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The Warmth at the End of the Tunnel

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Mrs. Butters may be gone, but Dean still has the memories, and perhaps more importantly, the pajamas.

“Don’t you need to wash those at some point?” Sam teases as he walks into the kitchen, seeing Dean sitting at the table in said pajamas. Before Dean gets a chance to respond, Sam asks, “Did you make pancakes?”

Dean looks down at his crepes and snorts as he scoops some strawberries and powdered sugar onto one, “Crepes.” He corrects and gives Sam his best disappointed glare. “Shame, Sam, shame. And,” He adds as he wraps up the crepe, “I’ll have you know, I have been washing this.” He motions to his nightgown. “Mrs. Butters left behind some awesome fabric softener.”

“Wait, have you been using that on my laundry too?”

“You noticed.” Dean smiles as he fills his mouth and then pushes the crepe plate toward Sam. He tries to say, “come have some”, but it definitely gets muffled by the food in his mouth. Still, Sam seems to get the message. Their conversation fizzles out as Dean continues eating. Sam tries to talk with Dean, but he quickly gives up after Dean spews powdered sugar all over the table when he tries talking while chewing. When Dean’s almost done, he hears the sound of the bunker door opening and perks up.

“Think it’s Cas?” Dean says after swallowing what’s left in his mouth. But he’s already up before Sam can respond. “You finish your breakfast, I’ll go see if he’s found anything.” Dean’s excited to see Cas again. Dean had called and texted him to let him know about all the goings on with Mrs. Butters, but he still wants to tell him and show him things in person.

But when he enters the map room, he stops in his tracks.

Cas is there alright, but with a black cat wrapped around his head. Dean can’t figure out exactly what the cat’s body is doing, but one paw is perched on Cas’s nose and another is digging into his cheek. It’s harder to tell where the other paws are, but Dean thinks they’re probably tangled up in Cas’s hair somewhere.

Cas looks totally unfazed by the whole thing, but when he sees Dean, an amused smile breaks out on his face and he looks Dean up and down (careful to move only his eyes and not his head, lest he upset the cat), as though Dean is the weird-looking one in this situation!

“You—” Dean starts at the same time that Cas says, “Are—“ they both stop.

“You go first.” Cas says.

“You’ve got something in your hair.” Dean jokes.

“So do you.” Cas says, looking at Dean’s nightcap. “I found a lead on Amara.”

“That’s great.” Dean says, meaning it. But he can’t stop staring at the cat. “But uh, what’s up with the cat?”

“She’s my lead.” Cas says as the cat chews on a lock of Cas’s hair.

“The cat is your lead?” Dean asks incredulously.

“Yes, her name is Naughty Edith. She saw Amara two days ago. It’s difficult for her to communicate exactly where, but after some bribery she agreed to show us.” The cat meows quietly and Cas purrs back. Purrs! Dean’s trying to formulate a response to all of this when Sam enters the room, Jack also in tow.

“Oh.” Sam says. “We have a guest.”

“Her name’s Naughty Edith.” Cas tells them. And it’s no less weird hearing it the second time.

“I like her.” Jack says with a big smile.

“Is she a shifter or a familiar or something?” Sam asks as he approaches.

“No, just a regular cat. She saw Amara two days ago and can show us where.” That gives Sam pause, and the two begin excitedly discussing the battle plan while Jack listens intently and Dean’s mind drifts elsewhere. There’s a word bouncing around in Dean’s head: cute. Dean thinks it’s really cute how the cat’s perched on Cas’s head like that. But it isn’t the cat that Dean thinks is cute.

Dean quickly pushes that thought aside and refocuses on the conversation.

 

 

Dean’s in his room getting ready to go find Amara when there’s a knock at the door. Just from the knock, Dean can tell that it’s Cas.

“Yeah, come in.” Dean answers, without even turning. Dean hears Cas gently open the door and step into the room, then close the door behind him.

“How are you?” Cas asks gently. Dean internally sighs; Cas knows him too well. Dean’s not doing so well, and based on Cas’s tone he already knows that. Still, Dean’s not going to talk about his feelings without a fight. He turns toward Cas briefly before getting back to his preparations.

“Where’s your friend?” Dean asks, having noticed that the cat is no longer draped over the angel.

“Jack wanted to play with her.” He considers for a moment before adding on, “And I didn’t want to risk getting cat hair in your room, given your allergy.”

“Do you think…” Dean backtracks, “Aren’t black cats bad luck?”

“No.” He answers simply. “There are reasons that myth spread, but those reasons aren’t terribly important right now.” Dean can practically feel Cas’s eyes on the back of his head. “Dean…”

“It just…” Dean answers, finally turning to look at Cas now, “it seems like a lot of bad. Bad luck omens, and my eyes itch, and Amara…” He takes a moment to put his thoughts together. “Look, the way I felt about her scared me. It terrified me. Even when I wasn’t with her it was all consuming and horrible but I couldn’t stop it. And I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel any sort of draw to her, or a need to protect her, or any of that. She’s just, you know, she’s just another thing now. But I’m scared that if she’s right there in front of me. What if she flips some switch and makes me… I’m scared of what she did to me, and I’m scared that she’s powerful enough to do it again.”

“I wish I could tell you that you don’t have to do this.” Castiel says sympathetically. “But unfortunately, we need you.” Dean snorts. “If it’s any reassurance, you’ve taken her on once before. And this time, Sam and Jack and I will be with you. You don’t have to do it alone.” It is reassuring. Last time, he turned himself into a soul bomb and had to trek to Amara, completely alone and expecting to die. This time, he’ll have his family with him. And there’s only about a ninety-five percent chance that he’s going to die. “And,” Castiel adds, “I didn’t sense any ill-intent from Naughty Edith.” Dean huffs a small laugh and meets eyes with Cas, who returns a lopsided smile. It fills Dean with warmth: a warmth he feels often with Castiel. He knows what it is but he’s always been too scared to put a name to it.

But the juxtaposition here is too strong to keep denying. What he felt toward Amara was intense and toxic and dark. Dean didn’t have a choice in the matter and he was powerless and terrified. He’s scared of this, too, but there’s no terror, and the fear is for different reasons. This isn’t toxic or dark. Cas fills Dean with light, he makes Dean want to be better. Dean has a choice and he’s always chosen Castiel. He’d told Sam that what he felt toward Amara wasn’t love. And he was right, it wasn’t love. But this warmth Dean feels for and from Cas is.

It’s not a good time to tell him. They’re about to go find Amara and they don’t have time to talk. Chuck could kill them at any time. Amara could kill them in a few hours. They’ll be trapped in the car with Sam and Jack and Naughty Edith from now until then.

There are a million reasons not to tell Cas right now. There are always a million reasons not to tell Cas at any given time. Dean’s always thought they were good reasons.

He’s not sure why, but the reasons don’t seem so convincing anymore.

“Cas,” Dean says, startled by the confidence in his own voice. He walks across the room until he’s standing a few feet away from him, “can I tell you something?”

“Of course.” Cas answers, full of compassion and care.

“I just don’t want to bother or upset you or—“ Cas cuts him off gently.

“Dean, it’s okay for you to be selfish sometimes.” Cas is so sincere, and the affection in his eyes is almost overwhelming. Dean wants to be selfish. And since he’s always been better with actions than words, Dean acts on that selfishness.

Before he can talk himself out of it, Dean closes the distance between them and takes Cas’s face in his hands. The moment their lips meet Dean’s sure Cas’s wings are back because he swears he’s flying. He’s soft and warm and it feels like coming home.

In an instant Cas is kissing him back. Cas kisses gently and sweetly. Dean can’t get enough; his heart bursts with that warmth, and he doesn’t understand why he’s been so scared of something so perfect, why he ever fought something so blissful. He forgets the world around him as he and Castiel remain wrapped up in each other, moving their lips gently against each other.

Dean’s not sure how long it takes, it simultaneously feels like forever and no time at all, but Cas eventually pulls out of the kiss slowly. Still, he remains just a breath away. Dean slowly opens his eyes to see Cas’s are still closed. He watches until Cas opens his, and they lock onto each other. It’s exactly like every other time they’ve looked into each other’s’ eyes, but also so different.

“Cas.” Dean whispers. He’s never been one with words, but he thinks he can manage three, “I lo—“

“Dean,” Castiel interrupts, “You don’t have to.”

“I want to.” Dean argues, but he can practically see the cogs turning in Cas’s head.

Finally, Cas settles on whispering, “I’m not ready.” Dean thinks he should feel rejected. But it’s not a rejection. The way Cas kissed him back, the way he continues looking at Dean like he’s everything, the want Dean sees in his eyes: none of that is rejection. Dean’s spent years not being ready. While Dean wondered why he was so scared, it doesn’t change the fact that he was. So Dean understands not being ready. Not being ready to hear Dean say he loves him isn’t rejection. Dean wasn’t ready, but he still loved Castiel through it all. He loved him more than Dean can put words to.

Dean nods, “Okay.” He tells him gently. “I’ll wait.” But because he’s selfish, he leans in to give Cas one last, barely-there touch of lips, before he pulls back and releases Castiel. “Let’s go save the world.”

 

 

 

 

The corpse on the floor doesn’t look right. It isn’t particularly grotesque or anything; the problem is that it looks alive. It’s even still warm, despite the body being two days old.

“That’s not right.” Dean says, still unable to fully convince himself the lady is dead.

“So,” Sam says, “think that confirms that Amara’s been here. And is apparently killing makeup artists.”

Cas shakes his head, “No, this wasn’t Amara. This was Chuck.” He looks around the room, eyes changing focus as he goes, seemingly seeing things the others can’t. “Amara was here too, but the murder wasn’t her.”

“They’re together?” Jack asks, concerned. That certainly does change their plan of attack. “Why?”

“Because I’m a protective brother.” A familiar voice answers from the door. Dean and the others turn just in time to see Chuck stretch out his hand and send them all flying into the walls. “Can’t have you killing my sister, now.” He smirks between Sam and Dean, “Surely you two should understand that.” He sounds chipper and it pisses Dean off.

“Let them go.” Jack says, probably with more bravado than he should given that he’s pinned to the wall and relatively powerless, Dean thinks.

“Oh I will, not yet though.” He then turns his attention to Castiel and walks to him. “Come here, son.” Chuck pulls him off the wall and throws him into a chair a bit away from the others. Chuck then squats in front of him, fingers steeped, and evaluates Cas thoughtfully. “See, I was just going to watch. See what you boys were up to, but then I noticed something about you,” he then turns to Dean, “and you, and I realized I missed something when I was away.” He turns back to Castiel and stands, leaning over him and pressing a hand to Cas’s forehead. For a horrifying moment Dean thinks Chuck is going to kill Castiel. Instead, he continues his monologue, “Let’s take a look at some memories of yours.” Castiel scowls at Chuck as a light glow emanates from his palm and Cas’s eyes lightly glow. It only takes a few moments and then Chuck releases Castiel and pulls back.

Chuck seems almost speechless for a moment. He taps his foot and contemplates, then turns his attention to Dean, “See, you and Sam,” he turns to address both brothers at once, “are so interesting. Somehow, you manage to surprise me. Which is pretty novel considering I’m omniscient. Normally I’m okay just rolling with it, enjoy the show and all. But some things just…” He twirls his hands in the air, searching for the words, “irk me. You know? They’re too out of left field and I’m left obsessively wondering over why you did that. I need to figure it out. So,” he turns his attention solely to Dean, “Dean, I need to understand why you kissed Castiel.”

“What!?” Dean barks out. “We stormed in to kill your sister and that’s what you’re worried about?”

“Yeah.” Chuck answers with a small, nonchalant shrug. “Look, if you tell me, I’ll release all four of you. I’ll even erase everyone’s memories of this to save you any embarrassment.”

“Bite me.” Dean spits back.

“Just tell me why you kissed him.” Chuck shoots back, as if Dean’s being the unreasonable one.

“Because I wanted to, jackass.”

Chuck sighs. “Okay, I see we aren’t going to get anywhere this way.” He thinks for a moment, then smiles widely as he seems to come up with something. “Let’s try something else.”

Something changes around them. Dean can’t exactly describe it, but the whole world comes to a halt. His own thoughts slow down and then stand still. And then it’s speeding back up, but time moves in the wrong direction. Everything reverses. Chuck speaks backwards, he touches his hand to Cas’s forehead and pins him back against the wall. Everything continues speeding up and Dean feels himself walking backwards to the Impala, driving backwards back to the bunker, kissing Cas and changing back into his nightgown then walking backwards out to the map room and watching the cat on Cas’s head then walking backwards back to the kitchen and regurgitating crepes and sugar.

The last thing Dean remembers feeling is a snapping sensation as the world rights itself and time returns to the correct direction.

 

 

 

Mrs. Butters may be gone, but Dean still has the memories, and perhaps more importantly, the pajamas.

“Don’t you need to wash those at some point?” Sam teases as he walks into the kitchen, seeing Dean sitting at the table in said pajamas. Before Dean gets a chance to respond, Sam asks, “Did you make pancakes?”

Dean looks down at his crepes and snorts as he scoops some strawberries and powdered sugar onto one, “Crepes.” He corrects and gives Sam his best disappointed glare. “Shame, Sam, shame. And,” He adds as he wraps up the crepe, “I’ll have you know, I have been washing this.” He motions to his nightgown. “Mrs. Butters left behind some awesome fabric softener.” They chat a bit and Dean offers Sam some crepes, which the two of them eat while Sam looks on in barely contained amusement and disgust. When Dean’s almost done, he hears the sound of the bunker door opening and perks up.

“Think it’s Cas?” Dean says after swallowing what’s left in his mouth. But he’s already up before Sam can respond. “You finish your breakfast, I’ll go see if he’s found anything.” Dean’s excited to see Cas again. Dean had called and texted him to let him know about all the goings on with Mrs. Butters, but he still wants to tell him and show him things in person.

But when he enters the map room, he stops in his tracks.

Cas is there alright, but with a black cat wrapped around his head. And suddenly Dean’s hit with the strongest sense of déjà vu. He swears he knows this image. He’s seen this before: black cat perched on Cas’s head, one paw on his nose and another digging into his cheek. Cas, standing there like it’s nothing, looking way more adorable than a grown man has any right to.

But when Cas sees Dean, an amused smile breaks out on his face and he looks Dean up and down (careful to move only his eyes and not his head, lest he upset the cat), as though Dean is the weird-looking one in this situation!

“You—” Dean starts at the same time that Cas says, “Are—“ they both stop.

“You go first.” Cas says.

“You’ve got something in your hair.” Dean jokes, having completely forgotten the déjà vu he felt earlier.

 

 

Cas explains the cat: Naughty Edith. Sam and Jack arrive in the map room and they discuss their plan of attack while Dean tries to ignore his sappy thoughts about Cas being cute. He leaves to his room to change out of the pajamas and otherwise prepare, but he’s soon interrupted by Castiel showing up, asking questions and giving Dean reassurances and soon, Dean finds he can’t keep avoiding putting a name to the warmth he feels.

There are a million reasons not to tell Cas right now. There are always a million reasons not to tell Cas at any given time. Dean’s always thought they were good reasons.

He’s not sure why, but the reasons don’t seem so convincing anymore.

“Cas,” Dean says, startled by the confidence in his own voice. He walks across the room until he’s standing a few feet away from him, “can I tell you something?”

“Of course.” Cas answers, full of compassion and care.

“I just don’t want to bother or upset you or—“ Cas cuts him off gently.

“Dean, it’s okay for you to be selfish sometimes.” Cas is so sincere, and the affection in his eyes is almost overwhelming. Dean wants to be selfish. And since he’s always been better with actions than words, Dean acts on that selfishness.

Before he can talk himself out of it, Dean closes the distance between them and takes Cas’s face in his hands. The moment their lips meet Dean’s sure Cas’s wings are back because he swears he’s flying. He’s soft and warm and it feels—

Time and space suddenly lurch under Dean. In a single instant, a million things happen. Cas kisses back, he says he isn’t ready, they drive several hours with Sam and Jack, they investigate a few blocks, Naughty Edith gets her head scratches and leaves, they find a body, and then Chuck has then pinned against the wall, all within an instant.

The next instant, time lurches back to its normal speed and Dean gasps.

“What was that!?” Sam shouts, sounding rather frantic.

“Oh, nothing.” Chuck answers. “You guys are my favorite show. I’m just trying to get a better grasp of what happened by rewinding and rewatching.”

“Did it help?” Cas asks, almost seriously.

By the way Chuck doesn’t say anything, it apparently didn’t help. Still, Chuck looks at Dean thoughtfully before finally speaking, “Maybe if we watch again.”

Again, Dean feels time come to a halt, then he feels the last day of his life rewinding until he’s again at the kitchen table, eating crepes in his pajamas.

When time resumes moving in the correct direction at the correct pace, Dean doesn’t remember what’s to come.

 

 

Mrs. Butters may be gone, but Dean still has the memories, and perhaps more importantly, the pajamas.

“Don’t you need to wash those at some point?” Sam teases as he walks into the kitchen, seeing Dean sitting at the table in said pajamas. Before Dean gets a chance to respond, Sam asks, “Did you make pancakes?”

When Dean sees Cas with a black cat wrapped around his head, he’s hit with the strongest sense of déjà vu. He swears he knows this image. He’s seen this before: black cat perched on Cas’s head, one paw on his nose and another digging into his cheek. Cas, standing there like it’s nothing, looking way more adorable than a grown man has any right to.

Standing in Dean’s bedroom preparing to head out, there are a million reasons not to tell Cas right now. There are always a million reasons not to tell Cas at any given time. Dean’s always thought they were good reasons.

He’s not sure why, but the reasons don’t seem so convincing anymore.

Before he can talk himself out of it, Dean closes the distance between them and takes Cas’s face in his hands. The moment their lips meet—

Time speeds up and Dean experiences the rest of the day in an instant until it slams to a halt and he’s back in the dead makeup artist’s studio, pinned to the wall by Chuck.

“Son of a bitch!” Dean swears at Chuck.

Chuck just shakes his head, “I just don’t get it.” He says to himself. “What am I missing?”

“Are you just gonna keep rewinding time and rewatching this morning until you figure it out?” Sam asks, distressed.

“It might help.” Chuck defends, before time again halts, reverses, and restarts with Dean in his pajamas eating crepes.

 

 

Mrs. Butters may be gone, but Dean still has the memories, and perhaps more importantly, the pajamas.

When Dean sees Cas with a black cat wrapped around his head, he’s hit with the strongest sense of déjà vu.

Before he can talk himself out of it, Dean closes the distance between them and takes Cas’s face in his hands. The moment their lips meet—

“Why now, though?” Chuck asks thoughtfully.

 

 

Mrs. Butters may be gone, but Dean still has the memories, and perhaps more importantly, the pajamas.

When Dean sees Cas with a black cat wrapped around his head, he’s hit with the strongest sense of déjà vu.

Before he can talk himself out of it, Dean closes the distance between them and takes Cas’s face in his hands. The moment their lips meet—

“See, I can kinda see why you wanted to. But what changed to make you act on it like that?”

 

 

Mrs. Butters may be gone, but Dean still has the memories, and perhaps more importantly, the pajamas.

When Dean sees Cas with a black cat wrapped around his head, he’s hit with the strongest sense of déjà vu.

Before he can talk himself out of it, Dean closes the distance between them and takes Cas’s face in his hands. The moment their lips meet—

“Do you even know why you did that?” Chuck asks. This time, he’s actually asking Dean rather than simply talking to himself. And that’s the kicker. Dean doesn’t know. He knows why he wanted to kiss Cas, but he himself doesn’t understand why all those reasons not to suddenly seemed so unimportant. If Dean did know, he’s pretty sure he would tell Chuck at this point. He wouldn’t want to out of pride, but really, he needs to get them out of this frickin’ time loop. Still, Dean shakes his head no, he doesn’t know why he did that. Chuck sighs, like he was expecting that answer, “Guess we’ll have to keep watching.”

“Haven’t you watched enough, perv?” Dean asks before Chuck can rewind everything again.

“Perv? This is totally PG.” Chuck argues. “This is one of the mildest things I’ve watched you do.” Dean rolls his eyes, grossed out by the implication that Chuck has been a more intense voyeur, but too fed up at this point to react more strongly.

“Why do you care so much?” Cas asks from where he’s still pinned to the chair. Chuck turns to find Cas glaring at him.

“I’m omniscient.” Chuck explains. “So when there’s something I don’t know, I need to know.”

“If you don’t know something then you’re not omniscient.” Cas states, matter-of-factedly.

“You’re really sitting there sassing me?” Chuck asks with something close to a laugh. “You realize you’re a side character.” He slowly and casually approaches Cas as he speaks, “You don’t have the same plot armor that Dean and Sam do, and yet you’re sitting there, sassing me. Me! I mean… do you want to die?” Chuck’s smile fades into a dangerous glare as he reaches Cas and leans into his space, “Oh, that’s right,” Chuck says mockingly, “you can’t. Not yet. Not fully. Doesn’t mean I can’t hurt you.” Chuck reaches forward and takes hold of Cas’s hair.

Cas’s face contorts in pain, but he doesn’t make a noise. Instead, a dull white light begins streaming out of Cas’s eyes and mouth. It grows brighter as Cas shakes and a high pitched screech slowly builds up and fills the room.

Dean’s yelling something, he isn’t sure what. But it doesn’t stop Chuck. The light continues streaming and the noise continues growing in pitch and volume. Horrifyingly, Dean realizes it sounds like Cas’s true voice, screaming.

“Stop!” Jack screams. A pulse of power accompanies the scream, enough to get Chuck’s attention. He releases Castiel, causing the high pitched noise to stop and the white light to stream back into Cas’s eyes and mouth. He gasps, only for that gasp to be interrupted as he violently coughs blood.

Dean’s eyes stay on Castiel as Chuck turns to address Jack, “Oops, forgot there was a minor here. That wasn’t exactly appropriate for this audience, was it?” He looks back at Cas briefly, perhaps evaluating his work, and smiles, before he returns to Dean. “I’ve had my fun. Back to the matter at hand.” Dean feels the beginnings of time halting, but it’s barely slowed down before it skips right back to its normal pace. Chuck’s face flashes with confusion and concern. Again, Dean feels time starting to slow, only for it to bounce right back to its normal pace.

A noise from elsewhere in the room draws both Dean’s and Chuck’s attention, and they both turn to see Jack stepping off the wall he’d previously been pinned to, eyes glowing yellow and staring at Chuck.

The next instant, Chuck vanishes from thin air, and with his departure, Dean himself falls unceremoniously from where he’d been pinned to the wall. Sam and Jack futily search for Chuck, even though they all know he’s long gone, while Dean scrambles over to sit in front of Cas, who’s now collapsed forward in his chair and seems to be drooling blood.

“Cas?” Dean says as he takes the man’s face in his hands, not caring about the blood getting on his jeans and his hands. Cas’s eyes have a far-off look in them, full of pain and defocused. “Hey, hey, focus on me.” Dean lightly slaps Cas’s cheek in an attempt to gain his attention and startle him out of wherever his mind is. Cas’s eyes slowly focus on Dean’s and Dean rewards him with a small smile. “You’re okay.” Cas seems to argue that with a well-timed blood-bubble. “Okay maybe not totally fine but I’ve got ya. Jack?” Dean calls over to their son, who quickly leaves his pointless task and strides over to them, “Can you fix him?”

Jack looks over Cas and hovers a glowing hand over his head before shaking his head. “I’m sorry,” He says, sounding completely torn up about it, “I can’t.”

“Well is he gonna be okay? What did Chuck do to him?”

Castiel answers, though his voice sounds weak and rougher than usual, “He oversaturated my… what you can think of as my true form’s pain receptors.”

“Are you gonna be okay?” Cas nods weakly.

“There’s some temporary damage, but that should heal within a few days.”

“Okay.” Dean says, relieved that Cas is going to be okay. He’s less thrilled about the state Cas is currently in. “Okay let’s get you back to the bunker to rest. Do you think you can stand?” Castiel attempts to stand, but quickly falls back into the chair and shakes his head. “That’s okay. Come on, I’ll carry you.” He positions himself to lift Cas up. “Put your arms around my neck.” Cas does so and Dean lifts him up bridal style. “Just focus on keeping your head up, alright?” Cas leans his head against Dean’s shoulder in lieu of an answer. He doesn’t say anything else as he carries Cas out to the car.

 

 

 

Back at the bunker the next morning, Dean emerges from his room and makes his way to the kitchen, this time wearing a different set of pajamas.

Jack, Sam, and Cas are all already there. Jack’s eating some sort of sugary cereal, Sam’s eating a bowl of fruit, and Cas isn’t eating. Instead, he’s wrapped up in a blanket and leaning against the wall looking tired.

“Everyone okay?” Dean asks as he gets himself a bowl and milk so he can also eat some of Jack’s sugary excuse for breakfast. No one answers for a little while as Dean gets his breakfast set up and sits down next to Cas to eat.

“Mostly.” Sam answers eventually. “Cat’s out of the bag about Jack being back but we’re alive.”

“I apologize.” Cas says forlornly.

“For what?” Sam asks confused.

“That whole incident was my fault, wasn’t it?” Cas retorts.

“How?” Sam asks, more confused. Instead of answering, Cas awkwardly looks over to Dean, down at his lips, and then away again. “Oh.” Sam says. Sam then looks down at his fruit medley, probably contemplating if he can escape the kitchen and flee somewhere else in the bunker. But he has most of his meal left.

Dean wants to tell Cas that it isn’t his fault; Dean’s the one who kissed him after all. But he wants to steer clear of that topic, at least so soon with Sam and Jack there.

“We got some information out of it.” Dean says instead, much to Sam’s apparent relief as he continues eating his fruit. “We know that Chuck and Amara are hanging out, or at least that Chuck’s tailing her. We know that Jack can take him.”

“He was still stronger than me.” Jack says, sadly.

“Your goal isn’t to be stronger than him,” Cas argues back, “just strong enough to be on a similar level. You demonstrated that by overpowering his attempts to ‘rewind’ time.”

“And escaping his force-hold.” Dean adds.

“Yeah,” Sam agrees, “it was a good proof of concept. He’s in firing range.” Jack nods, seemingly satisfied with these answers. “We also learned that he can’t read Dean’s mind, or at least doesn’t want to.”

“Huh?” Dean asks, not understanding where that conclusion came from.

“He looked at Cas’s memories but didn’t even try with you.” Sam reasons. “He kept rewinding time instead.” Sam shrugs, “Seems like a lot of effort if he could just look at your memories.” Dean thinks about this for a second and then realizes Sam has a point. “And,” Sam continues, once he sees that Dean concedes that point, “we know that Chuck can be lured out.”

Yeah, Dean thinks, all it takes throwing him off by kissing your best friend. He doesn’t mind the idea of having to do that again, but somehow Dean doubts it’ll work out the same way a second time.

“So what now?” Jack asks.

“For now, let’s just recharge and get better.” He claps Cas on the shoulder as he says the second part. Dean then uses his other hand to push away his now-empty cereal bowl and turns to address Cas directly. “Can you walk?”

“Yes, though slowly and not for long.”

“Come on,” he says as he stands and holds out a hand to help Cas up, “I’ve got something that’ll make you feel better.” Sam snorts quietly, and Dean sends him a glare. Though, to Sam’s credit it looks like he’s trying his hardest to hold back any teasing, or any serious comments or questions about feelings. Dean knows it’ll come eventually, Sam can’t help himself, but he’s grateful to have a little space for now to process. Hell, Dean hasn’t even had time to think about the kiss himself, let alone articulate his feelings about it. And now he’s got a load of other crap to process on top of that.

Still, even if Dean doesn’t know how to process everything that happened yesterday, the many times he experienced yesterday, one thing he does know is how to take care of people. He leads Cas through the bunker slowly, supporting his weight as Dean bring them to his room. He helps Cas sit down on the bed and then goes to his dresser to retrieve his ultra-soft nightgown and nightcap.

“Dean,” Cas protests.

“You haven’t even felt it yet. Just try it on and you’ll see. It’ll fix you right up.”

“I know you believe in the healing power of hugs,” Cas says, referencing Dean’s description of the pajamas, “but I doubt they’ll work for my injuries.” But even as he says so, he sheds the blanket draped over him and also works his arms out of his trench coat sleeves. Dean pretends to be busy hanging up Cas’s trench coat and suit jacket so as to give Cas a bit of privacy as he divests himself of his button-up. When Dean does eventually turn back to look at Cas, he knows he wouldn’t have been able to fight his smile if he tried.

There Cas sits, comfortably swimming in the pajamas. He’s even put on the cap, surely more to humor Dean than for his own benefit.

“You look good!” Dean tells him. “How’s it feel?”

Cas bashfully looks away and fiddles with the material between his hands, “You might be right about the healing properties.”

“What did I tell you!?” Dean yells triumphantly as he rounds the bed and sits next to Cas. “I knew you’d love it.” For a moment he simply stares at Cas, but he quickly becomes overwhelmed and learns forward to envelop him in a full, but gentle, hug. “I’m so glad you’re okay. I don’t know what I would have done if…” If he died again. Dean pulls back, but keeps his hands on Cas’s shoulders. “Cas, what did Chuck mean when he said you can’t die yet?”

The way Cas’s face contorts in regret tells Dean immediately that he’s going to absolutely hate the answer. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” Cas starts. “You already had so many worries and I didn’t want to add to your burden.” He takes a moment to breathe, maybe he actually has to right now given how weak he is. “When Jack died and I went to heaven to retrieve him, it wasn’t as uneventful as I’d let on. The Cosmic Entity that rules over The Empty came for Jack; it thought it had a claim to him since he’s half angel. So to protect Jack, I made a deal.” Dean’s stomach drops. He knew this was going to be bad, but few phrases induce the same sort of dread in him as hearing someone he loves has made a deal. “Me instead of Jack. But the Cosmic Entity doesn’t like me very much. It wanted me to suffer. So it told me that it would wait to take me. It wanted to wait until I forgot about it and gave myself permission to be happy.”

To say that Dean’s devastated would be an understatement. What’s been getting him through all of this utterly horrible crap is the potential light at the end of the tunnel. If they just get through this, there could be freedom and happiness waiting for them on the other side. Sure, the chance of them succeeding is small. The chance of them succeeding and getting through with their whole family alive is even smaller. But the chance was there. Now, Dean’s finding out that there is no potential light at the end of the tunnel for Cas. Even if they get through this, even if happiness is within Cas’s reach, he can never take it. There is no happy ending here, just pain and more pain until he inevitably dies.

“It could be useful.” Cas reasons, seemingly trying to put a positive spin on this even though the tone in his voice indicates that he knows it won’t work on Dean. “Chuck implied that he can’t kill me, not fully anyway. I’m not sure what ‘not fully’ means, though. Possibly he could put me in the veil, or in—“

“Stop talking.” At Dean’s demand, Cas does so. “We’re fixing this.” He affirms.

“We have more pressing concerns.” Cas argues back.

“I don’t care.” Dean says, voice suddenly almost hysterical. “Don’t you get it?” He clearly doesn’t. “You’re… The only thing that’s getting me through is the stupid hope that at the end of all of this, that the people I care about can be happy and safe. So this is the more pressing concern, okay?” Only now, as Dean’s vision of Cas blurs, does Dean realize how wet his eyes are. “’Cause I can’t do this, I can’t fight Chuck unless I have hope that you’ll be okay.” He wipes away some of his unshed tears and tries using that moment to compose himself. He doesn’t think he’s very successful, but he manages to get his vision mostly clear again so he’s got that going for him.

When he looks back up at Cas he sees a terrible sadness in his eyes.

“Don’t say things like that, Dean.” It sounds like it pains Cas to say it. “Don’t say you care about me. I’m not… I need to survive through the end of this mission. I’m not ready to die yet.” Suddenly, it hits Dean. After he kissed Cas, Dean tried to tell him he loved him. But Cas interrupted; he said he wasn’t ready. But he didn’t mean that he wasn’t ready to hear Dean say it, or that he wasn’t ready to be together. He meant that he wasn’t ready to die. “There are many things that affect my happiness. I don’t think your actions alone will cause the Cosmic Entity to come for me, but I can’t take that chance.”

“Okay.” Dean says. But he’s not going to let Cas die. Not like this.

His thoughts are interrupted by knocking at the door. “Dean?” Jack calls. “I found a hairball that Naughty Edith left in my bed. Can you help me with the stain remover?” Cas huffs a small laugh and smiles.

“Ask Sam.” Dean calls back, not wanting to leave Cas right now.

“He’s at the farmers market.”

Despite himself, it fills Dean with hope. This is it: Cas sitting here in a nightcap to humor Dean, Jack learning how to get stains out of bedding, and Sam off at the farmers market probably buying organic vegan conditioner or something. This is what he’s fighting for. Not something grand or flashy, just his family and every family like or unlike his, which is perhaps the grandest thing of all. The freedom to spend time doing unremarkable things with the ones you love.

“It’s okay.” Cas tells him. “I’ll come with you.”

Dean doesn’t know how they’ll get through this, but he knows it’ll be together.