might be nothing but Dean is on guard. The waitress smiles at him as he sits down in the booth closest to the exit. He grabs a menu and holds it up in some futile attempt at protection as he puzzles over his next move. He needs to figure out how many demons are here, if any. Is the waitress one? How about the cook? There is another customer in here, is it a demon or an innocent bystander?

“What can I get ya, hun?”

Dean glances over his menu at the waitress. She’s perky, wide smile on her lips, a sparkle in her eye. She can’t be a demon, can she?

“Still deciding,” he tells her, giving her a shaky smile back.

He could risk taking the demon or demons on by himself. He’s got the exorcism memorized, and he’s taken to carrying a flask of holy water in his pocket just in case. But what if he screws it up? What if he gets interrupted, or forgets some words? What if someone gets hurt?

He’d better not risk it without backup. Mind made up, Dean puts the menu down and scoots out of the booth.

“Leaving already?” the waitress asks.

Dean hesitates, one leg out of the booth. “Just gotta get something out of my car.”

“I’m sure it can wait.”

Then the waitress raises her hand, and Dean is pinned back down, unable to move. Her eyes have turned black and so, Dean realizes as he glances around the place, have the eyes of the cook and the customer.

That’s three demons versus just him. And they’re walking his way.

He is so fucked.

“Couldn’t help but notice that car of yours,” the waitress says, smiling sweetly. “That’s John Winchester’s ride, isn’t it? I’d recognize that ugly piece of junk anywhere.”

Dean’s heart drops down to his stomach.

“Oh yeah, your daddy and I go way back.” The waitress crouches in front of him, bringing her face just inches away from Dean’s. “He sent me down to the pit a few years ago, you know. It took me ages to find my way back upstairs.” She reaches into her apron, pulling out a jagged knife. “I’ve been dying to pay him back for that and when my pals here tracked down that Impala, I thought I had my chance. Guess I’ll have to make do with you, won’t I?”

Dean swallows, eyes following the glint of the knife. This prayer thing had goddamn better work.

“Castiel, if you’ve got your ears on, now would be the time to get your ass over here.” He hesitates. The demons are looking at him with bewildered expressions and tentatively, he adds, “Amen.”

“Praying to angels?” the waitress scoffs. “Are you really that desperate?”

There’s the sound of wings flapping behind her and Dean has never been so happy to hear it. Cas grabs the nearest demon by the head and it screams as it lights up from the inside, eyes burning out of its skull.

The demon drops to the ground and Cas lowers his hand, turning the full force of his glare on the waitress. “Release him.”

There’s a moment of silence. Then the two demons left alive open their mouths wide, black smoke pouring out. Cas runs for them, lighting quick, reaching into the smoke and pushing it back into their hosts, where he burns them up.

Dean can only stare while all of this is going on, eyes wide and mouth dry.

Cas steps over the two dead demons, eyes scanning Dean for injuries. “Are you hurt?”

Dean shakes his head mutely. Cas reaches for him, heaving him to his feet, and Dean doesn’t even have the presence of mind to be ashamed of the way he clings to Cas to keep his balance.

“You’re shaking,” Cas says, brows furrowed.

“Th-the people. Did you…”

“They were dead already. Demons don’t tend to treat their vessels kindly.”

 Dean straightens. His legs feel weak but Cas is a steady presence next to him, keeping him upright. “Let’s just get out of here.”

 

 

They flee the diner. Cas stays behind in the diner for a couple of minutes, no doubt cleaning up the mess they left. Dean doesn’t ask, he just sits in the Impala’s driver seat, waiting. Somehow, despite Cas’ habit of flying off unannounced, he trusts that he won’t this time.

And sure enough, after he’s done inside the diner, Cas gets into the front seat next to him. “We should leave.”

Dean nods, starting the engine. He’s still shaken from what just happened, cold sweat on his brow and hands trembling. He’s never felt so helpless before and it’s not a feeling he likes. Fear, he can handle. It’s being unable to do anything, not even put up some hopeless fight that he can’t stand.

They drive in silence until they reach the next town. Dean pulls over in the first parking lot he finds and kills the engine and just breathes.

“Are you alright?” Cas asks. His voice is gruff with concern, the low pitch of it affecting Dean on an almost physical level.

“I’m fine,” Dean says, even though it’s a blatant lie. “I just need- I just gotta catch my breath.”

He nearly jumps at the hand on his shoulder. He hasn’t noticed it before but Cas is awfully touchy-feely with him. He didn’t even need to touch that kid in Glenpool to heal him, but he touched Dean. And he’s always grabbing Dean, not to mention the constant personal space invasions.

Something stirs low in Dean’s gut at the realization. He looks up, eyes meeting Cas’ concerned ones. They’re really blue. Dean hadn’t noticed that, either.

Fuck it. He’s made worse choices.

Cas gasps when Dean kisses him, hand tightening its hold on his shoulder. For a moment, he’s still, lips soft against Dean’s as he tries to coax a reaction out of him. Then, he’s pushing Dean away.

Dean’s heart sinks. Cas looks like a deer caught in the headlights, eyes wide and lips parted in shock.

“Fuck,” Dean says. “Cas, I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was-”

“Dean, I-.” Cas snaps his mouth shut. “I’m sorry, Dean. I can’t.”

“Don’t you dare-”

But it’s too late. Cas is gone.

 

 

The next month is one of the worst of Dean’s life. It’s not quite as bad as the ones following Mom’s death or Sam leaving, but it’s up there.

Dean is just so fucking alone. And he’s technically been for years, because Dad waited all of two seconds after Sam left before he started slowly distancing himself from Dean, too, but it feels different now. Because he made a conscious choice that drove someone away from him. Cas didn’t go off to college or ditch Dean for hunts he deems too dangerous for him. No, he left because of something Dean did.

So Dean deals with it the best way he knows how. He hooks up with people. He gets drunk. He doesn’t call Bobby, even though he promised, because he can’t stand the thought of driving someone else away and he’s sure if given the chance, he could easily make Bobby sick of him, too.

He prays. Not often, and never sober, but he prays. Cas doesn’t show up, though. Dean’s not sure if that’s because he’s not in mortal danger or because Cas doesn’t want to come.

Then, he does something he hasn’t in a couple of years. He drives down to California.

He’s not planning on actually talking to Sam, of course. He just needs to see him, make sure he’s okay.

It’s the start of the semester so the campus is bustling with activity. This isn’t Dean’s first visit, though, so he knows roughly where to look for Sam and he’s relatively easy to find in the crowd thanks to his giant sasquatch stature.

He’s standing in front of the building where Dean knows most of his classes take place, surrounded by a small group of people who look straight out of some college brochure. This gorgeous blonde girl is leaning against his side, holding his hand.  

He looks good. Like he belongs there. And Dean must be the most selfish jerk on the planet, because instead of making him feel better it makes him feel worse. Sam never looked this happy at home, not since he was like ten and still thought that Dean was a hero.

Dean looks away, eyes burning. He shouldn’t have come here. He should have just sucked it up and kept doing his job until the loneliness eventually stopped hurting so bad.

A knock on the window pulls him out of his thoughts, and Dean looks up to see Sam standing right outside, raising an expectant eyebrow.

“You gonna let me in?” he asks.

Dean reaches over, opening the door and watching in shock as Sam crawls inside. They haven’t talked in person since Sam left for Stanford. Dean’s not sure what to say.

“What are you doing here?” Sam asks. Dean must look as stung by that question as he feels, because he’s quick to add, “Not that I’m not happy to see you. You know I am.”

“Sure,” Dean says. “That explains the warm welcome.”

“Is this about Dad?” Sam asks. “Did something happen?”

“Nothing-” Dean’s voice comes out weak and shaky. He clears his throat, tone steadier as he continues, “Nothing happened. Can’t a man visit his brother without something happening?”

“I guess so,” Sam says. “But Dean, you’re can’t be here. This is my life, okay? I can’t get it mixed up in the whole… hunting business again.”

‘Hunting business. He says it like it wasn’t their entire lives growing up. Like it isn’t still Dean’s entire life.

“Can’t get it mixed up in your family, you mean,” Dean says. He probably sounds bitter. He is bitter.

Sam sets his jaw. “If my family is still hunting, then yeah. I’ve built something good here, I’m not gonna let anything screw it up.”

“Yeah, I saw.” Dean nods in the direction of Sam’s group of friends. “She got a name?”

“…Jess.”

Dean hums. “She’s pretty. Way out of your league.”

“I know,” Sam says with a small laugh. “She likes me, though. And she doesn’t know about my past.”

“Sounds real healthy.” At Sam’s unamused glare, Dean holds up a hand. “Fine, I won’t judge. What do I know about this normal life crap, right?”

Sam’s expression softens. “You know you could get out if you wanted.”

 And do what? This life is all Dean knows; take away hunting and what good is he? It’s not like he can get into a good college, he barely even got his GED. That’s not to mention the shitshow that would go down with Dad if Dean told him he was leaving the life.

He doesn’t tell Sam any of this. Instead, he shrugs and says, “But I don’t want to.”

“No, I guess you don’t.” Sam sighs and reaches for the door. As he moves to get out, he hesitates. “Just… stay safe, Dean.”

“You too,” Dean says, watching as Sam clumsily climbs out of the Impala. “Don’t break your neck doing a keg stand or whatever it is you college kids are doing these days.”

Sam huffs. “Trust me, I won’t.”

He slams the door shut behind him and jogs across the street, back to join his friends. Dean watches him go, a cold sort of emptiness settling in his chest. He’s feeling a little better than before but not by much. Certainly not better than he felt when he got here.

At least Sam’s doing okay. That’s gonna have to be enough.

 

 

He’s just crossed into Nevada when Dad calls, wanting Dean to join him on a hunt down by Tucson. For a moment, Dean entertains the thought of telling him no. He feels wrung out, brittle somehow in a way that’s difficult to explain, and the last thing he wants right now is hunt.

It’s just a moment, though. Then it’s passed, and Dean is listening to Dad rattle off the name and location of the motel where they’ll meet up.

The hunt goes quick and after, Dad actually sticks around. They grab drinks at a local bar and Dad fills him in on what he’s been doing in the past couple of months. Hunts he’s been on, leads on the thing that killed Mom, most of which have already dried up.

Then it’s Dean’s turn to share and without even thinking about it, he does something he’s hardly ever done before.

He lies to Dad.

“Nothing to report on, Sir. Just the usual hunts, you already know about most of them.”

The answer seems to be enough for Dad, who grunts and takes another sip of his beer. Dean mirrors his action, hoping to somehow mask the panic suddenly constricting his chest. He’s already been keeping Cas’ existence a secret from Dad for months but he’s never straight out lied about it until now. He’s not even sure why he did it.

Part of him is just worried that Dad won’t believe him, that he’ll think Dean was somehow duped into believing in angels. Another, bigger part is scared of what would happen if Dad did believe him. Would he try to hunt Cas?  Is it even possible to kill angels? If it is, Dean has little doubt that Dad would find a way.

It’s better this way, Dean decides. Dad doesn’t need to know about Cas.

 

 

They part ways the next day and Dean is on his own again. He takes care of a rawhide in Albuquerque and a spirit in Santa Fe. He drives up to Amarillo and gets picked up by a bartender who lets him crash at her place for the weekend.

It’s the same old routine. It’s not exactly fun but it’s easy and it’s something Dean at least knows how to handle. He’s all but resolved to forget about the entire chapter of his life involving Castiel.

Then comes the ghoul in Wichita. 

It’s not even a difficult hunt. Ghouls are slippery bastards but they’re easy enough to take care of once you get your hands on them. This one is by itself and it’s even holed up in a crypt in the local cemetery, which c’mon, is just an amateur mistake. Like that wouldn’t be the first place a hunter would look.

It does manage to surprise Dean when he enters its lair, jumping on his back as soon as he walks inside, but Dean hasn’t been doing this shit for years for nothing. He drops and flips, using the momentum to throw the ghoul off and sending it flying onto the ground.

“That all you got?” Dean mocks, adjusting his grip on the machete and lunging in for the kill.

He doesn’t reach it. A sudden gust of wind knocks him off his feet and then Cas is standing there between Dean and the ghoul, pulling out his blade and effortlessly decapitating it.

“What the hell?” Dean blurts, jumping to his feet. “Are you fucking kidding me, I had that!”

Cas turns to him, expression intense as he stalks towards him. Dean stumbles backwards on instinct, back hitting the wall just as Cas reaches him. Cas grabs him by his jacket, hauling him forward, and Dean realizes what’s happening an instant before Cas’ lips reach his.

It might be the worst circumstances possible to be kissing. There’s a dead ghoul a few feet away from them and they’re in a crypt for fuck’s sake. They haven’t seen each other in months, when Dean did this exact same thing and Cas ran off without so much as an ‘adios’.

Dean doesn’t care. Cas kisses like a hurricane, all passion and no finesse, and Dean lets himself get swept up, gives back as good as he gets. He grabs Cas’ coat, pulls him in close, their bodies pressed together from head to toe. Dean has never felt so utterly owned by just a kiss, has never wanted it so bad, either.

Cas pulls away, leaving Dean panting for breath. “I’m sorry,” he mutters.

Dean swallows. “I thought you couldn’t.”

“I can’t,” Cas agrees. “I shouldn’t. But I don’t care anymore.”

“That mean you’re sticking around?”

The question pops out without permission and Dean wants to take it back as soon as he’s said it. It sounds so needy.

But Cas doesn’t seem bothered by it. He nods curtly and with grave sincerity says, “If you want me to.”

There’s really no way to answer that other than to pull Cas in for another kiss.

 

 

Despite his hurry to get to someplace with a bed, Dean turns down Cas’ offer to fly them back to the motel and they take the Impala. It’s thankfully a short drive though it seems to stretch on endlessly and Dean is so hyperaware of Cas sitting next to him that he can barely focus on the road.

They make it back without incident and Dean barely manages to open the door to his room before Cas is pushing him inside, slamming the door shut behind them and hauling Dean close with an arm around his waist. Dean lets out a breathless laugh when Cas kisses him again, giddy with the excitement of what’s to come and how much Cas wants him.

They stumble into the bed, Dean pushing the stupid trenchcoat off Cas’ shoulders and loosening his tie. Cas mirrors his movements, then stops short once he’s got Dean down in his undershirt.

“I don’t know…” He sighs, avoiding Dean’s eyes as he says, “My knowledge of intercourse is only theoretical.”

Dean’s eyebrows flew up. “You’re a virgin?”

“I’ve never had occasion, okay?” Cas is actually blushing now. Dean has never seen him this bashful before. “But I’ve seen pornography.”

“Dude, porn and sex are not the same thing.” Dean knows he probably shouldn’t be grinning but he can’t help it. “You know I’m not gonna be like the girls in those videos, right?”

“I am aware of your sex, yes.”

“Not what I-” Dean shakes his head. “C’mere, I’ll guide you through it.”

He hasn’t ever taken a virgin to bed before. Even when he lost his virginity, it was to a girl who had experience and actually knew what she was doing. He’s just never been interested in virgins but for some reason, Cas is an exception. The thought of being the one to show Cas how good sex can be has heat pooling low in Dean’s gut.

He pulls Cas in for another kiss, smiling into it when he feels the tension slowly melt out of Cas’ body. He backs Cas onto the bed, making him sit down and climbs into his lap. Cas grabs his hips on instinct and stares up at him with wide eyes.

His expression is so open, so achingly vulnerable, that for a moment Dean doesn’t think he can do this. Cas deserves someone better for his first time, someone who actually has his shit together and can take care of him on more than just a physical level.

Before he can get too into his head about it, Cas leans in and cautiously presses a kiss against Dean’s neck. His lips barely graze Dean’s skin, whisper soft, but the warm puffs of air send shivers down Dean’s spine. Emboldened, Cas kisses him again, a trail up the column of Dean’s neck.

Finally, Dean can’t take those teasing touches anymore and ducks his head to capture Cas’ lips in a proper kiss. Enough doubt and second-guessing. They both want this and Dean doesn’t have the strength to deny it.

“You with me so far?” he asks Cas as they break apart. Cas just nods desperately and Dean chuckles. “Good, ’cause it’s about to get a lot better.”

 

 

Dean wakes up to a pair of blue eyes staring at him. His heart jumps and he’s reached half-way underneath his pillow for a gun that isn’t there before he realizes what’s going on.

He and Cas had sex. Then Dean fell asleep, because a good orgasm always knocks him right out, and Cas… watched him sleep?

“Anyone ever tell you that’s creepy as hell?” he mumbles, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand.

Cas doesn’t even have the good grace to look guilty. “I’ve never laid next to anyone as they slept before.”

“Well, next time at least close your eyes.”

Dean sits up, wincing at the aches in various parts of his body. Cas shoots him a worried expression, raising a hand, but Dean bats it away.

“Don’t, this is the good kind of hurt.” He flushes a little thinking of the previous night, but he also can’t keep the smile off his face. “‘Sides, wouldn’t that also remove the marks?”

Turns out, Cas gets bite-y during sex. Dean is not complaining, though.

Cas doesn’t look completely appeased. “I wasn’t too rough?”

“You were perfect,” Dean says, turning redder when he realizes that he means it. He clears his throat, quickly changing the subject, “We should get going, I have to check out soon.”

He climbs out of bed, bending down to collect his clothes off the floor while Cas watches him shamelessly. Once he’s pulled his pants on, he raises an eyebrow at Cas.

“Aren’t you gonna get dressed?”

Cas’ lips quirk and then he’s fully dressed, lying on top of perfectly made covers.

Dean scowls. “Show-off.”

 

 

It takes about a month for it to sink in that Cas is actually staying.

It’s surreal, because nothing really changes. Dean still spends most of his time on the road, in diners and motels, and hunting things that go bump in the night.

It’s just that now Cas is sitting in the Impala next to him, frowning as he quietly judges Dean’s taste in music. Now he eats his meals while Cas sips on coffee and steals the occasional fry from Dean’s plate, because no matter how often Dean tells him to just order his own damn fries he responds with the same, “That would be a waste. I don’t need to eat.”

Now Cas shares his bed in the evenings, flying off during the night to do God knows what, but always returning in the morning before Dean wakes up. Now he helps Dean out on hunts, which is both a help and a hindrance because he doesn’t know shit about interrogating or interviewing witnesses or anything that involves human interaction, actually.

He rarely uses his angelic powers now, preferring to hunt by Dean’s methods. He always makes sure to heal Dean’s injuries afterwards, though, for which Dean is pathetically grateful.

Nothing’s all that different, but somehow everything is. It’s a new kind of routine, one that Dean could imagine getting used to. And with the growing realization that Castiel might just be serious about this ‘sticking around’ thing, Dean figures it’s about time to introduce him to Dad.

Not as an angel or a… whatever they are to each other. Dean’s not a complete idiot. No, as a fellow hunter, one that Dean met on a hunt by coincidence and who saved his life. Dad doesn’t like other hunters but he’ll tolerate them and Dean figures it’s better this way than him eventually finding out about Dean having a new hunting partner through the grapevine.

Cas has been flying off on his own whenever Dad meets up with Dean. This time around, he’s sitting right there in the Impala along with Dean when they arrive at the roadside diner outside of Tulsa where Dad said to meet.

Dad’s already sitting inside and Dean can see him through the window, the way his brows furrow when he spots Cas climbing out of the car.

“Remember, you’re human,” Dean whispers to Cas as they walk into the diner. “And we’re just hunting partners so if you want fries, order your own damn plate.”

Cas frowns but before he has room to protest, they’ve reached Dad’s booth. Dean shoots him a smile as he slides into his seat across from Dad, followed by Cas.

Dad’s eyes dart between the two of them before focusing on Dean. He does not look pleased. “Who’s this?”

Getting right into it, then.

“Dad, this is Cas. We met on a hunt a while back, he saved my bacon.” From the corner of his eye, he can see Cas squinting in confusion at the euphemism. “I was just about to help him out with another hunt when you called, so he agreed on a detour.”

“Cas?” Dad repeats, tone flat. “No last name?”

Oh shit. They didn’t decide on a full name for Cas. Of all the stupid, idiotic-

“Novak,” Cas says, and Dean’s not sure where he pulled that from, but he’s too relieved to second guess it. “I’m Castiel Novak.”

And he holds out his hand for Dad to shake. After a moment’s hesitation, Dad takes it.

“You know, I’ve been in this line of business for a while,” Dad says, “but I’ve never heard of a Novak.”

“I keep a low profile.”

“And where you from, Novak?”

“Pontiac, Illinois,” Cas answers without missing a beat. “But I travel a lot.”

They release each other’s hands, lowering them again and all without taking their eyes off each other. Dean can feel the hostility between them, even from where he’s sitting.

He clears his throat awkwardly. “So, any news?”

 

The rest of the conversation is strained but bearable. Dad talks less than usual, obviously suspicious of Cas and unwilling to share any important information in his presence. He doesn’t flat out threaten Cas and no one ends up getting chased off with a shotgun, so by John Winchester standards their first meeting is a rousing success.

Once they’ve said goodbye to Dad and are back on the road, Dean asks Cas, “Where’d you come up with Novak and Illinois?”

“James Novak was the name of my vessel. He lived in Pontiac.”

It takes a moment for the implication of Cas’ answer to sink in. When it does, it hits Dean like a punch in the stomach.

“You’re possessing someone?” he chokes out.

“Not as such,” Cas replies. “James was very ill when I took him as a vessel. He allowed me to heal and enter his body in exchange for a quick and painless death. His soul is in heaven.”

Dean’s gonna throw up. “So, you killed him.”

“He was destined to die. I spared him his final months of agony.” Cas tilts his head, looking at Dean in confusion. “You’re upset with me.”

“No shit, I’m upset! You couldn’t have told me all this before we had sex? Humans like to know whose body they’re fucking, you know.”

“It’s my body,” Cas says, annoyed, though God knows where he gets the nerve to be pissed at Dean after keeping this shit secret. “I’m its only occupant and with my dwindling grace, I couldn’t leave it even if I wanted to.”

Dean slams the breaks, swerving off the road in a rushed and sloppy parking job. The car that was behind them speeds past, blasting its horn at them. Ignoring it, Dean turns to Cas, who’s now looking like he regrets ever opening his mouth.

“Excuse me?” Dean says. “You wanna repeat that?”

Cas sighs. “Forget it, Dean, it’s nothing important.”

“Didn’t sound like it.”

Cas purses his lips, turning to look straight ahead. Dean kills the engine, not willing to let go of the topic so easily.

“Cas,” he says softly, “you can trust me.”

For a moment, Cas continues staring into the distance, jaw stubbornly set. Then he sighs again, ducking his head, still not looking in Dean’s direction.

“When I left heaven, I was cut off from its power,” he says. “Without it, my grace is finite. I will eventually burn through it and become human.”

“How long will it take?”

Cas glances at him, suddenly looking guilty. “At the current trajectory… weeks. Months, if I’m lucky.”

Dean swallows. “I don’t understand. How long have you been here?”

“Five years.”

“But you still seem pretty powerful to me.” Something occurs to Dean. “Except… you’ve barely been using your powers lately. Except when you fly off during the night and when you…”

Cas has finite grace. And he’s been wasting it for weeks healing Dean’s stupid, reckless ass.

“I don’t leave in the night anymore,” Cas admits reluctantly. “I usually stay in your room and read or watch infomercials.”

Dean huffs out a bitter laugh. “Great. That’s just… great.”

“This is why I didn’t want to tell you.”

“Well, I’m glad you did.” Dean starts the engine again. “Now that I know, no more wasting your mojo on me. I’ve been patching myself up the human way for years now and it’s worked just fine.”

Before Cas can protest, he turns on the radio, letting the dulcet tones of Deep Purple drown out any chance of further conversation, and pulls back out onto the road.

 

 

Neither one of them brings up Cas’ fragile status again but now that he knows, Dean can’t help but be aware of it. It makes a lot more sense now why Cas was so adamant about learning how to hunt the human way; soon it will be all he’s capable of.

They slow down on the hunting, taking longer breaks in between. Dean figures that since Cas is about to become one of them, he should get to know the parts of the human experience that aren’t all blood and gore.

They go to bars and Dean teaches Cas how to hustle the stupider locals. Cas starts ordering his own food so Dean branches their mealtimes out to more than just diners, so Cas can try a greater variety of options (dude gets freakily into salads, which in Dean’s opinion just proves that he’s still not quite human). Some days they stay in bed until the last possible moment to check out, having sleepy morning sex.

Dean considers bringing Cas to Las Vegas, but he doesn’t seem ready for that – though the one time Dean takes him to a strip club is a pretty hilarious experience. Instead, they go someplace else Dean has always wanted to visit.

The Grand Canyon.

Dean’s seen plenty of pictures but nothing can prepare him for the real thing. It’s enormous, the sheer scope of it humbling in a way that photos can’t really capture.

“Impressive, huh?” he mumbles to Cas.

When he doesn’t get a response, he tears his eyes away from the view. Cas is staring into the distance, brows furrowed and a sad tilt to his lips.

“You okay, man?”

Cas hesitates a moment before answering. “This was created by one of my siblings.”

Dean turns to face forward again, mouth dry. An angel – one angel – made all of this? It suddenly occurs to him that despite having seen Cas in action, he’s got no idea of how powerful angels really are. And Cas gave all of that up to slum around on earth?

“You ever make anything like this?” he asks.

“Nothing quite like this,” Cas answers. “But I did help shape this planet, yes. I was particularly proud of a lake in Iceland I encouraged to form, using the movement of the tectonic plates.”

“We could check it out sometime,” Dean suggests before he can think twice. He hates flying, and he can’t imagine how he’d get through an international flight, but it seems like the least he could do if it would make Cas happy. Poor guy deserves a break. “If you want.”

Cas finally looks his way. He smiles, softly, and Dean feels his heart skip a beat. “I’d like that.”

 

 

Dean’s dying to learn more about the angels, now that he’s caught the slightest hint of their power, but he refrains. He saw the look on Cas’ face when they were at the Grand Canyon. He’s not ready to talk about this stuff.

A couple of days later, he wishes desperately that he’d had a little less tact.

It’s very late, nearing midnight, and they’ve just booked a motel room after driving more or less the whole day. Dean’s exhausted but also still too strung up from the drive to go to sleep right away. Cas suggests sex to calm him down, with all the smooth subtlety of a seventeen year old virgin trying to cop his first feel.

They haven’t gotten any further than a little making out and one half-unbuttoned shirt when the sound of wings fluttering interrupts them. Cas pulls away, hustling Dean behind him with such determination and speed that it has Dean’s head spinning.

It takes him a moment to get a sense of the situation. They’re not alone in the room anymore; there are three people in suits standing between them and the exit, glowering at them – at Cas. Cas, for his part, has Dean tucked protectively behind his back, his blade in one hand and the other gripping Dean’s wrist.

“Castiel.”

It’s the person in the middle, a woman in a gray suit, who speaks first. She says Cas’ name like he’s an especially ugly bug she wants to crush underneath her heel.

“Eremiel,” Cas acknowledges flatly.

Eremiel’s lips quirk in a disdainful grimace. Her eyes flitter from Cas’ face to Dean’s, and Dean has to stop himself from taking a step back at the sheer amount of loathing and power he can feel emanating from her.

“This is it?” she says. “This is what you are falling for?”

Cas’ hold on Dean’s wrist tightens momentarily. “I’m falling because I grew tired of being a cog in a broken machine.”

Eremiel snorts. “You can pretend your motivations are noble. But what part of your mission requires you to fornicate with a primate?”

“Hey!” Dean blurts out, insulted. “The primate can hear you, you know.”

“What’s between Dean and I is none of heaven’s business,” Cas says.

“I’m afraid it is.” Eremiel shakes her hand and out of her sleeve appears a blade. The other two angels follow suit. “You’ve broken our most sacred oath, Castiel. You know what the punishment is.”

Dean has all of a split second for that information to sink in before all hell breaks loose. Cas lets go of him, lunging forward. Eremiel slashes at him but Cas ducks and her blade just barely grazes his arm, leaving a long but shallow cut as he tumbles to the ground.

Panicked, Dean grabs for the first weapon within reach – a bible on the nightstand. He chucks it at the angel closest to him, a tall and scary looking motherfucker in a dark blue suit. It hits his head with a dull thud and falls to the ground.

The angels all turn towards him, bewildered. Behind them, Cas takes immediate use of the distraction and starts dabbing at his wound to scrawl something on the wall.

“If you want Cas,” Dean says, with much more bravado than he’s currently feeling, “you gotta go through me first.”

Eremiel scowls. “Don’t worry. We’ll get to you.”

“No, you won’t.”

The angels swivel back around but it’s too late; Cas slams his hand on the sigil he’s just drawn and the room is awash in a wave of bright light. Dean squeezes his eyes shut on instinct, raising his arm to cover them as the light washes over him. Once he opens them, he and Cas are alone in the room.

“Angel banishing sigil,” Cas explains at Dean’s confused look.

He straightens, wincing when he leans on the injured arm for support. Dean rushes forward, helping Cas get up.

“What the hell were they talking about?” Dean demands as soon as Cas is on his feet. “What sacred oath did you break?”

Cas isn’t looking at him. That’s not a good sign. “We need to ward ourselves and get out of here before they have time to report this to heaven,” he says in lieu of answering.

Dean grinds his teeth in frustration. “Fine. But then I’d better get an explanation.”

 

 

Dean quickly patches Cas up and then Cas draws lines of strange symbols (“They’re enochian”) on his and Dean’s arms. They check out and hit the road again, and Dean has never been so grateful for all the practice he’s gotten in not sleeping.

Once they’re what seems like a safe distance away, Dean asks again, “What were they talking about back there?”

“Are you sure you want to know?”

Dean’s driving, so he can’t give Cas the glare he wants to, but he hopes his stony silence says it all. After a moment, Cas sighs.

“Angels are not meant to lay with humans,” he says. “It’s… it’s not considered natural.”

“Your most sacred oath, right?” Dean asks. “That’s what that douche Eremiel said. Have they come after you like this before?”

Cas doesn’t answer, which is really answer enough.

Dean laughs bitterly. “Fan-fucking-tastic. So, they wanted you dead because of me.”

“Because of what I did with you,” Cas corrects, which really doesn’t help. “Dean, I chose this. I chose you.”

A horrifying thought occurs to Dean. “Is that why you’re falling so fast now?”

“Dean-”

“Don’t even fucking try it.” Dean draws in a shaky breath. His chest feels tight, like he can’t get enough oxygen in. “This is all because I kissed you. I did this to you, I ruined you. I- I’m fucking poison.”

“Dean,” Cas repeats, voice harder. “Pull over.”

Dean’s too bewildered by that order to do anything but obey. Once he’s done so, Cas scoots closer, raising one hand to cup Dean’s cheek and turn him gently to face Cas.

“You are not poison, Dean Winchester,” Cas says, each word measured. When Dean opens his mouth to protest, he sharply adds, “Don’t. I was miserable in heaven. I thought by coming down to earth and finally using my powers for good again I could change that. But I was miserable here, too. Alone. Until I met you.”

Dean swallows past the lump that’s suddenly formed in his throat. “Cas…”

“I don’t care what heaven thinks,” Cas continues. “Lying with you is not a sin. It is the holiest, the most righteous I have ever felt. And it was my choice, so don’t you dare take that away from me by blaming yourself.”

There are tears in Dean’s eyes. He wants to hide his face, to wipe them away, but he’s unable to move. Cas’ gaze holds him still. Dean has never had anyone look at him this way before and it’s so overwhelming he can barely breathe.

He blinks, letting the tears fall, and mutters, “Okay.”

He’s not sure he can just not blame himself for Cas’ predicament. But for Cas, he can at least try.

 

 

Having angels on your tail has a way of putting you on edge, so over the next couple of weeks they don’t stop moving. They drive across state lines, take lesser traveled routes and never stop anywhere for more than a single night.

In St Louis, they make an appointment at a tattoo parlor and each get a protective symbol to ward off demon possessions as well as the enochian letters Cas drew on them to hide from the angels. Dean’s not sure whether he wants to laugh or cry; all his life, he’s been just a regular hunter and now he’s battling the forces of both heaven and hell.

They end up staying in St. Louis two nights to recuperate (Dean steadfastly refuses to let Cas heal him) and after that, they slow their pace a little. They’re still careful, though, putting up wards and sigils wherever they sleep.

In the end, they prove pointless. It’s neither demons nor angels who catch up to them.

 

 

Dad calls and wants Dean to join him on a hunt. Tells him to bring Cas if he’s around, and to meet in some hunting cabin just outside of Georgetown, Colorado.

Dean is so relieved that his dad is willing to tolerate Cas’ presence, if only for the sake of work, that he doesn’t even question it. Cas grouches about it, because just from the five minutes they spent together he already doesn’t like Dad, but Dean ignores him. He could use another friendly face right now.

Instead, what he gets as soon as they enter the cabin is a gun pointed right at Cas.

“Dad?” Dean says slowly, fear rising in his throat. Did a demon get a hold of him?

Dad doesn’t even look at him, keeping his eyes fixed on Cas, who stares right back. “Dean, get away from him.”

Dean’s first instinct is to do as he’s told. He’s almost never disobeyed a direct order from Dad before and right now, he’s looking kind of unhinged. But then he remembers the way Cas shielded him against those angels, the tight, reassuring grip he kept on Dean’s wrist.

“No,” he says. “Not until you put that gun down.”

Dad grits his teeth. “Dean,” he warns.

“What’s going on? Why are you pointing a gun at Cas?”

“Because this new friend of yours ain’t human.”

Dean’s heart stutters.

“Why would you think that?” Cas says in a tone that, admittedly, wouldn’t exactly reassure Dean if he didn’t already know him.

Dad’s eyes dart between the two of them. He clearly wants to shoot Cas and get this over with already but doesn’t want to risk it with Dean so close. All the more reason for Dean to stay right where he is.

“I did a little digging,” Dad finally answers. “There was no record of a Castiel Novak in Pontiac, Illinois but I did find a James Novak that looked awfully familiar.”

“Dad-”

“Thing is,” Dad cuts him off, “James Novak had stage four esophageal cancer when he disappeared, five years ago. Now, I don’t know what you are but you are not James Novak, even if you wear his skin.”

“I’m not James Novak,” Cas agrees. “And if you put that gun down, I can explain why I look like him.”

“First, get away from my son.”

Cas shifts, as if to acquiesce, but Dean grabs his arm, keeping him still. If he moves, he has no doubt that Dad will shoot.

“Cas isn’t a threat,” Dean tries. “He’s a hunter, Dad, we’ve been hunting together for months. He’s saved my life more times than I can count.”

Dad’s jaw twitches. “He’s not human.”

“Then what makes you think that gun will work on me?”

Dean’s head whips around. What the fuck is Cas trying pull by antagonizing Dad now? Does he want to die? He’s more human than angel now, no way is he surviving a bullet to the heart.

“Silver bullets.” Dad shrugs. “If they won’t kill you, they’ll at least slow you down. I had you pegged as a demon but you passed the devil’s trap underneath the porch outside no problem, so whatever kind of ugly you are, either silver or decapitation will do the trick.”

“And if I’m human?” Cas asks. “Are you willing to commit murder to confirm your hunch?”

“I’ll do what it takes to keep my family safe,” Dad grinds out. “Now for the last fucking time, Dean, get away from him!”

Dean tightens his hold on Cas’ arm.

“Don’t talk to him that way,” Cas says, voice low and angry.

“Don’t tell me how to treat my son,” Dad shoots back.

This isn’t happening. Why the fuck did Dean think it was a good idea to introduce them? “Dad, please, put the gun down.”

Dad wavers. His eyes turn to Dean and he lowers his arms, just slightly. Then Cas takes half a step forward and Dean realizes what’s about to happen a split second before it does, shoving Cas with all of his might just as Dad’s gun goes off.

Pain explodes in Dean’s shoulder and he stumbles down, Cas catching him just before he smacks against the floor. He hears both Cas and Dad shouting for him but isn’t aware of anything else, too focused on the pain.

Someone grabs Dean’s hand and squeezes. Disoriented, Dean blinks his eyes open (when did they close?) to see Cas hovering over him and Dad standing a couple of feet back, face pale and eyes wide.

A warm touch on his shoulder pulls Dean’s focus back. Cas is holding his palm over the bullet wound, warmth emanating from it.

He’s healing Dean.

“Cas, don’t,” Dean pleads. Cas barely has any mojo left, he can’t be wasting it like this.

Cas just shushes him and returns to his task, brows furrowing in concentration.

“What are you doing to him?” Dad asks but he doesn’t actually move or make any attempt to pull Cas away when he doesn’t offer any answer.

The warmth starts spreading into Dean’s body, washing away the pain. He groans in relief and slumps in Cas’ arms, too exhausted to protest any more. Slowly, slowly, the pain disappears, leaving nothing but warmth and the sticky blood still soaking Dean’s clothes.

Cas helps him sit up and then Dad is there on his other side, pulling Dean to his feet and into a hug. Dean freezes; it’s been ages since he and Dad last hugged, and he’s not even sure how to feel about the man right now. He just got shot by a bullet that Dad had intended for Cas.

Eventually, he gives Dad a pat on the back just before he lets go.

“I’m okay,” he says quietly, even though he’s really, really not.

Behind him, Cas clears his throat. “We should go.”

“Dean,” Dad says. His voice sounds unlike Dean has ever heard it, soft and pleading. It hurts to hear, but it hurts even more to look at Dad right now.

Dean pulls away from him. Cas is standing by the door, leaning against the frame. Healing a wound like that must have taken a lot out of him.

“I gotta go,” Dean tells Dad. “I’ll call soon.”

Dad looks like he wants to protest but he doesn’t. He just watches them go; Dean can feel his gaze on his back as he and Cas stumble towards them Impala. Impulsively, recklessly, he grabs Cas’ hand and holds it as they walk.

“Thanks,” he murmurs. “You saved my life.”

Cas squeezes his hand, giving Dean a tired smile. “You saved mine first.”

They don’t let go until they reach the car. Dean takes one look in the rearview mirror as he drives away but doesn’t see Dad.

He isn’t sure if that’s a relief or not.

 

 

Cas falls asleep almost as soon as they start driving. He sleeps for five solid hours as Dean drives around, stewing in his own thoughts since he doesn’t want to risk waking up Cas by turning on the radio.

He’s just started to consider finding some place to spend the night when Cas stirs.

“Morning, sunshine.”

Cas straightens, groaning as he rolls his shoulders. “Sleeping is so uncomfortable. Why didn’t you warn me?”

“That’s kinda what happens when you fall asleep in the car. And you’ve slept before, dumbass, you know what it’s like.”

“Not like that,” Cas says, low and grave.

Oh.

“You’re human now?” Dean asks, though he doesn’t know why. He already knows the answer.

“Now and until I die,” Cas answers anyway. “My grace has dried up, there’s no replacing it.”

He doesn’t sound very upset by that. When Dean brings it up, he shrugs.

“I think I’m in shock,” he says bluntly. “I expect the loss of my grace will hit me any time now.”

“Maybe when you realize you now need to use the bathroom like a regular human,” Dean suggests. It takes everything he’s got not to laugh at the outright terrified look Cas gives him. “Don’t worry, man, you’ll figure it out. I know I’m not exactly the best role model, but I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas says quietly. “And you are.”

“Hm?”

A good role model,” Cas clarifies. “I’ve been on earth for five years and I have yet to come across anyone kinder or braver than you.”

Dean blushes. Then, because he has to ruin the moment, “But I’m not helping you toilet train. You figure that shit out on your own.”

“I think I can manage,” Cas says dryly.

“Good.” Dean clears his throat. “Okay, you want Zeppelin or the Stones?”

“You’re letting me pick?”

“Zeppelin or Stones,” Dean repeats. “But, yeah, aside from that you can pick.”

“Thank you,” Cas says, and judging from the reverence in his voice you’d think Dean just entrusted him with some holy mission.

He rummages through the tapes in the glove compartment, eventually coming up with one that he stuffs into the player. Soon, the familiar riff of ‘Gimme Shelter’ begins playing.

Dean nods in approval. “Good choice.”

They don’t talk any more, settling into a comfortable silence. There’s still a lot unsaid between them, about Dad, about the future, but in the moment, none of that bothers Dean.

They’re gonna be okay.

 

*

 

It’s been almost six months to the day since Sam last saw or heard from Dean. The last thing he expects when there’s a knock on the door at noon on a Saturday is Dean, standing there with a huge grin on his face and a guy Sam’s never seen before.

“Wh-” Sam blanches. “What are you doing here? And who’s this?”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Christ, no one in this family has any manners. I’m here to visit my little brother and his girlfriend who he just moved in with.”

“Sam?” Jess calls from the kitchen. “Who is it?”

Sam ignores her for the moment. “You can’t be here.”

“I’m just here as family,” Dean says. “I won't bring up hunting, or Dad, or anything to do with the past. I just wanna meet your girlfriend, and introduce you to my new partner, Cas.”

Sam looks over at this Cas. He’s a little bit shorter than Dean, with dark hair and severe expression. He looks completely non-threatening but the same can be said about a lot of hunters. “And how does your new hunting partner fit into a ‘family only’ visit?”

Dean shifts, looking a little awkward. “I didn’t say hunting partner. I mean, he is, but not just.”

No.

No way.

“Though he did introduce me in a very misleading way,” Cas chimes in. He’s got a surprisingly deep and gruff voice. “As ‘partner’ can be construed in many different ways. It’s a play on words.” He waits a beat, then adds, “It’s funny.”

Sam looks back at Dean in bewilderment but Dean is staring at Cas, a fond smile on his face. It’s that look more than anything that makes Sam realize they’re not kidding.

“You’re serious?” he still asks, just in case.

“Would I joke about this?” Dean asks, defensive now. “Are you gonna let us in or not?”

Wordlessly, Sam steps aside. Dean goes first, then hesitates at the threshold, pulling his hand out of his pocket and holding it out to Sam. Sam accepts, two delicate amulets on leather cords dropping into his palm.

“To ward of demons,” Dean says quietly. “We’ve been having some trouble with them lately. I know you’re out of the game, but the demons don’t care one way or the other. You need to be protected.”

Sam stares at the amulets, a chill running down his spine. He pockets them. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Dean nods at Cas. “C’mon, man, time to practice those small talk skills.”

Sam stands rooted on the spot as they go into the kitchen. From there, he can hear Jess’ surprised exclamation and then her greeting Dean and Cas, genuine pleasure mixed with curiosity and apprehension.

Looks like Sam’s gonna have some explaining to do later. Absentmindedly, he puts his hand in his pocket, feeling the cold iron of the protective amulets.

A lot of explaining.