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Only in Dreams Do We Truly Live

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"C'mon, Cas!" Dean was shouting. "You gotta live a little, enjoy it. We're at a bar, you might as well drink."

He was grinning a little too much, he was a little too drunk, and Cas was a little too gorgeous. This was all he'd ever get, so he was damn well going to soak it all in. "Gimme a sec, I gotta take a leak." He got up from the table, dropped a wink at his friend, and sauntered off toward the bathrooms.

Cas winced slightly at the noise, it was so loud inside the bar and there were people everywhere, dancing and shouting and just overall bustling. Dean's yelling wasn't helping the headache which was already bursting on the inside of his skull. He knew that his Grace would sort it out soon enough, but for every headache his Grace fixed a new one took its place.

Cas nodded at his friends words, picking up his drink, despite the fact that he knew angels couldn't get drunk; he'd tried explaining it to Dean multiple times, but Dean didn't seem that bothered. Dean himself appeared to be drunk, he was smiling wider than he usually did and his limbs appeared to be looser, like all the tension and guilt he normally carried with him had disappeared. He tried to hide his blush when Dean winked at him, it was just the late hour and the drinks, nothing else. Angels can't feel. Especially not like that.

Dean was still grinning when he came back from the bathroom. He grabbed them each another beer and made his way back to the table and then-

There was a guy there. Sitting in Dean's seat. And he was hot.

Dean wasn't close enough to their booth for them to see him, but he could hear bits and pieces, just scraps of their conversation. He heard the strange hot guy say "all alone" and "get out of here" and "my place or yours" and his vision went fucking red, because if he couldn't have Cas then no one could.

(Yes, he's fully aware that that's selfish and controlling and that he's fucked up, okay? He knows, but basically he just doesn't care.)

He stared at Hot Stranger. He had green eyes and sandy blond hair and he seemed like the kind of guy who'd be exactly Cas' type. Dean wasn't quite sure why he thought that, but it just made him even more furious. He sauntered back over to their table as casually as he possibly could, slid Cas' beer along the table and slid into the booth next to him. "Hey," he greeted in a tone that suggested way more intimacy than actually existed. "Who's this?"

"I'm Jason," said Hot Stranger - Jason, apparently - extending a hand. "And you are?"

"Cas' boyfriend, Dean," he said pleasantly, shaking it before taking a swig of his beer.


Cas watched as his friend walked off, a small smile on his face which quickly dropped when a man slid into the seat Dean had just vacated. The man had a smile which Cas was sure would be described as flirty, but just looked weird from Cas' point of view. Then again, in his opinion, anyone trying to flirt with him who wasn't Dean, was wasting their time and weird. Dean had said he would only be a 'sec' and Cas knew he always took things too literally, but he couldn't help but hope that Dean was being more literal than normal this time.

The man hadn't even opened his mouth yet and Cas was already feeling uncomfortable.

"Hey hotstuff," the man said, his voice grating on Cas' ears, "I'm Jason, what's a cutie like you doing here all alone?" Cas paused for a moment, trying to understand what the man was saying. This was definitely flirting, but.... What did his words mean?

"I'm not alone." He answered, confusion filling his tone, Dean's drink was still in front of the seat the man had stolen, why was he confused about whether he was alone?

"What do you think about getting out of here?" Jason continued, a smirk on his face. Now that Cas was paying attention to him, he could tell that this guy was what some humans would call 'hot', but Cas wasn't really that bothered. His green eyes were too dull and his hair too long.

"I can't, I'm waiting for my friend to get out of the toilet, I can't just leave him." Cas explained, confused about why Jason wanted to leave but still certain that he couldn't.

"My place or yours?" Jason continued, clearly ignoring everything Cas was saying.

Cas was trying to figure out how to respond, how to tell Jason to just go away! when Dean walked over, like a knight in shining armor.

Cas felt his breath catch in his throat when Dean introduced himself as Cas' boyfriend. He knew it was just a lie, but it was so easy to just pretend it wasn't.

Cas decided to ignore the fact it was all an act. He decided to ignore that Dean didn't really care about him like that. He decided to ignore all his self-preservation instincts. He shifted sideways until he was pressed against Dean's side, it just felt so right.

"Hello Dean." He said with a smile, for the first time in years allowing the full extent of his love into his tone.

Dean sucked in a breath. Holy crap that was a sex voice. Jason had disappeared at some point between 'I'm Cas' boyfriend' and 'hello Dean' which was super lucky for Dean. He didn't want any witnesses to the way he was staring at his best friend.

Look, Dean knew he was kind of messed up. He'd never had any illusions that he was anything that could even be considered a normal human being. He just... he just really loved Cas, and he also really didn't know how to fucking deal with it or express it in any productive way.

"Hey, Cas," he muttered back, hiding the smile he couldn't wipe off his face in his bottle of beer.

Cas barely even noticed Jason move away, he was too busy starting at Dean, looking into his green eyes which just seemed to dazzle, looking at his blond hair which Cas just longed to run his hands through, watching him hide a smile behind a bottle of beer.

Wait.

He was hiding his smile behind a bottle of beer. Hiding it. Because Dean didn't want this. Not really. He had just been a supportive friend and saved Cas from some guy, only to have Cas stare at him with eyes filled with love, and now he was hiding his discomfort behind that bottle, not a smile. How could Cas have been so stupid?

Jason was gone, there was no reason to keep Dean uncomfortable for any longer.

With an ache deep in his heart, Cas shuffled away, grabbing the beer Dean had put on the table for him and taking a swig.

Dean watched with what he hoped was an unreadable expression as Cas slid away from him, practically pressing himself into the wall.

Right. He'd almost forgotten. Cas didn't want him like that. He couldn't want him like that, because he was an angel of the freaking Lord and Dean was just a person, a fucked-in-the-head person at that, and he wasn't good enough for his friend.

He nodded in confirmation of his own thoughts and then slid out of the booth and back into his bench carefully on the other side of the table, a safe distance away from Cas.

He could do this without hurting his friend. Right?

Cas felt his heart break just a little bit more as Dean slid away and into the booth opposite. He knew that he had pulled away first, but that didn't make it hurt any less. This was basically a rejection - Dean had pulled away, what else could it be?

For a moment, he thought he saw a flash of self-hatred bursting across Dean's face, but it was gone before he could tell if he actually had seen it and he knew better than to assume.

Dean was amazing, he had to know that. What would he have to be hating himself about?

"Do you want to head back to the bunker?" he asked gently, seeing Dean's soul shift uncomfortably, even as he kept his face blank.

Dean nodded vigorously and cleared his throat. "Uh... sorry Cas, I shoulda cleared that with you first. I just- you looked uncomfortable. Thought that was the best way to get the douche to leave."

It wasn't a total lie - Cas had looked uncomfortable. But that wasn't the real reason Dean had done what he did.

He laughed uncomfortably. "Yeah, we should probably get out of here." Fuck, you're not supposed to sound like you're trying to pick him up too. You damn idiot, he doesn't want you like that.

Maybe he just needed to avoid Cas forever until his feelings went away.

"It's ok, let's go." Cas said, making sure to look at the ground and ignore how much of a disaster the last couple of minutes had been.

Dean regretted it. He had just been trying to make Jason leave and then Cas had made it weird.

Dean was uncomfortable and that was Cas' fault. What kind of a friend was he? Making his best friend uncomfortable all because of some messed up feelings and his inability to hide them.

And the worst part? Even now Cas couldn't bring himself to regret it! Because for half a second, when they had been pressed against each other, he had seen Dean's soul burst to life. For half a second, his Grace and Dean's soul had sung together as one, a perfect harmony. It was practically killing Cas, the knowledge that it would never happen again.

Dean regretted it so much. He just wanted to be able to take it all back, because he was 99% sure Cas knew now and that meant he was going to be awkward around Dean forever. Which... fuck. He just screwed up their entire relationship, didn't he?

"Okay," he agreed hollowly, following Cas out the door and back to the Impala. On a whim, as he pulled out the keys, he blurted out, "you wanna drive?"

Cas walked out the door and towards the impala. He hated this, how things were so awkward. Each step Cas took was proving to his head bit by bit that they could never be together; they were so awkward and they were just pining best friends on their way home. Could you imagine how awkward it would be if they were actually together?

It wouldn't be awkward a traitorous voice whispered in the back of his head - because you would actually be together, not dancing around each other - but he ignored it. That was just his heart, ignoring everything his head knew and refusing to give up hope. No matter what happened, his heart just wouldn't give up. It hurt and it hurt and it hurt but it wouldn't give up.

He froze suddenly when Dean asked if he wanted to drive. Dean never let anyone drive, not even Sam. He couldn't shake the feeling that it meant something, but he couldn't figure out what.

"Sure?" He said, trying to hide the confusion and doubt filling his tone. He could figure this all out later, for now they just needed to get home.

Dean didn't know why he'd asked Cas to drive. A treacherous little voice in his mind was whispering that it was because he wanted to see how Cas looked behind the wheel of his Baby, to see how much care he handled her with because he took that much care with everyone, but he shoved that way down where he couldn't find it. He decided that if Cas asked, he'd justify it by saying he was too drunk.

(He was not too drunk. He'd had like, a beer and a half, and his tolerance was ridiculous considering how long he'd been drinking. He basically had a liver of steel at this point.)

He tried to ignore the look on Cas' face. It was so much undeserved awe and reverence and idolatry that it made Dean uncomfortable. He hadn't earned Cas' admiration, and it was, honestly, completely misplaced in Dean. But the look also made him feel warm and safe and comforted and loved, like Cas cared about him, like Cas maybe could want him that way. He didn't know what he was supposed to do with that.

So he tossed the car keys through the air in a beautiful parabola and Cas caught them, and he smirked at him over the roof of the car before he slid into the shotgun seat. He just hoped that'd be the end of it.

Cas caught the keys through the haze of shock that filled his mind. Why was Dean doing this? Why did Dean want him to drive? He could tell that Dean was sober enough to drive, and his soul was doing some kind weird flip. Even after knowing Dean for so many years and being able to understand 90% of his soul's movements, Cas still couldn't decipher it.

He slowly started up the Impala and carefully drove her back to the bunker, making sure to drive perfectly so that nothing could possibly happen to her. Dean called this car his Baby and cared about her more than everything else he owned. Cas was fairly sure that Dean would swear off burgers and beer for the sake of the Impala.

He tried to ignore Dean next to him, sitting shotgun, but his traitorous heart just wouldn't stop. He couldn't stop thinking about that minute when everything was fine and it almost seemed like Dean loved him too.

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Dean's heart was beating so fast he wanted to cut it out of his chest. His stupid fucking heart, betraying him at every turn. He wasn't supposed to fall in love with Cas. He wasn't allowed to fall in love with Cas. But goddammit he did it anyway.

He took a deep shaky breath as Cas pulled the car out onto the highway and exerted all the energy he had trying not to stare at him. But... he was just so beautiful.

He turned away, pressed his forehead against the window, and willed himself to sleep, just for something to do.


Cas slowly pulled into the bunker garage, making sure to leave plenty of room so that he didn't scratch Baby's paint. He looked to the side, planning on a quick smile at Dean before he left to head to the library, but that didn't quite happen. Dean was leaning his head against the window, fast asleep. His soul was swirling in contentment, his dreams obviously happy, and Cas could feel his heart melt.

As a lover of humanity, and a lover of Dean Winchester, the sight before him was all he ever wanted to see.

This was what he wanted to wake up to in the mornings, except angels don't sleep.

It suddenly occurred to Cas just how far gone he was for Dean. He was thinking about spending the night curled together. He was thinking about spending the rest of his existence by a mortal man's side, and when he inevitably died, following him to heaven. He was thinking about everything.

Everything. With a man who could never love him back.

He was dreaming about blue eyes and a soft smile and messy black hair. He was dreaming about a man who could see inside his soul, who knew everything he'd done, and loved him anyway.

He dreamed of a world in which he was young. There were no hunters, he was just a normal teenager, and he met a beautiful boy with black hair and blue eyes and a curious disposition and a big fucking trench coat and he fell in love immediately. He dreamed of kissing that boy in front of the high school while his baby brother wolf-whistled in the background. He dreamed of not being the only one this desperately in love.

When Cas woke him up, gently shaking his shoulder, he looked into his eyes and his first thought was 'that dream was so good', and his second thought was, 'but the real things is better.'

If only he could have it.

Cas sat in the library, staring at the book in front of him but not really reading it. Both of the humans were fast asleep - like they desperately needed to be doing more often - leaving him alone with the books and worse, his thoughts.

He couldn't get the feeling of Dean pressed up against him out of his head.

He couldn't get Dean saying he was Cas' boyfriend out of his head.

He couldn't get Dean out of his head.

He tried to be rational. Dean didn't like him like that. They were just close friends, and that was all. But his head was barely listening to him, never mind his heart. Dean was the most beautiful thing he had ever encountered, more beautiful than the Grace of any angel Cas had ever seen. And that was the problem, wasn't it? Because if he listened to his Grace, Dean was the one for him, and Dean just didn't want that.

Dean made his way through the halls of the bunker, beadheaded and bleary, searching for Cas. He found him eventually, in the library, glaring at an ancient 40-pound tome on demonic something-or-other.

"Hey, Cas," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. "You should let up or you'll burn a hole in that poor defenseless book." He expected Cas to look up at him and grin at his jibe, or maybe look confused, or... he didn't know what he was expecting but it wasn't this.

He didn't expect Cas to stare at him in horror and then beeline for the exit.

Cas knew that Dean was probably confused, no one expected their friend to look horrified and then escape the room, but Cas had to leave. Because if he stayed, he wasn't sure he would be able to stop his Grace reaching out and bonding with Dean's soul, and that wasn't what Dean wanted, so Cas didn't want it either. He wouldn't bond with Dean without his knowing, even if he probably wouldn't even figure it out, even if it would help protect him from other angels.

If Dean had taught him anything... well, it was free will. But if Dean had taught him anything else it was that humans cared about personal space and didn't like people intruding on their little 'bubble'. Cas was 90% sure that a Grace-soul bond would definitely burst that bubble.

"Cas- Cas, wait!" Dean shouted after him, watching him try to get as far away from Dean as he possibly could. He sighed sadly as his friend disappeared, not even bothering to look back at him.

Well, if that didn't prove that Cas could never in a million years feel that way about him, he wasn't sure what would. He slumped into a chair, miserable and heartbroken, and stared at the door in shock.

"Cas..." he murmured to the empty room.

Cas leaned his head against the cool wall of the hallway. His angel hearing couldn't help but pick up Dean's murmuring and despite his head knowing Dean was probably just confused or tired, his Grace was screaming at him that Dean was heartbroken and sad.

Normally he trusted his Grace's perception skills, but this time he was skeptical. Maybe his Grace could be tricked by hope just like human minds could.

He sensed someone approaching and tensed up, ready to escape again, but then he realized it was just Sam and relaxed back against the wall. His Grace wasn't about to try and bond with Sam's soul, so Cas wasn't too worried about talking to him first thing in the morning.

"Hey, Cas," Sam said tiredly. "You alright? You look..." He trailed off, trying to come up with an adjective that wouldn't offend the angel.

"I'm fine." Cas answered quickly - you know, like a liar. Even as he said he was fine, he felt his Grace reaching out, trying to find the soul it had its sights set on. He tried to reel it back in, trap it deep in his chest and stop it from doing anything everyone involved would regret. He had the feeling that his struggle was showing on his face, but he couldn't change that. What he could change was his Grace trying to take control of the situation.

Sam would have smiled at how adorable it was that Cas thought he could lie if he hadn't been able to see the agony on his face. It was quite obvious that he was in incredible pain, and Sam wanted to help him. He just didn't know if he could.

"Don't lie to me," he said sternly and fuck, he wasn't intending to sound so angry but the protectiveness was right there, surging up inside him, the defiance threatening to spill over. This was his best friend and he'd be damned if he was going to let him suffer.

"Sorry." Cas muttered conscious of Sam's angry tone, but still didn't offer up any other answer. What was he supposed to say? Ah yes, 'it's fine, my Grace is just trying to bond with your brother's soul against his will'. That sounds about right, he was sure Sam wouldn't have any problems with that.

"Okay, I'll bite," Sam finally said. "What's up, Cas? Something's wrong and you ain't gonna tell me what it is until I drag it out of you, so c'mon. Out with it. Whatever it is, can't be that bad. I'm your friend, and I'm here to help." He tried to keep his voice even and low so as not to scare him off, but he was worried.

"It really is that bad." Cas said with a grimace, hanging his head as he did so. "Look, it doesn't matter. I don't think you can help me anyway and I just need to wait for my Grace to calm down," Cas said before wincing at himself. His plan had been to get Sam to leave it alone, but mentioning his Grace was not going to help that. If there was one thing Sam Winchester couldn't leave alone, it was his curiosity about angels and their Grace.

Sam reeled, taking a step back. "What's wrong with your Grace?" he demanded. "Don't hide this shit from me, tell me. I guarantee I can help, even if I'm just giving you advice."

Shit. How was he going to get out of this one? "There is nothing wrong exactly." He tried to explain, before stopping himself. Sam was a very clever human, maybe he would be able to help. Cas would just have to not give any details.

"Ok so, angels have something called a Grace bond. It's basically where two angels’ Grace fuse into one, binding the two angels together." Cas explained, hoping that it wasn't too complex for Sam. He was just a human after all, it was a bit of a foreign concept for humans.

"Like self-made soulmates?" Sam inquired. "Okay, continue."

Cas thought for a moment over Sam's assessment. "Yes, that sounds like an accurate comparison. Anyway, angel's Grace can, in certain circumstances, bond with a human soul, in a Grace-soul bond. Because the human soul is different to Grace, it's a bit trickier and the human has less control over the actual bonding. An angel can reject a bond where as a human would find it tricky to connect with their soul for long enough to reject a bond."

Cas worried his bottom lip between his teeth before continuing. Sam was a good listener and he appeared to understand the whole thing, maybe he would be able to give Cas a new insight. "My Grace is trying to bond with a human soul, without the human's permission. I'm trying to hold it off, but once Grace has decided on a potential mate, it's hard to stop it. Normally we don't because if the other angel doesn't agree then they can just reject, but obviously with humans it's a lot trickier."

Sam looked at him evenly. "Okay, level with me here." He paused, gently putting his hand on Cas' shoulder. "Is it Dean?"

"Umm." Cas said intelligently, trying to figure out what to say. Should he tell the truth? He was 90% sure that Sam knew about his feelings anyway, but Sam might not be okay with discovering that Cas' Grace was trying to take free will away from his brother.

Or maybe he would try to help?

"Yes. It is."

Sam exhaled in relief. "Oh, thank Chuck," he breathed. "I thought you two were never going to pull your heads out of your asses." He grinned at his friend. "Okay, so we just gotta get Dean to sign off on it, right? Then let's do it."

He stepped around Cas toward the entrance to the library - he'd seen Dean go in earlier, closely followed by Cas sprinting out like a bat from hell - and rounded the corner. Then he froze. "Uh... Cas?" he called down the hall.

Cas opened his mouth to argue - Sam couldn't seriously be suggesting they walk in and just ask Dean if he wants a soul bond with Cas, he would obviously just say no and Cas wasn't sure he (or his Grace) could survive such a human rejection and stay intact – but before he could say anything, Sam had rounded the corner and frozen.

He called out for Cas, who also instantly froze. He couldn't think of anything which could put such a tone into Sam's voice.

He ran down the hall, rounding the corridor only to freeze even more than he had when he first heard Sam's call.

This could not be happening.


Dean took a deep breath as he knocked back another shot. What was that... six? Seven? Twelve? Who knew? All he had in his brain was a devastating need to be mind-numbingly wasted about yesterday.

As the girl approached his table, swaying her hips suggestively and smirking, he toyed with the idea of taking her home for about one second before he dismissed it. Even the thought put a sour taste in his mouth. No one else could make him feel as good as Cas, only Cas didn't want that. A life of celibacy didn't seem that bad. Right now.

"Hey there, gorgeous," the chick purred, sliding into the seat across from him. "How's it going?"

He studied her. She had auburn hair down to her butt and hazel eyes, and a round face, and perky lips, etc. etc. He didn't even care. "Sweetheart," he told her, "I ain't here to make friends. I'm here to mourn."

Dean was gone.

Cas wasn't sure how, but Dean was gone. He wasn't in the library anymore, he wasn't even in the bunker. Sometime, while he was trying to stop his Grace from creating an unwanted bond, Dean had slipped out. Cas' Grace hadn't noticed because it had been too busy being locked away, and he and Sam hadn't heard the bunker door close because they had both been too engrossed in their conversation.

Cas ran to the door, leaving Sam standing in the library as he threw his Grace out and telling it to find its soul, find his human. He wouldn't let it create the bond, but nothing - not distance, not monsters, not Heaven or Hell - could stop Grace from finding its intended.

His brain was spinning around a mile a minute, coming up with a hundred worst-case scenarios for what could have happened to Dean, what could have happened. Anything! Demons, angels, monsters, a regular bar.

And that was where he found him, a short car drive about five panic-filled minutes later. A regular bar, chatting to a regular girl.

"Mm, who are we mourning?" she purred, and he fought the urge to roll his eyes.

"Relationship I'm never gonna get," he answered curtly. He lifted the beer bottle he hadn't started drinking yet in toast. "To falling in love with the wrong guy."

"Bet I could make you feel better about it," she suggested, and then Dean really did roll his eyes.

"Honey, you ain't my type. Get yourself some black hair and blue eyes and a trenchcoat and a dick and then maybe. But you still won't be an angel."

"Ooh, so he's an angel? You haven't seen all my moves yet, who's to say I'm not?"

"I would know," Dean said flatly.

Cas could feel his annoyance levels steadily climbing dangerously high. This girl, this regular human girl was not listening to his human saying no.

(He didn't notice that he had started thinking of Dean as his human. He didn't notice what Dean said he was mourning. All he noticed was that this puny girl was not taking no for an answer, just like Heaven and the angels hadn't.)

"He said no." Cas said sternly, his voice thundering with barely concealed rage.

Dean looked up sharply at the sound of Cas' voice. He didn't know Cas knew where he was; that was the point of coming here in the first place. "Who are you?" the woman demanded.

"Me?" Cas asked innocently, squeezing onto the booth next to Dean and picking up his hand, "I'm Cas, Dean here's boyfriend." He smirked as he said the words, reveling how they felt on his tongue, knowing it could never happen again. He was just returning the favor and pretending, that was all.

Dean sighed in relief, relishing the fact that he got this chance. "Hey, babe," he replied in a low voice. He squeezed the hand holding his.

The girl looked confused. "But he said-"

"You gotta know you can't trust anything a drunk guy says. I'm unavailable. Get out of here." She stared for a second, then sighed and slunk off, probably to feel up some other random guy.

He wasn't lying. He was unavailable, but he wasn't taken. He just couldn't get Cas out of his brain, which meant that he was never going to have anyone else. At least until he figured out how to.

Cas smiled and sighed in relief as he watched the girl walk away. He had thought for a second that she would never leave. He could feel his Grace sneaking out, placing a piece of warding on her which would stop anyone from approaching her, but he didn't stop it. She deserved it for writing to take what was his.

Oh. Fuck.

He had started thinking of Dean as being his. His human, his mate, his possession. How was he supposed to be able to go back to just being friends after this?

"Come on," he said gently, all the previous range draining out of his voice as he spoke to Dean, "let's go back to the bunker."

Dean looked at his best friend, seeing him freshly through his drunken haze. "Alright," he mumbled, slurring. "Lezgo."

He stumbled as he attempted to stand and found himself in Castiel's arms, chest-to-chest and fuck, his eyes were even bluer this close up. "Sorry," he murmured, pulling away, keeping one hand on Cas' arm to steady himself. "Let's get going," he repeated.

Cas squinted at his human friend. Dean was clearly very drunk and when he stumbled Cas let his instincts take control, which was obviously a horrendously bad idea because his angel instincts were saying protect mate, hold mate close so they ended up chest to chest, with Dean's bright green eyes all he could see.

They walked out of the bar slowly, Dean barely able to hold himself up and leaning heavily on Cas. Cas couldn't find a single cell in his body which had a problem with that arrangement, he was more than happy to be this close to Dean.

"I'm driving," he announced as they arrived at Baby. Dean couldn't even walk in a straight line, and there was no way Cas was letting either of them near that car until he was holding the keys.

Dean sighed, slumping. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea," he groaned. "Here." He tossed his friend the keys and leaned heavily against the passenger's door.

As soon as Cas unlocked the car he was wrenching it open and falling ass-over-tits into the seat, landing on one elbow and making it tingle uncomfortably. He shifted until he was straightened out (about as straight as he'd ever be) and leaned the seat all the way back. He looked up at his friend, who was watching him with an unreadable expression from the front seat.

"You're so beautiful," he hummed fondly. "I love you, Cas." Seconds later, he was passed out.

Cas blushed at Dean's words, despite knowing Dean didn't really mean them. He was just drunk, he didn't know what he was saying.

Cas drove carefully, mindful of both the car and its precious passenger. His Grace was gently reaching out, soothing Dean's soul even while Cas held it back from bonding. It was preening after Dean's words and Cas couldn't even stop it, because he was also preening; fluffing up his invisible wings before he could stop himself.

"I love you too, Dean," he whispered into the silence of the car, certain Dean wouldn't be able to hear.

In his dream, he was hugging Cas, and Cas was hugging him back with his huge wings of black. One wingtip stroked gently down his spine while the other wrapped around his waist, pulling him closer. Dean buried his face in Cas' collarbone and inhaled his scent, something clean and sharp and citrusy, exactly how he imagined Heaven would smell.

"I love you, Cas," Dream-him whispered honestly to his friend, and the angel smiled back.

"I love you too, Dean," he replied in a voice that echoed around in Dean's brain. Suddenly he jolted awake.

Cas jumped as Dean shot up. He was sure that if he'd been a human, he would have swerved, but because he was an angel it would take more than a human waking up seconds after he confessed his undying love to move him out of the correct lane, especially without signaling.

"Dean," he said, trying to hide his shock and worry behind a wall of blank indifference, "are you ok?"

He took a deep, calming breath. "Yeah," he answered. "I'm fine."

He relaxed back into the seat, thinking over that dream. It had been so good, he could almost convince himself that it was real. But as he glanced over at his friend carefully maneuvering his car... he just knew. It would never be real. He would never get that.

Cas relaxed slightly. Dean said he was fine, but his Grace disagreed. It was still there, soothing Dean's soul and it was insistent that Dean was lying. To be honest, Cas knew it too, he just didn't want to accept it, because Dean was clearly calm and happy, so what would he be lying about?

He pulled into the bunker garage for the second time in about a week, with a drunk Dean next to him and the word 'boyfriend' bouncing through his mind.

They really needed to stop doing this. Cas wasn't sure he would be able to survive this for much longer.

Dean got out of the car, trying to get away from Cas. He was still hearing Cas saying 'Dean's boyfriend'. It was echoing in his ears, fucking with his cognitive functions.

It didn't mean anything, he tried to tell his heart. You helped him out before and he was just returning the favor.

But he couldn't quite get it to stop doing that odd, uncomfortable fluttery thing. He wasn't supposed to be so attracted to guys he couldn't have.

Cas watched as Dean walked away. It hurt, just a little, to watch him all but run away but he couldn't think of any valid reasons why Dean would stay around. Just because he liked Dean didn't mean Dean liked him.

He felt his Grace start to scream as it was ripped away from Dean's soul and Cas instantly felt empty now that the small part of his true form was no longer in contact with the brightest and most beautiful soul he had ever seen.

His soul was just breathtaking. Brighter than the Grace of any other angel Cas had ever seen and purer than any other human’s soul, even despite his trip to Hell.

He wasn't supposed to be this attached to someone who would never want him.

Sam walked over to Cas as he stood there by the Impala staring after Dean with that absolutely devastated look on his face. The sky was still black, and Sam was still wearing pajama pants and no shirt.

"Cas, what happened?" he asked. "He looks really sad. And you look..." He didn't even know how to describe how Cas looked. It was the kind of heavy misery that didn't even have words in any language that Sam could speak (which was several). He idly wondered if there would be a way to describe it in Enochian. It was the kind of sadness that was so deep and eternal that humans couldn't even comprehend it. It was a truly divine emotion, and it struck Sam very hard to observe.

"It's nothing, don't worry." Cas said on reflex, not even thinking about how much Sam did or didn't know. He just buried his feelings deep, deep down and quickly covered the pain on his face with a mask of peace and serenity. Just like how people envisioned angels, before they met them.

Sam sighed. "That's a lie and you know it. Thought I told you not to lie to me. Something's going on with you and Dean and I want to help, because I'm your friend. Okay?"

"Okay." Cas muttered slowly, "I haven't told him about the whole soul-Grace bond thing yet, but- I just don't think he could ever like me. I don't know what's up with him either because he seems fine but he's also like that." Cas said, nearly choking on how quickly he was speaking. "It just - it's stupid but it hurts when he walks away."

"Physically? Or emotionally?" Sam ran a hand comfortingly up Cas' arm.

Dean stood in the doorway, watching them. Sam was standing altogether too close to Cas, touching him like Dean wanted to touch him, and he felt his last hope shatter. Cas would go for Sam. Sam was the obvious choice. And Dean would step aside, because Sam was more important than his own feelings. He'd support them.

Cas sighed for what must have been the hundredth time in the last week. "Would it make sense if I said both?" he asked tiredly, leaning into the comforting touch very slightly, letting it ground him in the here and now. His Grace was telling him that Dean wasn't far, but he assumed that he wouldn't be able hear so it didn't matter too much. It wasn't like Dean was going to be able to figure out what they were talking about.

"Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Your Grace is a part of you, and it's latched on to my brother, so therefore it's in pain when Dean's away from you. There's the physical. Then there's the emotional pain of the - perceived - rejection from someone you love." Sam abruptly hugged him. "I got you, man. You're my best friend. Even if Dean won't come around, I'm right here."

Dean flinched away when Sam turned and pulled Cas against his body. It looked like they were kissing.

They were kissing.

He almost screamed. Then he turned on his heel and sprinted through the bunker toward his bedroom.

Cas nodded. Sam's explanation made sense. It actually made a lot of sense. This was why he was glad Sam was his best friend - he was clever, but in the way that he saw the bigger picture. Oh, and he was also the only person in the entire bunker who could actually process and express his feelings. Cas didn't understand them and Dean refused to talk about them.

Sam's reasoning explained why the physical pain of being separated from Dean burned deep in his true form and why watching Dean turn his back always hurt emotionally, because it was a little rejection, a bit at a time, but hurting all the same.

Cas leaned into the hug with a soft smile. At least he could always rely on his best friend to decide feelings and show him some sense. Even while he was getting lost in angel to human translation, Sam was there with his dictionary to be the guiding light house through the storm.

Cas' Grace felt Dean get even further away, he seemed to be moving quickly and in great - was that pain? A quick scan, even from this distance, confirmed that Dean wasn't injured at all; so why had Cas been able to sense a quick spike of hurt from his soul?

"Do I need to talk to Dean now?" Cas asked slowly. He already knew what Sam's answer would be, but maybe if he heard it from Sam it would give him the courage he needed to actually do it.

Sam nodded. "Course you do. He's got a lot of his own shit going on, but having you around always helps him. Go say hi."

"Okay." Cas nodded as he steeled his nerves and gathered his Grace to prepare himself. He knew he was overreacting just slightly, this was his best friend, even if Dean liked him back they would just move on and Cas' Grace would calm down. He just had to ask and then he would get either his rejection of his acceptance.

He was nearing Dean's door when the first jolt of pain ran through him. It wasn't enough to make him stop, but he definitely felt it. It took him a moment to recognize what the pain meant, and once he did, he just blinked a couple of times and ignored it.

He was not going to let angel instincts rule his life. This included.

Dean didn't even let Cas speak. He walked in the door of Dean's room and he held up a hand and muttered, "go away, Castiel."

But he's not Castiel, his brain told him. He's Cas. He's Cas, he's Cas, he's Cas, he's Cas he's Cas he's Cas he's Cas he'sCashe'sCashe'sCashe'sCas CasCasCasCasCas.

It wouldn't get out of his mind, the slight but extremely significant difference between 'Castiel' and 'Cas'. Because Castiel was the uptight asshole angel who threatened to drop Dean back into Hell. And Cas was the dorky, sweet little guy who didn't understand pop culture and loved bees.

But neither of them would ever want him, so what was the point? When Cas walked into his bedroom, he shut himself off, tried to make Cas hate him, so he didn't have to feel the heartbreak. Anger he could deal with, the other stuff notsomuch.

"I don't want to talk to you. I don't want to hear anything you have to say."

At least he was more sober than he was earlier.

"I'm sorry." Cas muttered, his chest pulling and his Grace screaming at Dean's words. His careless, hateful, physically painful words.

Cas slowly backed out of the room, making sure to close the door behind him - he knew how much Dean hated it when his door was left open. He didn't know what he had done to upset Dean this much, but he didn't really care.

He had clearly done something, and now Dean was just retaliating as he always does. He's locking himself away and trying to chase everyone away. This had happened so many times. So why did Cas not know what he had done? And why did this hurt?

Physically hurt.

 He bent over with a gasp, his breath being stolen by the force of the pain as he walked away from Dean. He could hear footsteps so he quickly straightened up and swallowed back his grimace.

He couldn't let the Winchesters know how much this was affecting him.

"Cas?" Sam sounded startled and concerned. "Cas, what's going on? Are you okay?"

He put a hand on Cas' shoulder to lend him support. Cas had been practically collapsed against the wall a second ago, but he'd done the same thing that Dean always did: he'd readjusted and done everything he could to try and hide it. The only visible remnant of his pain was the agonized look on his face.

"I'm fine," Cas lied for about the thirtieth time in the last 48 hours. "Nothing's going on, your brother just doesn't want to talk to me, that's all." He tried to smile, but the pain was still there in the back of his mind and the hurt of Dean's rejection still stung his mind. "I don't know what I did, but I think I upset him," Cas confessed, trying to sound casual but knowing he was failing miserably.

"How?" Sam demanded. "And why do you look like you're about to pass out? Dude, something's seriously wrong."

"It's nothing, I promise," Cas said, but even as he spoke he felt Dean move out of his room and head towards the kitchen. It was just his luck that the kitchen was even further away from him than Dean's room and another wave of pain - this one even more intense than the first one - washed over him, drowning him and making him forget everything around him.

He gasped. The pain was getting worse quicker than it normally should.

Sure, he had never been in this situation before. His Grace had never even tried to bond to another angel's. But he had heard about other angels who had gone a long time without attempting a bond, and normally once the pain started they had a couple of days before the pain got so bad that they couldn't just ignore it.

So why was his pain already this bad after only a couple of hours?

Dean sighed as he stumbled into the kitchen. He didn't need Cas coming to him and asking for permission to date Sam. He couldn't handle that. Sam was his own person, he could be with whoever he wanted, and Dean never pretended he could control Cas.

He grabbed a thing of Saltines and a glass of water and brought them back to his room, chugging the entire glass at once and only eating a couple of the crackers before he collapsed on his bed in exhaustion.

"Cas..." Sam whispered. "Is there anyone who can examine you? Tell you what's wrong? I don't know enough about angels to really be of much help."

"There is nothing wrong." Cas hissed through gritted teeth, just as he felt Dean going back to his room, causing the pain to lessen. "See? I'm fine," he added with a smile, straightening back up and holding his arms out, hoping that it would show how fine he really was.

He knew he should really tell Sam the truth. Maybe he would be able to help, and even if he couldn't, he should at least tell his best friend what was really true. But the problem was, he just couldn't. Or maybe he just didn't know how. He had spent most of his time watching them and he’d learned almost everything he knew about humans from Sam and Dean (mainly Dean, to be honest). Lying and hiding things had been their way of dealing with things for years.

He had just picked that up. It wasn't his fault.

"You're an idiot," Sam told him, staring at him with a disappointed feeling settling like lead in the pit of his stomach. "I love you, but you're an idiot."

Dean was just going to the bathroom, but as he passed his brother and best friend in the hallway, he heard Sam say, "I love you."

Well, fuck.

There goes his only chance to ever get to be with Cas. Because obviously Cas would say it back and they'd go off and be happy boyfriends and Dean would force himself to swallow his feelings. Because that's what he did for Sam.

Always. Sam's happiness was priority number 1, and everything else was secondary.

And Cas… He took a deep breath and continued on his way. He would do anything for Cas. Even let him bang his little brother, if that’s what he wanted to do.

"Thanks," Cas muttered, smiling slightly bitterly. He wasn't that much of an idiot. Or if he was, it was because both of the Winchesters were even bigger idiots than him. He could see the disappointment in Sam's gaze and it made him squirm. He didn't like knowing he had caused that look in Sam's eyes, but he just didn't see what Sam wanted him to do.

He felt a heavy feeling settle at the back of his head. Near the back of the awareness in his Grace, where his awareness of Dean sat. He'd had it since he pulled Dean out of Hell, but he normally tried to stay away from it. Dean didn't like people reading his mind and even if this was accidental he wouldn't be happy with it. He saw it as an invasion of privacy and Cas respected that.

He had the feeling that this may be what was causing the pain to progress quicker than normal. They'd had a profound bond since Hell, so it made sense that his Grace would be desperate to turn it into a full bond.

"I don't know what you expect me to do," he said dejectedly, staring at the floor.

Sam sighed. "I want you to handle your emotions in a healthy way. Don't become my brother. It's not fair to you or him. Or me, because I have to sit here and deal with the pining, and it's- ugh, it makes me want to tear my hair out of my scalp in clumps. A'ight? I just want you to figure out what's wrong and fix it because you're my friend and I hate seeing you in pain."

Cas laughed quietly to himself, or maybe it was at himself, he could barely tell. He knew what was wrong, but he couldn't do anything about it. Wouldn't do anything about it. Dean was clearly angry at him, but Cas was still 90% sure that if he explained to Dean what was happening, Dean would tell him to bond them instantly. And Cas was not going to let that happen. He wasn't going to be caught in a bond which wasn't wanted. Dean's soul was too beautiful to force a bond on and anyway, Cas had always dreamed of having a bond based on love, not necessity.

"I know what's wrong Sam, but I can't fix it. That is final."

"You can't," Sam repeated flatly. "Period, all stop, no way in hell? I don't believe that."

Dean was having disturbing dreams, which wasn't unusual. The dreams themselves were, though. He dreamed of fire and wings and unspeakable pain. He saw a shadow that brushed across him, lifting him gently from his prison and dragging him back up to the surface.

He dreamed that he had an angel, and his angel loved him, and they did something special, some sort of unbreakable angel marriage, and Dean loved it.

He woke up breathing heavily and eventually sighed. "I wish," he mumbled to himself. "Cas'd feel that way about me the day after never at twenty-five hundred hours."

"Well, not exactly no way in Hell." Cas said slowly, shifting on his feet nervously. He had the feeling that Sam was going to turn his reasoning into an excuse and tell him to sort it out. "More like, no feasible way."

He felt Dean just a single hallway away, he was waking up from a dream - possibly a nightmare, Cas didn't know - but something had tied Dean's soul up in worried knots and, despite it only being a small worry in comparison to everything the Winchesters had ever faced, Cas was already reaching out with his Grace, soothing the worry away.

"No feasible way?" Sam felt his eyebrows shoot up his forehead. "So that means there's something we could do? What might that be?" He paused, suddenly getting it. "The Gracebond thing, right. Which... you can't do because why, exactly?"

Dean felt the adrenaline from the dream seeping away almost immediately. Which was... weird, because he never recovered that quickly. It was even more jarring a few seconds later when he felt himself falling back asleep almost instantly. He yawned and curled up with one of his blankets in his arms and passed out in seconds.

Cas took a moment before he answered Sam's question, gently smiling as he used his Grace to lull Dean back to sleep.

"I can't do it because I refuse to force that on Dean, and we both know that however angry he may be with me, if he knows someone in his family - like me, whom he counts as a brother - is hurting he throws one of his self-sacrificing moves. And I refuse to create a bond built on self-sacrifice and necessity." He was breathing heavily at the end of his rant, anger overriding the fact he didn't need to breathe, but he still stood tall and stared San in the eyes, even as another wave of pain hit him.

He would go through this, all of it, to keep Dean safe and happy. And to be happy he needed to not be forced into a bond. That was just how it was.

"You think Dean's going to feel forced?" Sam was genuinely shocked by that. "You think Dean wouldn't do anything for you? And I don't mean because you're family. Because you're you." He paused, looking into Cas' eyes, searching them desperately, and his suspicions were confirmed. "You really don't know."

"Don't know what?" Cas asked, confused and slightly worried about what Sam could possibly be on about.

The pain kept coming and even though Dean hadn't moved any further away from him than 5 seconds ago, it was getting worse. He was actually getting worried about how long he was going to be able to keep this up until forcing a bond on Dean was all he could do.

No.

Even if it killed him, he wasn't going to do that.

Sam sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "It's not my place to say. Ask Dean."

"I can't 'ask Dean'," Cas said in exasperation, air quotes and all, "he doesn't want to talk to me at the moment." He rolled his eyes before adding, "anyway he's asleep right now." He blushed slightly, realizing how that probably sounded but didn't change his statement. If Sam wanted to know how he knew Dean was asleep, he could ask for himself.

"Why doesn't Dean want to talk to you?" Sam paused, then smirked slightly. "And how do you know he's asleep? Damn, you sound like a teenager with a crush."

"I don't know why he doesn't want to talk to me!" Cas hissed, not wanting to raise his voice and wake Dean up but still getting annoyed. He didn't know what he had done, but Dean was clearly upset with him and if his angel instincts were telling him anything, it was that he needed to fix things.

But he couldn't fix things without knowing what he had done wrong.

"And I don't sound like a teenager with a crush. I've never been a teenager and I've never had a crush, ergo I can't sound like something I've never been." He decided to leave out the fact he was definitely lying. He'd definitely had a crush before. Or maybe he hadn't. Crush implied it was a short-term feeling for someone that would eventually go away. But he would never move on from Dean.

Dean was his forever.

"I don't know why he doesn’t want to talk to me!"

Cas' shout pulled Dean right back to the waking world. He groaned and rubbed his eyes before making his way out into the hall where Sam and Cas were (not so) quietly conversing.

"What's wrong, dude?" he muttered blearily. "I'm tryna sleep off my hangover over here, so let's get this sorted out so I can get back to my memory foam mattress."

Cas felt Dean wake up and he sighed, clearly his hiss hadn't been quiet enough. As he expected, just a minute later the bleary figure of Dean appeared.

"Nothing is wrong," he quickly replied, refusing to let Dean know what was going on. He wasn't dragging Dean into his mess.

No matter how badly he wanted to.

No matter how much his heart was melting at the sight of Dean.

No matter how much the pain was getting worse at being this close to Dean and not doing anything about the bond.

Well fuck. Apparently he couldn't win. If he got too far away, ow. If he got too close, ow.

He hoped he managed to hide his wince but he had the awful feeling that he hadn't, really.

"No you're lying, Cas," Dean told him, suddenly worried. "Shit, dude, you're in pain. It's all over your face. If you'd told me..." He took a deep breath.

"Man, I'm sorry I snapped at you earlier, I'm just dealing with some... mental health stuff. But I didn't realize you were hurting, that was shitty. I'm so sorry, dude."

Smiling to himself, Sam walked away down the hall to his own bedroom to try and get a couple of hours of shut-eye himself.

"I'm not lying," Cas muttered tiredly. He knew that Dean would be able to straight through him, he would know he was lying, but he didn't have the energy to come up with an actual lie, or you know, try to make his lie sound likely.

"What do you mean anyway? Mental health stuff?" He knew that this would either end one of two ways. Either Dean would brush his question off, or he would actually answer honestly. Cas hoped he answered honestly, everything in him was screaming at him to take anyway any problems Dean could have.

"I'll only tell you if you promise you'll be honest with me about what's going on with you," Dean countered. "I'm your friend, it's my job to help you. You just gotta let me, man."

Cas sighed. "Okay, you tell me what's wrong, and I'll tell you the truth," he said, staring at the ground. It wasn't Dean's job to help him. If anything, it was the other way around. It was Cas' job to help and protect Dean.

Dean glanced away. "Uh, well... I have these- these feelings for this person, and... I guess Sammy would say I'm in love with them, which I suppose is one way to put it." He shrugged. "I just realized recently - and keep realizing, over and over again - that there's no way they'd ever feel that way about me. So I'm just trying to get over them, that's all. What's wrong with you?"

"You like someone?" Cas asked, feeling his heart start to sink. Of course Dean liked someone, why wouldn't he. Here was yet another reason why he could never end up with Dean, because he liked someone.

He felt pain consume him as his Grace rebelled against the very thought of Dean not liking him back. He didn't even notice falling to the floor, but he must have because he could feel the cold floor beneath him and could see Dean looking worried, crouched next to him, and his thoughts just couldn't form but the look on Dean's face was like a punch in the gut and he needed to fight past the pain, even though he could feel it stealing his strength, because he needed to comfort Dean.

"Cas, buddy, what the hell's going on?" Dean was fairly certain the worry was emanating off of him in waves but he could care less because Cas was in trouble, he was hurt, he was dying, and Dean couldn't breathe at the thought of losing Cas, not after everything and- He grabbed his best friend's shoulder. "Are you alright? Dude, please, you gotta talk to me, just talk to me, Cas, c'mon. What's goin' on?"

Cas gasped. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. He couldn't–

He could hear Dean shouting. He sounded worried and Cas couldn't let his human worry. His job was to take away all his humans pain and reduce his problems, not cause them.

Without thinking, Cas reached out and grabbed Dean's shoulder, right where his mark had been when he pulled Dean out of Hell.

He couldn't - wouldn't - bond without Dean's permission, but he could remind his grace there was already a bond there. It would probably be uncomfortable for Dean and it would definitely draw his attention to the bond he had been unaware of since Hell, but it would stop Cas from dying for at least a couple of hours, so Cas thought it was worth it.

Dean felt his grip on sanity degrading slowly. "Cas, fuck, please, talk to me, please, please talk to me, fuck..." He was babbling, but something random occurred to him and he blurted it out. "You look like death. Cas, are you- are you dying? What's going on, please, I gotta help you, I can't lose you, I can't lose you again I can't I can't I can't I can't..."

"It's okay, Dean," Cas murmured as he tightened his grip on Dean's shoulder.

This was it.

He gently nudged his grace towards his hand, towards the focal point of the bond forged in fire. See? he showed his Grace, we are bonded. And almost instantly he could feel the pain start to retreat and his awareness of reality return.

"No, it's not okay!" Dean almost shouted when his vision returned.

There was a lamp affixed to the wall near his head, and he tore it out, screws and all, and tossed it onto the floor, where it shattered loudly. It only eased his anger a little bit.

"For fuck's sake, Cas, something's wrong with you and you won't even talk to me about it because you don't trust me with the important stuff but it's not like I haven't dealt with this before! My dad had the death talk with me when I was four fucking years old, I can handle heavy shit, but you won't fucking tell me and I can't help you and I need to be able to help you!"

He didn't know how else to say it. He didn't know how else to make Cas understand how angry and frustrated he was that he couldn't do anything for the man he loved, to ease his suffering.

Cas jumped up into a sitting position, grabbing Dean and pulling him into a hug so that he couldn't smash any more lights or somehow hurt himself in his anger.

"I'm not dying," Cas assured quickly, "or at least, I'm not at this very second." He knew he had to do something, namely tell Dean what was going on so that Dean could decide whether to help him or not, but it scared Cas to the very core. This was such a personal thing, he'd kept it a secret for so long, and now he had to tell it?

"There is a thing which angels do, called a Grace bond. It's where two angels bond their grace together, like marriage but more permanent," Cas started slowly, hoping that Dean would understand what he was on about.

Dean hugged Cas back, holding him as tightly to his chest as was socially acceptable for almost a full minute before he pulled away and took a deep breath in response to his friend's words.

"Okay, so magical angel marriage and unbreakable commitment, I have no idea how this relates to me but go on." He made an impatient 'continue' gesture with his hand, looking at Cas expectantly.

Then something else that Cas had said hit him. “Wait – what do you mean you’re not dying at this very second?” He had to fight unreasonably hard to shove the anger back down.

Cas instantly missed the warmth of Dean's hug. In fact, he missed everything about Dean, despite there only being about a foot of space between them.

"That doesn't matter right now." Cas muttered, waving Dean's concern away with a wave of his hand. Dean could worry about all that later, once they had been through the rest of this mess.

"Right, so this angel marriage involves one angel's grace reaching out to another angel's Grace and the second Grace can either reject or accept the bond." Cas explained, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth as he did so.

"Matters to me," Dean muttered, then, "we're coming back to that. And I still don't know what this has to do with me."

"Ok, so sometimes angels can make a Gracebond with a human - a bond between the human’s soul and the angel’s Grace - however because the human soul wasn't made for these bonds like Grace is, it is very difficult for the soul to reject a bond it doesn't want." Cas took a deep breath, getting ready to tell Dean the truth. "The reason I may be possibly dying is because my Grace wants a bond, but it's with a human who doesn’t love me that way and I refuse to force a bond on someone who can't reject it."

He did try to tell the whole truth, he really did, but the words wouldn't come and he just couldn't say it. He just couldn't explain the simple fact that his grace wants to bond with Dean.

Dean took a deep, heaving breath. He had a sinking feeling he knew where this was going. He looked away, suddenly not feeling capable of making eye contact with his friend, his angel.

"It's okay," he murmured quietly. "I understand. I saw you and Sam, earlier, and I- I get it. I know you'd never feel like... like this about me. Not that you need it, but you have my blessing to do whatever you want with Sammy. But in case I never get another chance to say it, Cas?"

He glanced up, finally staring straight into the deep blue eyes he could drown in forever. Cas' face was stoic but slightly confused, his lips barely parted, his eyebrows arched a little.

"I love you," he breathed finally, letting go of the secret he'd been carrying for years.

Cas froze. Dean loved him? Dean thought he wanted Sam?

This was just a mess.

"What are you talking about, Dean?" Cas asked slowly, "I don't want to do anything with Sam, he's just my friend, maybe even a brother, definitely not a mate." He cocked his head, trying to catch Dean's eyes to make eye contact in the hopes that this may just maybe sort out a few if the thousands of questions which were dancing through his head.

To be fair, all of his questions could be summed up with one single word.

'WHAT?!?'

Dean stared at him, feeling absolutely gobsmacked.

"But you- I- what- he kissed you!" he spluttered. "Earlier, against the car! Before you came into my room, he... and you..." He slumped against the wall. "What do you mean you're not interested in Sam as a mate?" Suddenly bile rose up in his throat. "Sam would be an excellent mate," he muttered defensively, because it was true, even if Dean didn't want him to be Cas' mate.

"I thought you were talking about Sam with this whole Grace-bond thing. If it ain't Sam, then who is it?"

"Sam and I have never kissed," Cas stated firmly. "Like I've said, he's more like a brother, I would never kiss him." He was incredibly confused about why Dean would think they Cas liked Sam in that way, but his thoughts were derailed by Dean's next words.

"I am sure that Sam would be a good mate, but I don't want him to be my mate," Cas tried to explain. He didn't understand why Dean was getting so defensive. Sam was a great person, he just wasn't the mate for Cas.

"It isn't Sam." Cas confirmed one last time before taking a deep breath, this was it. "It's you. It's you who my grace is trying to bond with and it's you I want as my mate."

Dean recoiled in shock, but he was back at Cas' side in a heartbeat when he saw the way he seemed to shut down.

"Nonono," he insisted. "I don't- I'm sorry, Cas, I just..." He ran a hand through his hair, practically shaking with the nerves. "I didn't think that was possible. I didn't think you could want me that way."

Cas felt his heart sink and his grace bubble when Dean recoiled. Of course Dean couldn't want him as a mate. Of course Dean would be disgusted by the very thought of it.

He started shutting down. Locking away his feelings as his grace returned, the pain there as it screamed. It was as confused as he was. Dean liked him, but didn't want to be his mate?

Dean was back in an instant, he was shaking, but it was his words which stood out to Cas. He was apologizing and seemed almost hysterical as he explained what was going on.

Cas still felt numb. The numbness of locking everything away - like when he was just a soldier of Heaven following orders - was still there, but so were other feelings. Feelings he could only feel because of Dean.

"Well I do," Cas whispered. "I do, and I always have."

"I-" Dean swallowed. He'd never been good at this vulnerability thing. It was hard for him to be like that with people. He wasn't someone who just gave his heart away.

He took a breath, gently placing his hand on Cas' shoulder. "I love you," he whispered. "I love you, Cas. I. Love. You." Every time he said it it got a little easier, so he kept saying it until it didn't feel like he was tearing part of his insides out and giving it to someone else to protect. "I love you."

Cas' eyes were kind but his expression was confused, and Dean was so jumbled he wasn't sure he'd have been able to explain what he wanted to explain if he tried, so he said the first thing that came to mind.

"Bond with me," he begged. "I want you."

Cas didn't know what to do. Dean loved him? How on Earth could Dean love him? Why would this beautiful man, with his glorious soul, love Cas?

He could hear how hard it was for Dean to tell the truth, and that was just what made them all the more real. Because a truth said with ease is nothing like a truth told with difficulty. Because real truth is hard to say. Because Dean was baring his heart for Cas, and now it was up to him what he wanted to do with it.

"Are you sure?" he whispered, reaching out a hand and gently stroking along Dean's cheek, tucking some hair behind his ear while he did so. "If we do this, there is no going back."

"Yes," Dean murmured, tilting his head to press his lips to Cas' palm. "It's- it's all I want. It's been so long, Cas, I've been wanting you, I just- I need you. Please."

He brought his hand up to cup his friend's, keep him from pulling it away. "And it's... it's killin' you, Cas. I want this, please don't doubt that I want this, but even if I didn't... I couldn't lose you. I have to be close to you, please."

Cas took a deep breath as he slowly pulled his hand away from Dean's face, slipping it from under Dean's hand but holding eye contact so Dean knew he wasn't running.

"Okay," he said quietly as he tried to calm his stuttering heart and whirling mind. He needed to be calm to do this. "Okay, let's do this."

He shuffled even closer to Dean - impossibly closer - until they were pressed together.

"Relax, Dean," he whispered into Dean's ear as he slipped his hand under Dean's shirt and carefully fitted his hand over the handprint that was already there. He didn't know how this was going to go. He knew in theory what it was like, but he didn't know how it would go for humans. He assumed it was probably going to hurt, or at the very least be uncomfortable. The human body wasn't made for a bond to be created within it, the human soul wasn't made to have a bond created with it.

But Dean had said yes and no matter what happened, once it was over it would be for the better. Soul-grace bonds were always equally beneficial and Dean said he loved him.

This was the peak of angelic love. It was proof of eternal life.

He readied his grace to make the bond, reveling in the instinct to create which came so naturally in him.

This was- this was something else. This was something amazing. He had grown up hearing these fairy tale like stories, about what a bond was like. And now, he was going to find out for himself.

He pushed his grace to his hand, to where Dean's skin met his like he did last time, but this time he pushed further. The let his grace trickle through, slowly at first and then quicker and quicker.

It was absolute ecstasy.

It was like being filled up from the inside with pure, unfathomable love. It was like a perpetual high.

(It was better than sex.)

He felt his head fall backward as the rest of his body collapsed forward. Cas caught him with his free arm, but his left hand never came unglued from the spot against his shoulder where the handprint was still branded, stark red against his pale skin. He heard himself groan as if from a distance, and he was so out of it he actually giggled at the sound of his own voice. Cas was stroking his spine now, soothing him, and he just cuddled closer into the warm body surrounding his.

Once his vision cleared again Cas made as if to pull away and Dean grabbed him, pinning him in place. He glanced up at his best friend, smiled at him, and his eyes fell from the blue ones staring back at him to the full lips resting below them. Cas seemed to notice him staring.

"Is it... can I...?" He took a deep breath, bracing himself for either answer. He wasn't sure what'd be worse.

"Yes." Cas whispered, trying to pull his foggy mind back into working order.

He had heard the fairy tales, but this was an infinite amount better. It was just indescribable. He just felt whole, like his entire existence was no longer worthless, as long as Dean - his mate - was here, he would always be safe and happy.

Dean appeared to be high, he seemed happier and more relaxed than Cas had ever seen him. It was the most amazing thing Cas had ever seen, this beautiful human - his beautiful human - looking like he felt safe. And in that moment, Cas realized something.

He would do anything to keep Dean looking like that.

He leaned forwards slowly and brushed his lips against Dean's. "I love you."

Dean gave him a Look™️. "That was not a kiss," he told his friend. (They just did some sort of permanent magical Heavenly marriage; labels were the farthest thing from Dean's mind.) "That was a nothing. Let me show you how it's done."

He leaned forward, chasing Cas as he leaned back until the angel was leaning on his elbows and Dean's face was about an inch from his. "I love you too," he murmured, and then he captured Cas' lips with his own.

He pushed and pushed until Cas finally figured out how to push back, and then he was on his back on the floor, grinning up at a beautiful dark-haired blue-eyed man, and kissing him.

Eventually he needed oxygen, so he pushed Cas off of him, but he grabbed his tie and held him a couple of inches away so he didn't get the wrong idea. "You're the best damn thing that ever happened to me."

Cas smiled gently at the man he had pushed to the ground. This was the best thing which had ever happened to him during his millennia if existence.

All those years of watching, of waiting and reporting and following an absent father in blind faith, and nothing, nothing, could even come close to this.

Kissing Dean was something he would happily do all day, everyday, until the world crumbled. "You're the best thing that ever happened to me too," he replied, his eyes sliding rabidly between Dean's spit-slick lips and his shining eyes.

It was definitely the most beautiful sight in all of creation and if Cas got the choice, this would be the view he got to see so many times that it should, logically, start to get old. But he knew it never would, because he loved it so much.

Dean was just about to kiss Cas again - he was already pulling him back down by his tie - but he was stopped by the sound of footsteps and a voice from above him.

"So," Sam said smugly. "You guys finally figured it out?"

Dean pushed Cas off to the side, still holding onto his coat with his left hand and his tie with his right and looked up at his brother. He was standing there, smirking but looking happy, with his arms crossed across his bare chest.

"Yeah," he replied, sighing contentedly. He glanced at his... boyfriend? "I think we did."

"Yeah, I think so." Cas replied, smiling as he leaned over, grabbing Dean and pulling him into a tight hug. He made sure to use enough of his angel powers so that Dean couldn't escape, but not enough that he would hurt him.

"And yes, I am your boyfriend." He pulled back just enough to stare into Dean's eyes, so that Dean would know that he wasn't lying or at all unsure. They were already angel married, being human boyfriends was just a label.

But it was a label that he knew Dean would like. It was a label that still sent a burst of warmth through his vessel at the thought of it.

"Holy shit are you whipped," Sam announced before turning to stalk off back in the direction of his own bedroom.

Dean rolled his eyes but he couldn't fight off the smile that formed on his face. "Yeah, I am," he whispered, smiling at Cas. "Y'know, Cas, I think I'd really like to be your boyfriend. I like the sound of that." He pulled his angel just a little closer to his chest and fell asleep to the rhythm of his breaths.

And when he dreamed, he dreamed of safety and warmth and the home he'd never let himself hope for.